Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Great Hunger Debate

Three year olds in Ganne, a village south of Allahabad eat dried mud and silica because they are hungry. Tribals in Madhya Pradesh are increasingly found on the doorsteps of hospitals and are being refused treatment because of their social and economic conditions. Even as you finish reading this sentence, 5 more people in the world have died as a direct or indirect result of malnutrition, according to the United Nations economic and Social Council. On an average they estimate that malnutrition kills one person every second, 4000 every hour, and one can do the math for the rest. India tops the list of under-nourished countries way above Sudan, Angola and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. India contributes to more than 5.6 million child deaths a year, more than half the world’s total. The finance minister has promised an economic growth rate of 9 percent in the following year, an upturn from the global recession, and yet political parties continue to disregard this ubiquitous evil, and the death tolls just remain statistics.  Even after almost a decade’s advocacy, why is “The Right to Food” still only a vision?
The debates still rage in the Indian Parliament over the passage of such a bill. Hard core activists believe that India can afford to feed its poor for free, and that it would only cost about 1 percent of its GDP to do so. It is a question of prioritizing issues and deciding where to spend the money. But, unfortunately it is not quite as simple as allocating a budget, a view shared by Dr. Kaushik Basu, the Chief Economic Advisor of the Finance ministry. According to him, simply throwing money at the problem cannot be afforded by the country. For any budgeting to be effective, we need a cleaner, corruption – free and responsible delivery system. But, that is not all…
The murk runs lot deeper than this. Decades of poorly planned laws and un-minded development in the name of progress have been few other reasons for the exponential escalation of this problem. For instance, tribals who have been historically used to hunting and fishing in their forests for food are now banned by law from doing that and hence have been forced to buy bread and vegetables from local markets. For those “lucky ones” who have procured small farm lands to grow crops, the soaring fertilizer and seed prices no longer have a sustainable cost- benefit ratio. The public distribution shops at the ration stores have cut down a family’s supply from 35kgs to 20 kgs of rice a month. In some states, these shops are only open 3 days a month which means that if some one is late for one distribution day, his family can go hungry for a week! Right to Food” seems a long and daunting task.
After years of cross discussions, we have at least taken a step in the right direction with regard to the right to education. But, what use is guaranteeing education to those who may be too weak to drag themselves to school or pursue anything with passion and vigor, if their stomachs are empty? With every step forward, we seem to need to take one step back and re-examine our situation. How far back do we need to look before we can begin to move forward?
Malnutrition in the country by some estimates lead to an economic loss of $29 billion a year, about 4% of India’s GDP. Lack of basic nutrition is in fact a much more serious and urgent problem in need of pro-active and aggressive solutions.
What can “Right to Food” provide?  A food security act may provide food at subsidized cost for very poor families.  Those unable to obtain food may go to a court of law to demand food and the responsible officials may be punished for this offense. Even if such a law is enacted, I would be interested to note how the law would fairly distinguish those who are really in need of food, and those who are not, and how accessible the court is to such people. It would be ironic if the plaintiffs need to wait for ten years for their plea to be heard before they can get food and corrupt officials have meanwhile deprived other families of more food. We undoubtedly need a serious reformation in the way we treat corruption in our society. The right to be heard in a court of law within a person’s life span is still a distant prospect for most common individuals of the society. Where do these reforms need to start? How many reforms do we need before each right can be a reality?
Although we have a long way to go before every citizen can get adequate food of good quality, it cannot be denied that there have been a few successful measures taken. The Mid-day Meal scheme is one such initiative, and has been well adopted in all states. Albeit the presences of issues like food quality, there has been slow progress. There are some NGOs who solely work for the eradication of hunger and malnutrition. The Akshaya Patra foundation is an example of exemplary work. From feeding 1500 children in 2000, today they feed over one million children in the country every day. 
However, this is not enough! The ten year old campaign needs a new spark and more support. This can only be achieved with more awareness. It is a debilitating epidemic for the country and her people, and it is about time we stand up to push for a change.
 
Sources for quoted statistics:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Break the Fetter

Round and round
spiralling in a box
gravity bound
In the dark of nox

She tries to fly
with might need she try?
Nay, for she is her gravity
Her night,imprisoned by infidelity


Farther she searches , farther
Until she can see no more
Oh, why now demur?
Only the mirror shows her foe

An impetus to grow
A spark to ignite
A brake to her tow
Her friend,the fear inspite

Her only prisoner
Her only saviour
Are both one another
Save the mind before she wither

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where Dreams are Born

“I’ll teach you how to jump on the wind’s back- and if there are more winds than one they toss you about in the sky- they fling you miles and miles- but you always fall soft into another wind- and sometimes you go crashing through the tops of trees, and scaring the owls, and if you meet a boy’s kite in the air you shove your foot through it.
The stars are giving a party tonight. Oh Wendy, when you are sleeping in your silly bed you might be flying about with me…”
“Oh, please teach us to fly!!!”
“You just think happy thoughts, and they lift you in the air”
            It was a play clearly meant for children, for it is they who believe…that anything and everything is possible, they who believe that “dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough”. Growing up is the reality of life, where one loses faith and trust in magic and guardian fairies, where we are so armed with certainty, and yet feel only lost in life’s infinite maze? We are caught in a prison within our own minds, believing we have lost the ability to believe. And that I believe was really the message J.M. Barrie was trying to leave beneath all the fantasies and magic in the air.
Yes, the set really looked like this
Peter Pan is a well known story, however the story has seldom been told as per Barrie’s most original script where the idea of an obstinately young boy and Neverland was born. More than 50 prose versions and several film versions have all brought different meanings to Peter Pan, and the concept behind the boy who never grew up. However, this play I watched was straight from Barrie’s diary and his original notes and dialogues. This play had a narrator who walks amidst frozen scenes and talks about the bigger picture behind the action and the complexities of thoughts lurking inside the characters. The idea behind the narrator evolved from the necessity to include Barrie’s notes in the margins of his work.
            The sets and costumes were outstanding…simple, elegant and outrageous. Every actor right from the most insignificant pirate to the silliest “lost boy”, every “animal” from Nana the dog(nanny) to Starky, the crocodile were perfectly adorable. I could find no complaints there. I loved the part when there was a kid flying 5 feet over my head and the clouds were all around me.(This was due to the fact that I had scooted into an empty gold circle seat once the play had started)The most praise-worthy aspect of the play however was the script. The dialogues were heartfelt, cute, thought provoking, and above all very witty. I have always been a fan of harmless sarcastic humor, and this play had plenty of it. Some wit I only understood a few seconds too late, but appreciated them more for that very reason. I wished I could have recorded the dialogues alone just to hear some of them again. Well, but I do not think I would do so, even if I could.
            My one complaint against this play was that it was too long. Neverland even with all its pirates, mermaids, lost boys, and Starky was getting a bit too much to humor as we were getting close to the two and a half hour mark. But, it might also be due to the fact that I had lost the ability to believe. I was one of the few who un-sportingly did not clap when Peter cries to the “people out there” to clap if they believed in fairies, for only then would the life of tinker, his fairy be revived. It mattered not…the spirit was felt.
“ I am youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The constant in a Changing Equation

I search hungrily for every single news item I can find in every newspaper I can think of. The contents are all the same, the adulations similar, and yet each one only heightens a vague sense of euphoria.
The media does after all give us little to rejoice for these days. They revel in bad news, blow up bad news to make them terrible news, splatter papers with scandals, and in the midst of all this, wafts a familiar breath of ever-fresh air.
I am not by any means undermining our CWG victories or the rare Olympic medal, but after all, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has been the one constant in a country that has undergone unstoppable transformation in 21 years, and in a game that sees constant change. I have never known cricket without him and do not want to think of it without him. The sight of this man at the crease keeps the flame of hope alive. The knowledge that while he remains standing, not all is still lost… admiration and love for the man whose game remains as fresh and youthful as it ever did, are but few reasons why he is special to very cricket lover.
He is a source of inspiration not simply because of the way he plays the game, but the reason he plays so well, and the manner in which he has lived his life.
Immeasurable success, admiration and wealth seem not to be enough to make him arrogant or indifferent. Hearing him talk, it seems this is true because none of these coveted pleasures mean as much to him as his love for the game and his ever growing desire for improvement. This level of passion is by no means easy to attain. When one has played the game every day for 35 years, has been over-worked for over 20 years, has sustained repeated injuries to the body, has borne harsh unfair criticism in-spite of having given nothing but his best, and has borne valiantly the hopes and expectations of a billion people every time he has walked to the crease…here is a true warrior, still undamaged in spirit.
A champion of the game, a champion of the people, a good hearted honest and straight forward man…how can one not respect this young man?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I Bow to Thee

 I have been staring at the screen long enough now without knowing how to translate feelings into words…that’s what last evening was all about for me. The on-stage choreography was almost comparable to the cirque de solei, the technology and lighting were a good second to Broadway musicals, but beneath this entire extravaganza was the soul stirring music.
Rahman once again proved that genius doesnot lie in raw talent alone, but manifests itself more magnificently when there is humility and the assumption that one can always surpass oneself. Frankly, my friends and I went with a mediocre expectation, not because we doubted his genius, but because he has been on a viciously hectic world tour and had already performed 3 concerts this week. I expected him to please the audience with all our favorite peppy numbers, have us cheering and screaming and send us packing with sore throats and happy grins. How wrong I was! Except for the sore throats of course, and an unexpected baggage…a faint throbbing in my heart which hasn’t rid itself almost a day after the magical two hours.
The start of the concert was a tad disappointing with some popular head throbbing songs but not good enough to lose myself in the music. The first real touch was when he sang “yeh jo desh hai” from Swades with very minimal background music. And then began the real show…even as he interspersed the show with melodies from Roja, Bombay, Dil Se, Rang De Basanti, Hum se hai Muqabla and even Endhiran (Robo) sung by other singers like Hariharan and Vijay Prakash, he himself was there playing the guitar, the piano, the keyboard and the flute too! He also performed Michael Jackson’s Black and White as a tribute to his friend who died shortly after deciding on working with him. Tamilians like me were pleased with the good number of songs he and Hariharan sang to us in Tamil as well. But there were some parts of the concert which will serve as lifetime memories.

Albeit the fact that everyone knew that this was one voice that was recorded, the experience was truly magical, thanks to technology. The audience was treated to a more than life size presence of Lata Mangeshkar. There  was a massive 3D hologram of her in her trademark white Sari, holding a mike and singing “Luka Chupi” as a duet with A R Rahman. The hologram’s head shook with the right chords, her hand moved with the right beats, and her throat twitched with the notes. The uproar from the stands was unmistakable evidence to the fact that the 60, 000+ audience cared not that this was a technological illusion. Lata’s presence was felt in more than spirit.
A medley half way through the show with all singers and instrumentalists on stage was indeed memorable. Classical ghazal, Western, bollywood and tollywood all blending seamlessly was by no means a mean feat. Hats off to the entire team.
Hariharan was a presence by himself. I felt Goosebumps every time he sang (no exaggeration), and felt as if I was released from a trance every time he stopped singing. His costumes and hairdo was almost as unearthly as his voice :)

The highlight for me, and the reason for my heartache: Rahman singing Khwaja mere Khwaja. When he was singing this song, it was like he was giving away a part of himself to everyone to take away with them. It spoke wordlessly of his character and devotion and spiritual beliefs and yet more eloquently than any pen or mouth ever could. It was more divine and soul stirring than anything I have ever heard in person. His song followed right after another singer’s rendition of “O Palanhare” which although well sung was far from soul stirring. Even as he sat there in his white kurta and turban singing the praise of a Sufi saint, I felt more pure  than I have in ages. Music truly has no language…and no religion.
As for the rest of the show…I hardly noticed or cared. Nothing could vacate the feeling I was experiencing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A be-heading from Spokane

                Finally a mediocre Broadway play with raving reviews…to say that “A Behanding in Spokane” fell short of the mark is an understatement. Why did the newspapers think it was hysterically funny? Did they take any special precautions to avoid a headache?
The play is unmistakably American. I mean this in context of the presiding language. The cast consisted of a behanded racist lunatic, a dim witted hotel receptionist and a petty thieving “black” guy- “white” girl couple.
The plot was not un-promising. The lead character whose left hand (below the wrist) was brutally cut by a bunch of hooligans when he was a kid 27 years before, and since then he has been on a mission to retrieve it. His offer of $500 to the person who brings him back his hand is seen by the couple as a quick way to make an easy buck. They steal a displayed hand from a local museum and try to pass it off as his. But since the stolen hand was that of an Aborigine, the scheme needless to say fails miserably. However, they did not count on the behanded man being a deranged maniac who would see this as a personal insult and have his heart set on killing them. The plot unfolds as he imprisons them in a hotel room and tries to kill them at the hotel, which is manned by the extremely dim-witted man (read unbelievably stupid and hence extremely annoying to a person of ordinary intelligence).
I give the play credit for occasional moments of mirth and its short duration. It lasted a little over 90 minutes, and I was very glad when it was over. The actors had gotten on my nerves by being extremely loud and overly enunciating every dialogue. Harder to forgive or comprehend was the extreme usage of swear words thrice every sentence (M—F--), even with the extreme situation of stress the young couple was under.
And that made me think as I walked out...If this is what humor has descended to, God save all those holding a smile on their faces.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Mousetrap

Another play, another experience. Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” was all it promised to be. First produced in 1952, The Mousetrap is today known to be the longest running play in the history of theater. I shall be presumptuous enough to say “English play”, for undoubtedly “Ram-Lilas” and “Hari-Kathas” have been enacted for centuries in India.
The play is set in a fairly typical Christie plot. A snowed-in guest house with no entry/exit route, a possibility of a murder (or two murders), the idea that anyone in the house could be the murderer or the victim... While a seasoned Christie reader(like me ;)) may have a fair chance of guessing the ending, the play did still manage to captivate the audience till the very end.
The drama and suspense with rightly worded and rightly spaced out humor is praiseworthy. The lighting direction is subtle and flawless. It manages to draw one’s attention to a particular character’s expressions and actions just as the author had intended. The actors themselves are annoying, funny, suspicious and unpleasant to the best of their abilities. It was definitely refreshing to see Sherlock Holmes, a butler, a professor and an air hostess (from previous plays) enacting very different roles to equal perfection. The original in 1952 had Richard Attenborough cast in the lead role of sergeant Trotter. Trotter does an amazing job of making it plausible how any one the guests or the owners themselves could be the murderers and seeds suspicion among a couple of each other’s guilt.
The background score is not as ghastly as in some horror movies. Although the music is not very memorable in character, it does effect the right amount of spookiness. As far as the sets and costumes go, I am now resigned to the fact that good plays do not need fancy sets or costumes like the Broadway musicals.
Following the 60 year old tradition, at the end of the play, an announcer comes out and requests the audience to not reveal the ending to friends and future audiences. On the same note, you would enjoy the play better if you have not read the book already.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Boeing Boeing

The story was cliché. The set comprised of 2 couches, a bean bag, a desk and chair, a flower vase and a table , three hanging lights and four doors that supposedly led to different rooms in the house- it was the same scene throughout the 2.5 hours- no curtains, no lighting changes. (Well, the color of the flowers changed often). There were no costume changes for 5 out of the 6 actors. So was there anything special about it? Or any reason why the audience as one would proclaim the play as the best comedy of the season and give the crew a long standing ovation?
I loved the play, I laughed non- stop along with the rest of the crowd but it really takes some introspection to figure out what were the ingredients of it’s success really. It was unlike all other ones I had loved so far! It was the script, acting and dialogue delivery all throughout and really the only components the play ever had.
Boeing Boeing is a story about Bernard, an American settled in Paris who has his blissful life all figured out. He claims he has all the joys of marriage without the fading of excitement or the stress of being hen pecked after the exchange of vows. He is simultaneously engaged to three very beautiful and different air hostesses- a chirpy American, an Italian in nationality and in spirit and a very passionate German. The key to his success is in the pages of his book of flight schedules and the women are picked so that they are never in Paris together and quite on different points of the globe.
Act one begins with the American about to leave for her flight after breakfast when Bernard’s semi-bald, nervous single friend, Robert arrives from Wisconsin. Bernard explains how his life works and is very complacent that nothing can go wrong and has a neatly worked out strategy for every unpleasant circumstance that Robert suggested may occur.
The story follows predictable lines...before the end of the night all three women are in the house at the same time, still miraculously out of each other’s sight with different doors opening and closing with clockwork precision. (This is a wonderful thing about plays- there is no room for error). This also keeps the suspense up along with the laughter with the viewer wondering exactly when the anticipated climax was going to occur.
The American is the first to depart with the arrival of a letter. She bids a sad farewell to Bernard that another one of her fiancés settled in the US has earned his target of 1 million dollars and she was going to be married to him. She declares amidst roars of laughter (from the audience) that she has had three fiancés all this time, and why America is such a great country!
The German meanwhile declares her new found love for Robert and guiltily confesses that to Bernard. Before he can feign anger, the baton passes to the Italian who walks into the room and behold the vivid scene. Everything ends well without the Italian being told exactly how long he’d known the German and making it seem to the German that he’d just been engaged to the Italian as well.
It was Bernard’s butler, Berthe who holds the show together with her perpetual complaining of the happenings in the house and her self-adulation of her optimism.
The play was originally written by a French man and directed by an English in 1960s. since thn it has undergone a number of director and actor changes, but this version has apparently been the most successful one yet. Kudos to the crew! Keep the theaters alive!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

All Roads Lead to Ganga - Part 1

This is not from my own travels, neither is it from one of those fancy travel books displayed on the front isles of book stores. I picked this tiny hundred page book, thinking it was going to be a light read, but I just could not read it on one shot. I needed about five sittings...it was just too much to imagine and assimilate. Ruskin Bond’s “All Roads Lead to Ganga” brings ethereal beauty to not just the Himalayas, but to India in its element…the people, the beliefs, the temples and all of it interspersed with history without transgressing the boundaries of veracity.
I will try not to make this post into a book review (Because I read very few meaningful ones which do justice to a book, one way or the other, and hence will not attempt it without enough time on my hand). This is only to talk about some little known, and some better known places (my fav picks from the book) Ruskin Bond writes about, and for me to be transported into a magical world every time I read it.

Moving from the quaint charm of Dehradoon , Ruskin travels to the Manjari village in Garhwal. A tributary of Ganga flows here, and on its banks there are fields of corn, barley, mustard, potatoes, and trees of apricot and peaches.
“You have such beautiful scenery”
“True, but we cannot eat scenery”, said a villager. And yet these are cheerful sturdy people with great powers of endurance.
His local acquaintance is an expert on wild fruit and picks and eats many varieties on their walks. And when Ruskin asks him what would happen if someone fell sick, as there were no nearby hospitals, his simple answer was that people rested till they got better. “The clear mountain air and simple diet keep the people of this area free from illness.The greatest attacks came from attacks by wild animals”
He now moves on to Missourie, giving interesting tidbits about the history, the local activities, bazaars and the people, and how one can trek 9000ft to the Nag Tibba.
At Rudraprayag, the waters of the Mandakini, from the glaciers above Kedarnath joins with the waters of the Alaknanda, from beyond Badrinath, the confluence of these rivers bringing a certain sanctity and purity. As one travels up the Mandakini valley, there is a tiny township by the name of Agastamuni, decked with banana fronds and poplar leaves swaying in the cool breeze.
Mandakini Valley
Further up the river is Guptakashi, a village adorned with Magnolia trees and flowers. With no form of public entertainment, the village sleeps early and wakes early. On the side, the snow capped Chaukhumba is dazzling, and here in Guptakashi as in Benaras, Shiva is worshiped as Vishwanath.(figured it yet? Gupta? Kashi?). The famous saying here is “jitney kankar utne shankar”.
Image from the internet
Chaukumbha from Guptakashi

As pilgrims proceed further north, they will reach Kedarnath, and the last day’s worth of journey could only be covered on foot or horseback.
The arms of the lord are worshiped at Tungnath, the face at Rudranath, the belly at Madmaheshwar, and the hair and head at Kalpeshwar, near Joshimath. These five sacred shrines form the panch kedar.
At this point, he (we) shall leave on the glorious journey to Tungnath…


Monday, May 10, 2010

Hiking in the Grand Canyon

It's been almost two years now since I went to the Grand Canyon, but at the time I was so busy with my thesis that I never had a chance to organize my thoughts. However, quite recently, I had the pleasure of this view when I was flying from Texas to California. (There are advantages to the window seat on an aircraft as well) and it triggered a string of overwhelming memories.
I remember having been extremely excited about the trip to Grand Canyon for a number of mixed reasons, it was going to be my  last as a student, a month before graduation. It is one of the top tourist spots in the world. It was another wondrous complicity of Mother Nature. It is hard for me to say if the mountains and the river are rivals or each the best complement the other could have.
The first view of the canyons after driving four hours from Phoenix is the one that hit me in the head the most. It wasn't a simple path that Colorado had paved through the mountains. With every bit of resistance, she changed her path and continued paving ...again and again..and again. That a single river could really achieve this in-spite of an overpowering obstacle...was overwhelming.
It was close to dusk and we could not do much more than pitching our tents and cooking "bhutta" on the coal in our campfire.
 We started the next morning with a hike around the rim of the Grand Canyon and checking out the views and the geology. We were at an elevation of about 8000 ft above sea level and it never once occurred to us up there that it was the middle of the summer. The sunset was unusually disappointing because of the angle at which it sunk beyond the horizon at that time of the year. The sun hit the flat rim of the far canyon dispersing rays such that one could really see nothing much in that direction.

By now, I was a little bored  for the canyons looked pretty much the same from all around and I still was not tired as I should have been on a hiking trip. Well, the passing of the night brought a whole new day that made the trip unforgettable. We woke up at 330 am eager to catch the sunrise (scheduled at 430). If I had known that a sunrise would look just like a rewind of the sunset, I may not have made the effort. Nevertheless..it was beautiful. The dawn hue of the canyons was a sight to remember.

We hiked back to our campsite which was a good two miles, met with others who hadn't made it and began our hike on the Bright Angel's trail by 730 am. This trail starts near the  North rim, goes all the way down to the river, and comes back up on the south rim. This was only to be done over two days, and with at least two months of training. Since we only had a day, we decided to just go down a "little distance" and come back up.
There were warning signs, scary stories and gruesome pictures everywhere that warned hikers that there were hundreds of people who needed to be rescued from the trail every year because of intense heat, dehydration, stroke, bleeding and also stories of some  people who were found dead because they were delirious with heat and exhaustion, and had wandered off the trail and were lost for days.
The warnings were a good thing because even with that we got carried away. What until now was a monotonous view, now turned into an ever-changing sight. The further we descended, the canyon walls rose higher and higher and engulfed us deceptively. We were going down all the time, and hence did not give much heed to how difficult it would be to come back up(In spite of clear signs all along that said" WHAT GOES DOWN MUST COME UP" ).The views got better...we passed through different rock layers, and it still was before noon.

By the time we were 4.5 miles into the canyon, and the sun was beating down at close to 45deg C, we saw prudence in beginning our way up. It was getting hotter by the minute, and  the ascent seemed ten times steeper than the descent. We had to go back up 4000 ft. It was one of the hardest things I had to do to keep on moving. I was beyond the point of having conversation for I had no strength to spare. At every 1.5 mile stop, there was water. I had little interest in drinking it, and gladly sat underneath the tap for five full minutes every time to let my body cool under the afternoon sun. I was doing much better when it was closer to sunset and we had less than two miles to climb back up. It takes 2-3 times more  time to go up than climb down.
By the time, however, another friend had a sore foot and the going was still slow. The sun was racing against us. We were foolish to venture without torch lights and had no option but to make effort to put one foot above the other and get out before it was dark. Hiking in the dark would be a sure way of getting lost or getting bit by wildlife.(I did not mention a lunch break because we did not take any)
Just as all good things come to an end, some hard things do as well. When we came out of the trail, the sun had begun to sink, but there were still a few odd people wandering, who turned to us and welcomed us  with a cheer. We were smiling from ear to ear but were too exhausted and too parched to speak. We were also covered in dust from head to foot and could not wait to get under the shower.
Well, there was one test still left for me. After taking the bus back to my campsite, I realized that I'd lost my friend's cell phone! So the shower had to wait. It did not matter that just two minutes before , I thought that I could not walk another step...I had to do my best to find it..Luckily after an hour of wandering and talking to people, I found the phone.
The end of an adventure.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lunch Time Muse on the News

HC dismisses PIL against Shiv Sena, Thackerays over 'MNIK':
"The court also remarked, during the argument, that "majority of people are following them (Shiv Sena). What can be done?""

The court is here to please the majority rather than render justice, is it? The weights are definitely no longer balanced...


No entertainment tax on IPL this year, says Chavan:

""It is not possible to levy tax on IPL since the season is over," Chavan told reporters in Mumbai.
To a question on whether the IPL season 4 will be taxed, he said the cabinet will take a decision on the issue."
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India in its latest report has said that the state government lost Rs 4.99 crore by not levying entertainment duty on IPL's first season where ten matches were held in Mumbai.


Wonder what was Chavan's cut?

Lalu wants Rs 1 lakh pension for MPs:

"According to parliament officials, MPs now draw a salary of Rs 16,000 and their pension is Rs 8,000. However, a MP draws a considerable amount in the form of allowances.
Referring to the salary being drawn by the civil services officers after the implementation of Sixth Pay Commission, Lalu Prasad said: "MPs' salary should be increased to Rs 80,000 and pension to Rs 1 lakh. I'm making this demand because many MPs will lose their job once the women's reservation bill is passed.""


Do even highly educated personnel who have actually contributed to the country's economy and who have never indulged in corruption, disruption of peace get paid that much? And what about all the money made that does not appear on the pay sheet?

Did Madhuri Gupta, diplomat-spy, convert to Islam?:


Come on media...Really now, is this even relevant?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Trap for Corruption

This is a first hand story of my friend who was narrating his experience with the customs officer at the Hyderabad airport on his recent visit to India.
 Image copyright@www.tisrilanka.org
My friend had two laptops with him. One was a gift to someone and one was his personal computer. The rules on this are slightly ambiguous. The general understanding is that as long as you can prove that only one is a gift, it is ok. Anyway, the customs officer refused entry to my friend and demanded a customs fine of $300. When my friend realized that the officer was not going to accept his interpretation of the rules, he gave up, and this was the conversation that followed.
Friend: Ok, Sir. I'll pay the fine. Where should I pay it?
Officer: You can pay here in cash.
Friend: I will need a receipt.
Officer: You can pay 250 here, no receipt.
Friend: I will pay, but I need a receipt.
Officer: Sir, please pay 200 and go! The office is closed. You will not get a receipt.
Friend (Looking all around him): Why is office closed when there are so many international flights landed in the last hour. I just want to pay, get a receipt and go home! I am tired and jet lagged....
Officer (Now extremely impatient) : Pay 100 dollars here or wait until tomorrow morning.

My friend paid and left. Although he got away with reducing the bribe to 1/3rd its value, he wasn't very pleased with the whole affair. I however think that this was a wonderful way of atleast not letting that man get what he wanted so easily. If more people are as conscientious in any place they are asked for a bribe, we can go a long way in reducing this evil.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Shame of a Nation

 This is not democracy, for majority do not subscribe to it. This is not socialism, for the taken money is not distributed to the needy. What then is this new fanged atrocity? It sparks in me an extreme level of disgust and anger at the injustice of it all..and every time I read or hear about it.

It is disgust at the perpetrator of the crime and disgust for all those masses who revel in it. I have nothing against anybody calling themselves a dalit or of scheduled castes/ tribes. I lived all my life in a city and only in very exceptional cases, knew the castes to which my friends belonged. While the evils of untouchability have eluded my direct contact, I can understand that they still continue to a large extent in rural India. All  newspaper reports cannot be fabricated. In that sense, I see why those people even after 60 years of independence need separate constitutional laws and special concessions. But, aren't those who support Mayawati's insufferable atrocities a little too pea-brained to deserve sympathy?
Yes, educated people see the fallacy of allowing someone to spend 2000 crores on building ugly monumental statues, statues of herself, scores of statues of rows of elephants, statues of people who have not done much to help any mankind, statues of thieves...These thieves are not only thieving from taxpayers, but also from the very "depressed classes" who applaud her, and alas too narrow minded to even realize that.The fact that dalits of UP still vote en-masse for her is testimonial to this fact. This picture appeared in the Washington Post and the UK telegraph as well.

What irks me is that these people fail to see that the money designedly to "claim the dalits' rightful space in  the society" could well be used in a manner that could give them a more respectful and untainted space. I am at a loss to understand why they do not stand up to demand good schools, good rural hospitals, good sewer systems and electricity and water supplies to their forgotten lands. Will that not empower them to be as good as the "city sahibs"?
As if her monstrous statues are not enough to defile the city, she also needs to create a special police force to guard them? How about a special police force for a corruption-free vigilante? Or how about a special police force for people only?
Even while the supreme court and the home minister rebuked her, she tacitly replied that it would be a further waste of all the money to now remove/ abandon all  the statues...How true! How unfortunate! How distasteful!The feeble attempt to petition to the election commission is going to have even more disgraceful outputs.
But, can one file a petition to disallow obvious thieves from contesting in elections ever again? Is a mass awakening possible? Can all tax-payers file a robbery case against this tyrant? After all, aren't they now the oppressed classes of the society in this new era?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What You See is NOT What You Eat

        Can one keep track of everything that is in one's food anymore? Not even if you are eating  a green salad or drinking a cup of home made coffee, unless of course every single ingredient is home grown. No doubt my post is late, and a few of you may wonder  why I am talking of dead and decayed news and yet...I want to share my opinions on two new shockers for me for this week. And this is not only about vegetarianism.
        Life for a vegetarian in the US is much harder than most people imagine or would like to imagine. When I first became conscious of this fact, it was mostly cheese that I began to avoid. Most manufacturers use rennet to culture cheese, and are not required to put that on their labels.(some people are kind enough to specify either way). Of course, it is almost impossible to get a knowledgeable answer from any restaurant about the culturing of the cheese in their dishes.Meanwhile I was also keeping away from all possibly gelatin infused foods.
       While I knew about GM foods, it was only  a year back  that my disillusion that they'd be labeled or that they were not yet almost the only thing available in the market ended. I was horrified. It undoubtedly seems to be the only way forward to meet the growing demands for produce. It ensures quantity and "quality". The quality is assured only because the scientific theories on why they may have adverse effects on the human immune system are not established. But knowing FDA's history, that really does not mean much. However, what horrified me was the fact that we are modifying the DNAs of plants which nature gave us so much without realizing that this is irreversible. Few years from now, natural food will be extinct. The genes are gone...irretrievably. It was then that I switched to Organic food .(not just for the non-pesticide use like most Organic believers)
       About the same time, I also started buying a brand of sugar that labeled the sugar as vegan. Uncharacteristically, I never tried to find out why..after all, sugar is definitely a plant product. Only 2 days back, when I was asking my grocery store worker if xanthum gum was vegan, she was sure that it was and added that there were no uncertainties like with sugar. I was speechless..I came home to verify her information on the net, and indeed...most cane sugar manufacturers filter their molasses and discolor the sugar with filters made from animal bones,including popular brands like Domino. My mind was reeling...there was no way one can even keep track of sugar! I comfort myself that producers claim that it is just bone char, and guarantee that none of it is mixed with the sugar itself. A lot like the silver coating on Indian sweets...I think to myself.
        The last straw that actually pushed me to write all of this was my new found knowledge that 3 years back, FDA approved irradiation of lettuce and spinach, and all other produce in later future before they hit the markets. Once again, there was no need to label them (as it would confuse consumers) and they vetoed even voices from their science labs about all the potential hazards. The move came when a few people died of e.coli poisoning in the greens in 2006. Although irradiation will destroy e.coli and salmonella, it will also destroy essential nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin A, B-Complex, and C. Also of concern is the fact that these foods may appear to be fresh on the outside after a few days but in reality may be spoiled and bad  with nothing to indicate that.Even strong proponents of irradiation acknowledge that irradiation is by no means a preventive measure, it can only kill the bacteria after they manifest themselves in the produce, and hence it is not really a solution!
        I honestly do not know the solution to avoid technology polluting every morsel of my food, nevertheless I hate this artificializing of all of nature.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Love for Science Series- I, Engineering Life

I love watching shows on TV that feel like a Jules Verne script, a fantastic science fiction in today’s world but one that could well be a reality sooner than one would imagine. Today, scientists on Nat Geo were debating and proposing a way to recreate evolution all over again, but faster and this time on Mars.

The issue involved making Mars’s atmosphere and terrain inhabitable, planting seeds of evolution and whether or not we should even be doing it. I heard all the arguments and being the “safe” person that I am would hate to see mankind taking on such a mammoth of a responsibility without being a 100 percent certain of how it is going to end.

The scientific theories presented below are in no way original and are completely the ideas and deductions of years of research of scientists at various laboratories across the USA. Only the language and opinions are mine.

The first step to cultivate Mars is to increase its average temperature from 80F below zero to 25F below zero. Humans as we all know are experts at heating up a planet up to noticeable consequences. But, to warm up Mars, we need to put in ten times the effort. Massive factories and plants which release greenhouse gases more effective than CO2 can be set up on Mars. As heat is generated, the frozen water on the surface of the planet will slowly evaporate and settle in the atmosphere as water vapor, another potential greenhouse gas. One scientist proposed that simply pouring water on the planet’s surface will also release gases as Mars’s soil is nothing but pulverized frozen acid, and water will activate a reaction. Anyway, as more and more of these gases get released into the atmosphere, the atmosphere will get thicker, making the surface of Mars even hotter, and thereby releasing more gases. This cycle will continue until a balance is reached and the atmospheric pressure is also developed to a reasonable life sustainable value (as low as air pressure at a height of twice that of Mount Everest). This hastened process is expected to take atleast a 100 years.

When the water vapor builds up sufficiently, it will finally rain on Mars. (I do not know for how many hundreds of years it will rain like it did on Earth to fill all cavities and depressions to form our great oceans and some great rivers). When it stops raining, an astronaut in space might well see an Earth look-alike planet, the red planet transformed to blue. Mars will also by this time have enough gases in its atmosphere to scatter light and procure itself a blue sky. The first stage in the transformation would be complete.

But, the key ingredient to make life possible and to sustain it is Nitrogen. This may be the biggest hurdle to developing life on Mars, for until now, scientists have found absolutely no evidence of this element on the Martian surface. Although, they optimistically hope that the signals may be noised by a variety of other elements and complex molecules of nitrogen. I dreamily think that there may be other elements on Mars undiscovered on Earth which may do what nitrogen does or …maybe even better.

The floating suggestion is that we should at this stage seed the soil on Mars with microbes like cyano-bacteria which can break complex molecules and release nutrients into the soil, nitrogen being one of them. As the soil becomes gradually fertilized, they would add organisms like lichens and moss which will do a wonderful job of weathering down rocks and mountains and further fertilize the soil. The idea is to transform a mountain into a garden.

After another hundred years of preparing Mars for its tailored future, the planet would now be suitable for a tundra type of vegetation. At this stage we will be very likely importing pine trees from the Earth and planting them, for we definitely cannot sustain this kind of atmosphere on Mars without setting up a self-balancing mechanism. Remember here that the scientists only hope that nitrogen exists on Mars, they do not have any evidence of it, yet. Trees will bring in the much needed supply of oxygen, consume the carbon dioxide and maintain the atmospheric temperature. The terra-formation is complete. Then what?

At this juncture, researches draw a blank. They are not sure if Mars will take the course of evolution like Earth did and develop into a planet very alike ours, or follow a whole new line of evolution with different kinds of species. Or, will it even evolve and sustain life?

Astro-biologists romanticize the idea of letting life evolve by itself after this point and just study it from Earth for the sake of science. Other hard-core researchers of the Mars society (there really is such a society) think it would be unpardonably stupid to stop here after all this effort and time. It would definitely be time for us to pack our bags and shift base there. The timeline in discussion here is about 100,000 years from today (with today’s technology, but future scientists may find faster techniques). A few conservative scientists say that it is almost impossible to predict the evolution trajectory that Mars will follow at that time and we have no right to tamper with Mars.

A few other evolution geeks maintain that it is the nature of life to fill every available niche and it would be very unlike humans to not do so. Moreover we would have made Earth completely uninhabitable by then, and would have no choice but to move. But, we are less likely to do that to Mars as our time on Earth is a good enough lesson.

At any rate, we cannot take on this massive experiment without being sure that things will not go horribly wrong because of something we do not expect, and also because this is prohibitively expensive as of today!

Who knows, maybe life on Earth itself was engineered with asteroid collisions to warm us up and shake up the surface…

Monday, March 29, 2010

Response to Comments on Previous Post

This is in response to many comments I got(not just the ones who were good enough sports to share their views openly)on my last blog. For the record, I would like to note that so far I have more approvals. This is heartening for I could have wept otherwise.
Firstly, that blog was not a personal attack on anyone. I am too out of touch with all your lives to know or care how you live. So there is no need to get offended . Just like you claim your right to break a few more links in the society to which I also have a right, I have my right to express my opinion and hope a fool's hope to keep people like me from being extinct. I cannot always tone it moderate to appease my readers.
Secondly, I donot care a cent about how you live, I want you to care about how you live. There is a difference, and you need to understand that.
Thirdly, do read and post comments only if you care to go through the whole thing and respond with an open mind. I am not here to preach to anyone, but just to influence atleast 1 reader. If you have already made up your mind, go no further and continue your blissful existence.On the other hand, if you too hope to change my mind, then read on!
This particular post is not a debate between love and arranged marriages, I might like to take that up on some other day, but not here. It is about being in a relationship and being married/ with intentions to get married or being in a relationship and deliberately choosing to be unmarried.
I shall reiterate that if one spends enough time understanding how any culture evolved and degrades, one will have to figure the family system in the equation. Are people disagreeing with me of the opinion that our mothers lead a worthless life. Did they make all those sacrifices for us ,encouraging us to be what we are proud of being today just so we can stand on our "independent" feet and claim that they added no value to the society. So if they too had been selfish and had thought only about themselves, I gather our world would have been a better place to live in. For believe me, maybe the next generation will not see the impact of this shortsightedness, but a few generations down will..that too only if they are lucky enough to realize their loss.
OK, I understand when people say they donot want the hassle of a marriage, the whole big package, the responsibilities and the commitments, and that they are not ready for it. I DONOT have an objection to not getting married. That is indeed one's personal choice. But I have an objection to spreading the epidemic of a mindless and meaningless existence in the same society where I have a part, and my children will too. If one doesnot want to perform their dharma, then one should atleast have a damn good excuse up their sleeve for their time on this Earth. Be it Mother Teresa style or Isaac Newton style or Mirabai style.
I currently reside in a country where this started spreading maybe about two generations back. Not all people I know approve of this, but they already do not even have a choice. Some of their parents and grandparents lived without the concept of a family. One person I know was at his work all day instead of at the funeral when his sister died, because he said he was not close to her. That is all very well, but look at his life and grapple a meaning out of it. He makes loads of money, he does not have any ties that he can be sure will not break, so he tries to lead his life for himself because only that is permanent for him. I pity him and many others like him. I cannot even blame him, for he did not have the choice that our generation is faced with today. What, may I ask is the purpose of this purely materialistic and carnal way of life? We might as well be born animals, if we cannot do something better with our intellect.
No matter which type of lifestyle one chooses, there should be a constant aim to transcend from one mental plane to the other. Random wandering without any bearing of where you are going is futile. I am not talking about this body, but one's soul..for it has a much longer journey , the length of it depending on how much time one aims to waste without any progress in mental level. Acknowledging that is the very first step. Acknowledging a futile existence is better than simply living through it. One needs to look at the bigger picture.
One person actually said that staying married to one single person is no longer a viable option because of globalization and our mobile careers, and claims that this is better than repeatedly obtaining divorces. Any comment I make here on this statement will be inappropriate in my blog.
One person says we are mature enough to not be influenced by others. I am afraid we over estimate our race, and there is a lot of rot involved in the statement (Sorry for the rudeness, but so were you). Because wherever I look in the world, people are influenced by something or someone and there is this mad craving to "fit-in". If history shows anything, it is that people are easily influenced. Why, history itself is written by the most influential piece of write-up.What is easy becomes popular, and what  is popular becomes an accepted norm of life. One's political knowledge is limited by what the media presents to us. Our consumer knowledge is limited to what the advertisements present to us. One cannot buy a simple product or good without reading/ obtaining a 100 other reviews and suggestions. One would not go to a business meeting in summer in cotton T-shirts and shorts just because it makes sense. We do it, because we have to follow the norms at some places. One will not wear a dress if the whole world says it makes them look ugly. If the human race is indeed above such dependence, why is there a furor every time somebody influential makes an inappropriate remark. He/ she is accused of causing discord among people. Why care if Raj Thackrey makes insane remarks, the human race is above all that, isn't it? Why does not someone tell S.Tendulkar that he is wasting his time and efforts in setting an example, for people cannot be influenced. Most of today's adolescent and youth problems ranging from drinking to anorexia are a product of peer influence. If indeed people cannot be influenced, there would not have been a Hitler, a Gandhi or a Karl Marx. The human race thrives on influence.
There is no "right or wrong" in this situation: Wrong period
When one is faced with two options in life, the easier one is most likely the wrong one. One who cannot stay married to one person, will find the option of not mating with anyone harder I suppose.
I cannot force anyone to my views, and I would not grab hold of some one and give a lecture, for I have no wish to preach like I said. Someday, maybe this will be a part of the digital remains, and  someone might atleast realize their loss and what might have been.. This is not aimed at any individual, so please tone down your comments.But I wish I too had the right to live the way I like and bring up my children the way I like but that becomes more and more impossible when we live not in seclusion.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Right to Live, Not Live-In

The Supreme Court has done away with the need to use the term “illicit relationship”, and to satisfy whom this time? I cannot believe that a purely immoral and illogical behavior can now be justified as a fundamental right. I am not afraid of social censure here to suit “modernists”.
Our whole society and culture has been built over 1000’s of years with certain basic building blocks. There is no doubt that the concept of morality has been waning exponentially, but that is no reason to make a wrong-doing legal in order to artificially free people’s mind of any guilt, or to encourage it as acceptable.
Indian culture and society has been built on the family-system as the foundation and to take that away ensures the demise of our only stronghold in this world. One needs to reflect on his/ her life and acknowledge that the strongest impacts on their character and way of living come from the ones closest in blood. It is the way our parents have lived that sets an unattainable example to us. It is the attempt to ape an elder sibling’s virtues that salvages a younger one, and the elder’s knowledge of this fact and hence the need to remain an example that provides a balance to this tightrope act in life. Of course in later years, friends play a large impact, but for most of us, the ability to distinguish right from wrong has already been deeply ingrained. But, even the spirit of independent thought never really came independently.
Making live-in relationships a right is just modernistic trash and perhaps the most short-sighted constitutional right ever. The repercussions of this are enormous and I mean it in a bad way. If two people are in love, what is to stop them from getting married? It is the fear of commitment, and responsibilities. With any kind of sustainable happiness, comes along a certain amount of responsibility. One cannot turn their backs on their duty towards their families and the society. It sounds alright to say that people have a right to live their lives the way they want to. I cannot but disagree. If one’s actions bear an impact on people around, they need to be conscious of the right way of life. Every society is a dynamic, intricately complicated and inter-linked mechanism. People learn their virtues and tolerance for virtues by accepted norms among others in their line of sight. Perhaps, in today’s generation, there are still a lot of people who can relate to what I am saying. But the moment we are forced to turn a blind eye towards this sort of rampant immorality, we endanger the coming generations. Love, trust and responsibilities can give society a foundation, not lust. A hundred years from today, we will have nothing original in our country to boast of, no identity. A few hundred years later, we shall have nothing more than digital remains to show for ourselves.
No doubt, one has a right to live his life, but only to live it responsibly.

Please read next blog for possible rebuttals to your arguments. Thanks!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The 39 Steps and the Imagination of One Man

How interesting would you imagine a play with a cast of four to be, if you have never seen one? How tiring would you imagine it to be if you knew that 3 of the four actors were going to play the other 30 characters the script demands? From my experience, watching movies with even great actors in more than 4/5 roles gets a little too tiring, even if I can acknowledge the great display of screen talent. If your imagination is also shaping like mine, I can understand why the reviewers of the play skip these details in their report, and give the director a chance.
I read the book – 39 Steps by John Buchan last week leaving out the last 30 pages to retain the suspense. After all, what good is watching a murder mystery and thriller if you know how it is going to end? But, the book did me no good at all. While it was an interesting read, my qualm about how it would look on stage was put to rest by a genius. Alfred Hitchcock was revealed in a whole new light to me, for it needed an imagination of a genius to do what he did.
The plot of the Tony award winning play revolves around a man Richard Hannay who is chased out of London and all around Scotland by the Scotland Yard who believe him to be a murderer (A beautiful woman was murdered in his apartment) and a group of spies who believe that he is privy to their elaborate plan to betray the country and could consequently sabotage their mission (the beautiful woman gave the secret away before she was murdered). Ok, so does it sound like a regular run of the mill thriller? Well, think again and let your imagination run astray. This was as much a suspense thriller as an out and out comedy, however the comedy had nothing to do with the plot..just the way the plot was enacted. Alfred Hitchcock beautifully adapted the book when he introduced his own characters and new twists in the story when he made his 1935 classic. Patrick Barlow brilliantly adapted the film in to a stage play.
While it is very interesting to note the different accents, costumes and demeanor of early 20th century men and women in Scotland belonging to a wide range of social classes, (a milkman, a newspaper man, a theater artist, a policeman, a farmer, a politician, a professor, a thug, an aristocrat, a cheap hotelier, the list goes on…) what is really noteworthy is the performances of the three actors who were not Richard Hannay. While he played his role to perfection, he only had to live one character. The woman, and the two thugs/ policemen/ secret keepers were simply mind-blowing! They left nothing to be desired in their portrayal of any character. It was almost as if they had Multiple Personality Disorders. How they switched back and forth in to the souls of such varied dispositions with amazing fluidity! If I wore a hat, I would take it off! The audience gave them their due…we laughed and applauded at all the right places and marked the extent of our appreciation by giving them twice the standing ovation.
Absolutely everything was funny…the beautiful woman with a knife sticking out her back, the hero being chased inside a train, on it’s roof, his capture in a car and his escapade on a motorbike and over streams and waterfalls, the way the play began and ended inside a theater... To bring this kind of imagery on a stage without the illusions of a graphic program, and all with the use of the simplest of props consisting of two trunks, one door, one window frame and one sofa is a wholly different art. I, for one, am glad that this art has not yet died albeit the grossly high numbers of people who do not particularly enjoy sitting 25 feet from an actor and watch him actually bring cellulose to life.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

In India..In God's Own Land

It’s now been a month back since I came back from my vacation in India, although it already feels like a year. Everything seems just so distant and surreal...the morning namaaz from the nearby mosque, the newspaper man, the milkman, the growing buzz of traffic, the national anthem from a nearby school, the steady hum of the mid-day calm and the evening rush of activity…
I was going home after over two years, and I donot ever remember having so many musings. For the first time in two years, I witnessed an act of racism, in Hyderabad airport. The customs officer called a “White” man standing behind me to the front of the queue with obvious preference to color. The next thing that struck me was the number of “non- white” faces around me. I did not even realize how much I missed that until then. Then came our car driver who was honking almost non-stop at a near empty road at 2 in the night! I was finally on the other side of the world.
Two days after I landed, I was off on a trip to attend my cousin’s wedding. I was excited about the wedding as it was my first trip to god’s own land. We were a group of 35 people traveling in the train from Chennai to Trivandrum; needless to say the journey was littered with the latest gossips and re-runs of bygone seasons. I do not sleep well in trains, and was eagerly looking forward to a new day. I was not disappointed. I was up before dawn, and the first hint of sunrise unveiled the glistening Kerala backwaters, surrounded by countless coconut trees (a site I never tired of for the next 4 days). I somehow knew that I was going to have many first experiences. How right I was.
The first and constant and most noticeable thing that one cannot miss is the water served with meals, be it in someone's house or in a restaurant. A typical Keralite serves lukewarm water that is pink in color. The pink comes from the herb pathimukham which has numerous medicinal properties according to the Ayurvedic literature. And of course, it was easier finding Ayurvedic stores in the smaller towns of Kerala than a regular pharmacy.
Trivandrum itself was not very impressive, I was a little let down by the city...to me it neither held the old town charm nor the new city thrills. It was lost in transition. This Kerala trip was however planned as a pilgrimage by my parents, and on that count I was not disappointed.
My first visit was to the 300 year old Anantha Padmanabha Swamy temple in Trivandrum. It was unique for the Lord’s eternal sleeping posture, it’s impressive mythological history, and (forgive me) the Dravidian architecture. I was also told that this temple architecture was unique in Kerala. It looked like any other old South Indian temple to me from the outside, but I understood what it meant as I visited more famous temples deeper and farther inside this land.

Once we were cut loose after the wedding, my parents, a cousin and I made our way to the famous Guruvayur. By the time we reached the temple town, it was 130 am. We were all enthusiastic to witness the “Nirmalya Darshan” of the baby Krishna at 4 in the morning. The lord is woken up, given some butter, bathed and dressed up before being paraded around the temple on his elephant at 6 am everyday. I was very pleased with the pre-dawn darshan and the Sri-Veli (Elephant ride), but what spoilt it for me was our decision to brave the now large queue to have one more peek at the idol. Unlike other famous temples in the south, lord Guruvayur has no preference for people willing to spare a few crisp notes, and only makes an exception to the old and disabled. Alas! If only there was an organized queue! There were tens of thousands of people fighting their way to the front…pushing and squeezing so much that it is hard for the ordinary man to keep his mind on the God for many hours in this ill-behaved throng. My own horrors were too many to pen. In the end, I was glad for a gasp of fresh air and the feel of only my own skin.
Anyway, if you examine this photograph and compare it with the previous one, you will see what I was talking about. The Guruvayur temple looks like a typical Kerala temple. I have never seen this kind of a dome on any Hindu temple in any other part of the country. This was a first for me…
Image copyright with www.mapmytemple.com
We then visited Aanakotai, the place where they housed all the 64 elephants belonging to the temple. It was not a big place and they were chained on atleast 3 legs (some obviously violent ones were chained on all four). They were visibly bored and threw heaps of dirt and hay all over themselves for pleasure. Apart from this, they seemed to be well cared for but I would not be surprised at any protests from animal activists.

Our next pit-stop was the Mammiyoor Shiva temple. A visit here is a must for all Guruvayoor visitors. It is a pleasant small temple, surprisingly not very crowded and has more than enough power to negate the memories of the crowd in Guruvayur temple.

Loaded with information from local people, and having found a good deal on a rental car, we made our way to Thiruprayaar, an abode of Lord Rama. This is famous for it’s divine powers and is unique unlike other Ram- mandirs. The deity is that of only Ram without the customary presence of Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman. This is unheard of and may sound quite ridiculous to some devotees. However, the local men told me that (Malayalam bears resemblance to Tamil, and hence my survival and enlightenment) there are 5 other separate temples to honor not only Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman, but also temples for Bharat and Shatrughna within a 50 km radius all in different directions! Well, that was a revelation. 

Thiruprayaar was beautiful and it was an experience I can never forget in spirit. It is on a low lonely hilltop, adjacent to a huge clear lake surrounded by trees. The temple is majestic, with vast open spaces and scarcely populated. Feeding the fish in the lake is believed to be equivalent to feeding the Matsya-avatar of lord Vishnu. On one part of the grounds, people can burst fireworks by paying a nominal amount. of money .The first time was a shock that literally shook every nerve in my body. The sound of fireworks in the otherwise unearthly calm place was unnerving. A fellow worshiper explained that this was done in order to relieve people of their innermost built up stresses. One never knows when the fireworks are going to sound, and yet I shook less every time and was feeling more at peace with the world. Another memorable aspect of the temple is the deity itself. Rama’s stand- alone deity is somehow cleverly made to emit a burning flame from within it’s forehead. The priest explained the divine illusion. The idol has a small gold leaf ingrained in the forehead and the oil lamps around it are arranged at angles such that they reflect off of his forehead resulting in a mind-numbing effect. I felt like I was in the very heart of God’s land…

We were now on our way to visit the mighty Kodungallur devi. The goddess is as beautiful as she is renowned. The most unique feature of this temple is the  sanctum with idols of the ten devis . They are Brahmani, Narayani, Maheshwari, Indrani, Chamundi, etc. who, according to mythology sprang from each of the gods to help kill the demon Mahishasura, hence acquiring the name of Mahishasura Mardini.
We did manage a few more beautiful temples on our way back to the Trichoor railway station to make our way home. The most interesting among these was was the Koodal-Manikyam temple. It was as big as the Padmanabha temple, it had a bigger tank and it had an elephant...and it had only one sanctum with one deity..that of the great Bharat, whose devotion to his brother has not been given enough praise in our mythological books. I left Kerala in a state of musing and awe, overwhelmed with my lack of knowledge.

The rest of my trip passed in a blur. I attended two more weddings and have no noteworthy experiences. I wait for a new journey…a new experience and another wonderful sense of overwhelm.