Mystic Trails @ Parvathamalai

Trishul“Are you sure this is the right way?” Manoj asked me from above, at around 2.00 am in the night. Balancing myself up the sharp ascent which was wide enough to accommodate only one person at a time, I replied “I don’t think we have any other option but to continue going up”. And that was true. We had now been climbing up at an 80 degree angle for the last twenty minutes, stepping cautiously into the rock ledges which had just enough space to keep a quarter of our foot and holding on gingerly to the iron rods and chains drilled into the rocks for support. At an altitude of over 3500 feet and enveloped by a thick mist all around, our head torches only provided a few feet visibility. In a way, we didn’t mind the limited view, as we could sense that the sight below would have been quite dizzy! I couldn’t but help reflect how we had managed to find ourselves in that situation in the dead of the night.

We had started the trek at about 9 pm in the night, the previous day. A group of ten, the youngest member being a 14-year-old, we were all excited at the prospect of doing a night trek under the supervision of the world-renowned mountaineer, Satyarup Siddhanta. Satyarup’s affair with mountains had been triggered by Parvathamalai ten years back and this was his thanksgiving trip. The mountain named after Parvathan, a devotee of Lord Shiva who had transformed into the hill by means of powerful penances, is steeped in mystic lore with many reports of paranormal spiritual sightings. As I purchased some worship items, the shop keeper lady advised me “Pray to the Lord and don’t be fearful, God willing you should be able to make it”. But, hearing Satyarup give the initial instructions before start, “Take the trek at your own pace, relish the beauty of nature in the moonlit night and most important enjoy the journey”, I felt quite complacent and thought the lady had been needlessly trying to create  an aura of fear, where there was none. With Satyarup at the helm, none of us had spent much time in pre-trek research and the night shadows revealed little about the path ahead!

Group pic
Our trek group

After offering our prayers to Hanuman for a safe trip, we started on the initial lap, which was a 3 km walk inside the forest to the foot of the over 4,000 feet high mountain. We had a 12th day waxing moon for company, though a cloudy sky kept shading it from our view quite often. As we walked, our senses started getting habituated to the forest around us and its inhabitants. Walking up the track steps, in the light of our headlamps and to the continuous sound of crickets, we could see our path interspersed with spiders and huge millipedes. Even as we moved on, steadying ourselves not to scream our lungs out as we may have probably done in normal circumstances, more exotic creatures came our way, a green keelback snake and a scorpion, to name a couple. The mountain was abuzz with night life and we were the intruders! We took regular breaks on the way up stopping at small shacks selling hydration essentials like water, tender coconuts, lemon juice etc. and it was quite funny to observe how the vendors muttered their sales pitch even while sleeping as they heard our footsteps pass by. Now, this is what we could truly call 24X7 service! A couple of hours into the track steps and we were glad to see the boulder section start. This should be easier to tackle than the stairs, we thought foolishly. Bijonda’s reply in his characteristic witty style to someone asking about the time “Aamar to 12 ta baaje (For me, it’s the 12th hour for sure)”, was bang on the point. From here on as the ascent got even more grueling and the group slowly started breaking up due to varying pace and limited visibility.


Sensing a few raindrops and least wanting to get caught in a shower against the vertical sky steps, we hurried on in search of shelter. Finally, after an hour we reached the summit and found our way into the 2000 year old temple, heaving a sigh of relief. But what met our eyes inside was quite an anomalous sight! The temple was filled with devotees and trekkers, many sleeping in whatever space they could carve out and yet others praying to the God in the inner sanctum. Accustomed to praying in temples where the Gods are diligently moderated by the Brahmanical class and the doors shut close by 9 pm as a norm, the sight of devotees having the run of the shrine was an extreme aberration. Each devotee was offering prayers in his own rustic manner, laying aside the regulations of stereotyped processes and the shackles of a priest. But, as I then recalled the legend of the Parvathamalai Lord, light dawned on me!

Pooja inside the temple

Here, the ShivaLinga is worshipped by the name, Mallikarjuna and his consort, Parvati is enshrined as Brahmaramba. As the legend goes, there was once a competition between the sons of Shiva, Kartikeya and Ganesa, as to who could go around the world faster. Even as Karthikeya traversed the world on his peacock, Ganesa simply went around his parents seven times, claiming them as representative of the world and was declared the winner of the challenge. An enraged Kartikeya went away to the hills and his parents followed suit to pacify him. Thus, as Mallikarjuna and Brahmaramba, Shiva and Parvati took on the role of loving parents placating their vexed son. And it was precisely this aspect of the Lord that was all-pervasive in this temple. Here, they were the indulgent loving parents, allowing devotees to scramble over, caress, cry out their woes and reassuring them as they would to their children. This was so relatable to the true nature of Shiva, who shuns the ornamentation of royalty and instead decks himself in animal skin, ashes, wild flowers, dried rudraksha nuts, matted hair and a snake around his neck. It is but natural that his parenting style would also be all spontaneous, rustic and without frills and fancies.

We were woken up in the early hours of the morning by a friendly dog and some not so friendly monkeys, who were intent on raiding our back packs for food and water. Realizing that the monkeys would start intensifying their attack as the morning aged, we quickly started getting ready for the descent. A look outside gave us a magnificent view of the countryside awash in the morning light. But what caught my eye was another cloud covered towering peak in a distance of about 30 kms. It seemed to radiate a strange energy, making it difficult for me to turn my eyes away. Enquiry revealed that it was indeed the very spiritual Arunachala Mountain, where the fire element of Shiva is worshiped and I made a mental note to visit it sometime in future. As we started our climb down, someone suggested an alternative route with vertical ladder steps. In the light of the day, we certainly did not wish to go back to the steep path we had used in the night.  The alternative route, however proved none the less perilous and we held on to dear life and property, in the face of a steep slope and menacing monkey attacks.


Looking up the steep slopes in the light of the day, we realized how perilous our climb for the last 2000 feet had been the previous night! As we precariously stepped down, we were accompanied by many more pilgrims both ways, some with children as well, the collective power of spiritual faith reverberating strongly in the surroundings. The monkeys played havoc through-out the journey down, aggressively threatening the hikers and grabbing at the their bags at every opportunity. Another legend associated with Parvathamalai reveals how a piece of the very magical cure-all Sanjeevani hill fell on this mountain when the monkey Lord Hanuman was flying overhead carrying it to revive the wounded Laxmana. Thus, Parvathamalai is famed to be replete with herbs capable of curing the deadliest diseases. In fact, even the breeze emanating from the shrubbery is believed to cure diseases. Possibly, some of these magical powers had rubbed off on Satyarup ten years back, when he was able to go off his asthma inhaler for the first time on his trip to this splendid mountain! This also explained why the monkeys were revered here, though the surroundings revealed a sadly dichotomous picture of scant regard for their welfare. Plastic, bottles and litter were ubiquitous all along the path down, the situation presenting a microcosm of challenges facing nearly every pilgrim spot in India, especially those located in the heart of nature, where the pilgrims coming to imbibe the spirituality have no qualms in adding to the place’s squalor. While the authorities had spent money on setting up the pathway and some basic infrastructure at the foothills to promote tourism in Parvathamalai, little thought or effort had gone towards educating the visitors or preserving this rare eco system. Unless the authorities step in immediately to enforce zero plastic green measures, introduce Behavior Change Communication (BCC) in collaboration with locals and simultaneously drive re-forestation, the future looks bleak for this sacred place.

As we finally completed the trek and drove away, we kept staring at the mountain as long as it was visible from the distance. Then, in the broad daylight, we could see clearly how the majestic mountain resembled the aniconic representation of Shiva, the Linga. Little wonder that the Kanchi Sankracharya had revered the mountain as Shiva himself and had circumnavigated it instead of climbing it!

View of Parvatamalai

Mrs. Bhagambhaag: SabNaataka Apna Apna

The morning had been quite peaceful, till hubby declared “I am not feeling very well, will stay at home today”.  “Ayyo, if he stays at home, he will watch news all the time and won’t allow me to watch cartoons. What should I do,” exclaimed Beti in shock. “We will see, first let Mangamma come, the house is a mess.” I replied.

An hour passes by, no sign of Mangamma, the news is in full blast and Mr. Murugan calls out from the flat below “Mrs. BB, can you please get the water connection in your house repaired today? I have complained so many times now and you have done nothing about it. You are storing all the water, while it flows as a mere trickle in my home.” “Mr. Murugan, I am facing a severe domestic crisis. My maid has not turned up, hubby is not well, Beti is in a nagging mood and you are asking me to repair the water pipe? Let me sort things here and will then look into your request” I shouted back from the balcony. “That’s your personal issue. I am going to complain to the association secretary.”he called back.

The door bell rings and I rush to open it. “Why are you so late, if you continue like this I have to look for a replacement…” I was cut short by Mangamma who replied “Don’t bother, I am quitting…the next door lady has offered me double the salary you pay.” “But, how can you do that, after all that I have done for you,” I exclaimed indignantly. “All @#$%^&* idiots, must have left their brains behind while taking such an important decision !” an angry voice interrupted from the TV room, startling us. “Is he referring to me?” asked Mangamma, getting ready for the fight. “No, no…it’s something else, you get to work and we will continue our discussion a little later.” I said hastily, handing her the broom.

“I am so bored, Amma, what do I play with” Beti cries out. “oh, don’t bother me, find yourself something to do” I retort as I heard the doorbell ring again.

“Where is Dasji, I have to see him urgently,” MotaBhai gushed with a wide grin, as he waddled into the home, “Oh there he is, Dasji, AAP kaise hain?”

“What do you mean by that? How can I be, if not sick after seeing all this @!~%^ news” growled Dasji at MotaBhai. “I knew you would not be well, that’s why I got you this Shudh Desi Cows milk, topped with saffron. I had this made specially for you” said Motabhai holding out a glass and showing all 32 gleamy whites. “My stomach can’t digest this milk, you drink it yourself. Better still, use it for pouring over the head of your big boss, whom you regard as god”, said Dasji effortlessly working up a temper. But, MotaBhai continued unruffled, “AAP simply getting angry, Dasji. I was only trying to help you.” “You help yourself, I am off to support Janata’s Progress” said Dasji, storming out of the house. “AAP should take your cap Dasji, matters are too hot outside. And also the broom, you could use it to clean the place…hehehe”, chuckled MotaBhai. “You first make your team Swachch, then tell me. I will use the broom for better purposes” growled back Dasji, coming back to pick up his cap and snatch the broom from a surprised Mangamma. “Ramji ki nikli sawari, Ramji ki leela hai nyaari” sang MotaBhai merrily as he followed suit.

“I will also leave now Madam, you have not told me what you can give me” said Mangamma. “Wait, wait, let’s discuss. We had renewed our agreement only recently and now you say you will work with the neighbor, that’s so unethical.” I exclaimed. “Madam, all is fair in our society. You tell me if you can give me more, else I am out of your house” she said with one leg out of the house. “I am bored, what do I do” Beti shouted from behind again. “Oh, go to the balcony and observe what’s happening below. Mangamma, you stay back I will pay you 5% more than what the other lady offered” I said pulling her back in.

“I have got the association order. You have to repair your pipe today and let me have water properly” Mr. Murugan called out wielding a sheet of paper. “You have got a one-sided verdict. I need time to present my case to the association. Let me do that and then only can we settle this matter” I replied back. “But, I have no water in my house. What will I do till then” cried out Murugan. “Really Mr. Murugan, you cannot depend on me alone to sort all your problems. Be innovative and try to get water by some other means. Let me sort things here first” I said fast losing patience and poise. “Rang de tu mohe geruaaaaaa” blared a song on a loudspeaker outside suddenly. “What fun, MotaBhai is playing songs and distributing orange sweets outside to his friends, he offered Appa and his friends also, but they refused” shouted Beti, dancing in the balcony.

Hoping for some peace, I settled down in the lazyboy and had barely closed my eyes when I realized that a different kind of song was playing outside now. They seemed more rustic, folk type now. “Ammaaa, come here quickly, MotaBhai has become silent now and AAPpa and his friends are dancing now. Look, it’s so funny…one uncle has lifted another on his shoulder. Some are showing their hands as a blessing and others are dancing with a bundle of grass on their heads. AAPpa is wielding the broom like a sword in front of MotaBhai who looks very angry…hehehe”. So finally hubby is feeling better, I thought, settling down for a nap. I must have barely slept for a few minutes, when Beti roused me again, shouting excitedly “Ammaaa, do come here… AAPpa and these uncles are playing so  many good games. First, they played catch-catch, with MotaBhai running after appa’s friends. Then when he could not, he started playing Crocodile-Crocodile. He has brought out many big suitcases and is showing them something that he wants to give. But, AAPpa and friends did not take it. But wait, few of their friends are hiding and indicating to MotaBhai that they can cross the river. Ooooh…now they are planning to play Chor-Police also. The policeman has also come to join them…I am also going down to play with them…”Beti said excitedly, trying to rush out.

“Quick, get ready, we are resorting to 5 Star strategy. You and beti can also join us for free.” hubby shouted from below. As I jumped up to make ready, Mangamma said “let me also join, I will sell them the firecrackers for their celebration.” “But, what if MotaBhai has the last word?” I asked. “No worries madam, how does it matter to us? If he wins, I will sell him the crackers. After all, both teams are going to be close to each other.” laughed Mangamma.

“What about the water pipe?” cried Mr. Murugan outside the door again. This time he was accompanied by Mr. Nair and Mr. Selvaraghavan who lived below his flat and were also impacted.

“Don’t worry. We will settle this in a couple of months. Till then, why don’t you join us in the resort. I heard it has a big swimming pool with plenty of water.” I offered graciously, signing off finally.




Mrs. Bhagambhaag – Sightless Rule

“What emotion will I face today,” is a thought which always crosses my mind, as I return from office and await my daughter to open the door. It mostly alternates between joy, an eagerness and impatience to share something good, an ask for something promised, complaints, anger etc., but seldom sorrow. Today, it was a sense of sadness. When probed, she said “I feel sad for the girl, what happened to her?”

She was referring to Asifa, whose case had been flashed incessantly on television and which she happened to see fleetingly. Of the same age group and not really understanding what had actually happened, all she had was a perception of something bad having been done. I had no answers for her, neither did I want to think about it. I had gone through my moments of shock  and trauma just reading about the horrific incident during the day. And I knew it was something that would give nightmares to me and all mothers with little girls. But, then what can I do about it? Write posts on social media condemning the issue? light candles? do half day fasts after a heavy breakfast? shout on top of my voice in television and public forums? Will any of these make any difference or would my voice be considered significant enough? I didn’t know and possibly didnt want to think about it at that moment. I felt it more important to divert the mind of my daughter and settled down in bed to read her a story.

We continued with our daily reading of the Mahabharata. We were in the chapter where Draupadi is abused, molested and humiliated in Dhritarashtra’s court. A significant incident in Mahabharata, but not something which makes for pleasurable reading. Also, I had to think ways of translating the incident with appropriate modifications of the horrors inflicted on Draupadi to make it palatable to an 8-year-old girl. Chapter reading complete, my dotty bursts out “I hate Dhritarashtra.” I didn’t get her, “But why hate Dhritarashtra? It was his sons who did all bad things!” “That’s because he was blind and didn’t stop them from doing wrong,” she replied.

Hmmm…may be she had a point. But then, Dhritarashtra’s blindness of sight was not his real handicap. Born through the grace of Sage Vyasa, he was endowed with a lot many kingly qualities of intelligence, strength, discipline, knowledge and more. The only thing which severely discredited him as a ruler was the sightlessness of his mind. His overwhelming bias towards his sons clouded his mind against his responsibilities as a ruler. Yes, he did return one half of the kingdom to the Pandavas and did express regret for the shameful incidents. But that was only after a collective court advised him to and that too to protect his sons from ignominy. But, this gesture was again short lived. It did not take his conniving sons and brother-in-law to make him get the Pandavas back to the gambling board. Talk about FAKE emotions. And what were the women in the court doing all this while? Frankly, there was only one woman in a position of power to make her voice heard. That was Gandhari, the blind-folded mother of the Kauravas. But even though she was shaken by the immoral transgression, she kept silent till the time there were ominous omens indicating the downfall of her sons. She did finally plead for redemption of Draupadi’s honour, but maybe even at that moment  she was more concerned about her sons welfare. The same Gandhari did not hesitate to speak out and berate Krishna at a later date on the Kurukshetra battleground, on seeing the battleground carpeted with bodies of the dead and hearing the wails of the widows of the slain. She was then most vocal and concerned about what would happen to the wives of the dead.

Centuries and ages have passed since the incidents of the Mahabharata (real or mythical). Our country in its present contours derives its lingual name, Bharat, from the great epic. We are poised in an age of impeccable advancements in all fields, coupled  with changes in social and political norms. And yet, it seems as though nothing has really changed. We are still ruled by a Dhritarashtra, who finds it very difficult to speak out and contain the misdeeds of his beloved kinsmen and has Gandharis in his court who speak out only when their king allows them to.

So, no matter what I or others like me do for Asifa, nothing may really change till the leader leads the call for justice from the front, takes prompt and strict action against the perpetrators and most important, treats all subjects without differentiation based on his personal leanings and preferences. And when that happens, Dhritarashtra will no longer be reviled for his blindness. And if he is unable to rise to the occasion, he would do well to remember that, no one remembers Dhritarashtra for his rule, though he may well have done some good as well. All they remember is his silence and blind support of sons which led to their eventual downfall. And in all probability, than present would happen one day times too. Dhritarashtra will eventually be replaced by a Yudhistra some day in future. And that’s when, there would be no more Asifas.

Rest in peace, Asifa and hopefully in a better world than where we are now.

Mrs Bhagambhaag: Serial Madness

Dear friends,

Don’t we all love getting back home on Friday nights! No dreaded wake-up alarms for office/school the next day and all the time to plonk ourselves in front of the idiot box. It was with such expectations that I got home to find a puzzling situation. My mother seemed to be in a state of mourning, while my husband and daughter had Cheshire Cat like grins on their faces. I decided to check on the bad news first.

“Deivamagal (God’s Daughter) is no more” wailed my mother. Oh my God, I thought, a few famous female personalities flashing across my mind. But wait, I did’nt know anyone labelled Deivamagal, though quite a few religious women may stake claim to the tag. “I have been waiting for this moment for years, finally get to see my news gurus instead”, chuckled hubby dear. “No ways, I will see Krishna or Bheem” challenged dotty darling. I rolled up my eyes, clearly Friday madness was at play!

“I have followed it for 5 years and now its gone so suddenly, I feel lost “ my mother continued. I saw light at last, it was a daily soap that had ended and from what I recalled from the little glimpses I had seen and updates shared by my mother, it had been a never ending daily saga of a family, the protagonist being the daughter in law of a family comprising of husband, child, in laws and extended relations. The script was like a dreaded infinite ‘C’ loop looking thus:

check_miss too good to be true girl meets saintly boy();
check_scheming mother & sister in laws();
check_servile and sacrificing daughter in law blamed for everything ();
check_multiple slapping bouts for all meaningless reasons (); 
check_entry of the other woman and mischief makers ();                                     check_husband caught philandering with other woman ();                                                      check_daughter in law character assasination ();                                                  check_daughter in law thrown out of house with kid ();
check_penniless and homeless daughter in law seeks revenge ();
check_daughter in law fights her way back ();                                                                          check_husband and in laws pay for their sins ();                                                                          check_all forgive and decide to patch up for a change ();                                                        check_back to step 2 ();

The only way the makers could stop the infinite madness was by introducing a break keyword abruptly and that is what they had done. I had always wondered about the connect these daily dramas made with people, which seemed to thrive on showing how life should not be lived. The sheer amount of earth shatterring events, connivance, criminal activities and lack of positivity shown in a seemingly normal family seems completely unnatural and how they manage to keep people hooked for days on end is a mystery I have never been able to solve. Oh for the good old days when Doordarshan reigned prime, when we had serials with specific expiry dates and more important, well defined and believable story lines with real life connects. I mentioned this to my mother and her anwser surprised me. “These are reflective of changing times, you need to snap out of your childhood memories”. 

May be she has a point. Thinking about the happennings in our lives and of those around us, all of the serial incidents do find resonance somewhere or the other. But, why do they occur. Just as in the serials, they happen because of the erosion of value systems and moral depravity. Some, whose sole objective is self gratification even at the cost of others happiness, trigger the grief inducing events. Eventually, sooner or later, they too come to grief invariably, but the damage is done – Peace lost and innocent lives destroyed!

Quoting a vedic chant which shows a path out of the domestic madness, but completely upto the individuals to adopt and practise:

Om anuvratah pituh putro matra bhavatu sammanah.

Jaya patye-madhu matim vacham vadatu shantivam.

Om ma bhrata bhrataram dwikshan ma swasara muta swasa.

Samyanchah savrata bhutva vacham vadata bhadraya.

Translation: O supreme and merciful Lord, we, the members of this family, have assembled here to offer our prayers to Thee. Grant us wisdom and understanding for the promotion of mutual love and affection. May there be complete absence of hatred and may harmony prevail among all the members of the family. May the interaction between the members of this family and others be full of justice, love and mercy. May the younger members of the family be polite, respectable and dutiful and may all speak the truth seasoned with sweetness.

Coming back to the current situation, my mother held firm to the coveted slot, much to the disappointment of  hubby and dotty! She is now eagerly awaiting the dawn of a new relentless saga :).

Yours in peace,

Mrs. Bhagambhaag


Mrs Bhagambhaag – Sari on the Run

Sari on the RunDear friends,

This happened one Saturday morning. As I twisted open the door of the steely grey mirrored Godrej Almirah staidly sitting pretty in a corner of the spare bedroom, I stood for a moment inhaling the mixed smell of dusted sandalwood and naphthalene balls. Realizing I had opened it after quite a while,my mind raced into a nostalgia trip. I remembered a time when these wonderfully sturdy monoliths occupied a place of pride, housing the belongings of my entire family – clothes, important documents, jewelry, photo albums and what not! But now, I used it to stock the so called precious or rather should i say the lesser used clothes and documents (no cash given the cashless economy :)). 

“What is the point in having so many if you never wear them!!! You may as well give them away to charity!” an accusing voice rudely jolted me from my stupor. It was my mother from behind. For a moment, I stood still wondering what had brought that on. Then as I stared at the pile of neatly stacked saris in front, understood and hastened to shut the incriminating evidence of my negligence out of sight. But unfortunately, that didn’t stop the tirade. She continued “I have spent so much on gifting you these saris, right from your wedding to every occasion like anniversaries, Diwali etc. but never see you wearing them”.

That’s because the special occasions when I can wear them are very few,” I retorted.

“One doesn’t need a special occasion to wear a sari. You should wear them to work as I used to,” my mother continued.

“Do you know how hectic a time I have getting to office, leave alone working there? I can’t afford to spend 30 mins a day draping it and then managing it at every step the whole day”.

“Don’t give me these nonsense excuses. You travel so comfortably in office cabs each day, while there was a time when I used to hang on to dear life and Sari in the crowded Calcutta buses without being ruffled. Your generation is just too soft. Either you start wearing them or I start giving them away.”

“How come you don’t wear your 9 yard saris then everyday like your mother used to?” I said.

“Paati (Grandmother) is right.” a little voice suddenly pitched in. “You keep telling me that I have to wear the dress you choose for me and now you yourself do not listen to your mother” my daughter continued adding fuel to the fire.

“I wear only saris every day to work”, added my long time house help pointedly at my mother, her interest aroused by the prospect of getting some saris.

I realized it was futile to argue with two polarized females and went fuming to the living room. Hubby dearest, having overheard the conversation and observing my mood, ventured to remark “Shobbho thik bolechilo (Civility says it right)”. Where does civility come into the picture, I wondered retorting harshly “Oshobbher motun katha bolo na (Don’t speak like an uncivilized person)”.

“Arrey, I didn’t say it, that Shachchi guy did”. I looked at him clueless for a moment and then light dawned on me.

Shobbho +Shachchi (in Bengali) = Sabya + Sachi (in any other language) = Sabyasachi.      I mentally gave myself a pat for my incredible language transformation skills.

So, Sabyasachi was this designer guy who had made some remark about how shameful it was if an Indian woman did not know how to wear a Sari. Ahhaa, I had all the points ready for this argument, starting from the designers do this to sell their inanely expensive saris to how many guys knew how to wear a dhothi themselves before commenting on women’s traditional wear. But just as I started to open my mouth, I observed the 2 females entering the room and felt silence to be the best policy. Now, we all know what is best done in silence – mindless smart phone browsing. And that was when I saw the message – “Join the Run in a Sari”.

My top blew off then, “what the @#$&! Here I am struggling to wear a Sari on a normal day and this company wants me to run 10 kms in a Sari! Simply ridiculous!” a scene from the movie Devdas flashed across my mind, the actress running down the stairs with her long to the power infinity sari trailing behind her and knocking over lamps, burning the house down. I pictured myself in a similar situation on the tracks, sari undone all over and hordes of women tripping on my trail. I shuddered at the thought having no wish to be, “Sorry on the run!”        

I did go to the run, not in a Sari as I preferred happy endings, but quite curious to see how many women turned up in one. A few did and I must admit they looked smashing, comfortably running the whole length. What I also liked was old women turning up at the event, but not in a Sari, rather in comfortable suits or tracks. And to give credit to the organizers, they had promoted the idea of running in a Sari to encourage women shed their inhibitions on joining the run irrespective of what they wore.

So ultimately, that is what it is all about –

Women’s capabilities to achieve what they wanted – irrespective of their age or their garb and the individual choice of women to wear what they wish to and not what they are forced to by the dictates of societal norms. In fact, the Sari by itself is an ultimate symbol of freedom. Unbound by the restrictions of tailoring stitches, this piece of cloth is wonderfully free flowing, allowing the user independent customization of drape, length, multiple hues and accompaniments.  Wear them or not, I love my saris and the heritage they stand for and I am sure other women feel the same. The Sari really does not really need the voices of righteous cultural gurus for saving it from antiquity. Just as it has survived for all these ages on its own, adapting and evolving across the country, so does it represent the spirit of Women independence and progress!

Yours on the run,

Mrs. Bhagambhaag

Up, Close & Personal

Karan joharRecently, I had attended a Literature festival in Chennai. Day#1 was filled with interesting sessions with renowned personalities from the world of politics, media, literature and movies. For the initial sessions though seated closer to the back of the auditorium, we had an excellent view of the speakers – both live on the large TV screens for additional clarity. But then the post lunch session was a tete-a-tete with a leading filmmaker. I simply had to see him at closer quarters. So, the moment the lunch break started, I fought my way against the out coming crowd to get inside the hall and secured 2 seats right in the middle of the 1st row of the unreserved section. I could now view a better enlarged celebrity. Mission accomplished!

For those familiar with Tirupati, it is a very popular temple with more than 10 million pilgrim footfalls per day and excellent arrangements to manage the crowd, especially those queuing up for a Darshan or glimpse of the God ensconced in the inner most chamber of the temple. The wait for the darshan takes anywhere between 2 – 24 hours and the queuing behaviour of the devotees makes for an interesting case study. Some wait patiently in the line, with no complains or visible irritation and  minds focussed on the God; some elbow their way into the crowd continuously pushing aside someone in a bid to move ahead and see the God closer and sooner and yet others belonging to the privileged VIP (Very Important Persons) class simply breeze into the front of the line and have an unrestricted close view of the God!

I have always wondered why people fight to get as close as possible to their heroes, be it a celebrity or the God in a temple. Did I enjoy any incremental gains from viewing/listening to the celebrity sitting a few rows closer to the stage or does the VIP praying to the Tirupati Balaji at arm’s length gain more blessings than a person having a fleeting glimpse of the idol from afar? Does inching physically closer to the idolized subject satisfy an inherent psychological need to be connected to a person of repute and bask in the reflected glory  or is it an aspiration to really role model their core qualities and internalize them into ourselves? Quite obviously, it is the latter reason which really benefits a person and for that physical proximity is not really required.

A classic example is that of the 3 disciples of Drona, the renowned teacher of the Mahabharata – First is Arjuna, who can be classified as the VIP student, enjoying the privilege of being Drona’s favorite and thus the receptor of special personal and close attention. Second is Karna, who tried to elbow his way into the Guru’s attention and on failing sought another Guru in Parashurama albeit resorting to an identity untruth. Finally there was Ekalavya, who simply believed in the idea of Drona as a Guru, and became a proficient archer by simply praying to and practising in front of a clay image of Drona. He proved that there was no need for physical proximity or personal attention to gain the knowledge and desired qualities of an inspirational figure!

Araikasu Amman – The Goddess of Lost Things

15546058836_854bf2d3a2The first person who most likely comes to our minds when we are desperately searching for lost things is – God! Irrespective of how religious we are normally or how regular we are in our prayers, whenever we misplace something important and cannot locate it, we send out a cry for help to the divine powers. Sometimes, depending on the urgency and criticality of the situation, we add some perquisites as well – ranging from materialistic offerings to the lord to personal visits. In some Indian homes, its common practise to knot a coin in a cloth and  keep beside the picture of their preferred God as a kind of reminder to fulfil their promises once they get back their lost stuff.

Question is, which God is best suited for praying to recover lost things? The answer is quite obvious in case of monotheistic religions like Christianity, Islam or Judaism. Hinduism being a Polytheistic religion offers a plethora of choices. It could be the family Deity, the most famous Lord of the seven hills, the eagle mount perched on the corner of the temple wall in the village etc. However, it is to the credit of Hinduism that the multiplicity of Gods & Goddesses does not really complicate matters. Rather, each Diety is assigned ownership and responsibility of a certain aspect impacting humans. We have a Goddess Lakshmi to pray to for financial benefits, Goddess Saraswati for knowledge, God Ganesha for blessings while starting a new venture  etc. This can be compared to a well structured organization with clearly defined departments and respective heads.

It was while writing another post (The Runaway Brother), that I recalled the framed picture of a Goddess hanging in my maternal home, to which we would pray when we lost something important. I could not recall her name though and called up my mother to find out the same. When my mother told her name, Araikasu Amman, I was intrigued, as the name literally translates to – the Half Coined (Arai Kasu) Goddess (Amman). The Goddess, who looks similar to the seated four handed Parvati Deity in most Siva temples, is also known as Brahadambal.  The original temple of Brahadambal with her consort, Gokarneswar (Siva), in Thirukokarnam (near Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu) is a rock-cut Pallava temple dating back to the early 7 century AD. Various inscriptions found in the temple provide a glimpse into its rich past and contributions of the Pandya, Pallava and Nayak rulers. Brahadambal was the also the guardian Diety of the Thodaiman rulers of Pudukottai (early 17th Century AD).

Legend has that, a Thodaiman king once lost an important document and could not find it even after a lot of effort. He then prayed to the Goddess Brahadambal for getting the back the document. When the document was found, the overjoyed and grateful king had coins minted with the image of Goddess Brahadambal on one side, which were then distributed to his subjects on important occasions and festivals. these coins were in a semi circular shape (Arai Kasu) and the Goddess thus came to be known as the AraiKasu Amman. People continued to pray to the Goddess for recovering lost objects and missing people and have reported having their prayers answered.

While the Goddess is mostly associated with recovery of lost materialistic things, she most likely has the power to also restore lost peace, tolerance and love. Only, people don’t pray for such things!

The Runaway Brother

Disclaimer: The following story is 98% fictional  built on 2% facts and hopefully be received by all in good humor!

Runaway brother photo
Sketch by R K Laxman from the net

On seeing more than the usual crowd of gentlemen gathered on the pyol (entrance porch of traditional Tamilian homes comprising of a raised platform supported by pillars) of our home, Paati (Grandmother) quickened her pace, which was brisk even in normal times. I lived with my Paati in my Athey’s (fathers’ sister) home and we had rushed out on receiving the message that there was some trouble brewing at my parents’ home. My father seated with a resigned look, was listening to the babble of the crowd, which made way for us to enter the house. Nataraj Mama (uncle), the unofficial news collector cum distributor of our locality called out from behind “Jaya (my name), good that you have come! Can you make and send out some hot piping ‘A’ degree coffee? It will help recharge us for this important discussion.”

My parents’ house, which even on normal days was crowded enough with a veritable cricket team sized family (Including all brothers, sisters and our parents, we totaled 12!), looked as though it would burst into the neighboring house, with whom we shared a common wall. Nearly all the women and children of the street were gathered inside around my mother, who sat against the wall, alternating between crying fits and angry words berating my father and elder siblings. My Paati, with her tonsured head and ochre colored saree, having been widowed early and with the experience of raising her children single handedly, was the symbol of calm and fortitude. She pushed aside the crowd and asking someone to get my mother something to drink, said “Now tell me Sarasu, what exactly happened?”

Raman is missing again!” wailed my mother.

“So why are you getting so worked up? He will turn up again in a couple of days as usual” said Paati.

“You don’t understand, I think this time he has been gone for longer!”

“What makes you say so? When was he last seen” asked Paati looking around and fixing her eyes on my siblings, who were keenly observing the drama being played out.

“I have started to go to office, managing the little ones is not my job anymore”, Brother’S’ said shrugging his shoulders.

Sister’L’ pitched in “I have my hands full delegating and managing the duties of all the youngsters. I do not have the time to micro manage an 8 year old”

Down the order, Sister’B1′ said – “I am in charge of Brother’J'” and Sister’B2′ added “and I take care of the little Sister’P’ very well!”

Paati then peered down to Sister’K’, who was the only one sitting down and observing all goings on with a bemused air “What about you? Were you supposed to take care of Raman?”

“Who me? Not at all, I am too busy taking care of myself right now and will consider taking up the responsibility if there is another one after Sister‘P’! What about Jaya? Why couldn’t she take care of him” Sister‘K’ queried.

“Why ask me? You know I don’t stay here! And just to let you all know, I have my hands full managing the antics of Brother’N’ at school! We should ask him what he knows, after all Raman follows him around most of the time” I replied indignantly.

Brother’N’, higher up the order of siblings, was the street-smart, know-all town news one in the family. With all eyes now zoned onto him, said nonchalantly “Don’t you people worry, I have asked the gang to spread around and gather news on Raman. We should be hearing from them soon! But as I understand, he was last seen bathing in the Kaveri river, seven days back”.

“Oh my God, maybe he drowned in the Kaveri” exclaimed Kamalam Mami, who seldom ventured to bathe in the river. This immediately triggered a violent wail from my mother who shut up when my Paati said “Are you out of your mind Sarasu, this is the month of Agninakshitram (a period usually in the month of May, when summer is supposedly at its peak in South India and the Sun shines down particularly harshly). Even a rat cannot drown in the waters of the Kaveri, which now flows as a mere trickle!”

“I think we should immediately go to the police and gives his details”, suggested my uncle who had joined us now with my father and his friends.

“Why don’t you offer a prayer to AaravaAmudhan (another name of the reigning deity of the Sarangapani temple, one of the oldest in Kumbakonam). In fact, you should go and offer a prayer to all the temples in our town, I am sure one of the Lords will take pity on you and give back your son!” suggested Ganesh Mama, our local priest.

“But, it will take so much time to do that. You know we have hundreds of temples in our town and even if we distribute the task amongst ourselves, it will take a couple of months to complete the rounds” my father said in a dismayed tone.

“Yes, it doesn’t make sense to be going to all temples in such a time. But, we can be smart about it. Why not visit only the Arakasu-Amman temple near Pudukottai? After all, she is known to be the deity for recovering lost things?” suggested Lakshmi Mami, a practical lady.

“Yes, Yes that’s a good suggestion” a common voice of approval went around, prompting Lakshmi Mami to say “In fact, I have a picture of the Goddess in my home, let me get it for you right away”.

With a potential solution now in view, the talk moved on to general topics on police efficacy in tracing lost or stolen goods and children, the upcoming temple festivals and ask for coffee to be served, till Kitta Mama, my father’s school buddy entered with an announcement “Look who I have brought with me!”

All eyes turned to the entrance and we caught sight of Kitta Mama, with his hands on an 8 year old boy, whose eyes twinkled over a shabby dress. My mother at once ran over and hugging him tight, cried “Raman, where have you been? We have been so worried”.

“I found him waiting to board a ship in Madras city and thought he looked like your kid. So, knowing his penchant for running away, brought him along with me” beamed Kittu Mama reflecting pride at a job well done.

“The city, that’s so far off, how did you get there and what were you doing there?” asked Brother‘N’, looking at his erstwhile acolyte in wonder.

“Oh, it’s a long story” said Raman struggling out of my mother’s grip, though enjoying all the attention on him – “You remember the cinema announcer who had come to our streets a few days back? He told me that there is a role for me in a movie and I went along with him. There I did the role of a young priest and I was so good that they said I can go to Malayapradesham (Malaysia) and be a priest there! So, I went to the port and was trying to get on a ship when Kitta Mama found me and dragged me back home!” he said glaring at Kitta Mama.

“What you deserve is a good spanking for all the trouble you have given us” said my father pinching his ears hard. “So, you want to be a priest? A traveller? I know just the place for managing naughty boys like you”.

“Leave him, I know the chief of the Patashala (vedic school), we can admit him there. It’s not an easy place to escape from” suggested the local priest. “No No, there is a place in Pattukotai which is more ideal for such boys” suggested another Mama and others started pitching in excitedly, eager to contribute to deciding Raman’s fate.

The animated discussion broke up on arrival of hot coffee and pakodas, post which the crowd slowly dispersed. As we started to leave for my aunt’s home, my Paati looked around for Raman to give him a few words of advice but could not see him. When there was no response to the cacophony of voices calling out his name, my mother said in a dazed manner “He is missing again!”

“It’s too early to worry about it now? Let’s start the search after 5-7 days, if he is not back by then!” My father said getting back to his resting place on the Pyol.


“That was my point exactly!” Shankar shouted into his phone as he vehemently pushed the lift door open, “I am so fed up with this guy, he is bloody weak on the fundamentals and tries to play politics in every situation” moving towards his flat and ringing the bell. “I tell you, PeeKay, one of this days, I am going to escalate the state of affairs to HR and then we will watch the fun, …arey yaar…how much time do they take to open a silly door” ringing the bell again impatiently.

The door opens to an excited cacophony of children’s excited voices. Veda is playing with the neighbor’s kids boisterously and Sneha continues chatting with the neighbor after opening the door. Seeing Shankar enter, Veda runs up to him excitedly and starts saying “You know what happened today, Appa….” Shankar cuts her short, shouting while still on the phone simultaneously “What are you doing? Playing even at 7 pm in the evening? Don’t you have any homework? Stop this noise at once and go to your room. Start studying”.  There is silence in the room as the neighbor and her kids watch awkwardly. “Actually, we have to leave now, Ray will be home anytime, come on kids, say bye to Veda” says the neighbor and starts moving towards the door, even as her kids whisper a hushed bye to Veda. Tears swell up in Veda’s eyes and Sneha rushes to console her. “Come, let’s study for some time and then we can play a game of carrom”, leading her towards the kid’s room while wiping her tears.

Shankar moves towards the bedroom, continuing his conversation with his colleague on the phone “My problem is I know I can make a difference, but do not have the authority, and those who have the authority do not want to take any action… they are so shallow”  another phone rings in Shankar’s pocket. He takes it out and looks at it “hey PeeKay, the Big B is calling on the other phone, let me see what the bugger says now”, switching of the conversation with PK and speaking on the other phone “hello… yes, Sirji tell me… I am fine, boss,  you know best, what can I say… no no… lets discuss this right now… why wait for tomorrow to be in office… I think we need to resolve this right away”… pacing up and down in a stressed manner in the bedroom.

Veda’s rotund face slowly peers into the bedroom and she calls out softly…”Appa..Amma wants to know…”. Shankar turns around grimacing, cutting her short and points to her to go out of the room and Veda retreats quietly. Shankar goes and locks the door from inside and continues his terse discussion… which goes on animatedly for some time with the sound of a clock ticking in the background….finally Shankar winds up his call “Sure, sure… we can discuss this again tomorrow morning in the office… I didn’t realize that its 10 pm… bye then, goodnight”… and throw the phone in exasperation on the bed, exclaiming… “#%&*!~… this idiot will never understand the other person’s perspective… no point in trying to explain!”… Takes a deep breath and moves to open the bedroom door when he notices a small note with something handwritten on it slid under the door.

He bends down and picks it up and reads it… (Veda’s voice over) “Appa, please do not be angry, I hope you are ok! I am very hungry (sad smiley)…but will eat with you only….I love you, (heart-sign)!” Shankar’s face softens and he feels all tension easing out. A small smile comes to his face and his eyes moisten!

He opens the door to see Veda and Sneha reading a book quietly in the hall. As Veda sees him, she smile and eagerly comes forward, but then hesitates, unsure of his temper. Shankar rushes towards her and hugs her and says softly, caressing her gently “Sorry, my baby, I love you too, come let’s eat, you must be very hungry!

He moves towards the dining table with her, and Sneha looks at them and shakes her head with a slight meaningful smile!


Mythology of a Child’s Tale

sun moon and cloud

First, the Child’s Tale –

One day, the Sun was very happily shining on the village. But suddenly, the naughty clouds came and disturbed the Sun. The Sun went back home crying. His friend, the Moon who came to meet him asked – “Why are you crying my friend?” The Sun said – “When I was happily shining on the village, the clouds came and covered my sunshine.” The Moon said – “No problem. Drink a glass of milk and you will get a lot of energy.” The Sun said – “Ok, I will drink a glass of milk.” After that, it got a lot of power. It went back to the clouds and said – “Move or else I will send you back crying to your house.” The clouds started laughing. The Sun got very angry and showed its power. The clouds got scattered and the Sun shone bright again on the village.

Moral of the story – Do not fear, be brave and you will Win!

This tale reminded me of the mythological story of the great churning of the ocean by the Devas (the good folks) and the Asuras (the bad eggs) aided by Mount Meru as the churner, the great serpent Vasuki as a rope and Lord Vishnu himself as the base in the form of a tortoise. After several years of churning which gave rise to various divine things from the ocean, finally the divine physician Dhanvanthri emerged carrying a golden pot of Amrith (nectar) which would bestow immortality on the consumer. The greedy Asuras snatched the pot and refused to give a portion to the Devas. As they started fighting amongst themselves, Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini, the enchantress and approached the Asuras.  The bewitched Asuras stopped fighting and offered her the pot of nectar for distributing amongst themselves. The Devas and Asuras seated themselves separately and Mohini started distributing the snectar to the Devas first, without any intention of sharing any with the Auras. However, one Asura named SvarBhanu realized Mohini’s intentions and disguising himself as a Deva crossed over to the other side. Even as he received and drank his dose of nectar, the Sun and the Moon, the luminary gods saw through his disguise and alerted Mohini. Immediately, Vishnu took his original form and cut off SvarBhanu’s body into half with the Sudarsan Chakra. But since he had already drank the nectar, he did not die. Lord Brahma made joined SvarBhanu’s head and body with a snake. Thus, the upper half with the head and a snake’s lower half was named as RAHU and the lower body of the Asura with a snake’s head was named as Ketu. Rahu and Ketu were then granted a place with the 9 Divine planets, known as the Navagrahas in Indian astrology.

Rahu & Ketu supposedly continue to hold a grudge against the Sun and Moon for exposing them and periodically get their revenge by causing Solar and Lunar eclipses. The Sun & the Moon are the most powerful luminaries amongst the nine astrological planets representing our Soul and Mind respectively. On the other hand, Rahu and Ketu are shadowy planets without any physical existence and yet shed a cloud over person’s happiness by blocking consciousness and mental prowess. Rahu, the head separated from the senses signifies worldly illusions and makes a person obsess over materialistic matters, while Ketu, the body without a head, restlessly seeks enlightenment. Both are thus Karmic planets, offering illusory temptations or cause humiliation restlessness and depression to the natives, which is eventually indicative of losing of the Sun’s brilliance or the Moon’s mental peace.

However, what is significant is that at the end of the day, Rahu-Ketu are mere shadowy planets, and the troubles caused by them can be overcome by sheer will-power and strength of the mind, as in the case of the Child’s tale. Also, Rahu-Ketu are not always necessarily always the negative characters they are made out to be and are rather harbingers of change which a person needs to face and overcome in his karmic existence. They push a person to challenge himself, move out of his comfort zone, face uncertainties, look beyond the deceptive attractions and eventually give up materialistic possessions for final enlightenment. The person thus grows richer by experiencing hurdles and difficult situations and learns to leverage his mental prowess and will power to be successful in the true sense. Thus, the brilliant life enabling Suns, the cool and creative Moons and the refreshing rain bearing clouds (Rahu-Ketus) come together and co-exist to complete a persons life experience.