Sunday, November 27, 2016

52 Steps to River Ganga

Effective communication is an art. Writing and speaking is also an art as they are integral to effective communication. Not everyone is endowed with the skills of speaking and writing effortlessly. When some people talk, it is difficult to understand what they actually wish to convey. It is indeed tough to understand what many people write. The many components of communication such as intent to communicate, composing the message for either writing or speaking out, choosing the right word for the occasion, finding the appropriate medium etc. call for considerable skills to make the art of communication effective. Some people are endowed with these qualities to an exceptional degree. It is a pleasure to read or listen to such talented people. Human brain is capable of doing all these actions at once. But all human brains do not work with the same efficiency. Some are extremely talented. They can give instant reply with wit or sarcasm to any subject hurled at them. They can play with words and thoughts effortlessly. What is talent? It is defined in many ways. Bhatta Touta has given a very wonderful meaning to this word "Talent". It is the urge to create something new continuously and spontaneously, and often without any apparent effort. Please Click Here to read a post on "Talent" as defined by Bhatta Touta.

Vengimandala, the region between Krishna and Godavari rivers in Andhra, has produced many brilliant and learned scholars and poets who displayed this type of tremendous talent of quick wit, wisdom and ability to play with words. Among these many scholars and poets, Jagannatha Panditaraja stands tall and holds his own place even after over three hundred years. Jagannatha was born in Manikhanda Agraharam (present Munganda in Amalapuram sub-division of East Godavari district) and lived in the early part of 17th century AD. He came from a family of scholars and was known for his immense capacity to construct poems on any subject instantaneously. He tried for support from contemporary Kings. Vijayanagara empire was on the decline and hence he moved up north and ended in the court of Jaipur Kings. There was a Kazi there, a Persian scholar who had learnt Sanskrit and was challenging the scholars in the King's court to debate with him in Sanskrit and Persian. He had defeated all the scholars present there. The Jaipur King wanted Jagannatha to try his turn. Jagannatha took six months time, learnt Persian and Koran and defeated the Kazi in debate. 

Jagannatha's fame reached the Mughal Kings in Agra. Emperor Shah Jahan advised the Jaipur King who was his subordinate to send Jagannatha to his royal court. Shah Jahan's eldest son Dara Shikoh had learnt Sanskrit and was instrumental in translating many Sanskrit epics to Persian. (Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi, who produced and acted in the lead role as "Chanakya" is on record to state that Dara Shikoh was responsible for translating 22 Upanishads to Persian and through Persian they reached Europe.) Dara Shikoh became a good friend of Jagannatha. Shah Jahan made Jagannatha as a court poet and conferred the title "Panditaraja" (King among scholars) on him.

Jagannatha has many literary works to his credit. His Rasa Gangadhara is a much acclaimed work in Alankara Shastra (Poetics). His other works are of high quality and his brilliance radiate form them. He was ruthless and arrogant in dealing with other poets and their works. He was a junior contemporary of the famous Advaita scholar Appaiah Deekshita and criticized his works with personal vengeance.  

There is a very interesting story about the life of Jagannatha Panditaraja. Once Emperor Shah Jahan and Jagannatha were playing chess. Shah Jahan became thirsty and wanted water. He rang the bell for water. A girl came from behind the curtain carrying a jug and served him water. Jagannatha looked at her and was captivated by her beauty. Even after she left and Shah Jahan made the next move on chess board, Jagannatha was still looking at the girl who was now standing behind the curtain. Shah Jahan asked Jagannatha whether he could make a poem to describe the girl's beauty. Jagannatha recited the following as if he was waiting for the call:
 इयं सुस्तनी मस्तकन्यस्तकुम्भा 
कुसुम्भारुणं चारुचेलं वसाना |
समस्तस्य लोकस्य चेतः प्रवृत्तिं 
जीत्वा घटे विन्यस्ययातीवधाती ||

Iyam sustani mastakanyastakumbhaa
Kusumbhaarunam charuchelam vasaana
samastasya lokasya chetah pravruttim
Jeetva ghate vinyasyayateevadhaatee

While appreciating her beauty, Jagannatha recited that while going away after serving water, she had arrested the life of those present there, filled the jug with it and taken away. The jug was heavier when she left despite pouring away the water in it!

Shah Jahan was much impressed and wanted to give a present to Jagannatha. Jagannatha asked the emperor for her hand in marriage. Shah Jahan told him that she was his foster daughter Lavangi and a Muslim girl and Jagannatha may not marry her being from a religious family. Jagannatha insisted on marrying her and the emperor agreed. Thus Jagannatha became the emperor's foster son-in-law. For the next twenty years Jagannatha Pandita had all the wealth and pleasures of life as the emperor's foster son-in-law. When Shah Jahan got a monument constructed for his wife Mumtaz, it is said that Jagannatha suggested to name the monument as "Mumtaz Mahal". Present name of Taj Mahal is derived from that.

In today's world Jagannatha's marriage to Lavangi may not matter at all, but in those days it was not received well by his contemporary scholars and poets. When emperor Shah Jahan fell ill later in his life and Aurangzeb took his place, Jagannatha had to move away from Agra and started to live in Varanasi. Jagannatha had bad days in Varanasi. Appaiah Deekshita was on his way to River Ganga with his disciples in the Panchaganga Ghat in Varanasi. He found someone lying on the steps of the Ghat and woke him up. He was startled to see that it was Jagannatha Pandita. What a fall for someone who had ruled the literary world as Panditaraja, he said. Moved by his comments, Jagannatha composed poems in praise of River Ganga instantaneously. As he recited the slokas of what is now known as "Gangalahari", the river waters rose a step level for each sloka. As he completed his 52nd sloka, the river waters reached him and took him away. How much truth is there in this story is not known, but he probably had a dip in the sacred river to atone for his sins of being arrogant with his contemporaries. The 52 steps of Panchagnaga Ghat and the 52 slokas of Gangalahari are a witness to this episode. 
A Tamil film titled "Lavangi" was produced based on the life of Jagannatha Pandita and Lavangi, in 1946. Yaragudipati Varada Rao, better known as Y V Rao, directed the movie and played the role of Jagannatha Pandita. Rao made some changes in the story to suit cinematic interests. The film showed that the young wife of Jagannatha who was left behind in his native place moved to Agra and changed herself as Lavangi to find her husband. B R Panthulu played the role of emperor Shah Jahan. Kumari Rukmini acted as Lavangi. It was considered as a trendsetter. The film was later dubbed in Hindi as well, but was not a success at box office. But it made another contribution to Indian cinema. Y V Rao and Kumari Rukmini fell in love and got married when the movie was being made. Yesteryears heroine Lakshmi (known as Julie Lakshmi) is the daughter of Y V Rao and Kumari Rukmini. As is well known, Lakshmi has acted and is acting in movies of all South Indian languages as well as Hindi and earned name and fame. She is a worthy successor to her father Y V Rao, who has the distinction of directing the first Kannada Talkie movie "Sati Sulochana" and many other contributions to the film world.

The legend of Jagannatha Pandita and his brilliant works continue to shine in literary circles. His name is taken with utmost respect whenever literary criticism and poetics are discussed.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Don't Touch to Please Touch

A command is an order given by a person in authority, generally, to his subordinates or juniors to follow. A set of such commands becomes a code or manual that is to be followed by those at whom it is directed. Ancient Indian scholar Jaimini who lived 2400 years ago (4th Century BC), is famous for his treatise Purva Mimansa Sutras that classified Vedic commands based on their binding nature. One of the classifications is Vidhi and Nisheda. Vidhi is a positive command that directs to do a particular act. "Tell the Truth" is a positive command and hence a Vidhi. A command that directs not to do a particular act is a negative direction and is known as Nisheda. "Do not covet the property of others" is a Nisheda command. 

We were a generation brought up with such Vidhi and Nisheda commands. Whatever we did was mostly in the form of obeying a Vidhi order. Whatever we desisted from doing was also obeying a Nisheda directive. Children who followed these rules were considered to have good behavior. Kids violating such rules were frowned upon. Frequent violation of the rules would result in some punishment. Any child not respecting the commands was considered as a bad child. Among the many such rules were the ones of keeping children from touching many things at home and outside. "Don't Touch" was a standard order given to children. Natural curiosity of children was curbed and they were barred from handling valuable and fragile items. Did this promote better discipline among them? It is indeed a debatable matter. Today's children do not appear to have as much Nisheda commands as we had. Or even if there are, they do not care. Excessive controls kill the enterprise in the children. They need freedom to flower and grow. How much of freedom is good is now a matter of opinion. This is an endless debate for generations.

A "Museum" is defined as a place or a building where works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed. There are several museums allover the world and a tourist's itinerary usually has visits to one or the other museum in a big city. Some of these museums need a full day or more to have a meaningful view of them. Some museums also provide a brochure giving details of highlights in the place to see depending on the time at the disposal of the tourists. The most common sign boards that can be seen in such places is the "Do Not Touch" sign. Important artifacts are kept behind barricades and can be viewed only from a distance. Some museums also provide benches a few feet away from the items or paintings to enable the viewer to sit, view and appreciate the beauty of the displayed item. Touching some very valuable items may even trigger an alarm and alert the security personnel. 

Don't Touch is the rule in such museums. It is indeed difficult to manage children in such places. They have not reached the age to appreciate the beauty of the displayed items. The items that appear beautiful to them are not displayed there. Fortunately there are some museums dedicated exclusively to meet the interests of children. But they are far and few. "Museum of childhood" in Edinburgh, Scotland is a museum that attracts children and adults alike. During our visit to this museum some years ago, we were surprised to find the items used by the children to play from all parts of the world, including what we consider as exclusive to our local areas. The thousands of dolls and other items displayed are indeed a thrill to watch. Of course, we are not allowed to touch them, as in any other museum.
There are a few museums that allow children to touch and feel the objects displayed in them. Scientific museums provide levers or switches that can be handled by them to understand the scientific principles and their application in daily life. Please Touch Museum in the Fairmount Park of Philadelphia is a museum exclusively for children of up to seven years of age. As the name itself suggests, children are welcome to touch and feel each and every item in the museum. The museum gives ten reasons as to why children should visit the museum and why parents are to take them there. The displays in the museum aim to answer the endless questions of children like How? and Why? It is a place where adults learn too along with children. More than 25,000 toys are at the disposal of children. They can experience many real life things they see each day but are forbidden from touching and feeling. They can sit in the driver's seat of a SEPTA bus or a car, fill gas into a car on their own and act as a toll collector. The river pond provides opportunity to play freely in flowing water with plastic ducks and other such animals. There is a "Wonderland" to develop literary skills and they can sing along their favorite rhymes with recording systems.

Children have an exclusive railway station and train to act as a driver of the engine, ticket collector or passengers. They have supermarket to shop for groceries and a kitchen where they can store the purchased items in refrigerator and containers. The real experience of cooking and serving a meal to their parents is available without fire. Safety of children and accompanying adults has been given primary importance. There is a "Please Touch" Garden as well as a Space Station. An Imagination Playground provides soft plastic moulds that can be used to build anything as per their imagination. There are bookstores, shoe store and library and a hospital unit as well to learn basics of their working. Several Toddler Zones provide safe playing zones to kids under three years of age. There are many other attractions that help children play as well as learn. The joy on the face of the children matches their abundant energy levels. The Cafeteria takes care of the eating requirements of the children and parents during the day. A very well maintained 110 year old Carousal with 52 hand carved animals is a big draw with the children. Usually parents are charged for a ride and children ride free in many places. But here, children have to buy a one dollar ticket per ride but parents and adults ride free! Birthday parties can be scheduled here. Other events like weddings and social functions with gatherings up to 3,000 people can be held on prior arrangement with the museum authorities.

The only problem parents face when they take children to this museum is that they do not want to come out of it. Even a promise of bringing them back next week does not satisfy them. They keep running from one attraction to another and keeping track of them indeed required quite an effort.

From the times of Nisheda of "Do not Touch" to the mild Vidhi of "Please Touch", we have come a long way! Let the children enjoy the freedom as we enjoy watching their enjoyment.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Do you have change, Please?

The line leading to the toll booth gate was growing by the minute. The wait appeared to be endless for the occupants of the waiting vehicles. Government had just demonitized high value currency notes as a tool to fight black money menace. Everyone was rushing to his or her destination. The government had waived toll charges on all National Highways for a short period, but this was a private toll road and such waiver was not recognized here. As a part of demonitization process, 500 and 1000 Rupee notes were not legal tender anymore and were required to be surrendered to the banks. 2000 rupee notes were said to have been released but not much in circulation as they were still on their way to the banks. Small denomination notes were not in adequate supply and people did not care much for them as their purchasing power was also too small for any meaningful use. Even beggars would not accept small denomination notes now. Government felt that use of electronic money would alleviate all cash shortage problems. But electronic money receiving gadgets were not in use in this toll booth. Beggars, small merchants and such toll booths were not yet caught in the electronic money tsunami. For all of them, Cash was still the King.

At last the vehicle reached the toll booth. The driver tried to hand over a 500 rupee note to the booth operator. Booth operator looked at it but did not touch it. "Do you have change, please?" he asked. The driver said he did not and added that nobody had change these days. "Go on and pay the toll at the exit point", said the booth operator looking at the long line of vehicles. The driver nodded and pressed the accelerator pedal. One hurdle was cleared.

As he approached the booth at the other end, the driver again showed the 500 rupee note to the booth operator. The booth operator asked the same question about change and the driver repeated his answer. Booth operator sighed, swung his hand and by that gesture asked the driver to be on his way. The driver smiled, pressed the accelerator pedal and put back the 500 rupee note in his pocket.

As per last available information, the driver had waved the same 500 rupee note at the booth operators for five days, ten trips in all, and moved to and fro without paying toll. He wants to pay, but cannot pay. He has not paid toll even once and the 500 rupee note is still with him. 

Henry Adams was a 27 year-old young man and worked as a clerk in a San Francisco mining-broker's office. He was free on Saturdays and had the habit of venturing into the sea in a small boat. On one such saturday he ventured too far and the currents swept him deep into the sea. He was rescued by a ship bound for London. He was made to work on the ship during the voyage without wages and dropped off at London harbor. When he stepped on London harbor, he had only one dollar in his pocket and his clothes were ragged and shabby. The dollar sustained him for one day, but he was hungry and without a place to stay on the next day. He was moving along the city's Portland Place and was looking at a peach thrown away by a small child and was thinking of picking it, clean it and eat it. He was that much starved now.

Bank of England had issued two notes of one-million pound each, to be used for a special purpose in connection with some public transaction with a foreign country. One note was used, cancelled and returned to the Bank. The second was still lying in the vaults of the bank. Two wealthy old brothers had a chat over breakfast about this note. The issue that came up for discussion was what might be the fate of a perfectly honest and intelligent stranger who came adrift to London and came in possession of such a note. Brother A said he would starve to death and be ruined. Brother B said he wouldn't. The argument went on till brother B bet 20,000 Pounds to put this to test. Brother B went to the bank and bought the note. They dictated a letter to a clerk who wrote it down in beautiful handwriting. The letter was put in an envelope with the note. Now they waited near the window watching for the right man to give the envelope and put their wager to a test. The faces they saw on the street were not of strangers. Those who were strangers either did not appear honest or intelligent. Now, here was Henry Adams who was a stranger and looked intelligent as well as perfectly honest.

Henry Adams was called in to the house and was handed over the envelope after a brief discussion. He was asked not open it until he reached his lodging and sent away. After coming out of the house Henry Adams opened the envelope and found the letter and money in it. He went to the nearest cheap eating house and ate well enough. When he was full, he took out the note and could not believe his eyes. It was five million Dollars! (One pound was equal to five dollars as per exchange rate in those days.) The owner of the food house fainted when he saw the note. He apologized profusely and told Adams not to worry and let the bill go unpaid. But honest as Adams was, he insisted on getting the change. The owner respectfully told Adams that he can have an account at the place and come and eat whenever he desired. But there was no possibility for him to break the note and get the change.

Adams rushed back to the house to return the money and the envelope to its owners. But the brothers were gone to either Egypt or India. The servant reported that the brothers had indeed told him that Adams would be back within half an hour. The servant was to assure him that there was no mistake and it was real. Adams was to report back after 30 days at the same place and tell the brothers about the happenings in his life. 

Adams went to a cloth shop and asked for a misfit cheap suit. He was given one and he produced the note and asked for the change. The note went from the salesman to the owner and the owner was now apologetic. He scolded the salesman and gave the dresses made for His Serene Highness the Hospodar of Halifax. (Hospodar is a title given to a Governor or a Prince.) The dresses were handed over but the note was duly returned without change! Within a few days Adams was on the pages of every newspaper. He was described as the "Vest-pocket Million-Pounder". Punch carried a caricature of him. He was the talk of the high society in London and elsewhere. He got whatever he wanted to buy, but the note was always returned to him. Everybody was willing to lend money to him to now.

Adams went to meet the American Ambassador who later said he was a boyhood friend of Adam's father! Adams was invited to a dinner of fourteen with the rich and mighty twelve, besides the minister and himself. There Adams met the 22-year old English girl Portia Langham and the two fell in love with each other in two minutes. Adams was honest with her and told her that he had nothing with him except the million pound note and she did not care. They had great time together thereafter.

Adams met a friend from San Francisco who wanted a million dollars on a business deal. Adams agreed but not to give money but his reference. His word was now as good as money. They became partners in the business deal. The deal clicked and he had a million US Dollars (200,000 Pounds) in his account with a London bank by the end of the month. He requested Portia to go with him to the brothers at the end of the month to make his report. She agreed and he presented himself with her to make the report to the two brothers.

Adams produced the million dollars note and along with it a Certificate of Deposit for 200,000 Pounds in the London bank. The brother who won the bet offered a gift but Adams said he did not need it. Then the biggest surprise came. The man was none other than Portia's father! The two brothers had a hearty laugh. Now Adams said he would apply for the job of son-in-law. He added that he can be tested for 30 years as a son-in-law and can be confirmed later. 

The brothers took the check to Bank of England and it was en-cashed. The bank cancelled the check and returned it to the two brothers as a souvenir. The brothers happily celebrated the wedding of Portia and Adams. The cancelled check was given to Adams and Portia as a wedding gift. The cancelled check was duly framed and hung on the wall of their house to tell this story to all those who saw it.

The above is the summary of a delightful story titled "The Million Pound Bank Note" by Mark Twain, which I read some fifty two years ago. It is a story with lot of Twain's trademark humor and twists. The story was made into a movie in 1954, with some modifications to suit screen presentation, with the handsome Gregory Peck playing the role of Adams. The film is available on Youtube.

The 500 rupee note our Driver has may not be able to get a Certificate of Deposit of 200,000 rupees or get a Portia Langham. It was just like the million pound note; never got broken and yet gave dividends. But it was adequate to remind of the wonderful story weaving and telling capacity of Mark Twain!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Learning methods suggested in Charaka Samhita

Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita are considered as the foremost among the many well-known works that form the foundations of practicing Ayurveda. It is our good fortune that many Ayurveda treatises are available despite ravages of time and upheavals in history. These valuable works have stood the test of times for several centuries, revered and studied even today. Practicing Ayurveda Doctors use these books as reference and source material for treatment of patients. These books contain exhaustive discussions on various aspects of life, apart from treatment of diseases and keeping the human body fit and strong. In fact, there are many chapters that give excellent insight into maintaining the human body to prevent diseases and requirement of their treatment. Some of the areas mentioned in the books are applicable to other walks of life as well.

Charaka Samhita available in present form is believed to be at least two thousand years old. It was originally taught by sage Atreya, later codified by sage Agnivesha, further edited and popularized by sage Charaka. Sage Dridhabala is credited with revising it and made available in the present form. It is a voluminous treatise and requires months of dedicated study to understand its contents and appreciate its intrinsic value.

Modern thinkers also agree that learning and teaching revolves around these four important factors: student, teacher, learning tools and methods of learning.  Chapter VIII of Vimana Sthana (Sthana is a major division of the book, similar to Acts in a drama) in Charaka Samhita discusses, among others, the qualities required in an earnest student and competent teacher. It also deals with the tests to be applied for selecting text books and learning methods. These discussions are basically for learning and practicing Ayurveda, but equally applicable for any other branch of learning. Some key ingredients to make the process of learning and teaching to become successful and achieve the expected goals are summarized below:

Qualities of a student:
  • A student should be peaceful and noble in disposition, not given to mean acts.
  • He should have powers of reasoning and memory, liberal minded and devoted to truth.
  • He must be modest, gentle, capable of understanding nature of things, not irritable and free from addiction of any kind.
  • He should have single-minded devotion to knowledge, both of theory and practical work.
  • He should be obedient to all instructions of the teacher and desirous of welfare of all creatures. 

Qualities of a teacher:
  • The teacher chosen should be one who is thoroughly versed both in theory and practice.
  • The teacher should be skillful, upright, pure, who is conversant with human nature.
  • He should have special insight into the subject he teaches and free from envy, endowed with fortitude, affectionate towards his pupils, proficient in reading and skillful in exposition.
  • Such a teacher can equip the good disciples with all the required qualities just as the rain clouds at the proper season endow the fertile field with best of crops.

Student-teacher relationship:
  • A student approaching such a teacher, with a view to winning his favor should wait on him vigilantly as on the sacrificial fire, as on a god, king or one’s father and one’s patron.
  • The student having learnt the subject from the teacher thus should, for the sake of strengthening his understanding, strive constantly and well to perfect the knowledge so gained.

Selection of books:
  • An intelligent man will appraise the task before him and should first of all select a treatise (a detailed account of the subject – a text book) of the subject.
  • From among the many available treatises, he should choose the one that has obtained great popularity and is approved by wise men, which is comprehensive in scope, held in esteem by those who are worthy of credence.
  • The treatise should be suitable for the understanding of the three grades of students (highly intelligent, moderate and others).
  • The book should be free from the fault of repetition, well arranged with commentary and summary.
  • Words used should be in traditionally accepted sense, concerned mainly with determining the true nature of things relevant to the theme.
  • Topics must be arranged in an orderly manner, rapidly elucidating and enriched with definitions and illustrations.
  • Such treatise illuminates everything like the unclouded sun dispels darkness.

Method of study:
  • The student who has consecrated all his time for study should rise at the dawn or while yet a portion of the night is still left.
  • After his routine, he should sit at ease on clean and even ground and should study with concentration.
  • He should go over the contents again and again, all the while understand their import fully, in order to correct his own faults of reading and also to recognize the measure of faults in others.
  • The vigilant student should apply himself to study in the afternoon and night as well.

Discussion as a learning tool:
  • Discussion with a person learning the same subject is indeed what makes for an increase of knowledge and happiness.
  • It contributes towards clarity of understanding, increases dialectical skill, dispels doubts and enables learning new things in the course of discussion.
  • Discussion brings out the hidden meanings learnt from the teacher in general class session.
  • Discussion is of two types; friendly discussion and hostile method of discussion.
  • Friendly discussion is enjoined with a person that does not get angered, that can be persuaded and persuades, and is endowed with tolerance and pleasantness of speech.
  • In friendly discussions, one should not be afraid of discomfiture, not rejoice at the discomfort of other students and not boast before others.
  • In hostile discussion, a student must investigate beforehand, the points of merits and demerits of the opponent and the difference in excellence between himself and the opponent. 

Here are some definitions on learning issues, given in the book:
  • Doubt is uncertainty of the mind regarding things. 
  • Purpose is that for attainment of which efforts are made. 
  • Imperfect statement is that which is beset with defects of speech.
  • Analogy is that which shows the similarity of one thing to another
  • Question (in a debate) is that which an opponent puts when two persons discuss the subject, in order to test the knowledge, experience and dialectical skill of the other.
  • Further Question is a question about a question for seeking clarity. 
  • Insufficient statement is a statement wherein the proposition, cause, example, application, or deduction are found wanting.

There are many other definitions and advantages of a hostile debate which are explained extensively in Charaka Samhita. There is a need to study all these valuable works of yesteryears and bring out the hidden treasures of knowledge for use by the present  and future generations.