Legends


I built me a castle
With dragons and kings
And I’d ride off with them
As I stood by my window
And looked out on those……

I walked leisurely on the pedestrian path.

Walkers and tourists milled around me, like me all moving at a leisurely pace. No one seemed to be in a hurry. A family led by Dad with the son on his shoulders passes me in the opposite direction. Just in front, a group of giggling young women were taking a barrage of selfies. It seemed one or the other was not satisfied with the result, be it one’s expression or the way the long cables and the end tower showed up in the photo. A quick joint review, some more giggles and someone in the group would volunteer to take a new selfie. I watched this microcosm of humanity flowing around me.

It was a beautiful sunny morning which had prompted us to venture out on a spot of sightseeing. I was on the pedestrian walkway of the legendary Brooklyn Bridge. Below me on both sides were the motorways with cars and SUVs moving in either direction between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

One had glorious views of the New York skyline as well as the leisurely flow of the East River below. To the right one could spot Governor’s Island and in the distance the Statue of Liberty. But as I stood looking around, my mind’s eye wandered off to another unforgettable vision involving the Brooklyn bridge. Powerful searchlights frantically flashing, sounds of helicopters, people jumping off the bridge into the waters below as a terrified News Reporter announces that all of us are going to die! One of the most emotional scenes from the blockbuster ‘I am Legend’ in which scientist Robert Neville (Will Smith) tries to evacuate his wife and daughter from pandemic ridden Manhattan, only to see them die as another helicopter crashes into theirs in the chaos. In the background, the Brooklyn Bridge is being blown up by military aircraft to contain the spread of the disease.

An iconic film showing visuals of an iconic bridge.

A hundred and forty years old structure, the Brooklyn Bridge was the world’s first and longest steel-wire suspension bridge at the time of its opening. What further distinguishes the bridge are the pair of gothic towers standing tall on either side, holding the steel wires in place. Legend has it that when the lead engineer and architect Washington Roebling, became sick and bedridden, his wife Emily, who knew nothing about engineering or architecture, took over the project. For the next ten years, till the project got done, she studied Engineering design and project management on her own and became the first person to cross the bridge upon completion. The following was said about Emily and the Brooklyn bridge:

“…an everlasting monument to the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman and of her capacity for that higher education from which she has been too long disbarred.”

A sad reminder of the fact that during Emily’s time, women were not allowed into Engineering institutions in the US.

Having walked the mile long stretch of the Bridge, we stepped onto the roads of Brooklyn. The neighbourhood in which Neil Diamond had grown up six decades back. With his baritone voice and wonderful songwriting capabilities, Neil Diamond has been my favourite pop and country musician and singer since youth. The singer reminisces about his childhood in that wonderful number, ‘Brooklyn Roads’:

‘Two floors above the butcher
First door on the right
Life filled to the brim
As I stood by my window
And I looked out of those
Brooklyn Roads……’

Neil Diamond

The place we were walking through had the curious name of DUMBO. I was left wondering whether it had anything to do with Disney’s Dumbo the flying elephant. Or was it about some presumed dumb folks who might have resided there in the past?

‘And report cards I was always
Afraid to show

Mama’d come to school
And as I’d sit there softly crying
Teacher’d say, “He’s just not trying
He’s got a good head if he’d apply it”
But you know yourself
It’s always somewhere else’

 I learnt that DUMBO was really the short nomenclature for ‘Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass’. Ironically, the neighbourhood today is home to a large number of technology start-up companies with the earlier warehouses on the riverfront converted into quaint eating houses and pubs overlooking the waters.

A bridge, a musician and a neighbourhood came together as legends for me that morning. They came with tales that were anecdotal, possibly unverifiable but nonetheless remain ingrained in my mind.

In musing…………                                                       Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: ‘Brooklyn Roads’ by Neil Diamond

Absence made Visible


The water cascaded down the black granite sides, flowing as rivulets before disappearing into the small squarish void in the center. As I looked at the flowing water, juxtaposed feelings pulled in different directions. A feeling of melancholy and sadness about the flow of our lives which was perhaps never to return. But also a feeling of peace and acceptance, an emotional cleansing about all that was not right, maybe would never be right.

From the corner of my eyes, I could see the Oculus, that majestic steel ribbed white wings about to soar up into the skies. The reflections on the nearby glass towers seemed to be heralding a brighter, more vibrant tomorrow. A tomorrow in which peace and acceptance might run the winning lap.

I was at the site of the two World Trade Center towers in Manhattan which had gone down in the September eleventh attack more than two decades back. The black granite square pools with flowing, falling water had been built as memorials to that event. The Oculus served as the integrated transportation hub built for the Path and Subway trains.

Oculus Transportation hub at the World Trade Center complex

As I stood there in contemplation, the place was a tranquil and serene island in the midst of high energy Manhattan life. Did the flowing water suggest a life force embryo just below the surface? That somehow brought into our thoughts those who had perished in the attack, their names etched on the sides serving as the only reminder? Or was it that the simplicity of the slow cascades into the void which could never be filled (as per the memorial architect Michael Arad) allowed their ‘absence (from our living world) to be made visible’?

**

My memory went back to that day decades ago.

 It was evening. I was in the office and had called a colleague to discuss an operational issue when he excitedly mentioned about a disaster in which an aircraft had crashed into one of the World Trade Center (WTC) towers in New York. We spoke about the incident for a couple of minutes and wondered about the low probability of an aircraft crashing into a building.

Returning home after office, I switched on the TV only to see the news headlines flashing all over, ‘AMERICA UNDER ATTACK!’ In the interim, a second aircraft also carrying passengers had slammed into a second WTC tower. Burning from the aviation fuel of the colliding aircrafts, both the towers collapsed. A third aircraft had crashed into Pentagon, the US Defence headquarters in Washington DC. Due to the time zone difference, what was evening for me was really morning hours on the US Eastern seaboard where the attacks were taking place. Close to three thousand people died in the attacks.

What seemed at that point in time a senseless act of violence led to a fundamental shift in the way US saw the world and how its foreign policy would come to be defined. Over the next two decades, US would engage in conflicts aimed at crushing terrorism in various parts of the globe. From demolishing Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan to the Iraq invasion and removal of Saddam Hussein to confronting the self-styled Islamic State in Syria.

I think of our world today. The actors have changed, the issues have shifted but the conflicts remain.

**

A couple of days back, I heard the tragic news of the Texas shooting in which a teenager Salvador Ramos armed with a gun entered an elementary school and senselessly shot and killed nineteen children and two adults. The carnage was a deadly reminder that even the world’s most powerful nation is unable to protect its children in their innocence.

My granddaughter has been going to a play school. She loves going there. For us, the school is a safe haven that nurtures. I agonise when I think of what might be passing through the minds of the parents and grandparents of those children whose lives were so brutally snuffed out even before they got the chance to blossom. Like me they too would have had complete faith in the safety and security of their child in school.

I muse. What is that which leads to some folks inflicting injury and death on others? I sense that this arises from an extreme psychologically aberrant mindset. A mindset which shifts into viciousness from its inability to accept ‘we versus they’ differences. So it was with Osama Bin Laden, so it is with Salvador Ramos.

An all-powerful state like the US does possess the weapons and technology to wage war against the enemy without.

But does it possess the conviction and resolve to change the mindset of the enemy within?

In learning………                                                    Shakti Ghosal

The Children of Zeus


Apollo, son of Zeus and one of the major Olympian deities, is the God of voyages.

The Apollo space program got its name from the image of Apollo riding his chariot across the sun.

It was the sheer audacity of President Kennedy’s speech in September 1962 which launched the Apollo program. A speech in which he declared, “We choose to go to the moon, 240,000 miles away using  a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.” 

A speech that was made based on US’s first manned space flight a year earlier (Alan Shephard, May 1961). A speech that shifted the goal post from near-earth space fights to a manned flight to the moon within the decade.

It was July 20th 1969 and humanity had come together as one. The Apollo Space program had succeeded in placing Man on the moon. Humanity had finally left its cradle. As a school kid, I accompanied my father to the US Information Services (USIS) center near Mandi House in Delhi. A crowd that milled around was gaping at a full size model of the Lunar Module which had successfully landed on the moon, allowing astronaut Neil Armstrong to step onto the lunar surface and utter those famous words, “ That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for Mankind”. These words, successfully relayed over radio stations all around the world, were uniting Mankind like never before. As a child, I could sense that from the manner strangers were excitedly speaking to each other as they pointed to features of the lunar craft named Eagle. Going to school over the next few days, I recall the exhilarating discussions of my classmates vying with each other about how many newspaper cuttings of the momentous event and the grainy photos they had managed to cut out and paste into their scrapbooks.

**

The other day, I did a day excursion to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. For me the trip was a pilgrimage, growing up as I had in the sixties and seventies. When Space travel and Moon landings were what our dreams were made of. When our imaginations were fuelled by the stories of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein.

As I stood looking at the full-scale exhibit of the Saturn V Rocket that had powered the Apollo missions as well as the replica of the spacecraft that had successfully carried astronauts to the moon and back more than half a century ago, deep emotions stirred within me.

In the sixties when computing, communication and control systems were so rudimentary, I realised the awesomeness of the belief and effort that not only used brute rocket force to hurtle a spacecraft with astronauts beyond earth’s gravity, it could also deploy fine navigational controls to land the lunar module onto the moon surface and then lift off with the astronauts to dock with the orbiting command module before bringing them back to earth. It was the sheer cowboy-like bravado and risk of a journey into the unknown that had brought up the emotions.

NASA Command & Control center for the Apollo missions

” The Eagle has landed!”

Which brings me to the story of Artemis. In mythology, Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon and daughter of Zeus, is the twin sister of Apollo.

An apt name for Humanity’s next phase of exploring the unknown depths of space. Artemis is all about NASA’s vision to return to the moon after half a century. Artemis would deploy the cutting-edge technological advancements in computing, communications, robotics and materials of this century to not only put men and women on the moon but take them on manned flights to Mars and beyond. The Artemis vision incorporates sustainability, international cooperation and involvement of a plethora of private sub-contractors for developing innovative mission equipment and processes.

The following is an extract from the US Presidential Memorandum on reinvigorating America’s Human Space Exploration program:

“Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”

The Artemis initiative envisages the use of a powerful Space Launch System, the Orion spacecraft, a lunar space station similar to the International Space Station called the Gateway circling the moon, reusable human landing systems onto the lunar surface as well as a lunar basecamp. An initiative designed to leverage experience, technologies and mindset from Man’s return to the moon in 2024, to eventually make the quantum leap to Mars and beyond.

In the words of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, “Pushing the boundaries of space exploration, science, and technology once again, America is on the verge of exploring more of the Moon than ever before. This new era of lunar exploration is called Artemis. Named after the twin sister of Apollo, she is the Goddess of the Moon, and we are the Artemis Generation.”

Could it be that Man’s destiny to the stars remains inexorably linked to the son and daughter of Zeus?

In Learning……..                                   Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgment: ‘The ARTEMIS Plan – NASA’s lunar exploration program overview’, Sept. 2020

My flight over Greenland


In mythology, Niflheim was a land of primordial ice and cold, with  Élivágar and Hvergelmir, the frozen rivers from which arose all other rivers of the world.

According to legends, Niflheim was the primordial region that was born out of two realms. The Ginnungagap, the home of ice and the Muspelheim, the home of fire. Between these two realms of cold and heat, the world got created as ice mixed with fire. Niflheim became the abode of Hel, the goddess daughter of Loki (remember the estranged brother of Thor from the Avengers!), and her subjects.

As my flight cruised over Greenland, I watched the morning rays streaming, glistening and bouncing off the frozen land. A quote of  Albert Schweitzer came to mind.

 “As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”

But is the melting ice really improving understanding and trust in the world I mused.

From my aircraft window, I could spot the rivers formed by the melting Greenland Ice Sheet.  

Greenland’s glaciers, in existence for millions of years, have now suddenly begun to rapidly retreat and thin. Scientists have concluded that the Greenland ice sheet is in the throes of irreversible ice loss. Paleoclimatic evidence indicates that even a mere 2 °C of global warming could endanger the Greenland glaciers leading to a sea-level rise of six meters. Large swathes of inhabited coasts and islands in the United States, Europe as well as densely populated regions of Bangla Desh and India would go underwater.

My thoughts about Greenland, its melting glaciers and the impact on Humanity were interrupted by the flight steward politely asking me about my choice of breakfast. Looking up at him and then around me, I seemed to be in a cocoon far removed from the impact of global warming playing out below. But were I and my co travellers really in a cocoon or were we shutting our minds to the inevitable? I was left wondering.

In musing……..                                   

Shakti Ghosal

Mahalaya


It was a few days back.

Just before five in the morning. I put on the FM channel and the so very familiar words wafted around the room, quickly overpowering the low hum of the air conditioner sound.

That ethereal sound of the conch shell interspersed with the chorus.

Ayi Giri-Nandini Nandita-Medini Vishva-Vinodini Nandi-Nute
Giri-Vara-Vindhya-Shiro-[A]dhi-Nivaasini Vissnnu-Vilaasini Jissnnu-Nute

(Salutations to You O Divine Mother, I Invoke You; Who is the daughter of the Mountain; By Whose presence the whole World is filled with Joy; For Whom the whole World is a Divine Play and Who is Praised by Nandi,
I Invoke You O Devi Who Dwell on the Summit of the Vindhyas, the Best of the Mountains; Who give Joy to Lord Vishnu as His sister ….)

That once a year rendition in the voice of Biren Krishna Bhadra.

Aswiner sarada prate beje utheche alokomonjir,

Dharanir bohirakashi ontorhito meghomala

(In the month of Aswin, amidst the meanderings of autumn, resounds the light of the sun like anklets

As the clouds disappear from the skies above the world)

Listening to that Chandi path chants and the music in a half asleep, half wakeful state, has always been an intensely personal and endearing experience since my childhood.

I recall my father putting on the All India Radio station at dawn all those decades back, as we all huddled back under the blankets to sleep-awake through Mahishasur Mardini during those wonderful autumn laced mornings with that slight nip in the air. I have tried to continue that tradition.

This year as I lay on my bed listening to Mahishasur Mardini, I saw in my mind’s eye folks who had been part of me since childhood. My father, my father-in-law, other family members, friends. They were standing in two rows and smiling at me. I could sense the love and the warmth seep towards me through the smiles. I luxuriated in the enveloping feeling and closed my eyes. I woke up to find that it was but a dream. Al those who I saw looking and smiling at me were no longer part of my life today, having left for their heavenly abode.

Mahalaya is the day of making offerings to our departed forefathers. According to the Puranas, our patriarchal generations come closer to the living world at this time and this is when they need to be remembered and thanked in our prayers.

Did my dream have anything to do about my remembrance of all the departed souls and them reciprocating back?

In musing……

Shakti Ghosal

Nazm-e-Sahitya Award 2021


Nazmehayat was conceived as a platform for worthy writers. Curated by its two founders Swapnil Singh and Anushree Goswami, Nazmehayat offers book recommendations, contests as also a blogging platform for writers. It has a significant presence on social media platforms.

Nazmehayat has the vision to become a leading Literature platform in the world.

www.nazmehayat.com

Today morning, I woke up to the pleasurable news that Nazmehayat has awarded me the Nazme Sahitya award 2021 for the Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories.

Thank you Nazmehayat for the recognition.

Musings on a Father’s Day….


My Dad and me

Yesterday, my daughters arranged for an all-Italian supper of pasta and Pizza with garlic bread for their Baba. As I was washing down all that great food with a glass of coke I felt so blessed.

In my younger days, we neither had the awareness nor the luxury of such DAYS to acknowledge our loved ones. The only days I recall celebrating were Birthdays and the occasional special anniversary (the tenth, the twenty fifth etc.). Those were simpler times……

Times change. The bond, the love, that heavenly security in one’s father’s arms remain. This is how the feelings, the thoughts, the conviction to take one’s rightful place on the world stage flow down from one generation to the next.

My father Late Debabrata Ghosal gave wings to my creative imagination since childhood. He inculcated the ‘can do’ mindset in me. Decades after he has left my side, I continue to sense his guiding compass when confronted by life’s situations.

Though I too held my daughters in the same manner that Bapi held me decades earlier, have I been able to pass on the right values and mindset onto them? I suppose only time will remain a witness to that ……

Riya and me

Piya and me

In Learning………..

http://www.shaktighosal.com

Those Raga Varsha days…….


With Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma

Those RAGA VARSHA Days…..

It was another time, another place.

It was near the end of last century in 1998. As part of the Raga Varsha initiative, we had invited Santoor Maestro, the legendary Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and his immensely talented son Rahul Sharma to perform at the iconic Al Bustan Palace in Muscat.

Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma during his lifetime has elevated the humble ‘Santoor’ to classical heights by modifying certain key elements. A chromatic arrangement of notes, increasing the range to three octaves and creating a new playing technique. To understand the stature of Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, he was the recipient of the Indian Classical music’s first platinum disc for the ‘Call of the Valley’ album. He went onto win further platinum discs for the music compositions of films Silsila and Chandni.

When he accompanied his dad to Muscat in 1998, Rahul Sharma was already a hugely talented and handsome young man of 26. Today, Rahul is a music director and classical santoor player in his own right. He has collaborated with international musicians to produce chart busting fusion music.

With Rahul Sharma

The mellifluous music strands created by the father son duo at the Al Bustan Palace auditorium  that day nearly a quarter of a century ago continues to be part of my album of wonderful memories.

#shaktighosal#panditshivkumarsharma#rahulsharma#santoor#classicalmusician#ragavarsha#chandni#silsila#callofthevalley

A Virtual Convocation @ IIM Udaipur


As a visiting Professor, I was invited to the Ninth Convocation ceremony of IIM Udaipur yesterday.

While I have attended convocations earlier, this was the first time I was attending one on a virtual platform.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well and seamlessly the ceremony took place with more than 250 participants.

Mrs. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairman & Managing Director of Biocon Ltd, as the chief guest, delivered an excellent convocation address on the huge business and start-up opportunities that the current pandemic continues to throw up.

The event reminded be of those immortal lines penned and sung by Bob Dylan, so many years back!

The Times They Are A Changing

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

In Learning…….

Shakti Ghosal

A Live Event on Instagram… with a surprise at the end.


The Chronicler goes live on Instagram!

I am happy to report that I was recently invited by Vishakha Raghav who runs the Instagram Thread “vishing_sky”.

I loved the Online Event on Instagram and some of the very interesting and fundamental questions posed by Vishakha. Questions relating to the underlying inspiration, current publishing system and tips for bussing authors from one of their own ilk!

Available worldwide on Amazon, Flipkart and select bookstores.

http://www.shaktighosal.com

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