I am Indian and I was born into the ‘caste system’.

I could describe my experience of being ‘upper caste’ but people wouldn’t really be interested in hearing me out. The established literary trope of rich person bad, poor person good is rewritten as upper caste bad, lower caste good in many of the write-ups I have come across on the topic.

Others’ views on the Indian caste system are freely available on the net. Ours are not. From what I have heard and read in the media I get the impression that ‘upper caste’ people are cut off mid-sentence and given lectures on human rights when they try to clarify their position.

Why are people so interested in giving their opinions on our so-called caste system? I have lived in it all my life and I see it as something that belongs in the spiritual world and is an individual soul’s quest for moksh. It is not a social construct but is about the purification of the soul, i.e. becoming a better person, over many lifetimes.

And this is what people seem to have issue with, the part about purity, which is construed as the reason for untouchability. I don’t think untouchability is at all acceptable, but this is not the explanation for its existence.

The concept of karma being the arbiter of one’s station in life is abstract and complicated. It isn’t enough to pull out a reference from Manu-smriti or some Rig Vedic poetry and triumphantly say, “See? Hindu caste system!”

Every belief system in the world is simplified for the masses and taught in bullet points, like ‘the ten commandments’, etc. and the highly abstract points are only studied by scholars. I know only a little of the vast fund of spiritual knowledge that is Sanatana Dharma, aka Hinduism.

I didn’t choose my family. I simply manifested here on Earth.

If my soul chose this family it’s down to the Wheel of Karma, not the present Me. I am not expected to feel guilty or apologize for being upper caste. And even if none of these beliefs are true, the world is not a fair place as we define fair, but it is a finely balanced place, so that every electron is exactly where it should be, and every planet moves in its own orbit. Presumably, this applies to us too.

“When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill, and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened, and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me?”

― Blaise Pascal, Pensées

As children, most of us were taught that since we have been given so much we ought to be humble and grateful and not lord it over people who haven’t been as fortunate in this life time. We were raised on the simple concepts of paap, punya, karma and punarjanam: what goes around comes around and nobody can save our souls from the consequences of our actions. Heaven or Hell is right here on Earth as a reward or punishment for our actions in past lives.

This is the essence of Hinduism. Anyone jumping into the fray from a completely different ethos cannot quite see it this way any more than a non-Christian without a belief in the back story can understand why some people don’t receive communion in church.

But, regardless of religious and moral education, a small percentage of a cohort taken from any religion will turn out petty, greedy, unjust, dishonest, exploitative, cruel or outright criminal. If they happen to be upper caste Hindu, or powerful members of the Christian/Muslim/etc. clergy, they might feed their petty little egos by treating people lower down the social ladder with arrogance and disrespect. This is down to genetics, character and upbringing rather than to caste or religion.

Most ‘upper caste’ people are decent to the ‘lower castes’. Of course, I’ve probably got hold of a demographic that is different from the one that has been studied by people who publish articles on the ‘Indian caste system’. I can’t substantiate my claim with stats; I can only say that this is so in my experience. I don’t think any sample size is large enough for the findings of a study to be extrapolated to apply equally to Hindus everywhere.

A country whose diversity is possibly unrivalled cannot also be homogeneous! Is there any large country without a stratified social order? I would dearly like to know. There is always an upper class that pulls the strings, and a class of downtrodden people, in any large country, especially one that has been settled for thousands of years. Everybody else is the ‘middle class’ that is mostly self-satisfied in its own bubble.

The cases of caste discrimination in India that appear in news reports across the world are about as commonplace as reports of gun violence in American schools and racially motivated crimes that we regularly hear about in India. But that doesn’t mean we imagine that gun-toting youngsters are going on a rampage in every town in the US and that Indian children will copy them in this as they do in clothes, language, recreation, etc., and we should therefore start drafting alarmist ordinances in India!


The City Council of Seattle, USA, that recently passed an ordinance to protect against caste discrimination there defines caste as ‘a system of rigid social stratification characterized by hereditary status, endogamy, and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law or religion’. Doesn’t this describe social stratification even in places where they don’t call it caste?!

Society is stratified everywhere but concealed behind polite manners, unspoken rules and clever language by people who have managed to reach a position of power and are continuously scheming to hold on to it. Status is hereditary, which is why legacy means a lot in college admissions, and recent graduates get to hold leadership positions in their parents’ companies, passing over experienced senior employees.

‘Guess who’s coming to dinner?’ is not as simple as it was in the 60s’ movie, as Megan Markle might attest. Hence, endogamy as happened with Kate and William, is the norm in most societies, royal or otherwise.

How come Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and King George V of Britain were first cousins? Endogamy! People tend to prefer marrying within a specific social or religious group, and the same holds true for Indians. This is possibly true for the more conservative, less visible, parts of the US too.

According to the above definition of caste, social barriers are custom, law and religion, unlike in the US where social barriers are colour, race and probably other things I don’t know about. However, advanced academic degrees, financial worth and political power often overcome all barriers in most places in the world, including India and the US!

The ordinance passed in Seattle is based on somebody’s idea of caste, but there is no place in this definition of caste for varna, kula, gotra, jati, etc., that go to make up one’s caste!

Varna is the original social order that goes back to Vedic times. In ultra-simplistic terms, it is what you do, like scholar, soldier, businessman, leather worker, and is not hereditary. Your varna changes depending on your interest and talent for a particular profession. Nobody in India talks about varna, mainly because it got incorporated into caste when the caste system was invented.

Kula is your lineage and it goes back generations. The known part of my kula goes back seven generations to our family temple in Ponda, Goa. The bust of our kul-purush is enshrined in the Ramnathi temple as he saved the murthis of our kul-devathas when the Portuguese executed the Goa Inquisition in 1541 and destroyed our temple in Loutolim. The orally transmitted kula history reminds us that our forefather survived all that and we feel proud to be his descendants!

My kula is a part of my identity. When other people talk about their State, native village or their language they often tell you their caste and its geographical history and special customs, and it’s always interesting to see how similar we are despite being different.

Then there is gotra. A gotra is a patrilineal group. Marriage within the same gotra is not allowed because they are descended from the same ancestor and are like brother and sister. It may not be considered consanguineous/incestuous now, after tens of generations, but its origin is scientific. I don’t know how this fits into the caste system, considering everybody has a gotra and there are a limited number of them.

Jati is a kinship group, like a Scottish Clan. Belonging to a jati is like being part of a very, very large extended family. When I meet someone with a surname belonging to my jati it sometimes takes us only about ten minutes to discover how we are related, often in two different ways, one through my father and one through my mother, though many degrees of separation can make the link difficult to trace. But we invariably find we have relatives in common.

Indians who do not have a jati belong to other kinship groups, e.g. tribes that specialise in creating art like bidriware, dhokra, traditional handloom weaves, stone sculptures, etc. Some kinship groups are like the Aghoris, tribes that are concentrated in a particular location and haven’t fully joined the mainstream of Indian life.

Isabel and the aghoris

These networks that connect me to my forefathers and cousins-many-times-removed give me a sense of belonging to this land. They are like intricately branching roots of a big tree that go down deep and tether it to Earth. The other jatis are like different trees in the same forest to which we all belong, their deepest roots and highest branches reaching towards each other. One can extend this to include everybody who descended from mitochondrial Eve . . . or even prior to that . . . vasudhaiva kutumbakam . . . the world is one family.

An Indian hired to live and work in the US obviously doesn’t bring only his professional skills. His jati, the ancestral-religious-cultural-linguistic subgroup to which he belongs, goes with him. It stays for the course of his lifetime because that’s his core identity, especially if he hasn’t had an identity-erasing, ‘cosmopolitan’ upbringing in India.

In an alien country where he has to change and adapt to fit in, his jati gives a new immigrant a stable sense of self. He does not identify with Whites or Blacks or with Indian-Americans, and in the early days of his American life, maybe not even with Indians from parts of India that are far from where he grew up.

So he gets in touch with the local association that meets his needs. For instance, if he’s from Bihar he might get together with other Biharis for chhath pooja, a comforting microcosm of home. I suppose an American who goes to a Baptist church at home will not stop being Baptist when he comes to India; he might look for a Baptist church here for fellowship with people belonging to the same denomination.

Jati groups work somewhat like Old Boys’ Clubs that exist in every society. They generally look out for one another and give members a leg up when needed. Religions, sects, denominations, castes and all sorts of divisive groups exist everywhere because tribalism is inherent in human beings and othering is the norm.

In America, influential Old Boys’ Clubs have traditionally been the preserve of privileged groups of White people. Those whose European ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, etc. may not treat as equals the descendants of those who were dragged in from Africa during the Middle Passage and bought and sold like livestock. There are laws to stop discrimination on the basis of race, but going by news reports from America, I’m not sure how well they are working.


The background, or at least how I understand it, having lived in the system all my life:

The varna and jati systems evolved the way most social systems do. They are obviously not what they were when they began.

There were four varnas of which the first three were Vedic scholars and teachers (Brahman), rulers and warriors (Kshatriya) and merchants/traders and landowners (Vaishya).

The last varna (Shudra) included occupations like carpenter, potter, leather worker, blacksmith, etc., all of which needed talent and artistic skills that the scholars, warriors and merchants did not have! Not very different from professionals working mundane jobs in air-conditioned offices getting more respect and money than artisans and artists painstakingly creating beautiful works of art in the current scenario!

We have been taught that these occupational names hardened into jati over time, presided over by upper caste people, apparently unlike in Europe where they merely became surnames like Smith, Baker, Carpenter, Carter, Kellogg (=“kill hog”, pork butcher), Schmidt, Faber, Herrera, Kovacs, etc.

Actually, these surnames give away one’s ancestry and a Rothschild or Chamberlain might covertly assign a class to the bearer of an occupational-sounding name, though that’s probably as far as it goes. But the fact is, he notices; otherwise the binary of aristocrat/commoner would not exist.

To continue, below these four varnas were people who were – and still are – involved in ‘unclean’ occupations like working with hides of dead cattle, sweepers and garbage collectors, drain cleaners, crematorium workers, and tribal people who ate the flesh of scavenging pigs. They are called ‘untouchables’ because of the nature of their occupations.

When I was a First Year medical student all weekday afternoons were given over to cadaver dissection. I lived in the student hostel so nothing much was made of it, but had I lived at home I would have been expected to shower and change before entering the kitchen/dining room/pooja ghar, or giving my little sister a hug. I was untouchable because I was unclean . . . This is how untouchability was always explained to us.

This is a touchy topic. There are laws, but laws are not enough. We have to make this go away, but without causing an upheaval that would make the country go up in flames. For that, these occupations should not exist.

Things are changing for the better, though. Ensuring that every child gets a decent education and is trained in some vocation is the only way for them to move into a life of dignity. There are some hopeful reports in the news now and then that indicate this is happening in some pockets. And if our Economy is doing as well as the world says it is, more people will stop bothering about caste so much as they climb out of poverty.

Currently, people who are not included in the jati system are known by a number of either pejorative, or well intentioned but patronizing, names. Unfortunately, these names get tagged on to the name of whatever religion they convert to with hopes of being respected as equals. Therefore, they continue to be marked out for discrimination among adherents of their new religion as well. For e.g. we have Dalit Christians/Muslims, or low-caste Christians/Muslims. Though there is no caste system in these religions, they have compromised their principles and adopted a version of what is called the Hindu caste system!


The jati system was far from perfect to begin with. Nevertheless, the British set it in stone on the lines of their own class system and the Spanish/Portuguese casta system. They named it caste.

There are many theories about how and when the caste system was established in its present form, most theories attributing its origin to the Vedas. On the contrary, Pandit Satish Sharma’s research, published as a book in 2021, points to more recent hardening of caste barriers. It is based on a trove of information derived from written exchanges between people in British government during colonial times.

‘Caste’ in India now encapsulates a person’s varna + jati + remote geographical origins/native place of past few generations + mother tongue + familydeity/guru. And we inherit this thumbnail sketch of ourselves – our ‘caste’the way children all over the world inherit their parents’ religion, ancestral immigration history and caste-equivalents.

Actually, it seems to me that most countries are heterogeneous groups of people who have banded together behind one totem pole. Sometimes the fault lines between them can cause disintegration, like what happened in Yugoslavia thirty years ago. Our country is made up of thousands of jatis. If we insist on instant equality right now, at any cost, instead of the slow give-and-take process that has been going on for the past few decades, our country will be blown to smithereens.

Caste divisions are slowly blurring, and inter-caste marriages have become more common. When my daughter was six she came home from school one day and wonderingly asked, “Do you know both of Latika’s parents speak the same language – Hindi?!” That’s when we realised we knew hardly anyone who had married as per caste.

Also, city people are now more aware of the need to save our dying arts and are making forays into villages to help revive them, so there’s a growing realisation that every jati or kinship group adds beauty and utility to this patchwork quilt that is India.


The Indian government has a Reservation policy to help lower castes better their lot. Therefore, some born into privilege lose out on college admissions despite their hard work and excellent grades. They harbor resentment against ‘people with no merit who get in through Reservation’ and work with a vengeance to leave this ‘unfair’ country.

They carry their resentment and anger with them to their new country and possibly take it out on Indians there who represent that injustice. Apparently not everybody in the US is happy with Affirmative Action either and considers it discriminatory – it’s a similar situation here.

So the incident of an Indian CEO discriminating against an employee from a lower caste arises from entrenched roots, though that by no means makes it right, only more comprehensible in terms of human behaviour in its raw, uncensored form in response to a perceived injustice. I have no idea how frequent these occurrences are in the US, though.

Anyway, if an ordinance or law is good enough to check caste-based discrimination in the US, without being misused, that will be something to applaud I suppose.


To hold his gaze for longer than half a minute or so would have been improper, but she had time to imagine, in the condensing way of thought, what he saw in the chair by his bedside, another grown-up with a view, a grown-up further diminished by the special irrelevance that haunts an elderly lady.

This is from a novel I just finished reading, The Children Act by Ian McEwan. Fiona Maye, the 59-year-old protagonist, is a High Court judge in London. Here, she is visiting her 17-year-old bedbound client in hospital.

This line certainly gave me pause. Really? Am I ‘diminished’ by the special ‘irrelevance’ that ‘haunts’ me as an elderly lady? Perhaps I am, in the eyes of some. But, somehow, the question of my relevance itself seems irrelevant.

I chose to retire early from work. I was tired of the hurly-burly of life. I felt depleted; I had nothing left to give. I just knew I had to call it a day. Besides, I had never had a burning desire to be relevant to the running of the world or its institutions – ‘brighten the corner where you are’, that beautiful old hymn, was more my thing.

When she resigned last month, Jacinda Ardern said she no longer had “enough in the tank”. She said, “We give as much as we can for as long as we can and then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.” Two days ago Nicola Sturgeon said she knew “in my head and in my heart” this was the right time to step down as the first minister of Scotland.

As many have said before, life is like a river, and the way of life is to go with the flow. A river cannot have the energy of a noisy little brook bounding cheerfully down a mountainside, plunging into ravines to create waterfalls, then racing into the next valley . . . A brook has a long way to go before it grows into a river, while a river remembers being a brook once and is happy to watch the progress of the bubbly brook, the way we watch our children’s progress with pleasure.

A river flows somewhat sluggishly when it nears the sea and the last part is only about meandering or forming a sediment-filled delta or a marshy estuary as it gets closer to the sea. But it is still a part of the Water Cycle, it supports life in many ways, it is still as relevant as grandparents!

I was once on a ship that sailed up the Mississippi river to New Orleans. The mighty river was as still, flat and featureless as a vast lake. There was no wind, no waves, no spray, no swell, nothing. It was as still as Coleridge’s ‘a painted ship upon a painted ocean’. A river at this stage of its course can be that calm and peaceful, its waters unruffled by passing traffic.

Being a relevant agent of change in the world is transient. Today’s relevant people are replaced in less than two decades (very conservative and generous estimate!) by another batch of relevant people. They wait in the wings, then take centre stage to perform their part, move into the wings again, then step down from the stage to make place for the next troupe. To the constantly changing audience they are relevant only for the time they see them on stage. This is what we call Samsara, or flowing on.

With relevance comes responsibility. It’s horrifying to think that the views and diktats of people like those who declared Galileo guilty of heresy four centuries ago were relevant at one time! Today, governments and corporations are most relevant to the management of the world and its resources, and I’m not sure they realise what an enormous responsibility that is.

At times, being told we are irrelevant is a justifiable rebuke. When the 25-year-old New Zealand M.P., Chloë Swarbrick, brushed off a senior parliamentarian during a discussion on climate change in 2019 with “OK, Boomer”, we deserved it.

Often, something you knew almost nothing about becomes extremely relevant all of a sudden. Last year, that something was cancer for the non-medical people in my family. Today, reading the statement posted by Bruce Willis’ family about him – “frontotemporal dementia is a cruel disease that many of us have never heard of” – my heart goes out to them.


To get back to The Children Act, Fiona is mainly relevant in her roles as a High Court judge and as a wife. Relatives sometimes visit or stay over on holidays and then she’s a warm aunt, or whoever she’s required to be, going back to being mainly Judge, her dominant identity, after the interlude.

However, when she stops at a grocery store once, she briefly sees herself through the eyes of the boy at the checkout counter:

She bought a frozen fish pie. At the checkout she fumbled with her money, spilling coins onto the floor. The nimble Asian lad working at the till trapped them neatly with his foot, and smiled protectively at her as he put the money in her palm. She imagined herself through his eyes as he took in her exhausted look, ignoring or unable to read the tailored cut of her jacket, seeing clearly one of those harmless biddies who lived and ate alone, no longer capable, out in the world far too late at night.

Sure, the boy might see her in that light, but how does she see him? As an Asian bagboy, someone who is too unsophisticated to appreciate the elegant cut of her jacket, someone who spends all his waking hours bagging groceries for customers and has no other life. That is how he will live in her memory. Irrelevant. Diminished. So it works both ways.

Seen cross-sectionally, people appear only as their current role. Their relevance lasts only as long as the interaction does. We would see them differently if we were to take the long view and see their lives as videos rather than as snap shots. But that would be overwhelming! I guess that’s why it’s reasonable to take people at face value in short transactions.

In general, people have doubts about their own relevance, their place and role in the world, without being made to feel irrelevant by anyone else.

All day I think about it, then at night I say it.

Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?

I have no idea.

My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,

And I intend to end up there.

I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.

I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.

Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

– Jalaluddin Rumi

Many patients who seek treatment for ‘depression’ come from a place of feeling invisible, unheard, unloved and disrespected – basically dismissed as unimportant and irrelevant – with a need to have their relevance to the significant people in their life restored. It’s hard for people to value themselves without some validation from people who matter to them.

Sometimes people are too depressed to wait for ‘whoever brought me here to take me home’ and might decide to find their own way ‘home’ if they feel they are not needed.


Going back to Ian McEwan’s observation, ‘a grown-up further diminished by the special irrelevance that haunts an elderly lady’, an elderly lady is like a matryoshka doll and carries the lessons of decades within her. She can hark back to any age and draw on her experience of being that age. She can read an “O.K., Boomer” subtext in someone’s look and decide if it’s worth thinking about.

The important thing to remember is that relevance is relative: relevant to what or whom at this stage of your life? If the answer is clear and pleasing, nothing else matters!

the daily newspaper

I might not have read newspapers at all if the things they wrote in them weren’t so far removed from things that personally matter to me. Some of them are mildly entertaining; some are shocking; some are familiar from last night’s channel surfing; some set off thoughts that gain new dimensions as the day wears on. A lot of them are banal and don’t stick.

A sample of headlines from the international section in today’s issue of my daily newspaper:

UK govt says BBC is independent

Online, it is described as ‘quasi-autonomous’, ‘authorised by royal charter’ and ‘operationally independent of government’. See? As independent, incorruptible, unbiased and totally balanced as Themis! We just have to ignore the ‘quasi’ to accept the UK government’s claim!

Four PIOs named to key US House Committees

These three beaming people brimming with happiness – and the fourth guy appearing to be calculating his next move – have apparently reached one of their life goals. Time for some wheeling and dealing, TV appearances and impressive sound bites; also a chance to make a difference, until their relevance fades, as it surely must.

Indian princess, known for role in UK women suffrage, to get blue plaque

Sofia was the daughter of the pre-teen king Duleep Singh who was forced by Dalhousie of the East India Company to ‘gift’ the Kohinoor to the British queen, Victoria, and then exiled to England after they took away his kingdom.

Sofia lived and died between 1876 and 1948 in England worrying about lots of things, one of them being the UK women’s suffrage, for which they are now fixing a blue plaque on her old house. Her other worries and troubles tell another story, like what it meant to be an Indian-German-Ethiopian-British person growing up in England.

IMF junks Pak’s revised debt management plan

The plan is called Circular Debt Management Plan. Circular?  Like a Ponzi scheme?

Maybe they should drop that word. It conjures up an image of a snake swallowing its own tail, ouroboros, symbolizing infinity, suggesting that the loan will never be repaid.

Eye on China, Philippines gives US greater access to its bases

Great headline – no need to read the article at all! Game in progress. Ball in play. Another String of Pearls in the making.

Zelensky wants tougher Europe, Putin evokes victory over Nazis

Ukraine sees itself as being attacked by Russia, while Russia sees ‘the collective West’ (as it calls it) as attacking it. Perhaps the Pakistani word circular applies here? I wish this circle could be opened and flattened into a straight line with a beginning and an end, across which diplomatic talks can be held, and the matter resolved . . .

But, no. The next headline says what is happening instead.

Banks in Iran and Russia move to link their systems to counter sanctions

Meanwhile, elsewhere . . .

Australia to remove British monarch from banknotes

Looks like they politely waited for the British queen to pass on and hoped that the new king would understand that they needed to give their indigenous people their due – finally.


And the rest of the news:



Bangalore traffic, Rs.530 crore due to the police for our collective traffic violations!

Man bludgeons wife to death with dumbbell, alerts police

Case of the missing passports of a family of four from Australia

Aero India show coming up

School uniforms for RTE kids

Improved railway stations – yay!

Full-page Ad: Deepika and Ranvir endorsing a grocery store

Elections, ECI, freebies, surveillance cameras to curb malpractices

Axing of trees planned on Sankey Tank flyover

Movie reviews – all three movies reviewed today got four stars – nice!

And, after a long time, there’s no mention of the Supreme Court collegium on the front page, so maybe it’s sorted, or shoved on to the back burner


Analysis of budget

Supply of weapons to Ukraine from Europe

Then, the Tech page of alphabet soup and neologisms:

AI: where are we today?

Mixed reality headset battle heating up

Google testing ChatGPT rival

We are looking for cloud engineers, DevOps, AI and ML engineers and full stack developers

Next, the sports page:

Lots of cricket and football. A little of archery, hockey and golf.  A tiny column on races, with a list of strange horse names.

What have I gained by my perusal of the newspaper for half an hour?

As a retired person regarding life from the sidelines, I get a sense of where I stand in relation to the outer world, like a sailor who has dropped anchor a little distance away from a busy port but is keeping the port in sight. It helps me ascertain that the anchor has not dragged and set me adrift in the open sea, which is my inner life.

Like figures carved on stone in bas-relief, my thoughts get defined better as I process what I read, chipping away, shaping my opinions of the world I live in. To me, this daily reset is necessary.

2020 was about COVID, 2021 about Afghanistan, 2022 about Ukraine-Russia, i.e. they didn’t fit into a regular news cycle but went on and on. These are a part of the collective experience of being on Earth at this point in time. They give me a sense of belonging, of being a part of something bigger than my little life.

These macro-events are balanced by the small things that vary a little every day, yet remain comfortingly the same – things that keep life from being all about the impersonal big issues amplified in newspapers. There’s work to do, friends to meet, books to read, music to enjoy, movies to watch, places to go in town and beyond, different kinds of food to sample, time to bond with family and friends . . .

ruled by mercury

One morning, when I was walking around the lake near my house and thinking of nothing in particular, two unrelated streams of random thought intersected.

Why does the world seem to be constantly in turmoil? Could it have something to do with the zodiac signs of the men and women that run the world? Ha! That’s funny!! But, wait . . . aren’t there too many born under Gemini* in this lot? Just an impression – but I thought it would be fun to find out anyway.

Now, I don’t know much about Astrology except what I picked up from Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs and Linda Goodman’s Love Signs during college days. There were a couple of copies of each around and they were in much demand as everyone in the hostel used them as ready reckoners to figure out roommates, friends and boyfriends.

So I looked up the zodiac signs of people who routinely take the lead in world affairs.

There are three types of Signs:

  1. Cardinal – leaders
  2. Fixed – organisers
  3. Mutable – communicators

The world now seems to be run largely by people born under Mutable signs, i.e. Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces!

Among the G-20 nations, 9 are Mutable!

  • India, Modi – Virgo
  • China, Xi – Gemini
  • Turkey, Erdogan – Pisces
  • Saudi, MBS – Virgo
  • France, Macron – Sagittarius
  • Germany, Scholz – Gemini (Merkel is a Cancer, leader)
  • Italy, Draghi – Virgo
  • UK, Boris Johnson – Gemini
  • EU, Charles Michel – Sagittarius (represents EU at G20 summits along with Ursula von der Leyen as far as I know)

There are only 5 Cardinal signs in the G20:

  • Russia, Putin – Libra
  • Indonesia, Widodo – Cancer
  • Brazil, Bolsonaro – Aries
  • Canada, Trudeau – Capricorn, and
  • Argentina, Fernandez – Aries

Of these, two (Brazil, Indonesia) are born on the cusp, the 21st, and might not even be Cardinal.

The remaining 6 are Fixed signs:

  • Japan, Kishida – Leo
  • Oz, Scott Morrison – Taurus
  • S Africa, Ramaphosa – Scorpio
  • US, Biden – Scorpio (cusp, 20th Nov)
  • Mexico, AMLO – Scorpio, and
  • S Korea, Moon Jae-in – Aquarius

These people are supposed to keep things steady and may not lead change. Biden might’ve been more relaxed if he didn’t have the world scrutinizing his every move intently. He might’ve been more like pre-COVID Scott Morrison, or Moon Jae-in without the Kim factor!

It’s not surprising the G20 doesn’t come across as a cohesive, focused, pro-active group. There aren’t enough leaders in it, especially after Angela Merkel retired.

Now, look at Europe.

These 7 are ruled by Mutable Gemini:

  • Poland
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Hungary
  • Estonia

Gemini is also Trump’s sign, Pence’s too, also the late Gaddafi’s, and Xi’s and Boris Johnson’s, and IMAFT head Raheel Sharif’s.

The following are ruled by the other three Mutable signs, viz. Virgo, Sag, Pisces:

  • Spain – Pisces
  • Turkey – Pisces
  • Austria – Virgo
  • Switzerland – Sag
  • Portugal – Sag
  • Serbia – Pisces
  • Norway – Pisces
  • Latvia – Sag

That’s a lot of communicative leaders in Europe who may mesmerize people with their silver tongues but not necessarily lead their country anywhere, nor hold on to gains and keep things stable. You can expect some amount of drama and chaos with Mutable signs.

Tedros, the WHO chief who has been handling the corona pandemic, is also Pisces. So is Jens Stoltenberg, the present secretary general of NATO.

By the way, Teresa May and David Cameron are Libra, and so was Margaret Thatcher. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, is Libra too.

Wang Yi, the tough-talking Chinese foreign minister, is Libra, so is the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Central and South America:

Only Chile and Guatemala have Mutable heads of state at present. Venezuela too, if you consider Nicolás Maduro President. Other than Costa Rica, all have presidents born under Fixed signs, and six of them are Scorpio – Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras, Paraguay and Ecuador. Scorpios are good at staying on track and getting people to toe their line.

I don’t know enough about these countries to say how they are faring under these leaders, but my Mexican friend says AMLO has been good for Mexico and is very popular.

The Middle-East:

8 countries are ruled by Mutable signs:

  • Iran – Sag
  • Iraq – Virgo
  • Saudi – Virgo
  • Turkey – Pisces
  • Kuwait – Gemini
  • Syria – Virgo
  • Qatar – Gemini
  • UAE – Virgo

Only 2 by Cardinal signs:

  • Israel – Aries (his predecessor Netanyahu is Scorpio; Benny Gantz is Gemini)
  • Cyprus – Libra

6 by Fixed signs:

  • Egypt – Scorpio
  • Oman – Scorpio
  • Bahrain – Scorpio
  • Lebanon – Scorpio
  • Palestine – Scorpio
  • Jordan – Aquarius

Again, a lot of Scorpios.

We in India have had our share of them during the Nehru and Indira Gandhi years, both Scorpio. Morarji Desai and I K Gujral were the only Mutable signed Prime Ministers we’ve had. Four of our PMs were born under Cancer, two Libra, two Capricorn, one Taurus and one Leo.

A preponderance of Cardinal signs. Our country loves monarch-types rather than those that cycle to work like Mark Rutte (Aquarius, not a conventional guy) of the Netherlands!

Right now, we have China, Nepal and Sri Lanka in our immediate neighbourhood ruled by Gemini. Aung San Suu Kyi is Gemini too. Imran Khan of Pakistan is Libra and General Bajwa is Scorpio. Interesting!

I haven’t looked at Africa, the SE Asian countries or all the countries formed when Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were fragmented; I’ve also left out places that don’t loom large in the daily news, like Kosovo, Moldova, etc. I don’t want to labour the point . . . This is, after all, not a serious in-depth study but a bunch of observations born out of idle curiosity.

I glanced through the zodiac signs of people who dominated the political scene in the seventies, i.e. the places we heard about frequently in connection with India. Here’s a sampling:

  • India – Indira Gandhi, Scorpio
  • Sri Lanka – Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Aries
  • China – Mao, Capricorn; Hua Guofeng, Aquarius
  • Pakistan – Z A Bhutto, Capricorn; Zia, Leo
  • Russia – Brezhnev, Sagittarius
  • Israel – Golda Meir, Taurus
  • Iran – Reza Shah Pahlavi, Scorpio
  • France – Georges Pompidou, Cancer
  • UK – Harold Wilson, Pisces
  • US – Nixon – Capricorn, Ford – Cancer, and Carter – Libra
  • Germany – Helmut Schmidt – Capricorn, Helmut Kohl – Aries, but Willy Brandt was Sagittarius

In other words, most of them were steadfast/rigid types, and not prone to being all over the place like the Mutable signs that now rule the roost!

Make of it what you will. I’m just a dabbler. I know the sun sign is far from the complete picture. For example, an astrologer would make something of the fact that Brezhnev had Aries rising, Obama has a Gemini moon, and Modi has a Scorpio ascendant.

And that’s why this is merely a light blog post and not a research article 🙂     

*Mercury, the ruler of Gemini, is the god of shopkeepers and merchants, travelers and transporters of goods, and thieves and tricksters in Roman religion. In Greek religion he is Hermes, the fleet-footed messenger of the gods. Mercury is also known as quicksilver, i.e. given to changing rapidly or unpredictably.

to be happy

I came across an interview from 2018, where the late David Graeber talks about his earlier book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, that I hadn’t heard of until today, because that’s not my area of obsession, unlike his new title The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. This was recently released by his co-author David Wengrow, and I was looking for a review of it.

The interview is full of great insights, but this line especially jumped out at me:

David Graeber: “I think most people really do want to believe that they’re contributing to the world in some way, and if you deny that to them, they go crazy or become quietly miserable.”


What he says is a thought that has kept many of us awake nights at some point in our youth. To be happy we need to contribute to the world, we need to have a purpose so we don’t “go crazy or become quietly miserable”, as he says.

We are often told, “If you want to be happy, try to make someone else happy.” Ethical altruism.

For the longest time I accepted this. I believed it was the answer to the age-old question of the purpose of life. This truism dovetailed beautifully with my work as a doctor, so there was no dissonance. Over time though, I stopped being so certain that ethical altruism towards people – or animals as the case may be – was the only way for anyone to find meaning.

My faith in us as a civilisation has been shaken in recent years. Ignorance used to be bliss before Internet. Information was simply not available. Not anymore. It’s frustrating to have an abundance of information about something, say COVID, and still be ignorant because of the contradictions.

Though I know that worse things have happened over centuries past, I have lived most of my life in a period of peace and predictability in the world. The Cold War, and then a couple of wars involving India but restricted to border areas, hardly impacted me. Most importantly, news came only once a day, in the morning newspaper.

I visited many countries in Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia in the eighties and nineties. Boarding an international flight was as simple as boarding a city bus, and it was all fun. The world was a friendly, trusting place overall.

Ever since oil- and terrorism-related events erupted in the world, the sense of safety that I used to have is gone. Now the world doesn’t even make sense at times. For example, I find things like prison-industrial complex and military-industrial complex pathological. Just thinking of their ramifications makes my head hurt.

With so much stacked in our favour as an advanced species, this is not who we are supposed to be. We can be so much better. Or I wish it were so – for the sake of my children’s generation.

Governments are squandering away human achievements of the last few hundred years by indulging in all sorts of brinkmanship. This needs to be fixed, but can’t be. The beacon has gone out in the UN lighthouse and the G20’s declarations sound like pipedreams. Sure, on an individual level a lot of people, including me, are happy with their lot.


I wrote this but didn’t hit ‘Publish’ because I was still mulling over what I had jotted down.


It’s Saturday. There is a weekend curfew on because of Omicron.

We decided to watch a movie. We picked one without reading reviews. Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, and young Timothée Chalamet in a small role as well. It had to be a good movie, right?

Well, it was. Don’t Look Up is its name. But it left me with more of the same feeling, that we are wrecking the earth through greed and short-sightedness.

No more mulling. Hitting ‘Publish’ now.

lathe biosas

Another year begins. Another blip on the fourth dimension, the temporal dimension on which we can only move our three-dimensional selves forwards. There is no going back. Which means we live with awareness, so there’s no regret, no longing to go back to correct something.

Ever since I began delving into the geological history of Earth my world has become immeasurably larger and more ancient, more awe-inspiring, more precious. The sense of continuity the fourth dimension brings is indescribable. It’s a whole new perspective.

I see myself as a short-lived life form, just one of the trillions of creatures that routinely float across the earth’s surface like soap bubbles and disappear. Our lifespan of a few decades is nothing compared to the earth’s age of 4.5 billion years.

From the time COVID started, this awareness of deep time has become more intense. It’s become the wallpaper of my life. It informs every thought, emotion and judgment. But it’s also a sort of relief, like laying down a heavy load. So much is not in my hands. Not indifference, not nihilism, just que será, será.

Psychic numbing caused by the big COVID numbers of the last two years has added to the befuddlement created by elastic time, time that is marked by random corona outbreaks rather than by clock and calendar. I feel like a child looking hard at the sky to see where it ends.

So much has ceased to matter. Taking the narrower view of life, the health, safety and happiness of my family, friends and myself do matter, and I have been worried when one of them came down with COVID and I couldn’t travel to be there. Thankfully, a good friend, an infectious diseases specialist who lives in the same city, held the fort.

I have had minimal contact with other people for a long time now. Over these two locked-down/social-distanced years I have unconsciously withdrawn emotional investment in human beings and formed some sort of happy connections with elements of the landscape of Karnataka over many road trips and hikes during the last 15 months, like a series of mini peak experiences! If something goes out of your life, I guess something else takes its place, and life goes on.

Lofty boulder-strewn green hills, forests, smooth winding roads, wayside coffee shops, small towns, trekking trails, wild flowers, bird calls, hilltop views, village temples, backwaters, clouds, hill shrines, flocks of farm animals, tiny rills and waterfalls in the ghats, the occasional squall, are like a screensaver in my head now.

I feel I belong with them more than I belong to Bangalore city. I’m very, very surprised by this realization. Life right now is like living in a child’s picture book! It’s like what people say about being invested in characters in TV shows that run into many seasons, and vicariously living those lives.

Day-to-day life is the same, though. Lathe biōsas* works for me. It’s quiet. It’s meaningful.

At my stage of life the present is the future that I had envisaged in the past. I’m here, in the future. This is it. I’m not interested in leaving a legacy of any kind when I depart because, for what? The kids are perfectly capable of making interesting and happy lives for themselves. As for the world at large, it has enough people leaving legacies; I have no such duty or wish!

Lots of people have helped make my life easier. For example, I don’t have to keep a cow in my building basement and milk it everyday as someone somewhere keeps cows, and the milkman gets me half a litre of milk every morning!

The dairy folk and the milkman are glial cells to my neuron, just as I am glial cell to someone else’s neuron. Neurons need support, protection and nourishment from glial cells for complex thought processes . . . We are all connected and need each other, like neurons and glial cells . . .

It’s unthinkable that glial cells were dismissed as packing material for neurons when I was a medical student . . . The universe is a network. Nobody exists merely as someone’s packing material or exclusive support; each one has an identity and is the nucleus of some other subsystem.

Yet, in my current state of psychic numbness, these nice people are only their roles, mere cardboard cutouts. I feel grateful for them, but wearing a mask means unseen smile and muffled speech, so it feels like a video call with a bad connection every time. I miss the warmth, wholeness and rapport of engaging with unmasked faces.

I hope 2022 will be different.

A happier new year to all!

*One meaning of lathe biōsas is to ‘live in obscurity, get through life without drawing attention to yourself, live without pursuing glory or wealth or power, but anonymously, enjoying little things like food, the company of friends, etc.

what if . . .

It so happens that the book I finished today, Chicago by Alaa Al Aswany, and the movie Dev Bhoomi that I had started watching two days ago and finished just now, set off thoughts that converged and kept me occupied all evening.

In both the book and the movie the main characters are in their sunset years, looking back at decisions taken decades ago to leave their countries for better lives. They yearn to go back to the point where the road forked and look at the one not travelled, to paraphrase Robert Frost.

In Dev Bhoomi, Rahul Negi returns to his Himalayan village after forty years and is met variously with wariness, hostility, relief and joy by the different people who used to be in his life before he left for the UK.

He appears so ill at ease, so displaced, aching, regretful, occasionally hopeful . . . A range of nuanced emotions flit across his face, consummate actor that Victor Banerjee is. A step taken at one point in his youth, and he is left thinking of the road not taken for the next forty years. What torture!

In Chicago there is severe confusion and regret regarding the path taken, the one that actually led to the dreamed-of success! The characters – of whom there are quite a few transplanted and homesick ones – go through identity diffusion, loneliness, and a sense of not belonging to either home country or adopted one.

Despite the stilted dialogue and the translated feel that never leaves you through the entire book, you appreciate the conflict between their intense nostalgia for the established societal rules that decide things for them back in Egypt, and the freedom that makes them frighteningly responsible for every decision while living in the US.

You face a fork in the road several times in a lifetime. You choose one. All the paths you couldn’t take are alternative lives you might have led. No matter which one you choose there’s only so much you can do in one lifetime, even if you max out your talents and abilities and make every second count, use every minute being productive. No route is guaranteed to be the right one; even in hindsight you can’t tell if any of the others might have been the right ones. And right does not mean perfect because some things will still go wrong anyway.

When I have the crazy urge to look back and “What if . . . ” about my choices, I ask myself what is it exactly that I hope to gain from the exercise. It’s pointless to dwell on what I could have done differently, because things have turned out well enough.

“What if . . .” is fine if I go into a pleasant reverie in an idle moment, in which case I drift lazily through my parallel universe, enjoy the change of scene, and come back recharged when I finally stop dreaming. Even when I hit the brakes, they work like Tesla’s regenerative braking, using that energy to charge my batteries!

pursuit of political aims

In large families the eldest child is often the third parent, helping mum and dad get the younger ones to follow house rules. She has the privilege of her parents’ trust and almost as much power over them as their parents do. She is expected to never hit back if they pummel her with their little fists or kick her in the shin when she tries to bathe or dress them against their will. She is held responsible for any fracas involving the rest, often getting punished while the smaller children go scot-free. I know, because I was that eldest sister.

With this template, I entered adolescence thinking the government was right in overextending itself to take care of minorities at the expense of the ‘privileged’ majority.

When my siblings and I were in our teens I was battered in a fistfight with my brother who seemed to have developed superhuman strength overnight! Until then I had got by with a long, furled, towel stretched between my fists to use as a nunchaku when attacked by any of the younger ones. But that wasn’t enough when they were no longer little. They just yanked it out of my hands!

In 1990, when the minority Hindu Kashmiris were tormented and chased out of Jammu & Kashmir by that state’s majority, and the government did nothing, I questioned the label ‘minorities’ being applied to the group that was larger, disruptive and violent – the equivalent of my ‘defenceless’ brothers and sisters – for the first time.

In my last post I wrote about the Tuareg people being sidelined in Niger. That seems to be the pattern everywhere: minorities are sidelined, or even persecuted, or annihilated.

Unless, of course, the government accedes to the demands of ethnic minorities at the expense of the majority, as has been done in India. For example, churches and mosques get to use donations made by their followers for their own activities, as well as receive funds from the government, but donations made to temples by Hindu devotees go to the government!! For over 65 years our government had total faith in the gullibility, self-doubt and fatalistic acceptance that has been hardwired into the mental make-up of Hindus over centuries!

As Indian Hindus have a small presence in many countries, most people who have come in contact with them will agree that they are generally law-abiding, make no demands on the government, do not resort to violence, and do not try to convert local people to their religion. Their spiritual values are not rigid and they don’t concern themselves with other people’s gods and religions. Which is why democracy has survived in India, though I admit it is far from perfect.

I am pretty sure that some nations are incapable of democracy because the narcissistic upper echelons can’t imagine being equated to the hoi polloi. But democratically oriented countries propagate it with a missionary zeal, ignoring the fact that the countries they want to mould in their own image prefer oligarchy, so they can hold on to their limitless power over the tribe.

An evolving civilisation in its early stages tends to stick with tribal customs and hierarchies, and no amount of harping on democracy and human rights can change this. It looks like some civilisations refuse to evolve. They mark time rather than march forward, or even take a few steps backwards time and again.

Not even ‘education’ can help a community or nation grow intellectually and spiritually if its children are indoctrinated with ideas of ‘only one god, our god, revere him, serve him – or else!’ As we know, a lot of people who run terror outfits are ‘educated’, as are narrow-minded busybodies who infiltrate stable well-knit communities to spread subversive beliefs, wreck social systems and cause strife.

Terrorism is defined as ‘the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims’. Regardless of what they claim, there is always a political goal, and I think that is the most important part of the definition of terrorism. Once terrorists achieve that goal there can’t be peace for ordinary citizens.

While unlawful use of violence is relatively easy to understand, intimidation is harder to define. It can be subtle, like people who aspire to power via religion threatening gullible people that they will burn in hellfire if they don’t toe their line. It’s surprising how naïve people are intimidated by threats like this, but it’s common enough, going by what I have heard from panicked patients who have had a breakdown when thus intimidated.

Minorities like refugees, traders and temporary settlers often request concessions to follow the ways of their homeland in their new country rather than assimilate. They can who-moved-my-cheese their way into political power right under the noses of the hosts if governments give in to all their demands. At any rate, that is how the East India Company jumped from being traders to colonisers in India! What followed was not different from terrorism, really.

Since getting free of the British, India has always had a problem of infiltration from the neighbouring countries they hurriedly hacked out of India along their Radcliffe line, etc. before they left. Plugging gaps in its land frontier – 15,200km of it – is an ongoing process, and hasn’t been very successful so far.

Even well guarded borders in developed countries are not perfectly sealed. Desperate people find ways to get in. And, with time, they become the ‘minorities’ and begin making demands on the host country’s government, backed by human rights activists, while citizens continue to fund them with the taxes they pay.

Countries that have traditionally been White majority are now uneasy about changing demographics. When European immigrants became the majority in the Americas the original inhabitants were wiped out, so the White world is fully aware of the danger of being in the minority, of being overwhelmed by people whom they allowed in as guests.

So, I discovered that my towel nunchaku could no longer protect me. Even if it had been the real thing I couldn’t have wielded it like Bruce Lee because I had no intention to kill my brother! So I turned my room into a bomb shelter, figuratively speaking, and used the dining and living rooms for civilized conversation when we had to sit together, what else! We all grew out of our teens and stopped terrorizing one another.

That possibility of civilised diplomatic dialogue between nations has been taken away by events of the past two decades. Trust and respect have both disappeared completely from the international political scene. The spread of terrorism has left us with a choice of upgrading our weaponry or building bomb shelters. Or both. Unfortunately.


A few days ago, I saw on the news that Niger wants France to clear up radioactive waste in the French-owned uranium mines around the city of Arlit.

I was surprised that anyone would leave radioactive material lying around, and that too, France, which generally comes across as a responsible country. Fifty percent of the uranium ore from Niger’s mines goes to fuel France.

I could be wrong, but it looks like no country has a perfect plan for disposing of radioactive waste. There is a stockpile of radioactive waste from nuclear reactors in the world stored in temporary facilities. The intention is to eventually bury it deep underground in cement canisters.

I know that ‘high-level’ waste is less than 3% and the rest is ‘low-level’ waste that supposedly decays and becomes harmless over time, and this depends on the half-life of the element. I know very little beyond that and hope people who operate nuclear reactors know what they are doing.

Three months ago Japan announced that it planned to release treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea starting two years from now. Japan says nuclear power plants all over the world routinely release water that has minute amounts of tritium into the sea anyway!

After the Fukushima incident, some countries like Germany and France have started shutting down their nuclear reactors and are temporarily going back to coal until they can increase renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. Italy closed down its nuclear power plants in 1990 following a referendum. Some countries are opposed to nuclear power and have never set up nuclear power stations.

It seems such a shame, because nuclear makes for a cleaner environment than coal. On the other hand, there have been a total of more than a hundred serious nuclear accidents in the world, five or six of them in India . . .

To come back to Niger, I wondered why a system hadn’t been put in place in the forty years France has been mining uranium there. The locals must have been adversely affected for decades, so who exactly are these affected people?

Apparently they are mainly the Tuareg nomads, an ethnic minority, who have lived in those parts from the 5th century CE. They are spread across many countries – Libya, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, as well as Niger. They are more loyal to their Tuareg identity than to Niger and are often at odds with their government over the ownership of the land leased out to foreigners for mining uranium.

Like the Yazidis, Kurds and other ethnic groups that are spread across many countries and don’t have a nation of their own, I guess they get sidelined in the affairs of their country.

Some activists have taken up their cause. But I get the impression that the European Union politely listens to their concerns, waits for the spike in public interest to subside, and ultimately doesn’t do much.

Then again, why will the ‘world’, i.e. the G7+EU+/–Russia+/–5-emerging-economies, care about the tribulations of a nomadic tribe that doesn’t contribute to the world economy? The ‘world’ is like an eye, the economy occupies the fovea, and images of events that are seen as dragging the economy down land on the blind spot, the point that ironically connects the eye to the brain! Of course, the fact that I get my ‘news’ from English-language channels and sites decides what I ‘know’, so someone somewhere might be taking action on this and I may never hear of it.


These were some of the thoughts triggered by what I read off the ticker on TV. Then I browsed the net a bit and found that pros and cons are still being debated furiously. While environmentalists have raised concerns about the ‘dangers’ of nuclear reactors and radioactive waste, the World Nuclear Association and scientific journals and blogs have countered the ‘myths’.

So I’m none the wiser!

If I have to choose I might throw in my lot with Science, because I believe scientists take a calculated risk after working out the theoretical framework of anything experimental. And new findings are peer-reviewed and replicated by others. It is not my business to make judgments on nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.

Leave alone nuclear reactors, I wouldn’t have had the imagination to invent a bicycle if it didn’t exist! I wouldn’t think it possible to stay balanced and move forward on two narrow wheels attached to a frame, a thing on which I can stay astride only as long as I constantly work my feet up and down!

Auroville, India

greener grass

When I was a kid we sometimes visited relatives in a village called Kesaragadde near Mangalore during school holidays. Their farmhouse stood in the middle of lush green rice paddies. We would want to run out into the fields like we had seen people do in the movies. How different it was from the narrow road and tiny park of our neighbourhood in Bangalore, how vast and open!

But, no. Our aunt said that villagers who didn’t have toilets in their homes used random fields, so you never knew what you might step on . . . There were many questions about this, like what happens when you need to harvest your crop, or but isn’t it your field Uncle, and why don’t they build their own loos, but mum’s warning look kept us from asking them.

Children’s storybooks from England were the staple when I was growing up, and the kids in those stories hiked through fields, woods and grassy meadows all the time. They camped out in tents far away from civilization. I did wonder, even then, where were the facilities in those wild, lonely places? It was obvious they used the fields and woods too, like the villagers in Kesaragadde, and some of the places they wandered through were private property too. That didn’t make it okay as such, but that’s the way it was everywhere, then, perhaps?

Anyway, I finally got my chance to run up a gently sloping grassy hill in England on a family holiday a few years ago. We passed these beautiful velvety green hills while driving through the Lake District and pulled over into a convenient little bay near a stile. We rushed excitedly up the slope, enjoying the feel of springy grass underfoot, the kids shouting to each other that they could roll down the hill like people did in old Hindi movies . . .

Hardly five metres up, and we stepped straight into piles of sheep droppings! So much for plans for rolling down the slope! And don’t even talk about the scraping of soles before getting back in the car.

For me, a childhood fantasy got a reality check. For the kids, a lesson: The grass might look greener on the other side of the world, but it’s as full of s––– as the grass on your side of the world!

After a couple of days we visited the Linlithgow palace in Scotland set amidst lovely lawns. The kids joyfully ran up the slope towards the castle. They looked so carefree, so exhilarated, such a joy to watch . . . At the top they came across a sign: Keep off the grass.

So, Lesson #2: If the grass looks good, and is not pasture, you aren’t allowed to step on it!

They quickly got off the lawn, disappointed.

And, therefore, Lesson #3: Do well in school, go to college, get a job, buy a house and have your own lawn 🙂 Don’t wait to be ‘allowed’, make it happen!

While writing this, I suddenly remembered that I had visited Kesaragadde with my son when he was four, just for a few hours. I dug out the snaps from that trip. So I had got a chance to walk through the fields after all, and the paths had been clean, and it had been a nice, happy, sunny day . . .