Posted in Socio-Cultural

The Swamy Photo Shops (Swamy photo kadai)

This is not about photoshop but about shops that sold photos or pictures.

We Indians are way too familiar with photo shops that line our temple streets and the temple towns where framed pictures of Hindu deities of all sizes are painted-printed to be sold for a price to the devout. Practising Hindus revere two relics in the puja (home service or altar): framed pictures from the photo shops and/or ‘vigrahas’ (small stone/metal carvings/sculptures/idols). We inherit some as heirlooms passed over for generations in the family; we go for the latest prints of our deities as well to suit our home decor. There are then the laminated ones for our desktops. There are photographs from temples of the murthis as well. Photo shops cater to our devotional cravings and there are some of us who are even ‘collectors.’ I have friends who boast of collections of Tanjore paintings that have been the rage for some time. Personally for me, the Tanjore art is for aesthetics never for Puja. Nevertheless, I love to browse through these religious photo shops that have a variety to choose from: the black & whites to enameled and embossed works with silver and even gold filigrees. Gods and Goddesses at their finest! I have even feasted my eyes on rarest depictions of Raam, Lakshman, Bharatha, Hanuman in which Raam is not at all looking good! There are antique finishes in photo kadais although now I am not sure whether the faded look is manufactured digitally these days. I wonder where the sepia tinted Lakshmi and Saraswathi from my parents’ home went. The ageing of those pictures was natural lending them an ethereal look. I do now have the Raja Rajeshwari like a reigning queen in my puja, from my in-laws home that has been with the family for over a hundred years. I have not retouched it or tried to restore it. I merely changed the frame as the old teak one had given away and the picture was exposed to damages.

As a Mylaporean, I have spent hours and years walking in the four Mada streets looking at the swami photo shops. Dutifully every morning on way to school I would say a small prayer to all the deities that graced us girls from within the wall of those shops. The frames then were wood. Now what we have for frames is either metal or plastic variant that however comes with a wood finish. Except for the artistically done Tanjore painting that is hoisted over teak frames, none else merits a wood frame these days.

The city has swami photo shops in every locality but it is those in Mylapore that are always special to me. I also have the habit of getting at least a small photo or vigraha from whichever temple town I visit like for a memento. My Puja articles such as bronze/copper diyas, deepa aarthi etc., are from the temple town of Tirupathi. In my parents’ family, always the puja paathiram (articles) for the newly wed were gotten from Alarmel Mangapuram in Keezh Tirupathi even if we daughters of the family were also gifted another set in sterling silver (as ‘seer’) (that we would secure in the bank lockers to use only for our kids). Years of hoarding small framed pictures and vigrahas have added to my collection and now my puja has become a bit staggering! Not really, but I wish I could keep it modest. However, every swamy photo in my puja can tell a story. Nothing was bought over the counter like a commodity. Guruvayurappan came home for instance from Guruvayur, where in 1996 I and my husband gave ‘tulabharam’ to our son in the temple. By the way, the kadai veedhi of Guruvayur is spectacular with the perpetual air of festivity about it !!! A second time, I got a small pair of Kerala kuthuvilakku from the same Guruvayur sannadhi street.

Tirupathi sannadhi street/kadai veedhi was a craze for me when we used to go to the seven hills every year for a darshan. My Mallikarjuna is from Sri Sailam, Kanaka Durga from Vijayawada, Udipi Krishna from Udipi, Mookambika from Kollur, Sharadhamba from Sringeri, Lalithambika from Thirumeeyachur. Satya Narayana was lovingly gifted by my Chithappa (as I observe the Pournami vratham) who also with my Chithi gifted me the first ‘traditional five’ photo: Pillayar, Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Murugan and Perumal. We all start our life (thani kuduthanam) with those basic five in single frame! No business runs in India without these five who are important for success in any and everything. Another prized frame is Lalitha Parameshwari, printed from handdrawn painting by the Sringeri seer. That edition is sold off now. Our Arni Perumal (from the Shiva Vishnu temple of our family whose presiding deity is Perumal, with Shiva in a small sannadhi) is juxtaposed against Tirumala in a framed picture in my puja, due credits for which go to a cousin for his literal photoshop work. I have Varahi from the Varahi homams I attended for years every Amavasya. I have Sarabeshwara again from my chithappa both of which I was discouraged from having. A believer in forgiving gods and never in punishing ones, I went ahead with having them and they are with me for over 15 years now. In the Padikasunathar temple near Kumbakonam, the archaka returned our mint fresh 10 rupee notes after placing them in Shiva’s feat that I framed for puja. Looks as if I am worshiping Gandhi, but then why not. Love him or hate him, he was an exceptional humanbeing. Perhaps not a cult guru but a teacher nevertheless.

There is something in our family puja (in our community) that is not sold in shops, and this the shivaite sign of our family tree representing our Kula deivam. My mother used to do ours in a wood block anointing it with turmeric and vermillion but i decided to paint my in-laws’ heritage in yellow and red symbolically in a piece of wood. This is a distinct mark of our lineage and although now I am trying to wriggle out of these binding roots, I respect and revere them immensely. Our Arni ancestral home is like a repository for aged swami photos handdrawn and/or painted originally supported by teak or rosewood frames. I picture the great grandfathers and their wives and families in this house whenever I visit. The palatial home had once mounted within its high ceilinged, beamed and pillared spaces, original Ravi Vermas. Or perhaps very first copies from an era when colour photographs were still leagues away.

There are connoisseurs of God’s pictures like these. Serious collectors. Like those who go for offbeat Meenakshi Sundareshwara, Kanyakumari, Ma Durga etc . I recall Devi names among other protective avatars during my everyday puja. The deities whose names I chant aloud have surprisingly made their way to my puja. That is how Annapurna reached me from Kashi/Varnasi, and Vaishno Devi reached me from Kashmir. I have even Pashupathinath from Nepal received as gift. These last three are in my puja in middle east. I love looking at puja of friends. I love the oldest/ancient pictures and the inheritance mostly. Tanjore paintings are not really my cup of tea. They do not serve the purpose being ornamental, so far as I am concerned. But I do have two. My chithi chithappa gifted me the baby Krishna for housewarming. My friends gifted Radha Krishna for my son’s wedding. Tanjore art though brings in good vibes.

An important itinerary of my girls gang temple tour is a walk through the mada veedhis or the sannadhi streets of our temple towns, taking stock of framed pictures, antique shops, trivia shops that sold the old parama padham, pallankuzhi etc., the bronze and the copper shops, the claypot shops. I love this kind of nostalgic trips always. With friends, it is even best. It transports me back to the 80s. For Kabali temple utsavam, my grandma used to give me two rupees every year. I used to buy peacock feather from the gypsies with the money. Now i greatly regret it. How many peacocks were forcibly plucked for their feathers! But the thiruvizha kadai veedhi on utsavam days still stays fresh in my memory. The ‘theradi.’

A visit to the temple where I used to frequent every single day of my life until I married washed me over with memories of photo shops. This is still good business as I noted. I walked into one and picked up a bright print on impulse. The shopkeeper asked me if I lived nearby. I said, I did until 28 years ago. Some of my swami pictures are from this shop – the ones that my chithappa gifted. I told the man I used to stop even at this shop everyday for a quick blessing from the divine on my way to school. The owner chuckled saying it was common in those days.

I thought how many small trades India supported. How many varied occupations survived in India, the likes of which you cannot find in any other corner of the globe! How innovative! I think the charm of India is this. I just did not have the heart to move out of the small shop where there was hardly room for more than a couple to browse comfortably. I wanted every single picture of God from the shop! What a beauty is this Sri Rama Seetha Pattabhishegam. I remembered I still did not own one! The dull finish handpainted one was priced at 9k so for the moment I have postponed my swami photo shopping urge. There are many, many more like for instance the Shiva family. The romantic Muruga with Valli Deivanai with the peacock making a beautiful backdrop – a rare angle handpainted frame. Krishna grazing and playing flute. Bala. Lalitha. I loved the different depictions as well, not the conventional always.

Swami photo shop windowshopping reminded me how retail therapy alone is not solution to everything (for bored housewives especially)! At the end of the day. our heart knows what matters. We embrace peace without even knowing it. Most of us underestimate ourselves rating us as materialistic. In the swami photo shop I was thinking like, how i wished i could have one and all of the swamis and a big, big puja and nothing else in life. For a moment, that is the way I felt. My one regret in life is my apartment living where I do not have a puja room. I have to make do with a puja cabinet, that is all. It may be ok, but the swami photo shop reminded me how selfish we are to relegate a mere corner space in our home for our puja. In my parents home as well as old joint family home of in-laws, the puja was a separate room with a door and padlock.

I have decided to repeat the swami photo shop strolls in future at regular intervals. I do not mean in this context the latest showrooms catering to our spiritual needs like the one we have near Kabali temple. I am referring to single standalone swami photo shops that specialize in swami photos and framing. These are another category.

I love the kumkum, chandan shops as well. The archana thattu shops. The glass bangle shops. The flower shops. The thengai mandi. Arisi mandi. Woodpressed oil stores that are now back in business. Coffee bean grinding outlets. Now even Mylapore has deteriorated beyond recognition. Gone is the kind of temple town situated around the tank and temple that we grew up in. Yet those like the swami photo kadais survive against all odds retaining a stubborn foothold in the competitive world where to stay alive is phenomenal. The swami photo kadais are one of the last bits of connection some of us retain with the old world we have lost: that of our parents. I felt such a swell of fulfillment last evening having spent half an hour in a swami photo kadai and an hour and a half in a spiritual store, the kind of which we normally derive from a hearty darshan in temples.

Posted in Political

Billion & Counting: India’s Covid Vaccine Program.

#latepost

I am in India after over six months. I left in the third week of April from Chennai and soon on my leaving, there was a deluge of delta variant cases in the second wave that caught the locals with a shocking agility, extracting a heavy toll. The picture was gory in international media as burning pyres make for sensational stories. Nations could consign their own pressing issues to the backburners and distract their populations with dastardly views from India, where masses were swept under by covid surge owing to ‘mismanagement by government’, which wasn’t their case. True partially. We Indians got carried away that the first wave did not hurt us, we overvalued our curry immunity and underestimated the deadly virus and we paid for our mistake dearly. We hadn’t learnt our lessons from the UK or other European countries that were under brutal onslaught from the second wave. And we could have still made it, had it not been for our election campaigns that saw crowds swelling throwing caution to winds. However, that was in the past. Now here I am in my hometown after a hiatus of six months, and I see none wearing a mask! A billion vaccinations India has managed to administer, entirely locally manufactured. Covishield may be from/for Astrazeneca, but Covaxin which is DNA based, is hundred percent local Indian brand made by Bharat Biotech now winning WHO approval. It is a Himalayan feat literally and India does not stop with vaccinating her citizens. India is exporting the corona vaccine to some ninety nations, and to many of them as aid on humanitarian basis. No wonder this is not going down well with Europe or America. Airports closed down on Indians but that has not deterred my nation from going for the vaccination in a big, big way. It is as if there has never been the virus. Touchwood. Well done PM Modi ji, what a stewardship! India’s population is 1.3 billion so one can imagine the monumental success of the vaccine administration program. I am bearing testimony to how well my country is fighting the virus. Having a near normal life here, a great blessing. Meanwhile cases are soaring in the US hitting millions and taking a heavy toll. No BBC or CNN ready to do a lead story. My request to our PM is to go for booster dose next. We will have to keep ourselves abreast of every situation for next four to five years. India is chaotic, not at all organized, but through all this confusion we are still ticking! Somewhere somehow something is working and keeps us going hahaha!

Posted in Political

Farm Law Repeal: Good Governance More Important Than Big Ego, dear PM.

Extremely happy with the repeal of farm laws to the farmers’ delight, PM Modiji. I have not yet gone into details. To me, the citizens’ contentment must matter more over rules and regulations. Everything is arbitrary. Who defines what must be the thumb of the law. Who draws the lines and where. It is alright to bend a little, we are all human. It is alright to take a step back, hold up a decision, reverse gear. It does not mean you succumb, or that you stand defeated. You can revise, you can unlearn and relearn and you can totally change perspectives. We all evolve with age, and sometimes even within days. Whether this is a political gimmick or not, I welcome this change of heart in you dear Prime Minister. It is those who remain stubborn who have issues. Do what is good for the common man. My personal advice to you PM ji: like me, you have longest past over what remains of future. Be a good soul, gentle soul, kindred spirit. I would like to see you a bit loosening up. Thank you ji. We earn nothing killing hopes and destroying families. Let the common man be happy. Become a people’s man ji. Let the nation remember you the way we remember Chacha Nehru, the darling, with luv and luv only. May you never become a feared memory for generations to come. Hundred years to you! God bless!

PS: Foot in mouth moment for your cronies in social media. Always raise your voice and banner for what is right, for not what you want to be thought right.

Posted in Food For Soul

Thambadhyam

We in our family always feed the crows before touching our meals (on parents side). My aunt is a septuagenarian. And sick and ailing. She is unable to climb the staircase and go to the terrace to give food to the crows. So my cousin devised an ingenuous idea for her to give food to her crows right from their kitchen. He screwed in a iron handle to a stainless steel plate that can be hooked to the grill for hanging. Crows had a perch now on the sill and also on the very plate edge. The crows looked forward to the food everyday at exact time. The plate can be later unhooked for a rinse.

After years or decades perhaps, I went for sleepover to my aunt’s. Frail from ill health and probably terminally ill, she still never forgot the crows. Daily she would give one small meal of dal, kozhambu, rice, curd with til (ellu), veggies etc., to the crows after offering the plate to my uncle (within photo frames) It is only after giving my chithappa his food, she is able to eat even a morsel of food. This touched me totally. I know for a fact that my chithi and chithappa were such an ‘anyonya thambadhi’ – the kind we cannot see in future. I felt honestly ashamed (!) by the kind of love and respect my aunt still had for my uncle who passed away three years back.

The crow plate is easy to hang on the grill. I was blessed to offer the crows the food when I was with my aunt. One day food was not ready but it was getting late. So I just had to offer curd rice and ellu (til) salted to my chithappa and then the crows as my aunt would not miss the timing! Chithappa would be hungry!

This really brought tears to my eyes. May sound weird to many But i clicked these pictures to show how easy it is to feed the crows right from your balcony or service verandah.

Posted in Women & Family

Life Is Beautiful!

being woman

No flower blooms for anyone. Every flower blooms with its own fragrance. Every flower delights in its own blooming. Why should one compare a jasmine and a rose or even an unscented flower. Lack of fragrance is also flowery and will not strip an unscented flower of its beauty or elegance. Or its essential substance. I am that flower on its proud stalk holding its head high, not the droopy and withering, bowing out.

Why do we women compare ourselves with others. I don’t consider myself to be pitted in contest against anyone. None of us is on mission to usurp others positions. We all have our own sunny spots under the sky where we revel. Women and insecurities! Low self-esteem is just not one of my characteristics.

I don’t consider myself lesser than anyone just like I don’t put myself above anyone. Younger women, wealthier women, healthier women have been following behind me since the day I was born. If I have to turn back and reevaluate myself at every step, I would n’t be half a woman that I am today. I would have perished wallowing in self pity since long, if not quashed by ego. I am not the designer kurta or jewelry just like someone else cannot become the fair-skin. I am not my age and I am not my bank balance. Not am I the creed or the faith. I am not the book I read or the food I eat. I am not my trade, nor am I any brand. I am not my place and I am not my accomplishment. Neither am I my fertility or my marital status. I am not the current station of my life. I am not the vibe or the mood of the moment. I am just me. I can be simply me. We women have our souls and characters. We are made different. I am not beautiful like any other, I am my beautiful self. BEautiful me!

Neither impressed by sedan or villa; nor by social status or charisma. There is a small tribe of us ladies who are immune to whatever male charm.

Why should we women prove anything to anyone. I have never had the urge. I can do without constant validation and judgment. I prefer to keep a low profile. My blog has compromised my privacy, about which I am helpless.

My cup of happiness and contentment is brimming. I lack for nothing in life. I am not looking for a refill. I am one wholly satisfied woman. I am complete and enough by myself. I don’t need to be measured against an other woman. It is an affront to my womanhood. I am the spirited. I am the feline feminine me. I can be the angel and, I can be the witch.

But I do pause to count my blessings. Respect to me is the highest form of expressive human emotion, transcending any other. It is lovely to be treated with that kind of respect. This one trait in humans moves me for some reason. Respect is also mutually reciprocal.

Life comes a full circle! Life is beautiful!

Posted in Food For Soul

Dubious Karma.

By default I am Hindu Indian and therefore I have to be a believer in Karma. There can be no other way. But Karma also can double up as a good excuse when it comes to explaining injustices and inadequacies among us. In middle-east, locals prefix every utterance of theirs with a phrase, ‘god willing.’ When I arrived here for the first time, I developed respect for this unwavering trust folks placed in their maker that I believed I somehow lacked! Faith was one thing but to give my one hundred percent without batting an eyelid to anything even if it was god, was just not me! There is always an iota of persisting doubt in me of whatever it may be. After all where I come from we say, ‘netrikkan thirappinum kutram kutrame! to Lord Shiva who we believe is the father of this universe. Over time, therefore that ‘god willing’ greeting started getting on my nerves. I had misgivings that failings and mismanagement and inefficiencies were easy to shrug off this way without us having to inflict ourselves with the troubling pain of guilt. People moved on. Any promise or assurance you may want from parties could be sworn under a solemn oath in the name of god, ‘god willing!’ There is no point in laying the blame at the doors of those who do not live up to their words, should things go wrong. Here we have a clear case of god’s will. Or in other words our Karma. This is exact replica of how we operate in India! How easy to not take responsibility, not be answerable, not to be even questionable. Everything has a past connection or god’s hand on it conveniently! Which is why I am a bit skeptical of ‘Karma’ even though I am raised with cultural ethos that place a huge premium on our past, present and future karmas. I guess, there are those among us who would like to use karma like a crutch to lean on when we have no other supporting evidence to keep logic going. This third leg of karma steadies us from faltering. We are saved. Our sanity is in tact. Complacency and supplication and insolence and ingratitude become our mental make-up. Wrong sense of entitlement can be righted. Weaknesses are miserable and sufferable. All balances square up nicely and tally. We can now cleanse our souls and transfer residual karma, if any, to our next janam where we can deal with the mess ‘aaraamse’ – god willing.

Posted in Socio-Cultural

Malaysia Open House.

Not everything is fine everywhere every time. We can only roughly speak of the average expected scene. Standard deviations characterize every homogenous sample. Statistics is all about this small but strategic variance.

Our time in Malaysia saw us celebrating Diwali in this south east Asian nation: 1997-2001. Exactly two decades before.

Malaysia is a potpourri of cultures. So much diplomacy is involved in maintaining the delicate balance naturally. Three mutually exclusive ethnic groups with nothing in common except for humanity. How do you keep going

There are injustices inherent in the fabric of any society and Malaysia is no exception, but that is made up for with the industriousness of the population. Malaysian citizens make conscious efforts to overcome the differences in the interests of their nation.

Malays, the bhumiputras (going by ironically the sanskrit name) are the sons of the soil who have reservation in universities to government positions. They are licensees for businesses without whose shareholding stake, you cannot run a profitable venture. You can of course keep your malay partner dormant opting to merely transferring a ‘cut’ which is kind of regular practice there. This is how things operate in this country. Indians and Chinese were brought to this tropical nation to work the rubber plantations and palm and tea estates, by the British.

In 1969, Malaysia saw civil war and blood ran like a river in KL, they say. With that our friends told us that they swore never to repeat the bloody saga again. For the motherland’s sake the malaysians decided to go for peace and harmony.

Malaysians interwove new national customs and traditions into their social calendar rug to keep themselves warm and snug in friendship and cordiality. One such invented local and original custom was hosting ‘Open house.’ Not limited to a particular community, all the three ethnic groups of Malaysia viz., Malays, Chinese and Indians would have open house for their major community festival. It meant, the Malays threw open their houses to the public for Eid (called Hari Raya in Malay), chinese for the Chinese new year and the Indians for Deepavali. An open house meant, any stranger could walk in to the host’s place and he/she would be toasted to a feast. Malaysians would have a lavish spread of their native cuisines as also continental to suit every palette. Mostly the open houses began as brunch and extended well into late evenings. In kumpungs or hamlets, the crowd turning out wouldn’t be excessive. You could expect a number. In cities it was always a challenge for the hosts. The chinese and malay open houses were popular for their meat and seafood fare. The Indian homes were famous for namkeens and mithais, our traditional laddoos, jelebis, murukkus etc., apart from the curry masala.

In 1998, we were invited to one such a Diwali open house by an affluent chettiar family in KL. Their extended family were in Bangsar, Wangsa Maju and Klang. As I could not still bring myself to host big parties, I was exempted from having an open house in our place. But the three families did give me a date and once came home together to my utter daze! That was the first time I had to cook for over twenty guests at a time single handedly! Anyway, our chettiar friends’ open house used to be very popular. Queues would form in front of their gates in those days and aunty and uncle would routinely send boys and girls to fetch more groceries and provisions to keep the kitchen fires burning as the crowds would show no signs of relenting! It is only in last five years or so, we have lost touch with these good friends.

Open houses had malays and chinese eating at Indian homes for Diwali, malays and indians eating at the chinese for chinese new year and indians and chinese eating at malays’ for Hari raya (Eid). That somehow always moved me. It was one time the malaysians put aside their differences and got together as one family. That kind of bonhomie, even if forced, was practised with good intentions. It got put paid with years. Despite increasing differences and widening gulf, open houses united malaysians three times an year beyond all doubts and uncertainties.

Never did I see a single fire cracker light up the malaysian skies – their economy was better than ours way back. I am not sure about current scene. Diwalis in Malaysia are more memorable to me for totally different reasons. Malaysian Indian (Tamil) women are very efficient. They would cook up a feast in no time. For Diwali they would start a week earlier and do dozen tins of murukkus and tins of cookies and pastries. The last would be the Indian sweets and other savouries. Diwali day would see cooking grand festival specials. Hospitality thy other name is Malaysia. If you are a non vegetarian, then the sky could be your limit! As a vegetarian I had a tough time in Malaysia, I agree, but Indian homes and restaurants had vegetarian cuisine keeping in mind our veggie sensitivities. Food dissolves many a wall of separation. Food mellows men.

There is also the culture of street food for supper in Malaysia. It is usually by 6 to 8 pm in the evenings -a good time for working staff to together and relax and relieve tensions. This is one time and one place where you can see the dignity of labour preserved: there is no class or community divide in the hour after work, a big takeaway for all of us from all ranks of life.

The Malaysia of 2021 is not the same as the one we left in 2001 say friends. My heart feels heavy hearing this. I hope the open house custom continues to flourish in their green plateaus. Malaysia was the envy of many world nations for preserving communal harmony in those days. Let not that magic go wrong.

In Terengganu my Malay muslim friend (woman) drove me once to a Hindu temple. She did not sit in the car. She came in with me and had a darshan of the deity! Every time she drove to her kumpong near Penang, she would come back with ‘kuihs’ – the steamed sweet dumplings for vegetarian me. So would my hubby’s chinese colleagues who also remembered me when they came across something vegetarian. I received tins and tins of cookies and pastries for chinese new year and hari raya.

The malays were muslims, the indians mostly hindus and the chinese mostly christian. Three totally different ethnic factions with equally different belief systems fused into single entity called Malaysia. Race and tongue hardly mattered in this hearty union. Malays and chinese pierced ‘vel’ in their tongues and body for the Hindu god Muruga in Batu Caves carrying ‘kavadi.’ Diwali and Thai Poosam are national holidays in this islamic nation. Tamil is one of the national languages and also one of the three mediums of instructions. Malay friends used to tell us they were extremely proud of their Hindu ancestry. They do retain many Hindu customs even now. For instance they light the diyas like us hindus for Eid! They have not completely got ridden of their Hindu roots and unlike our Indian muslims, have no problem admitting to their Hindu heritage.

The spirit of festivals lies in sharing and caring, not keeping everything to ourselves. There can be no fun in hurting nature. I have done that in the past. I wouldn’t want to repeat it now. It is ok to revise our stands with age.

Very much critical of the conversion mafia, I spare no words when it comes to condemning terror either. Love for your motherland is love for nature and wildlife, to me.

Visiting places as tourist or guest is different. Living in various and contrasting places is an experience. This gives one a chance to learn and unlearn and relearn things in life. We become aware of our own merits and shortcomings. We also discover others’ pluses and minuses. We discover there is peace and harmony in unity. The universal goodness finally finds a place in your heart. Nothing can stop me from imbibing the best from other cultures. I have tambram friends here whose kids fast for ramzan on their parents’ advice. To that extent we grow spiritually and emotionally when we live in hostile territory (by hostile i mean here a third country than ours). When in comfort zone, we have no reason to consider uncomfortable reality. We forget that millions and millions of Hindus are gainfully employed in middle east. Ask any Indian citizen including orthodox Hindu, he/she will vouch for the safety and security we have come to appreciate in our second home in this part of the world.

This Diwali let us light up our hearts with broadmindedness. I don’t have to feel the same way I felt five years back or even five days back. I can reevaluate my options and review the past. I can make changes. I don’t erase past records because, they are a proof of how I mature into an individual. Self contradiction is natural. My blog is a reflection of my changing moods and revised thoughts.

Posted in Environment

Go Green This Diwali.

Agreeably it is not possible to entirely go green for Diwali but we can still try to reduce the noise pollution and air pollution, restricting the firecracker hours and volume literally and by quantum. The popular argument is that, Why cannot we switch off air conditioner in that case. Why not you sell your car and take public transport. Why is NYC lighting up for new year’s eve blah blah.

The fact is that, year after year we in India are doing worse,9 with air pollution reaching abnormally high levels. When Rama returned to Ayodha with Sita defeating Ravana in Sri Lanka, I don’t think the townspeople lit the Sivakasi pataka. For centuries, Hindus lit the organic and chemical free firecrackers in celebrations that were not environmentally hazardous. Now after seeing Delhi choking with blinding pollution, if the rest of the country still wants to carry on with this dynamite business, I do not know what to say.

Why should we be comparing ourselves with the Abrahamics. Let us each answer this question to ourselves: do we need this. Why this rush of affection for Sivakasi. We have outgrown so many industries in the past. It is time perhaps we wean out of this firecracker manufacture as well. Are we still stuck with cassette tape or VCR or floppy disk fellow Hindus. Firecrackers are not the only source of income for Sivakasi workers in any case. Their chief cottage industry is matchstick making, a connected business.

My mother-in-law is 84 and for every Diwali keeping her away from the firecracker noise is a big task for me. She is healthy for her age but says, the noise makes her heart pound. Don’t we have a concern for the elderly and the sick at all. What about the street dogs and stray cats. The mongrels suffer the most fleeing our streets to take refuge in garbage dumps. Birds shriek. Whatever rain clouds gather disperse. Temperature soars when it must be low. Then finally the poison laden burnt cracker paper rolls end up in our waterways. And this tradition we have to continue because, some liberals and leftists pronounced against firecrackers. As dutiful Hindus we are up in arms, not for a thousand more important issues such as caste prejudice or rising unemployment, but for something which doesn’t need tutoring.

What the heck Priyanka Chopra says. I don’t care whether she has asthma or whatever. But I care deeply about my country, about the smoke hanging in the air, the pollution, the greying of our greens. To me nature and wildlife and all flora and fauna of this world matter more over these frivolous celebrations.

I have lived in Islamic countries where I have observed that celebrations need not have to be loud and raucous. We can have a quiet and peaceful Diwali like they have their Eid. Their biggest festivals in this part of the world are celebrated without a whisper. In fact, there are animal sacrifices but i have never encountered anything disruptive or uncomfortable and upsetting in the public. In the middle east, i haven’t even caught the drift of the meat smell much, good for my vegetarian senses. Any festive occasion, apart from the religious part, is marked by greeting your friends and family first in bright new clothes, then exchange of sweets and food, visiting friends and family and then spending the evenings in picnic spots or wherever or by engaging in social entertainment/activities. The workers are plied with goodies. For fasting month, always for fast breaking i have seen the arab men at traffic signals etc., handing out gift boxes of snacks to one and all. I have come to like this very down-to-earth observance of festivals and I happen to think, this is how it must be. Where is pollution here. Do we Indians have the kind of money to burn like the arab sheikhs. Yet they keep it all toned down. The real happiness is in relaxing and unwinding. Luv this festival and holiday spirit.

An important lesson i have learnt here in life is: to not disturb others when we intend to celebrate. I don’t need a temple here, I don’t need to light fire crackers, yet I find such a harmony in the more meaningful observation of my Hindu religious festivals in middle east. My concentration is unwavering. In Malaysia too our Diwali celebrations were different and without firecrackers. There we used to have ‘open house’ although I never had one. Focus was on hanging out with family and friends dressing flashy and gorging on the goodies. My Hindu friends in India would be shocked to discover how much Malaysian Tamils cook up for Diwali. Tins and tins and tins of murukku alone, then pastries, then traditional sweets. These women also would be working women. Their energy levels omg! They used to call me ‘sissy’ because I could never catch up with their pace. In a chettiar family friends’ home in KL, for open house the malay-chinese crowd came nonstop in queues. Finally aunty closed the kitchen fatigued after midnight 2 am. The kitchen fires were on until then and the men went out to buy more and more groceries-provisions. Never was anyone turned away. Such a hospitality. I have seen the best of Diwalis in the south east Asian country. Modhalla veettukku koopdaraangalaanu paaru Deepavalikku – in India these days. Avangalukke paththaadhu.

I am used to this idea of satisfying yet quiet Diwali although last year I did go for firecracker shopping because it was Thalai Deepavali for my kids. I view this as an exceptional case. I do shop for minimum firecrackers. I gift most of even that to my househelp. A token firecracker will do for me because I do not want to dampen the spirit of the elderly in the house who insist that, ‘Deepavalikku kadaaila ennai kaayanum. vedi vedikkanum. thalaila ennai vekkanum. pudhusu podanum.’ It is true, once upon a time in my life I was also firing up a lot of crackers adding to the noise and pollution.

At Disney world in Orlando for a Christmas, I was impressed how even in the US celebrations are muted and noise pollution free. In fact we were there for the midnight laser show. Such a disciplined crowd. Yes fireworks lit up the sky in ethereal formations but this is just one holiday spot I am talking about. Other than that, I saw some houses decorated with lights and xmas themes. Barring this, I did not encounter any outrageous kind of celebrations like we have in India at the drop of hat for everything. Sometimes I think we Indians are frustrated and we seek release in this pompous unruly street celebrations that are only on increase over years. We care the damn for environment. It is perfectly okay for us to block traffic and litter our streets. We just want the world to know we Hindus have the right to celebrate Hindu festivals the way we want to. Others can go to hell.

For new year that year I was in Vegas, the hottest place you can imagine. Given its reputation. Even this tinseltown did not match up with my expectations and in no way compared to mass street celebrations we have in India from Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi to Navratri and Diwali. Every religious festival for us has to be necessarily environmentally damaging. We have to immerse chemical dyed deities in waterways and kill marine life. Why leave out the air just with vehicular smoke. Add the Diwali bonus to it to complete the picture.

I find it nauseous that we have reduced our religious rituals to such crass levels as this: mass hysteria hijacking harmonious and familial occasions and commercialization of the festivals. This to me, no more has a meaning or relevance. This potta potti with christians and muslims – is shocking.

Our commitment, our responsibility, our duty is towards our nation first. Why should what the activists or media guys report influence us. Are we not capable of taking a conscientious decision. Are we not educated on our increasing levels of air pollution and the toxicity in our waterways. Industries – we cannot be without as they provide our masses with gainful employment. But what we can do without, why cannot we. How can lighting the earthen diyas reverse pollution or reduce it. Down south, even the diyas we lit only for Karthigai Deepam, never for Deepavali all these years. Suddenly we have Sangeeth, Mehendi, Diyas for Diwali, Dhanteras, what not!

Look at the campaigns for Diwali this season. Why should we want to communalize and/or politicize trivial issues. Looks like we are waiting for a chance to pounce upon someone for their anti-hindu tirade. We want a reason to unleash our fury on anyone who dares to question us even if it could be justified. As for Fabindia or Tanishq, dear Hindus, how many businesses of yours hand over porridge for fast breaking to muslim customers who go shopping in T Nagar showrooms, for instance. Business means business. We have to get value for our money, whoever it may be from. If we have to bring caste and religion into everything, all of us from the US, Europe and Middle east have to be ready to pack up and return to India.

What should you react for: when elephant corridors and forest ranges are taken over for yoga ashrams and ayurvedic companies. But when the offending parties are Hindus, we prefer to play it down, right.

The love and respect I have for my nation need not have to be explained with the firecrackers for Diwali. The reverence I have for my Dharma i need not have to proclaim from rooftop, I am still a devout Hindu and a patriotic Indian. I don’t have to speak Hindi and I haven’t been to Delhi so far. I am the most unconventional citizen you may ever find in Bharat, and there are very few of my kind in our country. All that wouldn’t make me any less Hindu than you are or less of an Indian.

Happy Deepavali!

Posted in Food For Soul

The Dharmic : Quality Vs. Quantity

stay unique, render yourself rare,

never the sheep, but the one herder

-Viji lol

A friend has been recommending to me ‘Sapiens’ for a long time now and I finally got to download it for reading. (A review will follow). In this context, this is what is playing in my mind regarding the future of Hindu Dharma right this moment.

Quality or Quantity, which is your picking. I am someone who has always been of the view that our parents generation enjoyed a superior standard of living than ours even though today we find ourselves in the digital age that we can credit with simplifying our lives like never before. Neanderthals and other humans no doubt exactly enjoyed a better quality of life in a very similar fashion as foragers and hunters over the agrarian Sapiens who then heavily industrialized. We the modern day homo sapiens found the safety in numbers but are we getting increasingly miserable or do we live life as contented as our uncivilized brutish ancestors.

Who made it most successful in evolution? Homo Sapiens of course, over other humans. And the staple cereal crops such as wheat and maize and paddy when it comes to vegetation. The domesticated cattle and sheep and donkeys and horses and dogs and poultry probably stood better chances at the outset outliving the species gone extinct like the megafauna that included mammoth, marsupial lion etc. But to what end? Is there a more heartwrenching story than that of the drought animals or the milch cattle or the broiler chicken?

This may have relevance to the future of Hindu Dharma in my opinion. So do we Hindus still have to bother about the Abrahamization of the entire world. Let others go on and multiply in exponential like rats and rabbits, if they have to. The Hindu population that has survived to 21st century always has had a quality to it incomparable to others. If we have to perish as a community, let us without losing our values. This is already happening to the Parsis in India and elsewhere as we know. This community will go down history as one of the finest to have ever graced earth with their presence. Without diluting their standards, the community is disappearing right in front of our eyes. Nonnegotiable value system. Highly innovative, enterprising and in service of mankind in their own way. Parsis leave their dead to the vultures as meal.

We Hindus in India, even if majority as of today, are aware, it is only a matter of a couple or more of general elections for our country to go to the dogs. This can happen when the Hindu population of the country may dip anytime under fifty percentage and we cease to be officially the overwhelming majority community. Mercifully this may not happen in my own lifetime or who knows it may happen towards the fag end of mine. In any case, Hindu Dharma could be doomed irrespective of the relentless efforts put in by the present BJP govt and the new age self-styled Hindu gurus. Yeah, kind of makes me sad. But at the same time, reading this book (of which i have not over 20% so far), I feel an overwhelming relief to know that, when we have to go, we have to go with a bang, having lived well. I don’t believe in numbers either. I would rather opt for quality over quantity.

The author of the book Yuval Noah Harari, Israeli, avers the rhinoceros in the wild, about to go extinct shortly, living it up in the bushes on freewill is still well placed than the lonely and miserable oxen emasculated and yoked to the plough for a lifetime. Is this how we must count success in our life? Is this how we have to define evolution? Should it even matter who outlives who. What matters is, who lives it out the best. Short and sweet.

Adaptability comes with its own set of flaws. Flexibility is not possible without sacrifice. Do we Hindus simply have to do the number calculation and see to that we survive at any cost. Or should we go down with the vessel honorably like the Parsis. I choose the Parsi way. Is it rather too early to talk on this? Nope. I guess, it is time we Hindus resign to the reality. What the turks and the moguls and the british could not do to us through eight to ten long centuries, our own converted brown Indians may be capable of doing in near future: drive us to extinction naturally or unnaturally.

Helps me to come to peace now thinking of this. I am ignorant, not at all the learned, but in my ignorance, I still choose the Elephant over Shiva if it comes to that. My love for nature and wildlife supersedes anything that I cannot physically access or assess. It is more important to me to live as a true Sanathana Dharmi, not snuffing out wildlife and championing over the helpless. There is not an urge to prove anything to anyone or substantiate this or that. Neither is there the arrogance of ‘knowing better’ for we know not a single human who has returned here from the yonder to spell it all out for us in all clarity and honesty.

When I toured the Turkish museum in Istanbul, I saw an array of spears and other arms and ammunition including weapons of torture used on capture of enemy kingdoms. The jewelry were plundered. So were the French museums filled with loot from invasions. The American museums related the slave history and that of the Indians ethnically cleansed in entirety. In contrast in the rudimentary Shivaji museum at Tanjore, Tamil Nadu, India, I saw pots from granaries, agricultural and art tools, rewards for peasants and poets, etc. Mysore palace museum showcased exquisite jewelry and finest oil paintings, all desi Indian. It is painful to see artefacts from India as exhibits in world museums, acquired illegally or taken forcibly as done by the British. In India, every single museum piece is self-made, local. I attribute Hindu ethos for this one distinguishing feature that sets us apart from the Abrahamic world.

A rich life is what I would say the Hindus have lived. India is Yoga Bhumi not Bhoga Bhumi like the US who choose material way of life over higher consciousness. We are still living among great Dravidian architecture temples in the south many of which are easily two millennia old. We practise the traditional arts and crafts cherished and passed on to us over centuries. Hindu culture is the only continuous native civilization surviving to this day since at least 10000 BC. A soft power gifting the world with Yoga and Meditation and Ahimsa, the principle of non-violence, propagating vegetarianism and having for our ambassadors our physicians and scientists and techies and teachers, India is Hindu by soul. Dharma is our breath. Buddhism and Jainism and Sikhism, the branching folds from Hinduism are all equally thought provoking and non aggressive by nature. We Hindus proudly strut in our native clothes, speak the native tongue, and why our Gods are native as well! What a profusion of local talent: from classical music and dance forms to visual arts. Our cuisine! Even Bollywood has carved a niche for itself in the entertainment industry. So much original, authentic. It would be a shame if Hindus perish off the face of earth, but then all good things will have to come to an end someday.

Or would we the Hindus:

  • have a dozen kids just to boost our headcount
  • invade or plunder as every abrahamic nation under the sky has historically done with insolent pride
  • sell god door to door like carefree or harpic
  • sow poison weeds of hatred in the hearts of our sons and daughters so they turn out terrorists
  • live a low life sans art and culture
  • ape west anglicizing ourselves
  • surrender to materialistic aspirations, our souls
  • embrace the abrahamic way of life

I would rather if Hinduism becomes a yearned memory some day rather than linger behind with a ruptured soul. The world then would have lost something too very profound and precious.

Posted in Environment

Read The Price Tag

There is so much talk about new energy sources such as solar power. Could the manufacturing process of the solar power panels be entirely environment-friendly when the cells cannot be destroyed. The solar panels are made of toxic chemicals such as arsenic which find their way to landfills on decommissioning. Solar power, the end product, could be energy efficient and economic but what about the hidden costs. What happens to millions and millions of lithium batteries we dispose off. Are green buildings truly safe and nontoxic. A quick recheck into chemical emission from in and out of the structures may speak of a different story. The eco-friendly green structures with glass facade may be energy saving bringing in daylight and cutting short our electricity bills, but what is the cost we pay by way of exposure to chemical compounds that the building materials are composed of. Glass specifications may demand a matching support system. Glass may be sustainable and least toxic though. But is the effort worthwhile as against conventional concrete and cement structure. So much is spoken about desalination. Many view it as a problem solver with decreasing rainfall. Desalination of sea water removes salinity from the water by chemical process. This water then is recyclable including for consumption purposes. Nations have desalination plants pumping in water from their territorial waters, well within their boundaries, demarcated from international waters. What happens when salts get removed on repeated chemical processes? Desalinated water later undergoes further treatments of various levels fit for different types of consumption. The untreated water may be released to civic bodies for upkeep of public parks etc. The treated water filtered to specified degree of purification is certified potable. However, as the salt from the sea water close to shoreline gets desalinated, the residual salt content adds to the territorial waters which may make it super-salty than before. This extremely salty sea water is contained within a nation’s oceanic boundaries, by international maritime agreements. The salt mounds on desalination pile up within the territorial waters. With increased concentration over time, the salinity of this coastal sea water could rise to a level unsustainable for marine life in that geographic region. Ecology collapses. However, now technology keeps updating quick and the processes get more refined and superior by which minimal damage is accrued, nevertheless the build-up of salinity in a nation’s territorial waters as a result of desalination cannot be completely eliminated. Even wind energy has it pros and cons. The windmill blades are non bio-degradable as well like the solar panels we use for solar power. Imagine landfills over landfills filled by used and defunct solar panels and windmill fan blades. The power from the windmill turbines is of course not environmentally hazardous. Probably windmill energy could be the purest form of energy produced by humans. Dams and reservoirs dry up rivers and their courses as salinity from sea water enters land via arid low level deltas during monsoons. This can play havoc with fertile strips of land making cultivation and native vegetation unsustainable. No way can we substitute cleared primary/secondary forests with afforestation in new tracts. There is a factor called soil strength and composition. Native flora and fauna are specific to geographic locations. We cannot just like take over elephant corridors and plant alien vegetation species in river banks by way of substitution. Nature does not work that way. Nothing can be right when we go against nature. We the humankind calculate the short term gains and forego the long term benefits. Seamless transition from one energy source to another is next to impossible. Hybrid interluding phase precedes a total transfer. Almost nothing that goes against nature comes free. We will have to foot a hefty bill one way or other.