Sunday, February 18, 2007

Saraswathi shabatham - Eastman colour

Long journeys by bus is something that i really love, but a few experiences of late have made me rethink. The first was a long trip to chennai from kerala in a not so comfy bus.And a movie Devathaiye kandein starring dhanush plying on the telly. For the uninitiated, Dhanush happens to be Rajinikanth's S-I-L and that is pretty much all that is about him. On a given day, out in the streets of chennai, u wouldnt be wrong, if u mistook him for an autodriver. And a heroine, with negative emoting skills, and cornier dialogues and crassier comedians, it was one of the most claustrophobic experiences of my life. My Ipod was on full blast but it couldnt drain out the "Din-chak, Dak-chak, dan-da-naka, da-daka-daka", that so characterises tamil music these days. Add to that the sight of a scrawny hero, thrusting his pelvis and gyrating in the name of the dance, the expreience rather the torture was complete. So it was with a little trepidation when during my trip to the sabarimala, the TV screen flickered to life. It read "Saraswathi Shapatham", Eastman colour..

The movie startedoff with a long monologue by the producers, who it seems had made the movie to arrest the crass materialism in society and to lay to rest the debate on wealth Vs knowledge Vs Authority/power..Well atleast they said so themselves in a lengthy monologue at the beginning and with the gods in technicolour filling the screen, the atmosphere was set for the story to unfold. Shivaji as Narada...and a whole whos who of the 60s tamil filmdom was on show...fully decked up...The next 3 hrs were sort of an eye opener for me.....a glimpse into what Edison had in mind when he invented cinema in the first place....religious propaganda.....maybe

The next 3 hrs was one long riot of colours, the whole pantheon of hindu gods, song and dance and over-the-top emoting ending in a technicolor SHUBHAM. But the piece de resistance was CHEVALIER SHIVAJI GANESAN

He owned the screen from the moment he entered as narada. His slender gait, gait that would put a beauty queen to shame...the hips shaking as though doing a catwalk. And emoting that would give a complex to a kathakali artiste...millions of facial muscles twitching, twirling to bring togethor that perfect expression taht would last only a fleeting moment to be replaced by the next perfect one. and when coupled with the dancing eyebrows, it shows what acting is all about...or is it what it is not about...never mind....but that sure did cure me of my phobia for long bus journeys

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Religion and a pilgrimage - Part 2

Sabarimala, the shrine surrounded by verdant green all around. A dip in the crystal waters of the river Pampa, a mere jungle stream at Pampa. and a refreshing trek through lush evergreen shola. If this is the image that u had of the temple shrine, I pity you my friend. If you are looking for an example for how man cannot make a habit of coexisting with nature, look no further..
With the uncontrolled influx of devotees from the southern states except kerala, the ham handed development activities at Pampa, the tonnes of garbage, filth, and byproducts human and otherwise, flooding the stream making it a big pile of slush. The travancore Devasvom board makes it a point to bring in water tankers to pump water into the river to dilute it. Filth everywhere and devotees camping on top of it. We were among the lucky lot as we managed to get a roof over our head, a room barely the size of a classroom, with a makeshift kitchen at one end. The heat was initially a comfort but the smoke soon took over. But with me having had an inkling of things earlier, i was not going to complain about mere smoke singing my eyes. And the icing on the cake was the location of the room - right behind the pampa govt hospital letting its innards out in full glory, first thing in the morning. The bath in the Pampa is a part of the ritual and is meant to cleanse away all the sins. With daylight hardly and hour away, I decided to take a dip in the darkness, as waiting for day light would have meant that i might have given the dip in the river a miss. Freezing cold and icier water, meant a dip was a big ask. In and out in a flash, I made a beeline for the start of the trek, the Pampa Ganapathy.
Stepping the few steps upto the temple, brought forth a sight that i could never have imagined, a sea of humanity sleeping on the ground, and a small line snaking its way through to the trekking path. A few sleepy policemen guiding us through. The first couplf kilometers was a very steep climb, over sharp paved concrete and railings for support. My Softened software-feet were screaming full throat, but the fear of getting caught in the crowd coming behind meant that we, (oh yeah i got a fellow devotee for company), pushed ahead without a stop. The climb done, i was looking forward to the rest of the walk. only to see a huge queue on the mountain side all the way the eye could see. A good 8 hours later we made it to the sannidhanam, an ever bigger pile of filth, spoiling the experience. With the lower half of my body, numb by then, i had stop bothering. time was 3. With the Rava uppuma that i had for breakfast long digested, the grumbling was only acute as we waited for the jyothy which was still a good 3 hrs later. Managing to get a vantage point courtesy of my new friend, I stood there and dozed off. Though with nothing to hold on for support, I did not have to worry as it was too jam packed for me to fall. I still wonder whether it was sleep or a momentary lapse in conciousness...whatever it was i got up only at 5... slightly refreshed, but stinking all over, with sweat, mine as well as the bare chested kannadiga's, who i think supported me. with me standing at an elevated point, the sight was one to behold, a hill top with every possible inch crawling with people. The tension was palpable as people began to get excited and stir about in the maddening crowd. Well past 6.30 and no jyothy yet, the cries of the throng had gotten to a dearening roar. And when the jyoty appeared as 3 brief flashes, it was an experience that will last my life time. Electrifying yet hysterical. It was a culmination of all that suffering in something good. Hope that kept the drive to walk alive. And with a deep throated "swamiye" that reverberated around the hills, a call to the heavens, the collective throes of a mankind for release from the mudane rigours of life. It opened my eyes to what religion is all about- HOPE. Hope that reflected in the tears streaming down the now smliing bare chested Kannadiga.
And as the adage goes "Zindagi mein ek baar sadari yaathra chalo chalo"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Religion and a pilgrimage

For a guy born and brought up in a typical agraharam, being religious is supposed to be a default setting. And the default setting remained that way for 17 golden years and then college happened and a period of self discovery :- 4 years of freedom. And with freedom came the natural side effects - indiscipline and irreverence. Not that i hated it, but still..
Out of college and 2 years into the job, things hadn't changed much. I was hating the job and was at a crossroads with the prepping for the CAT. It was the auspicious Mandalam and as the D-Day got nearer, my belief in myself was begining to wax and wane. And a day before the exam, got out of home looking to lay the waxing and waning to rest and ended up, maybe inevitably, at a temple. It was the proverbial lightning striking twice that day. In the half an hour that i sat in the Ayyappa temple, my thoughts were going haywire. Only to be reigned in by the thoughts of my first visit to sabarimala. All of 12, my grandparents taking me in tow. All that i remember being the sight of the golden deity electrifying my half asleep brain and body. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since that day. But the experience has remained. There had been 3 later visits, all in a lot more comfort, but none matched the intensity of the first. And so, at that very moment decided to make one more trip to see the lord, on the day of the Makaravilakku. 41 days of clean living and austerities.
It was a challenge for me and a chance too, to piece myself togethor again and feel what discipline feels like. And it did feel nice, the first few days i mean and then the craving kicked in. A lil more while in the bed, a coffee before the bath, a bed rather than a mat on the floor....But i outdid myself and found myself at the end of the 40th day on a bus, part of a conducted trip to the mala. Attired in black, the mala around my neck and the transformation i felt was evident. A sense of standing on the verge of something big. And we were off..
Six hours in the bus went of quickly. But a loose window ensured that i remained sleepless in the chill. And to keep me company, all that i had was "Saraswathi Shabatham" running on the telly. (That is an entirely new story which can form a later blog maybe.). Enroute, we passed the Thiruvabharanam being carried on foot and that signalled that we were nearing Pampa, in pretty good time. Only for all such hopes to be dashed by the Kerala police. We were asked to alight a good 35 kilometres from Pampa (Base camp for the uninitiated) and then start walking.
There we were, a bunch of over 50 people, in pitch black, shivering in the winter, smack in the middle of a reserve forest, and only the full moon to guide us. Someone in the group had the foresight to pack a torch and he led the way. With the group being made of a lot of age groups, we soon scattered. Me somewhere in the middle, with no light immediately, not even knowing the person walking next to me, retorting with the odd "Ayyappa" to the "swamiye" from somewhere up front.
A good hour would have passed, maybe more and the sound of a bus behind us cheered the group that had by now fallen silent. That was a scene that i welcomed with a special enthusiasm, as the jagged tar road had by then begun taking its toll on my foot. It was a bus alright, and in its headlight I saw a sight that sent a slight lump down my throat. The entire road was full of devotees on foot, the numbers belied by the silence of it all. and the Bus went on its way, without as much as slowing down even. And the walk continued. and from the milestones and the occasional police outposts, the distance that i had covered surprised even me. A good 12 kilometres. But then the lord didnt want anything more from me. Atleast not at that moment i thought, as i managed to get onto a bus that strangely was not crowded and stopped right before our motley group of around 10. And sitting on the steps, I managed to catch a few good winks before we reached Pampa. It was hardly 5 and the cold was biting down to the bone. And that was a moment when i had a moment of introspection, rather cursing myself for having decided to do the pilgrimage on that particular day. Moments that were littered thru the course of the 3 days....