Friday, September 16, 2011

LEGENDS THAT LIVE



“Break, break, break,

On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!

And I would that my tongue could utter

The thoughts that arise in me.”

Prologue:

She felt the spray from the sea on her face, the taste of salt made her take note of her surroundings. The sea continued its ritual of bringing wave after wave to the shore, only to take back all the things people left- no longer useful. The sea always had charm for her - the stability of its monotony, yet the variety evident in each different wave that strikes the shore- it captivated her, calling to her as if from a forgotten past. She stood there staring with unseeing eyes, as if witnessing a scene separated by time. Yes, the call was growing deeper with every passing day, as if the sea had remained embedded in some part of her soul that refuses to let go. She must go; for there, she knew, lay, in some inexplicable way, a part of her destiny. She turned to leave, feeling the wave that licked her toes, inviting her onto the depths. She closed her eyes, surrendering her senses to the sea.

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The spray that splashed through the window sill washed the last remnants of weariness from her sleep deprived eyes. The train thundered on, not in the least weighed down by the feelings of the multitude thronging its interiors; not pausing to feel the cool drops of water splashing down. She looked out of the window, watching the scenes that slipped by, not waiting to bid goodbye. That was life for her. The more she moved forward, the more the things that she cared for moved away from her, leaving her clutching in vain at the abyss they had left. But now, it will be different... she had answered the call. She was going to the place where it all started. A sense of peace descended on her and she closed her eyes to drift to sleep while the train brought her closer to Kanya kumari.

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Chapter 1:

The sea was just the same, it never changed. She was happy about it. She never got bored watching the sea, watching its innumerable waves splash onto the rocky shore and withdraw gracefully. The sea at this particular place held more fascination to her, for at this place the tri-seas met, sharing waters and silt from different lands.
It was 25 years since she saw this sea last, but it never did leave her mind. Something in its magnetic depths lured her towards it. That was what made her leave all her work and catch the train to this peaceful seaside.

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Chapter 2:

Ram Babu saw her sitting at the steps, staring at the sea. He had seen many people like this; people running away from home in search of peace, a few minutes of retrospection; and he did his best to avoid them. Being the eldest of the guides and having a moderate grasp of English, he was the most sought after among guides. There weren’t many legends that he did not know of. There was something about this girl, (not really a girl, but for this very old man, anyone below forty is a girl), that made him go to her. He knew she needed his help. He tapped on her shoulders. She turned, taking her eyes off the sea for a second, and gave him a ready smile. He asked, "Madam would you like a guide? There are many stories here that only I know of!”. He saw her smile wean off. She sat looking at him, as if sizing him up, for some time and at last nodded her head.
"What is your name, madam? And where are you from?" "I am Madhuri. I work in Mumbai. Have you ever been to that part of the world?" "No, I have never left this seaside for the whole of my life.....and I am proud of it!" She grew silent. He took her to several places - churches, buildings of beauty, which she viewed with a disinterested air. He took her shopping but she bought nothing except a packet of seashells from a small girl. Her gaze always seemed to return to the sea, as if in search of something she lost. He then took her to the seaside and showed her the rock, a few feet wide, lying at a little distance from the sea. "That, madam, is the star attraction of this place. The latest legend and I have the utmost authority to speak of it. "What’s so special about it?". Here, at last, he could discern some curiosity in her tone, a twinkle in her eyes. He knew her heart would stir up to it. "A long time ago, around twenty five years, there was a little girl of 12 years-a very cheerful little girl with a musical voice who sold seashells, flowers and other knick knacks to tourists. Her name was Kadambari. She was collecting shells at the sea shore. The sea lay beyond this rock then. She was standing at its edge, bending down and collecting beautiful shells. Maybe she saw a beautiful shell that would attract the tourist eye; anyway she fell off and the tide carried away her light body remorselessly. She was never seen since". She noticed that his eyes glistened with tears. "I knew her well. She used to come running to me calling 'Babuji', to show me her collection. Her body was not recovered, but in this place where the tri-seas meet, the whirling waters in the depths can take you anywhere. Since then it is said that she haunts this place. Many a guide coming back home at night has seen her standing on this particular rock." She gasped. "Have you seen her?"
"Yes, just once. She waved to me and vanished. It is called Kadambari rock now and is the most sought after location in this place". He helped her take some photographs of the rock and as the sun began to set, she left him, giving him a generous pay, almost twice his fee.

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Chapter 3:

The taste of salt brought her back from her musings. She opened her eyes half expecting to see the sea. But she was at the balcony of her hotel and the sea was distant, like a giant grey monster lying in wait to be fed. The salt had come from her tears that were running freely down the sides of her face.

Should she have told him that she was the very same Kadambari, who was saved from the turbulent waters, taken to Bombay and deposited in an orphanage? He was right; everyone liked her at first glance. That’s how the elderly couple who came to adopt took her, gave her education, took her to places; at last they passed away leaving her rich and educated. It was a blessed moment when she fell off, else she would have remained as the illiterate girl for ever; or was it? She realised that all along there was an inner longing in her to go back to the simple unsophisticated youth of hers, but now, it was too late to turn back. She had recognized Babuji at first glance but he didn’t know her; maybe she had changed. It was a good thing she didn’t tell him about herself. She didn’t want to be known as the illiterate flower girl. Besides, she didn’t want the old man to lose his star attraction-a story which earned him a living!
Funny-after years of education and perseverance, here she was ,a well settled woman; but her presence in the world has gone down in history -not as the cultured cosmopolitan but as the flower girl whom she had hated and buried in her heart for ever.
She looked at the rock, the birthplace of the legend. She felt she could see the child there, waving her arms as if urging her to let go and move on. She felt, vaguely happy, as if all along there had been a fight raging inside her, a fight between the past and the present. The past had won, proving itself the better of the two. Tomorrow she would go back, but she would have left all the memories and sorrows at this shore- let the sea wash it onto itself, dragging it to its depths.

The sea hasn’t changed, so did Babuji. His assumed air of self importance-she had thought that there wasn’t anything that he didn’t know of, but she had been a fool then!!!

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Epilogue:


That day Ram Babu came home early. His wife looked up from where she was cooking their frugal supper.

"You remember Kadambari, the little flower girl? She had come today. I was right all along. She didn’t drown, she somehow managed to escape. She has grown up to be a pretty woman but has the affected airs of the city folks about her. I didn’t give away my feelings because I wasn’t sure if she'd like to be known by her past. I was right. She has a new name and has made a mark for herself and did regret her past.
I told her a cooked up story about the rock- the one which she fell from -being named after her and it being the star attraction of this place. Quite a legend I made up.” He sat there laughing to himself.

"Why did you do that?"

"So that she would be as much proud of her humble past as she is of her new found glory!!!"

The sea continued to lick the shore with its ebbing waves, lying in wait, dragging and burying the stories left there.

“Break, break, break

At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!

But the tender grace of a day that is dead

Will never come back to me.”

- Tennyson


The End


Monday, August 8, 2011

Dreams


One can imagine the plight of people working with high temperature equipments on hot afternoons in mid-summer; and that too at the sea-shore. It is pathetic to say the least. I have been oft en working in such a severe environment.
Before I begin, a word of caution: Day dreaming might be fatal to your career!! On one such lethargic summer afternoon, I had received a call from my colleague, stating that one of our seniors wanted us to be in his office to discuss few technical issues. When I reached his office, my colleague informed me that our Senior had gone to the Group Director’s office to make an STD call to Bangalore.
Suddenly, Bengaluru knocked my brain!! He might be sending me there. I might be going there for some official work; far away from this hot and humid climate. Wonderful weather, gorgeous girls, huge malls… a real city in all respect! How cooooool is that! Hoping for a long tour, I was already packing my bag in my thoughts. “Will the tickets be available during this holiday season? I have to make arrangements for my accommodation too!! Will I have enough ti me to spend with my friends there? ”. And in no time, my dreams took off and I was on a Kingfisher flight to Bangalore with svelte air hostesses making me feel very comfortable in the air!!
Oh Wait……. Really?? It’s an official tour Bro!! And you are working for ISRO! I counted my gray hairs and told myself that it might be years before I travel by flight.
My thoughts wandered to a more realistic mode of transport and I saw myself sitting in the train, enjoying the changing landscapes and musing about my stay at Bengaluru. Then I was
in Bengaluru, roaming around with my friends.
This went on for what felt like two days. By the time our senior entered his offi ce with a wide grin on his face , I was uploading the pictures of my tour virtually in facebook. Two days of tour in less than two minutes! Mr. Christopher Nolan, you might really want to reconsider the time scale for dreams in your recent film ‘Inception’!
So, I was back in his offi ce in VSSC, Trivandrum, still so excited about the virtual tour. I was waiti ng impati ently for him to reveal the good news. He sat down relaxed and started posing questions about our solar system. How many planets are there? How far is Mars? What is there after Neptune? Is Pluto still a planet? How dangerous is the asteroid belt? And so on…
WOW!!
Without my knowledge, the lid on my brain opened and I was drowned in the thoughts that overflowed . My desti nati on had changed; I need to change my iti nerary. I was about to embark on a journey to space.
Bengaluru to Space!!!
I was in my ISRO space suit and was posing with my hand rested on a helmet, which was on a 4
feet high table. The National flag of India was there in the back ground, and I posed for the typical astronaut photograph.
I lifted the rocket boosters, which to my astonishment were very small, and hung them on my back and walked towards the Launchpad.
“Oh WAIT! How could I possibly forget that!” I came back, opened my lappy and changed my Facebook status to “Hurrayyy!! Going on a Space Mission… Miss you all!!”
Now, with a sense of contentment, I went and stood on the launch pad. As the countdown began, I was thinking “How can I miss them without even starting from here? Huhh!! Aint it Crazyy!!!”
The boosters I was carrying were ignited. In a jiffy, I was soaring into the sky at never ever experienced acceleration. THRILLING!!! I crossed the earth’s atmosphere and slowly entered the earth’s orbit. What a breathtaking view of earth that was!! I could see the constellation of the man-made satellites. The moon that we conquered long back just seemed to be a leap away! The entire scene was captivating. What an awesome feeling!
After two revolutions around the earth and after having taken a whole lot of pictures, a few in panoramic view covering earth and moon, with my compact Sony Cybershot cam, I came out of the orbit and set sail into the deep, dark space away from our mother earth, very excited and thrilled about what I was going to explore next. After a while, I saw a sign board showing the ways to the different planets. I was baffled!
“OMG Where am I going ? Which planet am I supposed to go to now!! I forgot to ask my senior. How could I possibly mess it up like that?”
While I was cursing myself, slowly, the empty dark space around me transformed into a small room with my Boss sitting in front of me and my colleague by my side. Both of them were
staring at me and seemed to be waiti ng for my involvement. I regained my senses and nodded my head indicating that I am back. He started the discussion and it turned out to be on Human in Space Program (HSP), indeed!
Are all these crazy dreams because of my boiled brain due to the hot weather??? I have no idea.
Anyways, the idea of going into space is really fascinating and motivating!!!

Trekking to Meesappulimala


A hard trek to wild hills of Munnar had always fascinated me and a trek to the highest peak of south India, Anamudi peak (8682 ft.), still remains a dream. Meesappulimala the second highest peak (8640 ft.) has flickered many times in my google searches for trekking routes in Kerala, but I had never considered it seriously, because Anamudi is also in the same region. However thanks to my friend Jayesh, who has been regularly trying for permission from forest department to Anamudi trek, that I got a chance to trek to this peak. Jayesh had finally suceeded in getting the permission for trekking in Meesappulimala overcoming all the difficulties of contacting the forest officials during Vishu holiday and confirming availability of an experienced guide.
Unlike my earlier trips, this tour to Munnar was a planned one (I booked a room in a fine resort two days ahead) since I had past experiences of diffculty in getting a descent lodging during vacation time. Me and my collegue Anurag Kumar Sinha reached my home at Perumbavoor on the previous day of Vishu and on the day of Vishu we started to Munnar after break fast. The drive to Munnar from Perumbavoor took nearly four hours as we progressed the journey through NH49 enjoying the scenic beauty of wilderness. There are two spectacular water falls on the way namely Cheeyapara and Valara. We checked into the Ayur County resort by 3 p.m. which is located at Chinnakanal, 20 kms away from Munnar town on the way to Theni on NH 49. The resort was selected mainly because the tariff was moderate and as we checked in we realised that it was worth the pay. The room was well furnished with all facilities and the view out side was breath taking, ideal for any family vacation. Rest of the day we spent roaming around the hills and tea plantations near Chinnakanal.
The climate changed suddenly in the evening. The heavens threatened to open up, accompanied by thunders. The down pour continued for 2 hours and Jayesh failed to reach Munnar in time due to his other responsibilities towards family. However, we got assurance from our guide that climate will be fine in the morning and we can have an early start. Jayesh also stuck to the plans and he stayed over night at Adimaly and promised to reach Munnar next day by the first bus available.
Next day we woke up at 4 in the morning and by 6.30 picked up Jayesh from the Munnar town and then proceeded to Kerala Forest Development Corporation. We had to wait a bit for our guide Muthu, who came only by 7.30. However, we finished our breakfast in the meantime and also bought a few bottles of mineral water and some appams for our lunch. As soon as Muthu came we paid the entry fee to the KFDC official and proceeded to the trek point.
The trek point for Meesappulimala starts from Silent Valley tea planatations, near the Mattupetti dam. As suggested by Muthu, we didn’t hire any Jeep from Mattupetti and drove upto the trek point in Sinha’s car. We started our trek and in order to save time Muthu deviated from the regular trek path and chose shortcuts which consisted of steep climb all the way. By the time we covered the 4 kms through steep hills we were very tired and we thought if we continue this way we may not have the energy to retrace our steps on completion of our ascend of 16 kms. Luckily the Forest Department’s yearly road maintanence was in progress and we could avail the jeep used by the officials. We rode upto the Rhodo Valley which is the last point accessible by a four wheel drive on the route.
From Rhodo Valley we resumed our journey through the hill side though another easier route to the Meesappulimala is available. It was physically demanding trek but the mesmerising view of the valley from the hills kept our mind and body active. We saw a herd of Nilgiri tahr gracing in the valley. Sensing our presence they disappeared on to steepy rock cliffs in seconds. The Nilgiri tahr in this area are quite wild and shy animals unlike those in Rajamala since the presence of humans are quite rare in these localities.
By the time we reached the top most point of the Meesappulimala it was noon. The sight of the surrounding valley through the clouds was quite fascinating. We rested for a while and had our lunch. At 12.30 p.m. we started our descend from the peak hastly to avoid the evening rain as we could already see the formation of clouds. We chose the route through the valley, for our return, which we found more easier. The route consists of many elephant tracks and marsh lands and the valley was blooming with flowers. We stopped for a few minutes in the Rhodo Valley which is a campsite occasionally visited by many forgien tourists and where overnight camps are conducted. By 3.30 p.m. we reached the place where our car was parked and by the time we boarded the car thunderous shower started. We drove down to our resort slowly in the rain and by the time we reached our room we just fell on the bed at the very first sight and slipped into a deep sleep. Next day also we woke up early by 4.a.m. and reached to Kolukku malai, a view point near Chinnakanal after a one hour long bone jarring jeep ride. The beauty of the sunrise from Kolukkumalai is beyond words. We can also see the peak of the Meesapulimala from Kolukkumalai. The tea garden at Kolukkumalai is the worlds highest organic tea garden. We made a quick visit to the tea factory and had a few cups of refreshing organic tea. We came back to the resort and after break fast started our journey back to trivandrum.

Contact details of KFDC for trekking and overnight camps:
Office: 04865 230332

Tall Musings


One fine evening, I was making my way dreamily to the drawing room from the kitchen. Having just devoured a few sweets, my sense of contentment was complete. Unfortunately, my smooth progress was impeded by a collision between my head and the door frame. “AMMA...” I screamed, as a moment later, my brain decided to experience the sharp pain of the impact. Stars were circling around my head. Swearing, I rubbed my scalp and began grumbling about the sub-normal heights of the doors to my family members. They had all been summoned to the scene of the mishap, by my shriek of anguish. “It’s because of your arrogance, you should be more humble”, advised my hard-hearted brother. Mother nodded in agreement, enquiring anxiously, “Are you alright? Does it hurt?” Father chided, “You should be more careful. Always remember to stoop down at the low doors”. I sighed. This was turning out to be a regular happening now.
If you belong to that group of humans who are regarded as being taller than ordinary mortals are meant to be, read on...you will surely empathize with me. For the uninitiated (read “people of normal height”), I hope this will give a peek into our world, a view from incredibly lofty heights...
Well, I measure about 172 cms (5’9”) vertically. Throughout my life, I have wondered whether my height is a boon or a bane and till today have not reached a conclusion. It will fetch you numerous, imaginative nicknames- giraffe, thotti, kudakkambi, beanpole are a few samples. If you happen to meet relatives or friends after a hiatus, they will invariably exclaim, “ How tall you’ve grown! Your parents will have a tough time finding a boy for you!” Although their concern is touching, it exasperates you no end. The last 10 years’ experience has taught me to expect this query, listen and respond to it with an impassive face.
All the comforts and infrastructure in this world are intended for dwarves. As mentioned above, you have to be humility personified to pass unharmed through many doors. If you are unfortunate enough to be travelling standing in a bus, utmost care has to be taken to avoid damage to your brain. I discovered the existence of a lamp on the ceiling of KSRTC buses towards the back, the hard way, when the bus went over every rut and hump on our ‘well-maintained roads’. On the other hand, if you are travelling seated, you will require treatment for sore knees by the time you arrive at your destination. Mind you, you will be cramped for want of sufficient space between seats in whatever mode of conveyance you employ- car, bus, plane or auto.
My favourite posture while reading or watching tv at home is thus : sit on a chair, stretch my legs and place them comfortably on the sofa on the other side of the room. The only drawback is, mother will have infinite reasons to walk across just then and my cosy reclining will be disturbed frequently. My stretching of arms finds no favour with her either. Both annoyed and amused, she declares on such occasions, “Only an abode of gigantic dimensions will suit you!”
Your extraordinary height also brings out the creative best in your kith and kin. My uncle often remarks, “ You’ll make a phenomenal basketball player. You can collect the ball and fling it through the basket countless times. The basket will be miles beneath you.” or “This girl will go to the giraffe’s cage in the zoo, compare her height with it and say smugly, “Not as tall as me, eh?” or “You know why ISRO recruited you? Now they can dispense with rockets to launch satellites. You can inject them into orbit directly.” Then there are occasions when the fact that you tower over normal people inconveniences them, albeit unintentionally. For instance, you will hinder the clear view of others, if you happen to be seated or standing in front of them, while enjoying a stage performance. My short cousin has had to remind me to be considerate of the disparity in our heights- when I hit the shuttle out of her bounds while playing badminton or my strides were too long for her to keep in pace, while taking a stroll together.
Once, during a family pilgrimage, the driver of our vehicle looked plainly disbelieving when I informed him that I was a student of 8th standard. He queried, “Have you failed in some class?” , much to my mortification, but to my cousins’ immense amusement. I also held the dubious distinction of consistently making up the rear of the row during our school assembly. Till recently, people generally found it hard to digest that I was elder to my brother by only a year. You see, he hardly reached upto my shoulders. Thankfully, a few years ago, the growth hormones in his body commenced their activities and public opinion has been altered. Despite not being a Complan girl, my physical growth was swift, leaving me to utilize the fridge and wardrobe at home to keep track of it. For other kids, I was the benchmark. I got accustomed to such claims- some one will announce proudly, “ My head is on level with her ears” or somebody else will despair, “ I don’t reach upto her shoulders even!”
Every dark cloud has a silver lining, however, and being tall is no exception. You will easily stand out in any crowd. Many will be grateful to you for shortening their search while looking for you amongst a group. You can perform such tasks as extracting objects from the topmost shelf or pluck mangoes or flowers from unreachable branches with consummate ease. These are daunting to ordinary people who have to rely on ladders and other equipment to accomplish them. Even if there are huge crowds at temples, you can enjoy the privilege of good darshan of the deities, from the very back also. You will often be the reference or identification for others. People will say, “ That tall girl’s parents” or “ I mean the one next to the tall girl”.
All said, I am quite at peace and take heart from the fact that “I AM A TOWERING PERSONALITY”, literally atleast!

Friday, June 17, 2011

“Sir, kya aap singEl hai?”


They say face is the reflection of one’s inner self. But there are quite a few around who do not have the gift to read other’s face and who oppose this theory vehemently.

My usual day at office started when I got off the bus at the entrance gate. Walking towards the gate, I noticed a tall slender figure, almost as old as me maybe a little younger, at the gate having a peek into what a few would want to keep private- their bags (first lesson here, don’t assume, if you just started assuming). Who is not interested to peek into someone else’s affairs? That could be the reason why we see a profusion of gossip shows nowadays. Fundamentally, even the news channels feed on this human instinct to publicize what could be kept a secret, if not at times. Don’t belittle our gentle lady, she was only doing her job; she had to peek because she was asked to peek. She had to peek because she was one among those responsible to keep the place safe from any unassuming stranger who might be thinking of blowing himself up inside the premises one day. The terror hangover persists!! That was why we had our dear lady in uniform posted at the gate.

As I neared the security gate, our eyes crossed for a couple of seconds. In a fraction of a second I felt that she had a little something for me; her countenance suggested it. We all might have had, at least once in our life time experienced this sort of passing feeling. Those who are in love might agree with me when I say love is deaf, blind, doesn’t require verbal communication (which translates to dumb in common English. If that is the case, being in love could qualify and render one totally disabled). All I want to say here is, verbal communication is not the only mode of communication. Perhaps, you might never had felt existence of non verbal form of communication; not my fault why you never experienced it. Better luck next time is all what I have to say!!

It was not long before somebody accused me of imagining things. Scientists imagine, Poets imagine but the world seems not to bother about it too much. APJA Kalam asked us to imagine, Einstein asked us to imagine, perhaps they even asked us to go a step beyond- they asked us to dream, but the world seems to take a tumble when I imagine. “Come on buddy...you are assuming things, your sixth sense circuit is flawed. I don’t want a second finger point at me; I guess there is nothing wrong with me; let me not assume things. There is nothing that the young lady wants to do with me”. I moved on after the security check, walking past the figures donning army fatigues, without offering another look at the faces there and suppressing my new found eagerness.

When the doors are closed, the key has to be sought; the wisdom that has echoed down the ages came to my help when I found the doors of my room locked. The doors would be locked only when my dear colleague thinks ‘late to office’ or ‘not to office’. As I strolled back to the security gate to fetch the keys my rational and my herd instinct launched into their routine dispute. I must admit, they are pretty good at arguing, that at times I find myself lost in this world where it is difficult to lose yourself, unless you want to do so. That was my chance to see if she really wanted to say something. But how to get rid of a finger that points right at my forehead, like the sword which once dangled over Damocles’ head. Haven’t we talked about Damocles? The modern day science might explain his condition as an acute version of my syndrome. Guys imagine if it was a finger for me at the forehead it was sword for him over his head. I was better off. “Hmm...You win rational. Grab the keys, walk straight, look straight; nothing in the world is so interesting to catch your attention. You give in to your instincts and you prove that something is really wrong with you.” I took the keys from the security office and turned back and I saw nothing but the passage in front of me.

“Sir...”... “The lady in uniform in fact had a li’l surprise for me” (to those who didn’t like this mode of an addressing, they call everybody sir :P) thought I, as I turned back at the call. Without much ado she broke the suspense... “kya aap single hai?”(Are you single?)... “Did I just hear it right?” I thought. “Excuse me”, I asked her quizzically. “Aap single hai?” she repeated the question... “Oh she really asked it... what she has got to do with my singleness” and I started ‘imagining’ of the possibilities... “She doesn’t seem to be one of those innocent looking “official” matchmakers who would usually start with your family background and end up speaking about the fat pocket of the bride’s father. Wait a sec, if she is really one....Then hats off to you lady. That was bold of you ask that to my face.. Or is she really trying to search for a match for her in me...then also it is bold of you to ask that to my face.. I am yet to work up the courage.. Am I feeling my jaws falling apart? Hold on, don’t open your mouth. Don’t let her know that you are a conservative Keralite and Rule 567 in the Macho man’s BIG BOOK (yet to be authored) says, “Men aren’t supposed to have emotions. If you are to impress a woman don’t open your heart to her”. C**p!!!” my thoughts wandered away.

“Single?” I asked her; with my face in a form as twisted as a question mark... “Haan. Single?”... “Yes, I am single”... And to my surprise her face lit up, as if she heard what she wanted to hear. Dumbstruck, as I was about to turn back, to my stupefaction I saw yet another face getting lit up- her friend’s..She too seemed to be happy about hearing that... It seemed like a buy one get one offer to me. I totally lost grasp of the situation... I looked askance at the ladies...None of my theories were fitting in properly. “But where can I go wrong? Did I imagine again? I have been too cautious to leave any room for assumptions this time. It is time to do the root cause analysis. Maybe she didn’t say ‘single’, then what else could it be ... ‘Simple: she need not ask it :P, Humble, Nimble, Amble, Dimple, Pimple, Fumble, Temple.....’ Enough with the adjectives, nouns and even verbs, nothing makes sense.” I thought out all alternatives and couldn’t make head or tail out of it.

After a brief cerebration I could find only a single word that made sense to me... Singer. But I don’t go to office to sing. “What did you ask? Did you ask singer?” I asked her. She seemed to be not interested in having a conversation in a foreign language. She aimlessly took few paces back and forth in a 1x1 m2 area and told “kuch nahi”(nothing), with a blushing smile. “O dear lady, I am not the one to leave you just like that. Let’s uphold our national language but this once. But don’t you laugh at the way I handle ‘my’ national language”. “Singer......Gana...Vocal” I enquired with my hand tapping on my throat ... The link has been finally established and I saw two beaming faces once again. “Haan sir gana. Aap gaate hai?(Do you sing?)”... I was quick to offer an innocent smile to them. “he he, not even in the bathroom. Thomas Antony sir (School Music teacher) was the first and last man to make me sing against my will”, I thought. “No, I don’t” and I moved to my sitting place with a little bit of curiosity still wanting to be killed.

Next day evening while showing my bag for the security check, I found that the tall one wasn’t on duty. I asked her friend “Kal kyon pucha ki me singer hai?”(What made you think that I sing?). Reply was “Sir, woh kisine usko bataya ki aap singer hai” (Somebody told her that you are Singer). Ladies and Gentlemen let me have the privilege to introduce ‘somebody’ to you; she was the third lady in uniform.

“Sir aap real me singer hai”(Are you really a singer?), this time l found myself gaping at new interrogator, asking the same question. “No, No”, I smiled and told. “If you don’t believe I will sing once and then you’d believe”, nutty wits or witty nuts.eh?

I told you guys, they peek into your bags. They invaded my privacy too. Once I remember another girl having a look into my file in which I had filed sheet notes.(Sheet notes and me...that’s another story, maybe later) Now I see everything falling in place.

Indian English is as diverse as the Indian culture. Take any currency note and we have the denomination written in 17 (15+ English + Hindi) languages. It is no surprise, that we have more than 17 ways of speaking English. Usually Hindi speakers pronounce ‘Single’ as ‘SingEl’ and this made me think that she asked me whether I was single.

Single....Singel...Singer... Haha... Didn’t I imagine things? And here I have the finger back at my forehead. “You assume things”,the voice ringing in my ear and somewhere far away I see a face grinning at the computer screen and telling “I told you, you imagine things. I knew you would assume”.

THE BICYCLE STORY


“BICYCLE” is a symbol of freedom, free from fuel, pollution, traffic problem and parking (and almost free from maintenance).It’s best features are High efficiency, eco friendliness, fitness amiability, great mileage and safest mode of communication. one just need to have is a perception to look at it and passion to start cycling.

Bicycle has been part of many socio–economic changes in the society. Not just as a mode to commute that relieved the horses to some extent. It became a source of R&D since 80’s like ball bearings, chain drives, safety cycle design, to improve comfort and performance. It also has its contribution in industrialization like mass production, standardization of components and vertical integration which were later adopted by the automobile industry. Some automobile companies Skoda, Ailsa Craig, Rover company, started their business with cycle production.

The bicycle craze in 1890’s also led to a movement for so called rational dress, which helped liberate women from ankle length ”traditional dress”(not talking about Asian or African countries). It has been accepted as simplest and the safest fitness equipment by fitness trainers throughout the world and in armed forces to train the warriors.

Last but not the least it has been part of movies since long time (from the era of black & white movies). It has taken its role in romantic scene to action scene (Main Hoon Na) and even in Hollywood (transporter 3). It is in our life dissolved and dispersed. For some people it is an only option but some choose it by choice (mentioning some names will be unfair).

M S Athirup (31) is one among such; an entrepreneur who runs ‘Atelier solutions’. His company is handling digitization of the VSSC library since past 8 years, translation of Russian and French documents in LPSC, Database management software for BSNL & Indian railways.

This young cycling enthusiast is now with unique cycling CLUB, Athi’s Bicycle Club, to promote cycling in city and make ease of accessibility of cycle to the members. They define it as Linear (can used for one way, need not be returned to the same place), Integrated (can be integrated with other mode of transportation) and flexible (no restriction on distance) cycling. To be a member of the club first we have to call 9645511155 (Athirup) and give some basic details for registration and a sum of Rs 500 (can be paid in installments). The best part of this type of club is one need not worry about maintaining a cycle (done regularly by a team Identified for it).

TECHNOLOGY FOR A BETTER CAUSE

In this club, after getting membership what one need to do is go to the nearest CYCLE Rack, select a cycle of your choice, and SMS the lock ID of this bicycle. In reply, you will get the 3 digit code to open the lock. Next when you reach your destination rack you will get a locking code. And you can enjoy cycling in between for just Rs 2/hr. All this transaction of the code is monitored by a server and a custom made software. ALL the payments are done in to a box placed near the Rack.

Similar CLUBs are working in other countries with its transaction monitored with credit card and other gadgets. Athi has done the modifications required for the adaptation to our conditions. When talking about the difference he talks about “Government policies (dedicated lane), road conditions, and climate. More than anything else approach of the people itself is different”. About challenges he said “convincing people here itself a bigger challenge than financial one. People here are biased with prestige, laziness and have many misconceptions (safety and fitness)”. He has bought all the cycles single-handedly. Cycling in the city is safer and faster mode of transport he says after doing the analysis with his cycle-computer.

He says “abounding the other mode of transportation is not wise and practical but Integrating cycling with it would be a better solution of the existing challenge. Cycling should be an attitude in life style”.

Feel the environment like “mother nature” you will try to hurt less as possible. Though not hurting is impossible. Come and join hands to relish the cycling experience and make it a part of our daily life.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Face book Manifesto..


“Proletarians of the World, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!” thus wrote Karl Marx in one of the world's most influential political manuscripts - “The Communist Manifesto”. It took 100’s of years and dozens of editions of the book to popularize these words among the people across the world.

Precisely 162 years later, a 26-year-old woman worried about the state of her country wrote on her Wall: "People, I am going to Tahrir Square". This writing on the wall, unlike the scores of writings that you see on the walls elsewhere, didn’t go unnoticed. There were hundreds of thousands of people who followed her to the streets of Egypt, shaking the roots of the thirty year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. This demonstrated the power of one of internets recent innovations, the Facebook. The ‘wall’ where she wrote these revolutionary lines was the virtual wall of Facebook.

Facebook, which started as a college website seven years ago, grew to become one of the biggest establishments in the world of internet. With over a 600 million active users following, it is next only to Christ who has a following of 2100 million worldwide. It won’t be long before it overtakes Christianity to become the world’s biggest ‘religion’, and remember it won’t need any popes, bishops or pastors to do so. It is often said that three Jews – Christ, Marx & Einstein has influenced the thoughts of the world and any individual that you come across in life would be a follower of one of the three. It may be coincidental, but Mark Zuckerberg – the founder of Facebook, also happen to be a Jew.

The fact that Facebook competed with internet giant Google’s Orkut to gain the first slot in Social networking speak tons about the acceptability of Facebook. Even in India & Brazil, where Orkut remained at the number one position for quiet some time, Facebook has taken over. Though people often point fingers at facebook for wasting time of youngsters, recent incidents has revealed that there are more things to do using facebook than just being in touch with your childhood buddy or keeping a track of your ex-girlfriend.

When Zuckerberg was declared the Time’s Person of the year, edging out Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, there was a public outcry against the decision. People went on to say that Facebook has robed more people of their privacy than what Julian Assange has done. An accusation which was always being raised against Facebook – that it’s a major threat to our privacy. May be the accusation is true, may be it is not but the fact is that your presence or absence in facebook won’t give you the privilege of privacy. The recent events that unravel before us stand testimony for that. When the phone records of India’s most respectful business tycoon can be tapped at will by sleuths, when names of depositors in Swiss banks is available with media houses, when classified official communications of governments are published in websites, how can we even dream of privacy?

A Slight modification of the famous lines of John F Kennedy would be apt in this regard - "Ask not, what Facebook can do to you. Ask what, you can do with Facebook”. The fall of Hosni Mubarak is just a curtain raiser. There are hundreds of Mubaraks’ who are waiting to fall. It’s just an initiative from one of us that matters. Gone are the days when enterprising journalists go around media houses trying to publish their news item. You are free to put your views on facebook and if your view has content, it goes without saying that it will be circulated among the pool of 600 million users.

Facebook can be used as a medium for social revolution. If you come across any corruption or malpractice, take a snap or shoot a video in your mobile and publish it. Let no corrupt person or practice go unnoticed. Expose them; bring them to trial in the court of the people. This is what you can do and this is what you should do, other wise……

One day
the apolitical
intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
slowly,
like a sweet fire
small and alone.

On that day
the simple men will come.

Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:

“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”

Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.

Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute in your shame.

Mission Kashmir: A travelogue


To have a feel of winter in Kashmir is entirely a different experience especially for the ones who are seeing snow for the first ti me. We got an itinerary planned for 4 days stay at Srinagar. It was last week of February and as we stepped out of the flight, the freezing cold breeze gave a first hand feel of the spine chilling experience, which we were going to face during the sojourn. We had stock of enough winter clothes piled up in our baggage so as to counter the alien climatic conditions. The temperature outside was around 5 degree C .
On the first day we visited the Mughal gardens, Shalimar Bagh and Nishant Bagh. These gardens were built by the Mughal emperor Jahangir for his queen Nur Jahan in the year 1619. The Baghs are considered to be the epitome of Mughal horti culture. Shalimar Bagh has a terraced architecture and an axial canal which runs from the top to the lowest point.
The garden is linked to the Dal Lake through this canal. The best ti me to pay a visit to this garden is during the autumn or spring. It is during this time the garden is at its picturesque best due to the colour change in the leaves of the famed Chinar trees. On the way to the garden, our guide pointed to us the Char Chinar, which is an island in the Dal Lake. It is called so because of the four beauti ful chinar trees on the island. As it was winter, those trees didn’t bear any leaves.
Next day we moved on to visit Pahelgam, the ‘Valley of Shepherds’. It is about 95km towards west of Srinagar. Pahelgam is the entry point to the famous Holy Cave of Amernath. Enroute Pahelgam one can see Asia’s biggest Saffron fields. The roads leading to Pahelgam provide a very common sight of local shopkeepers selling pure Saffron (kesar) culti vated from their fields.
One of the shopkeepers there greeted us with Kesar-tea as a welcome drink. We purchased dry fruits and Saff ron from one of those shops. After having our bodies rejuvenated with kesar ka tea, we resumed our journey to reach the base of the mountain. The very first sight of snow all around us made us spell bound. As soon as we parked our car, the “gode waalas” came with the horses to take us atop. We had to bargain to fix the deal and started out on the horses after playing in the snow. We started our hike and it began snowing and it continued through out the climb. The horses took the much treaded muddy path on the snow clad mountains amidst the Pine and the Cedar trees. Snow fall which continued didn’t allow us to take snaps owing to poor visibility and the fear of snow wetting the lens. Two men who followed us with the horses stopped the ride in front of a valley for which I fall short of words to explain its breath taking views. Except for the presence of Santa and stars, the valley with its snow capped Pine trees made us feel like we reached some foreign nation to celebrate Christmas. Then we moved to the meadows of Baisaran. They call it the ‘Mini Switzerland’. It is a wonderful place to play with snow. We decided to descent after an hour of playing in the snow and making a snow-man, as our limbs started to become numb. Descending the hill felt more dangerous, as the path was covered with heavy snow and some places were slippery. To our big relief, the horses knew the way well enough to avoid such places. It took us about an hour to reach the base and we ran into the car and put on the heater.
Next day we proceeded to Gulmarg, which literally means the Meadow of Flowers. This hill resort is located in the Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir and it is about 55km southwest of the city of Srinagar. Originally called Gaurimarg by shepherds, this place was discovered by Sultan Yusuf Shah in the 16th century who was inspired by its grassy s l o p e s covered with wild flowers. But in winter it is hard to find any greenery once you r e a c h the top. Gulmarg is also famous for its premier ski resort of the country. We hired long boots and woolen jackets from Tanmarg which is the base of Gulmarg (Gulmarg is about 13km away from Tanmarg). As the road was wrapped with snow, we had to take metal chain for winding on the rear wheel to provide extra grip on the road. Our Scorpio took a single chain, but found it difficult to climb up the slippery road. We finally stopped the vehicle and walked for about a kilometer to reach the top. We took four sledges and decided to move to the place of Skiing. We had to bargain heavily to get the sledges for a fair deal and which I still feel was more! The snow clad peaks and the lovely landscapes have provided background for several Bollywood movies. We asked our guide to take us to the Govt. Ski shop. Though he refused initially, he succumbed to our pressure finally. The govt. shop offer Ski pads at the rate of Rs.300/- for the full day. We took one guy as a trainer as it is a bit difficult to put on the Ski shoes. Beginners route are available for the amateurs, which are less steep and safe. The ski area had a good crowd of Indian and foreign nationals. We did skiing for an hour and decided to start back as it was snowing heavily. We went back on the sledges and reached our car. On the way back to hotel we decided to taste the Kashmiri special non-veg dish, “the Waswaan “ which are meat balls made of mutt on. We went to Hotel Mughal Durbar and ordered the dish where we came to know that it is a general name and there are so many varieties available in Waswaan. We enjoyed the Rista- Waswaan with Kashmiri Pulav.
On day three, we moved our luggage to the house boat where we had planned to stay. House boats in the Dal Lake are stationary unlike the house boats in the back waters of Kerala. Small boat called “Shikara” is used as a main mode of transport and tourism in the Dal Lake. In the 17th century, the Mughal emperor Jahangir rightly said while living in a house boat in the mesmerizing Dal Lake, “If there is ever a heaven on earth, it is here!”.We proceeded for a Shikara ride aft er keeping the luggage in the boat. Vendors with variety stuff s row along with our Shikara to sell Kashmiri dry fruits, pearls, saff ron, jewelry etc. Moreover the view of Gulmarg, Sri Sankaracharya temple, Akbar Fort and other snow capped peaks from the Dal Lake is awesome. Aft er an hour’s ride in the Dal Lake we took a stroll in the Lal Chowk to do shopping. Shops in Lal Chowk display wide variety of Kashmiri items like carpets, woolen dress and dry fruits. Later in the evening we moved back to our house boat. Stay in Kashmir is incomplete without a house boat stay. Boats provide fi ve star accommodati on with beautiful, decorati ve interiors furnished extravagantly giving a plush feeling. And the most attractive feature of the house boat is its heater system which is basically a fire pot with wood burning inside. Pipes carry the smoke outside so as to avoid suffocation. A warm stay after two nights of the cold winter was a real welcome. Dinner was arranged in the house boat.
After a wonderful stay in the house boat, we kissed good bye to Kashmir valley with lots of beauti ful thoughts and memories.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Celebration of Womanhood


During the recent uprising in Egypt against the 30-year old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, what particularly captured global attention was the sight of Egyptian women protesting at Tahrir square. This shattered the stereotypic image that the western world and their media were busy projecting about the women from the conservative Arab world. Without fear, they took to the streets braving bullets, ready to sacrifice their lives for the nationalist cause. These women, who, with their male counterparts chose to fight against decades of oppression, truly represent the spirit of womanhood. The regime was thwarted, but only time will tell whether these women will be able to win over the orthodoxies of the Arab society as women are usually the oppressed among the oppressed. These events stresses on the universality of the problems faced by women all over the world cutting across the ethnic, cultural, geographical or linguistic differences that separates them.
Women’s movements gathered momentum globally at the turn of the 20th century. This was mainly attributed to the industrialization that preceded as it was the working women who first joined hands to protest demanding better working conditions, shorter hours and better pay as compared to their male co-workers. Years down the lane, the movement broadened its objectives and has now come to include emancipation of women and improvement in their living conditions to enhance their overall well being. The continuous activities of various groups have definitely resulted in significant improvements in the overall working conditions of women. Still, the problems facing them are numerous and there is a long way to go.
Even in 21st century, women face discrimination at home and workplace-unequal educational and employment opportunities, lack of dignified working conditions and unfair comparisons with men, especially when they work in previously established male domains are some of the problems. Apart from the discrimination, they are also the major victims of verbal, physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Women, particularly uneducated women from rural areas often find themselves at the receiving end of severe domestic violence. Poverty is also a major factor which aggravates the suffering of women as they are unable to have access to proper health facilities and this result in higher infant and maternal mortality rates. Lack of nutritious food cause deficiency diseases, anaemia and overall weakening resulting in decreased productivity. In the case of uprisings, wars and conflicts the conditions of women are the worst. In addition to the agony of being separated from their loved ones and families, they are left behind to nurture their surviving family members and may have to toil for food, water and fuel in inhuman conditions.
Societal support is primal in the upliftment and enhancement of the lives of women. Patriarchy is so complexly ingrained in our social fabric that women lacks say in decision making, not for the society and not even for herself. After marriage, more often than not, it is the girl who relocates with her husband and foregoes her career. The support systems in our society for working women, especially working mothers are also highly inadequate. Women find themselves torn between their responsibility towards the job and towards the family. Financial obligations and career aspirations may prompt them to continue in their job but they usually feel guilty about insufficient time that they spend with their kids.
Society is also not too kind to women courageous enough to raise voice against atrocities and injustice. The so called moral police in our society, ever ready to rise in arms against any perceived injustice are inflamed even more when the ‘perpetrators’ of such injustice are women. In recent history, we have seen several women like Aung Saan Suu Kyi and Taslima Nasreen, mainly from the not so powerful states, who the world conveniently choose to ignore, suffering torture from governments and dictatorships for raising their voices to question the establishments and institutions. Irrespective of the part of the world to which they belong to, right to free expression in the true sense is likely to remain an unrealized dream for women.
Today, the United Nations and various national governments realize that the active participation, equality and development of women is imperative to the development of the society, nation and the world. This is because when a woman is successful in her life, she usually carries her family and in general her community along. The first step should be to properly assess the status and condition of women before deciding on ways to help them. The right indicators should be chosen for the correct assessment and what need to be studied is how these markers actually translates to overall human development and well-being with gender sensitivity. Merely relying on economic indicators such as income per person may be misleading. Factors such as longevity and education should also be included just as in the calculation of Human Development Index.
Many programmes are undertaken by various governments and U.N for the emancipation of women. But, there is a wide chasm between policy and practice. Most often these programmes are impeded by lack of resources and budget crunches. To overcome this, the governments should invest in infrastructure beneficial to women. Ensuring primary and secondary education, equality in employment opportunities will definitely help in improving the quality of life of women. Economic independence is a major factor in enhancing the involvement of women in decision making. Laws ensuring equality in property ownership and inheritance rights should be the steps in this direction. Microfinancing has improved the lives of many rural women. Governments can introduce tax benefit systems, pension and savings schemes for the welfare of women, particularly women working in unorganized sectors such as housemaids.
Severe punishment should be meted out to criminals violating the sexual and emotional integrity of women. Legislation against domestic violence and granting of divorce on the premise of irretrievable breakdown of marriage is a welcome step. But how these laws could be properly utilized by women in need also depends on their awareness in legal matters. Basic training should be imparted in legal and health related matters. Inexpensive and fast legal help should be made available to women.
Steps should be taken to ensure increased participation of women in professional, administrative, business, managerial spheres and in the fields of science and technology. They should be encouraged to actively involve in the political processes. Reservation of women in parliament will definitely help in including more number of women in policy making. Institutions such as National Commission for Women are important in protecting and promoting the interests of women. Media should play a proactive role in educating the general public.
How its women are treated is the benchmark on which a society is judged. As the International Women’s day is round the corner, let us celebrate and recognize the life, spirit, contributions and aspirations of womanhood.

Attukal Pongala


Every year on Pournami day, during the Malayalam month of Kumbham, lakhs of women devotees, young and old, rich and poor, Indian and foreign, gather at large on the sanctified premises of the temple at Attukal, a quiet town in the heart of Thiruvananthapuram city, for the 10 day festival. On the penultimate day the famous “Pongala”, an offering by the women devotees to their “Amma”, takes place. Year after year it has been attracting more and more women, those who have already savoured the divine atmosphere and those who have heard or read about it. No wonder “Attukal Pongala” has found its place amongst the “Guinness Book of World Records” for being the largest congregation of women anywhere in the world (Thanks to the Californian lady who revealed this fact to the world as part of her thesis work).
Attukaalamma is the divine form of the powerful lady Kannaki (Kannaki herself is considered as incarnation of Parvathi, the wife of Lord Shiva), who by her sheer “paathivrithya” burnt the kingdom of Madurai to ashes, a bane they had to endure for having hanged her husband to death for no crime of his. It is this mental strength of the Lady that gets imbibed into the minds of her devotees to withstand the miseries of life. Attukaalamma is the Goddess of power and prosperity; the embodiment of strength with the tenderness of womanhood who gave Moksha to Mahishasura by killing him. Little wonder that She attracts devotees from all walks of life. The preparation for the festival begins well in advance. The City Corporation, State Transport, Railway Department, NGOs, Temple authorities all work towards ensuring the convenience of women devotees. There are mud pots galore in the streets and shops, Pongala kits, Pongala sarees are all in the offing,luring women on a buying spree. If you plan for Amma’s darsan, beware; unless you have enough time and patience, you cannot even think of entering the temple inner yard. Any time of the day, Amma is busy listening to her devotees who jostle with each other to have her glimpse.
The temple festival starts with the Temple singers, known as “Thottam pattukar”, singing the glory of Kannaki in a small make-shift thatched hut built in front of the “Garbha Gruha”. Near to this the Goddess’ “Kappu kettu” is done wherein the power and divinity of Goddess is brought out of the “Garbha Gruha” for the benefit of the devotees.
The tales of Kannaki, her husband Kovalan, their disturbed married life, their escape from arduous life in Madurai, sale of Kannaki’s anklet, Kovalan’s capture by the Kings guards on suspicion that the anklet is one of the Queen’s lost ones, Kovalan’s unjustified killing, Kannaki’s woes and anger, Kannaki’s curse to Madurai and her exile to Attukal where a temple was later built in her honour; all events are musically rendered.
Day by day the number of women thronging the temple is swelling. For offering their pongala, women from far off places in Kerala and Tamilnadu come well in advance and book their bit of place in the temple premises for setting up their hearth. On the eve of Pongala all roads lead to Attukal, and the whole city hustles and bustles with women folks. You can see women carrying the required items - mud pot, coconut ladle, dried coconut palms on their heads and making their way to the temple. They move around streets as though it is their home. Vehicles honk only to be hushed by the women folk as it is women… women…all the way.
Late into the night too, you see something incredible, ladies finding shelter on the pavements and shop verandahs. Fearless, unrelenting, they sleep on the streets; for they strongly believe that their mother is there to guard them against any danger lurking in the night. They sleep peacefully on the pavements waiting for the dawn.
Early in the morning the women get ready after their morning bath. Clad in their new traditional Kerala attire, the subtle fragrance of Tulsi and Jasmine emanates from the locks of their hair plaited in the typical Kerala style.
They then rush to the temple to get Mother’s permission for the day. Getting her blessings entrances them, for she is a patient listener. Vows taken for the well being and prosperity of children, husband and parents reach the Amma through humble Pongala offering.
The women set the ingredients ready and wait with Sahasra Naama Japa or chanting of Her 1000 names, for the auspicious time. They fast on the day till the Goddess accepts their offering.
After the last episode of Kannaki is sung, the temple priest lights the Pandaara Aduppu, the divine hearth set up near the make-shift hut for the Thottam pattukar. The little hearths get lighted using the fire from the divine hearth. In no time the whole area is filled with fire and smoke. The scorching heat of the sun above, the rage of the fire below and the pain of the fire within the heart fills the women with hundred emotions. They cry, pray, praise the Mother. To leave their worries to her, prayers for mercy, prayers of gratitude, the devotees’ minds are filled with a mix of emotions as the Pongala bubbles out of the pot. Different varieties on the offering list include white rice, jaggery rice, steamed gram flour cake, steamed leaf cake etc.
After the preparation they wait for the priest to consecrate it by sprinkling holy water. Only after this the offering is considered accepted by the Goddess. The conclusion is the return journey, where again an ocean of women carrying the pongala pots on their heads tread through the streets to the waiting buses . Tired and weary eyes but determined and satiated looks says it all ; they know their prayers would never be unanswered. There is but, only one prayer on their lips, ‘Mother, set the conditions right next year too for we want to come back to you again’.
Pongala- truly a symbol of the strength of women, their unity, their love for their near and dear ones, their devotion and total surrender at the lotus feet of their Mother- Parashakthi. After all the hullaballoo, by dusk on the pongala day, as you walk along the city you find the employees of the city Corporation, including ladies cleaning up the city in full zest. As they sweep and collect the bricks, ashes, the tanker lorry follows behind with a splash of water to settle the dust and dirt. In no time city is spotlessly clean and back to normal.
Things are not over yet. You go back to the temple to find a medley of events coming up. Young boys aged upto 12 years are offered by their parents for 10 days at the service of the Goddess. Clad in simple towel, they eat, pray, sleep in the temple and their penance ends after doing 1008 namaskaras at the feet of Goddess. On the pongala eve the boys are decorated for the “Kuthiyottam” ritual. In memory of the Goddess’s soldiers who were wounded in the fight with Mahishasura, a Purohit pierces either end of the boys’ torso with steel strings. These boys are taken out of the temple in procession to the nearby Ayyappa temple. They are accompanied by different dance artists and fancy dress artists dancing to the rhythm of the percussionists. The procession continues till early next morning. The festival comes to an end with the “Kappu azhikkal”, when the idol of theGoddess is taken back from the external premises and positioned back at the “Garbha Gruha”.
A festival for every Keralite, the festivities and zealousness are reminiscent of the State Festival
Onam. One Attukal Pongala has just passed by and the wait for the next is on………..

Exodus


Exodus by American novelist Leon Uris is about the founding of the State of Israel. Published in 1958, it is based on the name of the 1947 immigration ship Exodus. In 1956, Uris covered the Arab-Israeli fighting as a war correspondent. Two years later, Exodus was published by Doubleday. Exodus became an international publishing phenomenon, the biggest bestseller in the United States since ‘Gone with the Wind’. Exodus is the towering novel of the twentieth century’s most dramatic geopolitical event.
In his note of thanks, Leon Uris mentions about the two years he spent on collecting material, the nearly fifty thousand miles he travelled, the tons of research books and the number of interviews he conducted, all leading to the book Exodus. Which is why, the book comes across as solid reading material - The intriguing and inspiring story behind the birth of a nation.
The sheer grit and determination of the Jews to re-build their lost country, their stuggle to flock to the fledgling country which was in wilderness and then toiling day and night to make it their home, the tales of resistance they showed to the pressure and the random attacks by their enemies increases your sense of wonderment at what drove these people to surmount all the odds and build the new nation of Israel.
The story unfolds with the protagonist, Ari Ben Canaan, hatching a plot to transport Jewish refugees from a British detention camp in Cyprus to Palestine. The operation is carried out under the auspices of the Mossad Le’aliyah Bet. The book then goes on to trace the histories of the various main characters and the ties of their personal lives to the birth of the new Jewish state.
The book is an earnest exposition of the birth of a new nation underlining metculously their struggle and emergence in a new form. The main strength of the book is its vivid description of different characters and the conflicts in their lives. As in several of Uris’s novels, some of the fictional characters are partially based upon one or more historical personages, or act as metaphors for the various people who helped to build modern Israel

International Women’s Day


International Women’s Day, the 8th of March is a day celebrated worldwide to recognize the achievements and accomplishments of the fairer gender.
Was there really a necessity for such a day? Well, I wasn’t born during the humble makings of history but am sure anything historical is always chronicled.
History had witnessed the woes of women: women who fought for their rights; women who fought the unwarranted discrimination of gender; women who asked for a berth and esteem of their own and women who wanted to be economically independent.
What made the woman step out of the threshold of her home? She might have evolved to take the share of responsibilities of a home and that’s how she ventured out. It could have been out of dire necessity or a deep desire to prove her mettle.
A woman symbolizes Prakriti (nature) and nature cannot be suppressed; it only can be tamed, but, how long? Decades of tolerance and getting tamed seemingly bore heavy on the woman and she decided to call it a day.
But who helped her? Obviously without a second thought, “a man” .Yes, it was men who oppressed the woman and it was men who helped her step out , see the world, know herself, her strengths ,take a breath of fresh air and carve a new life. In fact, this day is an ode to all the men who supported the fairer gender, loved her, understood her, allowed her to dream and respected her existence. And so the spirit of the woman soared high and said, ‘I exist, therefore I am..’ .

The Genesis of International Women’s Day (IWD)

Year 1908 saw the ’Bread and Roses‘ rally by thousands of women garment workers in NYC protesting against inhumane working conditions and low wages. They demanded shorter working hours, better wages and voting rights. It was on the 28th of Feb(last Sunday of the month),1909 that the first National Women’s’ day was granted to be celebrated in honour of the women workers who protested in 1908 by the Socialist Party of America.
At a meeting held at Copenhagen in 1910, attended by representatives of 17 countries, a lady German Official named Clara Zetkin came out with the proposal of a day in the calendar which every country would celebrate as Women’s’ Day . In 1911, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland honored IWD on 19th March. More than five lacs of men and women attended IWD rallies and campaigned for women’s’ rights to vote and hold public office. But a tragic fire event which claimed the lives of 140 women garment workers in NYC because of lack of safety measures shifted the focus back to working conditions of women at later IWD events.
Years 1913-1914 saw peaceful protests against World War-I by Russian women, as part of their first IWD celebration on the last Sunday of February. In 1917, Russian women began a strike ‘Bread and Peace’ in light of the death of thousands of Russian soldiers in World War-I. The women remained unfazed in spite of opposition from political leaders and all attempts to disburse the women went in vain. Finally after four days of relentless strike, the Czar was forced to give up and women were granted promise of a better economic condition and the right to vote. This was a historical achievement. The day the strike commenced was Sunday, the 23rd of February as per Julian Calendar but this day elsewhere as per Gregorian Calendar was the 8th of March and thus 8th of March became the day of women.
The United Nations officially declared 8th of March as International Women’s Day in 1975. Interestingly, 2011 marks the centenaryof IWD celebrations since 1911.The UN theme for this year is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women”.
Hope the small good that comes out of such celebrations will make great changes in the future where a girl can feel secured about her future and a woman will feel empowered and emancipated to take her life in control and say, ’I exist , therefore , I am..’. And so the world and mankind will enjoy the fruits of an educated - mother, sister, friend, girlfriend and wife…
Happy Women’s Day !!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS & LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA



War movies usually propagate some kind of political agenda, to justify the needs of such a war, or to glorify the countries on one side of the war and depict the enemy as ‘heartless monsters’.
The ‘Battle of Iwo Jima’ between the United States and Imperial Japan was a turning point in the World War II. US forces aimed to seize the island of Iwo Jima which was near to the main land of Japan, so that they could use the island as a base camp to start the invasion. The Imperial Japanese Army tried to prevent it from falling into American hands. Finally the strong US forces succeeded in taking over Iwo Jima after a gory battle.
In 2006, well known Hollywood actor and Film maker Clint Eastwood came out with two films telling the story of this violent battle from both US and Japanese perspectives.
‘Flags of Our Fathers’ is an English film which tells the life stories of the three US Marines who raised the US flag on the top of Mount Suribachi, at the end of the Battle. The US government projected the three men as heroes of war to raise funds for WW-II. The film pictures the emotional difficulties faced by this trio to digest the heroic image and to escape from the haunting memories of their mates. The film is narrated through the memories of one of those heroes.
‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ is made in Japanese language with popular Japanese actor Ken Watanabe in lead role. The film opens with a scene in which archeologists excavate a bundle from a cave in Mount Suribachi in 2005. The bundle contain the letters written by a General Kuribayashi and a soldier Saigo to their wives, during the Battle. The film is narrated through these letters, which gives a good glimpse at the lives of the soldiers during the War.
‘Flags of Our Fathers’ got 2 Oscar nominations and ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ got 4 Oscar nominations including the ‘Nomination for Best Picture’ in 2007. These 2 films honestly portraits the true emotions of a war- courage, honour, fear, pain, horror. Clint Eastwood conveys the message that there’s really no good guys or bad guys when it comes to war. And war is always futile.

CRICKET, WORLD CUP & INDIA


Come 17th and all the roads for the cricket fans across the world will lead to Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh where the opening ceremony of cricket’s biggest carnival, the ICC Cricket World Cup, will be held. The tenth edition of the cricket extravaganza co-hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will kick-start on 19th with the first match being played between India and Bangladesh. A total of 14 countries will battle it out on the cricketing pitch for the cricket’s most coveted cup that consists of a golden globe held by three silver columns and weighs around 11Kg. But only one team that will play hard, gives consistent performance throughout and keeps their nerve under pressure will deservingly lift the trophy on April 2nd.
In India, cricket is nothing less than a religion that is followed by one and all and a cricket world cup is a grand festival for us. The fact that India is co-host of the tournament and will be hosting 29 of the total 49 matches including the final, pulls up the crescendo of the excitement. Every match, especially those involving Indian team, will be followed ball-by-ball. Each stroke played and every ball bowled will be closely analyzed by millions of Indians. Every bowling or fielding change will kick-off wide debates in stadiums, drawing rooms, cafes, and outside TV showrooms. New talents will be unearthed. New heroes will rise. But at end of the day it will be every Indian’s wish that it should be the team India that wins the world champions crown.
Team India’s performance has been noteworthy in the recent past. A number 2 ranking in one day internationals speak volumes of efforts that the current Indian team has been putting in for last few years. Under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and watchful eyes of the coach Gary Kirsten Indian team has been growing steadily in all the three departments of the game. As the team starts its world cup campaign, lets us have a sneak preview of our probable playing XI.
Batting has been our strength always. In Sachin Tendulkar and Virendra Sehwag we have one of the best opening pair of the world. Any words about Sachin do not completely represent his cricketing greats. He is above all the available cricketing jargons. Watching him play is a treat in itself and our eyes never get tired of watching him play those drives, cuts and sweeps.
Viru, when on song, is most destructive batsman in the world. His merciless attacks on the bowler dents the confidence of the even best bowlers of opposition. Gautam Ghambir, being actually an opener, is ideal for the number 3 slot. He can continue the momentum if India gets good start and can also step in to provide a good start when one of the openers falters.
India’s middle order is rich comprising of likes of Kohli, Yuvraj and the captain himself. Virat Kohli has been in form of his life hitting runs consistently at home and away. No surprise, he was the only player from the old squad retained by his IPL franchisee. Yuvi is one of the most experienced batsman of the team having played previous two world cups. He is more of an all-rounder having the capability of taking wickets with his slow left-arm spin bowling. He is also one of the cleanest hitters of the game and lofting a ball for six is his favourite shot.
The Indian captain is the core around which the whole team is build. His cricketing acumen is well known. He is appreciated more for keeping his cool even in intense pressure situations. One of the hardest hitters of the game he also keeps the score board ticking by running hard. He has safest hands behind stumps as well.
Yusuf Pathan’s recent heroics had cemented his place as lower middle order batsman. A batsman of caliber of Yusuf is very important for India’s scheme of things both when it is batting first or when chasing a target. He is the another all-rounder in the side with ability to bowl good off-spin.
India’s bowling attack will be comprised of 4 regular bowlers with the Yusuf, Yuvi, Sehwag and Kohli filling the spot of fifth bowler with their part-time spin. In all probability a 3 pacer and a lone specialist spinner will make the bowling attack of the team considering the availability of part time spinners. India’s bowling attack will be led by the gusty Zaheer and fiery Harbhajan. A very few bowlers in the world cricket have the ability to swing both the old and new ball and no one does it better than Zaheer on the Indian wickets. This is one bowler who has been consistently delivering for the team taking wickets regularly and bowling a tight line in death overs. He is a handy batsman as well and can play big shots when required.
Harbhajan will be the automatic choice of the lone specialist spinner. He is most successful off-spinner of India having a good economy rate in ODIs. A leading wicket taker for the team, the ‘doosra’ is his secret weapon. He can also swing his bat to gather few useful runs.
Among the other bowlers, Ashish Nehra will be the preferred choice for the second seamer because of the variation and accuracy in his bowling. Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel will fight for the third seamer slot and kind of the opposition will decide who gets to bowl in that match. If a second specialist spinner is required Ashwin will be the captain’s choice considering his ability to bowl tight spells giving few runs and also to provide breakthroughs at regular intervals. Suresh Raina and Piyush Chawla may get their chance in case of injuries.
This Indian team looks a formidable side with right mix of youth and experience. They have been beating the best sides of the world for last 2 years and there is no reason they cannot do it this time as well. They will be well supported by the cricket frenzy fans of India throughout the tournament. However, the fans deserves nothing less than a world cup win from the men in blue and achieving this feat on Indian soil will be the perfect tribute to an average Indian. Let us all wish our team the best for the mega event and hope that it will be the team India that will lift the trophy at the Wankhede stadium, Mumbai on April 2nd. Lets us hope that this long cherished dream of Sachin Tendulkar, that has been eluding him for past 5 world cups, comes true this time.