When the mind is troubled

When the mind is troubled

And the heart is thumping aloud.

When the present turmoil

Is making your warm blood boil.

When there is no light

And you are groping in the dark

When you feel like a little fry

Being baited to a shark.

When your talents are lying wasted,

Like leaves once green, now withered.

When your dreams are near shattered,

And your vision seems to have blurred.

Remember, it is these troubles

That hurt your pride, which make you strong,

So take them in your stride.

Remember, that barren winter tree

On which new leaves do usher,

In spring weather.

Remember, it’s that little fry baited

That saves its head and grows big,

Having for long waited.

Remember, that even a blind in the dark

Can view the light with his inner eyes,

And that is what we call HOPE:

The one and only reason to live our lives…

© Vidya Venkat (2006)

[First published by Writers Workshop, Calcutta]


मेरा संकल्प इतना कमज़ोर नहीं कि तेरा जुल्म उसे तोड़ सके

मैंने अपना लक्ष्य आसमान की चोटी पर तय किया है,

हिम्मत है तो तू भी अपनी ताकत आजमा कर देख ले…

© Vidya Venkat (2022)

Is India’s democracy under threat?

On May 4, I took part in an Oxford-style debate on the topic of whether India’s democracy is under threat. The debate was organised by the non-profit organisation Asia Society in Switzerland and the other panelists included Christophe Jaffrelot, Debasish Roy Chowdhury, and Tripurdaman Singh. You can view the full debate here:

Missing the bull’s eye

A Jallikattu event underway at Alaganallur,, Madurai. PHOTO: Flickr (Vinoth Chandar)

[First published in The Hindu THread dated January 14, 2017]

You aren’t a true ‘Tamizhan’ if you haven’t tamed a raging bull during the annual harvest festival of Pongal in January. Or so it would seem if one were to follow the recent arguments being made in favour of conducting the bull taming sport of Jallikattu that the Supreme Court of India banned in 2014 on charges of animal cruelty. While for the city dweller the sight of men chasing bulls may appear savage and crude, proponents of the sport from the agrarian community invoke tradition and culture to justify its continuation. Unfortunately both sides, while positioning themselves as acting in favour of the animal, are simply speaking past one another, ensuring the debate goes on endlessly.

It is well established that Jallikattu is an ancient sport symbolising man’s conquest of wild animals for the purpose of domestication. Archaeologists have discovered ancient-era inscriptions showing men chasing bulls for sport some 5,000 years ago. One such inscription has been preserved in the Government Museum in Tamil Nadu and another ancient seal depicting the same has been displayed at the National Museum in Delhi. A cave painting, estimated to be about 2,500 years old, discovered near Madurai depicted a lone man trying to control a bull,  according to a 2013 report in The Hindu .

K.T. Gandhirajan, archaeologist and researcher, told this writer that the present form of Jallikattu has a history dating back approximately 10,000 years ago, when humans first began to domesticate cattle.

Continue reading “Missing the bull’s eye”

Jerusalem, Ayodhya and the God question

The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock (mosque) in Jerusalem. Photo: VIDYA VENKAT

[I wrote this long read travel essay in 2018 after a vacation trip to Israel-Palestine.]

The streets of Jerusalem lay empty the day we landed there. It was 10 am. The winter sun peeked from in between the puffy, white clouds, but not a single person could be seen walking down the streets. The shutters of shops were shut.

“Is a curfew on here?” a co-passenger wondered aloud, as we stepped out of the sherut, a local shared taxi, hired from Tel Aviv.

“No. It’s Shabbat today. A weekly holiday for Israelis,” the driver replied.

I soon began explaining to my co-passenger how God created the world in six days and on the seventh day he decided to take rest, which is observed as Shabbat, the day of prayer and rest, by believers. The driver nodded in agreement.

“God made the world, alright, so he needed a break. But what did the people do to deserve this break?” my partner chuckled.

The driver nodded with a sheepish grin, “All we do is eat and sleep!”


With only places of worship open that Saturday morning, we decided to start our visit with the Sandemans Holy City Tour, offering an introduction to the three major faiths — Judaism, Islam, and Christianity —  that emerged here. The tour group assembled at the Jaffa Gate, part of an uneven wall encircling the Old City. Made of Palestinian limestone, also known as the ‘Jerusalem stone’, the wall shone like marble under the noon sun. It was the last week of December, just before Christmas, and as expected, a good number of tourists from all over the world had descended upon the city for a vacation.

We noticed how the number of armed police stationed at the Gate was disproportionately high, for, except the tour group, comprising mostly outsiders like us, there were few people around. Only a lone street vendor stood peddling baguettes and steamed corn in one corner.

“The Old City is where a large number of ‘P’s live, I think,” my partner whispered into my ear, glancing warily at the 50-odd security men wielding large sniper rifles. We had decided to use only code words for sensitive subjects (‘P’ for Palestine, for instance).

As part of the tour, we walked ‘from one epoch to another’, as Mahmoud Darwish describes the experience in the poem In Jerusalem. The tour guide, a young Jewish woman in her late 20s, started by narrating the story of how Israel came to be.

Continue reading “Jerusalem, Ayodhya and the God question”