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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Oh !My Fair Lady!

It was an early morning in a suburban town in Illinois. I woke up early as usual, but strangely that day I was in no mood to sit with my computer to check my mails and I decided to go for a walk. It was summer time. You may not know that in Illinois, on a clear summer morning, it dawns at five in the morning and the day light is there till almost eight or nine in the night. I have seen similar long days while I was working in North East in India. I put on some light gear and stepped out of our multi-storied condo unit. I was alone as my wife and son had already left for their yoga classes. It had rained the previous night and I could see mild dews everywhere. But that day the morning sky appeared clear and cloudless. Reasonably assured that it might not rain, I took quick strides on the road. I was familiar with a few walking trails and I changed it every day. That morning I decided to walk along a number of inner roads avoiding the main ones.
The air was crisp and my morning mood was high and exhilarating. My morning walks are generally very inspiring and I use them for developing ideas for my writings. Thoughts flow like cool rivers during those silent moments. I stay with my idle thoughts that eventually roll into concrete plots for my stories during those walks. Many times I get so much focused that I become oblivious to everything else on my way. Some of these plots get further developed when I sit quietly closing my eyes, focusing on my breathing after my walk. Sometimes this happens deliberately and many times spontaneously. All that I do is to consciously introduce an intention to develop a plot for my story while I sit for meditation and then let it go. By the time I finish my meditation, I am usually ready to sit down and begin writing my story. I found this as an effortless effort. I remember Dr.Deepak Chopra, the great motivation speaker, writer and spiritualist in USA, whose writing I love most, saying something like: “You introduce your intention during ‘gap’ and the rest are details.”
That morning, my thoughts strayed and there was no focus. That was when I saw her! The wisdom again dawned on me later that after all everything happen for a purpose.
She was there all the time, but I did not realize how beautiful she was until I paid conscious attention to her. Again remember quantum physics: “Matter doesn’t exist until you notice.” How true it is! I saw her playing ‘hide and seek’ with me like a child. She shone in her bright silver gray color and I was appalled. She grazed upon me at few places only to disappear around the corner. She hid herself behind some buildings while at other times peeped through gaps between the trees. As she tinkled me, my excitement rose. She was bright and shining, sometimes in my front, other times from my sides or my back, but always revealing only part of her. She was graciously warm when she swept over me. I was already beginning to feel her warm embrace. At some corners, she totally disappeared from my view only to jump all of a sudden in front of me as I walked ahead. At times, I felt as though she was inviting me arms open. Every now and then, she would suddenly dazzle in front of me blinding my eyes that I had to shield my eyes with both hands. When breeze joined her, I tried to hold her tightly by closing my arms around my chest and my eyes became watery. Slowly as time passed by, she turned her heat on me and I felt she was piercing my bones and nerves. I started to sweat in her presence. At last, she rose sufficiently above and her full blown out beauty was blinding me. Not able to bear her any more, I quickly retraced back to my place thanking her for the show. She might not be aware that I have captured her beauty in a small box that I always carried with me whenever I went for a walk. I am presenting her pictures to you all you to appreciate.

You can see her peeping through the gaps in the tree branches.

She was revealing herself only partially.

She was playing hide and seek with me.

She was hiding herself around the corner, behind that tall building only to unsettle me suddenly jumping in my front.

You can see her hiding behind me.

I saw her going over me from my sides.

Oh Sunshine! My Fair Lady!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

"I want to go to America"

One may agree or not. For many Indians, America is a dream destination.
Ever since India witnessed a boom in IT industry in late 1990s and India’s growth trajectory found a new leap, there was an unprecedented increase in the wealth of several families. We need to thank our youngsters’ for their hard work and mobility, English communication skills, and quick learning in fields like software development and maintenance. But for this recent development in the Indian scene, our country might continue to stay as a developing nation for another century. The living standards, lifestyles and comforts of most Indians have gone up several folds in the last decade. Fresh engineering graduates draw salaries that their parents did not see even after several decades of working. We fly inland and abroad almost regularly and in many international airports one can find an Indian out of every four or five passengers. Yet, when youth discuss career, tourism, and money their eyes glitter when they talk about America. Excepting for those carrying a prejudice, America is still a dream to us even when economically it is down. I have seen families talking with lot of pride about their children working in US. I have always wondered why.

At the time of writing this I had completed seven visits to USA since 2000.I have had the opportunity to stay there for as long as six months a few times and feel America. During my travel I have visited many of their major cities.
I have tried to understand the psychology from a few important aspects: firstly material comforts and quality of life comforts, secondly quality of work life, thirdly entertainment and leisure time and finally liberty and freedom in day to day life.

Quality of life comforts:

In America, with dollars in their pockets, people seem to enjoy far superior purchasing power for their money. For someone who enjoys a fifty-thousand-dollars-annual income, which is quite normally the case with our many IT guys, they can own a 2000 square feet spacious fully air-conditioned house that costs only five-six-years of one’s salary.

Many things are big and most of us fancy big houses, big buildings, big backyards, big stores, big cars, big TVs and fridges, big roads, and what not. Power cut is unheard of. No need to worry about limited supply of potable water. Everyone is crazy about the far superior and latest electronic gadgets, faster 24x7 cable and internet connections, GPS, wireless internet routers at home, office and many public places like cafeteria, airport, and library.

Then they have the comfort of driving in a disciplined traffic. One drives at 65 miles per hour (roughly 100 kilometers) on their free way. Lane discipline, speed limits, pedestrian crossovers, traffic rules are strictly enforced and no exceptions are made. One does not need to fear the police. They are extremely polite even when they are giving you a ticket for traffic violation. The roads have clears signs everywhere. Vehicles do not compete with pedestrians on the road. Their roads are wide and many inside roads are virtually empty. Courtesy to pedestrians is the norm on the roads.

One can find recreation parks everywhere.

The air is clean and greenery is preserved in most places. Cities are fairly spread out and suburban towns and satellite cities are allowed to grow to ease congestion. You would rarely see people smoking in public places. You see neatness everywhere. People have a great culture about cleanliness and discipline.

Any information you need is available for asking on your I-phone. When you necessarily have to visit an office, be it government or private, you are treated with utmost courtesy.

The term ‘corruption’ or ‘bribing’ is virtually absent in day to day life. Tax evasion and unaccounted money is all non-existent at the common man level. They bill you for every purchase you make, they deduct tax on every penny you earn, and refund taxes, if any, in no time. Banking habits are widely prevalent, cash transactions are minimal and most payments go through credit cards. You can order anything over internet with the assurance of safe and accurate delivery.

Trains, buses and air services are punctual and travel is safe. I have seen America before and after Sep 2001. It is a remarkable performance by any government that they did not allow any attack since Sep 2001. They have zero tolerance towards security lapses and have highest concern for their nation’s safety and security.

Work Culture:

In America, one does not have to slog over late evenings at work. During weekends you are completely free for yourself. (Indian owned companies operating here seem to be exception.) Leisure time is something they value a lot and won’t compromise. Many enjoy flexible working hours and in many places, it is encouraged even. It helps many working mothers to take care of their children. Many enjoy facility to work from home from time to time. Recently, one of our acquaintances fractured her legs and her husband who was working in another big city was allowed to go back home and work from there so that he could give moral and physical support to his wife and kids.

Boss and subordinate relationship is informal and everyone calling each other by name. Out-of-box thinking is encouraged. There is no bondage and loyalty between the worker and the boss and the organization. Everyone understands their responsibilities. Efficiency and one’s value of contribution to the organization seem to be criteria on which a worker is judged and retained. Deadlines are set and meant to be enforced. No-nonsense approach to work and interpersonal dealings relieves a worker from a lot of mental stress.


Shopping in any stores is a great fun and past-time for many. I have seen people carrying cart load of articles from malls like Walmart, Frys, IKEA, and Kohls, and J C Penny and the likes.

Malls are allowed to be built only in specified areas. They are very spacious and have vast car-parking spaces. They follow strict standards about cleanliness, courteous service, openness about their products and services, elegance in display, efficiency in delivery, customer-care and product returns.

Most big stores have decent policy for return of goods when not satisfied with the product purchased. I would like to recall a few real pleasant experiences.

In the first instance, a relative of mine presented me with a costly wristwatch couple of years ago. Recently, it stopped working. We took it to a watch repair shop who confirmed that the repair would be very costly. We then took it to the store who sold us the watch, hesitantly explained that the watch stopped working and that we were not sure of the date we bought it from them. The lady over the counter tallied some numbers on the back of the watch with the computer, told us that it was bought four years back, and took back the watch refunding the full value.

In yet another remarkable instance, a friend of ours ordered window blinds and curtains at a fabulous price for their new house from one of the leading stores. It was made to specific measurements and order and supplied two weeks later. However, when the curtains were fixed, our friends realized that they were very transparent not allowing any privacy. They were shocked and took up the matter with the store. On inspection, the store representative realized that the curtains were not suitable for residential houses. He promised to come back in a week’s time. The next week, the store took the decision to take back the entire material even though they were made to specific order and they may find it hard to find another buyer for the same measurements. They supplied new curtains of our friend’s choice in their place and refunded the entire difference less a small return fee.

Buying goods in leading stores in US is really a very satisfying experience.


In America, everything seems to be planned big and executed neatly. They plan ahead of time, taking into account the possible developments several decades from now. Some of the world’s greatest landmarks were built in modern America long back. The first underground subway rail line in New York was opened in 1904. Golden Gate Bridge across the San Francisco Bay was completed in 1937. America has most of the busy and largest airports in the world. They have built broad roads and they have five-lane traffic on either side of their freeways. They have built large electricity generation and water supply systems. Nature has blessed them with plenty of land, water, minerals and other resources and they use them well to their advantage. They plan and build infrastructure like roads, water and electricity connections, telephone lines, recreation parks, and pavements before they allow construction anywhere. Rural areas offer as much comfort as any major cities with less discomfort. Development is all round. Cities are spread apart.

Religious, Social and Spiritual Life:

One enjoys total and complete freedom about one’s personal life. One is free to pursue his own religion, social group and spiritual life. World’s most religions have some or other worshipping place in many cities in America. For Indians, you have temples, mosques, churches, for different sects and followings, ashrams, yoga and meditation centers and cultural associations. One’s social life is smooth. People gather regularly according to their beliefs, customs and practices, and their religion. Worshipping places are very neat and clean and offers holy environment. I have seen many families sincerely practicing their tradition and culture much more sincerely and rigorously here than back in India. Laws and discipline are respected and enforced for all with no exception made – not even people in high influential positions.

Entertainment and pursuit of hobbies:

You find the best of reading libraries in America. For someone who is a voracious reader, American libraries offer tremendous challenges in terms of their book collections. Libraries are very spacious and well connected electronically. Children in America seem to enjoy their visit to libraries.

There are no limits to opportunities for entertainment. There are theme parks and amusement parks, theatres, casinos, gyms, in-door and out-door sports, stadiums, museums, science and technology centers for children and what not. On most weekends, people rush to holidaying and picnic places. Shopping again is a great fun and entertainment here. And one can structure his entertainment according to his own budget and affordability.


In conclusion, America seems to have been the most generous country in the history of nations in allowing many nationalities to migrate. This policy has helped both – US in building their nation and the immigrant in their prosperity. For a law-abiding citizen, it is a hassle free life. Indians are respected and are growing in their number, wealth, status and are in a position to influence even American policies and programs. Americans seem to like Indian spiritual life very much. It is not to say that there are no issues or problems about living in America. There are several aspects about America that I detest too. Overall, I gain an impression that most Indians living in America would continue to live there for indefinite periods, unless otherwise pushed.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Super Nova: A Short Story

We were only very few in our class. The subject was Astronomy. Little I realized earlier that rarely students opted for Astronomy as one of their elective subjects during their college studies. When I was young and in school, I had visited Chennai during summer vacations and during those days, my grand-mother used to take me to Marina beach and there, lying down on the beach sand, I used to watch stars and get excited and curious about ‘space’ and whatever is out there. Ever since those days, I was a keen star gazer and I was reading tit bits about planets and stars from time to time. In my small town, there was no reading library worth its name and I had very little access to current information on sky and the stars. Luckily opportunity to study Astronomy knocked my doors when I entered college and Astronomy was available as one of the elective subjects.

We had a very interesting professor Dr.Mohan who taught us Astronomy and he was a master story teller. It was intriguing to learn that it took more than a millennium before the geocentric view of the universe got disproved and rejected and we accepted a heliocentric view, where Sun is the centre of our universe. I was appalled at the knowledge of existence of several universes like ours. I got thrilled at stories about this universe coming into being from ‘seemingly nothing’ during the “Big Bang” and about several stars and planets coming into existence from gaseous masses. I read with great awe how this universe keeps expanding at a great pace. Thinking and contemplating on the possibility of existence of black holes somewhere out there in the sky, from which nothing can escape in their ‘event horizon’ region, frightened me. I never missed Dr.Mohan’s classes and his stories. Our mutual relationship worked on an excellent chemistry of understanding, appreciation and interest in astronomical events and discoveries.

Binary stars are stars that move around their common centre of mass. Some of them could be large, bright, ten to one-hundred times the size of the Sun, with a cool surface, believed to be at the end of their life cycle. These are known as Red Giants. When a Red Giant sheds it outer layers as a ejected gaseous envelope, a very dense, small, hot star in the last stage in life appears, and these stars are known as White Dwarfs. When matter that accumulated on the surface of a White dwarf explodes, then the star suddenly brightens very dramatically and remains bright for a few days, and then fades away, gradually returning to its dim appearance. This phenomenon is called Nova. The largest and most luminous type of star is known as Supergiant. They are dying stars and have diameter up to thousand times that of the Sun. They are formed when very massive type of star uses up its hydrogen fuel and begins to expand and cool. An exploding supergiant is known as Supernova. It attains temporary brightness of hundred million suns or more and it can shine as brightly as a small galaxy for a few days or weeks.”

Even, as Dr.Mohan was explaining this candidly, his majestic voice exploding in the class room, my mind slowly drifted away to my sister Brinda.

Brinda, my sister, is extremely brilliant, active, inquisitive, studious and very, very pretty. Simply, she is a star in our house, a pet for my parents and adored by many. I have envied her and her talents from time to time, but I was also proud of her. She was in class seven last year.

Nine months back ago, one day she complained of fatigue and fell ill for a week. She was diagnosed as suffering from anemia and was put on medication. She turned normal soon.

Around the same time, Mr.David, a new mathematics teacher joined her school and he taught mathematics to Brinda’s class. He was very likeable and many students adored him. Brinda, already looked upon as a mathematics genius, was seen interacting with Mr.David more often. Her keenness to learn more and more in mathematics had puzzled Mr.David and he gradually realized that she was not only brilliant, but growing beyond her age in mathematics. Brinda went to him about problems that were more complex and involved a higher learning. She took extra pains to learn calculus, differentiation and integration, trigonometry and a few other areas that were meant for higher classes. Week after week, she was presenting to him tricky problems and her own solutions, in topics that were way beyond her class. Mr.David concluded that he was dealing with a kind of wizard. His own mathematical skills were challenged a few times by Brinda and he also teased her with more complex and varied problems. This went on for a couple of months.

Initially, Mr.David kept things to himself and one day he reported this to the Principal of the school. When the Principal and another senior interviewed her, Brinda astounded them with her speed in solving problems of higher mathematics. They commended her and informed our parents who were extremely pleased and soon, Brinda’s extraordinary brilliance became a common topic of discussion in the school and among our friends and relatives.

The Principal soon began wondering whether they were dealing with a child prodigy in Brinda and sometime later, they decided to put her to test. A few university professors were invited to test Brinda and after several sessions of grilling, they agreed that Brinda was definitely an extraordinary brain.


While her anemic conditions appeared to have improved, Brinda started reporting sickness more often during the same period. She complained of loss of appetite, sore throat, and had erratic high fevers. Once while walking, an iron nail plunged deep into her toes and she bled excessively. It took several days to heel. Doctors diagnosed that her immune system was getting weak and she was put on further medication. Our parents were very frugal and managed the family on a meager income. They started feeling the pinch of her medical expenses on our finances and their debts were rising. But they loved us a lot. Our residence was shifted to another locality to save Brinda from mosquitoes that were breeding and spreading disease from an open drain near our old house and this added to their expenses and debts. In the new place, Brinda enjoyed better ventilation and clean air.

Meanwhile, there was an open competition in mathematics for students and was conducted at national level at New Delhi. Brinda was sponsored from her school. The judges were intrigued by Brinda’s performance in those competitions and decided to put her on a few higher testing. Brinda won in every test put to her. Learning about her outstanding performance, Brinda received a personal award from the President of India in a special gesture and also the unique privilege of spending a few hours with the President. The President was once a professor in Mathematics in a foreign university in his younger days and he treated Brinda as a very special and unique guest.

As soon as Brinda returned back from New Delhi, she fell ill once again and was hospitalized. The doctors shifted her to much bigger facilities in another government hospital at a nearby town where she stayed for a month. During that period she had a roller coaster ride about her health. One day she was bright and charming and on another, she looked totally devastated and miserable. Whenever she felt normal and was about to be discharged from the hospital, her condition would dramatically worsen. Diagnosis went on and on without any end and doctors had no clue. After a month, she left hospital with a long list of medical prescriptions.


After she returned from the hospitals, Brinda went on an unprecedented steep ride. She suddenly appeared to have developed the ability to solve many mathematical problems mentally without needing a paper and pen. She solved many complex algebraic equations instantly. She said she was getting images of answers before her whenever problems were posed to her. She literally saw the answers in her mind. She went through another series of testing by several expert groups and she was finally pronounced a mathematical genius and prodigy.

Another day, Brinda vomited non-stop and diagnosed as having serious inflammation in her throat. She was admitted to the hospital. Dr.Surinder from Stanley Hospital, Chennai was on a visit to our place on some mission and our hospital Chief requested him to look at her case. Dr.Surinder suspected that Brinda had something more serious than what was imagined and he wanted to examine her at Chennai. We all rushed to Chennai and admitted her at Stanley Hospital.

And that is when we had the rude shock. Brinda was diagnosed as suffering from Leukemia, a kind of cancer of bone marrow and doctors recommended transplantation of bone marrow as they felt that she might not be able to bear and go through the painful chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Her condition was considered very critical.

The news somehow reached the President of India, who, by-passing all procedures, ordered airlifting Brinda to All India Medical Institute at Delhi. Her treatment began fifteen days ago and is going on right now. I had my classes in the college and my semester exams were due. So, I returned and I am now listening to Dr.Mohan, my astronomy professor describing Nova.


“Nova and Super Nova are nature’s great wonders. Science is still trying to understand these phenomena and get better explanations. Why some stars accumulate mass, why they explode when others don’t, are all matters of speculation even today.” I heard Dr.Mohan speaking. “But you know something …………… Nova and Supernova are not peculiar to stars alone. If you look at it philosophically, there had been Novas and Supernovas among men, men who suddenly arose from no-where, stayed shining brilliantly for some time and then disappeared without any plausible explanation. That is how, some great men, had appeared among us, made tremendous impact, and left a huge trail of storm and dust. There was one Ramakrishna, a poor Brahmin who was made a priest in a Kali temple in Calcutta. He rose suddenly to a level where he was reverently called Sri Bhagavan, a god like stature and his disciple Narendra, later on known as Swami Vivekananda, for whom Ramakrishna had waited for, shot even further though under the shadow of his Master. Swamy Vivekananda showed Shri Ramakrishna to the entire world. Was Ramakrishna or Vivekananda a Nova and Super Nova? Extend this thinking further. Many names might come to your mind. I am leaving it to you to guess and determine for yourself. Yes, we have had Novas and Supernovas among us too.”

He concluded when the bell rang to tell us that the class was over. The entire class left while I was still seated alone brooding and ruminating: Is Brinda a Nova or a Super Nova? Tears rolled down my cheek.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Brave Hearts: A short story

It was getting dark and I was getting worried.
Bhavana, my sister and I studied in the same school and she was in sixth and I was in tenth class. Ever since I bought a used bicycle from my senior for scrap price, we went to school together in my cycle. Arrival of a cycle was a boon to us as the government buses plied less frequently and we used to have long waits before. On occasions they would never turn up, when we had to walk back three kilometers to home.
Twice a week, Bhavana went to a teacher who stayed close to our school for music lessons. Charu teacher who taught music was very proficient, took students only selectively, and strict. During those days, my father, who worked as a fitter in a factory in the nearby town, would pick up Bhavana while he returned home from work. But every alternate Mondays he had to work overtime and bringing Bhavana from her music classes was my responsibility on those days.
That day, her music teacher was in more than her usual enthusiastic moods and was spending more time with Bhavana who was equally matching her teacher’s enthusiasm. The class went on for long and I was waiting for her. When finally the classes got over both Charu teacher and Bhavana spent some more time appreciating each other and that day’s lessons and it was really late and getting dark.
When she was finished, Bhavana got on the carrier of my cycle. I took the small by pass road that connected my village to our school and that meant we would commute one kilometer less. A cycle ride through this by pass would normally be very exciting and enjoyable with very cool breeze blowing over across a wide ridge between two nearby mountain hills all through the year.
On either side of the by-pass, there were mango groves, thick trees, bushes, and some patches of green fields. A cool water canal with gurgling water running down was another exquisite site on the way.
The panoramic view used to be picturesque and Bhavana, as the nature lover in our house, enjoyed the ride back.
I cautioned Bhavana that we ought to rush as there would be very little lighting and the road could become dark. Besides, today was a New Moon day. She said, ‘So what! Even better…. I could watch birds and bats returning back home.” She was the fearless and I was her opposite. I feared darkness. A host of other things too scared me.
Midway it became pitch dark and my stomach churned. Only some street lights were shimmering here and there and I pedaled faster. Lots of fire-flies were illuminating the dark sky.

“Arun, stop for a minute,” shouted Bhavna from behind. I hesitated, but she had already jumped down. “I hear a child crying,” said she.
“What? A child crying in this wilderness! Why do you worry? Some villager should be taking care of it. Let us not waste any more time. Come on.”
“No, I had been hearing the cry for some time now. Let us find out whether there is any problem,” insisted Bhavana. She had already started running in the direction where I too heard the cry of a child. I ran behind her.
Behold! There under a tree, in a cloth cradle, from where the cry came, was a small child, hardly a year old. Bhavana looked around to find out whether there was anyone, but there was none. She rushed back to the cradle and lifted the screaming child. My attempts to stop her were in vain. The baby was already in her arm and she was cuddling the child. The girl baby had no dress on her and she was completely wet. She had a running nose and her hair was sticky. Her body was covered with black dirty mud and she appeared ugly, but nothing bothered Bhavana. I detested the very sight.
“Bhavana, this is too much. We have to go back home. Our mother will be anxious and worrying about us. We are very late. Leave the child where she was. I am sure her mother or father will come back soon and take her away. Be assured.” I told her.
“What Arun? Leave this hapless child here? How can you be so cruel and inhuman?”
I was becoming restless and angry with Bhavana. But I could also understand her compassion and felt she had a point. The place was dark and scary and I was afraid. Poor Baby! I was ambivalent. More time passed. Still no one was in sight.
“Let us take her home. Mother will advise us on what we can do with her.” She already started walking back to our cycle carrying the child on her shoulders. The baby was quieter by now, though still crying on and off, and Bhavana was comforting her.
I pedaled faster and Bhavana held the baby tightly even as she adeptly tried to balance herself on the cycle. Our mother was anxiously waiting, and on seeing us bringing a baby with us she was shocked and alarmed. Panting heavily, we explained how we found the child.
“We can’t keep the child with us. We need to report to police. We would run into problem.” She said worried. Some neighbors too had assembled by that time and raised sharp questions. Our father too reached home.
Sundar uncle in our neighborhood brought his scooter. We all squeezed ourselves in the backseat, our mother holding the baby in her arms. He drove to the nearby police station and father followed us in his cycle. There, we met with a policeman, who was bulky and looked threatening. He questioned us in a menacing tone, but soon became very understanding. Bhavana answered most of the questions boldly and I was half hiding behind her. The Sub-inspector of Police (SIP) too arrived soon. We tried to explain once again as best as we could how and where we found the child. He was very appreciative of our gesture even while he expressed concern that being a rural place, it was possible that the baby’s mother or father ought to have been working in the nearby field and possibly would now be searching for the baby. Realizing that he could not keep the baby in the police station, he was in a fix. Sundar uncle came to his rescue and saved him from embarrassment by suggesting that the baby could be left with our parents overnight, if that was okay with the SIP. He also suggested that the SIP could identify some suitable place for the care of the baby later during the day. Bhavana was quite happy about the turn of events.
Not immediately finding any other solution, SIP agreed and ordered another policeman to keep a watch our house for our safety. However, he wanted to visit the spot and make sure that the baby’s parents were not looking for the child. So, he took me with him in his motorbike while others returned home. However, the place where we found the baby looked darker and deserted and no one was sighted there. I noticed that my fear for policemen became subdued.
Our parents were very appreciative of our compassion for the child. It was almost midnight by the time the baby was given a bath, wrapped up in a towel, fed with milk and put to sleep. I noticed Bhavana taking keen interest in everything about the baby. I slept away. I heard the baby crying from time to time during the night. Bhavana tried to be awake, but she was also overtaken by sleep. Our mother seemed to have been awake for the whole night. The policeman sent by SIP was with us for sometime in the night and he too retired back to his house with a promise to come back in the early morning.
Next morning the SIP arrived in a jeep borrowed from a nearby station and arranged for sending the child to a children home run by a Sai devotee, we have heard of, not very far from our place. Overnight, he had also arranged for publishing the news in the local newspapers. He also took Bhavana and me to the spot where we found the empty cloth cradle still hanging loosely from a tree branch. They made enquiries in the nearby localities and there was no clue.
News spread slowly and it reached our school headmaster too. He too arrived at the spot. We became instant heroes in our school.
Bhavana was not to allow the matter to rest. She suggested that we go back to the place again that evening and make more enquiries. I was apprehensive, but conceded. I noticed that her enthusiasm was spreading to me too. We met a number of local villagers. We also went back to the children home to enquire about the baby. Bhavana had already christened the baby as ‘Muthu’ and she was very happy in the company of Muthu, who was all smiles now, not even remembering that her mother was not there to look after her.
The routine continued for a week. In between, we also visited the police station and only once we got to meet anyone who could give us any information about the baby’s parents.
One day Bhavana looked so sad and miserable. Someone in the class had told her that probably the parents of the baby could have deserted the child and ran away as she had seen in some movies.
“How can a mother do it?” Bhavana questioned me angrily. I had no answer.
Thanks to Bhavana’s inquisitiveness, on the eighth day there was some break. One of the villagers reported having seen a nomadic gypsy group roaming and camping near the area where we had found the child and that there were a few babies too in that group though he could not be sure how many. We dashed to the police station and luckily, the SIP was available that time. We reported what we learnt. He lauded our efforts and enthusiasm and promised to look around all gypsy camps nearby.
The very next day, there was some unconnected news. A woman’s dead body was found floating in the nearby pond. However no connection could be made with the child. The body was sent to mortuary in the government hospital in the nearby town.
In another town, the police arrested someone on suspicion and in his detention, he had blurted the truth. Two gypsy groups had had a quarrel about money while camping. He was part of one of the groups. When the group parted ways after bitter quarrel, he picked up another private nasty duel with one of the woman who was putting her baby to sleep placed in a cloth cradle. In a fit of fury, he had severely beaten that woman who swooned and fell to the ground and he left the scene to join other people in the group. Presumably, the woman was not dead and was only unconscious. She ought to have regained consciousness and managed to reach the pond looking out for water. She probably lost her balance or consciosuness and that answered for her body having been found in the nearby pond.
Alas! The poor baby lost her mother, but gained a place where she would grow securely and would have some education, decent food, clothes and lots of love. Bhavana and I visited the children home once in a week to see “Muthu”. Even my parents visited the child and gradually took interest in the homeless children and decided to spend the weekends in their company. It was a nice feeling we all had.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Education in Rural india: Can we do something about it?

A visit to USA never ceases to surprise me every time I happen to be here. Not that, I am an ardent fan of American culture nor I approve of many things going on here. However, a few things do impact me and I do not fail notice the difference.
During my current visit during Feb, 2010 I happened to meet and interact with a few so-called ’Desi’ kids in the age group of 6 to 8 and I was pleasantly surprised at a few things about them.
First of all, the level of their exposure to knowledge and information was something incredible. A seven year boy is able to log on to internet, search files and information, find websites that interest them, play computer games downloading them from internet, watch base-ball, football matches and comment on the games and the players, visit science museums and comment on functioning of heart, recall names of comic characters in comics and stories, and what not.
Secondly, it is about their attitude and self-confidence. They treat elders as their equals – rather they raise themselves in their image about themselves in the presence of elders and talk and move with elders as if they are equal to their elders; this is a typical American way of life.
They were very inquisitive, persevering in trying to get what they wish to have, had more than tentative view of what they wished to be when they grow old, they could be politely firm about many things, expressed themselves freely about what they thought on many issues, stayed silent when elders were trying to do something – even cooperating in completion of any task the elders were indulged in and many things more.
I was really impressed by their communication skills, clarity of thoughts, ability to explain things, events and happenings, people, and even their thoughts and experiences.
They are more rounded up in their growth in initial years, taking interest in a host of extra-curricular activities. They take interest in a variety of physical activities, hands-on skills, hobbies, out-door sports and events and the likes. It is even more surprising that their parents seem to be patiently able to help them learn and grow in their knowledge and information. I was taken aback once when one of my relative parents opened his car engine bonnet and explained to his four year old son, how a car engine functioned. The child appeared to greatly appreciate how a car worked evidenced by his manner of questioning his father.
More than anything else, I found many parents bringing up their children in a true spiritual path, helping their children develop qualities like acceptance, patience, understanding, tolerance, prayer, living with nature and appreciating nature, not wasting essentials, respect to elders and ancestors, family bondage and the likes.
I do not know whether I am exaggerating the situation, but this was the impression I gained.
Eventually, a couple of days ago, I met a family from Chennai who had come to USA on a visit during vacation and whose little girl was just seven. When I met the little girl, I could clearly discern the quality of her education by her knowledge, communication, attitude and interests. Clearly, she was a city bred girl with superior facilities and opportunities of learning.
I am assuming that the kind of children whom I met belonged to fairly well-educated, upper middle class, and well-to-do parents living in more sophisticated societies with far superior living standards and quality of life. So I cannot rightly summarize this across the board about all children.
But the point I was pondering about: Are these children born superior? Are they born genius?
Here I should remind myself that the children whom I met in America were no different from other children as far as their childish tendencies are concerned. They were children anyway and behave that way – but with a difference.
I have always noticed the difference when I have spoken to children from rural and semi-urban areas. Typically many children whom I met in rural areas were shy, lack vision, had poor communication, had less exposure to information, and had limited ambitions and aspirations. They were also practical, smart, intelligent, and had lot of practical wisdom. My interactions with parents were more discouraging and disgusting.
In fact, I chose a rural and semi-urban area for my retired living to find out whether I could do something for those less privileged children and youth so that at least a few of them may be brought on par with or at least challenge, the city or urban centre bred boys and girls.
I am really not familiar what methodology, tools and aids they use in most primary schools in rural and semi-urban areas. Yes, I am currently groping in darkness about what I can do and have been only evolving so far in my quest to do something worthwhile in a rural area and I am willing to put in resources if I get meaningful ideas from well-intentioned people. Can someone advise me?

A Short Story: KPL 20/20

Killiyoor Premier League: A Cricket Match
It was summer time. Our annual exams just got over when the Third Version of IPL 20/20- Indian Premier League Cricket - matches had an exciting close. We missed watching most of the initial matches. After cajoling our parents, we were allowed to watch the semifinals and finals matches. Finals were an exciting fight between two great titans – Tendulkar and Dhoni. When Chennai Super Kings led by Dhoni won the finals, we jumped to the roof. We had bet among our friends for the finalist and I ended up losing three rupees entertaining my comrades with masal vadas. Sachin was in great form and I was so sure he would win. I didn’t know why he let me down.
I stayed in Killiyoor and ours was a small rural town. Ours was a narrow street where century old houses stood majestically in multi colors. Many of them wouldn’t have seen painting for at least a few decades. Though a small town, people had large hearts. We were all very friendly with each other, though occasionally we had punched each other’s nose when it came to burning real issues like ‘Who was a Superstar – Ajith or Vijay?’ Very rarely elders interfered with youngsters. Our fights were usually settled with exchange of some ‘kit-kats’.
My name is Venky alias Venkatakrishnan and I was twelve and Kicha alias Krishnaswamy who was younger to me by two years was my dear friend.
“Why don’t we play a cricket match?” Kicha asked me one fine morning pulling me up from my bed. He ought to have lost his sleep over this previous night.
I couldn’t wait to brush and wash. We ran out. We had some fine players in our street team - our talents matching only with the likes of Suresh Raina and Virendra Shewak. I already started dreaming about the match.
“But we are only seven people – how can we form a team, yaar?” asked Kicha
We immediately called a general body meeting of all the little ones. Kicha’s house was bigger than others. Our meeting went on acrimoniously even while Kicha’s grandmother ‘Sundari Patti’ distributed sundal to all. The only other interruption came from his grandfather when he was powdering betel nut in a hand-held stone-grinder with loud thuds and when he intervened to tell us how earlier days’ five day test matches were superior and how Chandu Borde those days used to stand at the crease not-out even three full days while his score wouldn’t have crossed even 50.
“Hey, Vasudev and Harini are reaching here next week for the vacations. We can include them in our team.” This was Subbu. They were his cousins.
“You fool! Harini is a girl yaar …… we can’t take girls in our team” said Sai. Immediately a long list of all those who were expected to visit our village during summer vacation was drawn and probable team members were considered. We spent next several hours selecting team, even as we devoured tasty murukku, kadalai and other snacks sent by Sundari Patti!
We narrowed down on fourteen names to be included in the team. We were still falling short of people.
“I can bring Sailesh and Gopu,” I told, bringing some hope to our discussions. They were my seniors in the school. “But they will come on some conditions” I paused adding suspense.
“They will play only if we get them onion rava masala dosa from Murugan Idli shop.” I said. They were cricket giants in our school and also notable gourmets.
Sundari patti shouted from the kitchen, “Oh Children! I would provide puliodarai for everyone that day………… your food problem is solved.” Sundari patti was in irresistible mood.
“I know Sailesh and Gopu stay far away. My father has a TVS 50. He will bring them to the play ground. Don’t worry!” assured Ramki.
With suggestions coming from different corners, we somehow cobbled up twenty members. The next battle began for the captainship of the teams.
Kicha wanted to be captain for one of the teams and insisted on his right to choose his team. Others did not agree and there was a fight. Situation got flared up and suddenly Kicha walked out of the meeting.
Gone! His participation was important. We weren’t ready to lose three of his stooges and patronage of Sundari patti. Some of us ran behind him and virtually prostrated. After much persuasion from me, he finally settled for vice-captainship on the condition that he would be given the opening for batting and allowed to choose at least four of his team players.
Many promises were given and many compromises were made. Vasudev was chosen as captain for one team and Subbu would be the rival captain. We heard that Vasudev was a big guy now and he had even started having his shave. Knowing Vasudev was a big-time batsman, Kicha jumped to be his vice-captain and we couldn’t refuse. Subbu was hardly ten, but was an able bowler with his slow ball that could beat even Dhoni.
Somehow, the team composition was agreed upon, but there was one catch. We had only eleven members in each team, the twelfth man was missing. We hoped that they would somehow emerge wherever they were.
Finances were a real problem. We needed cricket kit, bat, stumps, and balls. We agreed to go for door to door collections. We set out in small teams on a Sunday morning. The highest donation – Rupees ten – came from Gopalasamy, the vegetable vendor who supplied vegetables to most houses in our street every morning. Subbu’s team collected seven rupees, I collected five and Kicha fifteen, thanks to Sundari patti who was ever generous with her contribution of twelve rupees. His thatha had grumbled, but Sundari patti over-ruled him as usual. On day one our kitty swelled to thirty seven rupees – very meager, but promising.
“What can we buy with just thirty seven rupees, Everyone is a kanjoos yaar.” Subbu retired dejectedly.
“Hey, how can we play without any practice?” questioned Ramki. Our conditioning camp began the very next morning. Ramki pulled everyone out at five in the morning. Not only that, he also spoke to his father who was a good friend of Ganapathi Sir, our school drill master who agreed to be our coach and umpire for the match. Though he was due to retire in the next couple of years, Ganapathi Sir, was enthusiastic and energetic even with his rounded little belly and grey overgrown moustache and side-burns. He promptly reached our place at five thirty every morning in his khaki shorts and blue cut banian. He made us run for twenty minutes all the way to the nearby water tank. This was followed by exercises and then the cricket coaching began. We had two used bats with multiple plasters and some old balls and Ganapathi Sir didn’t grudge about them.
‘We need a name for our tournament?’ said Kicha one day. Everyone immediately assembled in the courtyard of Rangu Thatha. Discussions went on for a few hours.
“The name should be very captivating,” said Rangu thata. Many names got sponsored and finally Subbu’s team was christened Killiyoor Demons and Vasudev’s team Roaring Lions. Great! I came up with the title “KPL - Killiyoor Premier League 20/20” for the game and the name spontaneously captured the excitement of all.
The D day was nearing and some of us were getting nervous. One thing, money collected was short. The visiting team members’ arrival was getting more and more uncertain. In between, three of our players fell sick due to fatigue practising in heat. Subbu cut his toes while trying a return catch as he bowled to me during practice and took rest next few days.
Suspense and drama was heightening day by day.
On Ramki’s suggestion we did 108 pradakshinam at the street Ganapathi temple seeking His blessings for the success of our match. Lord Ganesha too answered our prayers soon.
One evening Subha gave us the good news that her uncle was expected from America in a week’s time.
“Hey, Can Subha talk to her uncle about financing our cricket kit?” asked smart Subbu.
“Oh, Subha is very haughty, yaar!” snubbed Sai.
The responsibility was thrust on me to talk to her. Subha was only six and could be very demanding. Somehow I persuaded her to talk to her uncle and she agreed on the condition that her two American cousins should be included in the team.
“Oh, that is not an issue at all!” I promised without knowing the consequences. It was only much later when her cousins arrived we came to know that one was five and the other three and half years old. Subha, however, maintained her side of deal and got us the entire cricket kit – two new bats, six stumps and a dozen balls and a few hand gloves through her American uncle. Her cousins were graciously included as twelfth men in the team. We got a bonus too. Her American uncle volunteered to capture the entire match on his Digital video camera.
So, it looked everything was set for the great KPL 20/20 match.
There was a lake nearby our place and it usually got dried up during summer. It was agreed to be our stadium. Three days before the match, our drill master also cleared and approved the pitch. On the day prior to the match, it rained unexpectedly. It not only dampened our playground, but our spirits too. We cursed weather god. We all marched once again to Ganapathi temple to make 108 rounds.
Even after our clear messages that all players must be present in our village at least one day before the match, yet, on the previous day when head count was made we were only 20 including those American toddlers. We required two more players. Seshu mama and Ranghu thatha filled in the place on the condition that they take care of our evening snacks – couple of pooris and aloo masalas.
On the day of the match, our whole street bore festive look. People assembled at the play ground very early. Sun God was kind and shone brightly. The pitch was somewhat wet delaying our starting the match. Some old people were seen discussing each team’s prospects. Many compared notes about their good old days when they had played cricket. Even mamis were ready finishing their daily chores early.
Latchumi akka painstakingly brought several pots of water from a nearby well for our use.
Revathi (6), Visalakshi (5) and Aswini (7) provided the much needed entertainment by way of their belly dance. They were present with the most colorful and enticing minis. (Who would watch KPL – Killiyoor Premier League 20/20 if entertainment was not part of it?) Sankaran Anna and the visiting Thiagaraja mama provided music with their harmonium and dolak that they used to play during Bhajan sessions in Margazhi month. All the non-players sang in chorus some popular numbers and cheered the dancers.
Sundari patti sent a large basin filled with puliodarai. A few other houses sent roasted ground-nuts, candies, kadalai sundal for refreshment.
Subbu won the toss and decided to field as the pitch was still wet.
The two American little ones were allowed to open the batting and were cheered by all. They never touched the ball and it took fifteen balls to get them out. My senior Sailesh scored just one run. Most catches were dropped. Finally, Roaring Lions of Vasudev managed to score twenty eight runs in twenty overs including a brilliant twenty runs from Vasudev before he was declared run out during their first match. Kicha scored just one run. We had agreed to play three matches to decide the winner.
Ramki opened the batting for Killiyoor Demons. He played a great innings with twenty runs and at the end they scored twenty nine runs – one run ahead of RL. I got out scoring a humiliating duck.
During the second match, both the teams got out for sixteen runs each and so there was a tie. But we were all too tired as sun started rising above our head. Most of the elders who cheered the players initially all left the ground and the spectator gallery was looking deserted. Drinks interval was liberally taken by everyone, but no one could complain. During the third match, everyone got so tired. Kicha and Subbu had serious private discussions about continuing the match. It was left to our umpire to decide. After almost two and half hours of play, it was decided to halt the match citing the scorching sun.
Finally, based on some complicated rules, Ganapthi Sir declared Subbu team as the winner. Kicha was unhappy and picked up a quarrel with me and Subbu. He threatened us with dire consequences and loss of patronage by his Sundari patti.
Somehow, when everyone was hungry, issues were forgotten and we all returned home to take a dig at awesome puliodarai.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

News on Godmen and Gurus

I have no soft corner for Swami Nityananda or for that matter any other Guru or Godmen. Nevertheless, the point to remember is how many of us really know what a spiritual state is. We have only bookish knowledge about spiritualism and we forget that, information with us is not knowing or experiencing. How many of us can really feel the kind of experience Swamy Vivekananda went through when he received enlightenment from Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna or when Yogi Sri Paramahamsa received enlightenment from Yogi Yuktheshwar? History is full of evidences of people having been treated badly when people spoke truth and we celebrate those very same people today as great human beings after they leave earth. Take the case of Lord Jesus Christ. He was crucified for showing love unconditionally to everyone. Take other cases like Galileo or Copernicus who were detained or who were reluctant to make their truth public for fear of retribution. Socrates was forced to take poison for advocating Self Discovery. Even a great genius like Einstein could not initially accept a theory of expanding universe. No one could have challenged and criticized so much Bhagavan Sri Satya Sai Baba like the former editor of the then one of the most popular newspaper groups during 1960s only to note that his entire views got completely reversed at some later point. Religious wars have been waged in the past and continue to be waged over faith. Religious and spiritual leaders are attacked in all religions in all societies by some section or other. We seem to have no tolerance for any contrarion view point and we immediately attack people. We seem to be spending too much time on scandals – thanks to our media who appear to flourish on every sensational episode, only to forget in short time. This seems to be true in politics, business and spiritualism.
Of late, there seems to be some kind of war against spiritualism and spiritual people in our country. Naturally, many of them flee our country to take refuge in foreign land where they receive better following. We wouldn’t have understood Lord Krishna or Lord Rama or Arjuna or even Lord Jesus or Prophet Mohamed (Peace be upon Him) if they were alive today amongst us. We also do not seem to have a true understanding of scriptures and we fight over them.
We believe only what we can see and what we cannot see does not exist in our view. But the reality is ‘objects exist only when we notice’ according to Quantum Physics. We know very little about spiritualism and let us not come to hasty conclusions about spiritual people. Ultimately, let people decide what they want to do with their Gurus and Godmen. When people find they are being taken for a ride, automatically they will desert those places, only to go somewhere else. People somehow seem to need places to go to find happiness and peace. This appears to be the eternal reality.
Lot of good things happen in many places in India and around the world and let us pay our attention to them – they deserve our attention.

Friday, April 30, 2010

A short story: Journey to a Vortex

Dharini never stopped wondering at me.
“Seshu Bhaiya, how is it that you know so much?” Sesha Gopalan Venkatanarayanan was such a tedious name even for more matured and understanding. So I became Seshu for everyone from tiny tots to golden oldies. Dharini is my younger sister. We were separated by a gap of fifteen years. She was turning from five to six in a month or so and always had a question to ask me.
‘Why is this?’ ‘What is this?’ ‘How is this?’
Once, I tried to prove myself to her as a walking encyclopedia– thanks to Google, Wikipedia and a host of websites on internet that provided any information you wanted in an instant. ‘How can one color one’s hair?’ ‘How can one change diaper for a kid?’ or ‘Why madisar style of wearing saree is superior for ladies?’ You have answer, many times with pictures, photos and videos even. It is there for our asking on internet.
I loved Dharini, her un-quenchable thirst for information and unending questioning. What one day, she became another Nobel Laureate when my name would be mentioned prominently in her biography and her memoirs. “Madam, Can you tell who was your mentor?” an interviewer might ask her. “Oh, I owe everything to my dear Seshu Bhaiya.” She would respond. Good imagination.
We are basically South Indians. Our father was working for Central Government and so we were also Delhi-ites. That answered for ‘bhaiya’ and ‘acha’ that frequently appeared in our conversation.
This morning, I was surfing internet and I was looking at some stories of experiences of people who had visited vortex locations in Sedona in Arizona State in America. I did not notice Dharini quietly moving behind me except when she exclaimed loudly, “Oh, what a nice picture is that?” I was momentarily startled.
It was the picture of certain rock formations in Sedona that shaped like a bell and another like a cathedral. The caption “VORTEX” appeared boldly on the screen.

“What is that? V…… O……. R….. T…….E…….X” she asked.
“It is known as VORTEX” I explained.
“What is meant by Vortex?”
“The motion of the fluid swirling rapidly around a center is called a vortex. It is a spinning, often turbulent flow of liquid. A vortex is created from spiraling motion of air or liquid around a center of rotation.” I googled and showed her a picture of an air vortex.
“Acha! Does it mean that water is flowing underneath swirling?” she showed her fingers in a swirling fashion. She understood a lot.
“No, this is different ………… this is a vortex of energy …………. People over there believe that vortex in Sedona is created by spiritual energy.” I tried to keep the language simple to avoid more bombardment from Dharini.
She was looking puzzled unsure how she could pursue her questioning. To my relief, she asked abruptly,” Have we gone to that place?”
“You mean, Sedona…… Oh, yes! We went three years ago… Paappa took us to USA for some vacation…. You remember Sadhana aunty there!”
“No…. I don’t remember at all. Did I come with you when you had been to Vortex?”
“No…. You were too young and we left you in Sadhana aunty’s place.”
“It was very bad, you people left me at home …. Please tell me how your trip was.”
“It was very exhilarating and enjoyable.”
“Acha……….Tell me in all minute details about your trip. I am very eager to know.”
After parking our car in the parking are, Dad, Mom, Rajan Uncle, niece Malu and me went up a small stream along a small trail. The stream was small and beautiful. Sizzling sound from the water stream falling over several small rocks was music to our ears. The whole ambience was serene and quiet. There was a small water fall as the stream flowed.

At one place, the stream split up to form a small island. We found, a number of people had crossed the stream to reach the island. I couldn’t have gone to that island without completely drenching my clothes. Malu was very insistent, but Rajan uncle refused. Besides, we had to cover quite a good distance of walking if we really wanted to look at things up the stream and meet with vortex locations. Besides, we also didn’t know where exactly we could feel the effect of vortex.
Malu was very sad that she could not cross over to the island. As we just walked up a little ahead of others, there we found a large branch of a tree at the ground level crossing over the stream from our side. Malu and I climbed on the branch when uncle and dad were not noticing us. We slowly crossed over the stream and jumped on to the ground. When they noticed, we were already on the other side of the stream. There were tall dense trees and plenty of shade and across the stream it was much darker. Malu was a bit scared. She was only seven you remember. So, she held my hand tightly and we walked back on the other side of the stream slowly and …….
Eventually we reached that island. We were overjoyed and just ran on that flat rock that formed the island shouting and screaming. Dad and Rajan uncle started waving and shouting at us to come back.
Once we were at the edge of the island, we didn’t know how to get back to the other side. Malu started crying out of fear. I physically lifted her on my shoulders and got into waters even without knowing how deep the water was. Dad was shouting and cursing me from the other side. Partly apprehensive, partly scared and partly daring, I just plunged into walking across the stream that was getting deeper and deeper until it was almost to my chest.
I was really worried now. Malu was sitting on my shoulder screaming though I tried to convince her that we were safe. That is when I noticed a large block of rock underneath projecting out and I climbed over that. From there it was not difficult for me to cross the remaining part of the stream. But we were dangerously close to the small waterfalls. A small mistake I could have fallen into a pit. Another visitor standing over there cautioned us that the place was fairly deep.
Thank God, I was back on the main trail. I was completely wet. I was sure the small and elegant camera phone inside my pocket would have been completely damaged; I was carefully avoided talking about it. However, I was happy about the adventure and I felt like a hero in a movie. Our dad was heaping rebukes on me for some time and I tried to ignore.
We continued our hike. We came across a little open space where we found several miniature stone cairns (cairn is a pile of stones, usually conical in shape, raised as a landmark or a memorial) arranged on the ground. Uncle told me that it was symbolic of prayers by visitors.

Enthusiasm returned back to Malu and she started picking up stones for arranging one above the other. I asked Malu, ‘What did you pray for?’ ‘No, rather I was giving a thanks prayer to God that you were there to save me from drowning in water.’ I just touched her cheek saying she was a nice girl.
We were walking for more than an hour and we could not reach anywhere on the trek. Tiredness was slowly creeping in all of us. Dad was not sure how far we needed to go and was already enquiring whether we could get back.
That is when, uncle noticed a small rock on the sides and he sat down. He called over us to rest for a while before we decide proceeding ahead. I too sat on that small rock.

All of a sudden, I closed my eyes. I could feel the sweat flowing down my nose even while the mountain breeze was blowing across my face. I started feeling some kind of mysterious energy flowing though my body and I began to feel some strong vibrations in me. I could feel my nerves, hear my heart beating, notice some strange smell, see my breathing in and out, and I also felt that for a few moments I was blackening out. I felt dizzy and could feel some strange causeless happiness filling me inside.
Was this Vortex effect? I jerked and opened my eyes. I wasn’t sure.
“Uncle, did you feel anything?” I asked panting. They didn’t seem to. I explained. Then they tried by closing their eyes and observing their breath.
“Yes, we get some strange feelings,” said Mom.
“Wow, what a great experience you had?” exclaimed Dharini. She was keenly listening to me all along, her palm on her cheeks, and eyes glittering with amazement. “Can we go back any time now to Sedona?” she asked.
“Maybe, who knows? Or, one day, you will be old enough to fly down on your own to Sedona and you can feel the same experience.” I replied.
After some thought, I said, ‘But do you know something? Vortex is a place where one can feel the movement of earth’s energy. You need to be tuned in to feel that energy. You can feel similar energy in any other place too, I discovered.”
“Can you show me?”
“Sure yes, come with me.” I took her to the garden in our backyard. I noticed a small butterfly joyfully moving from place to place, one plant to another.

“Now, look at the butterfly closely. Follow the butterfly where all it flies around……….. Now close your eyes…………. Imagine that you are the butterfly, moving from place to place, batting your wings, sucking honey from every flower, resting on leaves, feeling the small dews resting on the plants and leaves, the flower petals gently caressing you when the wind blows gently, you feel so restful, calm, quiet, enjoying every moment of your existence…………………..”
After a few moments, Dharini opened her eyes, saying “What a wonderful feeling? Is there a vortex here in our garden?”
“Maybe! Mother Nature is strange and wonderful.”
She ran into the house shouting and wanting to share her little feelings with Mom.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A new library in every village in Tamilnadu

There was some interesting news today, the 28th April, 2010 in The Hindu newspaper. The Education Minister of Tamilnadu had issued a statement that the government is proposing to ensure a library in every village in the state by the end of this year. This is a yet another positive step being taken by the Government of Tamilnadu. Already Government had initiated moves to create a world class library in Chennai and I am sure in the days to come, we may have much better libraries in every district headquarters. The question is: Will this become yet another standing symbol of governmental efforts? Only time will tell.
Most villages have schools – at least a primary school. But there are reports about many deficiencies about their functioning including lack of basic amenities like proper classrooms, roofs, toilet and drinking water, quality teachers and absenting staff and so on. Government has sponsored several lofty programs for education that have failed at implementation levels. People also seem to lack the discipline and feeling that the facility and the program belong to them.
To me the problem appears to be one of lack of commitment, involvement and dedication and hyper-active politicizing of every issue. Those at the top will have to demonstrate their will power to implement various government programs in an open and transparent manner and ensure that the benefits reach the people for whom they are intended. Before we create more infrastructure and facilities, we need to strengthen and consolidate existing ones.
Book reading habit should be widely spread and encouraged among more people. Through awards and incentives, the school children and college students need to be encouraged to spend a part of the day or the week in reading. Regular library hours in all educational institutions should be encouraged and enforced. Thanks to stupendous growth and proliferation of electronic and visual media, the print media seems to be struggling against their onslaught. However thrilling they are, the children should be weaned away from spending undue time on electronic video games, which may lead to serious health problems over time. Today, we see even children in lower classes spending their entire evening time in tuition classes, and special classes rather than spending their time in a library or playground. There could be many like me who could be interested in opening small street libraries as a social service and this could be encouraged.
Nowadays, many new books are prohibitively costly and only libraries and affluent can afford. The authorities in charge of selecting books should be impartial in buying quality books rather than encouraging favoritism. A number of people have book collections and may be interested in donating them to libraries if they find that the libraries are run well and efficiently used. This may be encouraged in all districts. If private people are willing to open libraries, after proper scrutiny, they could be given state support in getting books at subsidized prices and other means. Language bias should be avoided as far as book selections are concerned –whether we like it or not, English has come to be accepted as a language that is understood by most and used for communicating with each other by most world population.
More than anything else, children should be freed of today’s stressful overloading of homework and compulsive need to be competitive in academic performance. They should be encouraged to seek more knowledge and information (not just filmy tit-bits alone) that improves their awareness and kindles curiosity and seeking that lead to research, development and innovation. Reading helps improving the way we communicate and develop our power of expression that improves our leverage and influencing in human relationships. Today, everything is about selling and persuasion. You see around, anywhere and everywhere, someone is always trying to sell something or persuade someone to buy something, may be an idea, a product or services – be it in family or business.
Reading as a hobby is a great stress reliever and develops our ability to visualize and imagine and develop our creative power. Look at children books like ‘Lord of the Rings’; several million copies have been sold all over the world – the story is just a fantasy. Can’t we create a parallel that sells at least a million copies? At least in Tamil language, some of the older people might remember the stories of ‘Thuppariyum Sambu’ (Detective Sambu), Veera Vijayan pictorial stories, Kanni Theevu daily serial pictorial stories, Chandamama stories and the likes that were great hits among children and elders alike a few decades back. There are many more legendary tales about stories and writers of yesteryears. In my young days, all in the family used to have a fight over who would read that day’s Dina Thanthi or the weeklies Kumudam or Vikatan, when they arrived. Today, probably the TV serials have taken over that place and reading is given a go-by. But what do the serials encourage – revenge, challenge, plotting, enmity, infidelity and what not – look at most of the serials to have some proof. Not that every serial is bad –there are many good ones too, but how many watch them?
I am grateful to the Municipal Library and the Saiva Sidhantha Noorpathippu Kazhagam’s library in my native place during my younger days for greatly influencing me in so many ways in my shaping up. I also thank my college library, the old Moore Market old book shops, the legendary roadside old books shops at Luz, Mylapore, Chennai or Ajmal Khan Road, Karol Bagh, New Delhi for my book collections about which I am quite proud of.
A library in every village! Very good move Minister! Please make them work. We wish you and the movement well. We will support you unhesitatingly.
(Readers may also look for my other stories)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My stay at Tenkasi

When I told some relatives and friends that I had decided to settle down in Tenkasi, a small town in Tirunelveli District in the Southern State of Tamilnadu, not many were really ready to believe me. They thought I was joking. All through my thirty six years of work life, I had stayed in metropolitan cities with best of comforts and life styles and this, they were aware. Choosing to live in a rural town was the craziest thing I would ever do in my retired days - this is what they initially thought.

When the idea was initially floated, my wife was the first to raise apprehensions and objections about living in a village town. She never trusted the small medical facilities in rural towns. Thanks to the intervention of one of our revered Masters during those days, she relented finally.

I took my retirement from work two years before I could officially retire. I had been dreaming about the freedom to do what really mattered to my heart, retirement offered. I loved quiet places, picturesque natural settings, greenery, shades, breeze, open space and green fields and forests.

We zeroed on Tenkasi after lot of deliberation. First of all, I did not consider Chennai as a livable place and so it was ruled out. Coimbatore where I had a piece of land was a choice, but got rejected as we felt we had no base there. Our native place Tirunelveli was too hot and had neither the attraction of smaller towns nor the conveniences of bigger cities and so was voted out. Trivandrum in Kerala was in the reckoning initially as we had several relatives staying there, but was dropped on language issues.

Why not Tenkasi? That idea came just out of blue. We used to be passing by Tenkasi in the last couple of decades to visit one of our relatives. Tenkasi fell within our native district. It was only three kilometers to Courtallam another small hilly town with several waterfalls. It was bordering Kerala and enjoyed sufficient rains. It enjoyed cool breeze throughout the year as it was closer to hills. It was a small agricultural town well connected and growing yet to become busy and nasty. People had simple life styles and there were several temples in surrounding towns, rivers and water dams in adjoining places, and it was only three and half hours from Madurai and one and half hours from Tirunelveli to reach in emergencies. All of a sudden, the idea gathered momentum and strength.

"When our intent is very strong, nature conspires to bring it to reality soon." I have heard this from my Master, but I experienced this as a reality very soon.

Sometime in early July 2006 soon after my retirement, we were returning from Courtallam and Papanasam, another nearby small hilly town with a roaring waterfall across a water dam in the company of my in-laws and we passed by Tenkasi.

As we were just leaving Tenkasi, I happened to stand in front of the Main Temple at Tenkasi and I found myself praying spontaneously to Lord Kashi Viswanath to help me find a suitable house in Tenkasi if I was destined to stay there.
No sooner than we crossed the limits of Tenkasi, my relative phoned to me to tell that there were two houses available for rent at Melagaram, a smaller outskirt of Tenkasi and he had known the landlords closely from his father’s days. Melagaram is another town panchayat, just a kilometer away from Tenkasi on the way to Courtallam. I promised him to return back to Tenkasi from Madurai in the next couple of days to have a look at the house. We returned back two days later and liked one of the two houses he showed us. It was a street house in an 'Agraharam', a predominant brahmin locality. We paid the advance rent on the spot without even bothering to decide when and how we would be shifting to that place.

But we were not to be staying there for long during 2006 as we were planning to visit our children in USA during October. Besides, our debate continued as to how far we genuinely wanted to stay there. We moved into Melagaram house with very small baggage sometime in August and stayed there for four or five days. Our definitive move to Melagaram happened in June 2007 after our son’s wedding. It looked like shifting from Sheraton Hotel thirtieth floor to the nearby hut.

We were total strangers in Tenkasi and we were trying to grasp the life-style in an 'Agraharam'. People over there were supposed to be very tradition bound, conservative, educated, some of them agricultural landlords, many fairly poor. During the initial days, coming to know that we had stayed in Middle East for quite long, the people at Agraharam also looked at us with great curiosity and interest wondering what we would be doing in a village town.

Tenkasi was not to be the sleepy village that we had imagined it to be. We got a BSNL phone connection within a couple of days of making an application and the broad-band internet connection followed in a week’s time. The Indane gas distributor acted a little tough initially about transfer of our gas connection without our ration card, but gave in on the condition that we submit to him the ration card before we could ask for a refill. A stranger neighbor in the 'Agraharam' took us to the Village officer and got us a residence certificate. He also took us to Tehsildar to make an application for a new ration card; as we were staying abroad for almost a decade, we never knew what happened to our earlier ration card. I never realized that staying at Agraharam commanded so much respect among many in the government departments. A ‘Honour card’ which did not allow us to draw any provision supply, but would be sufficient proof of residential address was issued in the next few weeks. Melagaram, and more particularly 'Agraharam' seemed to be a respected place where more of educated people resided. Many friendly neighbors were willing to offer their help for a host of nitty-gritty things.

We met with several pleasant surprises at Tenkasi. Let me tell you some of them:
• We could just walk to many cinema halls and watch even newly released movies for just thirty rupees.
• We could see boys and girls playing out-door games - ‘goli,’ ‘vattil,’ ‘pamparam,’ ‘gilli,’ ‘paandi, ‘hide and seek’, in our street carefree without having to worry about traffic reminding me of my school days.
• Most residents seemed to enjoy lot of spare time that was spent just sitting on the verandah in front of their house and turning to ‘East’ and ‘West’ and that was sufficient past-time for them. I thought, probably, they were in high spiritual state not needing anything specific to engage themselves in or to keep themselves happy.
• Almost everyone seems to be noticing arrival of visitors to any house within Agraharam; this offered us phenomenal sense of security.
• The Ganapathi temple at the west end of the road was kept open by the priest every morning and evening and most residents gathered at the temple regularly in the evening for prayers. The small temple was a convenient place for people’s congregation. The Melagaram Magalir (Ladies) Mandram (Club) met almost every day, after their daily chores, to practice and chant slokas and devotional singing; they preferred this to sitting before the dumb box ( I mean television box). Children used to run to the temple during prayer times when the temple bell rang - the enthusiasm coming more for collecting sundal, puliyodarai and pongal prasadams.
• Milkman arrived every morning at around five and mid afternoon with fresh milk; he had not missed even a single day. Greens, vegetables, curd, atta for making idli-dosa, tamarind, kolappodi (the lime powder for drawing kolams), fruits, chappals, cosmetics, toys, dresses and sarees, metal items, repairing dresses, vessels and the likes and many more were available right at our doors through walking vendors.
• A decent provision store that could be thought of as a Walmart for Melagarm had every supply needed for a house, at fair prices.
• Buses were frequent and a bus journey was so cheap – not more than two or three rupees.
• Hot and delicious vadas were sold on road-side shops on the main road every evening stock running out within minutes of preparation.
• You could take a pleasant walk up to Courtallam in the evening enjoying the cool breeze blowing from the hills.
• On important auspecious days like beginning of Tamil months, New Moon days or eclipse days, male elders clothed in 'pancha kachham’ paraded to the temple to perform ritual offerings to their forefathers.
• Other major attractions were:‘Margazhi’ month early morning bhajans, Akanda Naama bhajans, Sree Rama Navami, Mahadeva Ashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Kolaattam, Karthikai deepam, Chokka paanai . All celebrations were reminiscent of my young days at Tirunelveli and things I missed for nearly four decades.
• The children were all quite simple, smart and possessed lot of practical intelligence.
• The Kashi Viswanaatha temple front yard was a Tenkasi parallel to Marina beach in Chennai, but a lot more clean.
• One could eat stomach full any time for less than about twenty rupees in most eating joints. At least one such eating place offered six or seven varieties of dosas and tourists who came there round the year, made a beeline to these eateries.
• The nearby Courtallam provided the cheapest holiday resort for the not-so-affluent. One is never tired of taking bath in those waterfalls.

The above is not an exhaustive list, but only a sample. My wife who was the most apprehensive about our decision to shift to Tenkasi for our retired living initialy is now willing to stay alone there even if I ever get bored with Tenkasi and wanted to travel out. Such was her profound transformation within a very short period of staying over there.

For me, many educational institutions in Tenkasi and nearby areas started recognizing my approach to Youth Development and called me to do programs for their students, and faculty for better motivation, self-confidence and inner development.

Not a day passed by when we had not patted ourselves for our decision to choose Tenkasi for our retirement life.