Sunday, January 23, 2011

Movie Reviews: Part 4

 1. Garage
  • This movie was an accidental discovery in our Stavanger library – an Irish movie in English language. 
  • The film tells the story of a lonely petrol station attendant and how he slowly begins to come out of his shell. 
  • Josie – the character has been well etched and portrayed by the main protagonist. At times you feel sorry for him for the state he is in and then when he attempts to get more social and discover his innermost feeling to bond with humans, he is misunderstood. 
  • Class locales and good cinematography. If you like watching “Different Cinema”, this one is a must watch. This movie has been selected and won a lot of international movie awards. 
2. The Cement Garden
  • This is a British movie with an unusual story, based on a novel by Ian McEwan. 
  • A family of four kids and their parents is living its own life in a neglected part of countryside UK, where in a sudden turn of events the father and then the mother die. 
  • Unable to cope up with the same and understand themselves or the right thing to do, the kids bury their mother at the basement of their house inside an iron closet. 
  • The elder kids begin to discover something forbidden at the very end and the movie draws to a close with the lights of police surrounding the house. 
  • An unusual watch and though it won’t scare you to death – this storyline ain’t one for the fainthearted. 
3. Fargo
  • This movie is not totally inspired by a true life incident, but inspired by many. 
  • Based in the US, the main protagonist is married to the daughter of a wealthy person. He hates his f-i-l is so rich and that he himself is a failure and has to work under him in a car dealer shop. 
  • He hatches a plan to kidnap his own wife through some thugs and ask for ransom from his f-i-l. 
  • The plan begins to go wrong due to some unwanted murders the thugs commit, which raises the suspicion on a smart lady cop, who is pregnant. She has played an amazing role in the movie. 
  • Finally everything goes wrong, lot of murders and killing happen and in the end the protagonist is caught. 
  • A must recommend for a Friday night! 
4. 13 Tzameti
  • A French movie by a Georgian film maker, totally shot in Black and white (though it was made in 2004-05), which makes this movie very classy to watch. Saw this by reading the English subtitles throughout. 
  • A destitute immigrant worker steals an envelope containing instructions for a mysterious job that could pay out a fortune. Following the instructions, the young man unwittingly becomes trapped in a dark and dangerous situation. 
  • The film somehow passes the message “all the begins wrongly, ends wrongly”, per my readings. 
  • Apparently this movie is also being made in Hollywood, by the same director. 
5. Déficit
  • Déficit is a 2007 Mexican feature film with subtitles in English.
  • It talks about the current state of affairs in Mexico, where the affluent people can afford the world of comforts, best of schools – Harvard Business schools and have servants to do all the work.
  • It exploits the class barriers in Mexico and how the youth are split between doing well in career, enjoying life and its pleasures by partying, binge drinking and having drugs.
  • It makes you realize the caste barriers seen in India are in some way reflected in Mexico in between classes. 
  • A good movie to watch! 
6. The Laramie Project
  • This film is a true life story which talks about the hate crimes in America especially in the countryside of Wyoming. 
  • It tells the story of the aftermath of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. It premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. 
  • The film is based on 200-300 interviews taken from people in Laramie following the aftermath of Matt’s murder.
  • Amazing movie to watch.

Monday, January 17, 2011

India: Goa: The Charm of South Goa

In SE Cathedral
Mumbai is the city I come from. Near this city there are numerous tourist destinations that are famous. I have been to most of them barring Goa. The Goa trip has always been cancelled or not materialized right from my college days – for some reason or the other. 

Finally things fell into place and I visited Goa on my 30th year on Planet Earth, just before my wife's birthday! What an experience It was! Simply amazing! Since my wife was also visiting Goa for the first time, we ensured in this trip  – it is better that we do a market scanning and see as many spots as we can. On a 3 day trip to Goa in November 2010, we spent an entire day biking through South Goa. South Goa is famous for its blend of history, architecture, religious significance and beaches.

This starfish had our company @ Colva Beach!
What makes Goa so enchanting is because you get a unique blend of being in India and yet not being in India. The reason for this is the locals are easy going, the scenery, weather and sun makes you relax immediately and it is almost like a small town which still shows traces of the erstwhile Portuguese influence. The Portuguese ruled Goa for more than three centuries. As you drive past the cross section of the city, you can still feel the influence in certain forms – like the signboards of some shops in Portuguese apart from Devanagari and English, the folk dances shown in the cruise ships etc or the various churches on the street corners or important landmarks like Basilica of Bom Jesus, SE Cathedral etc.

Amazing scenery enroute
The best way to go about Goa and get a feel of the place is by renting your own bike and hopping from one destination to another. You can easily stop the bike enroute to catch a glimpse of some amazing scenery and take pictures. Finding  a parking space is also easier for a bike as you can just “squeeze it in” onto any small gap created between two vehicles.  We were staying in a very famous and upcoming chain of budget hotels from Tata group – “Ginger” in Panaji, the capital of Goa. The hotel is at the right location as South and North Goa are almost equidistant from this place.

Below is an insight onto some of the must see places in South Goa. We covered these in a single day starting at 9am and spending the next 10 hours on road, riding 120 kms of our rented bike (round trip) and having loads of fun.

Basilica of Bom Jesus:

Basilica of Bom Jesus
This is one of the oldest churches in India, located in Old Goa. Before Panaji, Old Goa was the capital of Goa in the early days of Portuguese rule. The basilica holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. 'Bom Jesus' (literally, 'Good (or Holy) Jesus') is the name used for the infant Jesus. The Jesuit church is India’s first minor basilica, and is considered to be one of the best examples of baroque architecture in India. The Basilica of Bom Jesus is more than 400 years old and is open to the public everyday. The body of St. Francis Xavier is kept in a well-decorated casket. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Inside the church
400 year old remains on top

Some pics inside

SE Cathedral:

SE Cathedral
This is located just opposite the Bom Jesus church. It is one of the oldest and most celebrated religious buildings in Goa and is one of the largest churches in Asia. It is dedicated to the Catherine of Alexandria. It is more than four centuries old. The Se Cathedral was built to commemorate the victory of the Portuguese under Afonso de Albuquerque over a Muslim army, leading to the capture of the city of Goa in 1510. 
Don’t’ Miss Golden Bell: The Se Cathedral's tower houses a large bell known as the "Golden Bell" on account of its rich tone. It is said to be the largest in Goa, and one of the best in the world.

Inside SE Cathedral
Inside the SE Cathedral

Shri Mangueshi temple

Mangueshi Temple
After visiting two churches, our next stop was the Mangueshi  temple in Ponda, Goa. It is about 30-45 mins ride from SE Cathedral. The temple is dedicated to Lord Mangueshi, an incarnation of Shiva. He is a kuldevta (family deity) of many Hindus in Goa including the Saraswat Brahmins. The famous family of Indian musicians with surname “Mangeshkar” is from the village where this temple is located – Mangeshi.

Shantadurga Temple
Shanta Durga Temple

The temple is dedicated to Shantadurga, the Goddess who mediates between Vishnu and Shiva. The deity of Shantadurga is shown as holding two serpents, one in each hand, representing Vishnu and Shiva.  This goddess is the kuladevi (family deity) of many Brahmins from this part of the world. The temple is surrounded by a huge complex with facility for accommodation for folks who come from different parts of the country to offer prayers and conduct religious ceremonies. The temple campus also has a café, which serves lip smacking India food at really competitive rates. The practice of leaving your footwear outside the restaurant is intriguing in the beginning, but well appreciated seeing the cleanliness inside.

Colva Beach

Rocking Couple @ Colva Beach - Goa
After a religious trip visiting two churches and two temples, we finally were itching for the sun, sand and sea waves kissing our feet. That made us drive down to Colva beach, which is right at the southernmost point of South Goa, about 40-45 kms from Panaji. It is one of the most famous white sand beaches in South Goa. The beach is one of the longest in the world (About 25 kms). The beach is full of Beach shacks, food stalls, small restaurants and bars and enthusiastic salesmen from the water sports shops bothering you all the time. We resisted the temptation and continued unfluttered, walking along the beach with the sea waves lashing at our feet.

Timeless pic at Colva Beach
Colva Beach
Finally, after a long day of close to 50 kms of driving in the sun, we decided to ride back to Panaji, to our hotel. On the way we went to another place near Panaji that is quiet famous – Dona Paula.

Dona Paula

One side view from DP hill

Dona Paula is a small fishing village-turned tourist attraction and a suburban area of Panaji.
Water sports - other side of DP hill
Here is where the rivers Mandovi and Zuari meet the Arabian sea. As you climb to the top of the small hill in Donna Paula, you can see the confluence of these rivers into the sea seamlessly onto the horizon. We were there right at the evening time and ensured we captured a memorable sunset with the sun kissing the waters way into the horizon. This area has lot of small shops, facilities for water sports etc. It also has a small sculpture there – literally making you think of “Statue of Liberty” signifying New York or “Little Mermaid” signifying Copenhagen. The sculpture is also called “Donna Paula” and has some fascinating stories attached to it. 

Dona Paula Sculpture
The true story is however different. "Dona is the title given to married women according to Portuguese customs. And Paula Amaral Antonio de Souto Maior is the lady in debate. She is not a romantic figure but definitely a historical figure. She was the daughter of the Portuguese Viceroy of Jaffnapatnam, in Sri Lanka. She and her family arrived in Goa in 1644 and she married a Fidalgo from Spain in 1656. Her husband was Dom Antonio Souto Maior. The were an extremely affluent family and the entire property from the present day Cabo Raj Nivas all the way to Caranzalem belonged to the Souto Maiors. She later passed away on December 16, 1682.

The grave of Dona Paula Amaral Antonio de Souto Maior was found in the transept of the Chapel at the Governor's Palace where a part of her history is engraved on her gravestone. Dona Paula was a woman of charity and is known to have helped the villagers and worked a lot for their betterment, so after her death, the villagers decided to re-name the village as Dona Paula. Initially the village was called Oddavell.

Sunset view at Dona Paula, Goa 
The alleged statue of 'Dona-Paulo' the statue seen today at the jetty in Dona Paula is in reality the sculpture of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Knox. It was a Dutch sculptress, Baroness Yrse Von Leistner who etched the sculpture as she was in awe of the philosopher Robert Knox.

Riding the bike back to hotel – though was shorter in distance, but longer in terms of time, weariness we experienced after being on the bike for more than 100-120 kms throughout the day in the scorching sun. Enroute, we did hop on and hop off to capture some amazing sceneries.

Nevertheless it was an exhilarating experience to have a full scan of South Goa in one day and we thoroughly enjoyed it. In the next trip, definitely want to explore other spots in South Goa. 

Church on the way
Another church

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Part 2: Kannu Kutty's dream

So these four strangers walked into the house which was solely for myself at least till the lady of the house came back from abroad. I felt violated. My personal space was violated. Agreed, that I am tied to the pole all time and have only myself and the flies for company between the time Dharmu leaves me late at night and comes back early morning to untie me even before the neighbourhood hen announces the morning. I love it when I am untied in these mornings and really look forward to these times. It’s a time when I can freely run around the backyard of the house around the cow shed. I meet my mom, the grumpy aunt and a host of other fellow cow / bullocks. The bullocks start getting ready to start their work day and want to nonsense around. I also try not to mess around these arrogant brutes. I love fooling around with my mom. Many a times I go and just try bashing her tummy lightly with my head, gently rub my face just below her face or irritate her by tickling her ear with my tail. She is very tolerant of my playful antics and gives this unflatteringly calm signifying her maturity and my immaturity at its peak. She might really be wondering “I wonder how this Lakshmi is gonna grow up and live up to the pressures of life”  or thinking “Give me some sunshine, give me some rain, give me another chance, I wanna grow up once again”! Anyways her mood starts getting worse when she knows I have to quickly have my share of milk before giving it wholeheartedly to the lanky two legged selfish humans in their aluminium tins. I don’t know how generous and self righteous she can be? Why is it that she feels more obligaged for other species to have her milk more than me, her own breed? Anyways…I will perhaps figure that out once I grow up. My freedom time is up after an hour or two with my mom and am tied to a corner of the big house once again to again eagerly wait for the next day morning.

So at night – these human beings were making some amount of noise in the otherwise quiet village. Perhaps they were quickly settling into a well deserved rest after a long day of travel. I can for sure make out that they were from the city and not village. The spexy guy shouted aloud happily seeing the small bathroom inside the house as if I would have moo’ed excitedly had I got the whole time with my mom. Hehe…the specxy guy was struggling to find the light of the house and finally used some kind of a torch to find his way around to get the pillows and blankets and lay it out for  the four folks. It’s funny that the same torch which gave light was kept in his ear the next day morning and he was talking on it as if it had life or maybe the other end of the torch had life. Is it something that they call the cell phone? Anyways – these human beings are too complex to figure out. Like the other day I overheard my mom saying to aunt that Uncle Gobi  (Bull) was jobless now. This is because humans went to get some machine called “Tractor” to plough the farm and would no longer rely on Uncle Gobi.  That’s your reward for serving these humans with your sweat and blood, sacrificing family life and getting the entire whip lashing on your back – come rain or sun or wind or cold. Among the bull’s, Uncle Gobi could literally have been called a timid cow. Though his appearance was like any other bull – with big arching horns, terror eyes and a huge bulky frame where the hide had mud splashed around it like a certificate of his hard work on the fields, his nature was timid. He also had not much company and no family. Now being out of work, don’t know if he will be left to wait for his death, made into a travel bullock cart or perhaps be killed and consumed by humans as “Beef”. Scary thought! Next time I meet Uncle Gobi, would softly go and run by face below his neck as a show of affection.

Once the four strangers had put the blankets, pillows and were ready to doze off, there was enough time for irritation. They started talking to me as if I could reply back to them in their own language. Hello…human beings! Come on! If that happened, we both could have fought with each other just like you humans fight amongst yourselves over religion, caste, issues etc. Its better we understand you and you faintly understand us! Though they were kind and “konjufying” me or pampering me with love and affection, I hated the spexy guy mimicking my “”. Had I not seen him making that noise and had he hidden outside the house and moo’ed…I would have gotten scared thinking it was spirits of the other cows bothering me. Now that I see that sheepish grin on his face after his moo’ing, in the dark I know its him and I am not scared. Stupid guy! Do you want a pat on your back for mimicking me? Kiddo! Stop moo’ing and start sleeping. These guys started sleeping and I got pissed off with the nasal tone of the spexy guys snoring. Plss…stop it dude! My clan after all gives you doodh! How can we give it early in the morning, if you wont allow us to sleep by your snoring? I pity the other stranger besides him - his family, especially his wife. Lady, you gotta get one Noble "Sleep" Prize award for your lifetime achievement! Anyways…soon even I fell asleep and I guess the spexy guy’s snoring worked as a lullaby for me. 

At night I had a dream. It was my ancestors with my mom. In a single frame I could see them standing next to each other – my mom’s grandmother , my grandmother and my mom all together. All three of them were talking to me saying “These humans have been here before dumbo. They are not new to this village or strangers to us. Especially that spexy guy had come with another girl – probably his sister, his parents way back in 1986 when he was as small as you. At that time, I, Rajeshwari, your great grandmother was only alive and perhaps your age. I had two siblings – Raja and Teyanayagi. It was during those times that these humans including his parents and sister had showered lot of love care and affection on all three of us. The kids had made a song – “Anhonee ko honi karde, honee ko anhonee. Ek jaga jag jama hon teenon…Raja, Rajeswhari, Teyanayagi” That is our unifying family song that these guys gave us years back. Don’t you remember? The song though was copied from a song of movie Amar Akbar Anthony was specially plagiarized and customized for us by these Mumbai ites. Now you can’t forget that Lakshmi. Be kind to them and not rude and play with them like you play with us.”

Happy Bday Swifty!

Jan 14th 2011 a landmark day indeed. I completed two years in TCS and so did my new car Swift complete spending two years with me. Time flies! It indeed does. It was as if only yesterday that I was researching a lot on cars. A well laid out research which had been on the backburner for sometime as we already had a family car – FIAT Uno. The Uno ofcourse was out of circulation in the market and was being a “White Elephant” in terms of reliability and expenses.  The Uno was a used car when we got her in 2001 and served us well for the 8 years she was with us. In the later years, she was high on maintenance and low on reliability – a disastrous combination. So we thought – ok lets plan for a new car.

Mom-dad - doing car-pooja on Jan 14 2009

On the wheels
So there began the research – over internet, talking to friends and relatives to gain feedback on the models they owned and that were of interest to us. Ultimately, it was a close tie between Zen Estilo, Chevy U-VA, Hyundai i10 and Maruti Swift. Zen Estilo and Chevy U-VA were stricken down due to un-popularity and the problems GM had. The buying decision now centered around low maintenance, high availability of service stations pan India and low cost of spares. In all these parameters the Hyundai i10 and Swift were close, and even though interiors of Hyundai i10 were better than Swift, we chose the Swift. Swift won hands down for the looks, low maintenance of Maruti cars, space and demonstrated performance. I have no regrets to this date. So far, it has been a smooth spin with her and I wish I had my arms around her steering as I type these words!

Top View of her
In the first 10 months that I had Swift, clocked close to 10k kms effortlessly. Thanks to the drive from CBD Belapur to Andheri Seepz each day – to my office. Me and my wife used the car almost 3-4 days a week and somedays the whole week and commute together, excitedly celebrating each rollover of the odometer to a 100,200….1000…1100…10,000 mark. The celebrations were by punching our fists jointly up in the air and shouting an excited “ye”! Kind of kiddish, but we enjoyed doing that. Remember those days, when we used to switch on the radio in the car and surf through various FM channels listening to loud music, silly jokes of the radio jockeys and laughing our ass out. The traffic jams looked effortless with such fun, comfort and high quality AC of the car.

I had a secret wish (one of the last ones in the list of long wishes!) to drive down to my marriage in my own car. This was kinda granted. Though I did not drive and we arranged a chauffer, still it was worthwhile to “Swift” down my way to the marriage hall to take wedding vows. Also remember the time me and my sis spent before marriage – literally spending all our time together in the car – shopping from one mall/ shop to another and inviting one set of relatives to the other. Lot of memories with the Swift.

Always enjoy discovering times with her
There has been no long drive except for the trip to Lonavla on Valentines day in 2009 and then my official trip to Pune in November 2010 . It was a pleasure ride all the way along.So its kinda remarkable that the with just the office trips and family rides the car clocked 10k kms in the traffic of Mumbai and Navi Mumbai within 10 months ! During these long drives, I barely realized that I was clocking more than the permissible speed limit by about 20-30% unless I saw the speedometer. 

Prior to the Swift, i have owned and spent my life driving the Fiat Uno, Toyota Corolla and couple of Nissan Ultima’s in India and US. I can say without any hesitation that the Swift is miles ahead. Maybe because we remember only the most recent things in our life or because the Swifty was a brand new car (all others were used cars), she will always have a special place in my heart.

Here's wishing you - my deary Swift, many long years of good service, low maintenance - after all you had the luxury of a good pooja from Mom, Dad and I when we took delivery two years back. Miss driving you here. Raring to drive you, once am back in India! Long live Swifty, we need to clock a lot of kms together! 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Movie Reviews: Part 3

1.       "Six Days Seven Nights"
                    Starring Harrison Ford,Anne Heche.
                    Nice storyline and some good "stranded in the island" adventures.
                    David Schwimmer's role (the Friends guy - Ross) is more of a wimp than anything else!

2.       "The American"
                    A good Georg Clooney movie, with not that much of a story - but some good action and tp stuff.

3.       "Angadi Theru"
                     A Tamil movie - amazing movie - showing the gory realities behind the scenes of the big, plush stores in Ranganathan Street in Chennai, India.
                    I was glad to hear from my friend KK that after this movie, the Govt sent random inspections to these stores to ensure Quality of Life for the employees of these stores. Hats off!

4.       "The Emigrant"
                    Egyptian movie with English subtitles - Director Youssef Chahine's
                    Amazing movie. Was very controversial and stirred up quite a storm in Egypt and was banned for sometime .
                    When the movie was allowed to be released, it became one of the biggest grossers of all time in Egypt!

5.       "The night of the sunflowers"
                    Saw this Spanish movie with English subtitles.
                    Amazing movie which leaves you thinking during and after the movie.
                    Good plot of interconnecting different stories.

Movie Reviews: Part 2

1.       "The Japanese Wife"
                    Bengali movie by Aparna Sen with some dialogues in English
                    The movie could have been better, but nevertheless the story line and rural Bengali background combined with some sweet Bengali dialogues and Japanese background music make it more endearing.

2.       "Zeitgeist"
                    An amazing documentary - kinda shakes your belief on the "truth you believed so far" across 3 different topics!
                     Dunno to what extent it is true, but this will make you question everything that you indisputably accepted so far.

3.       When Father Was Away on Business
                    A Yugoslavian film set in the post World War II Era.
                    Amazing movie with good wit and storyline.
                    Undoubtedly it won the Cannes award in 1985!
                    Worth watching – though you have to read the English subtitles all the way through!

4.       "Siddhartha"
                    Amazing movie which tried to explore the true meaning of human existence.
                    From saying, "I can think,fast and write" in his youth, Siddhartha (Shashi Kapoor) finally comes at peace with himself in the end.
                    In the end you are left pondering..whats the use of all the materialistic needs that we humans so selfishly pursue till we breathe our last?

5.       "Sicko"
                    My first ever Michael Moore movie - "Sicko".
                    Awesome insights onto the healthcare system in US as compared to the ones in UK, France, Canada and Cuba!  He has gone to the extent of going to these countries, speaking to locals about their system.
                    The benefits of a socialist healthcare system as compared to a capitalist healthcare system were indeed mind boggling!
                    When will India have an all encompassing healthcare system?

Movie Reviews: Part 1

Yes, self- admittedly I am a movie buff. I self-realized it later in life. I also realized my inclination was more towards the non commercial movies. The movies which are more realistic than idealistic / super hero / action times. Though I have no issues in watching the movies where hero-beats-villain-gets-his love, I still prefer watching art movies / real life movies, where the main protagonist can still be a failure at the end of the movie. I would share my thoughts on some of these movies that I keep watching in this space.
1.       "Driving Miss Daisy"
                    Amazing movie starring Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy.
                    Good story around the times of racism and prejudice in the American society. Has mentions of JT attending one of the talks of Marthin Luther King.
                     In 1989 this movie won 4 Academy awards out of 9 nominations.
                    I love Morgan Freeman’s movies – watched Shawshank Redemption, Seven, The Maiden Heist and this. Just amazing! Another movie that you can watch of JT is Fried Green Tomatoes. Simply Amazing!
                    A must watch!

2.        "Hachiko: A Dog's Story"
                    Starring Richard Gere, Georg of Sienfeld fame.
                    Amazing movie exploring the deep connection of dogs with human beings.
                    Hachiko the dog waits for his master in the same railway station everyday for 10 years after the master dies.
                    Based on a true life story in Japan.
                    If you love animals especially dogs, this is a movie to watch!

3.    "The Guatemalan Handshake".
                    Kind of weird a movie, which revolves around a small electric car in an odd shape and the various owners it had.
                    In the end all charachters are heading in different directions in their lives.
                    This film won the Special Jury Prize in the Sundance Film Festival.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

13 Jan 2011: Happy Bday Ubukli!

Happy Bday to you
Happy Bday to you
Happy Bday "Dear Sanju"
Happy Bday to you

Here is wishing a very Happy Bday to my niece - Sanju aka Ubukli aka Sweety Pie. 
May you have loads of fun, good health, do well in acads and all the happiness dear! 
Love from all of us!

Sanju & I

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Part 1: The story of Kannu Kutty

Mooooooooo.  Moooooo. Welcome to this blog. Finally able to write something that I should have long time back!  As you can see, I am a cow – also fondly referred to as “Kannu Kutty” during my first one year on mother earth. I don’t have a name as yet, but the lady of the house should name me when she is back from her trip abroad. In the interim – you can call me “Lakshmi” like most of them call me. People who presume that is the name up for grabs, once the lady of the house is back. much for speculation. Village dudes, for a change speculate the amount of water your village will get this monsoon or from the nearby state Karnataka than trying to guess my name!
Hate Paparazzi, but anyways caught sideways by the specxy guy

I was born not more than 7 months ago. I am still grappling to come in terms with my own clan – leave alone human beings.  My mom generously doles out all the milk she has got to a two legged lanky man every day morning, which is collected in a big aluminium tin. She does not even bother what might be left for me. Doesn’t she understand that I am still too young to fend for myself in terms of food? Ain’t this the only time I can have the pleasure of feeding from her, till I am a kid? Overheard from the other grumpy cow ( guess she resembles my mom, so could be my aunt)  that the other Kannu kutty in the same farm was ostracized some time back by the other cows in this village of Pillur in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, India. The only reason being that she fed on her mother for more than a year, when it was as well her time to give milk to these two legged lanky selfish creatures referred to as human beings. No wonder her name was changed from “Kannu Kutty” (a term also fondly used by humans to show affection to another human or to cows like me) to “Kanraavi” ( more of an abuse, in the derogatory sense)!

Anyways, coming back to my story – so it was October 2010, about 4 months back. On a weekday, at midnight around 11 pm , I was lying there alone in the village outhouse, tied to wooden pole.  Was smoothly swatting away some flies with an unpredictable but rhythmic moment of my tail. I have just begun to get control on my involuntarily muscles around the tail to swat the flies and believe me, its fun! Dunno how many I have killed so far, but I am not gonna go down without a fight if they are to suck my blood and feed in infection that I don’t need at this young age! So I heard the sound of the door being opened – which is quite unlikely as this is a very quiet place to be. And there I see the farmer cum caretaker who tends to me – Dharmu walk in, put on the lights.

Caught by surprise and trying to get my eyes adjusted to the light after being in darkness since evening, I saw four strangers walk into the house and getting all happy and excited seeing me. One of those was a guy wearing specs and I despised him as soon as I saw him as I knew, he is mesmerized by my cuteness and gonna trouble and pet me like no one else has in the past four months.

Too late for tonight…rest in next. Moooooo….

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Un-Social Network

I have been in Norway for a little less than fifteen months. For more than 40% of this time, have spent staying alone without family or even a roomie. This is perhaps happening for the first time in my life and nothing that I experienced before.

I have lived the past nine years of my working cum educational life out of the suitcase. Whether it is the time spent while working in Bangalore or Pune in India or in Connecticut in USA, I have always had numerous roomies to share apartments with and virtual roomies to hangout with. The virtual roomies are some good old folks, who just don’t sleep at your place regularly unless they are drunk or it’s too late. Apart from that vroomies (virtual roomies) hang out with you to eat, sleep, drink, roam, shop and do everything else. Even during the MBA days, where I had the first time experience of staying in a hostel (though the B-school was located in my home city – Mumbai), I had a roomie and a group of virtual roomies. It’s the camaraderie in the big group that brings all the excitement in staying alone during your Bachelorhood 1.0 days (pre- marriage).

In Bachelorhood 2.0 (post marriage) I had initially shared apartment with a roomie in Oslo. Then when wifey joined, we had a great time watching movies, going for various outings in and out of Norway or just hanging out with friends. After we moved to Stavanger and she left, life has been one hell of a ride back to Bachelorhood 2.0. It ain’t no bed of roses, I can tell you that. Though I do not have any roomies and stay by myself in this 65 sq foot 1 BHK apartment, still have vroomies to hang out with. Vroomies and I typically have the Friday and Saturday night party/ hangout at Pedersgata or my place – enjoying some conversations, drinks and food. However what I dread is the company of myself, once am back into the apartment.

Have been my own roomie for the past 6 months. When it comes to doing my share of the work, I end up doing everything L as there is no one to share it! Be it the cooking, cleaning, loading the dishwasher, ad hoc utensil clean up, watching movies, listening to music or at times sharing that rare drink. There is no scope to gossip / have conversations, get different perspectives real time or be updated about the happenings around in India, Norway or anywhere/ anything else.  Even if am sick, have a fever or feeling down and depressed, have no one to rely on in person than myself. I leave the house at odd hours and come back at odd hours, especially when I am travelling and it is uninviting and dreadful to walk into a quiet house when you are come back as a worn out traveler. I have seen those days, when I have been given delightful surprises by my wife – with the house all decked up, aroma of freshly cooked food in the air and the lights set just the way I want them to be – with candles and all. Then the excitement of someone waiting for you for so long / wanting you back – the first hug , the first kiss. From those days, to this day, when I unlock the door and just find stillness inside and nothing else, all I can grumpily say to myself is “Welcome back Deepak” and then grudgingly get back to business to cook myself a meal or make that hot tea.

In life, all of us at sometime want to be “left alone” or want “our space”.  I can truly stand testimonial to the fact of how it feels to be alone. It ain’t no good folks. Enjoy the company of people close to you whenever you can. It’s never a burden.  When you have too much of time for yourself, you won’t know what to do? Watch a string of movies? Read all those books that you always wanted to? Write all those books that you always had wished to? You can never get all that done while alone. Trust me. Your mind would wander around all things you may want to do/ think of and not to do/ think of. It is totally off the harness of a stable mind.

This kind of an experience of staying alone can truly jeopardize the social skills of any human being and I am no different. You miss the small things like home socializing so much (barring the times with vroomies on weekends) that I fear I am not turning un-social. In fact. also miss office socializing unless i have meetings to go for in Stavanger or travel to head office to Oslo. I work from home 24X7 unless travelling, so no scope of office socializing too. So to avoid that, I try to stay connected to the world through phone, skype, chat and more importantly Facebook. My mind wants escapism through this jail of living by my spirit and shadow through Facebook -  my true virtual companion. At times I guess I take it too far with my updates exploring new details of my life or depth of my thoughts for that day. I miss sharing living space with a human being. Guess that is being vented out in the form of updates on Facebook by the hour / day. Am unable to figure out if it is done by me to escape hearing the clock tick by each second, whenever I am in the living room (incidentally where I spend 90% of my time when in the house) or wanting the world (in the form of my network of Facebook friends) to know what I have been doing. At times walking quietly to the library to pick up movies or shopping at the local grocery stores makes me get out of the house once every 2/3 days (unless i have meetings / official work) and escape the quietness and loneliness. But apart from that there is hardly any other new thing to talk / discuss about.  Seeing this, the mind gets hungry and makes my fingers type in on the browser and check updates and put my updates to keep myself on the news and vent escapism.

Have to indeed dig myself out of my un-social network and also from the self addiction to social network through Facebook. Need a detoxification by diverting my mind to various other things – maybe like re-starting meditation or getting regular on this blog or re-starting the Gym. 

Life has never been so quiet ! This is definitely going to be an experience for the longer run that will be etched in my mind forever. Maybe i am getting geared up for something special by the forces of this earth. Only time would be a testimonial for that.Till then will try to cope up with the un-social network!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

India: A trek to Tirupati Temple: A spiritual sojourn

Lord Venkateshwara
One of the destinations that i have re-discovered in the last decade (since i had been there when i was barely 2-3 years old) and love to go to is Lord Venkateshwara’s temple at Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh in India.  I am at complete peace with myself and surroundings while in Tirupati.   In the last 7 years, by the grace of Lord Venkateshwara’s willingness i have had an opportunity to be there more than once, and i humbly look forward to emulate the record in the next decade. However, till i breathe my last, no matter how many times i go to the temple, i will still feel it’s less. Every time i go there, i discover something new and see myself more relaxed.

The sacred and one of the ancient temples of Sri Venkateshwara is nestled in the verdant Eastern Ghats - a mountain range that runs along south-eastern India. These hills are called as Tirumala Hills and are 3200 feet above the sea level. It comprises seven peaks, namely, Seshadri, Neeladri, Garudadri, Anjanadri, Vrishabhadri, Narayanadri and Venkatadri, representing seven hoods of Adisesha, thus the name Sheshachalam. The lord here is called with many names like Edukondalavada, Sri Balaji, Srinivasa, Venkataramana Govinda, Voddikasulavada and many more. The main temple (Abode of Lord Venkateshwara) stands on the seventh peak, Venkatadri and lie on the southern banks of Sri Swami Pushkarini. It is by the Lord’s presidency over Venkatadri, that He is called as Venkateshwara. According to Shastras and Puranas, it is said that one can attain mukkti (Salvation) after worshipping Edukondalavada, meaning, the Lord of Seven Hills, in Telugu.

In fact, if you stand on the long serpentine queues to take “Darshan” of the Lord, folks keep passionately chanting “Edukondalavada venkataramana govinda govinda”. The mere chant of this mantra is enough to bring down the exhaustion brought about by being standing and being pushed around in huge crowds for over 3-4 hours that ultimately wins you that 5 second glimpse of Lord Venkateshwara in the sanctum sanctorum.  And believe me, it just takes one person to chant it out aloud while standing in the long winding queues, and all other devotees are enthusiastic to give the background chorus repeating after you. The devotees come from all walks of life, from destinations near and far to have that one glimpse of the Lord who eases most of the hardships they may be having in life. They are willing to go to the extent of not only offering donations in the form of currency, gold but also give away the hair on their scalp through tonsure. It is considered very special to tonsure your head in Tirupati, which literally signifies the greatest offering. The hair on the head gives the ultimate beauty to human beings, and if you are willing to offer that which gives you beauty to the Lord, then there can be no greater offering than that. Devotees in need of the assistance of the Lord, usually take a vow and when they visit the temple, offer their hair at the Kalyaanakatta, special hall erected for this purpose.  After having a bath, they then stand in the queues for the Lords darshan.

Near Alipiri
There are many types of sevas and darshanam's which can be made in the temple. The darshana begins at 3am in the morning and ends at 12pm in midnight. It takes around 3-4 hours of waiting in the queue for either darshan or paid darshan. Every devotee is issued a computerized token, at Venkateshwara Bus stand, Padmavathi Bus stand or at the entrance of Tirumala, with approximate time to enter the queue complex. This system facilitates to know one's turn for darshan. For everything, the bookings have to be made well in advance.

To reach the temple or the Venkatadri hill, one can take Jeeps / state transportation buses / private cars from Tirupati Railway station. It is a very commercial place with no dearth of means to reach the hill.  However, if you are the one, who wants to soak in more of Tirupati, and its ambience, it is best recommended to trek “Tirumalai” to visit the Lord.

Devotees at step 1 near Alipiri
This trek is not through a calf path, but through properly man made steps (exactly 3500 steps) that start from the bottom of the hill at a place called “Alipiri”. Ensure that before you begin the trek, you take the computerized token in the booth nearby, so that you know your approximate time for darshan. Without the token, you would not be allowed for Darshan. There is also a queue for this. For all the “Seva’s”, the booking is done in advance through the internet.

Once you have your computerized token – usually, in the form of a plastic wrist band with the time of the darshan written on it, you can start climbing the steps. Throughout your journey of 3500 steps, just like life’s ups and downs you find the steps spaced over at different intervals and altitude levels. 

Statues adorning the path

These steps criss-cross through some beautiful mountains and scenery including a small park, where there are a lot of Sambar Deers. One can buy grapes, carrots and other things from the nearby vendors and feed it to these Sambar Deers. They seem perennially hungry, no matter what time of the day it is. Always eager to fight amongst themselves by using their horns to get even that small grapes that slips in between the rocks. Nothing can be as relaxing as wiping down your sweat watching these deers watching you with an expectation that you would feed them something. I usually try to spend time angling the grapes across a cross section of these deers so that only the strongest of them is not the recipient of my grapes.
Sambar Deer waiting for grapes

The entire stretch of 3500 steps also has shops where one can have light refreshments for eating and drinking. If you observe the surroundings, your mind will begin to construct the mythology of those times in your mind and appreciate the human interventions to make this ancient temple located on a highly inaccessible terrain, accessible through this properly defined path. You will see fellow devotees, who have taken a pit stop to catch their breath, some who light small camphor tablets with fire on each step or some who are happily chatting with their family and taking the stairs.  

In pursuit of their devotion
Well covered path , supported by pillars with carvings
These days some also carry mobile phones and transistors and play loud devotional music while ascending / descending the steps. The climb of 3500 steps takes about 3 – 3.5 hours to complete with adequate breaks in between. For the last three times i have been to Tirupati, i have always climbed the steps before the darshan. Especially the last two times i was all by myself while doing the trek and it was enjoyable. The path way through steps is well covered, so that even if it rains or the sun is harsh, it is still cool and safe to ascend / descend with no issues. There is only a small stretch where you get exposed to the highway and have to walk on a footpath for close to a kilometer, but now even that is covered with asbestos sheets.
Carvings along some of the steps

You pass through intermediate numerous checkposts like these, where one can sit down and relax before beginning the next step of ascent.

You can steal some good views of the surrounding mountains, a windmill as you walk through the footpath. 

There is also a small temple along the road on this path.

As you reach closer to the 2700th step, there is also a gigantic idol of Lord Hanuman, where devotees take a pit stop.

 As you reach the final step, there is yet another ceremony of putting vermillion, turmeric, lighting camphor to mark and end of the trek and begin the walk towards Lord's darshan.

3500 up - The final step!

Captured the pic below in the wee hours of the morning - between 3 am and 4 am. It symbolizes Lord Venkateshwara, with the conch shell (to the right of the three lines) and the chakra to the other side of the three lines. The three lines signify Lord Vekateshwara. This is similar to the patten seen in the blog on "Pattern Matching Conundrum". Click here to read that blog. 

 As you walk along and near the end of the 3500 steps, you would find a lot of "Alwar's" line along on either side of the path with their statues and significance in the mythology explained in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu languages. The alwar( meaning ‘those immersed in god’) were Tamil poet saints of south India who lived between the sixth and ninth centuries and espoused ‘emotional devotion’ or bhakti to Visnu-Krishna in their songs of longing, ecstasy and service. Sri Vaishnava orthodoxy posits the number of alvars as ten, though there are other references that include Andal and madhurakavi, making the number twelve. The devotional outpourings of Alvars, composed during the early medieval period of Tamil history, helped revive the bhakti movement, through their hymns of worship to Vishnu and his avatars. The collection of their hymns is known as Divya Prabandha and is considered equal to the sanskrit body of work called vedas and related revelatory texts, detailing knowledge of Nature, God and the relationship between the two. 


Tirumangai Alwar

The trip/ trek to Tirupati is indeed very enjoyable, tiresome, full of introspection and with rich glimpses of the ancient Hindu mythology, that make it so endearing to go there again and again - not by car / bus - but by climbing the steps and soaking in the ambience and coming in terms with yourself and your existence. 

After this, your  endurance will be tested further as you will have to stand in the Queue in Vaikuntam Q-Complex for 3-4 more hours amongst pilgrims from various walks of life, unanimously chanting excitedly "Edukondalavada venkataramana govinda govinda" in short bursts to get that one glimpse of the Lord for five seconds, who eases away all your problems. Those five seconds with the Lord - make any effort, trouble you take to reach this place seem very insignifcant.