All posts in the Culture category

The Three Levels Of Consciousness {Sanaatan Dharm Series}

Published August 20, 2017 by vishalvkale

This is the next in the series on Sanaatan Dharm; these articles are my reflections as I attempt to understand myself, my religious affiliation, and the world around me – it is the chronicle of my path of self-discovery… I make no assertions on a collective scale

This is one question that has come to my mind only very recently; it is one of the triggers for penning this article. Why do we Humans pray? For what purpose? I can make no assertions for you – but I can examine and analyse myself, and try to determine why I pray. What is it that drives me to prayer? In my case, I can truthfully state that prayers started as a means, an effort, to get divine assistance to smoothen my rather difficult, or rather uncertain life and its attendant problems. That is how it started out – and it would probably have remained at that level, had life not had other ideas.
That is the best way I can put it – for I can find no other reasons for the sequence of events that has lead to this deep self-examination that I subject myself to in writing this chronicle of self-discovery. Being a person with deep seated, strong belief systems based on values – Integrity, Honesty, Loyalty and so on; living in a world which thrived on “gamesmanship”, selfishness and materialism – not having a coping mechanism meant I had to build one of my own. My response – building my mental ability to disconnect; my hobbies, which have enabled me to keep afloat, even achieve a lot despite being rather strict in my values, was one aspect; but, in difficult times – the answer I had usually had was a combination of my hobbies and being able to disconnect, and prayer to deal with the resultant stress.
That brings me to what I can call the first level of consciousness – Fear. Fear is can be said to be a driver of action – this is well accepted by science. Fear is also what drives humans towards Prayer, as uncertainty raises worries, anxieties and stress levels.  That drove me increasingly towards Prayer – something I almost never did right till my late 20s, despite not having a Job, or any career clarity. I wasn’t built that way. Well-wishers, family advised me and directed me towards Prayer – thus, Prayer is also a learned response, it would seem. One does need a Guru, a Guide to set a person on the right path. Praying kindled hope, it also kindled action, as somehow I acted much better with the confidence of a firm hope behind me.
Life went on; I advanced in age, in my career, in my personal life; this kindled in me my desires. Initially, these desires were materialistic in nature. However, it needs to be noted that Fear outpaces, outdistances Desire; fear is a far stronger emotion. Desires and ambitions lie dormant, and are drivers of longer term action, whereas fear-driven responses are shorter term, in my experience. These never drove me to prayer; Desires and Ambitions spurred me to action – in my life, in my career.
These operate at two different levels, as I have observed keenly over the past 2 years – fear is always on the top of the mind, whenever present; and desire lies dormant, together determining life choices and decisions. In good times as well as bad, this hold true. These drive what you are today, what you want to be tomorrow… not what you will be tomorrow, which is the result of a combination of your actions & your circumstances and your decisions. Understanding how, why to take these decisions is a life hunt for each individual. The gap between what you want to be and what your direction is taking you towards stress, kindling, once again – fear and desire, taking you back where you started. Fear keeps you on your toes in the real world, while desire enables action and response mechanisms, together leading towards your life materialistic goals. These are thus two different levels of consciousness!
Most of us go through life in these levels of existence – fear & desire. So far, we are in safe territory even from a perspective of psychology and known science. And yet, I have always looked out into the sky at night, wondering why we are here; why we are alive; who am I; what is life; and having a deep dear of dying – as long as I can remember. I have no idea why I had these thoughts. I have always wondered who is God, how did this Universe come about – maybe all Humans do have these thoughts. Assuming that is so, I, like other humans, did nothing about these except suppress them.
I have no recollection or idea what drove me towards reading The Bhagwad Geeta in several translations, The Upanishads, or The Vedic Texts; but it was connected to my habit of reading, when I came across an excellent book – What India Should Know, the 2nd half of which was based on The RugVed and YajurVed. I have always been a voracious reader; so that wasn’t a surprise. But till this day I have no answer to why I picked up my first Bhagwad Geeta translation, or my first Upanishad. Maybe it was God’s hint; I don’t know – but I was lucky to pick up the one by Geeta Press.
And it is through studying these scriptures, which I have been doing for 3.5 years now, repeated alliterations of the same, that I can arrive at a faintly glimmering look at the 3rd Level of Consciousness, a level deeper than these above 2. From a perspective of Psychology – fear & desire cant answer your value system, which is the core of human personality. Lying dormant, but the determinant of all actions as well as deep thoughts is your core value system.
What is the connect? Simply this : I have always wondered how I can stay cool, calm and reasoned even under extreme stress and difficulty, of which I have seen far more than my fair share? This isn’t my observation, by the way – several friends have observed this in me, and it is they who brought my attention to this factor. If fear & desire are the two levels, then there has to be a third level of consciousness that determines your behaviour, attitudes and your actions, which has to be the bedrock of your nature & your personality.

This is where we diverge from accepted Psychology so far as I am aware; and paradoxically, this is where Psychology and our scriptures also come together. As we shall see in the next part of this series, whenever I get around to penning it, this 3rd level is extremely hard to put into words, let alone understand. And yet – it is there, it is present, as you yourself have no doubt realized in the quiet contemplative moments of your life. This is a level that transcends fear, desire and existence; and goes to the core of the intersection of Psychology and Scriptures – as we shall see in the next part of this series of personal thoughts on Sanaatan Dharm…

Clicking Photos While A Man Dies – Shabaash People!

Published July 21, 2017 by vishalvkale

Stock image from the internet – Blogger was taking incorrect images, so used this

The morning news  – the first article I clicked, an action I sincerely regret now, was on an accident in Pune, the city I live in. I was stunned into shock by the news – people stood around clicking photographs of the poor hapless person while he lay bleeding on the street. Not one person came forward to help. God Bless the only decent man there, a dentist, who came forward to help, and assisted in taking the injured person to the nearest hospital. Just think – people standing around, clicking photographs while a hapless and helpless person lies on the road, bleeding!

PUNE: A 25-year-old software engineer, who was bleeding severely after being knocked down by a hit-and-run accident, died because he did not get timely help from passersby at Indrayaninagar corner in Bhosari on Wednesday evening. Shockingly, the onlookers chose to shoot videos and click photos of the accident rather than take the engineer, {Name Deleted}, to hospital. –
What do I say to this display of inhuman brutality and idiotic insensitivity? I feel sick, feel like puking at the very thought of clicking photos of a man in dire need of medical help? What kind of sickening mental depravity of the worst order, what kind of sick insane bastard would do that? What kind of mad and equally cruel idiot would stand clicking photographs while a man died on the road? All who did this – you call yourself humans? Even ANIMALS have a greater sense of what is right and wrong. At this point, I am feeling ashamed to be a part of the human race!
What is so damned attractive of an injured man lying bleeding on the road? What is it that makes it a memorable event? Are we so blinded by the attraction of likes on social media that it eclipses our basic human instincts – instincts which make us human in the first place? Why this sickening, horrible and nauseating habit of clicking photographs of a dying man? What will you get out of it? A few damned likes on Social Media? Is it that bloody important?
If it isn’t likes on Social Media, what other reason can you find? If it isn’t likes, then what is it – is it that you are getting satisfaction out of it? Because if that is the case, my don’t-call-yourself-my-friend, you need to check into a psychiatric ward and get treatment. Blunt, Frank and Straight. Human misery – if that gives you satisfaction – then you are mad, period. And evil. The only possible recourse in such a situation is to leave to place immediately if you do not want to or for some reason cant do anything; or – at the very least you can and should try and collect like-minded people to get them to help; Not stand around clicking gory photographs and videos, something emblematic of a society and a person in terminal decline, a sign of a mentally sick man or woman!
If it isn’t either of the above- then what is the curious fascination some people have for such unfortunate scenes? Why are they drawn, and yet stand gawking like morons at the scene? Ok – it isn’t about likes, and it isn’t about a sick fascination. What else can it be? Why do we see regular scenes of half-wits standing around gawking and staring at scenes of mishaps everywhere around us? In every city I have lived in or travelled to in India, I can see this sick scene, when people are attracted like flies to a fire – to scenes of distress and destruction, and yet doing nothing, Just staring blankly as though they were watching a stupendous and mind-blowing performance on Theatre or Cinema!.
As a matter of fact, this actually proves that Animals are superior to what has now become of the Human Race. We call ourselves the pinnacle of evolution; to all those who subscribe to this wholly inaccurate belief, look around how animals also help each other. Compassion is an integral part of being Human – and these displays of evil insensitivity just make us all that little bit more inhuman with each passing day. This is an all-too-regular happening on our roads – I have written regarding this earlier as well. As a Human Being, today I ask for forgiveness from the family of the deceased, and from God… Please forgive us…

Tarkeshwar Mahadev : Pune Hidden Gems

Published July 15, 2017 by vishalvkale

What do you do when you have something good, something that is praiseworthy, and something that can be an attraction? Answer, if you are in Pune – keep silent about it, tell no one. This is seemingly exaggerated – perhaps it is exaggerated; but I am flabbergasted by a series of unbelievable locations that I have visited in Pune City – within main Pune City, mind you. These are not well known – at least not one single localite informed me, even on asking. At least those I talked. If I didn’t talk to the right people, perhaps I am in the wrong.

But – if you expand your vision to TV, Cinema, Popular opinion, hotels – the situation above gets proof. I earlier visited Pune on a family holiday, stayed in a good Hotel. Not one Hotel informed me of these; not one person – Taxi, Tour Guide – even mentioned these. Thus, it seems to me that Puneites don’t realise how lovely a city they have, how mesmerizing are its many, many tourist-worthy places, how rich and unspoiled, unaffected by commercialism and popularity – making them lovely family visits.

I am referring to the many, many locations not mentioned usually, unlike the ever present Shaniwar Wada and Sinhagad etc. Sure, these are noteworthy; these are lovely and stupendous in themselves, they are the crowning Jewels of the city of Pune. But the people here forget that it has many other places – that deserve greater attention, like Pataleshwar Caves, Southern Command War Memorial {shared on my blog earlier} and the current one being reviewed – Tarkeshwar Mahadev, Yerwada, Pune

I did not even know of the existance of these three; Pataleshwar Caves I discovered on my own, as I was visiting JM Road on a market visit with team. The key account we were visiting was out, and I had time; I noticed something across the road – and walked. To my stunned and shocked surprise, I walked in on an ancient Temple cum cave complex, one of the loveliest locales it has been my luck to see. But more of that in the appropriate place when I document and review Pataleshwar… let us look at Tarkeshwar today in this review

Tarkeshwar, like Pataleshwar, is my discovery, insofaras not one single Puneite told me of its existance. I happened to notice a tall Shivji statue on my way from Bund Garden to Yerawada; I just walked in -yet again, to be stunned out of my wits – I was slam-bang right in the middle of one of the loveliest, and extremely holy sites, with a beautiful mesmerizing view and climb, and an even lovelier beauty of a temple  complex, with the primary deity being Shivji.

There is no indication of its heritage, or of its historicity – none that  I saw, at any rate. One of the pilgrims there told me that it is a very ancient temple {that is apparent from the construction etc}, and that it has linkages to the Pandav Brothers. I hunted on the internet – I could not spot anything on any site, save for a small article from January 2016 of its renovation being planned. I don’t think this said renovation has actually happened by the way, judging from the article and the temple. Only on tripadvisor and other such aggregator sites and one or two blogs is there a mention so far as I could see.

So tell me, Puneites – why should this be so? Look at these mesmerizing snaps, and tell me that this place isn’t worth a visit, even without the connected holy temple! Look at the images, dear readers, and decide for yourselves whether this place deserves a visit or not for yourselves. As regards the Temple, I can only say it is clearly very old, and is an immensely calming presence with Shivji as the primary deity, and smaller temples dedicated to other dieties in the Temple complex, like Renuka Mata and including clearly newer addition like one dedicated to Saibaba. Please look at these enclosed photographs, and decide for yourselves that this place deserves at least one visit or not… 

Book Review: Quarter Life Crisis

Published July 12, 2017 by vishalvkale


This story has been due for a long time now… about time someone wrote something along the lines of something that is almost pandemic among the clueless youth of the modern world, self included. It is a surprise no one thought of penning something like this earlier, though I have read one book along similar lines, though not quite on the ball, as this one is. I am referring to the modern youth, and his or her attitude towards life in general and career & family to be specific.
The plot is fairly simple – though fascinating. It is about two people: one a young man, the other a young lady. The young man is completely clueless about his life; has got into an Engineering degree course without an iota of planning or thought; in the 4th year, he has little idea or interest in what to do with the rest of his life. To put it simply, this poor man is clueless. He is even more clueless about his lady love, beyond the obvious fact that he is genuinely in love, and totally committed to her. The lady has none of the above problems – and is a beacon of strength, unlike the half-wit she loves.
The long and short of it is that things get out of hand in the personal sphere first – and the lady lands up getting pregnant. To make things interesting, she categorically refuses the option of abortion, though she is all of 21 or thereabout. Despite the fact that she has a clear definable life goal & a workable plan for it – she is adamant, as only a woman can be; trust me. The good point, or should I say the only redeeming point in the gentleman, he is a true gentleman. He stands by his lady love, and vehemently supports her, once he sees that there is no changing her mind. Tremendous maturity on his part, the way he accepts the reality, and wholeheartedly supports her.
The family of the lady, on the other hand, has some other ideas; they are just not willing to listen to either of them, or the lady’s plan to have the child. The two lovers plans were well known to both families, as they were together since long, but the lady’s parents will not accept this – given the gentleman’s cluelessness of his direction & life. The gentleman & the lady are clear-  lets get married immediately. But that is easier said than done, as the lady’s family will have none of it.
The gentleman’s family, though understandably distraught over this nasty surprise, gets over it fast enough – aided by a strong elder sister of the Gentleman, who is critical yet supportive of the two. She even tries to intervene in the Lady’s family, to no avail. Eventually, this family rises in solid support of the two lovers, a phase which has been handled remarkably well in the book. The book takes off from this point in the second half, for a series of genuine heart-warming, at times melancholy, surprises as the main characters show uncommon resolve, faith and patience… for what happens next, read the book!
There isn’t much to analyse in this book, to be honest; I don’t mean that as a criticism. This is a human interest story, a story on human lives and emotions. This is not a situational story, or a circumstantial one full of twists and turns and / or action. This is a book of Human Emotions, Life, Life Choices, Reactions, Family, and about Building a Life by Overcoming Ones Weaknesses. This is a book of how a clueless man finds himself; this is a book of choices – on how the choices you make impact your life as a whole. This is a book that teaches a standing life lesson, to be honest, in some ways.
The book does, at one level, serve to raise some pertinent life questions to the discerning reader, as to the importance of one’s choices, the importance of having a clear definable goal in life; of being on the right side of social norms; of having the strength to face the consequences of going against the norm; of being committed about everything in life; and about how things can go wrong if commitment is lacking in your approach or your attitude towards anything. It does all of this without being judgemental!
The story is intense and slow-paced; the author deserves credit for writing an engaging story despite it being a slow story. The way the intensity of the relationships portrayed in this novel has been brought out with clever wordplay, and a minimum of fuss and needless over-dramatization is what impressed me the most. Further, this intensity has been quite successfully maintained throughout the entire novel, without any  sacrifices made on any aspect of the novel.

The charectarisation is adequate; quite good, in fact. The character sketches are near-flawless in the consistency of their reactions over time and range of situations, which is a tremendous achievement in a novel of this genre. The behaviour of each character is fully believable and seems practical in the light of the overall character; not one scene seems forcefully done, or out of place. The best part of all is the female characters, all of which are shown as strongly-etched, which I personally liked. The language is simple and functional, not flowering, yet it succeeds to create a moving image in your mind. All in all, rated 4 stars out of 5…

Movie Review – Hrudayantar

Published July 9, 2017 by vishalvkale

Child / Family member having Leukemia or being terminally ill is a theme that has been dealt with more times than you and I would care to count; which is also an observation critics have made of this movie as well. Thus, if you are deciding to make a movie on this aspect or theme, then it should be having loads of glue so that the audience will respond to it; which is not easy to do in the modern day with its fickle and well-informed audience. As per some critics, it is a movie that has an old subject or is predicatable; as per me – this stands as one of the most stunning movies ever made in its genre, any language. So what is it that makes this movie stand out among all others?

This is the story of a DITK family – Double Income Two Kids family;  The Husband {Shekhar, played by Subodh Bhave} is a top – and I mean top – hotelier; the lady {Samaira, played by Mukta Bhave} is the Creative Head of an Ad Agency; two successful and exceedingly well-placed individuals. They have two children – Nitya and Nysha, played by Trushnika Shinde and Nishtha Vaidya. The couple are going through a hard phase, as the Husband is a workaholic who has not learnt to navigate the fine dividing line between office time and personal time; a man who lives only and only for his job.

The lady, on the other hand, has managed to fit in both into her life, and justifiably expects the husband to do so as well. This leads to them filing for divorce by mutual consent; and then disaster strikes, in the form of the elder daughter getting diagnosed with Leukemia. The rest of the story revolves around this theme, as the couple respond to this crisis, and together they try and do everything within their power and the power of medicine, to save their girl. How the family responds, reacts, coalesces, how each family member copes with the crisis is the crux of the movie.
As can be seen, the plot is quite straightforward; what matters in a movie is not just the plot, but the whole package; that is what most professional reviewers have been forgetting. On site after site, one can see that critic reviews and customer reviews vary from each other by a wide margin – Bookmyshow, 4.1 vs 3.2, with 80% loves; most other sites are also showing a 0.5 higher rating by customers. To the professional reviewers – those figures are telling a story, that w don’t agree with you. Isnt a movie supposed to be about the audience? And if your ratings don’t tally, what does that say?
So what is it that makes this movie one of the best I have ever seen – given that it has reached my blog, which has only reviewed 10-odd movies in the past 6-7 years, it is, to me, a very special movie indeed? It is the entire package, which comes together in one magnificent whole to make a great product. It is the attention to detail, the minutiae, the small aspects that create the magic. Add to that the uniqueness in the script {A script is different from A story!}, the screenplay, the performances, the music and the direction – all of these come together in one magical product, a product that can be seen again and again. I for one cant wait to see Shekhar and Samaira on screen once again, that is for certain!
The script seems logical – the moment the illness hits, the interpersonal issues of the couple vanish – unlike some other movies we have seen in this genre. This is entirely logical; that is the first aspect that hits home. Gone are the fights, the disagreements, the egos – in one stroke of terrifying lightning, as the couple immediately comes together. The best part – they don’t become lovey-dovey overnight; it is just that the immediate priority is fighting the crisis, which makes them rise above their internal issues. This is dealt with superbly, with the script and the screenplay showing a slow and decidedly thaw developing as the story progresses. This took some doing – as the illness hit within the first 30 minutes of the movie. The way the script and the screenplay develop this is masterly!
Second, the Performances. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! Simply amazing! Subodh Bhave – I have always maintained that Subodh is among the best actors ever produced by our country; and was therefore wondering if Mukta Barve can hold her own against such a powerful screen presence, with an actor with such a wide range of capabilities as seen in his other efforts. I have earlier noted her abilities in no uncertain terms in one other review before; and had a very high regard for her. Despite this, I must confess I was concerned about this casting, and was eagerly waiting for the results.
I needn’t have worried; this casting was a masterpiece. The script required two strong performers of equal merit, depth and range of emotions, and gravity of purpose and screen presence to cocreate magic; this was achieved by this casting. The expressions, the movements, the gestures, the faces, the body language – and the eyes; especially the eyes. I saw two acting aces, geniuses pull off what has to be the best performance of their lives, and that is saying something. So captivating were the two performances, so absolutely mind boggling, that you are moved to tears, and yet maintain a great mood, as you watch, transfixed, as Samaira and Shekhar take us deep into their lives.
A word here for Trushnika and Nishtha, the two child actors; I am speechless at the talent of these two incredible performers. They add the required substance, believability, class and connect to the movie, and their performance had to be just right; not too overdramatic, not underdone. And it was perfect, as near perfect as can be. Without these two performances,  the movie would have lost a lot of its sheen; it is the overall balance in the entire product that makes it great.
And it is here that directorial genius becomes evident – the directorial efforts get hidden by two towering geniuses in Samaira & Shekhar; but getting the kids, the supporting actors to also perform as well –  is class direction. It is also evident in the overall construction of this landmark project, the music, the balance, and the overall handling; we have a new and very, very talented director who would bear watching very closely indeed – if his first venture is anything to go by. I have said nothing of the music so far – so let me correct that; the music with its mix of lively and mood numbers is just right for the movie, and is very good indeed – and also gels well with the screenplay, script and the characters.

To Film Critics – couldn’t all of you see these aspects? Why the comparatively miserly rating for such a great product? Just because it deals with an oft-dealt with product? What do you guys require to rate a move highly, do tell me! And if the audience rates the movie higher, much higher – then I respectfully submit that there is a lack of audience connect on your part. All in all, this is one of the finest movies made in India in its genre. It is a complete entertainer; despite being a relatively tragic topic, you come out transfixed and in a great mood. That is one hell of an achievement! Rated 5 stars out of 5, and I wish I could rate it 7 stars out of 5! 

Our Traffic Jams – And Our Blind Eye To Them…

Published June 12, 2017 by vishalvkale

Roads… no, I am not talking of the quality – or lack of it – of our roads, for once. While that may still be a problem in more than a few areas, that is still small stuff, really – as compared to the far bigger issue that confronts us with regard to roads. An issue that is not too evident, and yet is increasingly a pressing concern; or, at least – should certainly be a pressing concern for all of us. Not just Indians – but every single resident of this planet.
We worry about the environment – or pretend to, at any rate; that, at least, gets into the newspapers with surprising regularity – not least thanks to a certain Gentleman bearing the first name “Donald”. It does deserve every bit of news space it occupies; that I grant – the environment, I mean. That we don’t do much about it in our personal lives is another matter entirely. I don’t blame the people – those who don’t do much, that is. The environment is going to be just fine for them,  in their lifespans, and thus, they have little to worry about, if you really think about it.
What I am referring to is something far simpler – the traffic, the abundance of traffic, or should I say, the rivers of traffic on our tiny teensy weensy roads. And I refer to the arteries as well – those teeny weeny 4 and 8 lane – aah-  {forgive me, Civil Engineering / English / Oxford / Merriam Webster et al} – Highways. My heart would ache for the torture they endure were they human. Luckily, they aren’t human, and they aren’t alive. Lucky for us – they would have run away to another Galaxy, leaving us Humans without Roads, had they been alive!
I have observed the bumper-to-bumper traffic in any number of cities in India; this spans Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Chandrapur, Amravati, Indore, Bhopal, Raipur and many more. The sheer waste of resources, time and effort is staggering; so much so, that I gave up my personal vehicle altogether. And I will try my best to continue to use the public transport as far as is possible. A 40 minute journey takes 2 hours – no,  am not talking of Mumbai. I am speaking of other cities. It staggers the mind, and leaves me wondering – is this really progress?
Furthermore, it is even more staggering to see cars with one driver on the road frequently… why not car pool? Not to save cash – but to save your time, money, effort, free up time for productive work – I do one hell of a lot of productive work in the commute, for instance – and much much more. But this isn’t limited to cars alone; why don’t bikers also pool rides? Sure, it will be difficult, will involve some compromises. But I have done it for 5 years, and from experience – I can say that it is doable, eminently so.
Sure, it requires compromise, sacrifice, a redefinition and redesigning for your lifestyle. You will certainly have to walk a lot more – but isn’t that great? I for one have benefited one hell of a lot from the additional walking. And no one is asking you to give up permanently – just cut down – even 3 days a week of a compromise to start is good enough. The time that is saved, can be used to better your enjoyment; like I use the time to listen to Marathi Music, or reading a good book; which I would otherwise not be able to do in a 14-hour day. For the commute time will remain essentially the same, given the traffic.
The question is, why do you need to do it? Because roads are finite; land is finite. And new vehicles are being added every day, numbering hundreds of thousands, in every city, street, town and village. Add to that the increasing urbanization rate, and population influx to the cities. Add to that the burgeoning population of India. Put it all together – and the picture becomes crystal clear. You need to do it, else in a few decades, maybe just one decade – the situation might become impossible.
Where do you think the new additional vehicles will be driven? What is the capacity of the roads we have, and how many are using them? Traffic Jams are already a regular issue in nearly every city; and yet, no one does anything. Oh sure, we complain about the Government. Question again is – what are we, the people – doing about it? Cant you get off the roads three days a week? I have gotten off for 4.5 of the past 5.5 years. Sure – it has come at a price. But, I have the satisfaction of knowing I, personally, have contributed albeit in a very small way towards building my nation.
Every additional vehicle on our roads adds to the pressure, it adds to the pollution, it adds a few seconds to the commute time; it adds to body stress, it adds to illnesses, it adds to wastage of time. It is quite possibly among the biggest productivity losses we as a nation are having. How many hours are wasted – a sheer total waste? And how simple it would be to find a better way utilize that time – admittedly at some inconvenience to our ownselves? 

The payback – time saved, money saved, and best of all – a decided improvement in the health parameter. Not just due to the additional physical activity, but most critically due to the lessening of stress, and more positive involvement of the mind! You deserve it, your family deserves it, and most of all your nation needs it. Give up your vehicle 3 days a week!

Book Review – Culture Of Encounters: Sanskrut At The Mughal Court

Published April 21, 2017 by vishalvkale

We are witness to, in the current socio-political mileu, increasing critical examination of especially The Mughal Period, which is being examined, at times without any basis in fact, threadbare on Social Media and the population at large. Therefore, the current book under review represents a timely intervention as well as a much-needed fresh look at the history of that period from a literary and cultural perspective. This is critical, since the Political, Military history is well established; the Economic History and the Cultural History is what needs further research and clarity
Image Courtesy : Google Search

Whereas the British Period is examined in great detail by Dr Shashi Tharoor, Jaswant Singh, NS Sarila and many other contemporary writers in the past 4-5 years, The Mughal Period shows a lamentable lack of authoritative research at least in the popular realm. What is more disturbing is that there is evidence and research of the Socio-Cultural Realm of the British Empire and its searing horrifying damage to the Socio-Cultural fabric of India – Maria Misra and Pavan Verma come to mind here – the same is marked by its total absence with reference to the Mughal Times, at least from what I gather in India.
This is where the current tome – Culture Of Encounters : Sanskrut In The Mughal Court by Audrey Tuschke fills a major gap, by analyzing the literary aspect of Mughal activities in India, thereby telling a story totally unknown, even to an avid amateur history researcher like self, a person read and learned in and with several dozen top history books in the past 8 years. The content comes as a complete surprise and shock, and a welcome reminder to an amateur like me to continue reading, keep up to date with latest research and not get a bloated head, to be frank!

Audrey Truschke
The book delves deep into The Socio-Cultural realm of the Mughal Court during Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb’s time, giving us a surprise every few pages that causes us to recalibrate our thoughts and our knowledge. The book contains proof and evidence which you can check for yourself; more of this in the bibliography. The book is a unique and fresh look at a period of history that we clearly do not understand fully, one that needs scholarly examination. The one regret that I have is that this was thought of, researched and written outside India by a person not an Indian!  Why cant such telling research be conducted in our universities; and if it is being conducted – why isn’t it being made popularly available?
This is an examination of the socio-cultural multiculturality of the Mughal Court, and the focus of successive Mughal Emperors to engage with Sanskrut {and increasingly Hindustani – precursor of Modern Hindi, which was standardized & Sanskrutised into the tongue we now speak}. This covers translations as well as deep engagements with Sanskrut texts – a myriad of Sanskrut texts, right from the most Famous, like The Mahabharat & The Ramayan to the comparatively lesser known works like Nal-Damayanti and many others folklores and books.
It looks in depth at the Brahman and Jain influence at The Mughal Court, the Sanskrut translations and texts written for the court, translations of Sanskrut works into Farsi {Persian}, examination of Indian History basis Sanskrut works, re-examination / alteration / rejection / questioning / acceptance of both Sanskrut literature & {Sanaatani} practices as well as  questioning {in one case} prevalent Islamicate Practices, literature on The Mughal Empire in Sanskrut, and incorporation of Sanskrut in the Persian world. The book closes on a deep but potent note – asking as to how did Sanskrut become extinct, a question that naturally arises from the text, given that it was a living, thriving and robust tongue right till the early 1700s, and given that texts were produced in it right till the late 1700s, and early 1800s.
This is an in-depth and solid research; I traced the bibliopgraphy repeatedly while reading the book, and the sources seem impeccable. I made the effort  of downloading one of the translations of the Ain-i-Akbari, and read a few pages of the 3rd Volume, which pertains to Sanskrut textual history, from The National Digital Library. This text – The Ain-I-Akbari is extensively referred in the current book. From that experience, I can state this is, in addition to a ground-breaking research, a great resource book for further reading, with a plethora of great resources of ancient documents to choose from.

The book takes pain to look at the extensive Multi-Culturalism of The Mughal Court, and the extensive interaction and erudite, surprisingly open and well-informed debates between Islamic and Brahman/Jain scholars at The Mughal Court. The extent of Mughal support for Sanskrut, and later Hindustani, literary activities comes as a total shock. Did this extend to the Cultural sphere? That is a tantalizing thought – I just hope someone does some research on that.
The best part is the even, fair and balanced tonality of the research. I could not detect any western bias, which is pretty much a first {or rather, second – Will Durant being the only other Westerner I respect in this regard}; the book is transparent and very, very logical throughout. It maintains a fine line between Multiculturalism and secularism, which is welcome. That said, this research work does clarify to a very large extent some of the fog around The Mughals, and provides strong irrefutable evidence of their Muticulturalism, as well as tantalizing evidence that The Mughals after and starting from Akbar regarded themselves as Indian, which is a welcome thought.
What this seminal research does bring out is the difference between the Colonial approach – that of an alien power, and the Mughal approach. While, as painfully portrayed in Pavan Verma’s classic {or indeed in the classic books – What India Should Know & Operation Red Lotus, which showed up the shoddy way Indian history was written by The West} , the colonial period saw a subjugation of all things Indian. By complete contrast, The Mughal Interaction was on a different scale, very open to local sensibilities, accepting of divergent views. This method managed to keep both traditions alive and healthy; they {The Mughals} managed to keep their culture, their world views intact; while we Sanaatanis managed to keep our language, culture and literature intact.
It created what I can best call a Win-Win situation, leading to the right conditions. This hypothesis can only be established by a further examination of the Cultural Realm of The Mughal Era, but there is strong evidence in support of this in the Economic and now Literary sphere. In a telling contrast, while 300 years of Mughal Rule did not impact our language or culture too much, 150 – 190 years of colonial rule redefined or rather suppressed the Local Linguistic, cultural, literary and social landscape. So much so, that it has taken 6 decades for the local arts, culture, vernacular languages and economic landscape to rise to something resembling what it was in Pre-Colonial times!
All in all, rated 5 stars; one of the finest books in the History Genre I have read!