Yesterday while buying milk, I bumped into Mala, my neighbour as well as a colleague in the organisation I used to work. We chatted about the recent spurt in stray dog menace in the neighborhood and possible ways to tackle it… only to realise that there’s no legal way to relocate the concerned dog(s).
Suddenly she asked me, “Are you fasting these days? You seemed to have lost a few kilos since we last met.” I smiled at the compliment and said, “These days real fasting is not skipping a meal but staying away from your phone and television for a day.” Her immediate response was “Can you really do it?” I said, “Maybe ” but the idea struck me and I decided to try it. “I will give it a go, today”, I told her which made her laugh aloud.
Mala said, “Okay, but let’s make it a bit more challenging for you. Today, from this moment on you can use the phone only for emergency purposes like receiving a call from home and electronic payments for essential purchases like you just did. Further, you will have to go out to the market/ mall at least once during the day but can’t spend any money. Basically, you will live the day out of your comfort zone.” I said, “Challenge accepted but I will need one concession… that I can use my car for mobility.” She agreed to that condition.
Coming back home, I put my phone in “silent mode”, took a bath and had my breakfast while flipping through the newspaper (normally I watch some random series on OTT). Then I went to the colony park for a stroll. This was difficult because I am used to listening to music while I walk in the park. Soon, I got bored and came home.
I decided to go for a long drive not realising that it was the peak hours of traffic but since I wasn’t in a hurry to reach anywhere I simply followed the flow of the traffic and reached the Connaught Place area. I was tempted to park and walk around… perhaps buy confectionery from the famed WENGER’S but remembered that I can’t spend any money unnecessarily. I kept driving and took the exit to Baba Kharak Singh Marg which took me to the erstwhile Gol Dakkhana roundabout from where I moved towards Mother Teressa Crescent.
I decided to go to the City Walk Mall in Saket because I don’t have to use any money to park there as their parking facility accepts FASTAGS. The Malls are a great place for window shopping and also tests you for impulse resistance. Here again I was tempted to have coffee from Starbucks… the strong aroma of Arabica Coffee emanating from the store was too much for my nostrils. I moved on telling myself the Bengali saying “Smelling the food is akin to half eating.” I did lots of imaginary purchases from my window shopping before returning home on time for lunch.
After lunch I started re-reading the biography of Rishi Aurobindo titled UTTARA YOGI. It’s a well scripted story of how a fierce revolutionary turns into a Yogi in later life. After a few pages I felt extremely sleepy and dozed off for a good 2 hour nap. Afternoon naps really rejuvenate you, especially at my age!!
In the evening I spent a good amount of time cleaning and dressing his bedsore wound after he came back from his laboured walk which he insists on going every day. I had my evening tea quietly sitting on the balcony and watching random people on the street below. Watching people is one of my favourite pastimes.
By now, I was getting restless and itching to pick up the phone or switch on the television…
I again went out for a stroll through the colony lanes… the dog named Sheru and Snow-white came forward to greet me and allowed me to pet them… A new dog, much younger than these, appeared from below the parked car, I was hesitant to touch it as neither of us knew each other but all the same, I extended my hand for him to sniff and accept or reject me… The dog’s tail started wagging as it sniffed and slowly it came close to me and allowed me to pet him.
It was almost 9 pm when I turned back home. I was hungry and when Deepika offered parantha with homemade daal makhni, I accepted it without a second word. I poured myself a large peg of Black Label to go with the dinner.
After dinner I picked up the book and started reading from where I left it… I continued reading the book sitting in the drawing room while Deepika watched the television. Around midnight Ayush came back from the wedding reception of his friend. It was time to call it a day having successfully achieved my mission of MODERN DAY FASTING.
As soon as I stepped into my home, Deepika asked, “How was your trip to Kolkata?” And this question was asked by three different persons over the rest of the evening. My answer remained a casual, “Fine” to all such questions. The next question inevitably was, “Did you enjoy the trip with your friends” to which my answer was a bit more enthusiastic “Yes”. I was extremely tired, every part, every bone in my body was aching, so I took a Paracetamol and went to bed early and got up briefly around midnight to wish Ayush Happy Birthday. Next morning I thought about the recent Kolkata trip and the only words that came to me are TheGood, Bad and Ugly…
After much deliberations and consultation with Deepika I had decided to go when she convinced me that she will be able to take care of Rolf, the aging Chowchow nearing 14 years and down with arthritis.
The seven of us took the Indigo flight on the 5th February morning to Kolkata with lots of imagination to do things that were not possible in our previous visits. The primary one being going to Shyambajar 5-point crossing to taste the famed Kochuri of Aadi Haridas Modok and Kosha Maangsho with Parota of Gol Bari besides having Biriyani at Arsalan and going for shopping spree at Gariahat/ Rashbehari Avenue. Also try the famed Kolkata Phuchka (Golgappa). As a rule, we had decided not to inform any of our numerous relatives of our visit to the city to ensure we have a quality time amongst ourselves.
It is said that all wishes never come true and promises are made to be broken. We could not visit the shops located in Shyambajar because of paucity of time. Let me give you guys the details of our itinerary to understand what all we wanted squeeze in during our short trip of 3-nights stay in the city.
The visit was to attend the marriage ceremony of Debrup with Debmita (son & daughter-in-law) of Jallu aka Debabrata Raha, our childhood buddy and very close friend of mine. The events where our presence was solicited and necessary were two… the Sangeet on 6th evening and Wedding on 7th evening. Jallu had graciously exempted us from attending the other functions such as Haldi & Mehendi ceremonies. So we had half day of 5th, 6th and 7th February 2023 to explore and satiate our desire.
We landed in NSCB International Airport around midday and after collecting our luggage came out where Soni picked us up and took to the hotel Mayfair Tower, Hossainpur, Kasba, Kolkata. We decided on this hotel at the insistence of Jallu who had booked the hotel for the 6th & 7th night for his guests including us (11 people). We checked into the hotel and decided to go out for lunch… Soni suggested Azad Hind Dhaba on the Kasba Road… he had been to this place many a times and vouched for the food and hygiene. I am glad we agreed and accepted his suggestion as we all enjoyed a hearty meal of Tandoori Roti with Mutton Rara, Chicken Bharta, Daal Fry as well as Daal Makhni with salad and curd. We came back to the hotel to rest a while before proceeding to Soni’s home for an evening get-together. We had insisted on simple food consisting of Ghee-Bhaat-Aloo-Dim-Seddo and Kosha Maangsho. He told me to make the mashed potato & egg mixture when reach his home and I readily agreed. In addition to these, he had made fish fries to go with the drinks and since I don’t take fish, there was boiled egg with salt-n-pepper for me. Chhoti, our niece was delighted with the small present we had taken for her. She surprised us all by getting a cake at midnight to celebrate the birthday of Pralay aka Pelu. We had a fun filed evening full of banters which took us back to the teenage days. Shoma, being a delightful hostess, took good care of us with refilling our plates and we ended up bellyful by the time we left for our hotel.
The following day was marked for shopping especially by Alok aka Gutloo who had promised to get at least 3 sarees for Arpita his wife. We had a frugal breakfast of Luchi-Sobji and tea keeping space in the tummy for later day binging on Kochuri and Kosha Maangsho at Shyambajar 5-point crossing. Soni arrived around 12 noon with the cars…his own plus three more hired for the day. I must say that it was the foresight and pain taken by Soni to arrange for the transportation which made our movement cutting through the city not only smooth n easy but time saving as well. A big thanks Soni for his foresight and making our stay in Kolkata comfortable.
We left the hotel for Gariahat around 12:15 pm… only Ashish aka Hathi Bhai stayed back to nurse his upset tummy promising that he will join us after a while. The first stop was at the Kanishka Boutique at Gariahat which specializes in designer sarees of their own unique designs. In earlier occasion I had made my choice in 10 minutes and bought the saree for Deepika at a reasonable price. However, this time nothing showed up as a “must buy” item and the prices have been set at an exorbitant level. We left the place and proceeded on foot through the hawkers stalls on Rashbihari Avenue to Kimbadanti a shop specializing in kurta-pajama-dhoti. I wanted to buy a kurta for Ayush and was happy to find one that would fit him nicely. Gora and Ramashish bought a set each for the wedding evening. Then, we proceeded to Triangular Park to check on other stores that Soni had earmarked for us.
At the Bhojraj, a saree shop, Alok finally found what he was looking for… a Tanchoi Saree, handwork on silk fabric. In fact, I liked the saree and would have bought it had he not picked it up. As we were coming out my eyes got stuck to a bunch of cotton sarees (Dhakai) and I picked up one which I was confident Deepika would appreciate. Meanwhile, Ashish called up and asked for our location as he had left the hotel feeling better after taking a variety of medicines to calm his tummy.
Once he was near we told him to continue further up to Deshopriyo Park at Bishnupurer Kanishka, a relatively new shop for sarees and other artifacts from the district of Bishnupur, WB. This was a shop with lots of options and I could select a saree for Deepika in less 7 minutes. Soni and I helped Alok decide on the two sarees amongst his shortlisted ones.
As soon as we came out, Soni mentioned his urge to use the washroom and I told him to go back inside the shop to look for it. While waiting for him, we found the “Phoochkawala” right outside to our delight. It was good but not outstanding… I have had better ones at Esplanade and at our very own Chettopark market. The phoochka acted as an appetizer and we suddenly felt hungry. We had planned to go to Shyambajar 5-point crossing for the Kochuri and Kosha Maangsho but it was already past 4 pm and peak traffic times making it almost 1.5 to 2 hours travel time. This forced us to abandon Aadi Haridas Modok & Gol Baari for another opportune time. I insisted we go to Arsalan at Park Circus, the flagship outlet. As it turned out, we made the right choice… the food and service was impeccable and we had a hearty late lunch of Mutton Biriyari with Korma and finishing it with Phirni.
I had no idea where we were heading but was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be Outram Ghat on the Ganges. We missed out the sunset but had a nice view of the lit up Howrah Bridge at the distance and few cruise boats passing through. We also had Kullhar Chai there and saw two local trains come and go on the single track that runs besides the ghat.
On the insistence of Ashish we went to the Peerless Hotel to meet Indro and his family at the Aheli Restaurant. It was decided that we will meet around 7pm and have few drinks before proceeding to the Sangeet Ceremony of Debrup-Debmita. However, when we reached at the restaurant, there were no signs of Indro, so I called him up only to be told that it will take at least an hour for him to come. He could understand our situation and told us to carry on for the Sangeet Ceremony. Ashish was adamant and insisted on staying back as he was one who had invited Indro and family. We left him there and went to the hotel to freshen up and dress for the occasion which had a black or blue theme.
Sangeet Ceremony was a grand affair with lots of singing and dancing. Both Debrup & Debmita have a musical background with Debrup already becoming a Celebrity Singer at the state level. The youngsters made the evening come alive with their vibrant singing and their well coordinated choreography energized the gathering. We were introduced with two of Jallu’s friends from his Jabalpur school days. I realized those two blokes are just like us, if we had more time we could have got along very well. There were no liquor at the venue, but Soni arranged a bottle of whiskey magically. Siladitya and I had a peg with him as did the Jabalpur guys and then we joined back the festivities. I think Soni finished off the rest of the bottle because the later events of the evening indicated to that possibility. On insistent demand of the Langtoos, Pralay aka Pelu sang a popular Bangla song for the young couple which caught on with the audience and they joined him in singing.
Our dear friend Abhijit who’s son Indrajit got married on 17th January insisted that we all visit his home for lunch during our visit. I told him to make it a brunch on the 7th morning which he agreed only to break his promise. To an extent, it was our fault as well…we reached his place well past noon which perhaps he had anticipated and made arrangements for lunch at a nearby restaurant in Salt Lake area. The arrangements were private allowing us to relax and open up with the family. Abhijit’s wife Sukla told us that initially they had planned the event at their home only but just two days ago their pet dog (a cocker spaniel) had bitten her on the leg out of the blue and she was in much pain to do all the cooking. They were very upset with the dog but I told them that a pet dog will only do such dastardly act if it was in discomfort for some reason or agitated by some events at that moment. I advised them to show it a good veterinarian immediately and get a CBT done to eliminate any internal issues.
After a tummy full lunch of mutton curry, fish fry, dal, aloo bhaja with rice and sweets we returned to the hotel to get ready for the main event…the marriage ceremony which had a schedule start at 4 pm. I had to pack “Our Collective Blessings” for the young couple In a nice decorative box which Ashish had arranged… I put some chocolates and our collective blessings in it and wrapped it in colorful paper with the citation. A “Brooch” of a butterfly or Projapoti was added to signify the auspicious occasion of the joining of two hearts in the bond of marriage.
I had with me a Bengali Babumoshai style Kurta and Pant-Dhoti for the occasion but had to abandon it as both started malfunctioning… the kurta button refused to stay put and the dhoti string kept getting loose at the slightest movement. Luckily, I had a back-up plan and changed into another set of kurta-pyjama!! The ceremony finally started around 5 pm… we could hear Vedic chants and Rabindrasangeet from our hotel room. The ceremony was quite different and unique from the tradition. It was conducted by 4 women priests from an organization called Subhamastu meaning well-being of all… This organization headed by Dr. Nandini Bhowmick, a PhD scholar in Sanskrit had taken the relevant verses from the Vedic rhymes, then added few Rabindrasangeet to match the verses… making the whole thing audience friendly unique experience. Later, some celebrities of Bangla cultural background came to bless the couple…my friends who happen to watch Bangla television channels could identify them and got themselves photographed with them. I could identify only Srikanto Acharya and he was too tall for me to stand next to him!!
We had a wicket down in the form of SuroKhuro who had a stomach upset and couldn’t join the merriment. We took leave of Jallu around midnight came back to the hotel. I went to check on SuroKhuro who was feeling better after a handful of medicines both allopathic and ayurvedic. My room was in a mess courtesy Ashish who had crashed out without changing his attire and all his belongings were scattered over the bed. I had to clean up the mess before hitting the pillow.
The decision to stay at the FabHotel Mayfair Tower for the 5th night was on the insistence of Jallu who had booked the same hotel for his wedding guests including us for 6th & 7th night. Suranjan or SuroKhuro reached the hotel ahead of us and checked-in after much persuasion with the hotel management which is understandable because the booking of the 5 rooms was under my name. When we reached there to check-in, we had to wait for more than half hour as the “receptionist” was busy reconciling earlier check-ins. The rooms were truly pigeon holes, the linens including pillow covers looked used and dirty with all kinds of mark on them… there was a 5 or 10gm soap piece but no towels in our room.
The linens and pillow cover wasn’t changed even after our repeated requests… was provided with only one old faded towel. After lunch on day one, I went to the Spencer’s at Acropolis Mall and bought 2 towels for our room and used it to cover the pillow as well. There was no concept of cleaning the room at this hotel… the dustbin remained filled with all the trashes of 3 days till we vacated. The second incident happened on the morning of day two; my roommate Ashish called room service for 4 cups of tea… I was sitting close to the telephone so I could hear the other side as well…the person at the desk reconfirmed the number of cups…twice. The call was made around 8 am and at around 9 am when we were getting ready to go down for breakfast, the waiter came with just one cup of tea placed on a big tray. If he had accepted the mistake, I would not have lost my cool but he insisted that the order was for only one cup. As it is hotel experience wasn’t great and the attitude of the waiter blew the fuse of my temper and I let out few choicest expletives towards the hotel itself.
We cancelled our order for the tea and went down to have breakfast arranged by Jallu through the hotel catering. There were luchi-torkari and butter toast with banana and tea. We were about to finish our breakfast when the full team of hotel staff confronted us aggressively and shouted, “How dare you abuse one of our staff member”. We initially told them that we haven’t abused any person but the hotel itself, but they were adamant. Patience was running very low and SuroKhuro towering over them and Alok lost their cool and gave them back in the same coin. It was clear that no standard facility can be expected from the hotel till we were there. It did not matter because we weren’t going to use any going forward…we bought an electric kettle to make our own tea (of superior quality)!!
Though we had vowed neither to inform nor meet any of our numerous relatives scattered over the city, few of the Langtoos decided otherwise and went on to meet and greet them which affected not only the time schedule but raised logistics issues as well. I was upset because three of my cousins with whom I am quite close lived within a radius of not more than 2 km from the hotel but I avoided visiting them and called them only on the last day before leaving for airport to apologize for not meeting them.
When the spat came, it was unexpected from the source as well as the time…
We came back to the hotel from Sangeet Ceremony venue post midnight. Gora and I were sharing the seat space in Soni’s car…as we got down, Gora went to the front passenger side to say “goodnight” to Soni and asked him to pull down the window. Soni came out of the car and started the barrage of abuses directed to all of us particularly towards SuroKhuro, Gora and myself. His angst was both justified and irrational…
Apparently when we visited his home for the dinner, SuroKhuro while chatting with Shoma, in his inimical way said, “Bouthan, why don’t you tell Soni to cut down on his smoking and drinking?” At one level, I understand he has no right to comment on his personal choices but on the other hand, as a friend he only meant his well being.
Topshe was with me when I was mixing the Aloo-Dim-Seddo at the kitchen table; Gora walked in looking for us and joined the chitchat… Soni too came to fill his glass from the whisky bottle kept on the table… Gora pointing towards Soni lightly asked Shoma, “Has Soni reduced his smoking?” She replied in the negative and told Gora, “You are his friend, you should counsel him…he doesn’t listen to me.”
It was time to warm up the dishes and lay out on the table, to make space picked up the whisky bottle to keep it in the cupboard from where Soni had taken it out. As I opened the cupboard, I was fascinated by the sight… there were a sizeable number of bottles, mostly empty or with residual whiskies in them…the photographer inside me couldn’t resist the temptation and I took a picture of it. Next, in a lighter vain I posted the picture in our closed group with the caption, “The Treasure Trove”. Only two people reacted with “Wow” and emogies but Soni took umbrage as to why I clicked the picture and posted it… He kept repeating that he is a “private person” and nobody has a right to take photograph inside his house…blah blah blah…
He also said that Shoma felt insulted because of the comments on his smoking and drinking habit… he went on and on saying he does it at his own expenses and doesn’t question about our habits. He kept shouting at the top of his voice and hurled choicest expletives to anyone trying to calm him down. I said “Sorry” for my action but it fell on deaf ears… then just to shut him up I too shouted back and told him to go to hell. Probably that helped and he agreed with Gora to inside his room to settle the issue instead of creating a scene on the road in full visibility of the hotel staff and other guests.
I was very upset with his behavior, especially when everyone who had seen my post said that they thought it was the cupboard in our room where Jallu had kept the bottles. Indro even thought how we could have finished off so many bottles in just one night!!
I was terribly hurt by his words and action because he was and is more than a buddy… he is my brother. Next day I refused to talk to him and sit in his car. In fact, later that evening I thought of giving it back to him but refrained because I realized he was badly intoxicated and whatever he had said was under the influence of alcohol. Indro and Gora kept prodding me to patch up but I told them, “Not today, he needs to realize the enormity of his words and action”.
We did patch-up with a hug before leaving for the airport. However, it was a lesson for all of us…
(1) We must not criticize a friend in front his/her spouse…
(2) We may be childhood friends but still have no right to comment on anyone’s personal choices…
(3) We must not infringe on someone’s privacy, howsoever tempting the image might be…
As we ushered in the New Year 2023, it was evident that I am no longer going to be young but soon a Senior Citizen. My wife, Deepika and son, Ayush wanted to celebrate my Sixtieth with pomp and show but I resisted fiercely. I wanted to remain young (at least in my heart) forever and moreover who on earth would like to tell the world that one has gone 60-IYA??? On the surface, they seem to accede to my views and did not press the matter further but asked for the contact details of 2 of my buddies which I reluctantly gave away but warned those two anyways.
Both, Deepika and Ayush kept things under wrap for quite a while but women can’t keep secret for long as was evident in case of Deepika. One day while we were sitting and fiddling with our phones, suddenly a voice, quite familiar, boomed from her phone and I could hear someone calling out my nickname. I asked her what that was. Her reply was cryptic nonchalant, “Nothing” as she switched on some music on her phone. The second episode was quite revealing and she had no way out when her niece (the Chef) Vidhu called her to discuss the menu for the evening. She then revealed that she had reached out to my buddies and requested for contact details of my close friends and invited them at home. She said as a compromise, the affair would be small gathering of close friends (individual and family). Since the invitation has already gone out, I had to accept it. I asked her for the invitee list and added one missing name to it.
Meanwhile, my friend Indrajit, the expat in Baghdad was due for his Iraqi visa renewal for which he was supposed to leave the country for few days and collect his visa to re-enter the country and continue with his banking job as if he wasn’t absent even for a day. As the B-day dawned closer, I casually asked him the status of his visa renewal and whether he’s coming home for few days… he replied with one word, “Both”. He deftly evaded my further pressing of the subject but I had a strong intuition that he would be there for the party…he simply can’t miss to see how much 60-iya I have gone!!
I appreciated how much my friends wanted to surprise me… even though 4 of them knew individually of his presence on that day, none spoke or discuss it amongst each other, keeping it tightly closed in the box. Only the day before the event, at around 9 pm I casually remarked on our whatsapp group that Indrajit seems to off radar for quite some time maintain a complete radio silence. There was an immediate comment from Topshe who said,”He’s probably on way to see you on your 60-eth”… he was told to shut up!! But it was too late for I knew the truth. I would have loved to have one of my outstation friends to join us but he wasn’t physically well and also had some domestic issues that did not allow him to come to Delhi.
On the B-Day which happens to be Deepika’s birthday as well, both our phones kept ringing since morning… the most common frequently asked question was “How I am feeling being 60 and Senior Citizen”? Frankly, I had no good answer… as far as I am concerned it was just another day like the previous day, there’s no paradigm change overnight.
The day started with a homemade south Indian breakfast of Masala Dosa with coconut chutney. This was followed by shared pizza in the afternoon lunch leaving room for the sumptuous spread from Cosmo Palate…
The first ones to arrive were Gutloo, Pelu and Babua expectantly looking at me to see the “surprise look”, I did my best to not disappoint them but then I am a poor actor. Anyways, all those who were invited by Deepika came to see how much 60-iya (Satiya or senile) I have gone in one day!! Two of them needs special mention, Santanu Basu and Indrajit who deferred their respective journeys by a day to join me on that evening… have no word to express my gratitude.
The food from Cosmo Palate was amazingly yummy… 3 Starters each of vegetarian and non-vegetarian, followed by Asian Main Course and finishing with Tiramisu and Gulab Jamun. Unfortunately, it did not cross anyone’s mind, including the Chefs Vidhu & Rajesh to take the pictures of the dishes. Ayush, my son had sponsored the Single Malt Whiskeys which were welcomed by the guests.
It was also the birthday of my brother-in-law, Abhay who graciously joined the merriment and cut the cake along with Deepika and myself. My sister regaled the audience with tales of my childhood much of which I have conveniently forgotten. But I still remember my three imaginary friends Olik, Onness and Ashok Gupta who were my constant companions in my daily adventures in our tiny premises.
The evening came to an end with a video show of my near and dear ones speaking of my virtues… going through it for the second time somehow felt as if I am a dead person…no one talks ill about the dead. I can understand that being the youngest my siblings as well as my immediate family (wife & son) would speak about the positive aspects only… but my close buddies who are part of my life for over 5 decades could have been more frank and talked about my fallacies. I personally don’t think I am such a virtuous person; in fact, I am quite the other way around. I am not compassionate to everyone but only to those who I have a bond. No one talked about my hot temper which only I know that it can trigger to murderous rage. None reflected on the foul language that I use every day to belittle the others. It is not that they haven’t seen my dark side but they refrained from pointing it out, perhaps because they all are wiser than me and understood that it was my insecurities that bring out the devil in me.
I have come a long way from the near slum living to the decent surroundings of the South Delhi locality. We were a large family with a small income… the priority was food for all, everything else was luxury including clothing…being the youngest I had the privilege of receiving hand-me-down clothes which would only be discarded once they are beyond any repair. I was not a very healthy child and often got afflicted with all possible diseases growing up, be it whooping cough, mumps, chicken pox, malaria… you name it. I was not supposed to live but here I am reaching the milestone year of SIXTY. I am overwhelmed by the affection shown by my friends, brothers and sisters.
I was asked what my vision is going forward… I had a hearty laugh (ROFL)… Frankly, I have no vision, no desire left. I have achieved beyond my capabilities. Going forward I will write down my thoughts, experiment with foods and cook up finger licking dishes and perhaps visit some kennels to cuddle with the fluffy inmates once my sweety-pie Rolf Adenauer Bhattacharya (aged almost 14) attains Moksha.
While chatting with Hans on WhatsApp, we shortlisted 3 places for a gate-away from Delhi…Varanasi, Amritsar and Agra, all being drivable from Delhi, the first one was a bit far taking almost 10 hours followed by 8 hours and 3 hours respectively. However, because of Didi’s reservations about sitting through such long hours, we decided on the Agra-Fatehpur Sikri circuit and accordingly bought the tickets to the Tajmahal and Fatehpur Sikri from the online portal.
We have taken a conscious decision of not leaving Rolf alone overnight because of his advanced age and resultant rheumatism and other age related issues, he needs care that the housekeeper or Guddu can’t provide. So, one of us is always with/around him, therefore for the Agra trip it was decided that Deepika will stay back while Didi, Hans, Ayush & I will drive down for the 1.5 day trip.
We had planned to start around 5:30 AM but managed to leave home 20 minutes late. We decided to go to Fatehpur Sikri first and Google Map suggested we take the NH-19 via Faridabad, Vrindavan, Mathura and take the Agra bypass to reach our destination… 206 km in approx. 4 hours.
NH-19 has been completely revamped and now offers a smooth ride which became apparent as Didi commented that she can’t recognize the route that she had taken to go to Mathura. Even Hans was pleasantly surprised not just of the road but seamless crossing of the Toll Plaza courtesy the FasTag.
We stopped for breakfast at newly opened restaurant near Mathura (Akbarpur) called NH-19 Dhaba and had tasty n filling stuffed parantha and masala tea without milk & sugar. Nice clean place with courteous staff. We were the first customers of the day so were given special attention.
Till now, I was driving but post breakfast Ayush decided to drive. His confidence level has gone up tremendously having driven through NH-44 only a few months ago. I was glad because, I needed to take a power nap to add up to my 4 hours only REM sleep. Ayush drove very smoothly allowing me to doze off most of the distance. He woke me up as we were approaching Dholpur and Google Map was suggesting multiple alternate routes from thereon. I told him to keep to the original route as that seemed less complicated using the Agra-Jaipur highway.
As we entered the road towards Fatehpur Sikri, 2 guys on a motorcycle approached us with offer to get our vehicle parked free of cost and take us to the shrine on a local registered car (no other vehicles are allowed to the complex) and also provide guided tour at a nominal charge of INR 700 only. We agreed and they guided us to a hotel where we parked our jeep. We walked about 100 meters and got into a Bolero which took us the gate of the Fatehpur Sikri Complex.
We were asked to deposit our shoes and provided with a pair of cotton shoes @10 INR per pair. The Guide Shoaib Ali narrated the history in a mix of English-Hindi-Urdu which Ayush and I could understand but had to translate for Hans in English and Bengali for Didi. This was the mosque, Jama Masjid, used by Akbar for praying and the Buland Darwaza is supposed to be the tallest gate as per the guide. I have no reason to argue with him so accepted it on face value. The place like most other has become too commercialized, we were told that if we visit the shrine of Salim Chisti, we need to offer a “Chadar” on the grave and took us to a place where a dozen such sellers had displayed their chadars. These were quite steeply priced starting at INR 2100 onwards going upto INR 7500. The guide very skillfully took Ayush & Hans to a different guy while Didi & I were stationed with another. The con became clear when the seller said we have to buy chadars individually i.e. one chadar per person. Understandably, Didi wanted to offer a chadar, so I bought one for her and politely refused to buy for myself saying that for me the god in whatever name you call, resides within me and I don’t have to do any ritual. The seller and the guide, both were disappointed for loss of revenue. But they managed to con Ayush and Hans by selling them a higher priced chadar each.
I followed them to the shrine but kept my distance from the theatrics and refused to put money on the chadar. There was no way to confirm their claim that the chadars are used to make wedding dresses for young girls of poor family and the money goes to some orphanage. I would rather give the money to charitable organization that has proven records for doing good work for the underprivileged.
We finished the tour in about 1.5 hours and headed for Agra; decided to check-in at the hotel Double Tree by Hilton… rest a while and proceed to Taj Mahal around 4-ish so that we could capture the sunset at the background.
Double Tree by Hilton is a 5 star hotel very close (1.2 km) to the Taj Mahal… having very courteous staff. The rooms are quite spacious (unlike the Hyatt) and we settled into our rooms within 20 minutes of reporting to the front desk. While checking in, we were told that there will be a buffet dinner at the coffee shop priced at INR 1500 but if we book before 6:30 pm, it will be INR 1000 plus taxes… we booked for 4 persons. We were all feeling hungry so ordered sandwiches through room service hoping that will be served fastest. We were quite disappointed both on account service which took close to 45 minutes as well as the food quality… especially the non-veg Club Sandwich… the bread wasn’t fresh and there was hardly any meat in it… just a paste of chicken and a thin fried egg with lots of veggies.
We had booked a cab and guide service from the hotel travel desk for 4 pm. The guide introduced himself and we set forth for the Taj Mahal. We purposely decided to skip other monuments of Agra to concentrate on Taj Mahal, a place where we have been many times but knew very little about which the guide narrated. The crowd management has improved in leaps and bound…last time in 2011 when we visited, we could not enter the monument because of unprecedented unruly rush. Now, one has to buy tickets online clearly indicating their nationality. There are only 2 gates to enter – East and West… completely barricaded allowing only pedestrian traffic on tiled road followed by security check with body scanner… only medicine and water bottle is allowed inside.
The hotel Toyota Innova dropped us at the parking area from where we got into a golf-cart that took us close to the monument (within 1.5 km) from where we had to walk. A few guys with wheelchairs approached us looking at Didi’s age but she’s made of different mettle and decided to walk the distance… later we realized that the wheelchair thing is a sham as it goes only up to the main gate and not till the actual monument. Hans with the help of the guide had roped in a photographer to take pictures of us as we moved and provide both soft and hard copies (selected images) when we come out at a negotiated fee of INR 5600. Before I could intervene, the deal was struck, a foreigner was conned a second time on the same day.
The photographer took his job very seriously and started taking pictures immediately right from the entrance gate while the Guide narrated the story of Taj Mahal, most of which we already knew. The popular story that makes round that the all the workers, architects and others involved in the construction of the monument were maimed or killed by Shahjahan is nothing but myth. The guide told us that they were all made to sign an oath that they will not replicate the monument anywhere else and offered alternate occupation. Many of the descendents of such workers are still living in and around Agra and making decorative art pieces of marble including miniature replicas of Taj Mahal.
The Emperor Consort Mumtaz Mahal was initially buried at Burhanpur where she died and was exhumed and brought to Agra for burial at her final resting place at Taj Mahal. The tomb is exactly at the centre of the monument which is quite astonishing as in the absence of modern instruments how they figured out the exact centre point!! When Shahjahan died, he was buried next to her. The British looted all the jewels that adorned the monument but the beauty still persists. The guide told us that the Britishers actually wanted to take the entire Taj Mahal to their native land not because they were enamored by its beauty but to use the marbles for their homes… only the logistics prevented such criminal act.
The on-line ticketing has the advantage of limiting the number of persons that can enter the monument. It ensured that at any point of the day, only a limited manageable crowd is present inside the compound. Further on, there is an extra payment for those who desired to visit the main structure of the monument which effectively reduced the crowd influx that used to be the bane earlier.
Meanwhile, Hans had been busy getting himself framed in Bollywood style… as he said earlier to me that he wanted collect as many memories as he can… and what better than to get the best moments captured in photographs. Halfway to the mausoleum, the guide said the professional photographers are not allowed beyond that point… another first and for better…also the fact that photography is not permitted as soon as you enter the mausoleum. Using a powerful torch, the guide showed us how the Taj Mahal looks under the full moon. The real stones, rubies and emeralds shine in the moonlight giving a surreal effect to the monument. Incidentally, the visitors are allowed in batches of 50 pax per half hour inside the complex near the main gate till about midnight but are prohibited to venture into the lawns or any further than the porch of the main gate. Another thing that we never realized in our previous visits is the fact that the corner pillars of the hexagonal points are flat if you touch and feel but viewed from a distance of six feet gives a visual effect of curved surface… amazing architecture.
When we came out of the mausoleum, the sun was setting and provided some awesome images. Collectively we, including Didi in her iPhone, took over fifty pictures till the daylight started fading completely. We walked back to the point where the golf-carts were waiting for passengers heading to the parking. The photographer came with an album as well as images in a memory stick which he transferred to Hans’s phone. He also gave a 8”x10” print of Hans with his mother which I am sure will be nicely framed and adorn the walls of their home in Russelsheim, Germany.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at leather store from where Ayush picked up a nice leather laptop bag at 1/3 the price of regular retail shops and Hans picked up a pair of dress shoes at a reasonable price. On hindsight, we should have picked up the leather suitcase which was on offer at a very reasonable price… it could be a reason to visit again in the near future!!
Ayush & I went to the market across the hotel and picked up a bottle of Dewar’s 12 years along with some soft drinks and soda water besides some chakhna. He had a call with his counterparts in USA till 10 PM, so we told Didi and Hans to go ahead for the dinner if they feel hungry and we will join them momentarily.
We should have booked the dinner after having the room service order… the buffet service was subpar considering the hotel is a 5 star property. Didi & Hans had finished their dinner when we reached the restaurant and waiting for us. As we approached them, she got up excitedly and introduced me and Ayush to the occupants of the table just behind ours… they were the same people whom she and Hans had met the Safdarjung Tomb and at the Isha Foundation at their invitation. It was a sheer coincidence that they not just had come to Agra too but staying in the same hotel as well.
The following morning after breakfast which happened to be the best meal we had in the hotel, left for Delhi aiming to reach by 12:30-1:00 pm as Ayush had to log-in by 1:30 PM for his meetings. The return journey was very smooth with one toilet stopover at the Toll Plaza of Mathura Exit. Good thing that both Taj Expressway(Agra Ring Road) as well as Yamuna Expressway have installed FasTag so one doesn’t have to dig into the purse for cash at the Toll Plazas. The change of driver happened at the Jewar Toll Plaza because Ayush was averse to driving on empty stretch of the road as that would make him sleepy… I did not tell him that with how much will power I had stayed awake while driving on the near empty roads… Anyways, we reached home well before the targeted time to allow Ayush to log-in for his meetings.
DIWALI & BHAIDUJ
Diwali is not complete without a visit to the Blind School Diwali Mela especially because their candles are far superior to the ones that are available in the market and burns for the whole night. The other attractions being the handicrafts and paintings by the differently abled students, Hans picked up few of them. On our way back we decided to stop at an Italian Restaurant called EVO, very close to our home but unfortunately that evening they had waiting period of more than an hour, so we came home and ordered PIZZA from another restaurant . We went to Evo on another day with prior reservations and thoroughly enjoyed the Pepperoni Pizza which turned out be juicy and flavorful compared to the other joint.
The following Sunday, we went out for lunch at a CP restaurant and then first to famous Hanuman Mandir where Didi used frequent when living in Delhi and desired to visit the place along with Hans. We then went Central Cottage Industries Emporium on Janpath. Many years ago, before marriage, she used to work there and in her previous visits made it a point to visit to meet up with friends. Now, almost all her friends have retired and moved to other parts of the country, some had taken abode with Madhav. The place has changed significantly, the main attractions are on the ground floor having brass, papier-mâché and ceramic art pieces besides giftables. We noticed some nice furniture as well and made a mental note to visit again when we plan to change ours. Hans picked up few brass figurines of which the Saraswati was quite attractive. I added one more Ganesha to my collection. When I reached the cash counter, I found my childhood friend Alok aka Gutloo with his wife Arpita paying for his purchases. Arpita has an enviable collection of Ganesha(s) which she had proudly displayed in a glass showcase.
In an around Diwali, playing Teen Patti (3 card flash) had become a ritual but for last 4 years or so, it had taken a back seat due to pandemic related restrictions. Then the passing away of the biggest organizer my Chhordi (sister) due to covid related complication in early 2021 has been a big dampener to the spirits of Diwali. This year we did not organize any card party nor were invited to any such party. On the Diwali evening, after the usual puja, Deepika, Ayush, Hans and I sat down to play the Flash but without involving money. We first had to explain Hans the rules of the game, he being a quick learner, picked up the nuances of the game and soon was on winning way.
My insisting and persuading Didi and Hans to visit us during the time of festivities had an ulterior motive as well… there was some kind of undercurrent in the relations between my elder siblings due to variety of reasons and misunderstandings. No amount of counseling from my end had had any positive effect as being the youngest (but wisest), I could not influence them. So, I thought, Didi being the eldest, almost a mother figure, can perhaps put some sense in warring individuals.
It took some cajoling, admonishing and pushing by her but at the end, I am very happy to say that all the misunderstandings were set aside and we had an enjoyable sibling’s get-together on Bhaiduj. And needless to say, my culinary skills won the day with Hing Diye Aloor Dom and Kosha Maangsho. Deepika completed the menu with her famous Punjabi Chhole and Tomato Paneer. And of course there were an array of sweets for dessert.
Bhaiduj happens on the second day after Diwali but this year because of the Solar Eclipse, Bhaiduj (officially) happened on the third day after Diwali. However, we are in the age of convenience, so Deepika’s brothers came over on the second day to celebrate as both had preoccupation the following day. In a way, it was better; they got full attention as was my siblings the following day.
All times, good or bad, comes to an end… Didi & Hans flew back to Germany on 1 November early morning and Ayush to Bengaluru the following evening… Deepika & I are back to daily grinding… hoping for an eventful, happy beginning to the New Year about a month ahead from now…
After a gap of 2 years of ‘pandemic forced restricted celebrations’ it was open house this year for Durga Puja, Dusshera and Diwali, and all of them happened in just one month – October. It was special because my eldest sister, Didi was coming from Germany to join the festivities after almost 20 years along with my nephew for whom this was a FIRST in over 40 years.
Originally, Durga Puja celebrations starts from the 6th day of the Navratri but for last few years, the pandals are thrown open to public as early as on the 4th day itself. In the pre-covid years, we used tie-up with our friends Basus and go pandal hopping with them. We renewed the arrangement and went to see the idols of Chittaranjan Park on the 5th Day or Panchami Night. Contrary to our expectations, not just the pandals but the roads leading there were quite crowded but we did managed to find parking spots within the proximity of the pandals and covered the main ones like K-Block, B-Block and Mela Ground and then hunger took us to Chungwa Restaurant at M-Block Market GK-2. The following evening, as planned we joined the Basus at DLF Club-5 at Gurugram. This was our first visit to a Durga Puja in Gurugram and we thoroughly enjoyed. Unlike the unruly crowds in most pandals in Delhi and resultant spillage of trash, this was very clean with manageable crowd. The Durga idol was much smaller compared to her Delhi counterparts but beautiful. Then of course, there was a full makeshift food court where we had the FUCHKA (Bong version of Golgappa or Paanipuri), it was so good that Sangeeta & I had two portions each. From there we moved on to Shushant Lok pandal which was what one expects from a typical suburban puja pandal, it was dusty and loud Hindi Bollywood musical program being performed on the stage in front of motley crowd. Our last stop before heading home was DLF Phase 2 Puja where I had Mughlai Porota, it was less oily than what you get in Chittopark but the filling of mutton was below expectations.
The following morning, Maha Saptami day, Deepika wanted to give Pushpanjali so we went to Durgabari in Kailash Colony where I unexpectedly bumped into my Childhood friend Supriyo. We chatted while both our better halves were busy offering the flowers and praying to the deity. Thereafter, Deepika & I went to New Delhi Kali Bari, a must visit during Durga Puja for all Bongs residing or visiting Delhi. The Basus also joined us there. In the pre-covid years, one could enter the NDKB Pandal wearing their shoes/sandals but this time (or perhaps during covid years) the rules had changed and one had to take off their shoes at the entrance gate and deposit with the shoekeeper. Our next stops were Minto Road pandal followed by Kashmere Gate Puja Pandal. The last one is the oldest continuous Durga Puja of Delhi and once upon a time famous for the delectable Biriyani served at the food court, however, the quality over time has deteriorated and no longer an USP.
By the time we finished our pandal hopping, we were hungry and decided to explore the Pandara Road restaurants which we haven’t tried for many years now. Moreover, one could get a vegetarian thaali which will be good for Deepika as she was fasting since morning. We were surprised to find that all the restaurants (5-6 of them) had a waiting time of 30-45 minutes even at the late afternoon. And except Pindi Restaurant, all of them had turned vegetarian for the period of Navratri. Deepika got her “Vrat ka Thaali” packed from Gulati Restaurant while we waited for a table at Pindi Restaurant. The food, in any of the restaurants here is typical north Indian or more precisely DELHI CUISINE. We eventually, after half hour waiting got a table and without wasting any more time ordered for Laal Maans (Mutton Curry), Lamb Brain Curry and Daal Makhni with a selection of Naan & Tandoori Roti. The restaurant allowed Deepika to have her special thaali since they were not serving the same. By the time we finished our meal, it was almost 4:30 pm and rushed back home saying our goodbyes to Basus. We had seen all the Pujas that we intended to see having missed them since 2018 due to varied reasons, all unintended.
On the morning of 3rd October, I started tracking the Qatar Airways flight path, it was supposed to land at IGIA T-3 around 8:40 AM… calculating the time for walk through corridor to immigration, customs etc, I guessed Didi & my nephew Hans aka Ajay will emerge not before 9:40 AM (an hour from landing) and accordingly left home exactly at 9:10 for the half hour journey to the airport from our home. To my utter surprise I got a call from Hans at 9:20 AM just as I was reaching the end of IIT Flyover… he confirmed that they were out of the terminal and waiting at the level-2 of the parking… I told him I will reach within 20 minutes. Faithful Guddu Kumar pressed on the gas and accelerated without my prompting. Thankfully, there was no traffic jams on the way and we made it well within time.
For the last over 6 months, all vehicles are directed to the parking where they have marked the spaces for Domestic Traveler (Leve-1), International Traveler (Level-2) and All Taxis (Level-3). The waiting upto 25 minutes is free and thereafter charges are applicable per hour basis. On paper this should have eased the pick-up process easy but because of the “idiots at the wheel” chaos still prevails. I told Guddu to park the car and went to look for them. Didi was standing with the luggage but Hans was nowhere to be seen. I walked up to her and hugged. We were physically meeting after February 2019 though we regularly video chat. She told me that Hans had gone to pick up some beverage at the corner kiosk. He had no Indian currency with him and was vainly trying to with his card, I paid for his 2 cans of MAZAA (his favourite Indian beverage since childhood). Guddu had meanwhile followed me and found Didi with the baggage which he swiftly transferred in the car trunk.
It was Maha Ashtami Day and my (second) brother aka Chhorda who is actively involved in the GK-2 M-Block Market also known as Dakshinayan Puja, had invited us to have Bhog at their pandal. So, after resting and freshening up we went there in the afternoon. We are adept at the slightly spicy food that are made for the public but Hans and Didi found it just too overbearing and had only the kheer and chutney with the khichuri leaving aside the labda or the mixed sabji.
Following day, Maha Navami, I took Hans to my brother’s home to try out a designer Kurta that he had bought for him and then took him to Chittopark to check out pandals of K-Block & B-Block. Later in the evening, we went to Paschim Vihar Puja Pandal to meet my second sister, Mezdi who turned 76 years young that day. We visited 2 of the puja pandals in Paschim Vihar and also had first time experience of riding on the e-Rickshaw while traveling between the 2 pandals. Frankly, it was nerve wracking the way it was driven, the foreigners – Didi & Hans stopped short of screaming while I kept a stoic silence.
On Dashami/ Dusshera we relaxed at home during the day. In the evening Guddu provided a direct videocast of Dusshera celebrations through his mobile phone. He had taken his family out to the Ramlila celebrations somewhere nearby. Later, we went to my other sister’s home for dinner. My nephew, Saurabh made a cocktail called Earlgrey Gintonic… quite simple but very refreshing… made with a teabag of Earlgrey tea + 60ml Gin + 60ml tonic water + lime and filled with ice cubes. He served this amazing drink with some succulent Chicken Malai Tikka and Mutton Sheekh Kebab. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
One of the evenings, Deepika took Didi and Hans for a Heritage Walk at Safdarjung Tomb where they met a family who had similarly come with their overseas relatives and invited them to Isha Foundation Ashram at Chhattarpur, New Delhi.
On Saturday, the morning began with rains and continued throughout the day, I vainly waited for the rain to cease but in the evening had to rush to Chittopark to buy the Puja Samagri for the Kojagori Lakshmi Puja at home… Hans came along with his GoPro video cam to record the market activity but the intermittent rains and premature darkness did not allow him to capture good footage.
This year, for the Kojagori Lakshmi Puja, a new Panditji came over, the younger brother of our original Panditji who could not come to Delhi due to health issues. The new PanditJi who came had retired from NDKB few months ago and was much involved in the rituals than his brother and took almost 3 hours to complete the process. But Deepika as well as the participants of the Puja rituals were extremely satisfied. And rewarded him generously… while I found him to be quite chatty… in the five minutes post puja interaction he told me all about his family!!
Later, that evening Deepika went to Kualalampur for a 5-day trip to attend a 3-day conference. Ayush gave her a very expensive list of whiskeys to be bought from the Duty Free shop at the airport.
In the days that followed, one day I took Didi & Hans to the Dakshin Delhi Kali Bari which has changed drastically for better and expanded as well. After the rituals we went to Delhi Haat which was like a Pandora’s Box for Hans…he wanted to buy everything being enchanted with the ethnic tag. He picked up half a dozen paintings of varying sizes and few brass statues. Another day, we went to the Saket Malls just for a stroll but Hans ended up buying quite a few stuff and was particularly interested in a brass Ganesha idol but it’s heavy weight stopped him from buying. The next few days, Delhi experienced its wettest days of October; it rained incessantly throughout the rest of the week forcing us to be indoors.
A decade ago I was doing a lecture tour on marketing and market research for the employees of a company that was trying to foray into e-commerce when the segment was in its nascent stage. Sometimes, the schedule used to be too hectic, completing a lecture in one city and moving on to another by overnight trains. The following story was told to me on one such evening when I was waiting at a station to catch a late night train to reach my next destination.
I was in the first class waiting room reading a book after having my dinner and coffee at the cafeteria of the station. I was engrossed in the book when I heard someone cough to get my attention. I looked up and saw a middle-aged person in priest’s attire with a large cross hanging from his neck. He smiled and introduced himself, “I am Father Xavier. Can I sit here?” I introduced myself and affirmed him to sit across on the sofa. It was a welcome break from my solitary situation. I was afraid I might doze off reading the book and miss the train although I had asked the stationmaster to inform me when the train approaches.
After few pleasantries, Father Xavier asked me what book I was reading. It was Jeffrey Archer’s Kane & Abel. He took the book and turned a few pages and was thoughtful for few moments before saying, “Let me tell you a true story from my own experience that is if you are inclined.” I was all ears to listen to someone’s life experience, so nodded in affirmation.
Father Xavier began after some thought, probably composing the words in his mind…
Besides being a priest, I am also a Clinical Psychologist with practice in the city. One evening as I was wrapping for the day, Lobo Fernandez stormed into my chamber panting and sweating. I offered him a glass of water and asked him to calm down.
“You know Father that I take private tuition, every evening after the school finishes I take that narrow road right next to the newly built graveyard. It is a shortcut to the house I go every evening to take tuition classes.” Lobo stopped momentarily.
“So, what happened?” Father probed.
“You also know, two months ago my uncle Francis was buried there… out of courtesy, when I cross the graveyard I raise my voice and say GOOD EVENING UNCLE FRANCIS. This has been going on for over a month now but today…” Lobo’s voice trailed off and he shivered as if remembering some horrible thing.
“But” interjected Father but waited for Lobo to continue…
“Four days ago something strange is happening, someone from the grave is returning my salutation. Initially I thought the local boys, the ones that go there for substance abuse is making fun of me but day before yesterday I searched the area with my torch but couldn’t see a soul around. I dismissed it thinking maybe that mind was playing games with me. Then the very next day same thing happened, this time I could hear the voice clearly and it was of my uncle Francis’s. I went to the gate of the graveyard and searched with the help of the torch… I could see all the graves except that of my uncle. It was in complete darkness as if someone has painted it black with tar. I got scared and ran off to the tuition. While coming back, I took an autorickshaw to reach home.”
Father Xavier waited for Lobo to continue… He was visibly shaken by the events.
“The following day I didn’t venture out from home… kept thinking about it… couldn’t share my experience anyone lest they think I am a coward or have gone insane. Then, yesterday, I gathered courage and went for the tuition… thought of taking an autorickshaw but as it was getting late, decided to walk… the alternate route is closed due to repair work so I had to take the graveyard road. I decided, today I won’t wish uncle and simply walk past the graveyard.” Lobo paused to take a sip of water.
“As I reached near the gate of the graveyard, I realized I can’t move… all my body has become heavy like a stone… in the middle of the road I was standing like a statue unable to move an inch even. I was horribly scared… I thought I will lose my senses…”
Father Xavier did not interrupt but waited for Lobo to continue.
“Just as I was about to faint, I turned the light of my torch towards the graves… like earlier I could see all the graves clearly except that of my uncle… it was in pitch darkness, in fact it seemed that the blackness was growing in size and rushing towards me. With all the strength I shouted GOOD EVENING UNCLE FRANCIS. This time the reply came from very close… the voice said WHY DID YOU TURN BACK? GO AWAY, QUICKLY. Suddenly, that blackness from my uncle’s grave rushed and wrapped my leg in tight embrace.”
Lobo drank up the water from the glass… his face was ashen gray… eyes popping out in fear.
Father Xavier got up and filled up Lobo’s empty glass. He put his hand gently on Lobo’s shoulder and said, “Sometimes hallucination can play…”
“Father, if it was hallucination, then how will you explain these marks?” Lobo had lifted his trouser upto the knee… there were clear marks of tightly wrapped ropes on his legs. The marks are so strong that in some places the skin has opened up to rawness of the bone.
Father Xavier looked at the wound with concern and asked, “What happened next? What did you do?”
“I don’t remember anything. I probably lost consciousness due to the fear that was gripping me at that moment. When I came to my senses, I found myself lying at the tea stall bench… couple of passerby’s found me unconscious near the graveyard gate and had brought me there.”
Father Xavier was thoughtful for few minutes then asked, “Your uncle Francis, how did he die? I mean was it natural or accidental?”
“Uncle Francis was old nearing 80 and not keeping a good health. Two months ago, one night after dinner he complained of pain in the stomach and chest. We thought it was a gastric pain and wanted to take him to the hospital but he refused. Instead, he went and lied down on his bed took some antacid as well. Next morning when he did not get up we called the doctor who said that uncle probably had a heart attack and died in the sleep. He was then buried at the new graveyard on the same evening.”
“You lived with your uncle Francis, who else is there in the family?” Father Xavier probed.
“Well, my father and another uncle had died when I was very young. Uncle Francis brought me up as his own kid along with his only son Robin. Now, I live with Robin and his wife.”
“Who referred you to me?” Father Xavier probed further.
Lobo seemed a bit surprised but said, “My cousin Robin, of course… he said you have a good reputation in solving paranormal activities and that you can probably help solving mine as well.”
“You do one thing Lobo, take leave from your tuition for week and rest at home. Your brain needs to relax and calm down. And forget the incidents as a nightmare. Also show your injury to a physician and apply medicine. I am sure in a week’s time you will feel good.”
Lobo did not seem to be to be wholly satisfied with Father Xavier’s advise but agreed to follow the instructions.
Father Xavier thought about those marks on Lobo’s leg and decided some miscreant may have used nylon cord to tie his leg tightly probably to rob him but seeing those passersby may have run away. Anyway, he decided to check out the graveyard area in the morning.
Next morning Father Xavier visited the graveyard and thoroughly inspected the place, everything seemed absolutely normal including the grave of Francis. He called up Lobo from there only and tried to explain that the so-called events are nothing but hallucination caused by the tiredness of overworked brain and probably because of his love and affection towards his uncle has been playing games on his mind. He should relax and let his mind calm down.
That night around 11/ 11:30, there was a loud banging on Father Xavier’s door. Thinking who could it be he opened the door to find a disheveled and scared to death Lobo standing.
“What happened? Everything is alright?”Father asked with concern.
“Nothing is right… nothing is right Father.” Blabbered Lobo and pushed Father to a side to enter the room. He picked up the water bottle and gulped down the water in a single action.
Father took him to his chamber asked again to explain what has happened. What Lobo said in a haphazard manner is …
Earlier in the evening, he was getting ready for the bed when he saw a blackened face staring at him from the window. It’s mouth was open and from it some snake like creatures were trying to come into the room through the grill. Lobo was shit scared and tried to away from the window when he realized someone was sitting on his bed smelling of burning flesh and like a stuck record kept on saying, “Why didn’t you come to wish me today? … Why didn’t you come to wish me today?” Lobo scared to the bone had ran out of the room and came straight to Father Xavier.
“What about your cousin and his wife?”
“They had gone out for the evening. I was alone at home. Do you think I should see a tantric or peerbaba to find solution to these paranormal things?” Cried Lobo.
“Look Lobo, I feel you are hiding something. If you don’t come out with truth then no tantric, peerbaba or fakir can help you. I think it’s time you come clean with whatever you have suppressed so far.”
Lobo was looking at the floor and shivering at the thoughts that crossed his mind. He looked up and narrated…
“I may have done a grievous crime, yes definitely a crime. You know Father, my uncle never treated me with amount of love or affection. I was treated like a slave, had to slog like a labourer at home. I always tried to please him but failed every time. He would at the slightest chance hit me, abuse me. He often used to call me a bastard and son of a whore. For twenty years I suffered a lot and couldn’t take it anymore. In fact, I thought uncle was behind the death of my parents to usurp the property. I thought getting rid of him will bring back my lost self esteem besides I will get the rightful share of the property as well. The thought of revenge was playing on my mind so, that night when I got the opportunity, I put poison in his food and by morning he was dead. But the rascal is still after me, he won’t leave me alive… What do I do Father?” Lobo confessed.
There was a thin smile on Father Xavier’s face. When Robin, son of Francis first suspected Lobo’s involvement in his father’s death he had met with Father Xavier and together they had planned to expose Lobo and his misdeeds. It was easy to trap a weak hearted Lobo with hallucination and graveyard tricks and he fell for it.
Father Xavier’s phone started ringing… it was Robin calling. He had already recorded the confession of Lobo in his recorder. He picked up the call…
“Hello Robin, the job is done, Lobo has confessed to his crime. He poisoned your father on that fateful night. He is with me right now and I will keep him here only. You call the police to take him away.”
“Father Xavier but there’s slight problem. And frankly I don’t understand what you are saying” Robin said hesitantly.
“What? What is the problem?” Father asked anxiously.
“As planned I was sitting on his bed in disguise with a piece of burnt meat. Lobo got so scared that he ran for the door and probably had a heart attack and fell on the floor hitting on the glass table. A piece of the glass gorged his left eye. I am sitting here with his corps.” Robin blurted out in a huff.
Father Xavier slowly put down the phone and looked up at the figure of Lobo. He was staring at Father Xavier in a cold stern look and a stream of blood was flowing out from his left eye.
On that fateful rain soaked evening of April, Ayush was totally frustrated… he has been trying book a cab to go home for over 30 minutes… 4 cabs cancelled the booking at the last minute… finally he got a cab after harrowing 45+ minutes. Then and there, he decided to buy his own car at the first opportunity.
After a thorough research in terms of safety issues and performance, he shortlisted 3 cars – VW Taigun, Skoda Kushaq and MG Astor which were all within his budget. He checked out the respective dealers in Bengaluru and booked his test drive for the following weekend. Astor was not available for test driving at that point of time. After testing both Taigun and Kushaq, he favoured the latter but the Skoda dealership wasn’t very enthusiastic about delivery confirmation. VW dealer on the other hand was quite optimistic of immediate delivery. Next, the issue was about registration… he was averse to getting the car registered in Bengaluru not knowing how long he will be stationed there, on the other hand, he can’t keep driving a non-Karnataka registered car for long without getting harassed by the cops.
The solution was to get the newly launched BH registration… the GoI had recently started a new registration BH series which is valid pan India. This has been done for the people with transferable jobs in govt and private sector with offices in multiple cities (minimum 4 locations in 4 states). However, barring Delhi, none of the other states are issuing this BH series to non-govt employees. So, Ayush came down to Delhi in mid-May to book and buy the car.
We visited both Skoda and VW dealerships in Safdarjung Enclave and did a test drive of both cars. There was not much difference between Kushaq and Taigun but I liked the looks of Taigun better… also it was costing less with all the discounts thrown in by the VW dealer. Ayush preferred the Yellow color but was told that there is long waiting for that particular color. He was offered a choice of White, Silver, Dark Grey and Cherry Red which were more likely to be available within a month’s time. Ayush booked the car and was assured delivery latest by June end. He flew back to Bengaluru at the end of May as his office was opening up again on 1st June.
As the days went by, we got a bit itchy because the dealer was not confirming the delivery schedule and Ayush had to book his flight tickets only on confirmation from them. So, on the third weekend of June, Deepika and I went to the dealership to find out the status. I lost my cool when the GM of the dealership kept saying he can’t confirm as the number & color of the vehicles being allocated by the company is not consistent with the bookings. I threatened them to cancel the booking if they can’t deliver by the month end. Although knew there’s not much options available as practically all vehicles have a minimum 4-6 weeks waiting with few of them as long as 1 year+.
We saw one Yellow Taigun that had come for some repair (dent) and realized the color is very different from the print and video representation. It had a greenish tint that made it look dull and dirty. I told Ayush to reconsider his options and go for Red or Dark Grey.
Probably, my threatening helped as within two days, the dealer confirmed that Yellow is not going to be available any time soon but we can have our second option of Cherry Red by month end. Ayush reached Delhi on 25th June morning on a month long WFH arrangement. The dealer asked us to visit them on Monday or Tuesday to do the paperwork formalities as they were all occupied with launch of VW Virtus during the weekend.
On Tuesday we went to the dealership and completed the formalities and also checked out the car allotted to him. We were promised delivery latest by Friday evening and it was delivered as said. Ayush drove the car to Durgabari Kali Mandir for puja of the car as wished by his mother. Incidentally, his maternal uncle also took delivery of same model car in dark grey that very day.
We decided to get the first servicing of the car at 1000km mark done here in Delhi before embarking our journey to Bengaluru (2300km approx.). In the intervening period, the car was driven as much as possible to reach near about 1000km mark. We had decided to start our journey on 29th July to reach Bengaluru on 31st July.
I told Ayush to tank up the car a day before our journey but forgot to mention that he should get the tyre pressures checked as well. It was a big lapse on my part and we had to pay for it…
THE JOURNEY: FLYING WITH THE TAIGUN
We had planned to start early around 5 am on Friday 29th July but poor Ayush, in the excitement of the adventure he forgot to put wake-up alarm and got up only at 4:45 am. We started at 5:55 am from Delhi with a almost clear sky. Google suggested we take the DND followed by Agra Expressway but I decided to take the NH19 (Faridabad-Mathura-Agra) and take the Agra Bypass to Dholpur and beyond.
As soon as we hit the highways of Faridabad, rain started and continued for about 10km… with some part of the road submerged… it was the precursor to what was in store ahead. I drove sedately never going above 100 but keeping it above 70kmph till we cross the populated areas. We were not in a hurry and decided to be safer than being faster. We reached Chambal around 10:15 am decided to stop at the newly opened restaurant called CHAMBAL SPICE for breakfast. We were the only customers at that time but their service is admirable, we were served with hot Aloo-Paratha with Curd and Pickle. It started raining again as we devoured the tasty non-spicy parathas and hot Masala Chai.
I asked Ayush to take the wheels when we started again after half hour break. Initially, I was guiding him but soon realized he is driving almost like a pro… and this was his first time driving on the highways. If you are a driver yourself but seating on the passenger seat, it becomes monotonous and boring, you feel sleepy. That’s exactly what happened to me, I fell asleep right after crossing Gwalior and only woke up after we had crossed Jhansi. It was over 100 km stretch that Ayush drove on his own without any assistance including maneuvering through the Jhansi Bypass which is a bit tricky and the roads are not very friendly. I felt proud of him. He insisted on carrying on till evening…
During my previous trips to & fro Delhi-Hyderabad, I used to fill-up the gas when meter indicated 25% remaining, we applied the same strategy and when the last 2 bars remained we searched for a gas station near Sagar (MP). It was 5:15pm and changeover time… I didn’t want him to drive as the lights started fading, on a stretch that has a sizeable bovine population scattered on the road. The situation was further aggravated with innumerable potholes throughout the route. Some were sporadically filled up making them speed bumps. Till there was daylight one could see the potholes and maneuver around it but as the lights faded and with the downpour, it was impossible to see the potholes or the improvised speed bumps… in quick succession we hit two very bad (deep) potholes but Taigun remained stable and we continued on our journey. As we neared Deori, it started drizzling which soon became downpour and continued till about Narsinghpur. Thankfully, it was dry as we approached Seoni where our destination Pench Jungle Camp was situated.
We were originally booked at Rukhad Jungle Camp on the NH44 itself but the persistent heavy downpour in the region had made the resort inoperable. Therefore, we were advised to reach PJC a further 30 km down the highway followed by 10 km through the jungle roads. Google estimated our arrival at the destination at 11 pm but we beat the estimate by 40 minutes and reached PJC at 10:20 pm.
We have stayed at Pench Jungle Camp on another occasion along with our friends, the Basu’s. It is a decent place but doesn’t warrant a second visit. In the name of being eco-friendly, the place has become very Spartan with minimum luxuries that one expects in a Resort accommodation. Anyways, we were there just for the night stay so it did not mattered much. Since, we were not sure about our ETA, had informed the resort to keep our food cooked and ready, hot or cold, were acceptable to us. Surprisingly, the food was still hot which we enjoyed with the Elixir of Life that I carried with me.
In the morning, we were ready to go around 7:30 am and went to look for the restaurant for breakfast. The place was getting cleaned when we reached and was told the breakfast would be ready in about 15-20 minutes. After some time we were served with a bowl of fruits consisting of Watermelon & Papaya along with a small glass of watermelon juice. This was followed by hot idlis with sambar (Deepika makes much better sambar) and coconut chutney, also Poha with green chutney. The food was good but not exceptional. The steward came to check if we needed anything more… I asked for a masala omlette while Ayush settled for a pancake which turned out to be “set dosa”!!
We put our overnight bags in the car and I went to the reception to settle our account. There was nobody at the counter… the guard came and called up someone who asked him to guide me to some inner office. I had paid an advance of INR 1800 and the final settlement came to INR 2461.40… I was carrying cash knowing well the poor network connections inside the jungle area making card/ UPI payment difficult. I offered 5 currency notes of 500 denominations… the person asked for change… I could find 450 in currency notes but he insisted on the balance as well… the coin section of my purse provided 2 five rupees coin which he accepted reluctantly and returned one of the 500 notes. I thought from my experience, in the northern part of the country, the hotel would have given a 100 note letting go of the change part in such a scenario.
When I reached, the parking lot, I saw Ayush standing by the car and looking intently at the front right tyre. My heart sank thinking we have a flat tyre which would mean driving slowly on the smaller spare tyre and getting in Nagpur City to get the puncture repaired. Ayush said, “Dad, look at this tyre, it has deformed at this point”. Initially I couldn’t see anything but closer inspection revealed a small inflation or bubble on the side of the tyre. I checked the spot but it as hard as the rest of the tyre. I told Ayush that we can’t do much at that point of time drive with caution and get it checked when we reach Hyderabad. On hindsight, we could have got it checked in Nagpur as well.
I asked Ayush to drive till we crossover into Telengana from where I will take it up. When we had entered the Jungle Road, there was Toll Booth some 50 meters ahead of us but courtesy Google Map guidance we came out on the highway bypassing that Toll Booth and saved some money and some kilometers as well!!
The newly constructed highway on Pench-Nagpur sector is a dream run with wide roads and no potholes. We zipped through the section with ease driving at a sedate 95-110 kmph and soon reached the Nagpur Bypass. There was a posse of Police some 100 meters away and we were flagged down. We thought it might be for over speeding but the signage had clearly indicated max speed 100kmph. The policeman came to the driver side window and asked for the license, RC and PUC. I told him PUC is not applicable as the car is brand new only a month old. Then we realized it was a ploy of MAHARASHTRA POLICE to do HAFTA WASULI. The policeman without a shame asked for money which we had give to avoid further harassment.
The rest of the journey till Hyderabad was uneventful barring the maneuvering of the potholes which remained in large numbers till Adilabad (Telengana) and sporadic downpours which slowed us down a bit. When we crossed Penganga River, a tributary of Godavari River, I knew we have entered Telengana… it was time for me to take the wheel and also fill up gas. I knew there was a HP Petrol pump in Dollara (Sri Ambica Filling Station) and told Ayush to keep an eye for it to stop.
Ayush meanwhile had done his research about the “bubble” on the tyre and became a bit paranoid and asked me to slow down from 100+ to about 80kmph because the bubble might cause tyre burst according to the SM posts. I assured him that if it was to happen, it would have happened by then… we had covered over 1500km by then. I asked him to find out Tyre Shops selling similar size tyres in and around Gachibowli, Hyderabad where we were going.
Fortunately, as we moved closer to Hyderabad, potholes on the road became less evident and most were re-laid with patchwork. After Medchal (one of the entry point to Hyderabad) we took the ORR which I maintain is the biggest boon to all Hyderabadis. Initially, Google suggested we exit the ORR from Exit #18 to Gachibowli but due to congestion at the Gachibowli Circle and at the Toll Gate before that, it altered the route through Exit #1 at ISB Road, Financial District. However, it was equally choked with evening traffic and became worse with sudden downpour. It took us almost an hour to reach the tyre shop opposite SLN Terminus Mall (Whitefield) on Old Mumbai Highway. The technician there reconfirmed the tyre burst theory and suggested we take it to the VW Dealer to claim warranty. We told him that would mean going back 1600km from where we started!! He checked his stock register and informed that their other shop at Madhapur may have the required size of the tyre.
Though, from the direction he provided, I could figure out where the shop was but Hyderabad roads especially in the Cyberabad area has changed much since I left the city 1.5 years ago. So we asked Google Map to assist us which it did through long winding roads much of which I could recognize.
The Madhapur shop did not have exact brand in the required size but suggested a wider tyre (new) or a slightly used same spec tyre (for which it stood guarantee)… buying the first means a set of 2 tyres plus a question of alignment. We negotiated for the used one and got it changed. We also requested them to check the tyre pressure of all the tyres. All of them barring the new one were over inflated and it became clear the bubble was caused when we the pothole because of extra air in the tyre. It was a costly lesson to learn which we will remember forever.
We had planned to visit IKEA to pick up some small items but postponed it to the following morning. Around 9 pm we checked in at Hyatt Hyderabad, Financial District Gachibowli just across the Amazon campus. We had thought of going to Fisherman’s Wharf, a Seafood Restaurant close to the hotel but driving through the city in such thick (and unruly) traffic had taken a toll on our enthusiasm so we ordered food (Oriental) in the room and poured ourselves SM to wash away our fatigue.
Following morning after a sumptuous buffet breakfast we went to IKEA on Hitech City Road. I wanted to checkout our erstwhile residential complex NCC Urban which is right behind the IKEA on NASR Boys School Road. But the road was under construction and the detour was a bit complex so abandoned the idea and proceeded to IKEA on Hightech City Road.
We left for Bengaluru around 12 noon and I handed over the wheels to Ayush as we entered the ORR. The ORR Stretch from Financial District to Shamshabad has been constructed under the supervision of my childhood friend, a civil engineer by profession. I have extensively used this part of the ORR during my 3 years in Hyderabad. Ayush drove with ease and soon we were on the Bengaluru road. There was quite a heavy traffic considering it was Sunday but then the same road also goes to Tirupathi besides Kurnool, Anantpur being the major towns on the route.
Somewhere in between Kurnool & Anantpur, we stopped at a KFC outlet (actually a food court in the making) and ordered for our respective dishes. The service is hopelessly bad… we waited for over 20 minutes before I had to give my piece of mind to the counter guys and only then our tray was made. They would call token no.45 and then the next call is for token no.49… what happened to 46, 47 and 48??? No answer!!
The sun was setting on the western skies giving a nice hue of colors (took few pics) and sky ahead of us was getting covered in dark clouds. I took the wheel from Ayush and proceeded at a good speed hoping that we might cross the cloudy stretch before it starts pouring but it wasn’t to be and the drizzle soon became a downpour and then a deluge. The visibility reduced to 10 metres and speed reduced to 30kmph besides becoming pitch dark at 6pm. Thankfully there were no potholes to negotiate but one couldn’t avoid the water logging at the low lying spots. I checked with Ayush if should stop like other vehicles had done but he said, “If you can drive slowly and follow the truck with reflectors then let’s move on because we don’t know how long this downpour will last”. It was a good suggestion as pretty soon we were out of the deluge and again speeding away on dry stretch.
We crossed Anantpur and saw the KIA Motors factory which I had last seen as a under construction unit nearing completion. On my last journey I had seen one or two Korean food joints around this factory but this time in the darkness couldn’t locate them. In any case, we were filled up with KFC Chicken and Fries.
We reached the outskirts of Bengaluru (Yelahanka) around 9pm and then followed the traffic on NH44 followed by Old Madras Road and finally 80’ Road to reach our destination at Defence Colony, Indira Nagar, Bengaluru. It was a total driving time of 36 hours… same as what Google Maps had predicted. I told Ayush that at any other time of the year I would have beaten the prediction by at least a couple of hours which I had done in all my travels to and fro Delhi-Hyderabad-Delhi.
Ayush has a nice 3BHK house which he shares with two of his friend and I was mighty impressed at the way they have kept the house clean and orderly. Even though I wanted to stay a bit longer but couldn’t do so because of my aging Rolfie and flew out to Delhi on a Vistara Airlines flight a day after. But before that on Monday evening, we went to The TOIT Brewpub and the famed NAGARJUNA Restaurant. The beers at the Toit was amazing however I didn’t find Nagarjuna food to be exclusive as some friends had said.
I hope the journey and the driving on the highway has given a life lesson to my son who drove throughout with great composure and like a pro. It was a daring drive of 2300km plus in the monsoon time and all those who were privy to our journey were a bit apprehensive. It was not just the highways but unpaved roads through the jungle in the darkness that kept us on the edge throughout.
I plan to take to the road again in about a year’s time to Goa when the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway will be operational. Surely, I will cover the distance in less than the estimated 12 hours…
Saw this excellent piece from facebook post some 5 years ago…
Eu. – So, Erode, we were discussing about your name before you came.
Me. – What about it?
Eu. – Is Erode your first name? Is it your given name?
Me. – (laughing) Erode is not my given name. Prabhakaran is. Erode is the name of the city that my ancestors apparently came from. It is like Faro, or Lisbon or Bologna.
Eu. – Then how come it is your first name?
Me. – See, when I was filling my passport details during my graduation, I had to fill something into the First name and last name column. I had no idea what these meant then. This is how my name appears in my school registers and this is how I filled it in my passport.
Eu. – Ok. We were wondering, because, who would name their child Erode?!
Me. – Why?
Eu. – You know that Erode was one of the bad kings in Bible right?! We won’t name our kids Erode!!
Me. – I know the king Nero. But not Erode. Anyway, I don’t know how many people read the Bible here in Italy. But in India, in general, we hardly sit and read these books. We respect those who follow religion, just like we love and respect all. But the stories that are prevalent in India about anything – not just religions – are those that talk about their positives! Like the Loving nature of Jesus. His teachings, etc.
I can assure you, almost no one in our who society would have known about the biblical connection to Erode when they included it in my name!!!! (laughter)!
Eu. – So what percentage of Indians are Hindus? You are a Hindu right?
Me. – All those existing in our country are Hindus.
Eu. – But I have heard that lot of muslims and Christians are there too!?
Me. – You are confusing religion with Geography. Hindu is not a religion. It was a name given by Aristotle / Plato while referring to the geographic peninsula that was East of the Indus river. Megasthanis and Selucus who accompanied Alexander also mention it for the first time in their description of this land, which is called as Bharath.
So, everything here is Hindu.
Eu. – But I am talking about the Hinduism. The religion.
Me. – There is nothing called as the Hinduism or the Hindu religion. We never had religion in Bharath. Religion was introduced in our land through incursions and invasions by the Arabian slave dynasties in the 12th century. After that people like Marco Polo and Vasco da Gama and later the Brits brought the religion of Christianity to our land.
(There was a discussion on Jesus coming to India – which I will mention in another write up).
What you “mean” as Hindus are those who follow “Dharma” – which is righteousness.
Eu. – Let me put it this way. What is your holy book?
Me. – Ha Ha Ha!!!! What is Not Holy? Especially in our land of Bharath?! We see divinity in All existence. We believe that everything is an expression of the same One Divinity. We see Divinity in a mouse, a mountain, a snake, a bull or a human! Perhaps you can call that as Hinduism! Seeing Divinity in All! So, we don’t have any book that is holier than the other.
Eu. – What about the Taanthra, Kamasutra?
Me. – Ha Ha Ha!! Nice that you have been introduced to these! These are a part of a large body under the Sanskrit Literature. Sanskrit literature is vast and is broadly divided under the categories. Sruti, Smriti, samhita, Itihasa, purana, kaavya, shastras. These Taantra and Kamasutra are a miniscule part of Shastras.
Each of these categories is rich in anecdotes, prescription if you may, of Life and Living.
Shastras, for example, are the compilation of the research findings of our ancestors. Yoga shastra is one of them, for example. Artha Shatra (Economics and accounting), Ayurveda (medicine), Vaana Shastra (Astronomy, Panchaanga Shastra (Astrology), etc. are all part of it.
They are not by one single person. Nor are they from one single time domain. They are collective literature of verifiable experimental findings on existence, transactions of existence and their well-being.
Eu. – So you don’t have a particular revelation? The holy book like the Bible?
Me. – No. We don’t have any book of commandments. There is nothing that says, you follow this or you are doomed.
Eu. – Wow!!! “You” are just a book of revelations now! This a absolutely mind-boggling! You people don’t have a religion!! This is just Huge! So, is morality important in your … in you?!
Me. – Do you realize that you don’t have to have a religion to exist?! Vyasa, who compiled a lot of the Shrutis and Smrutis of the Sanskrit literature several thousands of years ago, was asked to condense the essence of all of the Upanishads and the Vedas into a couplet.
He said – the essence of all Puranas, Itihasas, Srutis, etc. is
“Love All, Serve All. Help Ever, Hurt Never.”
That is all. Perhaps this is our only commandment – or prescription. As long as you follow these, you can improvise in life.
Eu. – But what about when you need guidance? Like situations in life?!
Me. – What guidance do you need in life other than “Love all, Serve all”? These define both the Goals and the Methods.
If your child falls into a pond, which holy book will you first consult before jumping to rescue it?!
Eu. I must say Erode, I am sorry Erode is easier to pronounce for me, I have never heard such broad but crisp revelations before!
Me. – Come to India! Our taxi drivers can give you these!
Eu. – So, where is God in your scheme of things?!
Me. – You tell me? Where is God? There is Divinity in Everything, Everywhere, Every instance. Everything is Just ONE. When Everything is ONE, then God must also be You! and You must also be God.
See, You see the variety in creation. And see that it is changing and infinite. We see the underlying principle that is connecting ALL this variety. Which is ONE! You see the Pots and Ceramics. We see the Clay! You see the stars, We see the sky! You see the ornaments, We see the Gold! You see the religions, We see Divinity!
Eu. – This is just mind boggling! Is there a way to convert to Hinduism?!
Me. – You don’t have to leave your religion to be a Hindu!
Eu. – ?! You mean yu can follow Hinduism along with other religions!
Me. – Ha Ha Ha …. See, I told you, it is not a religion! It is a way of life. It is Dharma. It is Clarity of Vision. It is Pure Existence! The moment you appreciate “Love All, Serve All”, you have realized the so called “Hindu” in you! You can give it any name you want to – if you still have not realized that there is nothing in these names like Hinduism, Christianity, etc.
Eu. – Are you a Guru?
Me. – Well, today, I Am. To those of you who have seeked.
Eu. – Erode, we should do all our lunches together! This is awesome! We are loving it!
To begin with, I am neither religious nor ritualistic. I consider religion to be a matter of personal choice and should be practiced in the privacy of one’s own home. As a tourist, I have visited temples, stupas, churches, mosques and gurudwara to appreciate the architecture and wonder at the throng of people who seems to be intoxicated in their chosen faith.
However, being born a Hindu, the greatest philosophy that the world has seen, I do feel insulted and outraged if someone talks or shows filthy about the any of the manifestations of the Supreme Almighty. Hinduism is unique because it is not guided by any one single book. It allows you to feel and reach out to the Supreme One in whichever form you want visualize. Hinduism does not shun the non-believer and not only allows them to debate but embraces them as well. Hinduism has survived the onslaught on its existence for centuries and yet not only survived but thriving even today and shall continue to eternity as long as human race exists.
Recently, a member of the parliament (and that too a woman) had said on record to media that for her, the Goddess Kali is meat eating and alcohol consuming god. It is true that in some sect (especially in Bengal), the deity is offered meat/ fish and alcohol but that’s a small community. Two of the biggest and most popular Kali temples are Dakshineshwar built by Rani Rashmoni and presided over by Shri Ramkrishna Paramhans and Kalighat on the banks of Ganges in Kolkata. The Kalighat Temple is regarded as one of the Shakti Peethas (out of 51) of India, where the various body parts of Sati are said to be fallen in the course of Mahadev’s Tandav. Kalighat Temple represents the site where the toes of the right foot of Sati fell.
None of the above two temples offer meat and/or alcohol to the Goddess but interestingly, at the famous Kali Temple of Patiala (Punjab), offering meat and liquor to the deity is a daily ritual.
I am giving below a shloka from the Chandi Path which is narrated and broadcast on the early morning of Mohaloya Day by the All India Radio and now available in various forms on YOUTUBE.
Shloka: Goddess Durga says just before she slays the demon Mahishasura and means….
“Take your time to squall and scream as long as I don’t finish up my (divine) wine,O foolish Mahishasura! I will soon slay you (after I finish my drink) andThe gods of heaven will burst in the joy of victory!!”
It would be wrong to interpret the goddesses of Shakti in their many manifestations as only meat eating alcohol drinking divas. On the contrary, in most communities across the country, the gods and goddesses are completely vegetarian and teetotaler. And besides, who can ignore the logic behind the manifestation of the supreme one in a particular form…
Yada yada hi Dharmasya glaanir bhavati bharata,
Abhyuthanam Adharmasya tadatmanam shrijamyaham,
Paritranaya Sadhunam, Vinashaya ch duskritam,
Dharma-sangsthapanarthay sambhavami yuge yuge…
Therefore, for me, Kali represents the true women empowerment. She emerged at a time when the patriarchy was the way of life in the form of Asurs who believed in anarchy. Kali represents the combined power of all those women who have been abused all their lives for being dark skinned. She emerges once again when girls like Nirbhaya dies a thousand deaths before dying and young girls are saved from being trafficked. A piece of Kali is born inside the acid attack victims, when they will to survive and lead a new life. It is said that both Durga and Kali emerged when the combined forces of the gods were defeated by the Asurs. The goddesses’ then had slayed the Asurs to bring parity and peace on earth.
So, my Kali cannot remain limited to the “meat eating, alcohol drinking deity”… The poster of the film that showed Kali as smoking a cigarette and created the controversy is directed by a lady of Indian origin calling it a piece of art… what a bull crap she’s peddling? But she’s not alone in this game of disruption, there are scores of them who would paint a goddess in nude, ridicule the Sanatan Dharma rituals in cinema and claim to be the Art Form and flag bearer of the progressive thoughts. For these scoundrels, women empowerment simply means nudity, alcoholism and drug abuse.
There is a large section of women in the country who are being denied equality and a chance to live with dignity because of patriarchal biases, but the elite feminists with wine glass in hand and puffing marijuana filled cigarettes, royally ignores them. The scores of disadvantaged women only want a dignified life where their pay is at par with the male colleague, they would like their daughters to have same education as their sons and not get shackled inside their patriarchal homes. For these women Kali and Durga are the inspiration to fight along a biased society and not only continue to live with dignity but create a level playing field for their daughters as well.
So, with folded hands, I would request all the progressive thinkers whether Hindu or Kafir, please spare the Sanatan Dharma Gods & Goddesses from your crude art forms… there are billions of beautiful things in the nature, go recreate them in your own way on the canvas or on the film… why look at imagery that has a revered connotation to the billions of Indians?
To me religion is not reciting few difficult to pronounce shlokas or hymns but an idealism that gives hope to billion of souls. A correct and just interpretation of the Dharma can take the society to great heights while an incorrect interpretation can destroy the society. Therefore, choose wisely…