Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Road to God: Unforgettable journey in 13hours

People say filmstars live thousand lives in one life, well, I am not a filmstar and I am content with the way I live. Content, a relative term, is over worldly pleasures or richness or hunger that is prevailing. Had I been not part of this Tirupathi temple visit with my friends, I would have never seen those situations which I hope I will never come across. God always shows how to lead your life, isn’t it?!

On a Friday late night, we hit the road on a jovial note, 8 of us, on the way to Tirupathi. We reached at 6am and booked a room for ourselves near Alipiri. It took us couple of hours to freshen up and at 8.30am, we set off on this incredible journey, barefooted!

This so called “trek” covered seven hills (I am not sure!), 3550 steps spread over 11 km. Initial 2000 steps are really tiresome and is a real test for your stamina. Mind would say “Keep climbing” and your legs would just cramp up seeking rest. My t-shirt was drenched with sweat and I was trying hard not to slowdown, since my cousin had suggested me not to do so. (Logic is once you rest, you’ll rest forever!)

We arrived at the counter of DivyaDarshan and we got our ticket to visit the temple, this stop was after 2083rd step, near Galigopura, which is fully equipped with dispensary and numerous eateries. We grabbed some food and juice, and this was just the beginning of our unlimited eating spree that went on for next 8 km!

Watermelons, oranges, sweets, chats, corn masala, mango slices, ice candies… We didn’t let go anything that we saw, we tasted everything! We had slowed down after the initial challenge and now were enjoying every bit. Glimpse of the deer park and cool breeze that blew with relatively dense greenery around was refreshing. To mention- the entire pathway is covered with concrete roof (awesome thing to have) and to reflect our cultural fate, has many idiotic scribbles!

By the time we reached the premises and stood in the queue, it was 2pm. We had managed to get our hands on tasty uppittu, served by TTD which manages the daily choirs of the temple. We were soon led to a room (didn’t I call it a “CAGE”? I am surprised!) and the real wait (life) started!

It took sometime for initial excitement to die down. The cage (Oops, I couldn’t resist!) was completely overpacked and even there, we managed to grab sufficient place to lie down and sleep. We were anxious for the release. We could see the Gopura of the temple, exactly opposite to us, in less than 500 mtrs, so near yet so far. Soon the lights were light up and we realized that our estimated Darshan time of 4 hours were over!

Clock ticked 8pm and there was no sign of our release. Cage had a mere toilet (I leave it’s beauty for your imagination) and no drinking water facility. In between, the TTD served milk with extra water and food (looked like one of the “baths” that we get in Bengaluru) in plastic plates. That scene- people fighting for food, not even bothering if it was a lady or a kid, snatching it from other’s hand, making their best of efforts to catch the food that were being thrown, more or less it resembled the flood affected or earth quake prone rehabilitation Centre.

Frustrations were clearly visible in everyone’s eyes. One of the devotees put his heart out to get out of the cage by climbing up the grills and trying to sneak out through the roof. These heroics attracted applauses and whistles. People booed and the doors were constantly banged. We managed to keep our morale up with antakshri and our never ending talks. Our patience was put into some hard scrutiny. To spice up the story, when everyone finally fought their way out to grab some food, we were released from the cage. This was the moment people waited with bated breath. They didn’t even bother to wash their hands or finish their food. It was littered all over and was one hell of mess where was food being wasted.

After this, was a smooth sail, where we had a pleasant Darshan of Lord Venkateshwara which made us forget all ill-experiences of the cage. By the time we got out with laddu’s, clock was past 12.30am, Sunday. First thing we did- fill our stomach! We had to stay back till 3am as no vehicles ply to Tirupathi till then. We made the best use of it and took the DharmaRatham, free bus to travel within tirumala, and got the glimpse of the hill top where the God slept only for an hour, from 1am to 2am, yes, this is how busy Lord Venkateshwara is, you need to pay for being rich, right!

Next morning we boarded Rajahamsa of K.S.R.T.C to Bengaluru and slept all the way. These 13 hours were like a roller-coaster ride that brought us joy, fun, hunger and put us through a rigorous test of our mettle, gave us a glimpse of how it feels to fight for basic amenities, and beauty of changing moods of crowd from devotion to rebellion. It had it all. God is an entity which is highly dependent on how good a devotee can comprehend. I saw God, in those steps, in that long wait, inside the dirty cage, in this journey …

Monday, December 17, 2012

Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa

With Guruswamy(2nd from left)
Sabarimala, this was the pilgrimage that always fancied me. I was unsure of the force that makes everyone wear those black robes, stay away from all worldly desires and devote the time praying Lord Ayyappa (Son of Vishnu and Shiva) for over a month. Devotees form a group- irrespective of the cast or the status in the society- and set off carrying Irrumudi under the guidance of Guruswamy (head of group),

First timers are called Kanniswamy and are under special observance, being taught about the rituals by the seniors. They mark their arrival in Sabarimala by throwing a dart like structure on the special wall where Lord Ayyappa is supposed to come and check. Belief is that the Lord will marry Mahishi once he finds that wall is empty. I was a Kanniswamy and had incredible experience with this group of 13.

We set off from Bangalore to Sabarimala, barefooted and carried Irrumudi. Irrumudi has a special significance- consists of rice, Kobbari filled with ghee, dry fruits, rose water, Karpoor, Arshina Kumkum and it is tied in a special way in a special bag. All of the things carried has it's own story to tell. For example- rice is carried as a token of prayer from the ladies in the home (as they are not allowed if they are in between age of 12 and age of 50), ghee represents the soul and the Kobbari represnts our body- ghee is offered to God, signifying that all souls will go back to God ,and Kobbari that is carried is put into the pyre, signifying our body that goes to pyre. Irrumudi is tied and handed over- big ritual in itself- marks the beginning of journey.

Train arrived in Chenaganur where special buses to Pamba ply frequently during this season. Yes, temple is open during Decemeber and January ( Jyothi of Makara Sankranthi), and first 5 days of every month. Rest of the while, 2 tigers are believed to take guard of the temple. No surprises, these are in dense forest of western ghats. We got lucky to see the lion tailed macaque, listed in endangered species.

After the holy bath at Pampa river, we set foot for a trek of 8 kms following Guruswamy, around 5 pm  Incidently, our Guruswamy was visiting Sabarimala for 18th time and he had to carry a sprouted coconut plant as the token. Next time he will be treated as Kanniswamy- as 18 marks a cycle- representing the holy 18 steps of the temple which everyone desires to step with their irrumudi is the biggest motive behind this holy pilgrimage. Also, temple is situated midst of 18 hills!

This trek was worth remembering- chants of Lord everywhere. We had a memorable darshan of Lord and offered the ghee we carried. We saw the time- it was showing 11 pm! This was surprising! 11.30 pm marks end of day in Sabarimala with a song- "HariHaraVasam" sung by K J Yesudas. Over lakh of devotees maintain silence and pray. Temple opens at 4 am with the "Suprabhata" sung by again, Yesudas. True testimony to this legendary singer, isn't it?!

We din't sleep. Went around the temple where shops/people never slept. Life was still on. Early morning we visited temple again for ghee abhishekam. Those glimpse of Lord gave us that immense happiness that we could never think of. Devotion was at peak.

On the way back, we visited Guruvayur temple of Krishna. Colourful city. But long waiting hours for glimpse of Lord. Kerala is God's own country and every stretch looked more beautiful. We came to Trissur to catch the train back to Bangalore.
God's own country

This pilgrimage was well powered by the home cooked eatables as eating outside is restricted. We carried a big bag with food that could last for 3 days. On the way, sister of one of the member in our group offered us more food. Commitment of these ladies to make this holy pilgrimage a grand success deserves nothing less than a big heartfelt thank you!

This is a special place as every devotee is considered as Swamy. No discrimination. There is a place of worship for friend of Lord, Vavaraswami, a Muslim saint. Every devotee trekking down helps the devotee who is climbing the tiresome uphill- may be with the bit of water or with the glucose powder or by just blowing some air of relief on him. We made friends with couple of people- from a different region, different linguistic origin- but one thing in common- devotion to God.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hulli Makki, Oppa HorseGram Style ..

After fond memories of Agani, I knew Sakaleshpur, known as Scotland of east, had more in store. My cousins had a long email discussion to decide on this place to stay, a home stay, Hulli Makki, where hulli is derived from huruli, horse gram and Makki, field that is irrigated for half a year. We were 13 of us and youngest was my cousin's one year old daughter!

Friday morning, we set off in 3 cars at 8 am from Bangalore and it was over 260 km drive. Our first stop was in Hotel Mayura, in BM (Bangalore- Mangalore) road, NH 4, near Bellur cross, for breakfast. It lived up to the hype that we had created referring our past visit. We had to stop twice further ahead as baby had its terrible first road journey. We managed to reach around 1.30 pm and we were greeted with Musumbi juice!

Food served was excellent throughout and the lunch was a perfect start. Lot of new delicious veg recipes made me proud of being vegetarian for a change! I particularly remember a sweet- chandrahara, that acted like a medicine for my cousin who was down with stomach upset. Hulli Makki, had a vast coffee estate with black pepper and citrus plants like orange. It was blessed with plenty of water and could see the vegetables like pumpkins being grown. Even the fruits were plenty- guvava to Sakkare kanchu and Chakkota.

We spent our Friday evening in the water fall, beautiful and serene surrounding. I saved my jaw even after having an epic fall from the rock I climbed. Reasons for the fall were more than to do with the slippery rocks which cannot be revealed! On Saturday afternoon we made a point to teach one our cousin how to swim in the lake beside. We formed pyramids and took a leap to jump into water. Later in the evening we enjoyed the sun setting behind the sky kissing hills.

Both the nights we had camp fires. Playing antakshri, Chinese dumb charades, lot of ant- elephant questions, witty jungle book story QA's, Gangnam style dance, ghost stories...wow, camp fires was the best part in the perfect weather of this place. There were no fans in the room and it was not required also.

Sun was intense in the day and early morning tea tasted very different in this climate. Saturday morning we left early for an trek which started at the base of Betta Bhairaveshwara temple, built around 700 years ago near Hanbal . It was a trek of 4 uphill. Wind was blowing at it's highest speed and the mist was just fantastic. The temple looked more beautiful as we attained higher altitudes. 6 of us decided to trek down in the unconventional forest way, temple was our reference point and we had make our way as we climbed down. 5 Min walk in the valley where there was literally nothing down the feet and we had to crawl with the help of ferns and grass over there was the most adventurous moment. Overall it was a refreshing 4 hours of fun!

2 days spent were extremely rejuvenating.  As we rode back I was just pondering over the attributes that made our mother Earth so beautiful. Life is indeed a Poem- Without internet, without laptop, without television, without telephone, without traffic, with greenery, with paddy fields and coffee estates, with lakes, with waterfall, with tasty food and more importantly, with amazing people!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Virtually There: V9

Annual day. It’s the day when we celebrate the spirit that kept us going all through the past year and an introspection day when we sing to rejoice and reframe the goals for the upcoming year. Our school annual days are still afresh in our memory. You may think a corporate annual day might be boring. Let’s clear it out!

Welcome to Virtually There (VT) – V9, version nine, one behind the double digit!

Last year when I attended my first office annual day, I was expecting a lot of figures to bounce over my head. But fortunately, that didn't really happen. Instead I was bowled over by the performance of talented colleagues around, and for my surprise, our Managing Director (MD) lead from the front with his Dabangg cameo. Visions, achievements and goals were sneaked in a way that reached everyone without a single dull moment.

This year promised more excitement and it took no time before we got into groove. I made a choice this time. I wanted to give a shot for drama. Auditions took place when 3 weeks were remaining. God knows how my director (who played the lead, amazing actor!) selected the cast. Raw script with dialogues was handed over. That was first and last day when we practiced with that sheet of paper!

Theatre was one which I always wanted to try. I remember doing small skits in schools. But, I got the actual taste of it when I worked for couple of months for Dramanon Manipal in production. Although it was a small stint, I got an insight on what goes around and naturally my respect for stage artists doubled!

This annual day, it was competition between 4 large teams. Concept was based on super hero and 4 fields of evaluation- 4D’s- Dance, Drama, Decibel (Singing) and Design (Fashion show). Every team got 20min to perform and win over judges (I vaguely remember- Richard David Tholoor was one of them) and audience. I was part of drama team. Lot of promotions went on when there was a week left to go. Flash mobs, publicity, banners, teasers, gimmicks, surprise chocolates and cakes, ahh, intensity was at its peak. Meanwhile all team were training hard for the show. And our script got changed at least 20 times!

Our MD had different plans this time; to give his key note he made a literally flying entry on stage in his red Spiderman attire. We did skip a heartbeat! We were ready for the show. Battle was fought with true sportsman spirit. As a team, we came 2nd. Drama we bagged first place.

In the end, organizers were the true winners. They knew how to get out the innovations from the employees. They knew how to make us feel at home. They knew how to create that feeling of belonging. You only perform only if you belong there, right?!

[This article was originally posted here in ManipalBlog.]

Monday, September 24, 2012

Virtually There- V8

I was amazed to learn that the planet Venus follows a pentacle path. It takes 8 years for it to do so. Pentacle is nothing but collection of 5 lines that intersect. Isn’t it wonderful? But wait, most amazing wonderful part is yet to be told, i.e., this fact was discovered by our ancestors at least 4000 years before the Christ!

Welcome to Virtually There (VT) – V8, version eight, I am here with a story of a night!

Being nocturnal is the youth trend. This version may go wrong with the some of you, but I am going with a disclaimer now itself. Yes, I am going to talk about night outs. Hence here is this disclaimer- Dear reader, if I give you a stone- you can either put it down or break it or you can use it to build the next beautiful structure. Control was with you, waste it or shape it!

If man can discover the path of Venus by just observations, we need to salute the human intelligence. 8 years is really long, and to tell it precisely is very challenging. If those nights can lead to these wonderful discoveries, than why are we least bothered about our nature, ignorant about the changes around us, and portray night out as one that was meant to booze and smoke up!

Night outs are best if you are in a mood of introspection. Surrounding is calm. Zero noise. Climate cooling down. And no college/office to go the next day. You are bound to feel happy. Problem with the modern age is that we have all the time for world and not for ourselves! Our worries keep multiplying and instead of addressing it, we keep building on it, we switch on to our “Adjust Kar lo yaar” attitude!

Numerous night outs that I have had have given me different perspective every time. The ones in the beach are still fresh in my mind. Those waves under the moon light have inspired my poems. Twinkling of the stars has light up my writings. Midnight Chai’s have added flavors to my taste buds. Early morning snacks have redefined hunger for me. That watchful drive in the streets of crazy dogs has tossed my heart out frequently. Yes, every night out was an experience, is an experience and hopefully, will be an experience!

One point I have missed to mention, yeah, I learnt to observe, I started seeing the transformation, from dark to light, from void to knowledge!

In V8, I really didn’t have a story to tell, but I had a message to give. Learning and exploring oneself is the hardest thing to do, and a night out makes it easy for you. This is not the only means, but for surely, one of the many. Happy exploring!

[This article was originally posted here in ManipalBlog.]

Monday, September 17, 2012

Virtually There- V7

Experiments can either be a massive hit or if it fails, will be a lesson that can stay with you for a life time. Those who try and succeed leave a lasting legacy for generations to come. Some say, it’s in their blood. Some say, they are gifted. Some say, they worked hard. As I mentioned in VT-V5, I can just be thankful for the appreciation I get each time I experiment, here is the excerpt of my new beginning!

Welcome to Virtually There (VT) – V7, version seven, time to explore the legacy, time to meet a rising star!

I feel it’s not easy to be a star. Plus, to live/continue the legacy that’s been influencing art since four generations is a herculean task. You almost think it is difficult to find an individual who can do all this, but then you meet a lady who is down to earth, willing to improve, already performing wonders, recognized for who she is and not for whom she's following, counting awards, eager to give back to her much loved art, still young and with lots of dreams!

Presenting an interview with “Nalanda Nritya Nipuna” Prateeksha Kashi, danseuse par excellence and woman who defines Virtually there - V7.

Me: Well, before I start, I will say what I know, that you hail from an artistic family of the legendary Dr Gubbi Veeranna and were initiated to dance at a tender age of five. Both your parents are well known actors/artists; mother in particular, has achieved cult status in Kuchipudi- a classical dance form.

Prateeksha: I just feel blessed for the atmosphere at my home. Truly God’s grace. In fact, my mother Vyjayanthi Kashi is my role model, guru, and friend. Being an ace choreographer herself, she never forced me to take up dance; she treats me equal to any other students when we are in the Shambhavi school of Dance, this is the best thing I like about her, when it comes to dance, I am always a student!

Me: I see a hunger to learn in your eyes, that’s good, but, I need to clarify something, we both are sitting at this coffee table of our office, a Tech firm, I wonder, why you are here!

She smiles!

Prateeksha: A lot of people ask me the same question. I have kept doing two things simultaneously. I believe that they'll complement each other, mutually add value, yielding better results in both fields. I was interested in science, so I am a techie today, no matter what, I sneak in time for my evergreen love, Kuchipudi, as long as I can manage both, I am happy doing them together.

Me: Fair enough, as you are already doing things in style, keep rocking! Do you train hard?

Prateeksha: I’ll elaborate. I have a lot of interaction with giants in my field of art, and I have kept improving. I believe in the Guru-Shishya parampara. Knowledge has no money, it only has value. Giving is everything and it’ll make your life more vibrant. You know, all of us are equally talented. Just that, we need to identify the field that drives us. Like I did for dance and you did for literature. Then with passion, one can scale the zenith.

Me: I am honored! I am shooting the last question, what does it take to be on the stage and how does it feel, say at an international level (she has given stage shows worldwide), performing live?

Prateeksha: It takes lot of determination, grit, practice and confidence. Kuchipudi is an amalgam of both drama and dance. Expectations or responsibilities, both just help me come out better. For me performance is like a prayer. When I perform, I thank the art for making me what I am today, I feel at peace with my soul, I give my best, I want my organizers and more importantly, the audience to take home something, worth remembering, true taste of art and lot of joy!

The Conversation continued.

I knew what to give back. I wanted to tell you that even you are equally talented. I knew how people worship art. I wanted you to join the prayer. I knew how to remain grounded and shoot at stars. I wanted you to take the aim and achieve the dream.

Thank you Prateeksha, zenith is not far, may you achieve all your dreams. I can just be thankful!

[This article was originally posted here in ManipalBlog.]

Monday, September 10, 2012

Virtually There- V6

This article was originally posted here in ManipalBlog.

I set off on a quest of finding the purpose of life. My writing speed slowed down. I started thinking of every word that I was using. I knew I was running into bad waters, I am not an Aristotle or Buddha, but yes, I had the courage to sail it over!

Welcome to Virtually There (VT) – V6, version six, let’s ponder why we live!

Writing about love in VT- V5 was far easy than writing about life today. Is it because I think that I am in love? Is it because I have found a lot of love? Is it because I don’t enjoy life? Is it because even I wonder of my existence like many of you?

Scholars said- have a dream. Work towards it. Rest not till you achieve it. We read- “A goal without a plan is just a wish”. Make plan, work it out. Work is worship, etc., etc. Did we miss something? Why didn’t anyone say to enjoy the life however it comes!

Mission of life is not to ponder over it. Mission of life is not to define it. Mission of life is not to be a frog in the well. Mission of life is not to cheat people. Mission of life is not to kill humanity. Mission of life is not to complain. Mission of life is to live!

To live the life, I correct, to live the life of your wish, I correct, to live the life that your heart guides, I correct, to live the life that God gives, I correct, to live the life with no regrets, I correct, to live the life in the present!

I was unable to finish the previous line; I started with the bang, and kept correcting. So is the LIFE!

The moment I find logical end to this version, I am bound to be enlightened. Hence, instead of defining V6, version six, I was trying to find the logical end this time. Like life, I can’t get perfectly right. I thought of coming up with my own poetry, but Robert Frost’s six lines seemed to be perfectly written for this version. It had love, it had promises, it had snow, it had a flow, it had a goal, and it had LIFE!

He will not see me stopping here 
To watch his woods fill up with snow. 
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 
But I have promises to keep, 
And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep.