As usual, Abi’s face peeped out of the slowly opening front door and I waited for her usual peeved dialogue “why so late from office”? But today she seemed nervous and indicated me to go with her to the bedroom as she had to say something to me.
“I am scared, Ma. I know you will be unhappy with me and scold me” and immediately my mind started its guesswork on what she may have done wrong – broken something, lost something, fought with someone etc.
“Today teacher showed us our class test marks and I got 37/40 in Hindi and 35/40 in Maths?” she said with a desolate and puffed up face.
I mentally heaved a sigh of relief and said “is that all, why do you think I would be angry with you? 35 and 37 out of 40 is not a bad score.”
“What do you mean it’s OK? I am so unhappy I didn’t get 40/40 like my friend xxx.”
“Well, I have never scolded you for getting poor marks. And please don’t look at what your friends have got. Some would have scored more and some less, which is perfectly fine. More important that you should understand the subjects well, after all you may get 40/40 and still not be really knowledgeable, and that’s what would make me sad” I tried to explain.
“So, is it ok if I get 10/40 next time? I don’t believe you. I know that you are angry and saying this only to make me happy” she said plunking her head into a pillow.
Oh God, I thought, it’s one of those days! I was not angry with her, had no 100% expectations from a 7 year old, and here she was with all her performance rating woes!
“Guddi, promise I am not angry with you and why should I be? You have done your bit by studying hard and that’s good enough”
“But why did I not get 40/40?” she flashed her face up, writ with anger and woe simultaneously.
“That’s for you to answer. Instead of fretting over why you did not get 40/40, it would be better if you go through the mistakes you did, learn them right and not repeat them. Also try to spend time in learning things better next time instead of watching cartoons on TV” I couldn’t resist the chance of referring to TV watching, but as I was speaking to her, my mind went to how often we behave like children in our professional lives. We all want top ratings, we do not want to accept our failings, we feel bad and sad after the results are out and we mop over the outcomes for days till the next performance cycle and the story repeats itself. Do we ourselves not have a totally outcome based view rather than trying to enjoy what we do and try to do it well. Do we not worry about our colleagues getting better ratings and hike %s? How often do we have the grace to go back to assessing what went wrong and why and take necessary corrective action? How many of us have the grace to accept that others have got better ratings or hikes simply because they may have performed better and we too have an equal chance to do better next time. After all isn’t the journey a lot better than the final destination?
I hugged her and tried to console her saying “Don’t worry too much, kutti! Let’s try to prepare better next time. Cheer up”
My drama queen went on “I am never going to be happy again! Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and all the king’s horses and men could not put him together again!”
Here we go again I thought, not knowing whether to laugh or cry! Thankfully, chocolates and Shahrukh’s Chennai express on TV helped my Humpty Dumpty feel better in 15 mins!
A beautiful Sunday morning, so many interesting possibilities and what do I get stuck with – Cooking, since it’s my cook’s day off and my mother is still out of station! I know and can see folks raising the highbrow wondering “what an old fashioned statement to make – why can’t she simply go out for lunch? Lazy to cook and stingy to boot!” Well, with an 83 year old wanting only soft mushy food, the man of the house stating he prefers home-cooked healthy food and the daughter of the house emotionally requesting a DISH from her mother at least on a Sunday, I am not really left with much of a choice!
First things first – most difficult decision of the day (in fact, every day of my life when I have to cook) – what do I cook? Few minutes of thought and I realize the right side of my brain has mal-functioned, while I have answers to all the puzzles in the paper, thanks to the logical left. The logical left also prompts me to flick through the net for some plausible answers. I try it out and am stuck with too many options – all with various ingredients, preparatory stages and multiple recipes! My hubby and daughter list out their preferences, while I think – should I call in sick? After an hour of zero solutions I realize, probably I should take stock of what vegies and groceries I do have in stock and frame the menu accordingly head to the kitchen. Sticking my head into the sparsely populated vegetable basket of the refrigerator, I kick myself for not pushing myself to the market yesterday. But then, the brighter side of the situation dawns on me – I can make do with whatever is available and have an excuse for not attempting anything elaborate. Bitter gourds, carrots, shallots, cucumber and broccoli called out for my attention and I had to deliver a combination of South meets East Indian with hints of high cuisine thrown in. So, with a prayer in mind and all the self-assurance as could be garnered from the Happy Sunday Morning whatsup thoughts, I plunge right in –
I start with placing the rice in the cooker, this being the single essential on plate even if all else fails. Overcooked, undercooked or rightly cooked – all depending on the collective family luck for the day! Next, I placed the dal in the cooker and in parallel chopped the bitter gourds thinly, marinating them with salt and turmeric to remove the bitterness. Rice done, the kadhai takes place of honour on the stove. On goes the oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves and the squeezed out bitters. Quick flicks of the right hand wrist wielding a stirring handle while the left hand held tight to the vessel with a prong and the curry was well-fried, thankfully without any of it jumping out of the pan boundaries. Next, time to season the dal. They say there are countless ways & combinations in which an Indian dal can be prepared, but then I seem to have been left out of that population. Again with a blank mind and too lazy to reach out for the smartphone for searching some options, I decide to go with the logical approach – work with what I have in hand. So on goes the mustard oil into the frying pan, some mustard seeds for seasoning (could not find the cumin seeds), after the splutter, I add the shallots (after I had painstakingly peeled them), fry till golden brown and the aroma comes out, add curry leaves, salt, asfoetida, my mom’s special home-made sambar powder and finally the dal. Gave it a good boil and it was done. Looks easy, well let me tell you it wasn’t without its moments of adventure wherein I had to deftly move out of the way of the spluttering, crackling & flying mustard seeds to prevent grave bodily injuries (ok, admit that’s an exaggeration). Next comes salad, my daughter clearly stating she wouldn’t settle for a simple cucumber salad. Very well, I first chopped the cucumber, carrots and onions into small chunks, threw in a few broccoli flowers, searched for tomatoes to add and couldn’t find any. Poised to add in salt and pepper to taste, I stopped in time to remember the Golden Rule – Salads are meant to be well dressed like ladies (please excuse the feminist stereotype)! Again, going by the basics, I reach out and mix whatever I can lay my hands on – olive oil, honey, pepper, salt, apple cider vinegar and dried basil. I toss the salad with it and lo it’s done. I had also planned for a More-Kuzhambu (South Indian Curd Sambhar) or should I say “Coagulated Milk n Coconut Gravy” to make it sound fancifulJ! I had kept aside some sliced n boiled carrots and soaked some arhar dal, rice, coriander and jeera seeds for grinding later with green chillies, curry leaves and grated coconut. I would have mixed this with sour curd, heated on the stove till it had a frothy layer on top and finally seasoned with mustard seeds and curry leaves. Thanks to a power cut, I was not able to operate the mixer and spared the trouble of completing this dish.
Listed below is the fancy lot that landed on the lunch table:
Ghee flavored small grained aromatic rice
Shallots in red lentil sauce
Tropical salad dressed in exotic seasonings
Stir fried bitters
Black gram fitters (store bought)
Coagulated Milk n Coconut Gravy (well it nearly made it to the table)
Statutory Warning: All That Looks Great Need Not Necessarily Taste Great!
But then, this is only a food blog of a reluctant cook, not a tasting session 🙂 !!!
The mythological story goes thus – A relatively minor character in the Mahabharata, Shishupala was born with three eyes and four arms and an accompanying heavenly prophesy foretelling that he would lose his additional arms & eyes when placed on the lap of his future slayer. His parents invited all kings of the world to Chedi and placed the child on their laps, but nothing happened. Finally, Shishupala’s cousins, Krishna and his brother Balarama came to visit. Shishupala’s extra arms and eyes fell off as soon as he was placed on Krishna’s lap. Realizing that her son would be killed by his own cousin brother, the terrified mother secured a boon from Krishna that he would pardon a 100 offences of Shishupala even when he deserved to be killed. Shishupala’s parents, in an attempt to provide him security, then placed him under the care of Krishna’s sworn enemy, the powerful Jarasandha. As he grew up Shishupala found a way to commit a 100 offences, the last one being at Yudhistra’s Rajasuya yagna and finally Krishna killed him.
All very well! But, was constructive feedback ever given to Shishupala?
On the one hand he had his well-wishers – his parents, his mentor Jarasandha and his close friend, Rukmi, the brother of Rukmini who hated Krishna and on the other end of the spectrum were his perceived enemies – Krishna and Balarama. His parents tried to protect him by pushing him into the arms of a person with his own personal agenda against Krishna and who naturally groomed him with similar views. His friends kept telling him that he was on the right track whenever he committed an offense in the eyes of Krishna. And Krishna too, just let him off after each offence, without taking the effort to make Shishupala understand what was wrong and what he could have done better. This was very much contrary to the amount of time and effort he had invested in Arjuna in the great war to shape his thought process. So, appears like a combination of lop-sided feedback – all positive from friends and all negative from adversaries contributed to Shishupala’s death. This is very much the corporate scenario today. Well-meaning feedback mechanisms have been instituted by organizations to help employees improve their performance and eventually contribute to the organization’s holistic growth. But, it often translates into a forum skewed by bias extremities leading to either flowery comments or petty personal attacks and eventually provides little opportunity for growth and education in their roles as against the original objective of the whole process. Hence, it’s very important that feedback needs to be constructive and corrective rather than simply positive or negative. Every person in the system has a responsibility towards the other in ensuring that he has a clear picture of his performance from the inside out, to help create a culture of positive reinforcement. Finally, it’s essential that that this process should be consistent, continuous and actionable.
So, probably Shishupala would have lived longer and been an effective king, had he received timely Constructive Feedback.
A stunning view of the snow covered Himalayan peaks, lush forests abundant in flora and fauna, dramatic sunrises and sunsets and the promise of uninterrupted solitude – is what made Binsar simply enchanting.
We reached the KMVN Tourist Rest House around 7 in the evening and after a quick wash and dinner, awaited the lights to go off – there is no power in the rest house for the entire day excepting for 2 hours in the night sourced from a diesel generator. So, post 9 pm when the lights went off, we felt transported into a world unsullied by modern technology.
As we stepped out of our rooms and on to the terrace, we were greeted by the mesmerising sight of a moonless night sky densely speckled with thousand of stars shining like micro diamonds. All of us, including the children immediately set about trying to identify the familiar constellations and planets. Tip: Carry a chart of the night sky to have more fun.
Going back down, the single candle lit long corridor where we settled down for a nice adda (chat session), formed the ideal setting for ghost stories! The five kids, aged 7 – 11, were very much enthralled by some very realistic ghost stories told by the elders. Tip: Stock up on games and books to soak in the ambience better.
We woke up at 5 in the morning to the call of the birds and got ready to go to to the deck again to get the first glimpse of the Himalayan peaks and sunrise. What we experienced is best described through the series of photos:
First, we got the majestic view of the snow covered Himalayan peaks dominated by Nanda Devi (the highest peak in India), flanked by her sentinels Trishul and Nanda Kot and the Chaukhamba and Panchachuli ranges. The sight was simply spellbinding.
Next, came the sunrise and this was the best I had seen so far. The sun first appeared as a red fleck between 2 peaks of the Panchachuli range. And then as it came out in full view, first slowly and then very quickly, gave impression of an impishly cute child peeping out first with a corner of it’s eye and then rushing forward to eagerly to greet it’s audience. To the yoga enthusiasts and sun worshippers, this presented an ideal opportunity for the Surya Namaskars!
After breakfast, we took a short 2 km trek to Zero Point, the highest vantage point in Binsar, giving an even more spectacular view of the Himalayan peaks. The walk took us through the wilderness of the sanctuary, lush with deep red rhododendron trees, hundred year old oaks and pines, the silence broken only by the sounds of many invisible birds, the continuous Zee-Zee sounds of buzzing insects and some adventurous animals like the black faced langoor monkeys. If you are lucky you may spot some of the more elusive animals and birds which abound in Binsar.
Those keen on capturing the sunset or staying in an even more isolated spot, could go to the old Forest Rest House which is a km away from the KMVN. This offers only a few rooms and one would have to get their own provisions and do the cooking themselves. This place offers a sweeping view of the valleys and needless to say is perfect for a Back-to-Nature experience.
Happy Holidaying in Binsar!
A special thanks to my friend, Sujata Nanda for the awesome photos.
First, the mythological tale of King Dilīpa, the ancestor of Rama. Dilīpa was childless for a long time due to the curse of the divine cow, Kamadhenu. Sage Vasistha advised him to worship and protect Nandini, the daughter of Kamadhenu and earn her blessings for progeny. The king and his wife served Nandini faithfully. They personally cleaned the cow shed, bathed Nandini, took her out to graze and ensured that she was safe and well fed. One day, a ferocious lion appeared and attacked Nandini. The king tried to protect the cow, but the lion argued that as a king he was duty bound to protect the interests of the lion as well, since he too was his subject. If the lion was not allowed to consume his prey and natural food he would die of hunger and would hold the king responsible for his death. As a solution, the king offered himself as food in lieu of the cow. Pleased with the king’s sacrifice and fairness, Nandini revealed that the lion was a just illusion created to test him and blessed him. In due course, the king begat a son, Raghu, the grandfather of Rama and thus began the Raghuvamsa.
The year 2017 saw the rise of another mythological king – Dileep Raja, President of MaGoMa Rakshak Enterprises. A reporter from a leading daily managed to get an interview after a long wait. In his palatial office, he is told that Rajaji would meet him on the ground where he was personally supervising operations. Forehead streaked with vermillion, designer sunglasses, traditional turban and parked on a Harley Davidson, Dileep Raja is a modern GenNext entrepreneur. He is humility personified in welcoming the reporter and making him comfortable. The interview begins –
Q. You have set up a huge and successful enterprise in such a short time, who do you credit your success to?
A. I owe all this to the grace and blessings of Gomata, I am after all a humble servant and just fulfilling my natural duty by protecting her. We are the pioneers in this domain. You can call us an NGO due to our selfless facilitation of the GoRakshak initiative. And think of it, we have solved the unemployment problem by recruiting youths in large numbers. We are proud that we are a successful example of the DesiBanao Abhigyan.
Q. Please describe your operations.
A. In just a span of 2 years, we have scaled up our operations in 22 states and penetrate right down to the Tehsil level. Though termed unorganized, we have a strong network of volunteers who ensure smooth operations. Just like an MNC, we have high level Strategy, Information Cell, finance and Operation teams which work closely together to ensure success. We manage with the voluntary contributions made by the people caught for slaughter or smuggling and that is small compensation for the physical and mental effort we have to put in to ensure that we meet our daily targets of cow protection.
Q. But there have been accusations that you have only been paying lip service to cow protection by targeting certain sections of the society and do not really care for cow welfare.
A. All rubbish and this is a campaign promoted by the anti-nationalists. They do not want our country to progress by adopting our sacred dharma. What do you mean by saying we are not concerned about cow protection? We have been promoting GoShalas everywhere. We ensure maximum utilization of space in the goshala’s keeping in mind the space crunch in the nation. And for the non-milk cow, we have thrown open the streets. They are free to roam about anywhere they want and eat anything. Haven’t you read the WhatsUp and Facebook messages, where we have explained how the miraculous cows can digest anything including plastic? In fact, we have also opened a plastic department for solving the problem of plastic disposal in the nation.
Q. But, what about the causalities? Some people have been seriously injured and even lost their lives?
A. Have you not heard the story of Mother Earth, where she appeared as a Cow to Lord Vishnu and prayed to be saved from the torture meted by the unruly Kshatriya Kings? Lord Vishnu took birth on earth as Lord Krishna and was a major player in the Mahabharata war, which ended with the death of most Kshatriyas. It is natural that lives will be lost for a just cause. But, people can avoid trouble if they use their brains. The Mahabharata war was the doom of only the Kshatriyas, but other classes were sparred. So, people can avoid trouble by converting. Anyways, we have to end the interview now, as my team members have spotted a major incident and being a hands-on person, I need to be there personally.
But, before we part do make note of our Vision statement which is inspired by the Father of Our Nation – “I would not kill a human being for protection a cow, as I will not kill a cow for saving a human life, be it ever so precious. Cow slaughter can never be stopped by law. Knowledge, education, and the spirit of kindliness towards her alone can put an end to it. It will not be possible to save those animals that are a burden on the land or, perhaps, even man if he is a burden.”
The Chess Players or ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’ as it was originally named by Premchand was penned as a short story in 1924. It was a satire reflecting on the decadent lives of the Lucknow aristocrats at a time when the Gangetic heartland was witnessing immense political turmoil. Premchand focussed on the lives of two main characters, Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Roshan Ali, with the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and the eventual annexation by the British playing in the background. The story portrayed how the obsession of the eponymous characters with the game of chess rendered them impotent in disposal of their duties towards society and family. Premchand is brilliant in his characterizations of Mirza & Mir, their blinkered existence in pursuit of an endless chess game with no stakes other than their egos. He leaves it to the readers to draw their conclusions on how the indifference and decadent lifestyles of the aristocrats contributed to the collapse of the Nawabs reign.
So, when Satyajit Ray decided to foray into Hindi movies, his choice of Premchand’s short story as the base script was quite interesting. While showcasing the lives of the two friends pretty much in line with the original story, he also adds his individual touch by bringing to the fore the political machinations of the British in their attempt to usurp the kingdom of Awadh. Instead of taking the common route of large scale sets to glamorise the opulence of the Nawabs, he creates the necessary impact by focussing on smaller, but more detailed frames. The actors are extremely elegant, dialogues are witty and perfectly cued, costumes and sets are well researched and detailed, so that the lifestyle of that era is superbly encapsulated in the three epigrammatic tracks of – the 2 chess players, the scenes in the British residents office and finally the palace scenes showing the king at play and in contemplation of the imminent threat. Ray in his characteristic style is detached from the proceedings and seems quite amused at the king’s posturing. Probably it is this lack of Ray’s passionate involvement which dilutes the film’s impact. Everyone in Lucknow, be it the king or the chess players seem to be resigned to their fate and give in without a real fight. There is a lengthy scene, where the king mouths his indignation against the unscrupulous British for wanting to take over Oudh inspite of him being so loyal and co-operative in the past and appears poised to fight for his rights, but eventually when coming face to face with the British resident, lamely hands over the crown without a whimper!Ray also tinkers with the ending where the 2 friends instead of killing each other over the game, simply get hurt and decide to befriend each other again realizing that there is nothing else to look forward to except their daily game of chess! This film won him the Filmfare award for best director in 1978 and was the Indian entry for Best Foreign Language movie at 51st Academy Awards.
The British annexation if Oudh was followed by the Indian rebellion in 1857. Starting with the Sepoy Mutiny in Meerut, the uprising quickly spread to other areas of the upper Gangetic plain and Central India till it was subdued in an year and half by the British. The rebellion was marked by gruesome violence and butchering of civilians by both warring sides.
Fast forward 160 years, chess game strategies have been replaced by social media politics with supporters of varied political players pushing through their propoganda on various online networking platforms. If the 1857 political scene was marked by the apathetic attitude of the upper class gentry, it was quite the opposite in the Uttar Pradesh state elections in 2017. The ultra conscious upper middle class waged their own wars, with a marked division of opinion, which though harmless and bloodless on paper was quite effective in destroying friendships and pushing the agenda of their chosen leaders.
Without getting into comparisons of who in 2017 are akin to the 1857 players, would like to draw some similarities amongst the winners and losers of the two separate periods:
1. Nationalist vs a Regional view (going by what was portrayed) – While opinion is divided over whether the 1857 uprising should be categorized as the 1st Indian war of Independence, I am inclined to favour the view that it was not so. None of the primary players on the Indian side – the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Nana Sahib & Tantia Tope as Maratha representatives or the sepoys had a largely nationalist Outlook. They were more keen on protecting their territories from British annexation. The British on the other hand were very focused on bringing the entire nation under their control and ruling over it. Cut to 2017, the BJP showcased themselves as a National party in contrast to others who were seen more as regional players.
2. Religion at the core: it was the tallow (derived from beef and pork) greased cartridges which the Sepoys were required to bite off before using that triggered the revolt and saw Hindus and Muslims share common ground to protect their religious beliefs. In 2017, while caste and religion played an important role in ticket distribution, the winning party while proclaiming an agenda of “with everyone and for everyone’s development” did seem to have a strong religious affiniation going by the immediate decisions in the aftermath of the win.
3. Strategy and organizational strength – the British were undoubtedly master strategists who bounced back strongly after the initial setbacks. Other than their military strength, they also bought over the support of other regional players like the Sikhs and ensured that the rebels we’re isolated in their cause. In 2017, the BJP displayed superiority in both – muscle and brain power. Through the support of RSS, they had a very well oiled organizational base and were able to penetrate the very basic caste equations.
4. Superior resources – the British had better rifles and monetary resources, thanks to the support of the other Indian princely states, in 2017 the winners had Demonetization on their side!
5. Superior leadership of winners with a will to win: in both eras the winners were definitely more on track in their plans ( whether by hook or crook is another matter). The losers while not lacking in leaders, did have some who like Ray scripted in his movie, liked the crown on their head but were not really keen on ruling. As Nawab Wajid Ali Shah desperately cries out in Ray’s movie – ” what else can a king do if not rule” which pretty much summarizes the inner feeling of some of the key losers.
As history shows, the cycle of birth, growth, degeneration and decline of political dynasties is likely to continue and it is just matter of time before a new thought and perspective replaces existing polarizations and puts in place a new social order.
Recently, I came across the news of the Supreme Court rejecting the plea of a couple to abort a 26 week old foetus with Down Syndrome. A seemingly routine rule book decision and probably one which I like most others would have normally overlooked. Except that in this case, it brought back extremely painful memories – It was 7 years back and I was expecting my child. Being a complicated pregnancy I was subject to multiple tests and medication right from the beginning and just when we had started breathing easy, a test in the 16th week indicated a very high probability of our child being born with Downs Syndrome. We were told by the consulting doctor in a matter of fact tone that our child is likely to be born with physical and intellectual disability and suggested another test for confirming the same, the results for which would be available in 5 days. And those 5 days were the most miserable ones of our life! I recall going through those days in a zombie like manner, too numb to think of what to do next once we get the results.
How did we feel and think – what did we do to deserve this? Is this due to some past negative Karma? Do we keep the child or abort it? If we abort, then how can we live with the guilt of having killed a child? And if decide to go ahead with the pregnancy, will we be able to accept it just like a normal child? And most important, who would take care of it once we are dead and gone?
By God’s grace and serendipity, the second test results were negative and eventually we were blessed with a normal & healthy child. And we moved on, only too glad to bury those dark days in the recesses of our memories. Till this headline made me think deeper about the judgement.
What is Downs Syndrome– It is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features and mild to moderate intellectual disability. As adults, their mental abilities are typically similar to those of an 8- or 9-year-old. They also typically have poor immune function and generally reach developmental milestones at a later age. They have an increased risk of a number of other health problems, including congenital heart defect, epilepsy, leukemia, thyroid diseases, and mental disorders, among others.
What is the current support offered by the government?
The ‘Niramaya Health Insurance Plan’for the welfare of persons with autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and multiple disabilities.
Each state government in India gives a maintenance allowance for disabled individuals gives Rs. 500 per month.
Indian Railways offers a concession of 75% for a disabled person’s travelwith an escort. Bus concessions are given for travel between place of stay and School/Disability Center/Day Care
There are special provisions in the Income Tax Actfor persons with disability, that is also applicable to parents/legal guardians of persons with disability.
The National Trust Act passed in 1999, gives the right to “parents or relatives or registered organizations to ask for the appointment of guardian for the person with disabilities even after they are 18 years of age.”
But these measures are woefully inadequate –There is a huge requirement in our society for local support groups for parents and children of this condition, and most such groups in India have been formed by the parents themselves. The process has to start from the gynecologists and pediatricians themselves, who need to show more sensitivity and responsibility in helping the parents face the situation and accept their special children. Parents need counselling to help overcome the initial shock and disappointment, regain their emotional balance and accept the situation. The public needs to be made aware and sensitized about the characteristics and needs of such individuals so that the children are not viewed as freaks in public places. Inclusion within society is a must to help parents face the situation and improve the quality of life for their children, more so for those from the less affluent and socially backward classes. For a society which is still grappling with female foeticide and wellbeing of girl children, it is very essential that all kinds of emotional and psychological support is extended to these families to help them love their children abundantly and see them grow as normally as possible.
And the good news is that there are many success stories (like the case of Dr. Rekha Ramachandran’s daughter Babli), where both children with DS and their parents have fought against the odds to become educated and live normal lives. Rather, the families consider themselves blessed and feel themselves warmer, closer and more harmonious with better marital ties gained from the positive experience of the “Down Syndrome Advantage”.
Then, is the current anti-abortion judgement a right one?As per current law, abortion of foetus is permissible only when the mothers life is at risk and that too upto 20 weeks of pregnancy only. But, in these special circumstances, it is imperative that the law is not constrained to enforcement of the rule, but rather it should also create an environment conducive to support of the families and inclusion of such children in society. Please do not get me wrong here. I am a firm supporter of the right of life to all. But probably in this cases, the parents should also have a choice to present their case and be counselled sensitively rather than be forced to follow the law blindly.
It is International Downs Syndrome day on March 21st. As we are anyways given to celebrating so many nonsensical days, it would be good if we could give thought and extend support in any manner possible for this cause!
“Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.” – Annette Funicello
Continuing from Part 1, after freshening up, we started to find our way into the temple. At the point of entry of the queue, we found following signboards directing pilgrims towards their designated entry points:
Special Entry or Seeghra (Quick) Darshan – For those who have paid INR 300 for an entry ticket
Divya (Divine) Darshan for Footpath pilgrims – For those who walked up the hill
Sarva or Free Darshan –For those who neither walk up nor are willing to shell out money, but are willing to queue the longest
Senior Citizens or Differently Abled Persons – The definition is self explanatory
Into the Divya Darshan line we were led into a large room, for depositing our slippers, camera, mobiles etc. to be collected later at the exit point. On to the 1st level security check, we were stopped by the security personal who for some reason got the impression that my friend’s Fitbit is a major security threat and we had to convince them that it was harmless, so better not to carry such devices in future to avoid unnecessary inconvenience. From here, we entered the Vaikuntam complex at 1 pm.
Confined in Vaikuntham (the Mythological abode of Lord Vishnu)
Our first impression of the complex was that it felt like a prison. As rushed forward in a semi-circular corridor, on our right we saw large rooms secured by iron grills right up-to the ceiling and full of people who kind of looked accusingly at us for rushing past them, while we were also mentally counting our lucky stars to be breezing past them. But alas, our glee was not to last. It was not long before we too were herded into a similar room and the doors slammed shut.
Once inside, it took us a minute to take in the fact that it was already crowded with people and we had to find ourselves a place to sit. The room was pie shaped with raised seating and we tried to position ourselves in a place that would not be too far from the door when we are let out. At the back of the room were rest rooms and in front of us, beyond the iron bars we could glimpse some greenery.
Taking in the sights around us, we observed around 400-450 people in the room in various states of activity – sitting and chatting amongst themselves, reading some book, looking at the giant TV screen beaming religious festivities, laying down and sleeping or simply staring keenly at the door expecting it to open any moment. Many, across gender and age groups had freshly tonsured heads. This was the traditional ritual symbolizing sacrifice of attachment to physical beauty and effacing of ego. Most had their foreheads inked with the traditional three pronged Tilak, which was a yellow/red line representing Lakshmi (the consort of Vishnu) in the middle of a white U/Y representing the feet of Vishnu. All (men, women and children) were in traditional attire (Men: dhoti/pyjamas with upper cloth/kurta/angavastram, Women: sari/half-sari/salwar kameez with dupatta) as mandated by the temple authorities. We were sandwiched between 2 similar people filled rooms on either side, which made us reflect on the question – Why is the Tirupati Balaji so famous and attracts such a huge crowd?
Legend/Myth:Once, following a tiff with Vishnu, his consort Lakshmi, left her heavenly abode and came down to earth as Padmavathi. To appease her, Vishnu took the human form of “Srinivasa Balaji” and took residence on the seven hills. There he fell in love with Padmavathi, and approached her father , the Chola king Akasu Raja for her hand in marriage. The king agreed to his marriage proposal provided he paid a hefty dowry. Srinivasa obtained a loan from Kubera, the treasurer of the Gods, on the promise that he would remain on earth till the debt was fully repaid with interest. After the marriage, the husband and wife took up separate residences, with Vishnu living on the Tirumala hill top and the princess bride, locally known as Alamelu Manga, having her own temple at the bottom of the hill in Tirupati. It is also said that Lord Srinivasa turned into a stone idol at the spot where the temple now stands with Lakshmi & Padmavati on his chest to help in the emancipation of mankind from the perpetual troubles of Kali Yuga. So, devotees flock to Balaji’s temple to have a glimpse of the Lord incarnate, make huge offerings of wealth to help him repay his debt and in anticipation of receiving his grace in return.
Locational advantage and patronage of the rich South Indian rulers have also helped in building the temple hype– While the origin of the temple is traced back to 300 AD, it was majorly patronized by the Pallavas (9th century), Cholas (10th Century) and finally the Vijayanagara rulers (14th & 15th century AD), under whom the temple gained most of its current wealth and size. The tradition of donation of gold and jewels was continued by successive rulers of Mysore, Gadwal and the Marathas. As in most other cases, public also followed the example of their rulers and flocked to the temple with huge donations. Besides, Tirumala enjoyed the locational advantage of being in the middle of the dense forest covered Seshachalam hill range and was thus protected from the marauding hordes of the Sultanate rulers, primarily Malik Kafur in the 14th century who had the dubious distinction of rampaging and destroying South Indian temples. This would have further enhanced the myth of the Lord of the hills with an aura of invincibility.
After an hour in the room, we started feeling tired and bored and tried to catch a nap – first in the sitting posture and then laying down curled up in a fetal position trying to avoid hitting someone’s tonsured head with our feet. Another hour went by thus, and there still was no hope of being let out. It was then that we started really value the virtues of freedom and empathize with a prisoner’s feeling in confinement with limited resources of entertainment. But then, maybe this was God’s way of helping us realize and reflect on the Supreme Being – being in a room where there was no distinction or advantage of caste/creed/education/social or economic class and without the frivolous distractions of modern day technology. This was a time to be at ease with one’s own thoughts and God, something we seldom get to do on a daily basis.
Tip: Do carry packed snacks and books in preparation for a long haul.
Every time some guard would pass by the corner, we would rise excitedly hoping to be let out, and finally when we did get a release from the room it was 4.30 pm. We had spent 3.5 hours in the room!
Queueing up again
Once out of the room, we went along the corridor again one level down and this time we tried to stick to the side facing the facing the garden, mentally praying that we not be led into a room again. Now standing in the queue again, we had a good view of the Vaikuntham complex. It was a 3 level semi-circular building with 19 rooms at each level and opened out into a garden. As we waited in the slow moving queue, the heavenly smell of ghee smeared laddoos filled wafted into our noses and all our thoughts were in tasting it.
The corridors of the Vaikuntham complex were connected to the temple through an overhead bridge, descending from which we entered the temple through the main Gopuram. On the way, we saw several age old inscriptions engraved on the walls, some which were irrecoverably damaged by continuous human touch. Before entering the Gopuram, we encountered another level of security check, where I was asked to discard the flower garland in my hair much to my consternation. But, later by the time we were out, I was thankful for having done that.
Into the temple: Be Warned – this part of the date is not for the weak hearted and I mean it literally!
As we entered the 50 feet five storied Gopuram, the single line transformed into a lineless, monstrous crowd with five people standing in leg-space meant for 2. With people breathing, pushing and pulling us from all directions, our major focus was to somehow ensure that we do not get squeezed or stamped on! This stretch is just not safe for the elderly, pregnant women and children and it is strongly advised that they choose alternate options.
Just beyond the main Gopuram and on our left, we got a fleeting glance of the raised Ranganayakula Mandapam. This had housed the idol of Lord Ranganathan from Srirangam for the period 1320 – 1369 AD for safekeeping against muslim invasions. Crossing the Vendivakili(Silver Entrance), we came to the third Bangaruvakili(Golden Entrance) leading to the Garbagriha or the Sanctum sanctorum, where the presiding deity Lord Venkateswara resides. There were two tall copper images of the Dvarapalakas, Jaya & Vijaya on either side of this door and the thick wooden door was covered with gold gilt plates depicting the Dasavathaaram of Vishnu.
Coming face to face with our Date
Finally, into the Garbagriha we were but 20 feet away from our Date, but here too, we had to follow a serpentine 4 layered queue. When we were a few feet away from sighting HIM, we prepared to keep our eyes wide open, since we knew it would be a blink and you miss it situation.
And when we finally face to face at a distance of ~10 feet, we ceased to sense any push or pull around us. All our senses were fixated on our date – the four handed standing deity (one arm placed on the thigh, one in the yogic varada posture and the other two holding a Sankha and Sudarshan Chakra), the Goddesses Lakshmi & Padmavathi on his chest and beautifully adorned with precious ornaments. And for those precious few seconds, we felt a rush of achievement and enlightenment. Reflecting later on whether it is the glorious idol that signifies God on earth, I felt that you may have as well replaced it with a plain stone or even nothing for that matter, and we would have felt just the same. It is the collective positivity of all devotees which creates the ambience of heaven and this can be achieved in any place on the earth!
The Darshan did not signal the end of the day and exiting the temple was another fight, as the same gate was used for both entry and exit. It had all the ingredients for a potential stampede and we avoided joining the line to the big Hundi as we just did not feel up to the fight to make a donation. By the time we were out after collecting our Laddoo prasads, the sun had carved a right angular path in the sky and was well below the horizon!
We ended our day with some shopping and just strolled about the place to soak in the vibrant ambience, key attractions being the DeepaAlankara Seva held to the Utsava Moorthi in the open grounds, the cultural programs and various vendorspeddling colorful stuff. Later in the night, as we enjoyed our Prasad – the famous Tirupati Laddoos, we realized that we still owed a debt to the Lord (having skipped making any monetary contribution) and had all the reason to make another trip. Most likely we would do it on a day in the middle of the week, thus avoiding the massive weekend and other auspicious day crowds, as the Lord is likely to remain just as special & powerful on all days!
We were very excited and quite naturally so. After all, we had a date with none less than the richest and most famous God on earth, who though not elusive, definitely plays hard to get. Well, we were definitely going all out to impress him – climbing up 3,550 steps covering a distance of 9 km and that’s just one half of the story. Come, join us on our date and share our experience!
Part 1: The Trek up the Hills
It was 4 am in the morning when we got down the bus in the Tirupati bus stand and caught an auto to Alipiri. Located at the foothills of the Seshachalam hills, Alipiri means ‘Resting Place’ and so served pilgrims in earlier days when they had no option, but to trek up the hills to see the Lord. Alipiri was abuzz with activity as we headed straight to the luggage counter for depositing our bag. This would be transported up the hills by road to be eventually collected by us once we reach the top. Going through a subway and on to the steps, we saw many people begin their journey by the traditional ritual of breaking a coconut and lighting some camphor.
Climbing up a few steps, the seven storied RajaGopuram came into view. This is the first of the four Gopurams (ornate towers usually found at South Indian temple entrances), marking various stages of the trek. Sad that the beautiful structure was defaced by someone’s declaration of undying love (not for the Lord of the hills though)!
Knowing that the initial stretch of 2083 steps are a steep climb, we started walking up quietly at a steady pace. Most of the path was covered with a concrete roof, and as it was still dark for the 1st hour of the climb, nothing much could be sighted outside the lighted stairway. But, this gave us a good opportunity to observe our fellow travelers. There were people of all ages and socio-economic strata and it was quite a sight to see kids hoisted on their parent’s backs/shoulders, young/old couples, groups of college kids, families, senior citizens all making their way up steadily. Some went the extra mile to please the Lord – by applying vermilion and turmeric on the steps or lighting each step with camphor as they walked up. Some sat down to take a breather and yet others decided – the walk can wait, sleep comes first and laid down to restJ.
98 – 99% were walking barefoot and we formed the select minority who choose to walk with our slippers on. But hey, we were counting on our Date to ignore these omissions :). Chants of “Govinda Govinda” resounded through the air, energizing and motivating the devotees and the early morning “Venkateshwara Suprabhatam” blaring from the mikes was music to the ears. “Govinda” is another name of the Lord Venkateswara and apparently this name used to be chanted whenever people donated money or gold to the temple. Quite funnily these days, South Indians, when losing something valuable, exclaim it went “Govinda Govinda”, implying that it is lost unrecoverably to the Lord!
At a point where the roof cover was absent, we looked back to see the shimmering night lights of Tirupati city merging with the stars in the sky against the background of the forest covered hills. At this point and in fact for most part of the trek, there are plenty of shops providing refreshments along with washrooms to make the journey easy.
At step#2083, we reached another major landmark on the trekking route, the Gali Gopuram. Built in the 15th century, it has a large “Namam” (the Tilak symbol of Iyengars/Vaishnavs) in the middle, a “Chakra” (Wheel) on the right and a “Shankh” (conch) fixed on the left. These when lighted in the night are visible for miles around on the foothills. Here, we had our biometrics done guaranteeing a special “Divya Darshan” at the top. A light breakfast at one of the multiple refreshment shops there and we were ready to move again.
From here on and for the next 6-7 kms, the hill slopes were flatter and it was quite an easy and relaxing walk. On the way, we paused to gaze at the 30 foot idol of Prasanna Anjaneya (Hanuman) and the deer park. Then, the path opened up to merge with the roadways and we had a wonderful view of the undulating terrain with forest covered peaks and valleys. Our destination was nestled within the 7 peaked Seshachalam hills (named Seshadri, Vedadri, Garudadri, Anjanadri, Vrishabhadri, Narayanadri and Venkatadri) so named as they appear as a seven headed coiled serpent when viewed aerially. The Tirumala hills are part of the Venkateswara National Park and Biosphere reserve and are home to a variety of flora & fauna. Unfortunately, we couldn’t sight any animals or birds other than monkeys and cuckoos.
Step#2850 marked the Sri Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy temple and point for getting our Divya Darshan tickets stamped (guess this is to ensure that pilgrims do not cheat by hiking a ride up after getting the darshan tickets). Finally, at step#2910, we came to the Mokallimitta (‘knee-breaker’) GaliGopuram which marked the final and steepest stretch of the journey. Here, we were amazed to see many people arduously climbing up the stairs on their knees. Apparently, this is an attempt to replicate the feat of the Vaishnav saint, Sri Ramanujacharya, who in his visit to the temple in c.1050 AD had been most challenged by this section of the journey and had to crawl up the hill on his knees.
We finally reached the top of Tirumala hills 5 hours after the start of our journey and found people ending the trek the way they had begun – lighting camphor on the penultimate step. Collecting our bag from the luggage counter, we headed to find our lodgings for the day.
The perils of “I cannot displease my Best Friend” syndrome has recently been illustrated by the indictment of a chief minister and her so called soul-sister. Assuming a hypothetical situation where we give the deceased chief minister (CM) the benefit of doubt of having no personal greed for ill-gotten wealth, the story could be presented thus – Past the prime of her movie career, a lonely personal life following the death of her mother and failed love affairs and facing political oblivion post her mentor’s death, she found emotional, mental and probably muscle-power support in her friend. Once in power, she felt obliged to payback her crafty bestie, who then goes on to amass unimaginable wealth and exert incredible authority over craven ministers. And in spite of repeated fallouts, their friendship survived till death did them apart. Eventually as the Supreme Court judgment convicted both women in the disproportionate assets case, the only saving grace for the ex-chief minister was that she did not live to hear the judgment and would have probably defended herself in the grave saying – “All this ignominy for not being able to say “NO” to my best friend.”
But is this an isolated incident or something which can be traced to child psychology in craving for a best friend, where in some cases, one child is submissive to the other. A special childhood friend has been a constant motif in children’s literature and movies (Bolly/Holly etc). All those who have experienced the delightful world of “Swami & Friends” by R K Narayan, would well recall the protagonist’s equation with his two best friends. In this tale, Swami, an absolutely lovable character is dominated by his 2 best friends – Mani & Rajam. Completely in awe of them, he finds it difficult to counter or go against their wishes and this often lands him in trouble.
And do we need best friends?
Humans, and children in particular, naturally find themselves forming special friendships. My daughter’s school has the practice of putting her in a different section with a new set of children every year. Though initially she would miss her Best Friend of the previous year, she would quickly bond with her new classmates. So, probably this practice encourages her to have “lots of good friends” and helps avoid overly possessive relationships and upsetting fall-outs.
The alternative view as presented by philosopher Mark Vernon is that “friendship is an issue in a culture of democratization”. Humans are not wired to be democratic in their relationships and instinctively seek intimate relationships. By putting the spotlight on the negative aspects of close friendships, there is a possibility of emotionally stunting children and their experiences. Children or for that matter even adults may fall out with their best friends or get jilted/cheated, but somewhere they also learn to cope and survive socially.
And as parents, we watch and live through the tumult our children experience as their friendships become more complex, layered and emotionally fraught varying from extraordinary intimacy and bewildering cruelty.