The Lost Art!!

Lifco letter writer

The Lost Art!!

Letter writing is an art that died a few decades ago!! A letter was not merely a medium of communication but was also a work of art, a written performance. Epistolary history is full of instances where the letters brought instant fame to the persons who penned them and such personalities are from diverse fields. The letters, in a way, have immortalized such beings. Haven’t we read the letter written by Abraham Lincoln to the teacher of his child that finds its relevance, for now and forever. Likewise, a letter by Napoleon to his Foreign Affairs minister, Garibaldi to Mazzini, Queen Victoria to miss Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi to Prof Shastri , Jawaharlal Nehru to his sister , just to name a few, have all been immortalized in fine print and will remain etched in memory for generations to come. The letters by George Washington , Napoleon Bonaparte, William Shakespeare, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru , Lord Chesterfield and many other such greats have left a lasting impact on the readers. Look at the predicament of Nehru, beautifully expressed, through a letter, to his sister, about inheriting his father’s wealth. He was so very involved in the national affairs that his own domestic dilemma remained unresolved. For that matter, the letter penned by Martin Luther King Jr, from Birmingham jail, to the clergymen, where he says, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, will refuse to fade away. Harry Browne’s letter to his beloved daughter, with a message, “no one owes you anything”, is a masterpiece. Siegfried Sassoon’s letter was re-printed several times. He was a poet-soldier in the British army who refused to return to the battlefield during world war-1. He wrote, ” I believe that [World War I] is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it”. He wasn’t an ordinary soldier, he was a gallant soldier who was wounded twice in the earlier battles and was a recipient of the coveted “Military Cross”. The letter caused a great stir, including a public reading in the British House of Commons. Despite being charged as a deserter, in the face of the enemy, he was let off for he could wield his pen as efficiently as he wielded his weapon!

How can one forget the way Winston Churchill expressed his undying love to Clementine Churchill ! When it came to the way with the words, none could pip the two times Prime Minister of the Great Britain. He was ‘word-ly wise’ and his writing abilities were prodigious. Another word-wizard, Richard Burton, wrote to Elizabeth Taylor, “my blind eyes are desperately waiting for the sight of you!!” Elizabeth Taylor, already into her fourth marriage, had no choice but to make room for one more choice!! They finally wed and went on to become one of the most famous and bankable couples in Hollywood history. Word Power had the ability to alter the world power. How can we overlook that ‘letter of appeal’ from Gandhi to Adolf Hitler when the world was on the brink of World War-II. As a wise man had once said, “ The power of letters is immense. A well written letter has often sufficed to stop a flying army, to change defeat into victory and to save an empire on the path of extinction”.

Texts and emails have replaced the conventional letters. They are definitely convenient, quicker and have the ability to reach every nook of every nation in a jiffy. In comparison, the old letters demanded application of mind, laborious effort and took days and weeks to reach the other side. For instance, in France, a letter took 220 years to be delivered all because there was a tiny error in the address. A letter that was dispatched in 1790 was delivered in 2010!!

Yet, no emails can ever replace the experience of writing and receiving a letter. The thoughts, sympathies, kindness, warmth, gratitude and love that an ordinary letter encompassed was extraordinary. Such letters were one-to-one, unlike the present day one-to-many formats. We, in the residential schools, profession of arms and academies, savored their arrivals and took care to preserve them for eternity. Many people still possess the old letters of their masters, parents and grandparents because it helps them re-trace their steps to another time and place.

I was again leafing through the encyclopedic volumes that I had purchased, while in school. Many of the letters that I have referred above are a valuable part of these books. In an era when letter writing is a diminished art, these books serve as a reminder of that bygone era of genuine communication.

What a beautiful legacy it was that we have so ruthlessly destroyed!!

What will we pass on to our next generations??


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The Red Bus!!


red bus image

The Kemp ( red, in Kannada) bus has literally travelled a long distance and has come a long way. These KSRTC buses were earlier known as ST ( State Transport ) buses, having received a facelift, are now much improved versions of their earlier variants. They weren’t just the mode of transportation, they played a part in fostering relations and improving bondings between the near and dear ones. In fact, in those days, when no other mediums of communication existed, they brought the dear ones near!! In Karnataka, they connected every hamlet with every village, every village with every town and every town with every city. It was an unwritten “sampradaya” (tradition) to receive and see off the relatives at the bus stand!! In that sense, people connected emotionally with the ST buses, it was a carrier of people’s love. In those days, there were no mobiles and GPS to convey the correct status of an expected bus, hence, when we went to receive someone at the bus stand, we had no choice but to keep waiting till the bus actually arrived. We took pleasure in such long waits, if they happened. Sadly, such a sampradaya hasn’t survived the passage of time. Karnataka, in those days of limited resources, had a tradition that there used to be one “last bus” to every village and, in Kannada, that bus used to be known as “vasati bus”, meaning, “resident bus”, it stayed overnight at the village. Those were the days when individual transports weren’t the norm and we all relied on the state owned transport system. People in the villages had an emotional connect and  derived some strength and courage when they spotted their last bus coming into their village, day after day. The villagers felt fidgety and restless if their “vasati bus” did not arrive, for some reasons, on some days. The timing of its arrival generally coincided with the Sun set. Many a discussion and debate, in the villages, were conducted in the vicinity of this “vasati bus”. The next day morning, with the Sun rise, this bus used to be the “first bus” that left that village. There was an incredible bonhomie between the crew of the bus and the villagers. Invariably, the crew ( driver and the conductor ) were honored guests for dinner at one or the other homes of the village and took part in all the mass celebrations of that village, whenever they happened. Now, the State has prospered, there are good roads, good bus stands, good buses, good movement of commuters. Prosperity has come but this tradition of “vasati bus” has gone. People do not go to the bus stands anymore nor do they receive anyone with love, realised this, with regret, during my recent visit to one such village.
Sorrowfully, connectivity has improved but the connections haven’t. “Kemp” (red) is just not about the colour of a bus, it signals, ” all is not well”!!

O tempora!! O mores!!!!

Oh the times!! Oh the customs!!


Forces Letters!!

forces letter image (1)

The year was 1988, exactly three decades ago, I was fresh from the hallowed precincts of the Indian Military Academy and was on my maiden posting at a place called “Bum La”, on the Indo-China border, in Arunachal Pradesh, the land of astounding beauty.  For those dis-oriented with the geography, Arunachal is the northeastern-most state and for those not conversant with the terms, “La”, in Tibetan language means “a pass” between the two mighty mountain ranges. Bum La was around 14000 feet above MSL and was characterised by nerve-wracking weather conditions, round the year. It took us 8-10 days ( including acclimatisation period ) to reach our post from Misamari, the nearest railway station. This furthermost Army post was a strategically significant post, in that, it was through this pass the Chinese came uninvited in the year 1962! Not a blade of grass grows at such heights and all that a soldier had for company were few feet of snow and a couple of yaks! The only ones who came to meet and greet us on a daily basis were, a Sun in the morning and a Moon in the evening. The technology had not kept pace with our posturing and hence had no luxury of a TV. A Philip or a Bush, when in mood, took care of our boredom on the icy peaks and in freezing temperatures. That was my first year in the Olive Greens and hence none of these trivial discomforts, including the scarcity of oxygen, distracted me and my men (around 120) from the role & responsibility that we had to shoulder. With just about few kilometers between the Indian and Chinese soldiers, we were more closer to foes than friends. With no mobiles and smart phones, communicating with the ‘near’ and ‘dear’ ones was a gargantuan task. While the ‘near’ ones were not ‘dear’, the ‘dear’ ones were not near!! Our only way of communicating with our family and friends was through the “ Forces Letters”. These were primarily the in-land letters, red ones for officers and the green ones for others. Sitting at that lonesome height where we felt we were more closer to heaven than earth , we had to compulsorily pen two letters home, every week. Understandably, they were censored ‘en route’ for security reasons. Hence, we could not write about what was happening in front of us and since we were totally cut-off from the world, we couldn’t write about what was happening behind us. We were assured of our daily supply of the news papers but by the time the papers reached us through their five days arduous journey up the winding roads they were more like history sheets than news papers. Hence, to fill up these letters was more challenging than the enemy across the LAC ( Line of Actual Control ). Sending a blank letter or not writing a letter or not filling up the entire space was not an option, one had to render an explanation for not writing. Since I was an artistically challenged soldier, unlike few other soldiers, I resorted to writing bigger alphabets in the letter. That was the only way I could fill up the three pages of an in-land letter, every third day! I had cautioned my father of my AGP ( Actual Ground Position !! ) and requested him not to either take my letters on face value or read too much between the lines!! Since we had to communicate under compulsion, I started referring to them as “Forced Letters” instead of “Forces Letters”. I stayed atop these icy peaks for over one year before moving to Sri Lanka, my next posting.


Now, after thirty long years and as many summers, the difference today is, while the LAC has remained where it was then, the ‘dear’ ones are ‘near’, the then ‘near’ ones are yet not ‘dear’!!


But, as regards the memories of Bum La, the body has returned, the military mind is still hovering around there!!




Humans must be Crazy!!

human crazy 2


Look at the ability of human mind, it has not only given the divine power a human form but has also associated human qualities to the Almighty. Or else, how can one explain the wide discrimination, disparity ,hate , jealousy, ego etc that are so liberally attributed even to Gods. We have conveniently associated the “arishad vargas”, the six bad enemies of human beings even with the supreme beings. The major Hindu gods, including BrahmaVishnu, and Shiva, often engage in wars, either in the form of Avatars or in their true form. ISKCON professes, Krishna is ‘the only way’, implying, Rama is either inherent or incidental!!

I have covered most of the temples in India, barring few exceptions. One such temple that I cannot visit is Balaji of Tirupati, there is a story to that exception. We, the followers of Lord Shiva , are barred from visiting the famous temple of Lord Venkateshwara,  at Tirupati, because , as believed , there is an old rivalry between the two Gods over some money matters. Lord Venkateshwara , despite being known all over, as the God of ‘ISHWARYA’(wealth), has  vehemently refused to return the money that he had once borrowed from Lord Shiva, hence , we, the followers of Shiva camp do not mark our attendance at the richest temple, at Tirupati. In my own humble abode, at Bangalore,  I have a dedicated ‘abode of the Gods’(Mantap), placed just next to my liquor counter since I neither would like to make any distinction between the ‘spirit’ and ‘spirituality’ nor can I afford make that distinction . At our piddly Antilia, spirit and spirituality co-exist, mantap is a substitute for mandir, the Osho style. In that mantap, I have placed few idols of many a Gods to bestow on us  the blessings of life. While I have Hanuman for strength, next to him is Ganapati for knowledge, perched atop a small plank is Laksmi for wealth and right in front  of  this  is Subramanya for Protection. Well , since I do not know their exact seniority, I generally arrange them, like a seasoned soldier, as per their size with smallest in front and the biggest to the rear. Each has a fixed place of its own. This arrangement helps me in quickly identifying a God, if found missing from its place, any time of the day. Oppositely, my wife has her own sense of order, in that, she prefers to have the idol of Lakshmi right in front even though that is much bigger compared to the rest others. Of course, the Goddess evokes, amongst other things: grace, affluence, abundance, auspiciousness and authority. She appeals to all, yet many acharyas still do not advocate direct worship of the Goddess of wealth. In India, not only Hindus but also Buddhists and Jains, despite being monastic orders that turned away from Vedic rituals and Brahmanical dogmas, adore Lakshmi. Hence, this preferential reverence towards the Goddess of Wealth is understandable. However, many may not be aware, Lakshmi is invariably accompanied by Jyeshta, her elder sister. Jyestha represents everything that is opposite of Lakshmi. She is supposed to be the Goddess of misfortune, mishap, strife, poverty, fights. Never knew that there is a divinity for destruction too!! As far fights, I am reminded of Laksmi’s  rivalry with Lord  Shani deva.  I believe, fighting amongst themselves as to who is better of the two, they went to Narada, the vedic sage with enlightening wisdom and wit, for a decision. Narada, looking at them , said, can’t decide from where you both are standing, so, ordered them to walk back a few yards . Again, undecided, orders them to come  up a few yards. Yet undecided, orders them to go back a few yards, again . This spectacle of going up and down  went on for a couple of times. Just as Shani deva was appearing to lose his cool,  Narada gave his verdict, “while ‘going’,  Shani  looks good but while ‘coming’,  Lakshmi  looks good”!!

How true it is –while going, Shani really looks good and definitely the other way  for Lakshmi—She looks good while coming !!

As far as assigning attributes to the divine, well, humans are restricted by their own level of understanding and perspective.

Forgive them, oh Lord!!

Women Smash Sexism!!


Chalo, let us debate!!!
The guy looks convincing but his whole argument hinges on history and mythology. He doesn’t realise, that is what has been questioned by the court and ruling has been given.
Swami Ayyappa is an eternal brahmachari, that’s what he says, but, why should it forbid women’s entry is the question.
Does it distract the deity or the devotee?
Where’s the will of the deity written?? Can the creator himself be so very vulnerable and so very discriminatory, prejudiced and biased?? People have witnessed the proponents of these practices tie themselves in knots with unconvincing, contradictory and silly arguments.
Truth be told, many of the orthodox Brahmin families still follow the tradition where a ‘ bleeding woman’ has a restricted movement within her own house. This was possible in joint families where there were many women to take care. Now, in the nuclear and smaller families, such outdated practices have been done away with. If the woman of the house sat outside for three days, who would cook food for the man of the house? Practicality pipped the precedence!!
customary laws of some ethnic communities around the world and also in India, till very recently, discriminate against women when it comes to property ownership and inheritance; while some traditional leaders have supported transforming these laws, many others defend them as embodying “tradition”. The pillars of patriarchy should be demolished.
Can the traditions be invoked to contravene rights of certain sections of the population is the question.
The deity will look after himself, devotees need to look after themselves. And, if one can’t stand the sight of women entering the Sabarimala shrine, refrain from going there.

The old order changeth yielding place to the new !!

Conflict Over Condoms!!


A  diplomatic row of sorts has broken out between African countries and China over the supply,  of all things  – hold your  breath – ‘condoms’.  Rejection of a consignment   of  ‘cock- socks’  by  African countries has annoyed  China no end. What was once viewed   as  an innocuous piece of latex has gained prominence to destabilize the international relations . That  apart ,  the way this  ‘Gentleman’s  jerkin’  has scaled the ladder of importance over the centuries is simply mind numbing. What used to be a mere piece of linen, sized to cover the glam of the tool and tied with ribbon, once upon a time,   are now almost being customized  for customers.  The object of unavoidable necessity has under gone metamorphosis, to say the least . From being  purchased in hush-hush tones, without any eye contact , over the counters ,at a nearby  medical stores, to being home delivered.  From being merely protective barriers to  being ribbed, dotted , spotted , scaled , scented  and – ‘hold – your – tongue , ‘edible’  etc  they have made their presence felt not only within the four walls of a bed room  but  are now  omni-present to be found  in every  nook and every kiosk .  From being used as shower caps,  to store water ,to drain the plugs,  this rubber  has diverse applications .Recently ,   an international reporter was observed using it to cover his mike while he stood reporting for an event, when it was raining! Incidentally ,   in slang , it is also known as a ‘rain coat’. For people who are simply not content with the ‘feel there are  “ Glow –in- the –darkcondoms now.   Anyway,   my  concern  now is not the progress made by the condoms but its ability to shake the established international relations.  China is threatening   to   suspend  trade with  African countries  till they  accept what  they rejected.  The unilateral action by  the  African  countries  has not hit the Chinese  economically as much  as it has devastated their ego and self esteem, Africans are now worried about the ramifications of disturbing the dragon.   As a face saving formula,   African countries now want  China to  at least  yield an ‘inch’. But,   that is  ‘too long,  say the Chinese.  By the  way ,  you know what was the issue surrounding the  ‘Jimmy Hats’?  They were too small for the African  standards !!  Means,  when it comes to  “ down  there“ ,  the Asian Giants just don’t measure up!!   From   being a  ‘pleasure enhancer’  to being  a  ‘game prolonger’  the condom has definitely come a long way. The world gratefully  acknowledges    that the   ‘latex barrier’   has grown in  ‘stature’  but  the Chinese are stubbornly stuck in ‘size’ !!

( The story is imaginary and  the subject is sensitive , reader’s  discretion is advised!! )




Sacred life, Secret Life!!


Bishop Mulakal’s ‘rape of a nun’ incident and also many such instances of moral transgressions by various religious heads, in recent times, has thrown up a larger debate. In my opinion, it would be an egregious error to assume that the human beings have just one life. Since antiquity, each of them have led and are leading three lives. Not just that, all the three lives are being lived simultaneously. This is the gospel truth. The Japanese philosophy extols of three faces of a human being, one that is for the self, the second that is known to the immediate acquaintances and the third that is known to the rest of the world. The tall claims of the few individuals that they are uncommonly transparent and that their life is an open book is merely a hog-wash. Our lives are a complex minefields of fiercely guarded secrets and covert existence. Raja Harishchandra and Dharmaraja have always been a byword for honesty and truthfulness but the mankind is aware of their flaws and frailties. As someone had said,” everyone is a moon and has a dark side that he or she doesn’t show to the world”. There is a dark side to every human that is kept under wraps. While all the three sides die with the death of an individual, all the three lives would not have take birth at the same time, each of the three lives takes birth at different times of our existence. There are three sets of each- our beliefs, our facts, our faith, our feelings, our desires and our actions. These three sets cater to the three different set of people- self, immediate acquaintance and to the rest of the world. At the age of 36, whilst married, Gandhi decided to become celibate in order to achieve a state of enlightenment (through the Hindu religion). As he got older, he became more and more fascinated with sex to the point that, second only to non-violence, it was the subject he most talked about. In order to “perfect” his celibate state, Gandhi would sleep naked with young naked women. One of the women was the 16 year old wife of his grand-nephew Kanu Gandhi. When he wanted to share his bed with his 19 year old grandniece Manu Gandhi, he wrote to her father and told him that they were sharing a bed so that he could “correct her sleeping posture”. When his stenographer R. P. Parasuram found him sleeping naked with Manu, he resigned in disgust. prophet Mohammad lived in the Middle East during the 6th and 7th centuries, and from his work grew the world’s second largest religion, Islam. However, while many Muslims today follow a peaceful brand of Islam, as practiced by Mohammad it was far from civil. He would often raid the trade routes and after conquering tribes, Mohammad often allowed his men to rape the women that were captured, as long as they weren’t Muslims, it is alleged.

Some of the acts and actions of even the men in the highest esteem is beyond understanding and comprehension. This is true of every seer, every saint, every prophet and every bishop. There is a sacred life and there is a secret life.

As Oscar Wilde had once said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”.

Isn’t everyone wearing one, a mask??