The far end of Vembanad LakeCruising pictures from the LakeCouple of hours in the morning boatIt was cold when we started at 8 amThe boat makes its way out into the lakeThe Sun setting at Marari beach, Mararikulam, close to AlleppeyThe day winding up at this sideThe surf making beachTalking while wetting your feetIs the sea or the beach largerThe SunSandSeaMan’s imprints are temporary. Nature’s is permanentThe might of the silent sea. If only we can learn from it.The metallic colors of the shining Sea.It was a 2 day trip from our travel base at Kumarakom.
This story is a sequel to my earlier post in poetry
Story of a Ruin
I thought of reposting this story during Navratri. My best wishes to all of my dear readers. May the goddess of learning bless us all…
A young scholarly man well versed in the scriptures who had set out on a journey to many great lands in the peninsula happened to come across a temple in a place near the Vindhya mountain range that stretched from the east to the west across the country. It was sometime afternoon maybe when the Sun was thinking of winding up for the day in a couple of hours and the hot sand was in the process of cooling much to the delight of Charna, the horse of Vedavalkya who was galloping at a cruising speed while his master observed the beauty of the place they had come to, but not before crossing a mighty river at a shallow point some miles away, though it seemed only a few moments ago.
Amidst the groves some distance away, he could see an ancient temple and reined Charna towards it as the destination. Vedavalkya thought there would be some habitation near it where he and the horse could rest for the night before proceeding to Magadha which was still a few days away. At a distance of a few miles, he could see a few hills jutting out of a thick forest. Having brought the horse to a halt, he alighted and looked around the precincts of the shrine but could find none to his surprise. He bound the horse to a rock with a short rope, which Charna could break loose easily if some calamity approached. Maybe there would be habitations at the backyard,thought Veda as he walked across.
No sooner had he put a few steps, when from nowhere a group of bandits on horses came up and were bent on injuring him. One of them rushed upon him on a dark horse and swished a dagger at Veda who while sidetracking him and the horse fell on the soft sand. The leader of them and the few others laughed at his plight. Before they could proceed to rob him of whatever valuables on his self and injure him, they all were startled to hear a laughter that came from a lady who had appeared on the steps of the temple. Veda was surprised to see a beautiful girl nay a lady, dressed in an attire which only the well to do could afford, and who though looked at him with soft eyes, was at the same time laughing at the band of thugs, who took to their heels and vanished into the distant forest from where they had appeared to come.
Getting up, disheveled from the sand, his long hair matted with the dust, he got up and approached the young lady and with folded hands asked, ” Oh Devi, from where have you thus appeared to save me in time?” to which she replied with a assuring smile, “Why, isn’t this place mine, where I have resided for a long time? I was watching you for long and was wondering if you would miss this place on your journey in your quest for furthering your knowledge“.
“I am deeply indebted to you for saving me, but am also confused as to how your pleasing laughter to the ears caused the bandits to flee in fright?” asked Veda. “That is another story, which I would narrate along some day, but now you look very tired, why don’t you get fresh with the water near that well and I am sure you would find some fodder for your horse near the barn and the hut you see yonder“.
Veda approached the well, cleaned himself of the mud, drank some cool water and took a wide vessel that appeared to be a drinking pot for the cow standing there and munching and observing the stranger that was him. He then went up to the barn and took two sheaves of hay for Charna and walked beside the hut and observed the open door it had. There was nobody it seemed at first glance, but then there was a glow coming from someplace inside it. Though curious, it seemed inappropriate to trespass as per his morals, and he walked up to the steed and handed it to him along with the vessel of water for him to drink.
“Call me Mitra” the voice came from so near that he almost jumped. She was standing at a distance smiling at his bewilderment but the voice seemed so close as if she was whispering in his ear. There seemed to some aura about her but he couldn’t pin point it down as to what it was. “Why don’t you take a bath in the river and come for the evening prayers?, the offerings are ready for the Goddess in the shrine” to which he consented and hurriedly walked across to the river flowing at its own sweet pace. It was quite some time he had taken a bath in a river in the last two days and the warm water did him good to clear up the fatigue in his body.
With fresh clothing from his haversack, he groomed himself to let the water drain from his long flowing hair before he climbed the steps of this seeming divine temple. Built in solid rock columns it somehow gave the impression that this temple was hewn out of a solid rock that existed ages ago at this place. He came near the sanctum and was surprised to see the worship items that had been arranged in front of the deity along with a few well lit lamps. It was his turn to get dazzled as the form of the goddess which appeared dark so far dazzled in a slow ever growing glow and became so bright that he could not look at her for more time. He prostrated before the divine and by the time, he got up after his prayers, the form had subsided to the initial warm glow resembling the presence of a smoldering fire within.
Veda got up and sat in meditation for quite some time into the night before he got up and was aware of his surroundings. The form of the goddess had assumed the original dark hue. The items of worship had disappeared and there was only the sound of the owl and the crickets in the silence. Charna was sleeping in his standing position as all horses did especially when it was not familiar territory and the sounds from the nearby forest not helping much as assurance to the poor creature.
There was no sign of Mitra, whom he thought would have retired to the hut or a row of huts behind the barn. This was no time to enquire and he took a sheet and laid it on the steps and was sound asleep in a few moments.
When it was dawn as heralded by the chirping of the birds and the neigh of Charna, Veda woke up just in time or so he thought, before Mitra could chide him for sleeping so late. Although an early riser, the travel had left him a bit tired. He rushed to the river had a quick bath and returned in time to take Charna for a quick gallop around the place before he could think of having some food. The horse was happy to go places and he set up a pace which would take them to the perimeter of the forest but Veda checked him not to dwell in too deep for he knew that wild beasts and men existed who would not stoop to venture out to see a welcome meal presented before them in the early morning. He patted on its hind leg and swerved him back to turn towards the temple for he had to meet Mitra, have some grub if she had something to offer and be on his way to the next destination.
The horse trotted its last steps before it stopped for him to descend and survey the barn and the hut and any trace of Mitra. This time, he would have to go near the hut and call her to come out if, as per his thoughts, she stayed in it. “Looking for me“, the voice boomed near along with the chime of anklets as she walked up to him. She had a plate of fruits and a sweet dish ready for him to savor. He gratefully thanked her for it and sat on a stone seat nearby after she had seated herself at a nearby one. “Oh but I should be feeding Charna first“. “I have already done that” she told him as if she read his thoughts. Charna was busy feeding at some grass and sprouts of ground nuts, that she had spread in front of him.
After having the morning ritual prasad/offering presented to the Goddess, he was thinking of leaving when Mitra said, “What is the big hurry, stay here for a few days, be in the company of the Goddess and get her blessings before you set out“. Veda was in two minds, one part of his was now asking him to stay, for he definitely thought there was much more to learn from this place than all the places he had visited so far, but one part was also worried to leave, considering this place looked strange as did Mitra who was smiling at him as if she understood what he must have been thinking.
“Don’t you worry about your stay. You could be lodged in one of the huts behind the barn and your horse can share the barn with the cow until you stay put here”. “But then who stays in the hut next to the well, is that you or someone else?”
“Oh no, that hut is the hermitage of the Sage Dhuwija who happens to stay here for most of the time doing penance. After a week on the full moon day, he will leave this place to the south of the Vindhyas, but before that I will set up a meeting with him. Beware, he is no ordinary sage, he will put you to the test and if you come out of it with success and life, I will reward you“.
“and what reward are you thinking of giving to me after the meeting”, in half jest asked a smiling Veda. “That will be known to you when the time comes. Come, now I will show your lodging so that you can see if it suits you well or do I need to set something else there“. “I am a wandering pundit in search of knowledge, don’t bestow any more luxuries than I need at this moment”, said Veda.
“What is it that you seek Vedavalkya?, asked Mitra, “is it just knowledge or something more“. How did she know my name, or did I tell her already, he seemed confused but answered “I seek knowledge to refurbish my soul and in the material context, i need knowledge to govern for I am the prince of Videha and the kingdom has seen better days than the present state it is in now. I have been sent out by my ageing father to seek that knowledge to administer them and the power to be invincible to seek protection from my neighbors when ever the need arises. For a King to rule wise and well and protect his subjects, he himself should get a shield of protection from the Lord without which he would be subjected to many attempts of disconcert and a ruler who falls to a mortal wound takes his state along with him”. Hmm pondered Mitra looking so deep into his eyes, he wondered if he could stare back without blinking at those beautiful yet striking eyes. The case of the bandits fleeing at her laughter was still in the back of his mind, but he had not ventured to ask her, what it was that made them flee! Just plain laughter it could not be, there was something more, but some times the glance and her ever knowing face curbed him to voice his thoughts. By now, he was sure she was a mind reader and kept quiet.
She showed him the hut and asked him to meditate for a week, “Just take plain water and the fruits that I bring to you in the morning, that should be enough for the rest of the day. Come to the temple in the evening and offer your salutations to Her and seek her blessings. Get up in the morning, be at the river as the first rays of the Sun fall upon you. Never ride your horse during these seven days till I ask you to. Remember these, I will meet you every evening when you come up the temple steps and do not wish to seek me, any other time”. So be it, with folded hands said Veda to the ever smiling Mitra but when she had said all these, he had seen streaks of some sternness in her eyes or did he feel that way, he was not sure. She appeared to be the same age as him, but sometimes when she talked especially when she put forward the commandments, she appeared to be ageless.
Veda surveyed the interior of the small hut, there was a wooden bed and a box to keep his belongings, a couple of windows to the east and one to the west all made up with matted reed and leaves and some wooden finish here and there. There was a lamp lit inside in one corner. there was a rack of a fresh set of clothes for him kept for use. Was there some divine help here or who else could furnish these things at such short notice, or were they kept for some guest who was expected here, he knew not. A leafy tray of fresh chosen fruits was kept for him. They looked inviting and delicious and he had his fill before he ventured out for a walk. He carefully avoided the hut near the well, thinking he might spot Mitra and thus break the vow he had promised and came back in a span of an hour spying Charna happily grazing in the barn next to the cow who looked at him as he came near. Putting his hands on her head to which she did not express anything, he then ruffled the mane on Charna before going back to his hut and set himself up for meditation. He closed his eyes and the form of the Goddess came to him. He focused himself on her and sat in a deep trance for many a hour he knew not. The slanting rays of the sun through the window caught his eyes and disturbed them and when he opened his eyes, he knew evening was fast approaching.
As per Mitra, he prepared himself for the evening salutations, by going to the river, taking a bath, donning a fresh set of clothes, he hurried back through the sand to be in time for the evening ritual. As he climbed the first step, Mitra met him on her way out, telling him to light the lamps and pray to the Goddess for divine help to achieve his goals. Just as the previous day, Mitra had kept all the worship paraphernalia ready. He lit the lamps and looked up with folded hands towards the Goddess.
The glow as the previous day appeared, as he prayed to her and when he opened his eyes, he could see the Goddess divine in all her splendour exuding rays filling the places with the atoms of light striking him and rebounding back. He felt as if washed by her glory and a strength that seemed to grow in his mind and body as he stood there. Finally he prostrated again at her feet for many long moments and as he got up, the glow had subsided and strangely the offerings had disappeared. He stood again hoping Mitra would appear but there was no sign of her coming and he bowed down again before coming down the steps back to the hut by the barn.
After seven days of such ritual followed strictly by Vedavalkya, on the seventh evening as he got down the steps, Mitra was smiling at him standing next to him, from where she appeared all of a sudden, he was at a loss to explain. So you have passed the first test well, Veda and now tomorrow I will usher your self to the holy Dhuwija who would test your knowledge. You should answer him to the best of your knowledge though there will be some harsh tests you would be subjected to at the same time”. “What harsh tests? gasped he “that you will find out in due course, but do not lose hope and maintain your calm however rigorous it may seem for the rewards are great”.
They walked together to his hut but she did not enter and bade him good sleep. He stood at the door as she walked across to the next hut at quite some distance and disappeared into it. He wondered when he would ask her the question, who she was, but then there was still time to ask it, but first he thought of how he would fare with the Sage. Mentally he said his prayers and went to sleep. In his dream he saw that Mitra was riding his horse and had ventured into the forest to seek out the bandits and their hideout. She rode daringly with Charna getting accustomed to her style as if he knew her for ages. Presently as the bandits came out, all swords in hand, she raised her hand and to his wonder, he could see her hand now wielding a spear. She threw it on one of the men and nailed him. Others rushed on to her giving huge cries, but then she came down from the horse and in a maze of dexterity what he could see in a matter of moments was, everyone had hit the dust and it was at that time Veda saw Charna hit on his side by a small wound from one of the swords of a bandit. She looked back at Veda, he who was hiding behind the trees. That look was really fearful and he got up from his dream sweating. After having a mug of water, he got up surveyed the surroundings, everything seemed peaceful. Everything looked fine and then he went back to sleep and got up only in the early morning.
The next day morning Vedavalkya got up, had his morning ablutions done and prepared himself mentally by meditating on the Goddess and was he charmed to see Mitra’s eyes upon him as he opened his door. “It is time for me to introduce you to the rishi. Be calm and answer his questions. Once he acknowledges you, then maybe you can be free to ask yours. But I again warn you, during this time you have to be fearless and not of weak mind as you will be tested as required by the Sage”.
They walked beside the barn, and he looked to Charna and immediately saw the fester caused by the wound, so the dream was true, he thought. He didn’t look at Mitra much less ask her about last night’s foray into the forest made by her. Not dwelling even a moment to pause by his dear horse, he moved on, accompanied by the young lady. She got in and foretold about Veda’s visit to the Sage and came out. She looked once at him and walked away to the temple. With slight hesitation, Veda stood at the doorstep, when again he was startled by her ‘now go inside‘ voice that came so close even though she was a good 20 steps away from him now.
He stepped in, the hut had a glow of the sun, the glow of enlightenment, wisdom, knowledge all put together. The sage welcomed him and asked him to take a seat opposite to him on a seat of grass which it seemed was hot with embers and dark ashes. Obediently he sat with a clear mind, the seat was fine, maybe it was a glow, it was not hot at all.
“Son, what do you seek? Do you seek wealth, knowledge or wish to live long?”
“Sire, I seek knowledge and your blessings so that I might live long to accomplish my mission of imparting peace and justice to my people of Videha“.
“It is good that you seek the welfare of others along with the self and not at the expense of others“, said the Sage.
“I see that you have read the scriptures well, that shows on your face but I want to test your determination and courage while testing how far you will suffer to get these“.
“I will ask you 5 questions, son be prepared. Answer them best as you could, formulate and answer them in your mind if not through your tongue“.
“Yes Sire, I am all ears..” to which the sage smiled and said, “only the ears to hear the question would be sufficient“.
“My first question dear, what are the six means of knowledge to know the self?”
Veda replied they are “Pratyaksha—–Under this comes our five senses—-Visual, Auditory,Touch,Taste, and Smell. Also our thoughts &emotions in our mind. They are also directly known or seen.
Anumana—–We do not directly see the object in reference, yet we associate two things cause of experience. Like if we see smoke,we instantly conclude that there must be fire somewhere.
Upamana In comparision. Like we see a new animal and come to know about it with reference to a similar thing seen earlier.
Arthapatti—-is presumption. Like if someone is fat and he says I do not eat the whole day, we persume he may be eating at night.
Anupalabdhi—–Means non-availability or non-existence. We know very clearly the absence of a particular thing or person by it’s non-availability at this time & place.
Sabdha—–Means the words of a knowledgeable person.It is a revelation about something by a wise person.
Just as he had answered the first question satisfactorily, to his horror, the seat on which he sat became hot and hotter, so that he could think of nothing else but the fat melting and the smell of burnt skin, but he stay put where he was, remembering Mitra of the experiences he would have to face while facing the venerable sage.
Somehow he lost the sense of smell and the pain dulled as the Sage went on to ask his next question. “Who is the person whom we consider wise?”
Veda’s tongue seemed to weigh a ton now as he could not lift it to answer, try as he might. Then he thought of Mitra and the Goddess and saluted her in his agony and mentally answered to the Sage,” It is the wise man who beholds all beings in the self and the self in all beings and it is for that very reason he does not hate anyone“. Veda looked down and to his horror, he now knew why he couldn’t spell the answer, as his very tongue was lying beside him. This could only be a dream he thought, but the seat again started getting hot and Veda waited for the Sage’s next question with abated breath.
“What is one thing that causes bondage and at the same time liberation?”
Veda replied mentally, “It is indeed the mind that is the cause of man’s bondage and liberation. the mind that is attached to sense-objects leads to bondage, while when dissociated from such sense-objects it tends to lead to liberation“.
Just as he had finished answering, his eyes dropped off from its sockets and he went blind but still luckily he could hear as that was good enough for this session.
“How is the atma known?” was the next question put forth.
“The Atma is really worth seeing. One should ‘see’ the Atma by Sravana,Manana,& ‘Niddidhyasana’ which means that one should first hear these scriptures from a ‘right teacher’, then reflect on what is being revealed by ‘Him’, and finally meditate on it ,till the knowledge is assimilated throughly” was his mental answer to the sage.
After this answer he lost his hands and limbs as they were cut off suddenly and scream he couldn’t, the pain he was experiencing already was too much so that the loss of his limbs did not much add to it. He was surprised why he had not fainted by now, and then attributed it to the blessings of the Goddess. Mitra had prepared him for it well in the last seven days.
Now what remained was his trunk and head which lay prostrate in front of the sage. Was the next blow the death blow, he wondered, even ready to take it as it came, if it did come.
“My last question, Son, if you answer well, this trauma and agony should end, but your answer should contain the misery you are experiencing now. Here it is, listen to it carefully. How does the knowledge of the scriptures, the Vedas help you?”
Vedavalkya, a poor semblance of himself answered mentally, “The Vedas cannot show you Brahman, you are That already; they can only help to take away the veil that hides the truth from our eyes. The first veil to vanish is ignorance; and when that is gone, unskillful behavior goes; next desire ceases, selfishness ends, and then all misery disappears”.
The answer was to the point, just as the Sage expected him to. Mighty pleased, the Sage got up and placed his hands on Vedavalkya and blessed him saying, “Your parents had rightly named you as Vedavalkya and you have truly lived up to the name given by them, but answers that were given by you in great agony just as I was sacrificing your body parts as offering to the mighty Goddess who wanted to test you all this while through me, Son, have bestowed on you the new name Yajnavalkya. Go back to your kingdom as I deem you fully fit in the knowledge that you wished to acquire through her blessings. There is no need to go to farther lands, for you are knowledge incarnate with my blessings. Go in peace and take Mitra with you, she is an expanse of the Goddess herself and where ever she is with you, victory will be yours”.
The blessings of the sage made Yajnavalkya whole again as he recovered all what he had lost a while ago and shown with a lustre never before and as the sage took his hand, Mitra stepped in and the sage placed her hand in his.
Both stepped out of the hermitage, the test was over, he had come out successful, just as he had hoped. Mitra was all smiles looking at him as she took him one more time to the temple as though it seemed only a few moments of test, the sun was setting and it was time for the evening ritual. There were a lot of questions he wished to ask Mitra, but again he kept silent till the ritual was over. This time too, she asked him to wait at the steps as she ascended to make the preparations for worship of the Goddess and then came down as he climbed the steps to pray to the Goddess who seemed to be in all her glory. A beam of light from her struck him and with that he knew he was granted immunity from the many perils he would have to face when he would rule over Videha some day in the near future.
After taking her blessings, he came down and saw Mitra waiting for him next to the barn. Charna was being readied by her for the journey back home where she would accompany him, a wise woman to add to his knowledge and hold discourses with him as two equals that would be the pride of Videha as they lived as much as they wanted in the city.
“Are we riding back to Videha this very night?, asked Yajnavalkya. “Sure, why can’t we in this bright moon light”. “and what about the sage and the Goddess? asked he. “You forgot, I told you the Sage would move from here to the south of the Vindhyas on the full moon night and it is fast approaching. As far as the goddess is concerned, her larger expanse remains here for the next person who would come here after a thousand full moons, and a part of her has detached from her to serve her and worship her, the role which I played so far. See, there she is, Vaishnavi, she is all set to take over from me”. Yajnavalkya looked across to the temple and could see a female form waving at her. Assuming courage Yajna asked, “Could you now please tell me, what caused those bandits on the first day of our meeting to flee?”. “My face, Yajna” with a smile Mitra said, “just as it is pleasing to you and for every right minded, it harbors a fearful form that even the evil could never withstand and add it to the laughter emanating will be like the sound of heavy drums sounding next to their ears. So never ask me to show that face to you”. “No No, I am happy to see your smiling face” replied Yajnavalkya as they rode into the moonlight.
In due course of time, Mitra and Yajnavalkya on Charna’s back, rode night and days to reach Videha to the great satisfaction of his father who then relinquished the throne in his favor for a golden period for many years which the people would cherish….
I hope the Goddess who inspired me to write this story blesses every reader who reads this
Here I am reblogging a post written by Alisha Roy who has written an assortment of well meaning posts on South India that I hope will help you get a glimpse into South Indian Life and Traditions
Jagan was looking for a paying guest accommodation in the city and one evening finally tired of walking through building blocks, decided to take rest below a banyan tree that had a concrete bench built around it where he thought he would rest his aching legs.
“You seemed to be tired, young man. What is it that are you looking for? asked an old man sitting on the same bench at a distance. Jagan didn’t remember noticing him while he had sat on the circular bench. He must be in his late seventies, a retired old fellow who must be a frequent visitor here, so he thought. Jagan told him about his predicament about getting some accommodation, as staying in a shanty lodge which was far away from his work place was difficult for him.
“You have come to the right place and lucky for you, I am been sitting here this late today. Maybe I was waiting for thee” he chuckled to himself, his wrinkled faced showing the amusement in the faint glow from the street light. “There is an old lady in the next building who is a bit lonely. Her children now grown up with families of their own, have left her for greener pastures. Maybe you can drop in and have a word with her. If she likes, as I have, you can surely move in to her house and stay with her as long as you are in her good books“.
Jagan thanked the old gentleman who was now looking at him with gentle eyes as if a father would look at his son, and proceeded to the building pointed by him. He had walked a few steps forward and then turned to ask him. “Can I refer your name to her? ” Why not? came the answer. “Tell her one Mr. Ram referred you. I am sure that would be an advantage for you” he said waving to him. Jagan thanked him again and went in search of the flat on the second floor.
While climbing the steps, he had his doubts as to whether he could adjust with the old lady or whether the owner would adjust with him. Not that he had any habits which would be a bone of contention for rejection.
The lady took an immediate liking for him and told him that he could stay with her and share her flat. He was supposed to be with the lady, so that there was someone at home, who could take care of her in case she fell sick with some ailment at this advanced age. Therefore the rent amount fixed was quite low by her to Jagan’s liking. Jagan was a pleased man as he climbed the steps down that day. He could move in, bag and baggage from the next day itself. As he went by the banyan tree, he wanted to meet the old man, but he was not to be seen, not surprising, as it was quite late.
As days passed, contrary to expectations set, it was the lady who started to care for him. She always prepared breakfast for him though it was not part of the deal. On weekends Jagan could enjoy the vegetarian lunch and dinner with her. She used to have a menu of dishes so that Jagan would not feel it mundane. While eating , she used to remark, “what is the point of lavishing love on you by making such dishes. One day you would leave me as others have did..”
Once when he came late as usual, there was no electricity, so he bought candles and lit one of them as he climbed the stairs. He knocked on the door and kept the candle besides his face, so she could identify him in the darkness as she looked through the peephole. But what a coincidence, as soon as she opened the door, the electricity had come back.
Most of the time after dinner, he used to switch on the TV and leave it running and fall asleep and it used to be her job to switch it off in the midnight. She used to make fun of him about this. The lady had trouble sleeping and therefore the only job he used to do for her was to bring sleeping pills for her using an old wrinkled prescription. Some medical shops would decline seeing the date on the slip and he would have to approach a few before he could get a couple of strips from an obliging shop or a shopkeeper who didn’t care to see the date.
One day, he had to rush to the doctor on the ground floor as her pressure was low and she couldn’t get up. The doctor when he heard Jagan, in surprise and shock asked. “which lady are you referring to?“. The lady in Flat 202 on the second floor was Jagan’s reply. The doctor got up immediately and came upstairs with Jagan, and when they went to her room, she was not to be found. They searched for her everywhere, but just as the doctor had thought, she was a faint apparition of her self that passed away an year ago.
It was now Jagan’s turn to look surprised and worried as he heard the story and packed his bags with the doctor in attendance all the while. He thanked the doctor and bid adieu to his accommodation of few months, his mind full of turmoil, and as he walked on the pavement, he just looked upwards at the balcony, did he see an apparition of the old lady waiving lovingly at him? He averted his eyes, was it fear or something else which made him look down, he never knew. At least, he was still in her good books, he thought..
He hurried knowing he had to find Mr. Ram one of these days and then wondered if he would ever find him…
The high winds struck the stricken boat
with only a lone survivor that was me
the torn sails that resembled some flag
the ropes holding on to it now in tatters.
Fresh water was as scarce to get now
like water in the expanse of a desert
my heart came close to my mouth
whenever the boat somersaulted.
No life was in sight anywhere near
save a lone white bird in the distance
was that a friendly albatross circling
checking upon me and giving me hope?
I look up on my rations, my treasures
how valued more than pieces of gold
no sight of land or rocks or any ships
how long Lord will I endure this state?
My plight echoed by the crying bird
it kept me company circling for long
my eyes riveted on that hovering giant
how long I know not as I rested below.
Left to my tidbits of biscuit and water
I was to wait till good providence came
patience now a virtue, as was meditation
was I glad to see a ship coming this way?
As they finally hauled my good self up
a bird that had kept up with a lost sailor
had now vanished in the misty evening
wonder who it was, that gave me hope?
Just to let my dear friends know..It is vacation time for me starting next week as I fly back home, to India, and will be there till September 15.
Having said that, I wish to call some of you up. So please drop me a line to my email with your contact details, if you can..We can graduate to email pals.
Now why born on a Friday, you may ask. That is another story:)
Ganga had come late to school today also. The teacher chided her for being late every now and then. She was late most of the days in a month, let alone some days when she was absent. The only municipal school that stood at the periphery of the village had an assortment of pupils drawn from various walks of life from the village residents.
Little did the teacher know that Ganga’s day started at 4 in the morning. She had to supply milk from Lalchand Seth’s diary to around 25 households which used to get over by 5:30 and go to Ratan Seth’s house to wash and clean the dishes.
Today the teacher had had enough and decided to give the punishment to the little girl. As she stretched out our hands for the cane to land, the teacher’s eyes fell upon the marks on the hands. It was full of cuts and bruises. When asked what had happened, Ganga preferred to remain silent. She escaped the beating this time, but will have to sit outside the class for 2 hours as punishment. As she sat outside, her eyes fell on the chirping sparrows playing in the sand and the parrots flying to some far off land. If only, I was one among them, she wondered as she shielded her eyes from the hot Sun making his presence felt.
Bala is standing beside the road with an assortment of guavas and oranges. Like his elder brother Shiva he is also a bread winner for his family, berefit of their father, and with 2 more siblings and an ailing mother to support. Both of them are out all the time selling wares. In the case of Shiva he has a make shift stall outside the main market that he uses to sell bangles, beaded chains and all such items.
Bala used to buy 5 kilos of guavas and oranges and walk another 2 kilometers to a vantage scenic spot on the highway so that he could sell them to people or tourists frequenting the place. There were lucky days, when before reaching the spot, his goods would have been sold on the road itself. Bala had gone to school till his 4th standard and after that what ever knowledge he had gained in the last 5 years was from these very tourists; He had picked up a bit of few languages at least that came handy in negotiating during the purchase or the haggling saga. There were days when very few people picked his wares or gave him a decent money in return for them. Today was a hot summer day and there were not many people who even cared to look at him, let alone his fruit basket.
Rakesh was enjoying his vacation as his summer holidays had started a few days back. He along with his family is on the way to Nasik and planned to visit places that they had skipped in their visit last year. On the way, they saw some tourists have disembarked from the magnificent vehicles to see an attractive waterfall.
They also stop to get down to take pictures, selfies with all backgrounds possible. At this time, a boy of 12 approaches them. “Saab, madam, Peru, Santra lo na; yeh bahut sast hai, saab ” in a pleading voice (translation: Sir..please buy these fruits Peru(Guava) Santra(orange), these are very cheap). Rakesh looks at the boy aged same as him, he appears shabby and sun burnt. The boy is watching him with awe and wants him to negotiate the sale with his parents. No no, the father says, we have enough food and fruits stocked in our car, no point in buying from this boy, don’t even know from where he has plucked all these.
The large guavas, for Rakesh, seemed inviting as also the boy’s eyes but his pleas fell on deaf ears and he had to get into his car that was raring to go with his parents. But before getting in, he waved back to the dark boy with his basket of fruits who was still looking at him with one hand shielding himself from the afternoon Sun.
While speeding through, in the cool comfort of his Innova car, that was now negotiating a hump, his eyes fell on a girl sitting outside a small school veranda near to the road. Pointing to her, he nudges his father. Why is she sitting outside father? He curiously asked. “Maybe she hasn’t done her homework before coming to school ” was the quick reply..” Put the blinds on son for the sun is really hitting us even through the tinted glass”.
The Lion came out of the dried woods
it was a hot day and he needed a drink
by the gallons he thought, as he neared
the water hole, that seemed getting dry.
He was not wary of his majestic cousins
nor a group of buffaloes buried in the dirt
He bowed to them, before he dipped his neck
to lap up a bit of the precious life giving liquid.
The zebra blinked at him having his full fill
the shallow side at a distance, a herd of deer
trying to wet their throats in rationed gulps
nobody had fear of anybody at the waterhole.
The summer thirst was at its peak defying everything
the only wish everybody had was to drink some water
everything else, friend or foe, didn’t matter to them
as noble souls realized, they knew, the end was near…
This story goes back to my school days in Bombay, now Mumbai, where I grew up. The 4 storeyed building where we stayed had around 72 tenants. Each tenant had a home of 450 square feet that included a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom.The ground floor had an assortment of shops that had 2 laundry shops, 2 clinics, 3 groceries, a tailor, a medical shop, a co-operative bank, classrooms of a school and now to the central character of this story, the civil supplies ration shop.
The locality spread across roughly 30 plus acres was called Abhyudaya Nagar which had around 45 such buildings, and also had the Kalachowky police station quarters opposite our building. The nearest railway station was Cotton green. To serve these tenants, around 3000 and amounting to an average of 15000 people, we had 6 or 7 such ration shops in the locality.
Since this particular ration shop was in our building, in my running around the building during play time and my weekly visits to buy our monthly ration of rice, sugar, kerosene and sometimes wheat, I became friendly with the owner of the shop, who also acted as the cashier. His job was to check the ration card, similar to a bank’s savings pass book and give out necessary receipts after collecting the payment. There was another person to help him dole out the ration to the customers as they came in whenever any or all of the above mentioned commodities was made available.
The wheat, sugar and rice came in jute gunny bags on lorries or trucks. Kerosene used to come to these shops on bullock carts from the nearby Sewri Indian Oil godowns at a distance of 3 kms. A 500 litre tank was drawn by one bullock, and sometimes the 1000 litre tank that made its appearance to these shops were drawn by 2 bullocks. In those days, the rationing for kerosene, priced at 1.20 INR per litre, was anything from 20 litres for a small family for a month or more based on the number of members listed on the ration card.
Since kerosene was a scarce commodity and strictly available only in ration shops during the early late seventies and early eighties, people used to flock to these shops in great numbers whenever such carts made their visits to the shops. At such occasions, during my playtime that would start at 3 pm to 5:30 pm, I sometimes used to volunteer for support to give the grains and sugar to such customers, since the only man was busy managing to give kerosene and grains at the same time. The shopkeeper liked me coming, since as I was known to him, and did not mind me helping him and thereby increasing the throughput and reducing the waiting time of customers in the queue.
I never went every day, as I could now remember but made it a habit of chipping in only when the kerosene carts came and when the queue was more than 15 to 20 people. Some people especially ones from my building was only too glad to see me serving them. There was one occasion when an old woman from the police quarters who blessed me saying, “Son, you will be never be want of food in your life for what ever help you are rendering to us”. It was during those formative years that I learnt my initial customer service and support lessons.
Once, during my 9th standard, these consortium of such 6 or 7 ration shops decided to bring a lottery scheme for all the ration card holders in this area, and the shop owners went to each and every home and sold lottery tickets which had the first prize as black and white television and other prizes which I do not remember. During those times, since color televisions had not appeared, the black and white one costed as much as 5000 INR, a costly luxury item for most of the people. They came to my house and our shop owner asked my mother to buy at least 10 tickets each costing 2 INR to which she obliged, since she did not want to upset either him or me who was present at that time. 2 rupees itself was a big amount in those days, because you could buy a kilogram of sugar or rice or wheat at that time.
The day of the prize came, and I had memorized the lottery series numbers which we had bought. That day however I forgot all about it and after school, I went out to play cricket. The shopkeepers were going to each and every building and announcing the prize winning numbers on a loud speaker and when they came to our building and announced, was I glad to hear that we had won the first prize…
It was towards the late 90’s when I first set my foot on Dubai sands, thanks to my Uncle who invited me to visit the United Arab Emirates and have a look at job opportunities. This was also one of the primary reasons that brought most Asians towards this city right from the 70’s.
A lot of people have come here and prospered thanks to the enterprising nature of the founders of the emirates who never floundered when it came to trade and adventures. The rulers be it the great Shaikh Zayed or Shaikh Maktoum, always had a pulse on the people’s sentiments and the trade.
My arrival was in June, being one of the hottest months in these parts of the world where I was given a weather shock, just as I left the cool precincts of the airport. I had heard and seen the progress of the Dubai airport since childhood days, as the post cards carried a lot of pictures of the new airport that came up in the 80’s.
The network of roads was mind-boggling in the initial days, and I could not make anything out of the places wherever we went. I stayed at Karama at my uncle’s place, and places like Deira and Bur Dubai took a few days to digest. Also, got to see a few places at Sharjah in the first week, before I decided to hunt for a job.
Mornings were reading the newspapers to look for possible appointments that could match my skills, and call up my uncle at work, so that he could send them by fax, or post to such openings. It appeared that he was running such errands for me more than the work at hand at his office. Email was just catching up in 1997, though computers and the internet had made their appearances in offices. I remain indebted to whatever he did to help me etch out a career in the Gulf.
When I landed a job finally in a few weeks time, it was the public transport that amazed me, by their promptness and by their pickup and delivery of commuters at various work places in neat clock work precision. With just a few coins in your pocket, you could literally travel and cover the whole of the city. Wide foot paths made walking easier, and I would always take the option of walking at least a mile to my office from the bus stop. In summer, however this liberty was taken, only when I missed the bus which would drop me closest to my office, as otherwise, I would be drenched in sweat by the time, I reached in time for work.
Summers are very hot in the middle east but it is best experienced by tourists, visitors and natives alike in the months from June to September, where the dates on palms would ripen with the heat. The humidity was its best in the month of October during the switch over from summer to winter. When one used to leave an air-conditioned cab, you could experience the humid air, that would force you to seek the next cool place. In my case with my spectacles, I would have to take my handkerchief and wipe my lenses, before i could see a thing. It was like getting into a sauna bath. With a few years in the city, it was easy to judge the change of seasons. Rains rarely made their appearance sometimes they did in the winter months especially in the month of December or January, and it was so special that you would miss it if you were indoors and not aware of that lonely shower of rain. With an annual rainfall averaging 2 to 3 centimeters, Dubai was a city that got stuck with its name of the being an Oasis City in a desert. Drinking water came from the springs of Masafi in Fujairah made popular by the Masafi brand or from other springs in other places in the Emirates.
Getting a taxi was easy and you could jump into any make or model of your choice. Most of the taxis were Toyota Corollas and Coronas and Mitsubishi’s. In Deira, armed with a 5 dirham currency note, you could travel anywhere in Deira and take the ferry at Deira to cross over to Bur Dubai and get into another cab or a bus that suited you. The ferry trip would cost you just 50 fils ( 1 Dirham equals 100 Fils) at that time.
Most of the taxi drivers were Asians at that time, mostly from India. Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sometimes people would haggle or bargain with them before getting in after telling them the destination. This way, one could avoid the war of words at the end of the trip, the weather not helping much to the heated arguments in the summer months.
Come 2000, the Dubai Transport made its appearance with the Mercedes make cabs, the Sonata’s followed by the Camry and some of the best makes, and one could get into one’s car of choice, if one had the patience to wait for a while. With this, also came the meter, and one had to cough up more money to pay and slowly the waiting time also got factored into the meter calculations. When the cabs waited for more than 5 minutes, the waiting time started, which was a period of mental agony for the middle class.These cabs offered good comfort, the driver came in a uniform and pleasant manners unlike the earlier cabbies who would size you up, as if your stood in a garment store and he was your worst tailor to befriend.
All said and done, the old cabbies in their corollas and coronas were good natured, barring a few and were the transport messengers of Dubai for long years. By mid 2000, most of them had either joined the branded and newly sprouted car companies like Dubai Transport, Cars and Metro Taxi service or had switched to other professions while some had called it a day and left the land of gold to their own sweet native homes. Many a time during long trips to the other Emirates where work would take me, these drivers used to tell their stories about their loved ones back home.
With the advent of Emaar and Nakheel, the construction boom started, and in all roads, you could see cement mixing trucks plying along signifying the ticking progress. Dubai Airport got a ramp up with Terminal 2 coming up, and the metro got off to a construction phase in 2006.
As Dubai prospered, the savers and lenders of money, the Banks made their appearance with almost all the 7 emirates each having a national bank to its name. In addition to the government banks, there also came to the fore, some private banks from enterprising business houses as also foreign banks like Citi, StanChart, HSBC and Lloyds. The bank street at Bur Dubai and the bank street at Sharjah in the late 90’s got their names from the many banks that stood on either part of the street. As time progressed, slowly banks moved to their private properties at well located places in and around the cities in these emirates.
Dubai was to the asian nationalities, a land of great promise, just as the US was at one time to other nationalities all over the world. There were plenty of jobs in the construction, petroleum and trading industry. Moreover, Dubai was setting up a lot of shopping malls to give company to the lonely Al Ghurair Shopping Center. Slowly you could choose from Burjuman at Bur Dubai and Citi Centre at Deira with a host of major ones coming on Shaikh Zayed. Roundabouts gave way to signals, and the famous Fire roundabout and the fish roundabouts were memories.
The cinema houses that ranged from Dubai to Deira Cinemas as well as the Strand and Al Nasr Leisureland and the Galleria at Hyatt got more company as multiplexes opened in the major shopping complexes that sprung up giving more choice and comfort. With time, some of the old cinema houses were either pulled down or got converted to business complexes.
Hamriya Vegetable and Meat market was well planned, but because of the traffic congestion and difficulty to upscale and being difficult to access, the market got shifted by 2005 to another location near the Al Ain roundabout.
The shopping festival was another attraction for all residents and was a shopping feast that got the approval of all traders who participated in it. With festivals and their raffle draws that evinced a lot of interest at the creek park, people came from far and near to get a glimpse of the various cultural programmes and the fun and fair activities usually associated with exhibition fairs.
GITEX and other exhibitions were well received, and the diary of events started becoming full for a resident to be kept busy after office hours..
By 2005, the new downtown had emerged and the expansion plans filled up both sides of the Shaikh Zayed road with more shopping malls and apartment complexes. Accommodation and business projects expanded up until one could see the gates of Jebel Ali port. Previously a car drive to Abu Dhabi was lonely as one would leave the World Trade Center behind along with a dozen towers on each side.
By becoming a tourist destination on the world map and a trading port, with a couple of free port, internet city and countless hotels, Dubai has finally arrived on the tourist map with a lot of variety for a tourist to choose once he or she lands on the sands of the emirate.
Dubai is vibrant and one can feel the sense of urgency in expansion in the vision of the rulers which is so evident if one just looks at the projects that have come in the period from 2006 to 2013. The trail blazer projects be it the Airport, the Burj Khalifa, the Metro and the umpteen interchanges and construction buzz has made it clear that Dubai is a product of the well laid out planning supported by principles that have a deep-seated foundation and perhaps so because the city and all its inhabitants believe in hard work and progress for all. But for its founders, it is still a work in progress…