War and Peace

There were all kinds of moments in Berlin. A couple of poignant ones for this post.  Berlin packs enough and more of history in the most modern of settings that the contrasts are not just obvious but rather arrestingly present their friendly coexistence in every crevice and corner.
Somewhere close to the Branderburg Gate are two relatively small places ( read as ‘less opulent’) that held my attention and fetchingly sought my thinking going.
One was the “Neue Wache” or “The New Guard House”.  The twists and turns of time stood firmly etched in poignant detail here.  Think about this. A building starts out as a Guard House in the early 18thcentury and gets transformed into a war memorial in the 1930s. Going on to get bombed in World War II, surviving to see a revival and continue to serve as war memorials of some kind through the cold war era and now in the Unified Germany era as well.




There are no guards there now.  Behind the huge pillars that welcome you well, I could imagine guards walking about. There are none of them now, but the iron in the gates could let you know how it was. For now, there sit a  statue of a Mother and her dead son by Kathe Kollwitz.  It is an impeccable work of art and if you stare at it for long enough and soak the wrinkle and the despondency of mother and son, and the uselessness of war will almost call out your name. 
In the middle of a large hall, the mother and son sit there and implore you to think. An opening right, a circular, and well done opening above them, shows the sky.  No glass. The statue has the sky as the ceiling. On the day I was there, a stream of light hit the statue with masterly elegance but then, it didn’t take me long to realise that the elegance of streaming light could stand replaced by the harshness of rain. Or snow, for that matter. 
And then I learnt that it was done to symbolise  the suffering commoners go through during times of war.  It couldn’t be more appropriate. 
The steady shuffle of the tourist footwear accompanied by incessant clicks of digital cameras and mobile phones didn’t for a minute cause the mother or her dead son to flinch. As people took pictures of themselves before the statue. A few of those perhaps would have made it Facebook or to other albums showing off a visit to Berlin!  
I would have preferred a trifle more of sombre. A moment in reflection.  Perhaps some silence even. But me and my preferences stood engulfed by the sepulchral mother and her dead son even as natural light continued to shower all its attention on them!
Speaking of silence, down the road, right under the noses of the horses of the God of victory, atop the Brandenburg Gate is the “Room of silence”. An incredible place of quiet.  In the thoroughfare of all the commercial cacophony that envelopes what was, until a few decades ago, a place of great history, stands this simple room. 


A room bereft of everything but a a couple of chairs, a large painting and a some amazing silence. Its website reads
“…provides an opportunity for everyone, independent of background, colour, ideology, religion and physical condition to enter and remain in silence for a while to simply relax, to gain strength for the daily life, or to remember inside this historic place the dark but also hopeful events, to meditate, to pray..”
I sat there for a while, noticing the number of people that came in and went out initially. But shortly, I didn’t notice anything beyond the peace that enveloped me. There were some details like the fact that the UN has a similar room like this in New York and Dag Hammarskjöld, the former Secretary General of the United Nations had it built and used to get there often to just sit in silence, were consumed later. 
I don’t think of a better, bigger time than now, for this room to scream ‘silence’ down your ear drum.  Poignancy personified, in the most delightful and delicate of ways. Its a small room. But if you are in Berlin and standing under the Brandenburg Gate, well, this room can be missed easily. 
And so, watch out. Step in. And be still. For a while. It is helpful.   

Statue !

This is second in the Madurai series. The first one is here.

Ever remember playing a game called ‘Statue’ in school? Well, I do. You didn’t have to do much. Someone had to point to someone else and say ‘statue’. You were required ‘freeze’. Just pretend you are a statue and watch the other chaps lick their lollipops and wallop their chocolates.  And you had to wait till they came around to point in your direction and say ‘statue’ again. If you wanted to be a winner that is. 

In most cases, as soon as the lollipop was unwrapped, people gladly embraced defeat, disgorged themselves from the statues they were forced to become and went after the lollipop like an animal in heat. That story is for another time. 

But there are several statues that adorn roadsides and have watched the world go by and sort of had a ringside view of the change that is happening in the world. Every city has a few. Madurai has them too. 

Those that bear the names, shapes and figures of political leaders, leaders of a sect, a community etc have automatic addition to the following. Like being born in that community. In that sect. Or being sold to a political ideology.  These statues themselves undergo a clean up or two. Regularly. 

But how about literary figures?  People who made a difference to an art scene? To language and therefore to culture and life?  How good are their statues? There are few such statues that I found.  As I slugged the camera around and decided to rediscover ‘home’ as I sought balance on a roller coaster of a trip back home. Pardon me however for the poor quality of my snaps here. Most of them are tilted. Perhaps indicative of the state of my mind then.

These statues have seen me grow from a young boy to a bristling young man and then morphing slowly into the graying balding chap that I am. That is, THEY have seen me. Never before have I paused to give them a second look. Never. Which is surprising considering that I normally am interested in such stuff. I have passed this road as many times as perhaps there are rain drops in a monsoon shower. These are in the Tallakulam area of Madurai. A small area of less than 2-3 Sq KM. 

Here are a few statues that I found and some looking up the web lead me to some people that I didn’t know of that well and lives that made a difference to a different generation of people. 

So here is an invitation for you to dive deep into their lives and see if we can make more meaning. Perhaps you would like to dig more. Or if you already know more, maybe share  here!

If only God came back and waved his magical fingers and brought them alive, I am sure these statues would spout stories that world doesn’t know. How fascinating would that be! And for that reason, and for that reason only, I think we must petition God to walk the roads again. 

Most of these statues are ones erected as part of the World Tamil Conference held in 1981, I have recollections of that conference as a massive event that got talked about for a while. I was too young to understand the nuances of language and the passion in the conversations at home but was old enough to soak into the pomp and pageantry! That these statues have been there from then on is a ‘nice to know’ thing. 

In an area that is earmarked for rain water puddles, marketing campaigns for two wheelers, protest strikes of various political parties and Kabaddi matches sit two piercing statues. 

First off, there is Kavimani Desika Vinayagam Pillai. A tamil poet who translated the work of Omar Khayyam. Wikipedia  doesn’t give me much else. The name is more than merely ‘familiar’ but the thirst for knowing him more stands revived. The tags underneath the post on Wikipedia point to a few things that points in a direction.  They read : “•  People from Kanyakumari district •  Tamil poets •  Indian Tamil people •  1876 births •  1954 deaths •  Indian writer stubs”. Helpful!   

A little distance from there stands U.V.Swaminatha Iyer.  Wikipedia   holds much more on him than Desika Vinayagam Pillai. U.V.Swaminatha Iyer  called ‘Tamil Thaatha” ( The grandfather of Tamil ) is credited with extracting ancient Tamil literature written on palm leaves and publishing them on more readable material.  Wikipedia also tells me Civaka Chintamani was a “Jain classic”. Ignorance is limitless. Mine that is!  

Do give My.Iyer a look up.  Atleast for the sake of his statue that has looked at every single passing vehicle on Alagar Koil Road, Madurai. Come rain or shine!

A little further down the road is the statue of Shankardas Swamigal. A man well regarded as the Everest of Tamil theatre.   To the best of my memory the auditorium at Tamukkam is also named after him. I promptly read more about him here and figured he must have been a pioneer and a fantastic passionate man of his time. The industry could get to new lows with juvenile ‘masala’ movies but there are some film makers who would make him proud.  Where the industry is, is a different matter. His statue sits right at the junction of four roads and what a ringside view he has. This statue has been up since 1967. I wish it could speak. The world can be the stage. Seriously! 

Diagonally opposite to him is this pillar. It sure must have some history but nothing that I could find. I am curious if anyone knows more.

A couple of kilometers  away in what is now called KK.Nagar junction sits this man. Tholkappiar. Right under the KK Nagar Arch. 

A statue again bearing the time stamp of the World Tamil Congress, 1981. For me, KK Nagar is like home! And right under his nose, I have been upto mischief, had run ins, worked studiously, ran campaigns, bought medicines and what not. But never before did I realise that Tholkappiar was looking at it all. 

I recall reading Tholkappiar as one of the foremost grammarians of the world. Around 2000 years ago. Google doesn’t throw up any proper leads on Tholkappiar on the first page of search. There are politicos opening parks in his name but about the man himself, there is little except a mention of his being Agastya’s disciple. Some more diving deeper keeps me glued to the monitor for a good hour. Debates have raged on the net and you may want to look up here  or here

I have no inclination and remarkably shorn of knowledge on this subject to get any close to such a debate. More pertinently, the fact that Tholkappiar’s statue stood right there and I had no idea that it stood there painted a rather dim view of how much I knew of ‘home’! 

As I stood there, camera in hand, the traffic whizzed by. Buses. Cars. Cycles. Bullock Carts. Mopeds. From the corner of my eye, I notice many curious eyes looking at me. I wonder how many people know of Tholkappiar or atleast aware of his statue sitting there!  

I wonder if the general populace of the land care much about its true roots, language and culture. I wonder. But Tholkappiar sits there.  Blissfully peaceful. With a handle bar moustache and huge ears. 

He stares me down as the unkempt undergrowth and random wreck of a landscaped garden dominates my picture frame. Perhaps it indicates the state of the language today. Or maybe it just points in the direction of how much people know of their own backyard while they strive to build their futures in other lands. Whatever. 

More coming.   

Wah Taj !

Many call emperor Shah Jahan a mad man. To have built such wonderous a monument like the Taj.  And I would agree.  Not only did he build such a monument of magnificence, for several years he has had families like mine, visiting this place in the dead heat of summer!

And still left shaking their heads with disbelief at the scale, splendour and the sheer magnificence of the place.  The fact that it is still standing after some 380 odd years ( and earrning money for the government and many others, is another aspect altogether). 

His love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal and her death (while bearing his 14th child) brought him to build this monument.  As far as I can recall, my history books didn’t talk of his post Mumtaz marriages. But apparently he did and was still a disappointed man. 

Bollywood, tollywood, kollywood and such other ‘woods’ have woven the mystique of love into countless songs . Poets have sighed over its splendour while crafting wily lines of love, longing and such else.  

Presidents of the world, some of them after signing arms deals with the government, have had photographs of themselves and their companions taken at the Taj. Striking poignant poses , sitting on whats come to be known as ‘Lady Di’s chair’ named after Princess Diana ( sitting alone) !

Our guide told us of Shah Jehans plans to build a replica of the Taj adjacent to the current one, in black marble. He told us as though the Mughal emperor had summoned him to his private chambers and whispered his desire in his ear.   

Going on to narrate a story of Aurangazebs cruelty and Shah Jehan’s forlorn lost last days.  It was happening in real time : melodrama spiking history big time in present continuous tense ! 

I digress. 

The Taj itself is a fantastic monument. We visited in blinding daylight. The moonlit Taj we were told was far more resplendent.  As an afterthought, it was mentioned, the fees for moonlit viewing were different

Obviously it’s a ‘must see’. It’s a place teeming with security and a global melting pot of people. All trudging in to see the’ monument of love’.  

Every visitor has lasting memories of this place. Every visit has left me with a memory or two. This one was when about half a dozen people at varying lengths in time, walked upto me, seeing the camera, the camera bag et al, and asked, ‘how much do you charge for a photograph’.

I seem to have arrived as a photographer. At the Taj ! 🙂

India Gate

Familiarity breeds contempt. In people. And in places too. Often times, it is only when someone new talks in awe about a place that is seen or talked about daily, there is a pause to ponder ! 
India Gate was one such experience for me. 

The streets of India are paved with many thousands of years of history. Worth their weight in gold. ( Perhaps thats one good reason as to why the streets are so often dug up. Ok thats a joke that didnt take of. Please ignore). 

Delhi especially so, oozes history through its pores !  

Having seen India Gate as a standard fixture on TV, whenever any reference to New Delhi was made, it was only natural to approach it as yet another of those ‘fixtures’ to be seen. 

On a Sunday evening, it can be particularly busy. With ice cream vendors competing with trinket peddlers who were arguing with sellers of maps who were attempting to be louder than some other set of people. 

Amidst all this din, the muscular arches of India Gate stood gritty and steady. With enough light and just about some space amidst all the jostle to get a click or two in. 

Heres some history that Wikipedia threw at me. Post the visit. Which I obviously wished I had read up before I went there. In anycase, you can read it here

It commemorates 90,000 Indian soldiers who lost the life fighting for the British Raj in many battles in distant lands during the times of the World War 1. Since independence it has become the Indian Army’s ‘tomb of the unknown soldier’.

Quite obviously, when any famous dignitary, turns up, he or she places wreaths here. Even if they have come in for signing an arms deal. 

The inverted rifle & the soldiers helmet, the three services represented by their flags and the eternal flame thats on, can perhaps be a solemn sight. But on a Sunday night, I wonder significance of such a monument, melts in the frenzy of lapping up one more ice-cream ! 

Right in front of India Gate is a canopy which originally housed King George V’s statue. After independence the statue was suitably accommodated elsewhere and the canopy now lends itself well to the camera. 

First you fight wars. Then splendid monuments are erected to remember those that died in wars. And then on Sunday nights, people come to such monuments and have ice cream. 

How does just going about building monuments and feeding ice cream, without any war, sound to you ? 

R for Rashtrapati

Pre monsoon showers have been lashing against the window sill.  The green tea that was simmering hot has now gone seething cold. I have been lost in thought.  An assortment of odd words on the computer screen is the only other evidence of time that has run away. 

Having just returned from Delhi last week, I began typing about Delhi and its accouterments and my thoughts have strayed. Fantastic architecture, fabulous people, frayed tempers, streets paved with history, the multitude of red beacon lead cars indicating its stature as the Capital of India !  

For purposes of beginning all over again, I choose a topic that has been on all news channels and probably on most of India’s mind as well : Rashtrapati http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/anti-fungal/ Bhavan. 

Before you rush to think that this is one more commentary on the Presidential Poll or Mulayam Singhs wrestling skills or Pranab Mukherjhee’s success as a Finance Minister or for that matter of his sister, well, let me disappoint you. ( Or give you some ‘relief’, depending on how much TV you’ve been watching) 

This is about a piece of real estate that goes by the name of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

It was Sunday evening. Last Sunday evening. 

When a motley crew of visitors kept moving at the gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Clicking  pictures. Most of them were tourists like us. The babble of different languages from different parts of the country was only matched by the steady solid bearing of metal in the gates and the vapid look on the faces of the gaurds!

For many of the tourists like me, it was the sheer scale of the grandeur of Rashtrapati Bhavan that perhaps brought meaning to the monumental sparring that’s on to get there.  You cant blame us. Used to figuring out a living in 2-BHK / 3-BHK, running to the bank to check the status of EMIs and such else, seeing this opulence is bound to get anybody unsettled. 

“You mean, she lives here. This is her house?  What a luck ‘lady’”.  That was a young man telling his friend in chaste English.  [Disclosure : Suitable modifications have been made to delectable adjectives used ]  And so on. You get the drift don’t you. 

It may be different in reality. Or maybe not. But on that summer evening, it was apparent that the post of the President of the country was best understood through the lens of real estate.   

A quick look up of Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wikipedia will tell you that its got 360 rooms and sprawls over 4000 acres. Over 300 families were evicted in Raisina and Malcha villages between 1911 and 1916 for its construction!  It took some 19 odd years to build and has some Its opulence was so mind blowing that C Rajagopalachari, the first india Governor General chose to live in the ‘Guest Wing’ and subsequent Indian presidents are supposed to have done the same. 

Ofcourse, the opulence will come along with ‘gardens’, ‘horses’ and a vast horde of staff that must serve the President. One look at building will convince anybody that a small economy can run with the expenditure that’s required to finance the day-to-day maintenance of the building.  

Oh. Economy & finance did I say? 

Story power !

Oxfam is betting on a new way.

Imagine having to sell second hand goods. Say, used furniture. Or other items of daily use. Like sunglasses. Or combs. Or radios. Whatever.

That effort is not going to fetch anything more than a small sum, unless ofcourse those belonged to a celebrity.

Ofcourse, the celebrity quotient is comes from the story that can be told.

“This hair strand is from Elvis Priestly”.

“This coffee cup was used by Sachin Tendulkar”.

Surely, the strand of hair is not worth so much if its not associated with Elvis. Nor the coffee cup with Tendulkar. These are stories that give life to random inanimate objects.

So here is Oxfam’s very interesting game plan.

Second hand goods gain a meaning when they come with a story. If there was a way of sharing a story about a second hand product with a prospective buyer, well, the chases are more for a purchase. (Every item on second hand sale will carry a story along with it and tagged to the item using a QR code. Any prospective purchaser would get to know of the story behind the item on sale. )

“Someone might donate a record and add that it was the song that they danced to at their wedding to its tag,” The chances of a purchase brightens with the story! (Not that it would result in a purchase everytime).

Stories have great power in them. Almost magical. Every individual carries his or her own stories and it becomes easy to relate to other stories that are told .

The humdrum of everyday corporate life makes it difficult for us to take the time to listen to stories or narrate our own. But when we do narrate or when we find a patient ear, what a difference it makes.

Methodologies like Appreciative Inquiry, inherently seek story telling and can create organisation wide energy. Every story holds significance and the very act of both telling and listening to a story can be sources of great energy.

Unfortunately, language creates its own complications and the word ‘story’ can sometimes lead to the narrative being thought of as a flippant waste of time. Call them what you will, stories have in them an inherent quality that brings alive people.

Grandma and her tales !

Personally, many of us would have grown up with stories. As children stories fascinate us. For many years, I grew up with stories that my grandmother used to tell me. Those gave a huge fillip to imagination and also, in retrospect, brought a contextual understanding of morals and values that was required in the family. The best thing about them, was I always used to look forward to hearing those ‘stories’!

In the corporate world the power of stories is often underrated. Grossly.

There are exceptions though. Coca-Cola is one that I know. Coca-Cola Conversations, the blog that Coca-Cola runs is a fine example of how corporate stories build or augment a brand. Infact, Coca-Cola has a historian and archivist with them : Phil Mooney.

Only, in the modern times, technology has given consumers the opportunity of contributing their own story to the brand. That is not only more interesting, it is as authentic as it can get.

Blogs, wikis, tweets all are available for imaginative use.

Within the organisation stories from the organisations past : accounts of successes / failures / decision points etc when told with a degree of authenticity and simplicity not only aid a great deal in building a culture, they are extremely non-invasive and interesting for employees.

So much for stories ! And by the way, they work. Very nicely !


Reeking royalty !

The zoom lens on the camera were the first to spot it. A patch of brown in a sea of green. Some more zooming and out with curiosity more than anything else, least of all, understanding history, got us in front of this gate.

It looked like any other gate. A gate that was fastened with a chain and a piquant lock. The biggest battle that the gate seemed to wage was with the forces of nature and ofcourse, the undergrowth in the vicinity. Quite ordinary, you might think.

Except that we were standing on Palace Road. This was a gate that we passed twice, without realising that we were passing the gates of the Summer palace of the Raja of Travancore. At Kuttikanam. 140 kilometers South of Cochin in Kerala.

The royal folks that lived here are long gone. The palace sits in silence. Unpretentious yet majestic. The walls could tell you a multiple zillion stories. The walls… Its extra smooth walls, which if we were to believe the old caretaker and his young son, were polished with eggshells amongst a millon other things.

Teak floors. Teak roofs. The broken glass panes of windows that a royalty and their retinue would have operated, let in the fresh crisp sunrays of another lovely morning October morning. Like the windows would have, decades ago.

It’s a quaint, simple structure yet reeks of prosperity and a princely time that seem present, in their absence.

‘Nobody comes here’ says the caretaker, giving us a look half filled with surprise and the other half filled with curious disinterest. Yet, he indulges us in showing us around, and relating stories of a time that’s passed us all. A time, that he himself, has only heard of.

‘This is where the king received his guests’ he says pointing to a large hall with a spectacular window and view. He moves on, leaving you to fill up the picture of a king, his queen, generals and visitors. The tapestry of movies seen and narratives read, can feed the imagination well. Within no time, imaginative narratives of a scheming Diwan, a loyal minister, a lovely queen with the British knocking on the door, ran in my mind.

Only to be occasionally broken by the realistic narrative of the caretaker who by now was doubling up as a tour guide.” This is the queens room” he says lowering his voice marginally. Perhaps in awe. A yesteryear carpet still fills the floor. Decimated by time, and neglect.

The Royal emblem stares at you from the window. A broken cupboard still stands. Perhaps for reasons of pride, for falling down can reduce it to a pile of wood.

The toilet commodes are ‘Belgian’. The tiles Italian. The glass panes are from UK. So thinks the old caretaker and his young son. Who by now, we realize, has fed the curious minds of a few stray visitors like us. There is no reason why we wouldn’t believe what he was saying. It was adding up well.

I ran my fingers across the wall for some odd reason. Perhaps vicariously caressing royalty and a royal time. Ending up with an inch of dust and a consequent glare from the missus.

True to form, the kitchen could accommodate four ‘1 BHK’ Mumbai homes and has the giant bicep powered grinder. The hand grinder seemed remarkably dust free which intrigued us no end. The intrigue didnt last long though. ‘We use it’. He says. Quickly moving away leaving me facing the lotus shaped sinks, the vegetable racks and such else.

Right in the centre, is the ‘open to sky’ area. The undergrowth has come back with vengeance. Fungus, cobwebs and still air give the caretaker and his family company. So does life in flowers and bees.

Ofcourse there are those nuggets of architectural excellence like the central heating. Or the underground escape route, the splendour of using sunlight and the natural air, which by now, has become so de rigueur for us, that the eye brows don’t arch as much.

In a style that is typical of a city dweller who gets approached for taking a home loan once in two and half hours, we ask him about the owners and where they stay. Not that we had the slightest inkling of buying but then, you ask. As a matter of practice.

‘Its been bought by an IT company from Bangalore’ he says.

‘Ah IT’ is all that I mouth.

A quiet silence pervades the air.

Whats the point I wonder. Of meticulously buying glass from Belgium and tiles from Italy and leaving it to an elderly caretaker and simple visitors with interest that didn’t stretch far too beyond a curiousity enhanced imagination. Wistfully despairing the state of disrepair of dilapidation of what once must have been the nerve centre of a kingdom.

The nature of life and change being the only constant, sometimes gets eloquent reminders. This was one.

We walk away. My imagination in royal splendour for what now seems like an interminable period. Exciting possibilities of a beautiful queen, stately king, an interesting affair, blunder filled jester, , galloping horses, Lovely retinue, politics and twists, song and dance!

I don’t realize I am walking half in a trance, until the missus shakes me up.

‘Go clean your hands’, she says. ‘They are dusty’.

The grandest of them all !

Faced with this choice maze on commencing sharing of the things we saw, the food we ate, the conversations that we had and such else, some logic had to get applied to get the first topic out.

So it was, and this post is about the Grand Canyon ! Imposing.Colourful. Instilling pride in people . Yet, so close to nature. Most importantly something thats stood around for millions of years.

Here is an attempt at perspective building : Imagine building a road that is TWICE the distance of Mumbai – Pune ( which would be a four + hour drive in sane speeds and simple cars). Quickly imagine ensuring that the road is 30 kilometers wide. Yes. 30 full kilometers wide. Even before that can settle down, think of digging the ground 6000 feet to make this road !

That’s the size of the Grand Canyon. 446 kilometers long. 30 Kilometers wide. 6000 feet deep ! All engineered by mother nature’s masterstrokes. One amongst them being the Colorado river whose continuous flow is said to have created this art in the mountain with corrosion as a tool!

Logical that the posts commence with the Grand Canyon. Isnt it !?!

As we stood on the west rim of the Grand Canyon and looked at the myriad shades of crimson on a series of walls that seemed to extend forever and beyond, greed announced its arrival with a desire to take a closer look. Perhaps touch the sands of the Colorodo river? At a depth of 6000 feet?

America singularly stands out for being a land of choice. If a desire is implanted in the mind accompanied with a wherewithal to act on it, there is always a way to make it happen! At a cost. Ofcourse !

In what can be called a truly Californian moment of budgetary rashness, wringing the last dime in the wallet dry, we chose to have an unplanned helicopter ride.

The ride operators promised to fly us from the western rim of the Canyon, all the way down to base where the Colorodo river runs its meandering course. Plus, take a boat ride in the river! The allure to see the work of mother nature over time, was simply irresistible. We signed up at a speed that could have blinded Lewis Hamilton.

Every wring of the wallet was worth it. The rock pattern dramatically changes colour every few feet the chopper drops, like a synchronous seamless background screen change in a show. At the end of what seemed like an unlikely landing point, the chopper landed and we were face to face with the Colorado

The boat ride in the meandering river showed much of the continuous work at beauty by corrosion! As the June Sun showered his unmerciful rays with a protracted wistfulness, beads of sweat showed up on tanned foreheads, copious sun tan lotions notwithstanding. All of it compensated by a gluttonous feast for the eye and a strange peace in the heart !

The big eagle !

To think of the Grand Canyon a month later, still evokes the same feeling. Of an exceedingly fetching view with a history that can really show what ‘long long ago’ could mean !

Please scroll below for earlier posts on the US Trip. Or find them here

Eyes and ears !

This post follows two earlier posts describing Nepal, fleetingly seen in limited time ! This is the concluding post.

Swayambu. ‘Buddhas eyes’, they say. Peaceful and serene. Looking over all of Kathmandu. More here.

Eyes that seem to invite you to just sit there and do nothing while the bells keep whirring away, which perhaps is the most ingenious mechanisation of mantra chanting !

‘With sacred mantras written in them, all you have to do is to keep spinning’, the gentleman who accompanies me states in much of a matter-of-fact manner. Perhaps in a matter-of-mantra manner !

Buddhists and hindus jostle for space with tourists and cameras. Against a backdrop of a wistful sky, a small group of animated locals peddling stuff to open mouthed tourists set upon an evening chill. These serve as a perfect recipe for permanent storage in the mind.

The hill country is so pristine that makes you scamper for a word that embodies ‘pristine’ better. The Pashupati nath temple is simple and stately.

Legend has it that Lord Shiva got bored of Mt.Kailash and discovered the Kathmandu valley and ran away to settle down here. That was Lord Shiva. My inarticulate meanderings of how pristine the place is, needs not a single additional letter.

They speak in such an easy tone.

Beyond a point, you cant walk with shoes on and beyond another you cant walk with cameras! For many centuries now, the priests for this temple come only from Shimoga district of Karnataka, India!

People throng the place yet there is a sense of peaceful order. Just beyond the temple, infact adjacent to the temple, by the banks of the Bagmati river, is a cremeation ground with dead bodies on fire. Lessons on how close Creation, Destruction and sustenance are, couldn’t have had a better stage setting.

The Nepali cops and armed forces look majestic! A smartly dressed traffic cop with a tie on and such else is a pleasure to watch. Perhaps the only respite against the stiffest of traffic. And the cops, indeed have a way of carrying themselves and their costume err..uniform, with such artistic élan that can only kickstart envy !

The Nepali’s prominent headgear, which some of my sources tell me is called the ‘Dhaka Topi’ is a piece of evidence in that direction. It’s almost the first thing that I notice as the immigration officers sports this. The one that waved me in wore such a funky design that he caugt me staring at it and perhaps regarded me as a rather ‘slow person’ as it took a while for me to answer his questions!

The caps come in many patterns : checks, waves, stripes etc. The good people they are, gifted me one of these and the missus has since been thinking of so many designs for the headgear that she could be given honorary citizenship there!

She is mighty excited you see, one more piece of clothing to look out for and ofcourse, to go discount hunting for! Exciting i say !

The earlier posts are here and here

Shivneri diaries

While we travelled to Bimashankar and back we stopped at Shivneri. Shivneri is the place were Chatrapati Shivaji was born.

With every pool, puddle, railway station, airport named after the gent, it was but natural that we went to see the place where the man was born. Shivaji was a childhood hero for me. Many thousand kilometers away, down in the deep south, goose bumps used to show up like mushrooms in the monsoon, with the mere mention of his name.

These days however, especially since the time we have been in Mumbai, while all what he has done still stand tall, there is a mental fatigue at the mention of his name. For, sporting his name, is every other building, bridge, bench, pool and puddle (not to mention of airports, railway stations, ports, mountains, apartments and so on), ranging from the superlative to the sub optimal.

Given all of this, It was only apt that we would want to see where it all started.

Besides with his elevated cult status, who knows, tomorrow politically vacuous minds could come up with a wise idea and a consequent agitation : Only those who have visited Shivneri will be allowed to buy Pizza in Maharashtra. Or something like that. Possible. No ?

So we went. We were told by fellow travelers with a rather straight face and straighter voice that ‘its not a tough walk up’. We trusted those folks. Such trust sometimes has disastrous consequences. Like what we discovered.

Shivneri is close to Junnar. It’s a winding road up a hill. The car takes you a fair distance. So we thought. Then a trudge begins. A flight of steps. A steady stream of entrances. A temple. Our ears should have perked hearing the huffs and puffs of all those sweaty figures on their way down. But we were blinded by confidence in our physical strength which soon began to recede like a middle aged man’s hairline. A married middle aged man’s hairline. That sounds more real.

We climbed. Walked. And climbed. Finally getting to what remains of a yesteryear residential quarter, dating back to the 16th century. Slightly ahead there is a rather pedestrian hall, with a grill gate enclosing a statue of Shivaji and his mother built in 1970s. Which was closed to visitors.

The 16th century one was open and the 1970’s one was closed to the public. Scratch scratch. Well. No reasons come to the mind. Scratch. Scratch. No result yet. Suggest you try.

The reconstructed residential quarters where Shivaji is supposed to have been born

There is a cradle with light streaming in. If only they had a lullaby coming in, the orchestration would be 100 %. They are getting there folks! People respectfully leave their footwear outside the place and every now and then, somebody rents out a cry of ‘Shivaji Maharaj Ki Jai’! Its surreal.

A narrow flight of stairs lead to a small hall, fantastic windows and some breathtaking sights.

For many, this seemed to be a ‘pilgrimage’. I cant think of a single king who has stayed on in the imagination of people for this long, inviting such passion and looking upto.

The fort has other stuff. If patience and persistence outbeats the huff and puff. There are caves. There are tanks filled with greenish water and empty plastic bottles. But the most important element is the Khadelok point.

While it could look like any other part that gives a breathtaking view, it is said that criminals were, hold your breath, ‘tossed down from this point’.

‘Tossed down ?’ asked the kid standing next to me to his mother who was half exhausted from the climb and whatever was left in her was gone in answering the kid. Two more questions and she would have jumped from Khadelok point. She looked it.

“Like this lollipop wrapper” said the kid, tossing down a lollipop wrapper, which until then held a lollipop in tight embrace. I watched as the lollipop wrapper wafted about in air perpetually, blown in different directions by a persistent wind.

This ‘Khadelok toss’ strategy was slightly befuddling. For instance, the missus would tell you that the climb itself was a punishment of sorts for her. Which was well accentuated by seeing some of those that seemed to climb as though it was a walk in the park.

Khadelok point from far down below

But then, looking at a body come hurtling down this hill would be some spectacle of sorts. Enough to inject integrity into a crooked spine.

We huff-puffed back, stopping to have ice-cream, sold by an elderly gent, sitting there and solving a crossword puzzle. The name of the ice-cream company…you guessed it right…Shivaji Ice Cream !

It was worth it all.