Thursday, November 17, 2011

DHANNOBARI - A Tale of 2 Villages (Final Act)

Read Part I and II here:

“What happened to Dhanno?”, Moushumi immediately regretted asking the question.

There was a long silence and a deep suffering inside Kamesh. “She was waiting for me at the same island you were abandoned in. Only that I couldn’t come in time! The tiger was early that day!” There was no evidence of pain in the way he said it but she could hear an invisible cry of anguish!

“That island was supposed to be the starting point of our journey together into a new and unknown world. A journey neither of us were proud of undertaking! I guess till that point I had a simplistic view of life. I believed I had the mind of a reformist. I thought it was my job to lead the villagers towards a superior life and I was sure I had it all figured out. But my father’s death made me realize that I didn’t have the heart of a revolutionary. I realized that it takes more sacrifices than ideas to change the lives of others. Suffering and pain consumed me with just one single blow. The radical inside me was killed by the frail egotist that was left of me! I decided that I will take Dhanno far away from this God forsaken village and lead a happy yet ordinary life.

You know when do you feel the greatest pain? When you realize how weak you actually are! That is when you see yourself truly naked for the first time. I felt like a shameless selfish coward who was to turn his back on his people and run for his life. But at least I had Dhanno. So I thought! Kalimaa had other ideas. Partha, a 4 year old boy was to be sacrificed at the northern shores of the river that night! I had to save him but my only option was to get him out of the village! To where: I didn’t know. With the help of my village comrades, I was able to escape with the boy and rowed frantically towards the island where Dhanno was alone, waiting for me since morning! I was able to battle the deadly storm that night but was unable to battle the fate which didn’t even spare her body for my eyes! I searched the entire island for 2 days only to find a blood strained piece of her sari. That changed my life forever! Once again!

The villagers believed that Kalimaa had taken Partha. I have been reinstating their faith every year since then!” Moushumi looked at Kusum and tears started gushing from her eyes!

Moushumi was so engrossed in his riveting tale that she had forgotten her surroundings. She had failed to see that she was no more surrounded by the vastness of the river. And when she realized her premises, it took a long while for her to absorb the sheer enormity of its beauty and the silent poetry in its connotation. She was not looking at a vast stretch of land with fields fresh with crops and houses rich with people. She saw a dream visualized by minds, transmitted by words and realized by hands. She did not see men working, women caring and teaching and children playing and learning. She saw a society that had formed right with the people’s intent as the clay shaped by the wheel of their ideals. She saw men and women and children living and enjoying life as it should be. She was standing in a village built by man at the shores of a river made by God!

“Welcome to Dhannobari”, Kamesh’s smile had a sense of pride and air of humility. “The village that made me, dedicated to the woman who loved me!”

Moushumi noted his words carefully: “The village that made me” not “The village I made!”

“Dhanno’s loss completely shattered me. I felt there was nothing left in my life. But then when you reach that zenith of pain and loss, fear ceases to exist, the fog clouding your thoughts separates and you clearly see that one reason for your existence; that one performance your life is destined to enact! I saw the first and original purpose of my life as a flickering flame still alive and battling my inner fears all this while. That was the only thing left in me and I had a lifetime of me to consume for its cause!

Along with a few of my converts from the village and Partha, I set out into this river in search of something that I had no idea of but was somehow sure would change lives forever. After a week of wandering, we landed on the shores of what you see now has transformed into that magnificent dream of a village. This place was barren and deserted, rich with land, fed by the river! It was exactly what I needed. We had the elements of nature that could not be corrupted. We could make this place from scratch. It was to be a place where man and nature were to live in harmony: No one had to sacrifice for the other. We opened our doors to the willing and the righteous. Everyone who was willing to work was welcome in Dhannobari: without their divisions, differences, class, caste or creed. Everyone would have to live and work together!

And they came. They came from the neighboring villages across the other side of Champak forest. They came by foot, by boat, in dinghies, as a family, alone or in groups. They trickled in from Vithrapur: the converts. The silent revolution was still on, gaining strength by the day. Dhannobari became a society run by cooperatives where no one would exploit the other and everyone had a share of the land. And what transpired after that is for you to see. Dhannobari is for every person who has hope, who believes in himself, who works hard and who loves all. It is a refuge for every single soul that faces the threat of a sacrifice to evil superstitions or social distinctions. The revolution is far from over and it will never be!”

Moushumi saw the fire in his eyes and the desire in his heart and felt certain that they will never be extinguished! She looked at a thin discolored wire that ran along the wall of the school building. A huge generator was lying on the side without any connections (yet)! “Electricity!”, she gasped! She stood engulfed as the village unfolded in front of her. It stood tall as a symbol of faith. It was every dreamer’s dream. It was a sight that froze in her memory. Then she looked at her notebook. She smiled and threw it away.

“Not writing your story any more”, Kamesh winked.

“Guess I will have to start over again!”, Moushumi winked back at him.

24th August 1975: “No one comes into this world to be “the ordinary”. Every man in this world is an idealist at some point in his life. Every woman is a dreamer once. We all begin by following our heart only to get lost along the way. No one can be blamed and no one will be spared.  Life will break every single one of us. But only a few will truly realize what that means. Only a few will be able to see beyond the personal havoc and destruction caused by our ideals and realize their potential to construct life. 

Dhanno’s loss wrecked Kamesh. But it was her loss that prevented him from going back to being ordinary. That loss and its pain showed him his destiny, reignited his flame and spread it like a wild fire. It is the torch that guides his people every night through every storm and it is the fuel that feeds their desire to live and create. Dhannobari is a pardox that couldn’t have been created without Dhanno but wouldn’t have existed with her!”

She put the book down. The writer’s last words struck a strange resonance with a thought of hers that once shaped her current reality! There were no tears in her eyes but a silent prayer parted her lips. She was sad that she could not be with the man she loved so much. But she was happy that he was still the man she loved. She could bear the pain of not being with him but she could not stand his agony of not being him. Dhanno had the heart of a revolutionary!

                                                                               -      A Story by Raj.

Monday, November 14, 2011

DHANNOBARI - A Tale of 2 Villages (Part II)

Read Part I here: 

Chitha’s last statement shook Moushumi. Till now she had held a shimmer of hope to meet the infamous Kamesh Mazumdar for whom she had developed a liking! But after all the craziness, excitement and suffering she had endured on that dreadful day, she was too tired physically and mentally to mourn the loss of a would-have-been unlikely hero for her book. Tigers were fast asleep and crocodiles seemed to be off the water for the moment. They were deep into the forest now and she was wondering how much more she wanted to go on in the faintest hope of finding some place or somebody! 

“Nothing exists beyond the Champak forest. At least no one was left alive to see it!”, she had been warned by the most experienced fisherman in the village. Chitha somehow was still unfazed and oblivious to the dangers ahead as he continued to battle the tide with effortless ease. His complete lack of concern in not knowing the destination of their journey surprised Moushumi. The night had set in and the river started to glow in the moonlight. Kusum escorted Moushumi into a small cabin where she had prepared a small beautiful bed with a rug and some saris. Dead tired, Moushumi dropped on the bed and Kusum draped her with another sari. Moushumi pulled her and tucked her into the bed.

“Good night. See you both in the morning. Yell if you need something”, Moushumi’s fading eyes saw Chitha’s face disappear in the dark.

16th August 1964 – 9:45 PM: “Parvati (Headmaster’s daughter): Memsaheb.. promise me that you will not discuss this with anyone. I don’t know what sort of book you are writing. But things here are not always black and white. Sarpanch and Darogaji run things their way nowadays. I think Panditji is also involved and there are others too. They get major shares of the farmers’ crops. They don’t allow us to trade. Since we were cut off from our neighboring villages, facilities and raw materials for farming are diminishing and there is serious lack of irrigation coupled with excessive flooding. And they are blaming all this on Kalimaa’s curse!

You know, every year they have a secret practice of sacrificing a diseased child to Kalimaa. They reasoned that the child will anyways die in a couple of years and made the unquestioning villagers believe that it is not so cruel after all. When Kamesh Babu was here, he persuaded his father Ashok Babu to stop this practice. Since then stranger things have happened. Ashok Babu died the same year and then Kamesh Babu disappeared. But the strangest thing of all is, every year after that, the child chosen for sacrifice disappears a week or two before the ceremony is planned. I really didn’t believe in spirits so far, but now I think I may be wrong!

Oh.. Kamesh babu.. He looked like a good man. Charming! He was nice to all of us. His thinking was unacceptable to a few and respected by others. He wanted to do a lot for women in terms of respect, status and education. He wanted widows to have a new life. But he was a little weird too. He used to disappear for months and then suddenly when everyone had forgotten him he would be back. He was a major traveler and explorer. He was radical in both his thinking and in his actions. He was in love with a widow. Her name was Dhanno! Both of them were instrumental in educating and reforming the villagers. But just when the first signs of change started to show in the village, Ashok Babu died mysteriously. Soon after, Kamesh and Dhanno disappeared and there is no word of them yet. Some say the river consumed them while others say it is the tiger! Panditji says Kalimaa punished them for their sins! I don’t know what really happened but I am scared. I don’t have much hope left but still everyday I pray for a miracle!”

Chitha’s face was tight with anguish as he was looking at Moushumi’s notebook. He looked out at the river and into vacuum and a single tear started to make its way down from his eyes. He forgot all about his surroundings and allowed the flood of memories to erode his mind and come gushing out through his eyes. Finally when he came back to reality he noticed that the first rays of daybreak had set in and Moushumi was staring at him in sheer astonishment! It was an exclamation point!

"So you are Kamesh Mazumdar! But.. But….??", she was gasping!

“Kamesh Chitharanjan Mazumdar!” The pain in his eyes had eased out but she could still sense an irreplaceable loss that continued to strangle him deep inside. Words deserted both of them for a while!

“I came back to Vithrapur with a heart full of life and mind full of ideas. I wanted my village to be a role model for every Indian village in the future. I wanted the people to be self sufficient, educated, resourceful and most importantly, happy and united. I wanted the women to be an integral part of the village and I wanted everyone in the village to shed their differences and join hands in building a village which would be the first of its kind in this country in terms of agriculture, development, trade and education. I had my father as my mentor who supported me as a beacon of hope in my quest. I found the woman of my life and the zeal inside me went several notches higher. Sure there were hiccups in the form of superstition, conservatism, lack of awareness, lack of intent, blind ancestral beliefs and faiths and corrupt practices and people. But slowly I was able to influence the minds of many in the village and infuse my vision into their minds.

It was like a silent revolution that was brewing in the middle of the night. A thousand match sticks held up high guiding us to a new dawn! But then, suddenly something happened that changed everything. I was very proud of myself when I managed to stop the mindless sacrifice ritual that was a disgrace to our society. I was relieved that no child would be subject to such cruelty ever again.  Little did I know that Kalimaa did have her offering that year as well! It was my father! I lost my biggest pillar of strength. For the first time in my life a sense of fear and doubt engulfed my mind. It was as if a storm had extinguished all our match sticks and darkness seemed to eclipse the dawn! I was left with the option of suffering a similar fate as my father or flee to fight another day another way!”

“I was only human!”  For the first time Moushami saw a vulnerability in his face!

“What happened to Dhanno?”, she immediately regretted asking the question!

                                                                                                        -      TO BE CONCLUDED

Friday, November 11, 2011

DHANNOBARI - A Tale of 2 Villages (Part I)

 17th August 1964 – 6:30 PM: “A strange village indeed! It looks every bit like any other village but there is a deep undercurrent somewhere that embodies the silent conflict that people fear to talk about. How can 100 many people go missing from a deserted village surrounded by a mystic river in just 1 year?”

“Is there some place I can take you Memsaheb!”, he woke her up from her thoughts! The man had a nonchalant look on his face. Moushumi looked for a hint of emotion but the lack of it compounded her dilemma. She had had her most adventurous yet terrifying day ever and so wondered what would happen if she took one more chance. She took one last long look at him and his boat. The man was tall, dark and lanky dressed in just a loincloth. She had no idea about his character, but she could easily tell that he was very experienced and had great knowledge of the waters. He was fairly well-built but his boat was not. It was pretty old and was rusty and could barely survive a high tide.

“I want to go upstream through and beyond the Champak forest. Would you dare to take me there?” She was sure he would never have ventured into those dreaded waters and expected a violent “NO”.

“Yes, I can take you!”, he replied in a calm tone that disturbed her. How did he agree so easily to brave the Champak forest which sent shudders through the spine of every single person she had talked to? What is he doing here at this hour? Doesn’t seem a great place to be fishing either! What if he turned out to be like the 2 guys who left me in this God-forsaken island!

Her fear was somewhat put to rest when a small girl emerged from the inside of the boat. Her innocent smile calmed her nerves and brought down her pulse. Today she felt more feminine than ever and had to remind herself how brave a girl she was. Weird places and creepy men were nothing new to her but her experience today had left her quite cold. So the little girl’s smile meant a lot more than ever and it invoked a rather strange emotion inside her. She hopped on to the boat, temporarily relieved that life had more in store for her than a solitary death in a marshy island!

The boat started to slowly totter against the tide. Soon her thoughts were lost in an interesting conversation she had in the morning.

17th August 1964 – 8:15 AM: “Nirmal Master: This village was blessed with a great soil and good rains. Our people are all God-fearing and straightforward working farmers who toil to produce the best wheat in the entire region. But in the last 5 years, the huge landslide cut us off from our neighboring villages and made trading difficult. And with the demise of Ashok Babu 2 years back, life has been difficult. He was like a father to the whole village. Please keep this confidential: I don’t like our Sarpanch babu (village head) or darogaji (police chief). Wish Kamesh Babu was there to take control of our village. He turned out to be another unpredictable and erratic educated young man who deserted us in our most needy hour!”

The puzzle was not coming together and Kamesh Babu seemed to be one among the many mysteries surrounding the village. She had been so engrossed that she didn’t realize how cold it had gotten. And more surprisingly she got to witness the first act of compassion from the mysterious boat man who hadn’t spoken a single word to her for an hour. “In case you feel cold out here”, he handed over a shawl which she thought might belong to his wife.

“Thank you. So are you from Vithrapur? My name is Moushumi. I have come all the way from Bhuvaneshwar. I am writing a book on your village. Sorry I should have asked earlier. What is your name?”, she for the first time genuinely felt like talking to him.

“My name is Chitha. Glad you thought Vithrapur was worth writing about.” The little girl came running to interrupt their conversation. “She is Kusum”, he added. “Your daughter looks so cute”, Moushumi pulled her into her arms. Chitha smiled and went back to the rudder.   

She sat Kusum on her lap and started wondering again. Kusum was flipping through her notebook enthusiastically without understanding what was written while Moushumi was staring at it without understanding what it all meant!

15th August 1964 – 9:30 AM: “Sarpanch: We are fine by ourselves. We don’t need the support of the neighboring villages. The grain we produce is sufficient for all of us. We should not dream too much. We should learn to be content and we should respect the rules and traditions laid down by our ancestors. Yes, this year has been a little bad for the crops. It is no big deal. All problems started with that Kamesh. He wanted to revolutionize the village. The kids these days are full of talk. They learn something in those big colleges and come here without any practical or worldly sense. Electricity, irrigation, social equality, hygiene: What all rubbish we had to hear because of him! Thank God he is no more!”

A thunderous growl distracted Moushumi’s train of thought. Kusum buried her head in Moushumi’s lap in fear. They were entering dangerous territory! She took Kusum inside for safety. She couldn’t sense any trace of fear in Chitha’s face!

“I heard that this area is full of tigers and crocodiles. Even snakes! Which one terrifies you the most?”, she started a conversation.

“Humans! They hurt you when you least expect it. These creatures are far more predictable to an extent they are boring!” Moushumi did not know what to make of his response!

Strangely his response resonated with another very significant conversation!

16th August 1964 – 4:00 PM: “Panditji (Temple priest): Man is a greedy animal. He is always after material pleasures and has long deserted the spiritual cause. This place was a heaven long time ago. I think the village has incurred the wrath of Kalimaa. Three years ago, Ashok Babu and Kamesh prevented us from offering Kalimaa her yearly sacrifice. And you know what: since then, every year Kalimaa has snatched her sacrifice from the village and her curse is destroying us! See what happened to Ashok Babu and Kamesh! One died and no word about the other.”

“What do you know about Kamesh Babu?” she glanced at Chitha.

“Oh.. can’t tell you that I know a lot about him. Some say he was good and others say he was an evil spirit. He was the son of Ashok Babu who founded this village. Well, he was actually gifted this village by the British. Ashok Babu had sent Kamesh to London when he was very young and he came back to Vithrapur about 5 years ago. They say his thinking was too radical; he wanted to bring electricity to the village, he didn’t believe in caste system, he wanted to abolish the social inequalities and wanted to educate the women. Well, they also say that he was killed by a crocodile 3 years ago in this exact location we are passing through now!”

That last statement of Chitha shook Moushumi!

                                                                                          -        TO BE CONTINUED.....

Image Courtesy:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Moved by the plight of India’s poor, Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Poverty is the worst form of violence!

What would you do when you see an old man, suffering from unbearably acute hunger, eats his own waste in an act of sheer helplessness? Some of us may feel immense pain and compassion, some could be indifferent, a few would feel anger at nature or those who left him suffer such a plight while others might curse the system or even God for his suffering. Narayanan Krishnan, an award-winning chef, gave up his elite job in Switzerland and decided to spend the rest of his life feeding and serving not just that old man, but many more destitute and helpless people who could not care for themselves! Chances are, you might not have heard about this man!

We all know that following our heart and doing what we love will bring a smile to our face. But what if following our heart leads us into the hearts of others and doing what we love gets us the love of several others! That gives one an experience of inner happiness and a sense of fulfillment never felt before. It brings a smile to our heart! That was what happened to Krishnan when he brought some food for that helpless old man and when the old man held his hand with longing eyes, Krishnan had found his calling!

Born into a stable and supportive family in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, he suffered none of the dehumanizing experiences he now strives to fight for. He graduated from Madurai Kamaraj University in 2002 with a degree in Hotel Management and Catering Science, and was well on his way to a successful career as an award-winning chef. Though that incident with the old man changed his life, seeds of compassion were sown in his heart very early. As a college student he often provided food to the hungry people along the roadsides of Madurai. When his father was once hospitalized, Krishnan shared the food he had brought with those in need. For Krishnan, these were highly emotional experiences that deepened his concern for the magnitude of human suffering endured by the poor and fueled his intent into positive energy towards providing them with food (material and spiritual) along with care and love.

When he had first fed the old man, he saw him consume the food at an inhuman speed which he had never seen before. It opened his eyes to the extent of unfathomable human suffering that exists around every one of us. That was when he decided that he would help people who could not help themselves. You would be pained to know how many people with mental disabilities or elderly people who can no more contribute to a family are driven away from homes and even worse abandoned in public places like markets, bus or railway stations. Krishnan committed himself to the care of the helpless, forsaken, mentally ill, old, sick, roadside destitute living and dying (or left to die)on the streets of Madurai. He decided that he would provide them healthy food, love and an opportunity to rehabilitate. He did not just want to alleviate their hunger. He wanted to restore their dignity!

He started off by buying food from roadside shops and vendors near the bus stand, railway station and other areas in central Madurai and provided it to about 25 people who were in desperate need. As the number of people he started serving grew, the effort and costs involved were getting out of control as well. It was when he connected the dots and it all came together beautifully! He was a master chef himself and it dawned on him that it would be more efficient, economical and most importantly, more fulfilling if he could prepare the food himself. That was how Akshaya’s Helping in H.E.L.P. Trust was formed in 2003. The name was chosen to signify that human compassion should never decay or perish.

The Trust has grown in stature and reputation steadily from its inception and has gradually increased the number of people it serves. Word of mouth, coverage in press/media and other forms of support have helped the foundation over time. From Krishnan’s meager start in 2002 until August, 2010 over 1.5 million meals have been served without missing a single meal – every day, three times a day, 365 days a year! That’s over eight years without holidays, vacations, sick days or mornings that are just too overwhelming to go to work today. Every day is a work day for Krishnan and the Akshaya volunteers. And it is not just food they provide. Krishnan carries a comb, scissors and razor and is trained in eight haircut styles. He gives a haircut along with a fresh shave to provide extra dignity to those he serves. And in addition to all this, he is also working towards building the Akshaya Home. The Akshaya Home is their long term goal and is intended towards providing safety, shelter and an environment for rehabilitation to the helpless homeless. He has a long way to go but he for sure will get there.

When Krishnan’s parents heard of his ambition to help the helpless they were not very amused. One day Krishnan invited his mother to join him on his daily trip. When she came back home she said: “You feed all those people, the rest of the lifetime I am there. I will feed you”.  And even today Krishnan says: “I'm living for Akshaya. My parents are taking care of me.” I have been following him and his story for a while now and his simplicity, dedication and resolve have moved me tremendously. To me, he is a man who has dedicated his life to remedy the greatest type of poverty that exists in this world: The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for!

Krishnan’s efforts were recognized by CNN (Watch the Video) and he was acknowledged as a: “CNN Top 10 Hero for the Year 2010”! And many more such awards ensued. But his greatest recognition every time is in the smile of the people he serves and the fact that he never goes to sleep before at least making one human being a little better or happier everyday makes me believe that true happiness comes only in making others happy!

References and Links in case you want to offer your support:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


About 5 years ago, as I was ambling aimlessly in Bangalore Forum mall, while waiting to catch a movie, my eyes fell on a very unique Mac store. I decided that it would not be a bad place to kill some time. The store turned out to be unlike any other and I almost ended up buying a Mac. Well, after 10 more subsequent visits, I eventually succumbed to the temptation. Rest of the story would not be a tough guess: I am a Mac convert in every sense of the word and every Mac Product kindles my curiosity immensely. And that includes: STEVE JOBS!
 Well, I am not here to tell you how great an entrepreneur he was or how he created black magic to sell White Macs like a master showman. You probably already know that. But I intend to highlight a few aspects of his life that played a key role in the making of the man he was! I feel his life story is particularly intriguing in the sense that his attitude combined with his vision and instinct give us an incisive insight and perspective into the life of a dreamer!
The story of his life was all about: “Connecting the Dots”. It is indeed a very profound thought but more importantly an extremely difficult exercise. Reason being (in his own words): it is almost impossible to connect the dots going forward; you can only do it when you are looking back! Here is a peek at some of the events (some well known and others not so much) in his life, and while looking back how some of those events transform into dots that all connect perfectly to script his story.
Event: Jobs dropped out of college in just 6 months; it was expensive; he did not see a value in it as he did not know what he wanted to do in life.
Dot: He continued to be on campus for the next 18 months and dropped in on classes that interested him.
Event: He didn’t have a dorm, slept on the floor in his friends’ rooms.
Event: He returned coke bottles with 5 cent deposit to buy food with.
Event: Every Sunday he walked 7 miles to get a free meal at the Hare Krishna temple.
Dot: He dropped in on calligraphy classes which fascinated him and learned Serif and Sans Serif type faces.
Dot: He took up a temporary job in Atari to go on a voyage to India; experimented on psychedelics and came back enlightened.
The Connect: He started Apple along with Steve Wozniac and they eventually designed the Macintosh with ground breaking GUI with multiple type faces on proportionately spaced fonts.
Event: The revolutionary Mac not withstanding, he had some turbulent years and eventually got fired from Apple.
Dot: He was still in love with what he did. The heaviness of success was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again! He started NeXT, a computer platform company.
Event: He also started Pixar which later went on to make “Toy Story” and is the most successful animation studio right now.
The Connect: Apple bought NeXT and Jobs was at the helm again. NeXT technology was at the heart of Mac.
Dot: He backed his instincts. In a time when customer need and satisfaction were the mantra of corporations, he shunned customer surveys and focus groups stating that one had to show customers what they want!
The Connect: Apple gave the world the iPod, iPhone and iPad!
As you can see, it is absolutely unfathomable to plan a success story and almost impossible to even hope that the dots would somehow connect. But then, there lies a life lesson for all dreamers out there. We should have the courage to follow our heart and intuition. We may or may not revolutionize the world; the dots may or may not connect; but we would still look back at a very fulfilling life and cherish the fact that we found what we really loved and dedicated our life time to it!
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