Thursday, May 9, 2019

Beating the Heat

The heat was unbearable but the shade of the Jamun tree provided the solace. The nearby hedges were a perfect hideout for the game of ” Hide and Seek” in progress. We had lost track of the time but it was late in the evening.  After a while, the summons came from home to return as it was time to sleep. The fun of playing these outdoor games with friends is something that is difficult to describe. Later, we would spread out the cots in the garden that was fenced, outside our little flat. A slight sprinkle of water on the mattress added to the delight when we rested our backs against it in the night. The sky was clear and the stars studded the sky. It was rare to miss them as the sky was clear but for some dust, but pollution was unheard of. There were times when lightning and thunder would strike in the middle of the night sending us scampering indoors.

The sweltering heat during the month of June and the summer vacations were something we anxiously waited for almost the entire year. During the day time, it was impossible to step out of the house, as it was a blazing inferno outside. The only way I passed the morning time was laying my hands on choicest books by Enid Blyton or Capt WE Johns that were borrowed from the nearby Delhi Public Library. These transported me into the surreal world of adventure and flights of fancy. At other times indoor games like Carrom, Chess, Cards, Chinese Checkers, Ludo and Snake and Ladder provided the escapist entertainment for endless hours. After, a hearty lunch a snooze in the afternoon was interrupted by a call for digging into the watermelons, melons or mangoes around 4 PM.  It was joyous to experience the burst of taste in the mouth as the red flesh of the watermelon melted in the mouth. There were no TV programs worth a name except Chitrahaar ( songs and dances from Hindi movies) and a Hindi movie on the weekend.

Sometimes we would plan out for the morning shows in the movie theatres around South/ New Delhi with our cousins/ relatives who had come over to stay with us during the vacations. The DTC buses were a spoilsport as would rarely turn up when needed so we relied more upon to walk the distances up to 3 or 4 km on foot. For return, we had to fall back on the option of buses as it was impossible to walk in the blazing heat.

A lot has changed since then as I do not find any youngsters in the fields indulging in games in the neighbourhood. The malls appear to have filled the spaces where most kids can be seen accompanying their parents or friends depending on their age groups. Very few kids read anything beyond textbooks or newspapers and prefer video games and serials/sitcoms on the TV. Maybe they have more options than I had but I do not regret one bit that I missed much in the growing up years.

PS: Image Kind Courtesy Google

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Love Affair with Idlis

The whiff of fresh idlis dressed in gun powder with stray grains of sugar was so appetising that my eyes gleamed in delight. The scene needs to be wound back almost half a century back. My best friend Ashok, a Tamilian, had just opened his lunch box. The reaction from him was just the opposite. He looked at them gloomily with disappointment. 'What have you got'? he asked. I opened my lunch box and it was my turn to return back the same reaction. It was beans, potato and paratha, which I detested.' Would you like to exchange' I asked in all innocence, avoiding letting him be aware of my love for beans? He was delighted and what followed next is difficult to explain. A love affair with the South Indian fare especially the tender idlis his mom prepared ensued. I lost count of times I would drop by his place on my way back from school for the gross indulgence, as my mom would return later as she was a teacher.
Some time elapsed, and one day an auto stopped just outside our house. My aunt who lived nearby showed up and called us to carry something stowed on the footboard of the auto. It looked like a Shivlinga I had seen in the nearby temple, but the linga appeared to be inclined. It was my first brush with the 'grinding stone' for making the batter of dosas and idli. The aunt was proceeding abroad and was graciously leaving behind the gift which would pay back many times its value in time to come. My mother who was very fond of South Indian food slowly mastered the recipe of the proportion of rice and Urd dal required to prepare dosa or idli. The day the batter was prepared we kids would be called to assist in grinding with the sprinkling of water to see the small air bubbles arising as the batter got smoother. An exercise which ensured that no one ever got a bulging waistline which I see in the kids of pizza and burger fed generations now, Indeed, they were simple times and the joy of grinding the batter followed with preparing a coconut chutney with green chilis and chana dal in the same grinder. The love for 'idlis' was nurtured with a lot of sweat.

I joined the Navy and left home. A few years later after marriage, I was posted in Delhi. The grinding stone was still at home and one more new member of the family, my wife too fell in love with the stone. I am sure the 'Shivlanga' could not have got better attention. Somewhere along she too mastered in making Idlis better than anyone

I travelled a lot within the country especially in the Southern part of India. There were times I spent time close to a month at a stretch and I enjoyed Idlis and Dosa every single day and for the entire month, I never missed the 'dal-roti'( the traditional NorthIndian food). No wonder my affinity for the South Indians is to a large extent attributed to their food(especially Idlis) and their simplicity. The best anecdote I remember was having gone to attend my good friend Ravi's daughter's wedding in Chennai a few years back. Despite my request to not arrange a pickup at the airport, he had sent a car to pick up my wife and I. From the airport we headed directly to the Murgun Idli Shop in the city before reaching his house. He laughed his head off when the driver, told him of the episode in Tamil!

Yesterday, was the International Idli Day, and my head swells in pride in having seen the love the humble idlis now receive in Saravana Bhavans and Murugan Idli Shops across the world ranging from Singapore to the USA and every country that falls in between and outside. It sure has gone places and according to Shashi Tharoor,  is 'the greatest of all food'

PS Image kind courtesy Google

Monday, February 25, 2019

A Spring Song

A whiff of fragrance fills the air
  A chill of winter still has its fair share
 A riot of colours and lushness around
  The chirp of birds contributes to the spring song.
The shimmer of dew drops on green grass
   Sparkles with first sunshine like beads of glass
How often we stand and watch the beauty
 Of nature's bounties and smells so fruity

PS- The above picture was taken at the Flower Show in the neighbourhood

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Untold story of sisters Parvati, Sita and Radha

Lord Shiva and Parvati
 Most of us have grown up reading stories and tales from our ancient scriptures and have remained fascinated for life long. The tales of valour, honesty, love, strength, and focus have remained the pillars and cornerstones of our culture and helped in shaping our minds. Like many, I too have loved reading these from early childhood and through growing up years. The curiosity to learn more never seems to end. The fascination for reading yielded some very interesting revelations which I was not aware of till now!  If I tell you that Goddess Parvati, Sita and Radha were sisters I am sure most of you will not believe.  This revelation came to me while reading the text of Rudra Samhita in Shiv Purana recently. The story is not only interesting but needs to be told to those who may be interested to know.

The story goes like this! Lord Brahma the creator of the universe had a son called Daksh! He was a very brave King and was blessed with sixty daughters. These daughters were the creators of all humans. Of this one of them was called Swadha. When she grew up she was married to Pitron( who was born from the backbone of Lord Brahma according to Vishnu Purana).

Swadha, in turn, gave birth to three daughters who were not only very intelligent but also beautiful. Their names were Maina, Dhanya, and Kalavati.  When they grew up they decided to visit the abode of Lord Vishnu, called Shwetadeep (The White Island)! They were awestruck with the beauty of the place and decided to stay back there. After some time a huge congregation of the saints and rishis was held on the island where all the great men including the great sage Sanatkumar also came. All the audience in the congregation rose to honour these noble men except these girls who were busy chatting. This enraged the sage Sanat Kumar who cursed them that they did not deserve to stay in heaven but return to earth. By the time the girls realized their folly it was too late and sought pardon from the saint. After some time the sage calmed down and told them that they would have to go to the earth. He, however, granted them a boon that each of them will marry great men. Also, they will give birth to daughters that will achieve fame like no other and will be blessed with virtues for which they will be remembered for the generations to come.

Thus, with the passage of time, the eldest of the daughter Maina was wedded to Himvan(The King of Himalayas) who was a repository of great wealth, abundance and abode of many sages including the residence of Lord Shiva, the Mount Kailash. She gave birth to Parvati who with her devotion was married to Lord Shiva, the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the universe.
Lord Ram and Sita
The second sister, Dhanya (also called Sunayana*), married King Seerdhawaj ( Janak *)the ruler of Videha -(* names according to Tulsidas's Ramayan). They were blessed with Sita (Vaidehi) who was eventually married to Lord Ram. The tales of Lord Ram and Sita have remained etched in the minds of all Indians for generations.
Lord Krishna and Radha

The youngest sister Kalavati was wedded to a trader named Vrishbhanu. They gave birth to a beautiful daughter called Radha who towards later part of Dwaparyug was the beloved of Lord Krishna.  She is known to this date and is revered by all along with Lord Krishna.

After blessing the three sisters, the sage Sanat Kumar disappeared.

So the story of the three sisters goddesses Parvati, Sita and Radha are demystified, as their mothers were related as sisters.

PS:1. The source of this story is based on the recorded facts in Rudra-Samhita of ShivPurana ( published by Gita Press, Gorakhpur on pages, 243-245 of Third Chapter (Parvati)
2. Images Kind courtesy Google

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Many Faces of Kindness

How many times in life have you come across some random people who have helped in you in situations when you were least expecting it? Such incidents not only provide comfort but also strengthen the belief in goodness that exists in humanity. I have not only seen this happen but has left a lasting impact. I recall some of these instances which are still fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

As a bachelor, I got an opportunity to travel to the United States for training whilst in the Navy in the early 1980s. The training venue was Long Island in the New York which is at a distance from Manhattan. I got a call from my cousin to meet one Indian doctor who was working at the Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital. So on the very first weekend, I landed at his place and met his wife who was at home. She met me as if she had known me for long and asked me to stay till her husband returned from work. At no point did I feel as if I was a stranger. Later, her husband too arrived and was equally warm. They insisted that I stay back at their place. Some more of their friends joined and we made merry till late hours. Next morning they took me around to show the city and did not allow me to spend a penny. Only on late Sunday evening, they dropped me at the Grand Central to take the train back to Long Island. For the next four weekends, they ensured that I spend the time with them and looked after me better than anyone would care for own family. I visited the Empire State, the World Trade Centre (which was struck by disaster on 9/11), the Broadway, Statue of Liberty and much more. The time just flew with the amazing couple and next, I got a chance to meet them when they came on board the ship where I was posted in Mumbai.

After marriage, My wife and I travelled to Gangtok the capital of Sikkim. I was confident that with my identity of Navy, I will get accommodation in an Army Mess so just went over to the nearest place that appeared to be an Army Unit. I asked the Major if he could help me find a place in the Black Cat Institute, a well-known institute. He was so courteous that he took us to his home and treated us with hot lunch and later informed that as there was a conference of Senior Commanders so there is no accommodation there but instead he arranged a lovely cottage within his own unit that overlooked the valley. I could not have asked for a better place and the next day he even arranged a trip for us to the witness the sunrise from the base of Mount Kanchenjunga! One of the most memorable sights I remember.

Yet another instance that comes to my mind was a trip to Badrinath and Kedarnath that we had planned impromptu during the summer vacations of my daughter. We returned from Badrinath and were on way to Kedarnath by road. Around evening the bus reached Gaurikund and beyond that, we were required to trek the distance of 14 km. It was getting dark and all the hotels in the vicinity were fully booked. While we were hunting a tailor who worked nearby came to us and asked if he could help. When he learnt that there were no rooms available he took us to his place that was nearby. He had a small room that was unoccupied and arranged some bedding for us. His family welcomed us wholehearted. A very touching gesture! Next morning we woke up and tried to pay him but he did not agree. An act of kindness which I still cannot forget.

I have many more such tales that serve me a reminder that kindness still exists. A total stranger took us from Geneva to Mount Saleve in his car as we could not get tram/train connections. He took us home on the way back to meet his wife who offered us coffee and was extremely kind. He even dropped us back at the tram station where he had met us in the morning. We saw some lovely views of French Alps and the Swiss side from the Saleve Pass. We conversed only in sign language as he was a German and did not know English. His wife had a hearty laugh when he explained to her that we mistook him to be a taxi driver who was forcing us to take us to Mount Saleve.  Eventually, it was just a free ride all the way and some lovely memories to cherish.

It is a long list and would need a lot of space to recount other instances. I consider myself to be fortunate to come across people who keep the faith of kindness of people alive every single day. Do share if you too have any similar stories. 

PS-Image Kind Courtesy Google

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Karlovy Vary- The Tinsel Spa Town

Towns en route to Karlovy Vary
We had to cancel our planned journey to this lovely city due to an unforeseen emergency. I rushed to the Praha Hlavani Nadrzi station early in the morning to cancel the tickets but as the same was booked through Internet, I was explained by the girl across the counter that I could do the same by logging into the site. I returned back to the hotel and did as advised and it helped. I was relieved that there were no deductions and the money would be refunded in full. That spoke volumes of the efficiency and customer friendliness of the Czech Rail system.
The confluence of rivers in Karlovy Vary
The next morning we landed at the station yet again and purchased the ticket to Karlovy Vary (also known as Carlsbad), which we were more determined to see than ever before. The train station was buzzing with activity. The shops inside were decorated as the Christmas had just gone by and the next day was the eve of the New Year. At the designated time the train rolled into the station. The train left the station and slowly rumbled along stopping at small stations en route. The trains are comfortable and the scenic beauty of Bohemia is captivating. The journey is circuitous but at no point in the three-hour long train ride, we felt bored. It went through towns like Usti Nad Labem and Chomutov before reaching Karlovy Vary As we stepped out of the station we witnessed the entire view of the town as the station is perched atop a small hill. As we were not carrying any luggage we decided to walk down to the city centre which was about 1.5 km away. The pleasant walk through the dense cover of trees brought us to the confluence of the Rivers Ohre and Tepla very close to the town. 
The beautiful Colonnades
The Old Colonnades with columned walkways add to the beauty of this sparsely populated town of about 50000 people. After arriving at the City Centre we arrived at the bus station where we were informed that bus is available to reach the foothill of Diana Tower, which offers the majestic views of the city.
The Geyser in the heart of the town
The bus journey to the city centre was very exciting as the bus climbs a gradient which offers splendid views of the colourful colonnades, ensconced in tall trees and snow-covered peaks in distance. We arrived in about half an hour and were bedazzled with the beauty of the place. Right ahead of us was the geyser belching out a stream of hot water and a few people enjoying the warmth of the spring. The first thing we did was to have a feel of the magical spring water known for its curative properties. There are more than 15 springs located all over the town that offer more than 50 treatments. People come from far to get these treatments and experience the rare wonder.
The Diana Observation Tower
A number of top-notch hotels, showrooms of the trendiest brands are located in the vicinity. As the light was failing we located the Funicular next to the Grandhotel Pupp near Marianska Lane. This transports the holidaymakers atop the viewing points with a stopover at the Jeleni Skok( Deer Jump). Further up is the Diana Tower which offers the remarkable front view of the Karlovy Vary! There is an elevator as well as a flight of steps to choose from to reach the top. The Diana Observation Tower is a massive tetragonal brick structure with bevel corners erected on a prismatic stone base with a lookout platform. It is 40 m high. A gust of freezing cold wind and the fairyland-like view was the reward of coming this far. On a clear day, one can see the mountains extending to 70 km distance. The views remain etched in the memory forever.
A view of Karlovy Vary from the Diana Tower
There are several other attractions like a visit to the  Moser Glass Factory and Museum, the lovely Church of St Mary Magdalene, the Orthodox Church of St Peter and Paul, castles and various theatres that screen the movies during the Annual Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

The buzzing market place in the City Center
The day could not be complete without flavouring the best coffee and cakes of Café Republica in the heart of the town. As it was getting late we took a bus back to the bus station and yet another connection to the train station. The return journey by train was very eventful as more than 50 men and women boarded the compartment carrying crates of beer and several eats. The din in the compartment with lively singing brought the curtains down to this lovely day trip.

PS- Pictures were taken by self during the trip

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A Christmas in Prague

The Christmas Market in the Old Town
It was a short walk from the place I stayed in the Old Town, to The Tyn Church area in Prague. It was freezing cold but enough warm clothing had taken care of this.  The streets were well lit and as we inched closer, the excitement of seeing all the fun about which I had read so much, is difficult to describe. I had returned to the city after four years and little did I imagine I would be fortunate to be here at Christmas time. The beat of the music, singing of Christmas carols grew louder as we neared our destination.
The Astronomical Clock on the left and Tyn Church in the foreground
There were hoards of revellers enjoying the local beers, Pilsner  Urquell, Budweiser and Staropramen, and the local food. Wooden huts had sprung up along the main street and in the central square between the Astronomical Clock and the Tyn Church.  Many people were gathered around the Astronomical Clock to witness the march of the Apostles inside the clock as it strikes the bells every hour. The spectacle has been witnessed by hundreds of people every day for the last 600 years!
The Chimney Cake or Trdelink in making
The wooden huts are stalls that sell local handicrafts, jewellery, wines, and food treats. The food stalls are most popular that serve large hams roasted over fire spits ( Prazska Sunka), unhealthy but very tasty barbequed sausages(Klobasa) with potato salad ,Hungarian fried flatbread topped lavishly with cheese, garlic paste and ketchup(Langos), Pancakes(Palacinky) and never to miss the Chimney Cakes( Trdelnik)! This belongs to the family of spit cakes made by depositing layers of dough on a cylindrical spit. It is then layered with sugar and slowly baked over the open fire till the sugar caramelizes and the cylindrical crust becomes golden in colour and is soft and fluffy. The filling inside the chimney cake can be chosen from Nutella and fresh ice cream. It just melts into the mouth and the whole thing is so delicious that it vanishes in no time leaving behind a lingering trail.
The hot drinks are equally alluring ranging from Honey wine (Medovina), Mulled Wine(Svarak) served hot made with ingredients like red wine, fresh citrus fruit, spices and sugar, Grog- A mixture of Rum, sugar and lime juice and of course, the hot chocolate(Horka Cockolada).
The Potato Spirals( fried) and Bramboracky(Potato pancakes) and a host of other treats await the visitors
The Hungarian -Langos

The beautiful illumination of the buildings, trees, bushes and the nearby parks adds to the festivities to give an appearance of a fairyland. The huge Christmas trees at the Tyn Church and  Wenceslas Square festooned with lights buntings and glass globes radiate happiness all around. The children from schools all over the Czech Republic sing the carols and hymns.

The Cheesecake and the Walnut Cake
The small shops that sell souvenirs ranging from cut glass mementoes, puppets, magnets, chocolates are crowded with tourists and remain open till late hours
The illuminated Tyn Church and the Christmas Tree
It is an experience that one has to see to believe! No words can express the mood of the place and only the human senses can best acknowledge the beauty of the place

PS: The pictures were taken during the visit