March 27, 2011

The Waiting

Curtorim, Goa. 2011.

In time, the seemingly disparate
Will bond over a shared fate,
Even if they once came into the world
On the promise of separate destinies.

March 25, 2011

Giving In Memoriam, Panchavati

On the steps that descend to the passage leading past the Ganga Godavari mandir to the Godavari river where pilgrims visiting Panchavati offer their prayers in obeisance to a place made sacred by Lord Ram’s presence during his exile from Ayodhya, and where the bereaved perform the final rites of their departed family members, the elderly and the young lounge in the shade of a raised building overlooking Ram Kund, either awaiting their turn with the priests or reflecting on the loss in their lives while pondering the meaning of life when they're not dwelling on the cards life will sometimes deal them.

Either way it’s a sombre moment, the delighted cries of young boys diving into the waters off the ghats notwithstanding. If anything it only serves to interject thoughtfulness and reflection into the inexorable nature of life, spinning along relentlessly as it circles around to complete the cycle of living.

It’s hot when I leave the shade of the tree by the Shri Ram Maha Stambh (pillar) painted with Sanskrit shlokas and walk down the steps, past the notice painted on a platform announcing the time of Maha Aarti before pausing by a cement bench.

Two elderly men are seated on either end of the bench, the kind more likely found in gardens, partly shielding their faces from the Sun by turning their face into the crook of their elbows resting on the top of the back-rest, a leg crossed at the knee in the manner of rustic comfort.

Etched on a plaque on the back-rest is a heartfelt memoriam to a mother from a grateful son. The ink has all but faded away, but the sentiment has survived time. Returning to the cement bench later, I bend for a closer look at the writing before lingering over the lines below:

Donated in the memory of Smt. Shantadevi Prakashchandraji Joshi by her son,
Shri. Sanjay Kumar Joshi, a resident of Mandwa, and dated December 8, 2004

Mandwa is a long way from Nashik. But the river Godavari at Panchavati is among the most sacred of river stretches that dutiful sons will travel to to perform the last rites of their parents, eventually letting go of the one shelter that rooted them to life in a meaningful way.

While there’s little in the memoriam to tell more about Smt. Shantadevi Prakashchandraji Joshi, the sentiment behind the gifting of the bench in her memory says much of what she must have meant to the son, and the family – a warm soul who gave of herself selflessly for her family.

In some ways that sentiment is expressed best in the form of a bench donated in her memory for public use, for the permanence it lends to its continued utility while sheltering, however momentarily, the pilgrims making their way to the river, many of whom are themselves in need of comfort in their moment of loss, their longing for the departed accentuated by the permanence of the loss.

I look at the two men resting on the bench. It’s apparent they do not know each other, likely brought together by similar circumstances, and joined by a bench away from home. Now sheltered momentarily in the invisible presence of an intangible memory, their presence on the bench brings to fruition the intent in the sentiment of a son grieving for the loss of his mother, seeking to retain her presence in his act of giving.

I look around.

There’re more benches, each with a plaque of their own – in the memory of a father, a son, a husband, a mother; the same sentiment, only different names.

In Memory of Jairamdas N. Jumani
Died Aug 1984

Swargiya Putra Krishnakumar
Ke Smarnarth
Srimati Parmeshwari Devi
Shri Pyarelal Jhunjumwala, Thana

In Memory Of
Smt. Radhabai Murlidhar
Borivali. Dt. 1 – 6 – 85

There's no indication of who donated the bench on her behalf. I looked at it wondering why if only so those who read the memoriam are comforted in learning of the people who value the memory of Radhabai Murlidhar.

Swargiya Ganeshilal Baijnath Agrahaari
Inki Yaad Mein Patni Kamladevi
Putra Subash Chandra, Shiv Chandra Ke Taraf Sey
Tarik. 18 – 09 - 2004

I look at the benches. They sit there, awaiting people while people rest on them, waiting out their purpose. Time ticks away, inexorably, like life itself.

Like with the act of giving, the benches make no distinction between those who read the invocations to memories of the departed and those who do not.

I try and imagine another’s grief, and attempt bringing forms to names on the benches. I cannot, at least not commiserate with another’s loss. But I believe that keeping a memory alive mitigates some of the loss, fills it out over time so life goes on even if incomplete in the changed circumstances.

Note: This post, on the theme of 'Giving', is my contribution to the effort Mumbai Twestival 2011 and GiveIndia are putting in to raise funds for the local NGO Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD) to help with its efforts in sterilising the stray dog population in Mumbai, besides finding homes for the strays, in addition to treating and rescuing those in need of help and assistance in surviving the streets.

Posts that similarly confirm to the guidelines the India Twestival organisers have listed will each raise Rs. 250/- to a charity of the poster’s choice. I chose Mumbai's WSD for the grant in lieu of this post. You've until the end of day tomorrow, 25 March, to make a similar effort.

To make a pledge at the Mumbai Twestival's event in support of Welfare Of Stray Dogs (WSD), click this link to pledge your contribution. You've until March 27 to make your pledge.

If you’re seeking to make a pledge to help NGOs with their efforts, you can choose from the designated cities participating in the India Twestival - Mumbai. Bangalore, Cochin, Hyderabad, and Pune, each city supporting a local NGO.

March 21, 2011

Fire and Sweet in the Heat of Jodhpur Street

It gets hot at noon in Jodhpur. Very hot. And the middle-aged man manning the makeshift table set up in the street outside Janata Sweet Home, dispensing water out of plastic mugs to the thirsty passers-by served to remind us of the heat after the momentary amnesia from sampling Makhaniya Lassi inside what is easily among Jodhpur's best known shop for sweets and savouries.

We had walked through Saddar Bazaar, home to the clock tower, before time came to a standstill the moment we were beguiled by the Makhaniya Lassi that at once soothed our appetite in as a much as it whetted it.

But it was the Kachori, leaving that lingering taste of Ajwain and Sabuth Dhaniya (whole dry coriander seeds) behind, and the Makhaniya Lassi that were flying off the counter. At first I didn’t think I’d gulp down more than one lassi. I called halt after the third only so I could sample the other savouries on sale - Mawa ki Mithai, Bangla Mithai, and Shudh Desi Ghee ki Mithai among others, priced at Rs. 130/-, Rs. 120/-, and Rs. 140/- a kilo respectively. It’s a pity that unlike the cow, the human stomach is not divided into four parts, each section freeing the others for their functions.

Handed out in a plastic cup, the Makhaniya Lassi at the Janata Sweet Home was quite unlike any I’d had before. A dash of powdered pista on the top rounded off the thick serving of butter prepared to a recipe that instantly dissolved the Jodhpur heat.

Unlike on the coast the heat in Jodhpur will not drain you of fluids or discomfort you to the point where you’d be hard pressed to resist emptying a crate of cold drinks down your throat. The heat in Jodhpur is of a different kind. It can scald your head if you’re out in the mid-day sun in the summer. It can bore a tunnel through the forehead without anyone drawing a bulls eye between your eyes. And it doesn’t help that Jodhpur is the gateway to the Thar desert.

While September is no summer by any stretch in this historic city, it’s nevertheless intense in the street. And this from someone who's no stranger to the heat, having spent much of my vacations from school riding the streets in the Deccan heartland in temperatures reaching and exceeding 44 degree C while most sought the shade of their homes. Even so I’d have expected September to be a mite cooler up north but it wasn’t to be. Blame it on the canvas strap around my neck weighted down by a camera and sundry other things in the bag.

But watching three local men outside the sweet shop nonchalantly digging into Mirchi Bhajia had a salutary effect on me. While the valour of Jodhpur revolves around the martial history of the Rathore dynasty who worshipped the Sun no less and the Mehrangarh Fort rising solidly on a hill top in the distance, I’d nevertheless be surprised if there isn’t one song dedicated to Jodhpur natives' penchant for beating the noon heat with a hot, spicy Mirchi Bhajia.

Talk of fighting fire with fire, surely there must be some truth in it.

It helped that the silent man manning the Jal Sewa counter had water ready. While providing water to the thirsty has a bearing on good karma, I’m not so sure it holds as much value if dispensed to soothe the fire raging from ingesting Mirchi Bhajia. I need to check the Jal Sewa’s Karma Quotient for the latter.

A board bearing Jal Sewa in devanagari script on a pillar announced the water service and imbued the water dispenser’s work with a certain permanence. Not everyone stopped to drink water. Some washed their hands after finishing off savouries sourced from Janata Sweet Home before washing it down with quick gulps of water from the colourful plastic tumblers.

The man tasked with distributing water to thirsty passers-by sourced water for the Jal Sewa from a tap attached to the water pipe supplying drinking water to the building. I thought it likely that the owners of Janata Sweet Home ran it as a public service, helping passers-by beat the heat.

Few shops will tolerate ‘obstructions’ leading up to the entrance unless it’s their own. And moreover Janata (read Public) is as old-school as names of shops go. The water service (Jal Seva) would qualify for public (read Janata) service, its noble intent sharing the name with the shop.

While there’s little reason to pause along the way elsewhere, the water on offer was as good a reason as any to catch a breath while contemplating the lure of the cool Makhaniya Lassi barely a step away.

Or the Mirchi Bhajia depending upon what your ‘beat the heat’ philosophy is.