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Archive for July, 2014

We came and courted you for a brief time,

Keen to explore your many charms we were told you possess;

Your physical assets we could see we found irresistible,

Qualities of your kindly soul your helpful denizens made us assess.IMG_1194

The Eiffel Tower proved to be as magnificent as its pictures had made us believe,

We learned of its role in advancement of science and visited the underground bunkers vast;

We marvelled at its elaborate elevator mechanisms and the general attention to detail,

Enjoyed the view from the top, shivering in the strong chilled breeze blowing past. Paris Obélisque_de_la_Concorde

The hunchback at the Notre Dame de Paris we could not locate,

The inner precincts were sombre, the performers outside nimble and smart;

The Luxor Obelisk took us back in time by a couple of millennia,

La Madeline and other structures held us spellbound, their architectural grandeur playing an important part.

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The Louvre had us in enthrall as we waltzed through its corridors rich in cultural heritage,

Mona Lisa, Venus and a multitude of others conspired to keep us riveted, not to part;

The Egyptian Gallery left us simply awe-struck, the beauty of sculptures cast a spell,

Grateful to those who have had the vision to preserve such magnificent works of art.

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The Arc de Triomphe reminded us of your brush with history,

Reminding us of India Gate in New Delhi and the modest Aayi Mandapam at Pondicherry;

The Champs-Elysees showcased the best that you have on offer,

International brands, famous buildings, wide-eyed tourists not in a hurry.

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The tree-lined avenues were charming, so was a cruise down the Seine,

Public conveniences we found in good shape, the multi-modal transport system we enjoyed too;

Our hearts went out to the much hassled drivers crawling through your congested roads,

Those in Pondicherry who practice the art of aggressive driving could perhaps teach them a trick or two.

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Visiting you only whetted our appetite to explore so many of your other attractions,

We wish you and your denizens a balanced and peaceful life, we do not grudge your modernity;

Even though you continue to revel in a materialistic life full of chutzpah and glamour,

You gifted Mother to us, spreading the message of universal brotherhood and spirituality.

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A friend suggested visiting the National Gallery in Oslo. Having had the opportunity of admiring the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Pablo Picasso and others in the last few years, I was naturally curious as to what Norwegian artists had come up with in the past. The visit turned out to be a truly instructive one. I realized the depth and range of work done by painters as well as sculptors and marvelled at the passion and artistic fervour of the artists concerned.IMG_1716

Founded in 1837, the National Gallery houses Norway’s largest public collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures. In its permanent and temporary exhibitions, the museum presents older art, with principal emphasis on art from Norway.IMG_1652

Highlights from the collection are shown in the permanent exhibition “The Dance of Life – The Collection from Antiquity to 1945”.IMG_1664

The exhibition presents a chronological overview of more than 300 Norwegian and international masterpieces from the Renaissance, the Baroque period, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Symbolism, Cubism and modern abstract art. IMG_1658

Special attention is devoted to paintings by J.C. Dahl and Romanticism, Christian Krohg and Realism, Edvard Munch’s renowned works, as well as Norwegian evocative painting from the turn of the last century.The_Scream

Central attractions include Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Madonna and paintings by Cézanne and Monet.IMG_1672

Paintings by Picasso and several other artists are also on display.IMG_1683

In the exhibition on abstract art, one could see some striking works. A particular one I found of great interest was entitled ‘The Universal Flag.’IMG_1638

With more than 4,000 paintings, 1,000 sculptures and nearly 50,000 works on paper, the National Gallery’s art collection is the most comprehensive and wide ranging in Norway, and one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe.IMG_1692

Michelangelo is said to have taken four years to adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Leonardo da Vinci is said to have taken three years to finish ‘The Last Supper.’ Dahl is said to have taken six years to paint ‘Stalheim’; remarkably, he did it while he was nowhere near a fjord in Norway!Dahl-Stalheim

All these eminent artists worked in an age devoid of photography, computers, internet, trains, aeroplanes and mobile phones. They suffered innumerable hardships while creating their works. Since they simply loved what they were doing at the time, they would have surely derived immense joy and satisfaction while pursuing their creative goals.IMG_1678

Leads one to wonder how creativity originates. We may know the external circumstances and the trials and tribulations they faced. We may marvel at the outstanding works of art they have produced. We may surmise as to the motivation and the feeling behind each work. But would we ever know the precise moment when the germ of an idea really hit them? How long did it simmer within them before taking a tangible shape? Unless they have left behind an autobiographical account, or someone else has covered their life and times in some detail, we might never be able to identify the real point of origin of their creative outburst.IMG_1689

Surely, all great artists have a streak of divinity in them. Besides, they have passion for their form of art. Patience and perseverance would be only two of their several sterling qualities. They would also have been lucky to get mentors who spotted and nurtured their talents. Some blossomed in adversity, enabled perhaps only by their innermost conviction.IMG_1702

We may not know the exact point of conception. We may be unaware of the technical details or the process of eventual delivery. But we shall be forever grateful that they have left behind a rich tapestry of the dance of life, capturing its precious moments for posterity. It is a legacy which continues to attract, entice and inspire artists and laymen alike all over the world.

Note: ‘Scream’ and ‘Stalheim’ reproductions are courtesy Wikipedia. Others are a result of my photographic skills, which are severely limited. Please bear with me for deficiencies – if you notice any – in these.  

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I may become strong and rise above a ‘like’ and a ‘comment’,

Absence of others’ approval never leaving me in torment.

 

Not getting swayed by other’s views, their power and pelf,

Open to accepting only constructive criticism, working on myself.

 

Wise enough to know the limitations of what I think I know,

Always giving the more knowledgeable a courteous bow.

 

To be able to love the one whom I consider my opponent,

On equanimity, rationality and fairness I may wax eloquent.

 

Accepting my station in life, being confident but humble,

Never falling prey to a ‘You-are-OK-I-am-not-OK’ jumble.

 

As tender as a coconut tree, flexible yet strong,

Bowing to mighty cyclones, never falling along.

 

Being aware that I have to walk alone on this path of life,

Help from others alone enabling me to overcome strife.

 

Brilliant at illuminating other’s strong points, learning from them,

Helping to polish their qualities, making them a sparkling gem.

 

Never afraid to ask questions, keeping my ear to the ground,

Adapting to change, leading by example all those around.

 

Doubtful enough to realize the soft power of faith under a hardened dogmatic crust,

Courageous enough to share my reality with those in whom I can place my trust.

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Quite a few amongst us are fed up with our daily dose of bad news. Wars – covert or overt. Disasters – natural or otherwise. Genocides. Murders. Rapes. Income inequalities. Social prejudices. Accidents. Every single day, the media keeps reminding us of what is wrong with our world.

During the last three weeks, we were fortunate to have come face to face with institutions and bodies which try to do something good for the world.

Here is a quick recap of such encounters of the pleasant kind.

THE UN OFFICE at Geneva

A guided tour of the Palais de Nations in Geneva makes us realize the way the UN functions and the organs through which it operates in fields as diverse as health, education and sustainable development, besides matters of political import.

Palais de Nations

Palais de Nations

Other than United Nations administration, the UN Office at Geneva also hosts the offices for a number of programmes and funds. As many as 23 organs of the UN are located at Geneva – such as the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN Economic Commission for Europe, the International Labour Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Health Organization.

The General Assembly hall at Geneva

The General Assembly hall at Geneva

We get to witness a Human Rights Council meeting where records of countries are getting reviewed and commented upon.

The compound has impressive artefacts, including a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi in the UN compound at Geneva

Mahatma Gandhi in the UN compound at Geneva

Where the League of Nations failed in 1939, the UN appears to have succeeded so far – keeping a global war at bay by a relentless effort to defuse tensions. However, several conflict zones remain active in various parts of the world, needing intervention.

The ICRC at Geneva

A visit to the global headquarters of the Red Cross brings us face to face with the kind of trauma, pain and suffering the denizens of our planet have undergone over the last 100 years.

The ICRC Headquarters at Geneva

The ICRC Headquarters at Geneva

The ICRC, established in 1863, works worldwide to provide humanitarian help for people affected by conflict and armed violence and to promote the laws that protect victims of war. An independent and neutral organization, its mandate stems essentially from the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

At the permanent exhibition, testimonies of witnesses and survivors can be heard. A section on children missing from strife-torn areas moves us deeply. Records of persons missing during both the World Wars and the attempts made to reunite families leave us wondering as to why wars are waged at all.

An exhibit at the permanent exhibition at ICRC

An exhibit at the permanent exhibition at ICRC

Havoc caused by natural disasters like earth quakes, tsunamis and global warming can be experienced by means of movies, working models and testimonies of witnesses.

A painting lauding the efforts of Nelson Mandela

A painting lauding the efforts of Nelson Mandela

For those made of sterner stuff, some details of the treatment meted out to prisoners of war can be realized through a temporary exhibition of paintings, sculptures and short movie clips.

The NOBEL PEACE CENTER at Oslo

In an ironical twist of faith, Alfred Nobel, in his sunset years, decided to do something to help society overcome the damage some of his inventions had done. Of the five prizes conceived by him, he decided to allot the Peace Prize to Norway in 1905.

The Nobel Peace Center at Oslo

The Nobel Peace Center at Oslo

The Centre at Oslo captures the spirit behind the prize, the process of its finalization and details of all its 123 recipients till now. An electronic book about Alfred Nobel provides interesting insights into his life.

Use of technology to display the details of all the Prize recipients

Use of technology to display the details of all the Prize recipients

Activities of the 2013 winner – Organization for Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – are on display. We get to understand how the OPCW inspectors monitor, locate and destroy chemical weapons. It is interesting for us to know that it was only in 1997 that the protocol for control of chemical weapons came into force.

In a temporary exhibition entitled ‘Be Democracy’, we learn the extent to which the democratic form of governance has become popular all across the world. In an interactive section, one can form a message supporting global peace and leave it behind.

An interactive exhibition

An interactive exhibition

Mahatma Gandhi appears at different places in the exhibition. It is a matter of deep regret that a person of his stature could never get a Nobel Peace Prize.

A quote from Mahatma Gandhi

A quote from Mahatma Gandhi

In a small room, we come across some paintings done by children of different countries. We are delighted to see three by Indian children.

A Churning and Cleansing

Global bodies which try to do something good face tremendous challenges. Better access to health and education continues to cause concern; so does the rise of terrorism, the sophistication in weaponry, the change of a bipolar world into a multi-polar one, economic predation, sustainable development and non-compliance with humanitarian laws, just to cite a few.

Stop Terrorism, Spread Peace - a painting by Sudarshan V, 12 years, India

Stop Terrorism, Spread Peace – a painting by Sudarshan V, 12 years, India

We live in times when the spread of internet has changed the way we experience and interact with the world. Use of armed drones and robots and cyber-attacks are newer challenges on the horizon.

One may scoff at the idea that peace prevails. There are conflicts all around us. Possibly these are part of a churning which takes place within the collective soul of humanity. Such churning appears to be a cleansing process, designed by nature to rid us of the poisons within our collective conscience.

Beacons of Hope for Mankind

When hatred grows with no end in sight, it generates its own momentum. That is where the role of organizations like the United Nations, the Red Cross and the Nobel Foundation assumes relevance. It is a role which earns more brickbats than bouquets and is never short of generating controversies.

Voodoo dolls depicting the problems affecting humanity (ICRC, Geneva)

Voodoo dolls depicting the problems affecting humanity (ICRC, Geneva)

The good news is that despite political pushes and pulls, they continue to discharge their obligations towards humanity. Going forward, a conscious drive to make them more inclusive – providing better role in decision-making to the emerging economies – would surely help.

The presence of dynamic institutions and bodies which stand up for righteousness and work for the collective good assures us that there is hope for mankind. May be, a day would dawn when ‘Vasudhaiv kutumbukam’ (let the whole earth be one family) would become a reality!

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With temperatures ranging from 10 to 20 degrees Celsius, it is summer time in Norway. Flowers of all hues are in full bloom. The birds and the bees are going about their daily chores with gay abandon. Streams are in full flow. Fjords present a majestic tapestry of greenery interspersed with charming backwaters.

Denizens of the Land of the Midnight Sun are out in full force, soaking in the scarce sunlight, enjoying the greenery, swimming and indulging in other outdoor sports. That is, the ones who have not decided to take a vacation to some exotic locale in Italy, France or Switzerland.

Time to venture out and explore Oslo! We decide to start with the Oslo City Hall, which is the seat of the City Council and the City Government.

Outside the City Hall, an Astronomical Clock uses five hands to indicate time, sidereal time, the phases of the sun and moon, and eclipses.IMG_1445

The swan maidens Alrund, Svankit and Alvit are the first ones to greet us in the outside courtyard.IMG_1425

Fables of pre-historic times are beautifully presented in finely chiselled wooden reliefs, all works of Dagfin Werenskiold.IMG_1433

Embla and Ask, the Scandinavian version of Eve and Adam – the first human beings who appear from the mythical power of creation – are also there to receive us.IMG_1435

Inside, we find the main hall where the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony takes place.IMG_1473

All around, the walls are lovingly painted. There is Henrik Sorenson’s oil painting ’Work, Administration, Celebration’ adorning the back wall. Alf Rolfsen’s three ornamental works dominate the rest of the hall.IMG_1486

The fresco at the bottom of the staircase represents Oslo’s patron saint, St. Hallvard, and the woman he tried to rescue.  IMG_1469

Upstairs, we walk through the Hadrade Room, named after the founder of Oslo city, the Munch Room with his painting ‘Life’ adorning the back wall, the Festival Gallery and the Banquet Hall with the portraits of the royal family.IMG_1477

The Krohg Room has fascinating frescoes on changing seasons. The City Council Chamber is an open political arena where the public is allowed to observe the proceedings and the Storstein Room where a mural depicts how human rights and the torch of freedom were carried from the French Revolution in 1789 to the signing of Norway’s Constitution 200 years back, in 1814.IMG_1499

We are delighted to see a replica of the Taj Mahal, a miniature marble piece, gifted by an Indian Ambassador.IMG_1502

At noon time, a twelve gun salute declares the birthday of Queen Sonja who turned 77 on the 4th of July, 2014, the day we happened to be visiting the Oslo City Hall.IMG_1482

Within a space of two hours, thanks to elaborate paintings, frescoes and murals, we get a whiff of the history and culture of Norway. We also get a sneak preview of the artistic, literary and commercial accomplishments of the country.

Each nation has a unique culture of its own. It is justifiably proud of its accomplishments. The fact that a nation chooses to showcase its essential character in a magnificent manner touches a chord within us.IMG_1506

Our thoughts wander to the basic concept of a nation. Given the diversity in cultural values, ethnic origins and aspirations of people across our planet, it makes eminent sense to let a collective identity get perpetuated through the concept of a nationality. This fulfils the basic need of a unique identity being acquired by a group of people. By it’s very nature, the concept of a nation is a truly democratic one.

Unfortunately, boundaries also create problems when greed, avarice and envy rule the roost and replace the credo of freedom, equality and fraternity!

(Related post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/a-trip-to-norway-the-land-of-the-midnight-sun)

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Integrity

Here is a good one!

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happiness

We are like grains of sand

On a beach sunlit by brilliant rays of hope;

Repeatedly we get swept back by strong relentless waves

Of our own wishes and desires,

Leaving us in torment at times, unable to cope.

 

They keep coming one after the other

Keeping us tied to our senses;

Distracting us from the true purpose of life,

Always wanting more and more,

Vulnerable, never able to mend our fences.

 

Fulfilment of one does not always mean

Growing out of it;

Instead, the intensity could get multiplied,

Leaving us with a poor self-perception

And an inner state lacking happiness, dark and poorly lit.

 

Often we wonder if there is a way

To become like a hard rock;

Having an inner resilience

Bouncing back the waves which keep splashing against us,

Receiving cravings and desires which we can simply mock.

 

Let them break on our external crust

And return to their meaningless vastness;

Leaving us in the soft glow of peace,

Attaining harmony between our external and internal selves,

Enjoying pure bliss and happiness.

 

If this were indeed to happen,

Would we still be vibrant and alive?

Where would be the need to constantly challenge our own selves

With newer and higher goals;

Forever expanding, mind buzzing with new ideas like a bee-hive?

 

The trick possibly is in sifting the good ones from the bad ones,

Using our intellect to discriminate and judge;

Working only upon the benign ones,

With all our resources and natural gifts,

Bringing those to fruition with a skilful nudge.

 

Enjoying magnificent sunsets and living glorious moonlit nights,

Cheeks feeling the soft touch of a gentle breeze,

Admiring the grace and beauty of clouds passing by,

Being one with the seagulls flapping overhead

Bowing our head to the eternal power which created the nature’s lullaby.

 

We shall then be able to explore new frontiers of creativity,

A clear gaze helping us to navigate the rapids of life, enabling a win;

Linking enjoyment to the journey and not to a destination,

Going with the flow, simply living in the present,

Living life to the hilt, finding the fountain-head of true happiness within.

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