The 15-year-old Sanyasi

This blog also hosts my rejected work. This story was originally written for a Pune-based daily.

Lokesh Gulgulia, 15, renounces the world to become a Jain sanyasi on 30 October 2014

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When he decided on 15 March this year to follow his guruji into the mumukshu way of life, one of Lokesh Gulgulia’s uncles suggested he take a trip abroad to fulfil some of his desires. Lokesh replied, “Kaka, I have so many desires. How many can you fulfil? And when will they end?” A mumukshu is one who is treading the path to moksha.

At a ceremony held in his honour at Talera Gardens in Market Yard in Pune on Sunday, Lokesh was dressed as groom. Turban, bejewelled achkan and ropes of pearls around his neck. A patch of cloth over his mouth, marked with a swastik, stops him from involuntarily killing any organisms with his breath. Around him ensues the pageantry of any organised religion. An enthusiastic compere with a predilection for weak shairee brings on stage the women to sing melodies; sniffling children to sing educational rhymes to the tune of Bollywood hits. In Jain oral tradition, most speakers begin their talk with parable. Two rows of chief guests bear two-and-a-half hours of this with seasoned smiles.

Lokesh also sits through it with the patience of a saint. His parents, especially his mother Chanda, is repeatedly felicitated for her bravery. Since he announced his decision to renounce worldly life, his hours have been filled with invitations from members of his community for meals. His mother and aunt went shopping for the clothes of a bridegroom. There’s mehendi on his hands. It’s a race with time for the parents to fulfil their own desires for their son. Once he joins his Gurudev Ramlal Maharaj Sah in Bangalore, he will wear only white muslin. He will be given a new name, based on an inherent quality the acharya sees in him and he will become a muni. He will walk barefoot everywhere, live on food that he will beg daily for and be celibate. His only occupation will be the advancement of his consciousness.

When he speaks, it’s with the firmness of an old soul. “I used to always talk about becoming a sanyasi as a child,” says the former student of Pawar Public School. “After I finished my ninth standard, I decided I wanted to go this way. I didn’t see the point of completing my tenth if I didn’t intend to integrate into this world. After education, it’s a job, then salary — I don’t want all these things. I can learn much more useful things in one year with my guru. Even as child, I used to wish there could be a way I could live such that no living being would be scared of me.”

The Gulgulias — father Paras, Chanda and their three sons — moved to Pune five years ago from Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh. They run a construction business and are very devout. They had an inkling that their youngest son didn’t just play sadhu-sadhu; he seemed genuinely interested in renunciation and happier in the company of other sadhus and sants than most children.

In preparation for his future life, he no longer hangs out with friends and spends his days with munis and sadhus. From April until recently, he was in Mumbai with a group of sadhus stationed there. They do not travel in the rains as they believe organisms in rainwater will die upon contact with their skin. Over there, he has been learning how to think while eating, how to control the senses. “I liked sweets, so that was hard,” he says in a grave tone. “I had to give up maida, and other things the body does not need.” He reluctant to have pictures taken and doesn’t use a cell phone.

The word he, and others, use repeatedly is ‘sayyam’ or control. On October 30, he will join his guruji in Bangalore and then walk with him to the next destination if he wills. Will he miss his family? His attachment, he explains without affectation, is not only towards his blood relatives. He feels the same amount of attachment to other humans; and to plants and animals. He was never curious about amorous activities.

It could be the din of the ceremony; it could be the heat of the city; it could be the entangling nature of worldly desires. Lokesh looks like he is using all his resolve to not join his guru right this moment.

***

Professor Bipin Doshi, who teaches Jain Philosophy at the Mumbai University, says it’s not uncommon within the religion for boys and girls even younger than Lokesh to choose the path to renunciation. “Fifteen is not a young age,” says the professor. “Children as young as four and five do this. In some children, you can spot intelligence or talent at a young age. Similarly, some children are never interested in the world and worldly things.” 

It would be inaccurate to assume that the life of a muni or sadhu is hard, according to Doshi. “They don’t have the stresses of studies, exams, jobs,” he points out. “It’s simpler. They get their food and keep moving as much as they can. At 15, the attachment to parents is not too strong. He could have been going abroad for studies or to a boarding school.”

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Child Intervention

At the height of the Gaza conflict earlier this year, I approached some of my favourite little human-rearers. They discussed the issue together and these are the solutions their wards offered. The story was originally commissioned by Mumbai Mirror.

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Child intervention

First, a disclaimer: This article is not an attempt to simplify or be irreverent about the Gaza conflict. It is an attempt by the parents to inculcate the values of social justice in their children and to explain to them a complex international situation.

Gaza is under siege and the world is tying itself up in knots. Whether you are pro-Israel or Pro-Palestine, there is no mistaking that this conflict and the subsequent death toll. With peacemakers and peacemaking efforts failing, perhaps the answer lies at a more innocent source?

We asked the parents of children between the ages four to thirteen to explain the Israel-Gaza conflict to their children and report the solutions they come up with.

Zoë Smita Deshmukh, 4, New York City

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Zoë is a precocious 4-year-old. She has conceptualised a country, Manizao, and detailed its districts, vegetation, wildlife, visa rules and borders. It’s located between India and China, if you are looking. Her soft-toys run a company called Bears At Work where they develop apps that help them make money for underprivileged bears.

“Zoë has recently been developing a sense of social justice,” says her mother Kate Deshmukh. “She recently learnt that some teddy bears live in hotels and they were upset because it cost USD 100 a night. They held meetings with the hotel owners and came to an agreement that one night at the hotel is free and multiple nights are a few dollars.”

Kate explained the conflict to Zoë without getting into graphic details and said that people aren’t sharing the land and sometimes hurt each other. She ended up relating the situations to her bears and projected it on them. “She said the bears were upset and throwing honey pots at each other. But then they sat down and ate honey together and stopped being upset,” says Kate.

Here’s Zoë’s solution: First, they should take a deep breath to make them calm down. Then, they should eat something together. They should eat fruit that’s juicy and sweet because that helps me relax. People are happy when they eat together.
They should think about how nice things will be when they start to share the land. It must be very loud there [because of the fighting], so they should think about how nice it would be if it would be more quiet.

Celeste and Hannah Meyn, 7 and 6 respectively, Bangalore

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Celeste and Hannah are Irish twins with very different approaches to life. Celeste is a deep thinker, deeply observant and affected by life. Hannah is happy-go-lucky, with a lighter view of impediments and more focused on the solution.

To explain the conflict to the girls, their parents Benly and Neomi spread out a sheet on the floor to denote Palestine. Then folded in half another sheet to denote Israel. Celeste was Gaza, while Hannah was Israel. They reinforced their territories with increasing number of dolls. Benly personified the United Nations.

“We told both the girls to pretend they were going to have their own countries,” says Neomi. “Hannah didn’t have her own country because her parents were thrown out of their country and she was now living here and there. She then went crying to the UN asking for her own country. The UN takes Hannah to Celeste and gives her place in Celeste’s land. Celeste says it’s her country. Hannah insists that the UN gave it to her too. So they divide their countries. Celeste keeps demanding more and more land saying that the country is hers while Hannah fights back. They both get more ‘people’ to get stronger. They also get their weapons. Hannah had very little people. We told them the people die if they are shot at or bombed.”

Neomi and Benly also showed their daughters what was actually happening in Israel and Gaza through news footage and newspapers.

“They decided that Gaza would settle with a ‘little’ piece of land that they could call their own while Israel would get the larger pie since the land originally belonged to them,” says Neomi. “This they decided only after we told them that the war was really taking place and people were dying. Until then Gaza (Celeste) wanted to continue fighting for her land despite having Israel’s (Hannah’s) people killed. They don’t want any more deaths and said they’d just come to a mutual understanding. Celeste (Gaza) would be satisfied with whatever was given from Hannah (Israel) even if it meant lesser territory. Hannah was happy as long as Celeste didn’t argue or demand land anymore.”

Partho Gupte, 13, Mumbai

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Partho’s mother, Deepa Bhatia, insists that Partho scan the newspapers each morning, if not read them in detail. So Partho is clued into what is happening in the world and has an opinion about it.

“Use the experience of the old and the ideas of the new and make the land prosperous. The fight is over ownership of land and that itself is getting destroyed. Soon, no one will have anything,” says Partho. “Sometimes sitting with someone neutral helps…someone who is not emotional about it all. Like when we have big fights in school, then a common friend intervenes and calms the matter down. Then the friends can sit down and talk it out but in the heat of a fight, its difficult to be reasonable. Of course the common friend should have no selfish interest. Sometimes one of the parties must compromise more than the other. Someone needs to have a bigger heart and say fighting has to stop. Ego is a big problem.
Sometimes I wonder whether history is a good thing. Even today Hindus and Muslims in India keep picking fights over small issues, mainly old ones. Resentment breeds hatred and makes you vulnerable to manipulation.

“The land is big enough to feed everyone, house everyone, to keep everyone happy. A plant would not grow if the leaf and stem kept fighting over who’s more important. The greatest of films wouldn’t be not be made if the unit members fought amongst themselves. I know it sounds like a cliche but think about this: ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present (by Oogway, Kung Fu Panda)”

I want to live in Beaver Grandeur

Hello,
Since this blog is now official on life support, I am routing some professional work here. Work that has failed to find a publisher. This story was originally written for Caravan magazine, but they realised that had published something similar about Noida a few issues ago. Here it is.

Home is an inappropriate name

Pune’s booming real estate market is Dr Frankenstein’s workshop for names

Pune is dense with real estate activity. Steel skeletons rise kilometres before that wholesome town aproaches. The aspirations of these projects scream: Amanora, a world of WOW; Westernhills, 40 acres of old new way of community living; Signature Life, Life Republic, Belleza, Bella Casa, Athena, Valencia. All painting serene images of the Mediterranean, rolling meadows or at least swaying flora.

There are pastoral images in Elysian, the abode of Greek gods where humans are allowed after death. Slowly, the billboards acquire a tone of desperation. Projects get a compulsive Latin/Italian lilt. You could live in Oystera, invest in Royal Entrada, rent at Linera, be one of the Excluzee, live it up at Liviano, be serene in Senero… Ambition mounts higher — why not be one of those who lives at 24k Gliterrati whispers a voice in your ear.

Above this din, rises a tower of adjectives —Nargis Fakhri invites you to join her at Castel Royale Excellente.

This affliction is not Pune’s alone. My mediocre hometown of Navi Mumbai has an Olive and Shallots housing society. None of these premium ingredients went into the making of the building. Hopefully. But in Pune’s it’s an epidemic. Why is a city, mapped with lyrical and historical names like Prabhat Road, Junglee Maharaj Road, Budhwar Peth and Aundh, perpetuating this ludicrouness?

Advertising and media professional Sopan Sharma tells me its investor apathy. “Most of these properties will be bought by investors in Mumbai or Bangalore. It’s not going to be their permanent address, so they don’t care if the name is ridiculous. It’s just a place to park their money. They will refer to it as XX’s (insert builder’s name here) project in Baner or Hinjewadi,” he says.

Budget homes aimed as residential for the middle class are still named traditionally, using Sanskrit or Marathi names. Then you have a Vaastu Shodhan (finding Vaastu) and Aapla Ghar (our home).

As a consultant, he tries to steer developers towards meaningful names that encapsulate the salient points of the property, but in the end, client is king. “There are developers with rational sensibilities, but they mostly come with a pre-decided name,” he says. Mont Vert’s Vesta, for instance, takes its name from the Roman goddess of house and hearth. “It could even be the result of rivalry,” continues Sharma. “If another developer’s Italian-sounding project as done well, they name their similarly. Sometimes, there’s also astrological compulsion to start the project with a certain letter or include a number in it. Then we absolutely can’t do anything.”

That would explain 43 Privet Drive. 4 Privet Drive, visitors to author JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe will place, is the Dursleys’s ordinary, unimaginative muggle residence. It’s an anti-thesis to Harry’s magical world. Privet Drive is a place where he is miserable and trapped. Some words are forced together in an Indian marriage, like Aman (peace) and Aura to form Amanora. The internet cannot explain to me the etymology of Bravuria.

A driving force is that the new inhabitants of developing Pune are IT professionals rising up the corporate ladder. Those who want to leave behind the Madhubans and Sadafoolis (forever in bloom) of their childhood and live in antiseptic Florentinas and Florenzas. Keyur Godse, another advertising professional, says Greeko-Roman names are associated with luxury. “No matter if there is not a tree in sight on the property of Florentina. Small-scale developers [who are often the ones with misdirected names] are not interested in making a brand,” he adds. These clients come with a prepared name, with little or no research. And though these names exude luxury, they are most often not plush properties. “Luxury housing would imply a premium location or facilities,” says Godse. “Mostly these projects are located on the developing outskirts of Pune.” That would explain why the Westernhills Townhouse project, for instance, is located in the dusty plains of Baner.

The territory of traditional names is guarded by Puneri developers such as the Paranjpes and the Kolte-Patils. These developers specialise in housing complexes in already established tony areas. However, they too understand the shift and will build a Madhukosh on Sinhagad Road, Yuthika in Baner, Pratham at Sadashiv Peth, Punarvasu at Prabhat Road, but a Xion at Hinjewadi, an IT suburb.

Sameer Desai, director of Seagull advertising, which handles about four real estate developers a year and their multiple projects, says “Earlier developers wanted to be aspirational, international. At that time the names preferred were anglicised. In recent times, developers have become more consumer-oriented. Projects cater to consumer needs — both at a rational and emotional level. These names are either Indian or anglicised.”

A canny developer understands these two different markets — the traditional Punekar and the aspirational outsider — and names the projects accordingly.

“Developers also come in two categories — the Marwari and Gujarati groups from Mumbai and the Punekars,” says Desai. “The former is most likely a partner of local the land-owners, enlisted to develop, build and market the project and deliver a pre-decided sum to the landowner. These prefer the anglicised or Mediterranean names.”

According to him, when a project is designed to meet a consumer’s emotional needs, the developer turns to the native language. “A blue-collar township in the industrial suburb of Chakan is called Aapla Ghar. The tagline is Sarve Sukh-Suvidha Sapan (every need for peace and utility is met),” he says. “Another township near Lonavla, which is famous for an Ayurveda centre, is called Naad Brahma (the first sound of creation). A project of weekend homes is simply called, the Weekenders. The name should reflect the properties of the project.” But he also admits to seeing the blueprint for Vistas without plans for a single tree. Nobody can explain Beaver Grandeur to me.

Pune is metamorphosing as towns must, but when I pass Privé Rio, I wonder how the residents feel about being “deprived of Rio”. Or is it just a concern of the over-thinking Arts graduates?

Phrases I am going to throw around more often

L’ at
Phrase
Like that.
A usage mostly among Catliks.

One fine Bandra evening, Alan is nursing a feni.
He is listening to “The Best of Lionel Ritchie”.

Ryan passes by.

Ryan: What you doin’, men?

Alan: L’at only.

Bond
Noun
A person who has unbelievable expertise with certain things.
A: Dude, I’m getting a lot of errors during run time in this program.
B: Go to Santosh man, He is a Bond when it comes to correcting logical errors in Java.
A: Lo macha, networks 2 nalli yenu gottila.
B: Santosh hattra hogo, avnu aa subjectnalli bond. Yen bekadru helkodthane.

I have been told that in certain circles (read: Danda, Khar), Bond also refers to one’s father. I like that usage better.

Porki
Noun.
Ineffectual bumbling fellow that displays a combination of slothfulness and sketchiness while also being unrefined; used as a a term of endearment
Ryan is a total porki! Look at him with his hands in his pants doing nothing useful.

Of course, now there is kolaveri, giving name to the undescribable rage within.

Kolaveri
Noun
Popularized by the song Why this Kolaveri Di

It means a murderous rage felt by a jilted or spurned lover but in everyday parlance refers to unnecessary anger. Also see KLPD to understand the full spectrum of male rejection in India.

Girl : I called you a few times last night, why didn’t you pick up?
Boy: Oh sorry, I was watching TV.
Girl : Dude, how dare you? What if it was something important? Don’t you have any sense of resonsibility?
Boy: Hey! Don’t over-react. Why this kolaveri?

God, I need to write here

I really want to write more here. But either I am exhausted or just don’t have the mind mechanisms to sculpt a post (what’s point if I don’t do it the way I want to?) or I just run out of enthusiasm.
This blog has been the main casualty of me becoming more engaged in life. I switched departments about three years ago and now instead of pretending to edit while blogging, I have to write. So I find myself saving the best puns and turns of phrases for those who pay me for them. And promise a wider audience.
The easiest thing I can do is write about my shoes and I am fighting very much against turning this into a fashion blog.
My work is more rewarding that I expected it to be. I’m still not sure whether I should talk about it. Will that jinx it or push positivity into unblinking face of the universe? What is the current wisdom on this?
Anyway, one of my joys is being able to torment bright young people and relentlessly bully them. There have been threats of complaining to the HR department, but those guys will probably just patent this as a training program. Sometimes the chicks survive and shame me.
One such is my Chutki, the annoying Gujju intern. She is also responsible for helping me cross No 20 off my Life List. Sonal Ved is now an independent food writer of some dispute. She blogs at When Harry met Celery about the fantastic vegetarian food she claims to make.

I have not yet tasted said food and can’t confirm she actually makes all this. As we say in the business, the food she allegedly makes.

Go be a gaysi

I have a guest post up at Gaysi Family (procrastinating here lost its thrills so I decided to go do it someplace more colourful).
For the record, the original title was: Why I want to be a lesbian. But the Chief Editor there likes to plug her own terms. A tyrant, that one. Probably because of that school she went to.

When I read about meals prepared with love-notes, kisses stolen in changing rooms and shopping dates, it leaves me wistful.
Mind you, so does the knowledge that another woman has been sleeping with Hugh Jackman for more than 12 years.

Need for read

Since so many of you have deleted your highly entertaining blogs (I’m looking at you KK and Aditi N) or just cannot be motivated to update them frequently, I am forced to look elsewhere. As you can see, your names have been taken off my blogroll. Let that be a lesson.
Luckily, the lovely Kate has decided to eat her way through New York and chronicle it for all of us. I have mixed feelings about her husband since he just threatened me over e-mail:

Punjab Sweet House, Pali Hill. October, 2008.
YOU ARE GOING DOWN!

Two years ago, we ended on a tie of 30 puris each. It’s time for a re-match.
Back to the lack of reading material, please recommend. In return, I’ll tell you how Oreos saved the day.

If I laughed at his dreams, would I be laughing at his peanuts?

ET: So do you come here often?
Young Poet Type: Yes. Very.
ET: Why?
YPT: The sea inspires me.
ET: To do what?
YPT: I usually write poetry after I spend some time here. I reflect and watch people…
ET: Do you prefer the company of nature?
YPT: Nothing like that, though nature is a better companion because it listens.
ET: So you like watching people?
YPT: Yes. Like I realised something about the peanut seller behind us.
ET: Really? What?
YPT: That he’s not selling peanuts. He’s selling dreams?
ET: How is he selling dreams?
YPT: Because he wants to do something in life. He want’s to make it big. He has a dream for tomorrow, but today, all he has is… peanuts.
ET: Ahh! Thank you for your time.