Saturday, May 21, 2011

In Search of Peace

The following is a 500-word story I wrote about my travels as part of a Travel Writing Scholarship competition on World Nomads.

In Search of Peace

‘Where can I find Ashoka’s rock inscriptions?’

The photographer glared at me. I was interrupting his business. A couple waited impatiently. Behind them, the white pagoda of the Shanti Stupa loomed.

I was at Dhauli, eight kilometres south of the capital city of Bhubaneswar in Orissa, India. Around 261 BC, Ashoka The Great – the legendary Mauryan Emperor whose vast empire covered present-day India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan in their entirety – waged the bloody Kalinga War at this site. Over a quarter of a million people were either killed or deported. Appalled by the bloodshed he had caused – the nearby Daya River is said to have turned red with blood – Ashoka devoted the rest of his life to Buddhism. He propagated his dharma by inscribing his edicts on a rock face.

In 1972, the Japan Buddhist Sangha built a Shanti Stupa (Peace Pagoda) atop the hill overlooking the sprawling farmland countryside, and Dhauli became a tourist destination. People flocked to the Stupa in droves, prostrating before and clicking photographs of the four idols of the Buddha. Stalls sprung up selling film rolls, deep-fried snacks and water bottles. Behind the Stupa stood the reconstructed Shiva temple and Ganesha shrine, where priests yelled at devotees and tourists alike to go here, do this and pay so much. It was a racket and I wanted out, fast.

Asking for ‘the big rock with things written on it’ drew blank shrugs, until a taxi-driver believed it to be at the base of the hill. I walked the few hundred metres, rounding a bend and leaving the ruckus behind. Three cattle egrets fluttered ahead of me, catching the sun on the yellow-orange brushes on their plumage. I came upon a garden where a uniformed caretaker was sweeping dried leaves.

‘Where can I find Ashoka’s rock inscriptions?’ I asked.

He turned and pointed to a grill-protected, glass-fronted building, about ten feet high and fifteen feet wide. An elephant was carved above, into the side of the rock. ‘This is it,’ he said.

I pressed my nose against the glass. Ashoka’s eleven edicts were scrawled into the sloping rock in the ancient Brahmi script of the Pali language. A nearby signboard translated them into English, starting with prohibiting the killing of animals in the royal kitchen, and including gems like ‘officials should be free from anger and hurry’. The sculpted elephant, considered to be the earliest rock-cut sculpture in India, symbolised the birth of the Buddha.

Buses raced past. This featured on no tour operator’s itinerary.

I wandered into the sprawling garden attached to the rock edicts, maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. The air was hot and still with monsoon humidity. A solitary Myna chirped. The gardeners’ stiff brooms, made from the spines of coconut leaves, scratched at the grass. Their shears clipped rhythmically. Under the shade of a flowering patoli tree, I sat cross-legged and meditated. I searched for peace in the same place Emperor Ashoka had, 2,270 years ago.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Loss Of Friendship

Since December, I haven't been doing well at friendship. I have burnt many bridges, broken many connections, all of them which I thought were strong and unshakable. It turns out they aren't as infallible as I thought they were. Maybe the seeds for their downfall were sown much earlier. Maybe I'm just a bigger dick than those people deserve.

It started when I ended my relationship in early December. That was the best relationship I had ever been in, yet I felt the need to end it. What made it worse was the manner in which I broke up with her. Given the strength of our bond, we stayed in touch for four more months, swinging back and forth between not talking to getting back together. Finally, in mid-April, she said the same thing to me that nearly ever woman I have dated before has said: "Don't call or write."

In January, I was honest, maybe brutally so, with a woman who I thought was good friends with me. I told her what I thought people might interpret her behaviour as, and I told her I had feelings for her. After months of hanging out with each other and years of knowing each other, she stopped talking to me following that evening. No calling, no writing.

In early April, I got into a bitter fight with a woman friend by defending another friend. I would hang out with this woman friend regularly, but since that incident, there's been no contact. No calling, no writing.

This weekend has been particularly bad. Last night, I lost my temper and put one of my oldest friendships - one that defines the very person I have grown up to be - under the scanner. I fear that we have grown apart so far that we have lost touch of the very fabric that forms the foundation of our erstwhile rock-solid friendship. I fear this guy, who I was once best friends with, has replaced me and I have been rendered inconsequential or, worse, a liability.

Today, I was put in my place for pushing boundaries and crossing limits. I immediately removed myself from not only that fledgling friendship, but all the ones associated with it as well.

This is a scary time for me. I'm petrified at this seeming inability of mine to maintain friendships. I've known for some time that I suck at relationships, that I'm very good in the beginning but I have to work hard beyond the initial period. But to face the possibility that I might not even be able to maintain long-lasting friendships. How useless am I if I have to keep creating new friendships, all doomed like their predecessors, to replace the ones I keep destroying?

As is wont with me, I instantly tried to find an external source to blame. We bought a new car at the end of Nov. That must be it. With two fender-benders already while driving that car, it must be unlucky. Or it must be because I stopped doing my kriya in early Dec. Life was better when I was practising the Sudarshan Kriya.

I'm not sure what to do. Every bone in my body is screaming out for solitude, to limit the extent of potential damage I can create to myself and those I come in contact with. But a person important to me has told me more than once that if I screw something up, I must go out and fix it. Something is very wrong with me, in my head, and I need to fix that before I can fix anything emanating from me.

What is wrong with me? Why am I so terrible with people, especially the very close ones? Why am I so intent on burning the forest I live in?

Why Mahindra Logan Should Be Renamed 'Wolf'

Mahindra and Renault brought in the Logan to India, but their marriage couldn't last. And now, Mahindra - with complete control over the Logan, except its name - have renamed the car 'Verito'. It's almost vertigo-inducing, apart from being one of the most uninspiring, unmemorable names possible for a car.
Logan - Wolverine

The Mahindra Logan should have been renamed the 'Mahindra Wolf''. Here's why.

Logan is a character in X-Men - he becomes Wolverine. There's a pretty good chance that a good chunk of your target audience - under the age of 30 - has watched the films, read the comics graphic novels and knows the Logan-Wolverine connection. It's a connection that allows for a ton of film tie-ins and promotions, as well as other insinuations in marketing messages.

I can see a print ad already - a black background, silver moonlight streaming down from a large full moon, catching a silver/black Mahindra Wolf that's carrying three steel claws on its doors. "The Mahindra Logan has transformed to the Mahindra Wolf. Howl!"

The Wolf allows for the most important aspect of marketing today - the social aspect. Wolves hunt in packs and Mahindra has the bandwidth to create packs of Wolves. Mahindra can connect Wolf owners and create a pack (not a 'club' or a 'group') that can rival Royal Enfield's. No car company in India has been able to do that. Then, they can create some really awesome properties like a 'Wolf Night Drive' and a 'Full Moon Wolf Party'. It also gives a name to their car owners - 'Wolves'. "Are you a Wolf?"

Finally, a name like 'Wolf' allows for a wonderful side-vertical to spring up - accessories. Both the driver and the steed can be dressed up. Jackets, decals, fake fur, a wolf howl horn.

The time has come for the Logan to grow up. Verito does nothing for the car or the brand - it makes it another forgettable transport option. Wolf creates a brand and all its associated perks, and that is what Mahindra needs now. The Mahindra Wolf.