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

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Surprises of Kutna Hora

It was a cold winter morning when I was in Prague recently. I was excited to visit a place about which I had read before leaving for the Czech Republic. Just at an hour's train ride from Prague is a place called Kutna Hora nestled in the heart of Bohemia. Kutna Hora is a small sleepy town with a population of just about 20000 people. This little silver mining town has many attractions including two UNESCO heritage sites that are a huge draw for hundreds of visitors across the world. The Czech Republic has so much to offer the tourists that many places will pale in comparison.
The Church of the Assumption of OurLady and Saint John the Baptist

The interior of the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady
I was staying in the heart of the city so access to the central station Hlvani Nadrazi was convenient, from where I boarded an early morning train. Surprisingly, the train was crowded but it was a comfortable ride as the train passed through picturesque villages and streams to reach the Kutna Hora station in time. There is a small toy train which connects to the city centre at Kutna Hora passing through the Kostnice Sedelec. A short walk from Kostnice Sedlec brought me to the first UNESCO site, The Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist. It is one of the oldest Gothic Baroque church in the country built around 1300. The most impressive works of the church include amazing vaults, paintings, the front wall, and its antechamber decorated with statues. The church had a tumultuous history due to treasures possessed due to its proximity to silver mines and several wars. The spiral staircase without a central pillar leads to a gallery of paintings. The precious relics of the saints are placed in glass coffins, embalmed in wax.

The Sedlec Ossuary
A short walk away from the monument is the Sedlec Ossuary or The Bone Church. This is a marvellous place which is unique in many ways. The entire structure is built on a cemetery where more than 60000 corpses were buried. A semi-blind monk arranged the bones and skulls from them to form furnishings and decorations.
The Bone Chandelier

The chandelier in the centre is made using every bone of the human body and is truly spectacular. The strange eerieness and a feeling of awe are seldom experienced as one moves from one relic to other. The garlands of skulls and different bones of the human body could perhaps never have been depicted in a more artistic manner.
The artistic creation with human bones. Notice the heap of bones in the backdrop
The mounds of bones and skulls make the sensations go numb momentarily. Hundreds of visitors throng this place every year for the macabre experience.
Saint Barbara's Church

Next, we took a bus to the city centre and walked up to the Saint Barbara's Church on a short climb atop a hillock. The silhouette of the facade is visible from a distance and the gothic spires are truly inspiring. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The construction of this edifice commenced in 1388 and completed in the early twentieth century.
The facade of Saint Barbara's Church
The pace of construction was a reflection of the fluctuating fortune of the silver mines in the vicinity and finally what emerged was a huge church with eight radial chapels, trapezoidal interiors, a beautiful organ supported by double arched flying buttresses. The glass windows, pulpits and altars are noteworthy too.
There are several other places of interests like a silver museum, Italian Court, Plague Column to name a few well worth a visit. The wines and vineyards of Kutna Hora, coffee parlours and bakeries deserve to be relished.

It was a day when we had so much to bite and little time to digest. A place highly recommended visiting if one is around Prague.

PS: The pictures were taken by self during the trip.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Smart India

Many years ago, it was an era of B&W television that had started making waves on the Indian soil. The TV programming was limited to a few hours every evening with the focus mainly on informative programs, the social campaigns, agriculture-based (Krishi  Darshan), sports and entertainment. The time slowly moved to usher the colour TV era coinciding with the Asian Games in Delhi in 1982. The rainbow colours appeared on the small screen. It was a quantum leap and since then India never looked back. The   LED/ Smart TVs appeared on the scene as the time progressed.  Thanks to the revolution in the communication technologies these are internet ready to connect to any program being played anywhere in the world. 
In every walk of life, the lives of the common man have changed in the last three decades more than any time in the world ever since evolution.
It is impossible to discuss all the facets but a few areas have a huge promise in a country like ours. The need to focus on at least the three areas as listed below, by adopting the latest smart technologies is imperative. This will accelerate the pace of rubbing shoulders with the developed world. 

a) Education
b) Medical Facilities
c) Sanitation and Waste Management
 I remember the time at school when students were exposed only to books prescribed in the school and a bit of extra reading of storybooks and fiction. Even in college most of the teaching was classroom based. I am presently associated with teaching in NGOs where the teaching is done in ‘smart classes’. The entire curriculum is in the form of interactive videos followed with the quiz tests. This has revolutionized the concept of learning. It is easy to connect with any learning portal, interact with other schools located in remote parts of the globe. If the model could be replicated in many of the schools located in remote areas the learning skills can be imparted to even those who do not have means to spend a huge amount of money to come to bigger cities. Even the best universities can be accessed through distant learning by organizations like the Coursera, Khan Academy, eDX and many more that offer world-class training.

Medical Facilities  
It is now possible with smart wearable devices to monitor the health using applications and devices like ‘ Fit Bit’ that can monitor the pulse rate, calories burnt, counting steps, distance travelled, sleep patterns etc. The easy availability of these at affordable rates can help in monitoring and improving the health. Many wearable devices are now available in the market that is capable of measuring the blood pressure, body temperature, oxygen levels, and ECG using a combination of apps with smart mobile phones. They manage the stress levels and also serve a warning if there are significant deviations from the normal. Portable and handy sensors are easily available that monitor the air quality, temperature, humidity and noise levels to enable taking timely corrective actions.
In India, the availability of basic medical facilities especially in smaller towns and villages are grossly inadequate. With the advances in smart technologies, the collection of data can help in the treatment of patients by connecting with bigger hospitals and specialists in cities.

Sanitation and Waste Management
Sanitation and Waste management are basic requirements of ecologically sustainable development in our country. The need to handle huge amounts of waste( biodegradable, plastics and other solids) has to be addressed on a war footing to save the environment. There are several dimensions of the problem but the likely solutions lie in finding ‘smart solutions’ with the help of technology that is in vogue. Some of these are using the Internet of Things(IoT), Waste collection and Segregation using  RFID( Radio Frequency initiated ) sensors, smart cameras and actuators which can be a key to handle this. Germany, Austria and South Korea are the leading nations that dispose of more than 52% of municipal waste.

On a personal level, the smart technologies have changed my life for better to an extent that, I feel having lived in a bullock cart age and space age in one life itself!

Earlier for any purchase of a refrigerator, a washing machine or a camera, I would rush to the market spend a couple of days to find the suitable product that matches my budget and breaking a deal. This changed forever when a company like Flipkart appeared on the horizon. In the last decade, every purchase of a capital good like a refrigerator, TV, a washing machine, camera and even the smartphone was initiated by choosing the product on the Flipkart website by comparing the features of the rival offerings. The entire activity of initiating the order to making payment was completed in less than an hour from the laptop. The product was always delivered before the scheduled delivery date and installed without any hassles. It has truly been a boon!

As I am a travel freak, who travels 3 to 4 times a year, the vast difference in the way travel scenario has changed would need a separate post, where booking of train/flight/ hotels can be done with the smart apps on the phone or laptop with ease.

The products like smart cameras, smart lights that make smart homes and many more here to stay and will not only improve the quality of life but also save time and be user-friendly. The future promises to be exciting like never before.

PS: This is my blog post for the Flipkart/Indiblogger sponsored 'Flipkart- Smart Products' contest ( #GetFitWithFlipkart and #SmartHomeRevolution )