Thursday, July 31, 2014

Naham Kartha, Hari Kartha

"When i saw Tirupati Balaji" is an exemplary book written by Mr P.V.R.K.Prasad, an IAS officer who served as the executive officer of TTD (Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams)for many years. It is a beautiful collection of essays by Mr Prasad counting his experiences as the first servant of god in the capacity of executive officer of TTD. It is a highly recommended book for believers as well as non believers. The book is so compelling that i completed it in 2 days. The book has reinforced my faith in god manifolds. Ever since i have read that book, i have been wanting to go to Tirupati. 

My last trip to Tirupati was in 2007. However after 2007, i could not visit Tirupathi for some reason or the other. 

From 2007, my many plans for lord's darshan failed. In 2012, i made yet another attempt to see the lord at Tirupati. Everything was set. We had booked for the seva, for the accommodation and the taxi. We were scheduled to leave early on the 27th of June. I was all excited since this was my visit to Tirupati after 5 years. 

On the evening of the 26 June 2012, i started feeling cold. By 6 PM, i started getting severe chills and within few minutes i was under 5 blankets. By 8 PM i was lying in the emergency ward of Manipal hospital. 

So yet again Tirupati plan got cancelled. On the morning of 27 June, two lucky people from my family took my place and proceeded to Tirupati for the lord's blessings. 

We planned to go to Tirupati after my wedding on 4 November 2012. But even before we could chalk out something , my wife fractured her leg and she was in plaster for 6 weeks. Many events throughout 2013 did not give us an opportunity to plan for any trip. 

All the events just buttressed my firm belief that nothing works as per our plan. We were just not destined to get the Lord's blessings. Tirupati remained a distant dream for us. 

It was on one fine day in April 2014 that the thought of seeking Balaji's blessings came to me. My brother too was planning to go to Tirupati for many years but had not materialized. So we decided to give for Kalyanothsava for the lord at Tirupati. 

At Manipal Hospital, 27 June 2012
The seva has to be booked online.The portal for the seva opens 90 days in advance and the sevas normally get booked within an hour of portal opening.  Since two families were going, we had to get two tickets. Myself and my wife sheethal created two different accounts to book for the seva.  

We had planned to give for the seva on the 28 July. So on the midnight of April 28, we were sitting and waiting for the portal to open. The portal opened at 12:20 AM on the 28 April. We were all set to book for the seva. But when we clicked on the "Book" button we were getting some error message. Out of desperation, we tried from different computers and from different internet connections but of no avail.
So i called up my brother in the US to try. I had to send him all the details and passwords. We did all that but for some reason photographs were not attaching. After a while we were successful. Meanwhile the sevas were getting booked very swiftly and our hopes were dimming. My brother could operate one account at a time. He finally managed to get to payment gateway. I had to give my credit card details. After all information was entered , i did not receive the password for the payment on my mobile phone. It finally arrived after much delay and we were lucky to get a confirmed booking. So two tickets for two couples were booked 90 days in advance. 
I was finally relieved by 1:30 AM and thanked god. 

We booked our Hotel and taxi well in advance. We were pre prepared for the chaos and crowd. We were travelling with two kids. One about 11 months (My son) and the other 4 and half years old (My Brother's daughter). 

Our plan was to leave on the afternoon of 27 July. Reach Tirupati by late evening. Relax in the night and head to lord's darshan the next day morning (Kalyanothsava was scheduled at 11 AM on 28 July). 

We had a small ceremony at home on 26 July. Soon after the ceremony, my always charming and playful niece complained of stomach ache. She was in bad pain and we took her to the hospital at 4 PM. The doctor said there was nothing to worry about and sent us home with some medication. Doctor did not advise us to cancel the trip. 

At around 8 PM, my niece Isha started vomiting. We thought it was some food poisoning. But she puked a few times and at 11 PM, we called the doctor who asked us to get Isha to the hospital. At 11:30 PM we were at the emergency ward of Manipal hospital. After some procedures, medication and X ray she was discharged and we were back home by 1 AM on 27 July. The doctor said my niece was ok and she should not vomit again. 
But at 2:45 AM on 27 july, Isha started vomiting again and we had to rush her to Manipal hospital. She was admitted at the hospital. She was put on intravenous fluids and medicines. Ironically, i was admitted at the same hospital and same ward exactly 25 months back (27 June 2012) with almost the same symptoms and i too was put put on intravenous fluids and medicines.

So, at 8 AM on 27 July, my little niece was sleeping at Manipal hospital. Yet another Tirupati plan was cancelled. I called up the hotel and cancelled the booking. The cab driver called and i asked him to cancel the trip. He too was disappointed. However, i asked him to come over so that it will be easy for us to commute between home and hospital and for other odd jobs as required. 

I was not destined to get the lord's blessings. My many attempts had failed and i told myself that i will go when the lord wishes. 

It was a sad day. Phone calls were pouring all day to enquire about Isha's health. She is a precious baby for our family. So all were concerned. We shuttled all day between home and the hospital. Isha was discharged at 5:30 PM. She was all ok and playful. 

The idea of Tirupati was still clinging on my brother's mind. Isha was normal and very energetic. She was more than compensating for the previous day. 
At 8:00 PM my brother santosh said lets us go. After a five minute discussion, we unanimously decided to head out to Tirupati without a second thought. We called the cab guy and he agreed to show up at 4:30 AM the next day (28 July). 

From somewhere we got the grit to make it. Isha, my niece is a very precious gift of lord to our family. We can never afford to compromise with her health. But somehow we thought we can make it. We were well aware of the crowd and mayhem at Tirupati. But we still wanted to make it. 

I got up at 3:00 AM the next , got ready. I was myself not very well. I was on medication for last two weeks. But it did not bother me. The thought also did not come to me. I am realising that i had forgotten my medicine only as i am writing this. 

At 4:45 AM, we were off. We were 6 of us. Myself, my wife sheethal, my son Shri Krishna, my brother Santosh, my sister in law Vijeth and my niece Isha. It was a very comfortable journey. We had to struggle a little inside Tirumala to get o the right place but by and large it was manageable. 

As expected it was very crowded and people were pushing from all directions. We were very concerned about Krishna and Isha. But both the kids behaved extremely well. Inspite of so many people , amidst all the screaming and chaos, the kids kept their calm and behaved. 

We finished the kalyanothsava. By that time both the kids had slept. By the time we were heading towards the sanatorium for Lord's darshan, the kids woke up. To our surprise Krishna was all cheerful and smiling in the middle of the mayhem. He was clapping and enjoying. We got into the sanatorium and had a very satisfying darshan of the God. 

We got into the temple at 11 AM and we were out by 2:30 PM. We were surprised and delighted by the sequence of events. 

I got into the car to find a few missed calls from the relatives who were anxious to know how Isha was doing (No one knew we were going to Tirupati). They were surprised to learn that we did make it to Tirupati. Everyone were appreciating our courage to have made the trip. 

My seven year long wait culminated with the lord's darshan on the 28 of July. I never imagined that we could make it after all the events that preceded our visit.  I do not have any explanation for the events. I did not have anything to say to our relatives as well but just "Naham Kartha, Hari Kartha" . 


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Outsourcing Change


The title of this blog is borrowed from a status update of my friend Sameer Shisodia. This is probably the most pertinent phrase on the eve of the election results. Sameer in his post said 
"So - now the wait begins to bring in "change" and outsource our responsibilities, hopes and duties to a an all new central figure who is expected to change and fix everything without us having to move a finger, give up on our greed and needs, change nothing at our end and put in no extra effort " # Democrazy?

I cannot agree more to his words. As someone who had responded to his update said "Govt change karne se kya hoga? We are like this only. We will not wait in line. We will put our trash on the road. We will drive on the wrong side of the road. We will always hurry but never reach on time. We will always find someone else to fault. Govt change karne se kya hoga jab hum khudh change nahi honge". 

I am writing this post out of sheer disgust, frustration and helplessness. People blame everything but for themselves for all ills in the society. People's social attitude is becoming worse. Aggression seems to be the new norm on the roads. Disrespect for rules and insensitivity for others has become a matter of routine. 

I will just pick up an incident i was involved in today. I have been living in south Bangalore all my life and have seen it grow (worse) leaps and bounds. Vidhyarthi Bhavan (VB), located in Gandhi Bazaar is any day my hot favourite for its yummy dosa and awesome coffee.

Today evening, myself, my wife and our little Krishna drove to Gandhi Bazaar for that amazing dosa at VB. As i was crossing the road holding my 8 month old baby Krishna, a man aged around 40 riding a two wheeler with three people on it almost ran into me speaking on his cell phone (No helmet of course). When i gave him a glare, he yelled "Chal re". It was clearly his mistake. Without any debate, we moved on. 

After the yummy dosa and coffee at Vidhyarthi Bhavan, we were accompanied out by a lady (may be 35 to 38 years old), her two kids, her secretary (or PA or some assistant). A sedan car stopped outside VB and her assistant opened the back door for her. All of them got into the car. We just moved a few steps to cross the road and couple of empty boxes of sweets and a plastic cover came flying out of the car. A box fell on my feet as well. I got furious and asked the driver and the lady on the car if this is what they were teaching their kids. The reply was in Kannada and the madam's driver very rudely said "ಇವಾಗ ಏನು? ಸುಮ್ಮನೆ ಹೋಗಿ “It means "I threw, so what now? You just go". 

They did not even bother to apologize. They were from an upper middle class family. When i picked up the box and the cover from the road, they did not even react. I am sure they were not embarrassed. They just drove off. 

Other than picking those boxes from the road and throwing in the dustbin, i could not do anything much. It is unfortunate, but i guess this is how we live.

At this rate, it is dangerous to think of the future. Discipline in public seems to be totally absent. If this is our attitude, no leader will be able to change anything. Discipline and change must come from within.

As sameer put it very beautifully, we only want to "Outsource" change. But the inconvenient truth is, there is no messiah with a magic wand who will change the things overnight.

  
PS: The Bangalore i lived in my childhood or for that matter even during my engineering days was not this rude or insensitive.  Society has become abusive and aggressive.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Question of freedom..

Few years back i watched this amazing play called “Ambedkar aur Gandhi”. It is a Hindi play directed by Arvind Gaur and performed by the highly talented theatre group “ASMITA”. Much has been written about this play. The play is not free from controversy. The director claims that every word in the script is recorded in history. However some critics doubt it.

Nevertheless, i watched this play again at “Sriram Theater”, New Delhi last week. It has a very powerful script. The play was so intense that by the time the play was over, though this was the second time i was watching this play, i had goose bumps on my skin.

I have already written about this play. I will not repeat it now. But like last time, i had a chance to talk to the director after the play.

Arvind Gaur is a very humble man. Short man of about five and a half feet, Arvind is full of energy and is totally dedicated to his work. He believes in theatre as a mode of social change. His Theater “Asmita” consists of more than 50 people.

The play that they were performing is on Socio-political history. “Ambedkar aur Gandhi” is a play on the delicate relationship between Gandhi and Ambedkar set in the backdrop of second round table conference on the issue of separate electorate for the schedule castes. As such, the most powerful character in the play is that of Dr Ambedkar. Performed by the brilliant young artist Bajrang Bali Singh, his role as Ambedkar can move any audience.

Arvind Gaur.
But Arvind and Asmita group have their share of problems in staging this play. They have to give an affidavit before every performance that there would not be any violence after the play. Not only in Delhi, but anywhere in india, the group runs into the bureaucracy before their performance. Arvind says, such highly talented and dedicated artists have to bend at the mercy of the line of bureaucracy right from the beat policeman till the DCP before every performance.

True, the play is controversial. It is very very critical of Gandhi. In my opinion, the play shows Gandhi more hypocritical than he was (perhaps). In more than one instance in the play, Ambedkar makes sarcastic remarks of Gandhi being a  “Mahathma”.

But at the end of the day, it is a piece of literature. It is art. The theater group has put the source of the script in public. Every dialogue, they claim, is recorded in history.

Afterall, the play is about the great man who drafted our constitution. Ambedkar stood for equality and freedom of speech.  This play was banned in Gujrat for many years. To perform this play anywhere in india, the group has to take permission from the police. Not only that, they have to give an affidavit.  Is this not restriction of “Freedom of Speech” ?
In our society, politicians can make dangerous hate speeches but a common man with rich social and cultural values cannot easily perform a historical play.

I will sign off by quoting a few lines of Dr Ambedkar (in constituent assembly) ;
On 26 January, 1950 we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics, we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics, we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle on one man one value.. ”

PS : Posting this from the “Bangalore Rajadhani Express” somewhere in Andhra Pradesh.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Another Happy Man.

A couple of years back i had written about the happy man, Vijaykumar whom i met in Malahalli falls of western ghats. Since then i have met myriad men and women from different walks but not another one like Vijay Kumar.

August 2013 was a difficult month for our family. Life had taken one complete circle and i was engrossed in a strange philosophical thought (and conflict).  I left to Delhi on the 12 of September for a break of 10 days. It was a much needed break for me. 

Delhi is a nice place but for the climate. For foodies like me, it is a treat. I had some program in the krishna mutta for 2 days. Other than that i was by and large free. I watched the superb kannada movie "Lucia" with a couple of friends in Gurgaon.  

One day i decided to go to east Delhi.  East Delhi is a pretty clumsy place. Its about an hour ride in the metro train from Safdarjung enclave where i was staying. I decided to brave the Metro rush at Rajiv chowk and take the ride to 'Shahdara'. My plan was to visit the Metro mall (b2b store) there. 

Shahdara turned out to be a nightmare. It was a buzzing place with people all over the place. It was raining very heavily. There was no shelter outside the station and i was completely drenched. The place outside the station was flooded and there was no auto rickshaw in sight. 
There were many cycle rickshaws waiting outside the station. I was not in a mood to take the cycle rickshaw ride. But i was not in a mood to return home either. Having come all the way braving the metro train rush, i had to visit the shopping mall. Finally i made the bold effort of hiring a cycle rickshaw. But to my surprise, none of the rickshaw pullers knew the Metro mall. When i had almost decided to get back, an old man (may be late 50s or early 60s) said he would take me in his rickshaw. 


Cycle Rickshaw ride in the horrible roads of east Delhi
This was my second ride in a cycle rickshaw in the last year. My last ride was in Chandini chowk last September. 

I did not ask my rickshaw puller the cost of the ride. As the rain stopped ; my rickshaw was pulled into the winding roads of Shahdara. 
5 minutes into the ride, it started pouring heavily. My rickshaw puller had no rain gear (neither did i). Rains did not deter him. He was pedalling and totally drenched. At that time i asked him to stop. He did stop beneath the bridge. He requested if we could proceed since he was losing his business hours. I insisted that we stay (i was partially covered) till the rain stopped. He reluctantly obliged. We stopped for 10 minutes. I asked him his name. His name was Bisham (or something like that). He was from Delhi and was pulling the cycle rickshaw for close to 35 years. He was thin and energetic. 

The rain stopped and we continued the bumpy ride. The roads were flooded and stuffed. Cycles, pedestrians, Hawkers, motorists and cars were all moving in an mayhem  The road was hardy 10 feet wide and full of hawkers. There was no discipline or order. Bisham's Rickshaw was quite old and brakes had worn out. I could hear him shout 'Baju' ! 'Baju'! . 

After a 40 minute roller coaster ride i reached my destination. It was an effort getting there. But it was a greater effort for Bisham to get me there (It is after all not easy to pedal a 100 kg load as your pillion). 

Bisham had pedaled me for about 40 minutes in pouring rain. The distance was about 3 kms. I asked Bisham the hire charges and he said it was 40 rupees. I thought 40 rupees was quite cheap for the effort he had made. However i made the payment and asked him to wait, if he could ;for about 30 minutes for my return, so that i can be dropped back to the station. There was no obligation though since i had paid the hire charges. 

The shopping went on for more than an hour. I came out of the mall after about 90 minutes of shopping. It was drizzling. To my surprise, i found Bisham waiting for me. 

We started our return journey in the narrow, bumpy, crowded, flooded roads of shahdara. 10 minutes into the ride, it started pouring heavily. We got completely drenched in no time. Bisham stopped beneath a tarpaulin for about 15 minutes. We resumed the bumpy ride to reach the station. 

I was quite sure that Bisham would ask me a higher hire charges. I gave him a 100 rupee note. He put it inside his pocket and gave me six 10 rupee notes back. I was surprised. I asked him if there was no extra charge for waiting and higher effort. He just said "Nahi saab" (No sir). When i offered him fifty rupees extra, he refused it. When i insisted, he took 20 rupees. 

Its painful to see an old man working this hard (80 or 100 rupees for 3 hours of really hard work). But this man looked very contented  Though he hardly spoke to me, one could make out that he is a satisfied man. 

How i wish some of the auto drivers in Bangalore could take a leaf out of Bisham's book. 





Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Veturi Prabhakara Sastry (Rao)

Talapaka Annamacharya is a well known composer. He is sung in almost all Carnatic classical concerts. He was a saint and scholar who lived 600 years ago (May 9, 1408 – February 23, 1503). 

Below is a story of Sri Annamacharya which was narrated by Prince of Travancore Rama Varma in a concert. I have tried to reproduce the story here in verbatim.

Veturi Prabhakara Rao
Annamacharya lived in Tirupathi and was a great devotee of Lord Venkateshwara. He and Purandaradasa lived in the same time around 600 years ago. His compositions were popular all over south india at that time but later they disappeared. 
In 1940s there was a gentleman living in Tirupathi who was a great devotee of lord Venkateshwara called Veturi Prabhakara Rao (Sastry). As he was doing pradakshina of Venkateshwara temple in Tirupathi, there was a statue of Annamacharya. Each time he passed the statue, he would feel a strange feeling, he could never explain what it was. But he noticed that he felt that strange feeling when he passed that particular point (Annamacharya's statue).  
He was a gigantic person. He went and touched the statue of Annamacharya and it was moving. So he removed that and found one very small hole (This is in 1940s). Though he was a big man, he managed to squeeze inside and there was a room with hundreds and hundreds of copper plates with lyrics of Annamacharya songs engraved on them. 

The first ten pieces from these copper plates were handed over to Padhma Vibhushana Dr Magalampalli Balamurali Krishna and the first song he tuned was "Narayanathe Namo Namo" in the raga Behag. 

It is said that this song was discovered in 1940s but the amazing thing is that in Trivandrum Navaratri Mandapam, Everyday before the concert at 6 O clock, there is a singing of Thodaya Mangalam by many musicians and they sing Narayanathe namo namo. They have been singing this for hundreds of years. It is in a different raga. Though only Swathi krithis are sung at the Navarathri Mandapam, this composition is officially credited to Annamacharya. 


Monday, May 13, 2013

Kudiyattam

Kapila Venu.. 
At more than 2000 years old, Kudiyattam , the Sanskrit theater from Kerala is the oldest form of theater in the world. It has a highly stylized and complex theater language replete with elaborate traditional hand gestures and facial expressions. In 2001, UNESCO declared Kudiyattam as "masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity" 

Kudiyattam is performed mainly by the descendants of the chakyar community. There are really a very few performers of this highly nuanced theater form. In an exemplary move to propagate the art, it is now being thought to any student keen on learning it. 

My first acquaintance with kudiyattam was at Rangashankara theater festival 2010. The theme of that year's festival was classical forms of theater. It featured Katahkali, theyam theyam, Kudiyattam, our own yakshagana apart from classical forms of theater from Maharashtra , Manipur and Assam. I attended almost all the performances. But what impressed me most was Kudiyattam. Ever since, i have been attending the kudiyattam performances in Bangalore. I also got a chance to interact with a kudiyattam guru Dr Margi Madhu last year in Bangalore. I also plan to visit the kudiyattam school in Cochin run by Dr Margi Madhu. 

Normally, mythological stories are enacted in the Kudiyattam form in some temples of Kerala. Performances run for over 12 hours. 

Mizhavu Drum 
The performance starts from the traditional sounding of the  Mizhavu drum. (The Mizhavu drum is treated like a Brahmin boy. It goes through all the Brahmanical samskaras like Namakarana, Annaprashana, Upanayana and finally Shava Samskara when the drum cracks). 
The magical sound of this copper drum brings in a kind of vibration in the auditorium. The drum beats are an integral part of performance and continues throughout the performance. The drum and the drummer are equally if not more important than the kudiyattam performers. 

Only classical and mythological stories are performed in Kudiyattam. However, Dr Margi madhu has experimented by performing Shakesphere's Mcbeth (for which,as he confessed, he received considerable flak).

No artificial lighting is used in the performance. Only an oil lamp is used for lighting for the entire performance. 

One of the beauties of Kudiyattam is its elaborate costumes and exemplary length of performance. The make up time for a lead Kudiyattam performers will be about 6 hours.  The performance can go up to 12 hours at a stretch. It is hard to imagine an artist with such heavy robes and make up performing for 12 hours. 
Dr Margi Madhu's Kudiyattam demonstration 

Other niche of this art is the performance itself. The performance is replete with elaborate hand and eye gestures. It is a very captivating display of the performer's theatrical talent. The synchronization with the drum beat must be very accurate. 

The energy and vibration in the performance can only be experienced. No words can do justice to the energy levels of the performer. 

Anyone interested in performing arts must see atleast one performance of Kudiyattam. Since it is highly nuanced and very rich in cultural content, it is not performed often. Thanks to some art patrons in Bangalore, i was lucky to see a few performances by the gurus of Kudiyattam. 

I am very eager to visit the kudiyattam school in Cochin. I am looking forward for the culturally enriching trip later this year.