Prayers On A Pad

If you were born in a time when exams held their tyrannical sway over young lives, you could never forget those swarthy exam pads. The very sight of them used to cause me to quiver in my well worn Bata shoes. Scared frenzy propelled sweat would populate every conceivable pore. 

It was but logical, that I turned to invoking God on to my exam pad.  Over a period of time, a variety of stickers of every conceivable God on Earth were pasted across the pad. On my pad there were Gods with spears. Another on a tiger. All of them with myriad weapons and paraphernalia. Some with ten hands, dazzling crowns, halos around their heads. Jesus was there with blessings seemingly streaming from his palms. A picture of the grand mosque at Mecca. Buddha. Every conceivable God that you could think of was there. 

I couldn’t care less which of those Gods would lend a hand. I just needed a hand. Incredible things were reported of every single God. As a young lad who just needed to clear his exam, religious difference were silly.  

Two days before the exam, my dad spotted the God sporting pad!  Not looking up from the newspaper he was devouring along with his filter coffee, he let go of a suitably loud guffaw and said, ‘God is just an idea’. 

My head reeled. An idea? I mean, here were chaps with bows, arrows, crosses and array of mystical powers that debilitated enemies with precision, were paragons of kindness and generally oversaw the ways of the world. All I was asking was some help with the math exam. And my dad was calling it a giant hoax. Almost. 

He followed it up with “If you don’t believe in yourself, God isn’t going to believe in your prayer. He is a busy man. He sure has other things to do than solve your math exam. Don’t you think so?” 

That holiday, I remember taking walks with him. Discussing God. Man and most importantly, exams! He stood tall. Not in a physical way. Not even in a literal way. But in a shy, unobtrusive, middle class way where all change and soaking up had to happen by the dint of effort, respect and quiet fortitude. And any action remotely akin to showmanship without substantial substance was despicably pejorative. 

From him I learnt taking walks and sorting things out in my mind. By the time, I had come to my Board exams, the exam pad sported cartoon characters. I had come full circle. I had taken many walks. I thought too highly of God and a trifle too funnily of exams. That notion has stuck for life. 

His ways were woefully unobtrusive. There were times you would expect a clear answer and all that I would end up having, was a smirk. Or an arched eyebrow. A punctuated guffaw. Following which he would dive into his collection of books like a chef searching for the choicest of ingredients and return with two books. Or more. ‘Go read’ he would say. Sometimes with an afterthought, add, ‘The Dictionary is in the cupboard’. On hindsight, I should have  deciphered that code as as  ‘this-is- a-@*#%*$&-tough-book-to-read’

J.Krishnamoorthy. Shakespeare. Milton. Kannadasan. Biographies. Judgement copies. Constitution. Economics. Osho. The Gita. It was a time when not reading the Reader Digest was a sin only slightly lesser than daylight robbery. We argued. We questioned. Sometimes he would answer. Many other times he would just stay silent and say ‘think’. 

From him I learnt the indelible virtue in reading. A virtue that necessitated respect for multiplicity of points of view. He never insisted that I study any subject, save Math and Tamil. For which I remain eternally grateful. He had such a surfeit of generosity in his invitations to read and talk, that I would often end up playing cricket, citing difficulty to choose from all that he had to offer.  Or so I told him. And he would play along.  

Back in school, one fine morning, I was told I was going to be the next School Pupil Leader. It came with a few duties. One of which was to get on stage every morning and sort of compeer the prayer ceremony. Every morning.  This was the unkindest of blows to a chap who suffered from tongue-gets-pasted-to-lips-the-moment-there-is-a-crowd-in-front disease. 

No way was I going to do that. I made a deal with him. He would talk the school out of it and in return, I will work hard and come amongst the top three rank holders in school. I mean, that was the best I could offer, given the unbelievably studious chaps that I think could have out beaten Google! Or so it feels now. 

He thought about it and said, ‘deal’. I was happy as a blissful pig who found a new ugly spot to roll in. Even if you had offered me three ice cream Sundaes I wouldn’t have been happier. If you offered me four, well, that is hypothetical, and let’s not go there.  

He dutifully came to school and met the Principal. That evening over dinner, he was beaming. I was happy that this School Pupil Leader thing was put to rest. With a small portion of a dosa in his mouth he spoke. ‘They made me a better offer’. 

My world collapsed. It was a teenage moment when seething anger gives way to blinding rage at the injustice meted out to ordinary people. ‘AND WHAT IS THAT BETTER OFFER’ I thundered like a Tamil hero. (May I request you to please add an echo and a thundering background special effect sound as is the norm). He continued munching his dosa, nonplussed. Paused for a brief moment, and said, “They said, It will be good for you.” And that was that. 

From him I learnt ‘to persevere’ is more important than ‘to perfect’. From him I learnt that as long as you are still standing in the ring, you haven’t lost the fight. 

He used to come to the plays I acted in, but would never tell me he was coming. (“You should perform for the sake of performance. Not for who is in the audience”).  He never wrote a letter of recommendation. He insisted that we always lifted our own luggage from train stations and treat the rickshaw puller with respect. 

He wanted us to have an independent mind. Fiercely. Almost as though, being otherwise was illegal and would result in rigorous stone breaking imprisonment and sharing of a dark cell with hardened criminals with deviant sexual orientations. He didn’t say those. But looking back, that’s how it feels now! 

It was not as though he was perfection personified. He had his views, foibles, follies and some of them deeply impacted us. But then, so did we. I guess, it was who he was. To live life naturally. Without pretense. 

He would beseech us to ‘walk like a Jawan’ and in the same monotone say, ‘safety is most important’. With him by the side, language often took a new meaning. Silence spoke. Mistakes didn’t matter. Wealth was a corollary consequence. Virtue was in trying. Of course, treating people with dignity was important to be human. Love needn’t be expressed but it had to be experienced. We didn’t agree on everything. But that didn’t stop him from getting us to chat about everything. 

Today, at home, my mom hands over the same exam pad to the nurse. The same pad with cartoon stickers on them. My mom’s ways of capturing a piece of the present for future reminiscing, has ensured preservation of that thing from school.  The sight of the pad unlocks a dam of memories and a slight quiver runs through my adult legs. 

The nurse who has come home, records parameters. In a sheaf of paper clipped on. My dad lies there. In the same room. A shrunk shadow of who he was. But still fighting the disease that envelopes him.

In the evening I pray for easing of his pain. Thoughts bob like a balloons in a bucket of water. I wonder if I should revert to the original stickers on the pad. He would be livid. But, this after all is a different exam. 

And most importantly I am not him. I am not even a patch on him.  

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walk on

Somewhere in Dec-Jan evey year, devotees of Lord Murugan ( a.k.a Karthikeya ) will walk to his abode in Palani and several other places in Tamil Nadu.

Although that sounds like a sleepy airy walk in the park, it isn’t so. It actually translates to several days of walking 30 odd kilometers daily.

It is the annual pilgrimage. Walking with their bare feet carousing the tar of hot roads, on which see some reinforced steel radials with hot speeds, more often than not. They walk. Carrying their belongings and all else that they would require on the journey atop their heads or slung across their shoulders

Unmindful of approaching traffic that could consist of whizzing buses or wheezing bullet carts, they walk. They are easy to spot. Dressed in a radiant yellow or an ensemble of green, roads in rural TN close to the foothills of Palani see them walk on.

I am told that they walk early in the morning. And late in the evening. Together making for almost 30 KM every day. They chant the holy name of Lord Karthikeya. And walk on.

The same happens in Maharashtra chanting the name of Sai Baba.

In Kerela they walk in the name of Lord Aiyappa.

The Amarnath Yatra up in the Himalayas.

And so we walk in the name of every God that we call out to. Mother Mary. Allah. Krishna. Shiva. Buddha. Mahavir. And ofcourse, Karthikeya. All over the country. And around the world too.

We walk many many miles over many many days. In penance. In celebration. In thanks or asking for something dear. I presume all the time that the mind is active while the legs plough on will provide for some reflection and reordering of thoughts. As well.

And so we walk on. For many miles over many days. In a strange quest for discovering love. Compassion. Peace. And well being.

Incase you cant imagine doing this with this level of an intensity, here is a suggestion. The battery of good Lords will agree, we have traversed an almost similar distance when we walk half way down the street and smile at our neighbour, help someone, do our duties with diligence and spread some cheer.

Walk on people. Walk with hope. Walk with joy. Walk with belief that life can and will be better for all of us.

By the way, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. All doctors. Walk on.

Life has to go on !

This is Peddar Road. A road on which I frequent more for running than for anything else. Once a week, and this road and its incline is a nemesis of sorts for inept runners like me. A Sunday morning on this road, looks like this.

On weekdays, this road holds more wheels than legs. Definitely more expensive wheels than most districts of Mumbai. Quite naturally, there are innumerable number of hours that you could be forced to spend stuck in a signal. Not knowing what else to do, but for twiddling your thumb and swearing at how ineffective our governments are and how fundamentally vacuous our democracy is.

The government has been proposing a construction of a flyover. Eminent residents living the area have resisted this. For a number of reasons that must be patently obvious to them, but cant seem to make sense to the rest of Mumbai, let alone the rest of the word.

So we see a logjam. Everyday, cars pile up. Inconceivable number of motorists hurl the choicest of abuses. Ofcourse, I don’t know for sure. But given the propensity of several motorists to heap abuse for anything starting from following traffic lights when no one is around, this is more than just probable.

Now its become a political issue. With parties taking a stance for or against. No one wants to give an inch. Life goes on.


Somewhere in rural Maharashtra. One of the roadside stalls had this to offer. Now, red guava is a personal favourite. Naturally, the foot came off the accelerator and the car came to an instantaneous magical halt.

Drooling with vivid pictures in the mind of red guavas, we went in and chose a few guavas.

Only to find just a while later, just as the teeth were sinking into what looked like one heck of a luscious red guava, that it wasn’t red inside after all.

The vendor, without bating an eyelid, informs that the ‘red’ in the ‘red gauvas’ kept on display were ‘painted’ guavas. The only guavas he had were all white !

I am livid. I ask him if he is right in doing this. He shrugs his shoulders and says, ‘Life has to go on sir’!


Theres this store in the corner. Which sells short eats through a window. It was a village sometime back. Now, it’s a well respected suburb of big city Mumbai. In the neighborhood tall buildings scrape clouds. Cars zip in and out of the building and life reeks of a certain ‘busy’ness.

Amidst all this hustle bustle, somehow, this store has survived.

The genial Maharastrian gentleman who runs this store, is usually very warm and receptive. So is he today. He smiles at me and asks ‘2 packs’ ? I smile and nod. Two packs of chewing gum get placed on a bottle.

There is no one today. So I chat up. What does he think of Foreign Direct Investment in Retail I ask. Filled with the usual city-dweller arrogance perhaps, half thinking the old man that he is, there isn’t going to be any answer. Leave alone, a cogent one.

‘Let them come sir’. He says. ‘

They can never be me. I can never be them. We all have our roles’.

With a pause and a smile he says, ‘Life has to go on’ !

Have a lovely week ahead people !

Chitirai Festival

The ‘Chitirai Thiruvizha’ ( The festival that happens in the Tamil month of Chitirai) is an annual feature in a Madurai calendar. There is splendour. Pomp. Simplicity. Devotion. Revelry And a letting down of hair by rural and urban folk. Every body lets their hair down.

Save perhaps the policemen on duty !

Here is a video that i chanced on YouTube !

Pretty much covers one part of the festival spread over many days. The festival itself is a ten day long affair. The pomp and show of a ‘celestial wedding’. The majesticity of a ‘God’ in motion. The piety of the simple. The preparedness of the city. The commerce that keeps knocking on traditions doors. Yet a culture that somehow survives, are all things to see.

Its a must watch.

The next year around, give me a shout if you’d want to visit ! 🙂 The festival involves a deity taken in procession from Alagarkoil into the heart of the city ( a distance of more than 20 odd KM). The young and old rejoice. As part of the festival there is this traditional ‘water spray’ by the young and the old. Specially adorned. Chanting the name of Govinda.

Spraying water to cool things down. Spraying everywhere. Often targeting the camera of a stray blogger !

Here are some images that survived such targeting !

In the name of God

This is a ubiquitous scene in temples down here. An elephant and a mahout. And of course, devotees laden with belief !

With a synchronized precision that will give a Russian gymnast some competition, the trunk is extended. A coin or two is propped into the trunk by the devotee. The trunk is then lifted and placed on the head of the devotee ! Blessings from the elephant God himself !

And of course, after some coins gather, the mahout has his way of getting the coin laden trunk to where he sits !
And at Meenakshi Amman temple, this elephant must have been doing this blessing act for some time now. For not only does the precision show, there is an elegance to it.

And the mahouts don’t even bother to stand. Any management type would be quick to classify this as a ” ‘mature process’ that runs by itself !”

Animal rights activists could cry foul. Mahouts hear a divine music in the coins that a wave of a trunk can bring. The devotee seeks blessings with faith. The elephant perhaps is now accustomed to be a stand in for God himself.
Of course, all in the name of God ! Who looks on. Perhaps with a smile. At his own creations. And their many actions.

Prayer Power

The power of prayer they say, and I know, is immense. It is visible in every conceivable form. At every temple. At every church. At every mosque and every other religious place.

The forms are many. The sequences and the rituals are so distinct and unique from each other, that an alien wouldn’t comprehend the single word – ‘Prayer’ which encompasses all the activities!

Well, the activities themselves range from elaborate one month yagnas and constant chanting of mantras to a less than a millisecond activity of crossing the chest and looking up into the sky as one crosses a place of worship atop a speeding bike ! In-between there is an ever expanding milieu of activities: candle light vigils. Monday – Sunday fasting regimens. (With an additional colour or two for specific days of the week). The list is endless.

Well, as much as there are different places of worship. There are different times of worship too. Most during a trying situation. Praying for a miracle when the odds don’t favour one are the most common. I remember praying to God that my favourite teams must win match after match (particularly when I knew it was difficult for them to) ! I remember praying to God for good grades thinking they were probably improbable!

I vividly recall praying for peace in Sri Lanka. For a proper ‘taking care’ of an impolite neighbour. For the handicapped children in Namibia. For possession of a fancy car. The list is endless!

Here is a poem that I cam across….

It was right before the big one and the

Basket ball player said,

“Excuse me guys for just a sec

while go bow my head”

And in the quiet of that room

The basket ball player prayed,

“Oh God if nothing hear me now

I know that fate is made.”

“So help us lord to win this

game, it’s the big one man, you see,

If we lose this game that’s itg for us.

Please do this, lord, for me”.

And as his body knelt in prayer

He looked up the sky,

“And while I am here and have

sometime, I need to ask you why?”

“They say you never help teams win,

Just do it once I pray

We will pay you back in kinder deeds

Or in another way”

“Thre reason I cant help you win”,

the lord then replied

Is as youre asking me to win,

So is the other side”

“I am every body’s father and

I must not take one side.

So games are played on your own

Or they would all be tied”

“But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pray”

He answered him with care

“You can pray that players don’t get hurt. And

that all calls are fair.”

“And then I wont just watch the game,

I’ll bless it with my care,

Because dear son you need to learn

That life’s not always fair.”

And while the player heard this voice,

He bowed his head in prayer,

“I pray for fairness”, said the boy

“And for your tender care”

“You shall be blessed”, the lord replied

Your team and you the same,

And now will you excuse me my boy

I cannot miss the game !

This poem gave me a new perspective. What does one pray for ? Is it for good health ? Is it for settling scores? Is it for the other guys defeat of for my victory? For our safety or is it for growth? Is it for our betterment or is it otherwise. The essence of the prayer must not be lost in the ritual surrounding it. The end must not be a victim of the means!

As the next generation moves on, there are two distinct patterns emerging. One a serious ritual minded pattern which subjugates the ends to the means.

On the other, there is this apathetic pattern, which does not believe in the power of prayer. Inbetween, the true essence of prayer has gone incognito. Children pray for good grades. Parents pray for miraculous results. The country prays for victory of their team. The bulls and the bears will pray for the markets to swing either way. The corrupt politician prays for more money without being busted by a sting operation. And the media person running the sting operation, prays for more such corrupt politicians ! whew !

Maybe we should think a little more, while praying. Maybe we should pray for fairness. Maybe we should say a prayer of thanks more often. Lets remember that all prayer has a the person praying hoping for some good. One way or the other. Maybe we should focus on the end !

And, as and when that happens, Our children will definitely going to be a happier lot. I read this somewhere…

What to ask for

Alan Cohen

Try replacing your ‘to do’ list with a ‘to be’ list. Who do you want to be while you are doing? How do you want to feel? What inner experience would you like to enjoy behind your activities? You can get everything crossed off your ‘to do’ list, but unless you have set you intention about who you want to be and how you want to feel, you will miss your true goal, which is happiness. Set you intention for soul fulfillment and watch your life take off, spiritually and materially.

Be conscious of what you are asking for. You can pray for something specific and get it. Or you can pray for a quality of life, and get that. Praying for specifics is risky, for you are dictating a form. Praying for essence guarantees reward, for you are seeking an energy. Rather than dictating a specific object as your goal, designate a quality of experience.

Before you climb the ladder of success, be sure it is leaning against the right wall. You can get what you think you want, or you can get what you really want. All thoughts are prayers, and all prayers are answered. You pray more with you thoughts and intentions than with your words.

Infact, you are praying at every moment. Every asking that proceeds from the heart is a prayer. Ask for your soul’s dreams not your minds. When the mind and soul come into alignment, you will achieve the mystical marriage that gets your head out of sand and into heaven.Life goes on ! Prayers hold the answers !