Friday, August 29, 2014

The ten books I like best...

It is really not possible to reduce the books one likes to ten. But because of a request on facebook, I gave it some thought and came up with this list. The first two on the list, I can certainly reread a hundred times.
My best books
1.The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse.
2. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.
3. Most other books by Hesse and Mann [but not Siddhartha].
4. The Morning and the Evening by Joan Williams.
5. A Multitude of Sins by J A Cuddon.
6. Dibs—in Search of Self by Virginia Axline.
7. Place Mill by Barbara Softly [a children’s book]
8. The Synthesis of Yoga by Sri Aurobindo.
9. Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
10. Europe: A History, by Norman Davies.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sixty-seven years ago

W.H. Auden

Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on the land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
"Time," they had briefed him in London, "is short. It's too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we've arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you."

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep the assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

The next day he sailed for England, where he could quickly forget
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Storehouse of Ageless Wisdom [published in The Hindustan Times, October 30, 1994] by ROSHEN DALAL

I wrote this article in 1994---twenty years have passed, but the bookshop still exists and looks much the same. The owner, S P Chowdhuri is no more, and the shop is run by his son.


In a corner of Shankar Market, in the centre of Delhi, all the secrets can be discovered at Piccadilly book store. Here, one can find an account of the 18 unrecorded years of Jesus’ life. According to the ‘Akashic records’ of the Gospel of the Aquarian Age, Jesus wandered through Egypt, Greece, Persia, Tibet, and India. He spoke on the banks of the Ganga and visited the Jagannath temple.

On the next shelf is the Materia Medica of Tibetan Medicine and Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, written by Gurdjieff. There are many more books by Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Osho, J. Krishnamurti, U. G. Krishnamurti, Chinmayananda, Gibran and a host of others writing on religion, philosophy, and the mystic world. There are packs of Tarot cards and I-Ching cards, do-it-yourself books on gem therapy and astrology and of course several versions of the ancient texts, the Upnishads, Puranas, and others.

There is a select display outside, but inside the small shop, books are piled high in stacks and thee is scarcely any place to move. But this is a place where one is free to spend as much time as one likes, to browse through books in a leisurely way, or just to sit outside drinking tea and conversing with like-minded people.

The owner, S.P. Chowdhuri, is polite, helpful and knowledgeable. He can locate books on any topic in this sphere, even if one has no idea of either title or author. I once asked about books which dealt with the relationship of the inner “chakras” and the notes of music. In a few minutes there was a heap of books before me, each of which had a few pages on the esoteric theme.

People visit this bookshop from all over the world. In fact there are invariably more foreigners than Indian visitors. The shop has been in Fodor’s Guide, the Lonely Planet’s travelers series and even in Geeta Mehta’s Karma Cola. Many visitor’s record their impression in a book kept for this purpose. By now Chowdhuri has a collection of several such visitor books and one can spend interesting hours going through the profound or often amusing comments in them. The comments are in different languages including Hindi, English, French, German, and Japanese.

Indira Gandhi often visited the shop and on the 5th of January, 1980, she wrote, “The world of books is the most fascinating and enriching to be in. What an attractive shop it is!” Other eminent visitors have been Nirmala Devi, Girilal Jain, Arun Shourie, Lama Govinda, and several well known gurus and swamis. A visitor from Holland wrote, “To find the books on Buddhist art and philosophy, I come all the way from Holland and find them here”.

Some like to write the nuggets of their own philosophy, for instance, “If you are hungry, this is the best place to fill yourself. Dine, be filled, then you may become empty”, or “To be known to oneself is to read the books and throw them away”. Another happily recorded, “Each man I marry, I’ll spend his fortune here”. But Chidananda – of the Shivananda Ashram simply wrote, “God bless this bookshop”.

This unique book store was gifted to the present owner by his elder brother in 1957, and is the oldest book store in Shankar Market. Now Chowdhuri and his son run it. “I look for quality not quantity” says Chowdhuri. He is not referring to the books, where he has both quality and quantity, but to the visitors to his shop.

He does not cater to the readers of pulp fiction, fast-paced best sellers, or popular magazines. All his visitors are drawn there by a search for something, for truth or whatever one may call it. With his regular customers, Chowdhuri develops a personal relationship and many spend more time with him discussing life and philosophy. When I visited his shop after an absence of nine years, I was immediately recognized and offered a cup of tea.

Even if you come fifty years later”, he said, “and I am here, I’ll know you”. At that moment one had a vision of time standing still. While new technologies multiply in this world and people rush to keep pace with change, there is, in the middle of all this, a peaceful unhurried corner, where people still search, as some have always done, for ageless wisdom.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

List of Sherpas killed or miising on Everest, 18 April 2014

Mingma Nuru Sherpa: NBC Everest Expedition

Dorji Sherpa: NBC Everest Expedition

Ang Tshiri Sherpa: AAI Everest Expedition 2014

Nima Sherpa: AAI Everest Expedition 2014

Phurba Ongyal Sherpa: AC Everest expedition 2014

Lakpa Tenjing Sherpa: AC Everest Expedition 2014

Chhiring Ongchu Sherpa: AC Everest Expedition 2014

Dorjee Khatri: Adventurist Everest Expedition 2014

Then Dorjee Sherpa: Adventurist Everest Expedition 2014

Phur Temba Sherpa: Adventurist Everest Expedition 2014

Pasang Karma Sherpa: Jagged Globe Everest Expedition 2014

Asman Tamang: Himalayan Ecstasy Khotse Expedition 2014

Tenzing Chottar Sherpa: AAI Everest Expedition 2014

Ankaji Sherpa: Everest Chinese Dream Expedition 2014

PemTenji Sherpa: Everest Chinese Dream Expedition 2014

Aash Bahadur Gurung: Everest Chinese Dream Expedition 2014

[source: Wikipedia]

Friday, April 18, 2014

extract from Auguries of Innocence, by William Blake

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.

A dove-house fill'd with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro' all its regions.
A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.

A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.

A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubim does cease to sing.
The game-cock clipt and arm'd for fight
Does the rising sun affright.

Every wolf's and lion's howl
Raises from hell a human soul.

The wild deer, wand'ring here and there,
Keeps the human soul from care.
The lamb misus'd breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher's knife.

The bat that flits at close of eve
Has left the brain that won't believe.
The owl that calls upon the night
Speaks the unbeliever's fright.

He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be belov'd by men.
He who the ox to wrath has mov'd
Shall never be by woman lov'd.

The wanton boy that kills the fly
Shall feel the spider's enmity.
He who torments the chafer's sprite
Weaves a bower in endless night.

The caterpillar on the leaf
Repeats to thee thy mother's grief.
Kill not the moth nor butterfly,
For the last judgement draweth nigh.

He who shall train the horse to war
Shall never pass the polar bar.
The beggar's dog and widow's cat,
Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.

The gnat that sings his summer's song
Poison gets from slander's tongue.
The poison of the snake and newt
Is the sweat of envy's foot.

The poison of the honey bee
Is the artist's jealousy.

The prince's robes and beggar's rags
Are toadstools on the miser's bags.
A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.

It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


The Kedarnath temple in Uttarakhand will reopen in May. But the region has still not recovered from the devastation caused by the floods and rain in 2013, when much of the temple was buried in silt. A new documentary, 'The Ones Left Behind', focuses on the widows who lost their husbands in the disaster.Produced by Kartikeya Sharma, it was recently screened at the Chennai International Short Film Festival, and won a 'special mention' award.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Prithvi--the earth

An extract from Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide

Prithvi/Prithivi A deity, the goddess of the earth.

She is first described in the Rig Veda, and later in the
Atharva Veda, in a hymn of sixty-three verses. A few
verses of this hymn are given below:
Truth, high and potent Law, the consecrating
Fervour, Brahma and Sacrifice uphold the Earth,
May she, the queen of all that is and to be, may
Prithivi make ample space and room for us. [1]
O Prithivi, auspicious be thy woodlands, auspicious
be thy hills and snow-clad mountains.
Unslain, unwounded, unsubdued, I have set foot
upon the Earth,
On Earth, brown, black, ruddy and every-coloured,
on the firm earth that Indra guards from danger.
Supporting both the foolish and the weighty, she
bears the death both of the good and the evil.
In friendly accord with the boar, Earth opens
herself for the wild swine that roams the forest. [48]
(trans. T.H.Griffith).
Prithivi is the kindly earth mother, who bears the
weight of the mountains, supports the trees of the
forest, and scatters the rain. She is often paired with
dyaus (heaven), and Dyaus-Prithvi is thus the deity of
heaven and earth. In later texts, Prithvi is an alternate
name for Bhudevi.
In the Puranas, there are several stories about Prithvi
as the earth. When the king of the earth, Prithu,
wanted to level the land, she turned into a cow and
ran away. Later, she allowed Prithu to milk her, and
seeds, vegetables and various crops came into being.
Once Prithvi, oppressed by Hiranyaksha was
submerged in the ocean. Vishnu took the form of
Varaha and brought her up on his tusks. Narakasura
was the son of Prithvi from Hiranyaksha, or, according
to some accounts, from Varaha.
Prithvi sometimes makes philosophical comments.
In the Vishnu Purana (IV.24) she laughs at the delusions
of kings. She comments that kings think they possess
her, yet they all die and are soon forgotten. She says:
‘When I hear a king sending word to another by his
ambassador, saying: “This earth is mine, immediately
give up your claim to it”, I am at first moved to
violent laughter, but it soon subsides to pity for the
infatuated fool.’ The commentator goes on to say,
that understanding the transient nature of life, the
wise person will never consider children, lands or
property, to be his own.
The region of the earth and that immediately above
it is known as Bhurloka or Bhuloka.