Archive for June 16, 2013


Simple and sublime |

The Hindu. – excerpt :

(T)his book fathoms all.”

The book that eminent modern British poet W.B. Yeats referred to when it was published in 1912 went on to win for its author Rabindranath Tagore (then 51) the Nobel Prize in literature the next year. Gitanjali: Song Offerings thus became the first and, as it happens, the only literary work by an Indian to have won the revered prize. Significantly, this was also the first instance of the Swedish Academy awarding the prize to an Asian.

………………… The first instance of this tremendous impact is seen in Yeats’ reaction. He was among the earliest European admirers of Tagore and also wrote an excellent ‘Introduction’ to Gitanjali . The reason why this ‘Introduction’ became famous in literary history is the book’s powerful impression on Yeats and the candour with which he expressed it: “I have carried the manuscript of this translation about with me for days, reading it in railway trains or on the top of omnibuses, and in restaurants, and I had often had to close it, lest some stranger would see how much it moved me”. It is a measure of the emotional potency of the verses that they could, even in translation, produce such a profound affect on a mind already acquainted with fine literature.

Gitanjali remains to this day among the most popular books in modern India. What explains either the book’s staggering impact on its first readers in the West or its abiding popularity? Is not the highest excellence in art supposed to be inimical to wide currency? Is not a book of “religious” poems of a decidedly “idealistic” inclination not likely to find favour with the masses? Yes, but Gitanjali is a glorious exception. For, this book illustrates those rare instances when the highest excellence in art reside in matter that is also the simplest and the most profoundly human. Tagore’s admirer Yeats, the Nobel jury of 1913, and his readers across Europe were all struck by this genuine greatness that was simple and sublime at the same time.

A consummate artistry of form that seems effortless is here integrated with substance that speaks powerfully to most fundamental and the loftiest elements in human nature. With equal grace the book expresses the emotions of life’s every mood through poems that render, for example, the joys of children at play, the serenity of the boatman playing a lute on a boat in the river, the longings of the heart, the moods of the seasons and the agony of grief. The book partakes of the universally and essentially human and touches all that is above the worldly and the ephemeral in us. Reading these poems, we feel like saying with the poet: “When I go from hence, let this be my parting word/that what I have seen is unsurpassable” ( Gitanjali , 96).

All the myriad notes struck by the book resonate with a devoted love for the Creator, the poems being images of the poet’s heart turning to God with “praise, prayer and profound devotion”. But such is its elemental power that even a non-believer is moved by the pure love of life embodied in them: the reverence, the simplicity, and the naturalness expressed in the appreciation of life in all its moods breaks the barrier of scepticism and fills us with what Yeats identifies as an “insidious sweetness”.

Yeats likens the poet’s voice to St. Francis and to William Blake. It is akin also, we may note, to that of G.M. Hopkins, who resembles Tagore in his fervent admiration in life of God’s “grandeur” and “glory” (cf. God’s Grandeur and Pied Beauty by Hopkins). Yet while the English poet professed the austerity of a Christian saint and was ridden with guilt for being a lover of God’s world, Gitanjali gives no inkling of any such feeling. It is instinct only with innocence and spontaneity that co-exist easily with profound thought and devotion.

As we “fight and make money and fill our head with politics”, and die a little each day Gitanjali promises to renew life in us and to give us the quiet peace of the soul that modern living has made difficult to attain.

 

Zen Flash

“Above all, be at ease, be as natural and spacious as possible. Slip quietly out of the noose of your habitual anxious self, release all grasping, and relax into your true nature. Think of your ordinary emotional, thought-ridden self as a block of ice or a slab of butter left out in the sun. If you are feeling hard and cold, let this aggression melt away in the sunlight of your meditation.

— with Bharat Sharma, Disha Taukoorah and Mokone Bone Matli.

Meditation Masters

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Zen Flash

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice’s complaints. One morning, he sent him to get some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and then drink it.

“How does it taste?” the master asked. “Bitter,” said the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”
As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”

“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.

“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.

“No,” said the young man. At this the master sat beside this serious young man, and explained softly,

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Boost your spirit with cocoa nibs

Writing on chocolate | The HinduExcerpt:

Although I have been seeing nibs on menu cards for a while, I only took note of them when I tripped upon a bag at an intriguing coffee shop in Auroville. We were in the kitchen with Marc Tourmo, a Spaniard who relocated to India to start one of the country’s first new wave coffee shops in 1995. Determined to be at the helm of what he’s convinced will be a huge food trend, Marc’s been studying Indian cocoa nibs and their uses. He opens a bag and poured the fragrant, jagged little bits into my palm. “Eat this, and you’ll be in heaven,” he chuckles.

What are these mysterious nibs anyway? Well, they’re basically raw chocolate. The cacao bean goes through many stages of peeling, roasting and prepping before it’s ready to be turned into a bar of chocolate. Cocoa nibs are the final stage, before the addition of sugar, milk and flavourings. With a delicate crunchy texture, and a rich, earthy and slightly bitter taste, this the purest hit of chocolate you’ll find. Admittedly, it does take some getting used to. Mostly because our taste buds are trained to expect sweetness from cocoa.

To learn how to enjoy its intense flavour, you can start by sprinkling it over cookies, cakes and granola, so you get used to the flavour, while enjoying the familiar aroma. Then, experiment with incorporating it into regular recipes. Celebrity chef and food writer David Lebowitz makes his Banana Bread with three tablespoons of cocoa nibs, for added texture. His blog also lists recipes for ‘Shallot, Cocoa Nib, Beer and Prune Jam.’ Proving that nibs don’t necessarily have to go into desserts, he also uses them in his pizza, adding the nibs for what he calls a “nice savoury crunch, as well as a bit of chocolate flavour.”

An animated discussion on Chow Hound (the community for the food obsessed) is rife with suggestions on ways to use them — ranging from sprinkling them over brownies for a ‘grown up’ dessert to adding them to cereal, smoothies and ice cream. For people who just want the flavour, you can steep the nibs in panacotta, ice cream or custard and then strain out the pieces. Alternatively, use it as a rub when creating a marinade for meat.

Why bother? Well, if you’re a chocolate addict (and let’s face it, most of us are), this is a great way to get all the benefits of cocoa without the calories of sugar. According to FitDay, an online diet journal, one ounce of cocoa nibs has 130 calories, 13 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbohydrates and three grams of protein. They state that it’s “one of the best dietary sources of magnesium as well as a good source of calcium, iron, copper, zinc and potassium.” They add that these nibs also have higher antioxidant levels than blueberries, red wine and green tea.

Marc loves them for their abilities to boost your energy and spirits. (Cocoa is well-known for its ability to release endorphins.) He’s found an easy way to get his fix. “I roast the raw cocoa like peanuts in a pan, then peel the skin and take out the crunchy bean. I take a full date, and put the bean in it. It’s sweet, delicious and healthy. Since the market is still young, Marc’s only selling beans right now, so customers have to do the roasting and peeling themselves. “When you crush cocoa, it begins to oxidise very fast. So it’s safer to sell the bean whole. But it’s quick and easy to roast and peel,” he says, adding with a grin, “just like peanuts.”

(Marc’s cocoa beans cost about Rs. 360 for 250 grams and are available at auroville.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TREND – Book clutches are a good way to wear yourgeek on your sleeve

Accessories are tiny capsules of self-expression. That is their whole purpose; to do what the main outfit cannot. Clutches, that way, have become a good canvas. Jewellers such as Van Cleef & Arpels and luxury handbag designers such as Judith Leiber made famous the minaudieres, the small, beautiful things that are designed to contain smaller things that make you look beautiful but look like they won’t fit in a square of blotting paper. Lulu Guinness brought in the red lip clutch, and the more recent collaboration between Maison Martin Margiela and Swedish high-street giant H&M saw the delicious metallic candy clutches.

With geeky becoming fashionable — librarian glasses, laced up brogues, buttoned-to-the-chin shirts, et al — book clutches by accessory and ready-to-wear designer are suddenly everywhere. Cannes saw at least three versions — based on La Belle Bete by Marie Claire Blais, Tolstoy’s War And Peace , and This Is Jazz by Rudi Blesh — all designed by Paris-based accessory and ready-to-wear designer Olympis Le-Tan. The designer has become a go-to for her book clutches; there are those based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula , Flaubert’s Madame Bovary , Howard Coxe’s Passage To The Sky , and The Uncertain Trumpet by ASM Hutchinson.

BACK TO TRADITION Whole grain and high-fibre millets Photo: P. V. Sivakumar

What’s in your food? | The Hindu.

With lifestyle diseases so rampant today, shouldn’t we turn our attention to clean and safe eating practices, asks GEETA PADMANABHAN

Clean food is a simple concept; it’s what eating was always about, said Dr. David Katz, Director, Yale University Prevention Research Centre. “Food that’s clean is food that’s for the most part real, not encumbered with things that compromise health: artificial flavourings, artificial colourings, sugar substitutes.”

Eat locally-grown, organic food, says clean eating pioneer, chef Ric Orlando in his book We Want Clean Food. This food doesn’t need long commutes, so is less cruel on the environment. Look for natural chicken, sustainable seafood, grass-fed cow’s milk. Fry food with non-genetically modified oils.

Ingredient awareness

Clean eating is also seen as ingredient awareness. It is the antidote to the argument that population is increasing, land for growing food is shrinking; therefore walk into labs to “create” food, or “augment” food that is average in nutrients. So you have cornflakes with calcium, biscuits with protein, beverages with vitamins A-Z, bread with probiotics. We get packaged food with a list of ingredients we have no clue about. Books such as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the documentary Food, Inc. and the wide coverage given to Michelle Obama’s healthy eating campaign (grow your own food, buy food at the local farmers’ markets) have tried to check this trend.

You can’t deny clean eating equals good health. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes have all been traced to what goes into what we eat. Ivy Larson, co-author of Clean Cuisine claims her multiple sclerosis symptoms were lessened when she went on a clean diet of whole foods and no packaged items. Start with one “clean” meal a day, she writes. Stock fruits and vegetables — even frozen ones — for a quick and safe meal. Buy food that has the shortest “ingredients” list.

Not a new thought

“Safe eating is a lifestyle, rather lifestyle correction,” is Ananthoo’s explanation. New age, non-communicable diseases are called lifestyle diseases (NCD). Safe eating is correcting one’s alienation and understanding of food and food habits. It is getting close to the production, processing and consumption of food. When you do that, you automatically set right your diet. Not a new thought at all, he points out. Full-length epic books were written about safe eating 3000 years ago. Ashtanga Hrudaya by Vaag Bhatt was one. Ayurveda has dincharyam, ritucharyam and diets for various ailments. Treatment and medication through food was tried by our civilisation long ago.

For forty-five minutes this self-health promoter shocked the audience at a Residents’ Association meet with details of what goes into the processed foods we buy, what is done to keep imported fruits fresh, how fruit/vegetable growers poison their produce to increase shelf life. “I once distributed magnifying glasses,” he said, “and asked the audience to read the ingredients list on packaged food. I try to bring a quick insight into food, diet habits and how industrialisation of food is spinning out of control.” Safe food is a win-win proposition, he said. “Your insistence on healthy nutritious food results in best production practices and better livelihoods for farmers.”

Eat traditional food, go organic, do what you can to consume safe food, was Anantha’s mantra to the crowd. High residues of toxic chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides are left over in the produce. More harm is added through additives, carcinogenic colours and un-named preservatives. “Both sugar and jaggery come from the same cane, but the process makes one harmful, the other safe.”

At the end of the meet, a complete meal of millet dishes — Saamai Kootanchoru, Thinai sweet (jaggery) pongal, Varagu sambar rice, Samai curd rice, Keerai masiyal and paanagam — was served by Nalla Keerai volunteers. Yummy!

DOS AND DON’TS
– Buy pesticide-free organic food in your locality.
– Understand the ingredients; reject food with ingredients you don’t understand.
– Avoid pre-processed/canned/frozen foods.
– Avoid refined products such as maida, sugar, refined oils/rice.
– Consume whole grains. Always opt for plant-based, low-fat food.
– Opt for traditional varieties of rice, eat them unpolished.
– Include millets (foxtail, kodo, barnyard, ragi) for balanced nutrition.
– Avoid all soft drinks. Go for fresh fruit juices and tender coconut water instead.
– Most toothpastes have nicotine and even SLS — a proven carcinogen. Move to herbal tooth powders and non-foaming pastes.
– Imported food stuff has genetically modified ingredients. Watch out!

Where’s your gift? | The Hindu.

Excerpt:

Young Hyderabadis are turning events such as weddings and birthdays into a platform for assisting charitable organisations.

You know how a lot of wedding invites come bearing a ‘No gifts please’ tag at the bottom? That seems to be changing these days. A lot of socially conscious youngsters would rather use the special occasion — be it a wedding, a birthday or an anniversary, as an opportunity to do their bit for society, while also encouraging their family and friends to chip in. Take for instance Harshvardhan and Varsha Khemani. When the couple decided to tie the knot, they decided to do things a little differently. Instead of dissuading their guests from giving them gifts, they encouraged their friends and cousins to donate to two NGOs that they closely work with.

However, charity is not only about monetary donations for these socially aware youngsters. Organ donation too tops their list of causes. According to Lalita Raghuram, country director, Mohan Foundation, which works towards organ donation, they have received several requests by youngsters to be enrolled as organ donors. “We have had a lot of young people come forth to pledge their organs on birthdays and New Year. In the recent past we have also had people invite us to be a part of celebrations like weddings or first birthdays. Only 10 days ago we were invited to set up a kiosk at a couple’s wedding. We managed to enrol several organ donors at the event. On another occasion a couple approached us to speak to their guests at their child’s first birthday. By the end of the evening we had nearly 200 new organ donors,” she explains.

Wider awareness can go a long way in inspiring more youngsters to go that extra mile to do their bit for society.