Tuesday, 17 July 2012


 Ravi Venugopal is an entrepreneur based in the USA, and is currently in Chennai, taking care of his business from here, while working on the promotion of his book, I, Rama. 

It is a story we all know, learnt at our parents and grandparents’ feet, and love - a story that never loses its freshness no matter how often we hear it or read it. My eight year old granddaughter loves the story and Rama with equal fervour.

There are reportedly about 300 version of the Ramayana, originally written by Valmiki. Ravi’s book, 
I, Rama, looks at this story from a different perspective. As the story unfolds we realise that it is the Lord himself narrating, in the evening of his life, the incidents of his youth and adolescence, to his brothers and sons, without losing his objectivity.

While Rama himself relates the main story, the tales of Dasaratha, his father, and the great sage Viswamithra, one of his gurus, are also in the first person as narrated to Rama.  The first person narrative brings the characters alive to the readers, and a little closer to them. We feel the impact the two seniors had in moulding the character of Rama.

I was impressed by the brisk style and strong characterisation, and the acuity that could see beyond legends. There are new dimensions to the characters of the two women. Kaikeyi is not at all the evil stepmother, but a warrior princess, who plans and wins battles. Her admirable foresight is the cause of Rama’s expulsion to the forest, which sets off the chain of events for the eventual destruction of Ravana. Sita is not just a demure maiden, as we have always thought of her. She is a bright person, well-versed in domestic affairs as well as the craft of warfare, and a visionary who thinks of welfare programmes. We get a glimpse of the strong-minded woman who would in the future hold her own against Ravana in Asoka vana.

As I went through the pages, I was amazed at the futuristic tone of the book. The powers of the rishis and asuras are supernatural indeed. (Do Viswamithra’s feet ever touch the ground, or does he just glide above it?) I felt convinced that they must have come from another world, to which there are portals allowing movement to and fro.  Ravi’s narration makes it all so plausible and simple. The power of the weapons used in the battles is little short of nuclear - surely there must have been knowledge gained from outside our world, I felt.

It is obvious that a lot of research has gone into the writing of the book. It has always been a mystery to me how these busy young men, working full time, find time to write. And write not at random, but with due research. Ravi says that he bought many books, and also read up from the Internet. “I also have some senior gurus who guide me.”

Ravi has been in the USA for the last fifteen years, where he lives with wife Sri Lakshmi and daughter Ananya.  When asked “Why Ramayana?” he says, “I feel the whole picture is not clear yet. Who is Rama? Why is he important? He is living proof that there are celestials….and lots more”. His daughter Ananya is his inspiration for the book, he says.

Well done, Ravi. We look forward to the next volumes.

Ravi has his say here.  


Tuesday, 3 July 2012


It was a pleasant, bright day in September, 2009. My husband and I were visiting my son and daughter-in-law and their newborn, Samyukta, in Newport, New Jersey. This is just across River Hudson from New York, where both of them work.

The play area is to the right
. We had arrived a few days earlier, and this was our first outing with the baby – a trip to the nearby Liberty Park. Travelling with a little baby or child needs a lot of planning –there is the stroller, which accommodates the infant car seat, without which no child can ride in a car in any part of the Unites States. Even when leaving the hospital soon after making their appearance, the days old babies have to be strapped into their car seats, which is then fitted on to the base of the seat in the back. The baby rides alone! I was horrified when I saw this first – my granddaughter Arundati barely five days old came home in the car seat from the hospital. The car seat is mandatory up to 12 years even in some states, and I often joke that, no sooner are they out of the car seats than they are allowed to drive – they can get a driving license at 16!

The stroller is usually roomy enough to hold the baby’s requirements, bottle, formula, diapers, and more – like our own stuff like sweaters, snacks, water bottles. Makes walking very simple .By simply pushing the stroller you can move baby and baggage with minimum effort. And so we got ready. The stroller was folded and packed in the backseat, with other stuff, and the car seat holding the baby fixed on the back seat. Grandparents sat proudly on either side of the baby, and with Vandana driving we were off.

It was such a beautiful day, not too warm, nor windy. The baby, barely three months old was snug in her seat in the stroller, as we walked away from the car into the park. The grass was green, the sky so blue with cotton wool clouds, and there were young trees with flowers and berries which I could not identify, and birds warbling away. 

The Statue of Liberty -at the centre of the picture
 The Statue of Liberty could be seen at a distance. It was quite idyllic. Other families with young children were around, and there were play areas for children with various equipment, other than swings and seesaws. Roughly hewn wooden tables and chairs with metal supports were placed at regular intervals for picnickers, and we found a suitable place to park ourselves. 
Ready for a walk in the stroller

The hold all stroller

The stroller with the baby! Can you spot the Statue of Liberty?
Samyukta was quite happy to be pushed around in her stroller, while lazy old me preferred to sit in the sunshine. We had brought along some food and drinks, and if not exactly lunch, it was quite satisfying. After an hour or so we decided to leave, and packed up. Baby was in the stroller, all litter put in the trash bins, and some of our stuff too hung in a bag from the stroller handle, and off we went to where the car was parked. We even put our cameras and purse in the stroller so we did not have to carry anything.

At the car the baby was lifted with the seat and placed on the base. It took a little manoeuvring, but it was done. It would require some more practice before it could be done easily. By now the baby was also getting restless. Vandana got into the driving seat and Sriram got in, and we were off.

As always, the ride home seemed so much shorter, and we were all pleased at the way everything had gone smoothly on Baby’s first day out. We were home in no time, and we got out of the car and opened the boot to pull out the stroller, so that baby could ride home undisturbed from the car park. I just stood and stared mouth agape at the inside of the boot – the stroller wasn’t there! I called to Sriram and Vandana  who were busy getting the baby in the car seat out. They came and were equally aghast. All of us were now totally confused. “Did you put in the stroller?”  My husband and I, total newbies at this had done nothing except admire Samyukta!  Vandana and Sriram, one busy with getting the car ready and the other with the car seat had also not put the stroller in.  They too were new at this. It was already time for Baby’s next feed and her bottle was in the bag hanging from the stroller. And on top of that, Vandana’s handbag with her driving licence, camera and purse with her credit cards, were all in the stroller. We debated on what to do. I suggested that I would go to the apartment with the baby so she could be fed. But in the end we decided to drive back to the park, baby and all.

And we did. What a totally different frame of mind we were in, compared to our happy mood in the morning as we took the same route. Losing one’s cards and driving license meant a lot of unnecessary trouble - though replaceable, it would take time. The camera was precious too, it is a high end one, and many pictures were still stored there. (No, the ones you see on this page were taken with my humble Kodak.) Vandana and Sriram discussed the options they had if the stroller was missing, including complaining to the park attendants, and everything seemed so involved.

We had little hope of finding the stroller and contents. In fact I was sure we would not, but kept my fingers crossed and prayed to all the gods in the pantheon. As we turned into the car park and drove up to where we had parked earlier, we could not see the stroller. An ice cream van was there, and people were waking up to buy ice cream. I thought glumly that anyone could have removed the stroller and contents and left. As we turned, and the van was no longer in our line of vision, there! we could see it  - our stroller standing quietly where it had been left! Oh, the relief.

We got down and found everything exactly as we had left it, including Vandana’s bag.  This time we bundled everything into the boot carefully and got in for the ride home.

I just could not believe it. We had returned 40 to 50 minutes after we had left, and no one had touched this property left unattended in a public park. Now, if this had been Chennai…….

Needless to say, on our next outings, we checked and double checked to make sure the stroller was in the boot.