Monday, December 7, 2009

Our whirlwind Bharat Darshan

Perhaps I woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day .... got my transfer order from Kanpur to the North Eastern corner of India ... where family accommodation was not available. I had only one weeks leave to drop sudha & shyam home in Kochi & get back ... all trains were overbooked .... there were no direct flights & the rates were sky high anyway. I was sitting in my Vista & leafing through the railway timetable when the road/rail map of the country slipped out .... "Why not drive down?" I thought.

The advantages of driving down were tremendous ... the very idea of travelling across the country was thrilling .... I'll get to put new car through a real test .... & the memories of the journey will keep me company during the period of separation from my family ..but the doubts were still weighing me down ..... one week was too little time perhaps to enjoy a 2800km trip & my son was just one year old .....hmmmm

When I made the proposition to Sudha, she gave an instant reply "If you are confident ... I am too ... & I am sure Shyam will enjoy it ..." So, the decision was made ... We charted the route took advice & made our plans ..... most folks were inclined towards discouraging us, out of concern ... I've always made instinctive decisions,stood by them & things have generally turned out ok .....

We set out on an early October morning .... & took the route - kanpur - khajuraho - bhopal - indore - mhow - nasik - mumbai(andheri) - pune (khadakwasla) - belgaum - hubli - jog falls - kollur (mookambika temple) - mangalore - kozhikode (bekal fort) - kochi ..... the km reading indicated a road distance of 3200km .. driving by day & resting by night, the journey was completed in six days ...... we visited some tourist spots ..... stopped to say hello to the near & dear en-route. The only rules followed were ... start early & never drive when tired.

I 'll not bore you with a travelogue ... but will run through the trip. As we started off the roads in UP were terrible to say the least .... the Khajuraho temples were architectural marvels ,though visually embarrassing at times .... the road till Bhopal was ok & was dotted with some typical crowded towns of MP .... the early morning drive from Bhopal to Mhow was the first one on a decent road ... the rendezvous with some very dear people in Mhow was rejuvenating ...... one could perceive the gradual shift from the North-Indian to the Malwa/Maratha setting (the fresh makki-ki-roti & arhar dal from a dhaba on the MP-Maha border is worth a mention) ..... Shyam behaved miraculously decent for his age .... he particularly enjoyed a potty session in a farm in the midst of numerous "ambas" (cows) much to the annoyance of his mother ....... we spent the night at Nashik & drove to Mumbai early morning the next day ...... one whole day of relaxation in my uncle's house at Andheri rested us for the next half of the trip. The mumbai- pune highway was a revelation ..... spent some nostalgic hours in khadakwasla & got on to the bangalore expressway .... the satara- kohlapur - belgaum route was covered in a flash.... after a night stay at hubli I intended to move west to the konkan coast but missed the turn....... we took a diversion from the road at haveri & took the forest road via sirsi to the jog falls ..... the cup of tea at a small stall near sirsi for a rupee was best i've ever had ..... we proceeded along the jungle road to kollur ..... after the evening prayers at mookambika temple we reached Mangalore & took a break at my cousins place .... after entering kerala our first halt was at the Bekal fort in Kazarkode (which is known more now beause of the "Tuhi-re" song in the film "Bombay" than the exploits of Hyder ali & Tipu Sultan) ...... the final stretch from there to kochi seemed unending becaue of the anxety to hit home & the terrible traffic congestion on the mallu streets .... we reached home late evening on the sixth day..... & I flew back on the seventh.

As we traveled across states, the rapid changes in vegetation, dialects, food and above all attitudes were intriguing.... this was a whirlwind trip which afforded little time for liesure... however the experience left us with some fond memories to cherish .... I've got to thank the Lord for the guiding us home & my little one for cooperating ..... Shyam too turned out to be travel freak .... :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bundle Of Joy

I 've been off blogging for a while ..... a year and more ..... felt the need to be back here to share .... learn ... release. A lot of things transpired during the hiatus, job ... success & failure in many endeavours. The defining event of the period however was the arrival of my son. I resume this space therefore with a small post dedicated to my bundle of joy......

Most of us have read inspirational books, listened to sermons etc ... all of it giving nothing more than an ephemeral period of calm. I've tried many times over & failed .... to live life fully on my own terms .... to invoke and retain the power of now. Advait now is my stress buster & shows me the way.

I return home after a dreary days work..... physically exhausted and with fluttering thoughts ... frustration at the workplace,plans for the future, judgements, opinions, anger ........ all of it vanishes in a moment ..... as I see him toddling across swiftly with a beaming face .... as he sticks to my leg with arms thrown up .... yearning for a cuddle. Nothing brings as much peace as when he meanders along, tired after playtime to drop on my chest & fall off to sleep. He's teaches me to notice and find joy in small things ..... by breaking into casual mirth on a cow's "moo.." .... on the sound of a tumbling vessel. He is fully engrossed as he tries discover the source of sound in a beeping microvawe... as he tries to attach the lid of a bottle to its base. His fixation is abruptly interrupted on hearing his favourite Ad music on TV.... & he starts dancing to it's rhythm ....

He's growing fast & helping us grow with him ...... & I am grateful for it. I pray therefore to be able to steer his development ... into a person of substance who knows his own means & can find his way..... That should be my payback ...

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Memo From a Soldier's Grave

Khartoum, very much unlike the barren deserts of North Sudan and the swampy countryside of South Sudan, is a relatively "happening" place. It accounts for 80% of the country's (2/3 rd India's size) paved roads, 50% of its population and it's only decent airport. We were on our last trip to the city before our return home. After visits to the National Museum and the Nile confluence we were told of the Sudan War Cemetery, built by the British to honour the memory of those who laid down their lives during WW-II on Sudanese soil.

The fenced compound was well maintained, the tombs and vaults built in marble systematically laid out to aptly reflect marked reverence held for the heroes. While sauntering across, quickly reading through the epitaphs, the words "Om Bhagavate Namah" caught my eyes. The tombstone belonged to Sapper Appalaswami of Madras Sappers. The names of more Indian soldiers were etched on a huge memorial wall along with other officers and men whose bodies could not be identified. One felt truly proud of the valour displayed by our soldiers in an alien land and respect for the British system which valued the lives of each of its men and honoured their memory without bias or prejudice.

Let us briefly delve on what Appalaswami and his comrades did in Sudan. Italy's entry into the War in June 1940 threatened the British rule in Egypt and close the Mediterranean trade routes to Egypt, India and Australia. In early July the Italian East African Garrison launched attacks on the borders of Sudan and Kenya, supported by the Naval and air bases in Eritrea. By early 1941, the Commonwealth air force had attained parity with the formerly preponderant Italians. Around the same time, the three British Battalions and the small Sudan Defence force in Northern Sudan were joined by the fourth and fifth Indian Divisions (better known for its campaigns in Burma and Malaya later in the war). The frontiers were crossed on 19th Jan 1941 and the Indians overcame the Italians in Agordat and Barentu and overcame some strong resistance in Keren, thus paving way for the capture of Asmara and Massawa (Eritrea) by April. ( The Fifth Division then fought the Germans in Libya and moved to Iraq to protect the oil fields. The Fourth Division fought in Syria, Palestine, Cyprus, Italy and Greece).

During WW-II, Indian personnel received 4000 gallantry awards including 31 Victoria Crosses (highest gallantry award). The fact that the only VC winner from elsewhere in the Empire was Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu of the Fiji Military Forces, speaks volumes about the Indian soldier.

Many must be wondering as to why so much veneration should be showered on the men who fought for a foreign monarchy. Others might be trying to speculate as to what motivated these men to fight in a distant land, away from kin for such a prolonged period for no cause of theirs. The mystery lies in the virtues of thorough regimentation that existed in the Indian Army. The prime cause in a soldier's mind had little to do with National or Strategic issues ..... it has all to do with the honour of the regiment, faith in their leader and respect for the fallen comrades.

The Indian Soldier definitely retains these traits to this day. However, the socio-economic changes in civil society and generational shift towards more practicable soldiering have brought about a dilution in these values. As a Nation we must learn to value the lives of every citizen in general and our soldiers in particular. Even while adapting to new technology and doctrines, our leaders and policy makers need to be awake to the need of preserving the quality of uniformed men, lest we loose our edge in combat.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Laughter Challenge

No ....... This is not about Raju Srivastav or Shekhar Suman. The challenge is not to make others laugh, but the other way around is to face up to the ordeal of laughter and come out unscathed. Yes, you read it right.Laughter can be an ordeal at times ... here is how.

Despite living in the same complex, we colleagues used to meet up only during social functions or bump into each other while at official errands. It was therefore decided by the Boss (let's call him B)that everybody would have lunch together on working days. From that day on, a daily joint lunch became a norm .....and the trial began. We would all sit across the loooong dining table with B at its head.

A few "lunch sessions" later we realised that B was actually in love with his own voice. He would narrate experiences and tales, putting his mimicing skills to frequent use. The culmination of every sentence would invariably be a thundering laughter (seemingly wicked kind that reminded me of the satans of Harry Porter and the notorious "Krur Singh", a charcter in a hindi teleserial). It often happened that none of us could make head or tail of his "hilarious" sagas, but had to burst into mirth, just to stay in sync ... you know what I mean. The only positive factor being the hope to invountarily imbibe the proclaimed benifits of laughter therapy. The problem was that these mealtime meetings would seldom conclude before our cheeks pained due to the synthetic laughter and until the food was almost digested. Gradually, a time came when "lunchtime" would translate as "horror time" in our dictionaries and some of us started getting nightmares of the "laughter beast".

We worked out methods to deal with the crisis … taking turns to attend lunch … scheduling work to match the lunch timings … etc …..but the fear factor remained. I was enjoying the pleasures of an afternoon siesta yesterday when shaken awake by an appalling dream….. All I could remember hearing was that savage laughter … a very familiar voice asked .. “Pahchan Kaun” …. And I shuddered …

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It's All in the Mind

Khor fulus is a little hamlet by the Sobat River in central Sudan. We were standing at the jetty awaiting a boat that would take us across to this village, where we were to establish a medical camp. On the opposite pier was a group of people trying to get into an already teeming boat. Each one was carrying a small bundle of personal belongings and infants were clinging on to the backs of their frail mothers. The latest spell of fighting in the village had consumed twenty –two lives and the small rustic market was ransacked and reduced to shambles. Some villagers were abandoning their dwellings to seek out safer (but not greener) pastures. This was a supposedly poignant scene and I felt a slight lump in my throat. As we got closer I strangely realised that there were no signs of remorse writ on their faces. There seemed to be no qualms of an uncertain future. Instead, everything appeared routine and the people looked as jovial as ever. These people were raised in an era of invasive ambiguity, and so were two generations before them. Decades of civil war had perhaps habituated them to violence, robbed them of all desolate emotions and coerced them to look for the sunny side, even in the midst of calamity.
As the medical camp was being set up, the county commissioner arrived in his posh Land Cruiser escorted by two AK bearing sentinels. He wore an expensive watch and wielded a satellite phone. The solitary show affluence and clout amid blatant poverty was an odd paradox. We sought his permission to see around the village which he quickly accorded and walked off towards the “panchayat style” congregation which was awaiting his arrival under a nearby tree. We took a walk amidst the ruins and realised that almost everything had been plundered. A few children were foraging the leftovers and grown ups were still taking stock.

There was a group of children playing soccer, totally unmindful of the ruckus all around. They were conditioned to such carnage, I guess. The most striking factor one observed was the boundless energy displayed by the kids. They would wave at you, salute you and give a comic pose when they notice a camera. They wore torn clothes, ate a pittance, drank from the dirty river and still retained the spark in their eyes.

During our break for lunch, the Doctor narrated an incident that took place at a medical camp that he organized at a place called Akobo. A pregnant lady was brought in by two young men. She was bleeding profusely and needed expert care. On inquiring he was told that she hailed from a village around thirty km across the border in Ethiopia and that her husband and brother had carried her all the way to the camp. The doctor recommended that she be taken to Nasser County (a couple of days walk away) where an NGO managed hospital could provide her the medical expertise required. Her husband quickly calculated the provisions he would require to buy, to sustain them for the journey and promptly proceeded ahead as advised, carrying his wife on a stretcher.

When I set out for the day’s task that morning, I had a few worries of my own. By the end of the day my issues seemed trivial. I felt grateful to have what I have.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Handy" Nuggets of Wisdom

"Always take care those little things" he said "the ones that make the difference between success and failure, between victory and defeat". Dr Joseph, the Principal was speaking at the morning assembly after I had finished my first "news-reading exercise" at the school assembly. The term "Disaster" would be a liberal euphemism if used to describe my performance. The script was well prepared and practised, but the knees wouldn't stop shaking as I took my place on the stage. I gathered myself with a few deep breaths and started reading out the news. I was taken by surprise when the whole school burst out into laughter after a few minutes. Apparently there was a loose connection in the cable of the public address system which was causing the mike to get switched off every half a minute. I was too engrossed in putting up a confident looking show to realise that I was sounding like a barking dog to the whole school. After giving a bewildered look to the Principal (who was smiling too) I sped down the stage. It was then that he gave this "little things" talk which got imprinted in my head. Iwalked up to him later that day and asked to be allowed to read the news again. The next morning I took my time to check the connections at the amplifier and mike (even as the whole school was watching with amusement) before commencing the news. It went of pretty well this time and I got a nod of approval from Dr Joseph.

There have been numerous instances later in life when this advice came in handy. The most prominent one that comes to mind was during my attempt at paratrooping. The ground training was piece of cake and it all seemed too simple ... till the day of reckoning. As all of us strapped on the gear, wore the helmets and boarded the aircraft for the first jump, the strange growls in the stomach and unusually rapid tempo of the heartbeats made me forget the check-list. Being the seniormost novice in the sortie I was the automatic choice for the first jumper. As we reached an altitude of 1500 ft the instructor put both thumps up and gleefully shouted "ALL OK?" .... and all of us replies back in a feeble chorus "ok". I took my position at the door, consciously avoiding that downward glance and took the customary deep breaths. When the instructor shouted "RED ON". A voice clicked in the head .. "check .. check "it said and I did a quick survey. To my horror the static line cable which was hooked on to the aircraft was passing from under the right arm. I quickly took it over the arm even as the instructor said "GREEN ON ...... GO" and leapt out. Had I not carried out that last minute check and the cable remained where it was I wouldn't have been able to type this post today. The right arm would have got ripped off.

I am getting back to blogging after a long hiatus. The break was taken because my ultra slow internet connection and as my circumstances weren't exactly compatible to regular blogging. I realised during the time off that I was missing something. Though I don't subscribe to the view that "blog-space" can be used as "personal-space" in totality, I do believe that it provides us with an avenue to give expression to the ideas we can call our own. Every blogger has a personal reason for blogging. Some may see it as a canvas to discover their "till now dormant" creativity while others may appreciate it as a useful vent to relieve themselves from the pressures and apparent inadequacies of professional and personal lives. I don't exactly know which definition fits my cause, but definitely feel an urge to return .... and hence this post.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Guru Dakshina

The sound still echoes in my ears. Tha … Dhi … Dhom … Nam ….. Rao sir repeated the first lessons in Mridangam to his dazed six year old disciple. It was Vijaydashami (1984) … an auspicious occasion, which in South India is considered suitable for Vidyarambham or initiation into any new realm, especially into fine arts. My parents had spotted in me an aptitude for percussion instruments and decided to initiate me to the rhythms of Mridangam. Sri Nandikeswar Rao - or Rao sir as we used to call him – my mother’s colleague in the Fine Arts Department of a PSU, was to be my Guru. In accordance with the established norms of traditional propriety I offered him the Guru-dakshina and touched his feet to seek blessings ( a gesture which means to say -"I am willing to accept your tutelage in all humility and am ready to imbibe all that you have to teach, in the way you wish it to be imparted" - not that I understood any bit of that back then).

Rao sir was a strict disciplinarian during our regular sessions, mostly held in the living room of our quarters, with the furniture temporarily rearranged to make space, just enough for a rug to seat us. I would sit on it intently listening to the chollu (verbal codes for beats) emanating from his mouth and then would strive to reproduce it on the instrument. He would stop me the moment I went off-beat or he felt that the tone of a beat is not as it was supposed to be. I would then continue playing that bit for as long as my fingers hurt bad enough for my inflated ego to allow tears to appear. His face would soften up instantly.... but he recovered quickly, made a stern face and told me "go, wash your face ... and come back quick".

We slowly graduated from the basic lessons to more complicated rhythmic combinations. After the classes he would patiently note down the days lessons meticulously in a note-book so that I could practice in my own time ( which rarely hapenned). The frequency of the sessions increased as we approached a music competition or a concert at the local temple and decreased during my school examinations. He occassionaly used to take me to his guru Nandu Master (a near centenarian who had a saintly demeanour and a graceful smile that could inject humility into any haughty head) to obtain his approval of my progress. I can distinctly remember the gleam of satisfaction on his face when I qualified for a national scholarship in the discipline of classical percussion instruments. Every year on Vijaydashami day my father would drive me on his scooter to Rao sir's house where we would repeat the customary rituals of Vidyarambham followed by a sumptuous breakfast.

with Rao sir and Nandu master

Rao sir inadvertently wanted to live his dreams through me and actually considered me to be like his son. I however, did not in those days fully comprehend the intensity of his desire to make me a good mridangist. Though I loved playing, I somehow knew that I was not cut out to take it up as a profession. I left home after twelfth and adopted a profession that kept me away from classical music. It was only when I went home on leave that I saw him and could always spot a strange sadness whenever our eyes met.

I was on leave a couple of years back when the news of his being at the hospital reached me. He was asleep when we entered the ward ... a frail reflection of his real self. We were told that he was not in a position to recognise or communicate with people. A peculiar emotion .. a mixture of grief and guilt came over me ..... and I mentally requested for forgiveness ... for not being the person he wanted me to be. I almost got instant deliverance as he slowly opened his eyes, gave a weak smile and raised his hand as if to bless. He passed away in a few days.
Today is Vijaydashami ... and I offer this post as Guru Dakshina to the most dedicated teacher one can ever get and the most honest and sincere person I have ever met. May peace be with him.

African Safari III follows ......