Saturday, February 23, 2013

I read a dream

Civil rights soldier
As any other Indian, willingly or unwillingly I have been bombarded with stories of Indian independence struggle and consequently I have an intense sense of pride for belonging to such a land. Freedom in various walks of life which seem so natural to me are earned in hard ways by many humans. One such phenomenon of freedom struggle was 'African-American Civil Rights Movement' led by many and intensified by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the second half of twentieth century. I was completely ignorant of the hardships endured by the black American community until I read the compelling narration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life story as a biography by Roger Bruns. This short account of MLK's life in 150 pages is a sneak peek into the main incidents of African American Civil Rights Movement.
Martin Luther King, Jr. 
When Barrack Obama was elected as the President of United States little could I relate with the hysterical emotions running high in the African American community. For if one doesn't know the history of world, then the understanding of today's events gets obscured. I always feel the urge to know in detail the events which have resulted in the suffering of humanity. This book unfolds MLK's struggle to uphold the basic human rights of black community in America and throws light on his journey towards achieving Nobel Prize for Peace. His is not a rags to riches story but his story is that of a great pastor who emerged as the greatest leader of Civil Rights Movement propagating non-violent Gandhian principles. 

Martin Luther King,Jr. arose the black community to raise against the segregation policies followed in America against them. He gave the strength to the sleeping black community to stand on it's able feet and demand the right to live equally among it's white American counterparts. He led them in a journey to end centuries long servile attitude shown towards the black community in America. He guided them to end racial discrimination in public places, education, employment, politics and all other arenas of social life. This book chalks out his journey towards achieving that American dream of equality. Unnerved by the humiliation, violence and apathy he received from the white population of U.S, Martin Luther King led millions of hapless blacks towards their freedom for which he was ultimately assassinated at a young age of 39. Though his death was cruel and untimely it paved way to etch his name permanently in the minds of entire black community who fight against their oppressors. 

The book is succinct with winding up the narration in less than 150 pages and gives the reader a substantial overview of Martin Luther King,Jr's struggle to achieve freedom for the black community. The reader is taken through his childhood, education and rise to fame in a quick but efficient speed. The atrocity of white populace shown on black community is brought out through the description of marches, denial of basic human necessities and inhuman politics. The role of high school students and youth in general in the Civil Rights Movement is brought out thoroughly in the book by the inclusion of major contributions of those young soldiers. The book is a scholarly read with ample references to sources of the text.

I exhort every person to read one of the top most speeches of twentieth century: I have a dream by Martin Luther King, Jr. This is my chance to share with you all the text of this electrifying speech here:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book review: The Shadow Princess

Shadow Princess
Some time back I wrote about the first two books in The Taj Trilogy by Indu Sundaresan: The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses. Shadow Princess is the culmination of the saga. Indu portrays the story of Mughal India after the death of it's beloved begum, Mumtaz Mahal a.k.a Arjumand Banu.

The narration starts with the fourteenth child delivery by Arjumand Banu and her death during the process. She deserts this world leaving behind two daughters, Jahanara and Roshanara along with four sons. On the death of her mother, Jahanara becomes the Padshah begum sahiba of the imperial harem leaving behind Shah Jahan's other two wives in the run for the title. In the time of his beloved wife's death, emperor Shah Jahan depends dearly on his daughter for emotional support and matters of governance. Jahanara looks after her father and kingdom so well that the emperor grows extremely attached to his eldest child and refuses to give her away in marriage to anybody. Jahanara thus looses the chance to marry her love interest, a capable noble in her father's kingdom - Nazabat Khan. Thus sets the mood of longing and desperation in the book.

Jahanara supports her father's will in establishing Dara Shikoh on the throne of Hindustan while her sister Roshanara whose importance is whittled away in Jahanara's brilliance supports another brother Aurangzeb's accession to throne. The haughty pious prince, Aurangzeb longs and fails to attain his sister's Jahanara's affection. Jahanara on failing to receive the natural right to marry, took to immoral and unconventional ways of seeking love. She starts to smuggle in a man into the imperial harem to satisfy her. On discovering that Nazabat too loves her, she meets him secretly under the very nose of the emperor. Aurangzeb's struggle for gaining power is paralleled with his sister's attempts at gaining love. The book entails to describe the construction of Taj Mahal in painful details and there is an information overload.

While this third and last edition in the trilogy holds strong in expressing the author's brilliance in narration, it lacks in holding the readers's interest. Primarily the protagonist of the book, Jahanara Begum is not as impressive and authoritative as the protagonist of two other books, Mehrunnisa. Although the character building has come out substantially, the character in itself lacks any charisma. Secondly, the detail with which the author has described the construction of Taj Mahal is unappealing to a reader lacking architectural background. The story is a drag with nothing new to offer and the important historical incidents in the life of Aurangzeb have received lesser importance than they were actually entitled to. The perfidy and fratricide on Aurangzeb's part is chalked out much too feebly and the grandeur of Mughal rule is all repetitive.

All in all the climax of this trilogy is a disappointment and to be read only for curiosity. I read the book in sections-once starting from the last few chapters, once in the middle section, skipping many a few pages out of sheer boredom!! At last I finished the book and here I am recommending this to only those who have read the first two wonderful books in this trilogy.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Victory of a simple dream

The fine lines around my aging eyes were more pronounced when we laughed the same careless laughter we did a decade ago. When my best friend was next to me, it didn't matter how silly I sounded. My heart was at peace with the serene knowledge that I was at Mysore viewing those palace lanes I longed to walk as a child. The splatter of rain drops complimented the typical neighing laughter of my best buddy. As she animatedly narrated the recent takeover of by her company I couldn't help but admire her journey to this day. I was startled to look at the confident woman sitting next to me who once crumpled down with tension not able to bear the career path she was in.

She dragged me with all might towards her stall in the world famous Dasara exhibition. She couldn't contain her excitement when she wanted me to choose from the intricate, embroidered accessories she owned. I could only marvel at her designs with muted appreciation. Words deserted me when I realized how famous her accessories brand had come to be. Is this the same silly girl who believed circuits and labs were her destiny until one fine day she froze to bed in the morning not able to carry herself into the office? It took her mighty 5 years post-graduation to realize what she truly desired and another 5 years to put together the business she so desperately worked to build strongly. Today people see her business, nay art as an effortless enterprise built over night. But only a couple of us really know what conviction she displayed and what hard work she put in to make her life count. When she was shouting instructions to the buyers to not rush around the counter, the flashes of colors in the beautiful earring I held unknowingly  took me to our graduation days.

Wasn't my bestie the one to come up with the most visually pleasing presentation for an assignment in the environmental subject? This geek who aced every test in our class, built an entire set of costumes, masks and posters for a dance show in our second year. How did I encourage her to indulge more in her artistic activities only to be put down by her lack of interest! Wasn't she stitching all her clothes herself and complimented them with her simple yet innovative embroidery? How did she even think that a life of electronic engineer with it's loss of colors and art, can render a satisfactory career for her interests? She graduated holding a 5th rank in the university and went on to fulfill her dull self imposed work life of an engineer. Even when the boredom in her job gnawed on her happiness from within, she didn't retire to introspect on her deepest desires. To compensate for the missing excitement in her job, she augmented her educational qualification with a post graduation degree in the dreaded electronics field of 'Signals and Systems' because as the conformist society expects that is what intelligent people choose to do. Her inner energy was not wasted in going against the current but letting herself carried away with the current. Loss of the pleasure that arises from creating beauty, pushed her to give away all that she built by 9 years of education and working.

The pride I felt when she decided to quit her current career for something that came natural to her was overwhelming. She started by creating simple designs on her computer (the by-product of her tryst with IT industry was the knowledge of presentation and graphical tools) and gave life to them on the clothes. She opened a boutique with the savings she had and quickly started owning a strong foothold in the local fashion market. Her simplistic designs won her many loyal customers and soon she started designing ethnic clothes for the local fashion events and along came money, recognition and a structured organisation with buzzing employees and clients. In 5 years of her business she has expanded from her 20*30 sq.ft boutique to a three storeyed stitching factory and a lavish boutique in the heart of the city. Recently she acquired an informal family business in a village near Mandya that produces rare accessories made of richly embroidered clothes. She gave industrial touch to the age old techniques and now produces fashion of high demand in the cities. She has taken the women of destitute homes and orphans under her wings and trained them in many of the new designs she has come up with. Today she is responsible for the sustained income of 2500+ underprivileged souls in the Mysore city. Recognizing her growing fame and talent, the Department of Art and Culture of the Karnataka government has paired up with her to revive the lost embroidery skills of the village life around Mysore district.

Speak to her of the further business plans, she lights up with a tinkle in her eyes and gushes out the details of  jewellery design course she has undertaken and how she plans to bring out her own series of gold jewellery designs. The rut and morose life she was leading as a high paid electronics engineer are replaced by the joy of creation and helping people. When once she was tired and irritated by the slightest change in her routine, now she literally jumps at the prospect of doing something new each day, every day. She lights the heart of many people around her with a simple laughter and ample love. She delights by leading a life she is proud of.

Our dream, the desire that is in our soul, did not come out of nowhere. 
Someone placed it there for a reason.
Paulo Coelho