Monday, July 28, 2008

Remembering Grandpa

(Continued from the previous post)

Come summer holidays, me and sister packed up our gears and headed to Perumbur. My grandpa’s and cousins’ place. The days were heady playing all day, and the nights a little scary without mom around. But in one word, it was fantastic. So many of my life’s small milestones were achieved in Perumbur. Learning to cycle, learning to play cards, learning to make milk koa, learning to make lime juice, learning to tickle-play, learning to live without mom around, learning to lookup rahu-kalam, learning to sing, learning to believe in religious things, learning to believe in supernatural goddess and their appearances, learning to watch frogs, learning to plant roses, learning to ……….. so many things :) Did you read the post about gardening? I now remember that the foundation of my gardening started in my grandpa’s house. My grandpa’s house was an individual house (meaning not an apartment or something similar) that stood surrounded on three sides by gardens with all kind of plants, bugs and things. So no wonder that I got hooked to gardening at a relatively young age.

So what do I remember of the times I spent with my thatha? In no particular order, and no thought to readability, here goes…

  • Hiding behind my mom, scared to look at the tall tall man who she called appa
  • Envying my cousins and sister who enjoyed a jovial familiarity with him which I could not
  • The reverence, respect, and at times the fear with which the others treated him with and spoke about him
  • Playing cards all day long – In fact, I learnt to play cards sitting under his chair. He was one who taught all of us to play and the mean old devil always said “even if you put sand as your next drop card, am sure to win!”
  • Learning to swear like a sailor :) When the game of cards did not go to his liking, my thatha always let forth a slew of curses and bad words which we the young kids were only all too ready to pick up. We used to memorize those words, and wait for the right opportunity to ask an elder for its meaning. Man, when they heard us kids uttering the words with glee, they sure had an heart attack!
  • When someone had the misfortune to commit a wrong act or say the wrong thing, he/she fell under the nasty tongue of my thatha. I loved watching him curse them with a wicked pleasure that am sure no kid should enjoy
  • Waiting for him to command my ammama to make sweets for us kids
  • Watching cricket with him and getting bored to tears
  • Sometimes, due to his inability, he depended on others to feed him or give him his drink. At times, that “others” became me. It was usually coffee – and oh god, I used to be so scared. I used to take the cup till his mouth, tilt it a little, and pour a spoonful very carefully into his open mouth. Splutter will come an expletive. “Enna ma, you are feeding me as if I am a dead thing or a young baby, tilt and pour more for heaven’s sake, will you” he used to say. Or “what the **** is this? It tastes like cat’s pee! Can’t you bring it when its real hot?”
  • The interrogation of our report cards, how we are studying, what we wanted to become in life…… you get the drift
  • I used to get so incensed when he spoke ill about my paternal grandparents
  • The many tales he used to regale us with. He had a dramatic way of narrating things and usually he told us incidents from his life and duties when he was an employee at Railways. His recollections of his father and mother and his family while he was young. The days when he could afford everything they needed for the month under one rupee…
  • Oh yes, how can I forget? The one thing we really really looked forward to when we went to his house was the money he used to give us. Without fail, we used to get a hundred rupee note – oh, how we used to treasure that. Sometimes, he handed out smaller sums asking us to buy ourselves cakes and chips.
  • Helping him do his exercises and physiotherapy
  • Watching chithi help him with bathing, and other activities
  • Feeling sad for him
  • He always used to wait for us at the gate when he knew we were coming. And when he sees the auto stop in front of the gate, he used to call out in a booming voice, “va ma kanna”
  • Envying him his green eyes – and scolding my mom for not inheriting his eyes and passing it on to me!
  • His advice to always be independent, not depend on the husband, and save for the rainy day
  • And so many more things……… I guess I can keep writing till the day ends

Sadly, when we grew up, we spent less and less time at his house. Instead of every other month, it became once in six months, and more recently, almost once a year. In fact, the last time I saw him was over a year ago when I had gone to show him his great grand daughter (my kid). He seemed very happy. And he finally realized that I had made something for myself and had not wasted my life. I could finally spot a bit of respect in his eyes for the life I had made for myself. I proudly told him about where I work and what I do and he was like “ahaaaaaaam, that’s good”.

I think we will miss him. When we go to Perumbur now, we will have no one waiting at the gates for us. No one around to fear and dread. No one to learn expletives from. No one to play cards with. No one to tell us tales.

We will miss him.

An ode to my grandpa

The day began like any other ordinary day in the mundane life of just another normal person in the world. I went about the daily stuff with the usual worries over stupid things that really matter not. And when I received a call from my sister, I cut the call thinking that I will call her back to save her the few coins. After all, right now at this stage of life, I can afford them more than her. The first clue that all was not well was when I tried calling her back after a minute and found her phone engaged. Mentally chiding her for her lack of patience, I kept my phone down only to pick it up right back when she rang again. Ha! Persistent sister! I picked up the call looking forward to her cheerful hello and perhaps a hour long talk to soothe the souls. Her first few words shocked me into silence. My first reaction, unlike what you might expect which is usually disbelief, was a strange acceptance. Govindachari thatha passed away this morning di, cried my sister. The phone can be so inadequate at most times, and this time it was really over the top.

I remember my thatha as an authoritative and arrogant man who probably always stood out in the crowd, his demeanor only accentuated by his light green eyes – a rarity in this part of the world. He was my maternal grandpa, a strong guy until his fifties when he suddenly met with a serious accident that damaged his spinal cord. A freak accident really – he had gone shopping that day to bring in some veggies for a special Sunday lunch, when an immature young kid lost control of his bike and rode it straight over him. First degree spinal damage. Complete immobility – total loss of hand control and a moderate loss of leg control. The arrogant strong man succumbed to a dreary life bound to the bed and chair.

He had worked all his life in the Southern Railways, a so called lucky central government employee. He climbed his way in the corrupt ladder to eventually retire as a senior level officer. It was the first weekend after his retirement I think (not sure) – the fateful day of the accident – and the family wanted to celebrate it with a special lunch. Not to be. He ended up confined to his bed, and would have stayed there for the rest for his life if not for his rigorous self-control and discipline. With the help of physiotherapy, exercises, and his younger daughter, he eventually regained control of his legs and could move about almost independently. His hands were still frozen like claws due to the nerve damage, but he tried hard to at least eat on his own if not perform other activities. But though he conquered the bed, his home became his jail. He never could regain his youthful strength back to go more than a few steps outside his house.

He had three kids – two daughters and one son. The eldest of the daughter was married to a traditional staunch religious (iyengar) family. The second daughter was married to her mom’s younger brother – who was miles away due to his job – so she elected to stay with her parents while both of them met up only during the weekends. And the son decided to go oversees in pursuit of better opportunities and eventually became a green card holder and an American citizen. My ammama i.e my grandma, I oh so remember her fondly, is a kind lady who was very devoted to the various Gods, Goddesses, poojas and other rituals. She doted on her grand children, her dominant husband, and in short, her family. I think she was content with just those two – family and Gods. No other life. I don’t think I can ever ask her questions such as “were you ever discontent with the life you choose”. So I will never know for sure.

The younger daughter sacrificed her life, and remained with her handicapped father – she looked after all his needs and he her children’s. My grandpa taught, preached, inspired, and guided the life of her two children both of whom later grew up to be reasonably admirable individuals in the society. It was his way of paying back for the relentless care she bestowed on him.

As is bound to happen, old age caught up with everyone. He turned eighty few years back and continued to live on. Bitterness started flowing freely – after all how long can you accept being left out of the fate’s “to die” list. It must not have been easy – not at all. It came to a point where he literally wished for death every day am told. It finally decreed to grant him his wish.

He died yesterday, the Sunday, 27th July 2008. After over two decades of life limited by the results of that one fateful day. The reason for his death is not clear – should probably suffice it to just old age, and the weariness of living in the slowly decaying body.

They say that you better not speak ill of the dead and if you must speak at all, speak only the good. So I shall. Though minor thoughts of his arrogant actions creep up from the young corners of my mind, I shall endeavor to paint only the best picture of him here, as I hope I have done so far.

As mentioned previously, he was an arrogant man – but kind I think. I do not remember much, if at all anything, of him before his accident. Those memories are very dull & weak and not to be relied upon. So I shall leave them be. Instead, let me pull out the stronger ones out and describe them here for posterity’s sake.

Though I couldn’t go down and pay my respects to the old man (due to the choices I have made in life, I have been rendered 380 kilometers away from the family I was born into), I have my own sadness. It is nowhere near to my mom’s, chithi’s and others. I was never close to him. I was more attached to my paternal grandparents. But like all grandparents, whichever side they belong, time does make them fond to you over the years however bad you might have perceived them to be while you were young. So, I remember my grandpa fondly. And when I recollect the happy summer days at my cousins’ place, he is the hero who rules over those memories.

So here’s to the central figure of all my memories of summer holidays. Grandpa, I cannot say that I loved you. I cannot say that I will miss you. But what I can say is, you did make to a difference in my life though I know not the magnitude of it. And for those times, however small they were in time’s measure, you were my hero. The hero who I imagined fighting all the corrupt bad guys. The guy who had to struggle against all odds. In retrospect, I do feel like murmuring those inadequate three words. I loved you.

I do hope you learnt all the life lessons you needed to learn in this incarnation and your soul is finally lighter for it. I feel happy for you, grandpa. You succeeded and brilliantly at that. I hope you are where you now need to be. To the lifetime you led, and the memories you have left behind in everybody’s mind……………

Please know that you were important.

To be continued.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I have a rhetoric question for all of us here. Take a minute, think abt it, and write a few words in return if you can.

  1. Are you happy with leading the life as you are? As in going to work, working for someone else, spending the well-earned money on frivolous things and deriving great happiness out of small things, etc, etc.
  2. What are your dreams? What do u want to do with life?

I for one, though happy with my life, still feel there is something else out there. For instance, i want to take up gardening and tarot reading very seriously. for some reason, everywhere i turn, i stumble upon gardens. So I am planning to take up a horitculture course sometime soonn if things go well :) Who knows, maybe i will quit work, hire a vacant land, and start a nursery some day :) And thats the most impossible thing that can happen in my life. I would be delighted i think if such a thing happens. So unfathomable a change. yet so delightful to me - even in thought :) Can you think of something life that? which is so un fathomable but yet a slim possibility for that exists - which will definitely make you happy........

Write back guys :)

Mail#2 - Reply from Mr.X
Before I answer ur question, ponder over this question….. (Actually I hate whatever I have written…but this is what my alter-ego asks me all the time )

Assume in a year or two, you quit your job, buy a nursery and start gardening and also become an expert tarot reader. Lets say all your family is extremely supportive and happy about ur decision and also there are no financial or emotional issues due to your change in track.

Now after all this, after a couple of years, lets say you start realizing that gardening or tarot reading is NOT what you wanted to do… get bored of doing it….and you also see all your friends and colleagues as managers leading big teams, doing highly complex work and travelling places and you realize leading a dynamic team, facing and solving complex issues and working under pressure is what you really wanted…that is what actually gave you an adrenaline kick and fulfillment which gardening or tarot never gave you…… Then what would you do?

“The Alchemist” says that the real discovery of the treasure was the journey itself, and the knowledge and findings acquired during the journey. The man finally realized that the treasure was right in his backyard and he finally comes back to acquire the treasure…..

But in your case, even after all the gardening and tarot reading (being the journey to find happiness) you finally realize that the “treasure” you really wanted was to lead people in a big organization and be on top of the ladder, would you be able to come back to the treasure????….if you take a break from your work for 2-3 years, would the company you work for ever take you back at a level to make you lead people? And even if you do join back, wont the people working with you now, be working above you when you come back? Wouldn’t that give a feeling that the treasure is lost forever?

They say "Treasure lies where your heart belongs"…..but the important question is “Would we ever know for sure where our heart belong?”

Mail#3 - Reply to reply
I'm glad you brought up that question. Thank you for trying to play the devil's advocate.

Now here's my reply.

I've got two answers to your question. The first answer is the most simple one and is something that the general janta will find easier to digest – perhaps thinking "ha! Finally! She gets off her high horse!" And the second answer is what my ego will force me to write shortly. Without further ado….

The simple answer:

I will regret what I did – that is leaving my current occupation and going after a fancy. There are two possibilities – I would either return back to the grind mill, plead and beg without appearing to, to dumb bosses to bring me up to the level, and try to get a semblance of what I had previously. Yes, every day I will dream of the colleagues, who were working as my equals but who are superior to me now, dying in mysterious accidents or getting involved in tragic incidents, rendered unable to return to work. Voila, I step up to fill their shoes. Justice restored. Or I will toil extra hard till I reach at least a level (which naturally would have come down!) I feel that befits me. I will write off the two years of gardening/tarot to experience – no one to blame. I will die happy, knowing that I had the courage to return back after my mistakes, and I will ask my daughter to pass on the proud story of her mom to all the future generations.

The other possibility of course is a sad one. My ego wouldn't let me return to the familiar world at such a disadvantaged position. My ego will cry, "life is unfair" and I will continue to brood all my life. I will tire of gardening and one fine day, I will write you all a mail posing the same rhetoric question – only this time, the gardening might become…any wild guesses? Yep, writing! I will tell you all that I knew all along that writing was my true calling but that gardening was something I just had to try. I will try to forget I ever liked the grind mill….. I will try my hands at a hundred million things including writing and will keep posing rhetoric question to all the souls within shouting distance, with an evil hidden intention of bringing the same unease into their life. I will ask them, "Are you really doing what you want to do?" and I will be satisfied even if they spare a minute thinking of an answer. I will blame myself my entire life and die totally unsatisfied that I failed to follow my dream.

Now, for the other answer – which my ego shall write. Apologies if I offend anyone here.

Mr.X, how conveniently you have sidestepped my question. Applauses!

Though admittedly your retort does make me squirm uncomfortably for a minute or so, it essentially lacks one main ingredient – the insight into my brain and complete life experiences– the knowledge of what makes me tick and what makes me mad; the knowledge of my strong desires and even stronger denials, the entire works…

So for the benefit of all, I shall reveal something that you may all not have really cared to know about – but I insist – and you are forced to read - that I never ever return to my past. It is not a matter of ego. No sir, it is just the way my personality is. And I do not regret. If I had given up anything midway in my life, I firmly stand by the decision of my past self and believe that she did what she did for the good. And I shall forever forgo that particular treasure in my back yard. No regrets whatsoever. And I have all those people and circumstances that make up my past to thank for – for making me what I am today.

That brings me to the next blip in the smooth screen you have painted. Your email seems to portray that everyone has access to only ONE treasure. One true calling. And that there is only one place your heart can belong. According to my beliefs, that is absolutely not correct. Your fundamental assumption that there is only one treasure makes the entire scenario oh so two dimensional. Where is the third, fourth or the other million possible dimensions? What of them? Or at least what of their concept? Ya, I forgo one particularly beautiful treasure through my action but I am so sure that there are millions more equivalent such treasures out there in my back yard or why back yard, out there anywhere in the world. And when I realize that I have forever destroyed that one particular treasure in my backyard when I was ploughing the ground to create my garden, I shall stand still for a moment in my life surrounded by absolute silence, and regret for just one heavy moment. I will cry, I will weep, I will mourn and I will grieve. Then I will come out of that silence. I shall stand tall again and I will become oh so happy. My experiences, and my mistakes, have made me better today than what I was yesterday and I will be glad of them. I shall cheerfully carry along, with no regrets whatsoever, and no thought spared on the treasure lost, and go in search of the other treasures. Maybe, I will forgo all but the millionth treasure but I will have hope that there is still one left. I go on. Life goes on.

Would we ever know for sure where our heart belong? No, we won't. We can only live for the moment and hope idiots like me and you stop asking questions that cause but the most minutest blips in this vast universe. We just carry on. And for entertainment, we restore to drafting emails as long as this one that makes the ego go "ummmmmmmmm".

Friday, July 18, 2008

Waiting for pain

So there I lay, all alone in the labour ward waiting for the pain to come on. All the others ladies who came in with pain, came in, screamed their heart out, sobbed at times, and left happily with a baby in their hands. And I lay there throughout the day with no sign of labour whatsoever. The nurses came regularly every fifteen minutes for the checkup and it was the same story the whole of the day – no, am not feeling any pain. No discomforts either. If you will let me, I can perhaps even get up and dance. But no pain. No, I don’t want to pee either. No, no, no.

Finally, one of the senior nurses got totally worked up and came near me and forcefully asked me to get up and go pee. Even if I didn’t want to. The explanation was you will feel pain better if your bladder was empty. Now, why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?! I would have emptied the bladder every minute if that will bring on the pain. I gingerly got down from the table/stretcher and sat down on the portable commode they got me. It was so embarrassing. There I was, all capable and perfectly fit, and yet I was forced to use that thing. Yuck! After about a minute or so, I was back on the table, back to gazing at the ceiling all day long. Still no signs of pain. Finally, and thankfully, the night dawned and I was asked to return to my room. They have given up. Either this lady is totally immune to the medicines we are giving her or this baby just doesn’t want to come out right now – that was the judgment for the day.

I wearily returned to my room, and was immediately surrounded by concerned in-laws, some relatives, and my family. Everyone had the same expression on their face – which seemed to be pityingly saying “she is going to end up having a caesarean after all”. I was so angry. So damn angry. At those faces, at the medicines which were not strong enough for me, and at just about any thought that entered my mind. Why the heck can’t I get pain like any other normal woman out there? What did I do wrong? Yes, I never did those exercises the doc taught me, yes, I never swept the rooms like everybody advised except at the end, and yes, we were too afraid to try the natural induction method. But THAT IS NO REASON FOR DENYING ME THE PAIN WHICH SHOULD HAVE BEEN MY BIRTH RIGHT. Maybe, there is still hope. Maybe the medicines might start working in the night – late effect. Maybe, maybe, maybe…… I was so tired of waiting for the pain.

Then I remembered. From the moment we discovered we were going to have a baby, my one thought and wish was for the baby to be the nicest person on Earth. I didn’t want him or her to ever cause another human being any pain (Ya, I know it’s impossible but one can wish, can’t they?). So in all my mummy talks and the conversations I had with my as yet-unborn baby, I constantly emphasized my desire for how I wanted him or her to be – to love everyone without being partial and to try to never cause anybody pain.

So, maybe, my baby didn’t want to cause me the pain that will be inevitable in a natural delivery. Maybe my sweet little one was so concerned about causing pain for its mom that it decided to stay inside, and keep both of us happy. Little did it know that it has to come out one day, one way or another and what’s more, the doc sure won’t let it stay inside even a day or two more than necessary. In my case, I was lucky enough to find a doc who waited over 10 days after the given date for the baby to make its own way out. But even she has her limits. And 10 days it was.

Surprisingly enough, the next morning came very fast – or maybe I feel so in retrospect. Anyway, I was determined to invoke the pain at least that day. In spite of everyone’s advice, I decided to take bath, put on a pretty new nighty, and got ready for a whole new day – the day my first baby shall be born!

There was still one more procedure to try, said the doc. We can opt for a local application of an inducing gel which has been known to work for many for whom the other medicines don’t work. So there’s still hope. I went into the labour ward again – but this time, the procedures were not so simple. And this was local application to boot – you can guess the amount of trauma I went through. To give you an idea, the doc asked four of the assistants to hold both my legs firm while she did her duty! This one is a tough case, she murmured laughingly. Post that procedure, things began to move fast. Too fast. I started getting contractions. Mildly at first, and then increasing in strength. I was happy. But not for long. The student doc came over for the regular foetal heartbeat checkup and seemed to find something wrong. I could tell by her expression, though she did not utter a single word. She went a little away from my earshot, took out her cell phone, and murmured something into it. Then, with a decisive nod, she came back to me again, measured the fetal heartbeat, and came to a decision immediately. What happened after that seems like a nightmare. A foetal monitor was rolled over, and multiple cords were attached to my tummy. I was asked to press a button every time the baby moved and warned strictly not to press the button accidentally. The machine beeped constantly and I could feel my heart beat starting to gallop away at a crazy speed. Was something wrong with the baby? Please, no, not now. Not now after waiting for it eagerly all these days and just when I could have had it any minute. God, please no.

I can’t go into further details – but suffice it to say that I became a major emergency case. My pulse rate went down, the baby’s hear beat apparently started going higher than it should have been, and I couldn’t breathe properly. They gave me a stabilizing shot and asked me to return to my room till they could buzz my doc and have her come over. A kind nurse offered to have another kind nurse come over to my room to fit an oxygen mask on me – but I would have to wait a bit. Do continue breathing though – even if it’s difficult. And I was dismissed.

By this time, the contractions were almost unbearable. I almost fell down a couple of times on the way back to my room. My husband was there, waiting for the happy news. He was shocked to see me return – and when I told him that the nurses were trying to reach my doc, and he better go over to her house to get her right away to the hospital, he was even more shocked! Then I told him, that it’s going to be a C-section after all. I was trying to be brave but the sudden avalanche of one contraction after another took their toll. I went into high panic which didn’t help my pulse rate one bit. I screamed at him to get the doc as well the nurse to fit me the oxygen mask at once. He ran away and I was all alone again. The oxygen nurse didn’t turn up at all – but another one did. She was actually a messenger – “they are calling you back to the labour ward” and off she went without even bothering to find out if I followed her advice. I somehow managed to reach the labour ward and the high drama began again.

Finally, after what seemed like ages, my doc came in, did a few checks, and pronounced just two words that dashed all my hopes – “Prepare her”. They did the usual things that are required before an abdominal surgery and before I knew it, I was being wheeled out of the ward and into the operation theatre. All I remember of those few minutes were the faces of my dear ones looking at me worriedly, my mom praying desperately, and my sis running to keep up with the moving stretcher to put the perumal kumkumam on my forehead, and finally my husband with tears in his eyes. I think he was so very afraid. Of loosing me or the baby. But I had no time to spare a thought for him. The contractions were becoming unbearable and all I wanted then was the operation to begin and get over as soon as earthly possible.

I was wheeled into the operation theatre and transferred from my stretcher to the operation table. I saw my doc, completely covered in her operation garb, sitting in a quiet corner waiting for the other surgeon, the anesthetist, and the pediatrician to come.

I lay there waiting…….. Waiting for my baby to finally come out.

Edited to add: Continued here

Monday, July 14, 2008

My kannukutti


I raise my voice to get my point across and to convey how much I am hurt.
He sees it as "You are shouting so that everyone can hear us; Are you trying to act overly dramatic?"
Tears start forming in my eyes intentionally/unconsciously and am overwhelmed by the emotions – self-pity, hurt, loneliness….
He dismisses it as “ Don’t start crying for such small things; If I can cry like you, even I would”
I lie awake half the night contemplating why my life took such a bad turn. I think up plots to correct its course, in the process dampening the pillow a little.
He turns on his side, and snores away to glory.
Unable to bear the silence of the dead of the night, and worse, my own thoughts, I decide to take matters into my hand. I turn to my side and doze off!
The next morning, with a naughty glint in his eyes, and an attempt to patch things up, he says, “I didn’t sleep half the night because somebody sure was snoring away to glory”

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Giving and taking

If somebody doesn't give gracefully and lovingly, you don't feel like taking their help/offer/aid, do you? There is so much said about giving but so little about taking. I do not mean the act of just taking without thought. But rather taking when you have no other choice, taking when you have to take, taking when you must. When giving has to be graceful and loving, taking definitely has to be thankful and accepting. Perhaps it has to be so... even if the former is not as it should be. But there are times when the receiver feels so incensed by his/her situation that taking doesn't happen very peacefully or cordially. Especially when the receiver feels in his mind that the giver is not fully willing. Perhaps in the corners of each of their minds, they both do not want to be there..... do not want to there in that particular situation. But circumstances, the need for appearances, and the society's dictates force one to give and the other to receive. Of course, the the giver and receiver frequently exchange roles but the acts remain the same. It becomes an endless cycle. Both of them forget the love, grace, and the gratitude part of the equation. What started out as a willing relationship slowly rots into dissatisfaction-infested remains. Oh yes, there are attempts to get back into the initial state - either by one or both the parties. But inevitably, they slide back into the routine. I wonder what it will take to break the monotony....?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Short story # 1

The dog sat there wagging his tail. I think it was waiting for its master to return back. It was past 8 o’ clock – far later than the usual five that she is back. I was there – hidden in the corner out of the dog’s eyesight. I’m sure it knew I was there. But it didn’t bother to come investigate. It was awaiting her more. The breeze blew in from the slightly open windows and brought with it the smell of hot coffee and stale masala. The faint noise of the neighbor’s vessels could be heard as well. The dog’s ears twitched for a second then everything became quieter still. After a few more minutes of me observing the dog, and the dog observing the firmly shut door, I decided to get up from my desk. A minute later, I stood towering over the dog, all six feet 2 inches of me. The dog finally decided to acknowledge me and gave my feet a half-hearted lick. It gazed up at me – and seemed to be pleading to know where she is. I turned away not having the courage to tell it that she will never return. The dog must learn. It must learn to live without her. And it will soon know. It will soon realize that it was me. It will soon know...

Monday, July 7, 2008

What is Ayush homa?

We had Baby Rabbit’s Ayush homam this weekend. It went so amazingly well as expected – what with the beautiful surroundings of the Sri Govardhana Kshetra of the Udupi Sri Puthige Mutt and our wish to make it a perfect day. Before arranging this homam, I scoured the Internet looking for some information on what exactly is Ayush homam, and what kind of ritual/procedure is performed. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any place where the entire information is given in one single page. So we had to resign ourselves till we could go through the homam ourselves. So now that we have, armed with the knowledge gathered during the ceremony from the purohit/shashtrigal and from the various websites I read, we thought why not outline the procedure of Ayush homam here for the benefit of souls like me who seek to know more. So here goes. Do pardon me if this is not 100% accurate.

Ayush homa (also spelt to as Aayusha homa or homam)

The Ayush homa is performed primarily to pray for longevity and prosperity of life - Ayush meaning age or tenure of life, and homa, the invocation of the deity through a consecrated fire. Lord Shiva is invoked as Sanjeevani or Mrityunjaya, the devatha in charge of longevity. It is usually performed on the First birthday (Star birthday) of the baby. It may even be performed anytime later during one’s lifetime. The Ayush homa is said to have originated from the prayers of Markandeya.

Markandeya was the son of Saint Mrukandu who was destined to die at an early age of 16. On the proposed last day of this life, Markandeya prayed to Lord Shiva embracing the idol/lingam while Yama prepared to take away his life. Markandeya chanted the sacred Mrityunjaya Stotram praying for Lord Shiva to protect his life. When Yama tried to throw the noose around Markandeya’s neck, the noose also enveloped the lingam. Lord Shiva then emerged, angry and furious with Yama for trying to take away the life of his devotee. What ensued is a battle where Shiva is said to have brought death to the God of death himself (Yama). On the condition that Markandeya will be let free by Yama forever from the fate of death, Yama was spared his life. There are different variations to this tale, some of them featuring Lord Vishnu instead of Shiva. For more details, see here and here.

Before the homa is begun, the devotees performing the homa pray to their family/native deity or God seeking their blessings. After this, the couple/parents along with the kid are invited to sit facing the homa kundam or the altar. The altar is made of three parts
– The Eastern end is decorated or painted with five-colored Rangoli portraying a Mandapam (Mandapa) or Peetam in the bhoomi (Earth). The five colors are supposed to signify the five elements of nature. This will act as the place where Sanjeevani /Mrityunjaya is invited to sit and shower his benevolence from. This can be compared to the respect with which we treat our guests and ensure they feel special. Similarly, the God is also treated in a special way.
– The middle portion is where the Agni Kundam/fire altar is kept. The Agni is traditionally considered as the carrier of our prayers and offerings to the concerned deity/devatha. It is said that since these devathas are so powerful, they are not easily reachable to the ordinary man. The Agni acts as an easy and approachable intermediary who can pass on our devotion and prayer to the devathas. The Agni along with his brother takes our offerings to the Gods and leave behind the prasadam in the form of ashes. Besides the Agni Kundam is a small depiction of another Rangoli portraying Lord Ganesha.
– The other extreme portion (North-East) is where the Kalasham is kept. A Kalasham is a pot filled with water and covered with a turmeric-smeared Coconut surrounded by Mango Leaves. This is supposed to symbolize the sacred waters of Ganga and Bhagirati. To know more about Kalasham, see here.

The homa consists of three stages – Karmaadi (Karma + Aadi, the beginning), Karmamahdya (Karma + Madhya, the middle), Karmaanthya (Karma + Anthya). Karmaadi starts with the customary prayers to the God of beginnings, Lord Ganesha. This includes inviting the God to his mandapa/mandala/seat, praying and praising him, bestowing him with flowers and akshata, offering him the neivedyam, and imploring him to facilitate a smooth time ahead for the homa to proceed without interruption.

The purohit/shashtrigal also does what can perhaps be called transferring the power of attorney. Usually, in the olden days, the devotees performed by the homa or yagnas by themselves. But in this day and age with no training whatsoever in vedic literature, we rely on the few purohits/shahtrigals to do it for us. So one of the rituals in the homa involves the learned purohit requesting the couple to formally give the right of performing the homa to them who then chant the mantras on the devotee’s behalf.

After the Ganesha pooja, Sanjeevani /Mrityunjaya are invoked and offered their place on the Eastern end Mandapam made specifically for them. The homa continues with the purohit/shashtrigal chanting a series of mantras. While the main purohit attends to the Agni Kundam, two others pray to Mrityunjaya on the Eastern Mandapam and the Kalasham on the other extreme. The sacred fire is then kindled and various offerings are made. A favorite offering for Sanjeevani /Mrityunjaya is a mix made of honey, sugar, and ghee. This is offered to the Agni with the help of grass stems. The purohit/shashtrigal halt during Karmamahdya and ask the couple to pray for their kid’s well-being and ayush. It is said that the Gods are at their most benevolent self at the peak of the homa and praying to them at this instance is guaranteed their blessings. With the purohits chanting the mantras with devotion, and kindling the fire with ghee and offerings, the Agni burns bright and takes our prayers to the Gods.

The homa is concluded with Poornahuti or Purnahuti, Aarati and offering the Thambula(m) to the Agni. While the purohits continue with the last of the mantras, the Agni quietens down and becomes a gentle flame. Prasadam in the form of ashes from the Agni Kare distributed to all present.

The Brahmins are offered their dakshanas and their blessings are sought as well. (At the end of any auspicious pooja/homa, whatever the Brahmins say will come true. Hence the Brahmin blesses the kid and family with their prayers by saying “Manasabhista Praptirastu” – meaning May whatever you desire in the heart come true). All the elders in the gathering are also invited to bless the little one.

Ayush homam invitation

For posterity's sake....

PS: Conceptualization, design, and production - all by yours truly :)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Let's make some babies... of the botanical kind :)

My fascination with plants and other related beings started some 10 years back. I do not remember my first pot or plant. If I really try hard, I think I can hazily see a "insisted by mom" kanakambaram sapling standing in a lonely pot at the corner of the balcony in the dim corners of my brain! And if you are wondering what the heck is "kanakambaram", that's the Tamil name for Crossandra undulaefolia. Gee, I guess that's even more of a "what the whatever" ;) Before you pick up the nearest item and aim it at the monitor hoping it will reach me, the common name of the plant/flower is Firecracker. Can you believe that???? Such an exotic name for our kanakambaram? I wouldn't have thought of it in my dreams! This is the same orange flower that North Indians disdainfully say South Indians load their heads with. The same flower that moms and mamis pin on their young daughters' hair so thoughtlessly, never mind that the girls are wearing bright blue dresses! Gosh, those days! Today, I will run a mile if anybody even dares approach me offering "Firecrackers" for my hair. Oh my god, no ways!!!!!!!

I do have the nasty (or maybe delightful if you insist) habit of digressing, don't I? Hmm, where was I? Oh, ya..... I was recollecting my gardening history. So like I was saying, it began some 10 years back. Obviously started with a few cheap plants that I could grow myself without buying seeds from the nursery. Like delicious tomatoes. Over and over again. Tomatoes and more tomatoes. My balcony was full of them. I used to get up each morning and run straight to my crops. Was that a bud? Or was that a new leaf? Oh, will you look at those cutie-pies? Those beautiful, beautiful little yellow flowers! Should I help them breed? Perhaps take some pollen from one flower to another? (Those were the times when we were just starting with Botany lessons). And when my humble crop load gave a few tomatoes, I couldn't wait for them to grow bigger. I will choose one fine auspicious day (all in my small mind no thanks for that almanac), pluck them out gently and run into the kitchen offering it as a grand prize to my mom. Home-grown fresh tomatoes straight from the plant. No ma'm, you don’t have to worry about those pesticides. No need to wash them either. Cut them and put them directly into the sambar. Is it done? Ha! Give me a spoonful, will you? I need to taste my produce. Heavenly. Delicious. Oh, my dear tomato plant..... Thank you, thank you so much. Off I run back to my balcony, intent on sowing a few more tomato seeds! Little did I realize that my produce was one tomato in the lot of six that my mom used for that sambar.

Another favorite was "Table rose". I'm sure you will know this one. No, this is not the "rose" rose. This is table rose! Miniature flowers that come in light pink, dark pink, in-between pink, white, white with pink, etc, etc. The reason this is a favorite is of course because it grows oh easily. Even in a kotankuchi. For those who are Tamil-ignoramus, kotankuchi is the left-over shell after you scrap out every bit of coconut from it. A coconut shell, yes. For a kid, even kotankuchi can become a garden. Wow! That came out nicely! A new phrase I've coined all by myself. Go, figure! Better yet, go start using it giving me due credits.

And then there are various other plants which were little harder to grow with limited resources. But try to grow them I did. I remember the Ladies Finger fondly. The deep Yellow to Purple flower and subsequent tiny winy Ladies Finger :) Then there were the unsuccessful attempts to grow Coriander, Jasmine, and Roses.... ha, how can I forget those kakadas?

There came a stage when I used to beg my pop to give me some money to spend on pots, plants and seeds. The indulgent man that he was for his younger daughter, he used to give me the requested amount after a customary round of no-no and nah-nah. With a handful of money (read coins!), I used to skip to the nursery nearby and spend hours together enquiring about different plants to the old patti there. Sometimes, I even convinced the uninterested sister and friends to tag along. Wonder what they were thinking about me then? Probably a budding botanist (pardon the pun!)

Fast forward to a few more years later. My affair with our stationary friends continued uninterrupted across cities and across other people's garden. But then slowly petered out. When I shifted to a PG, I tried. I tried the kotankuchi method. But due to lack of attention, the table rose died. Poor thing. I do believe firmly that plants flourish only when you give them enough attention. And when I say attention, I do not mean water, air and fertilizers. I mean love. I mean taking time out to sit/stand beside them, caress them lovingly, and enquire about their health. About how their day went. About..... how a plant's life is. I used to do it. Grin, grin. And I used to love doing that.

The present day. Though there is a small garden in front of my house, I don't touch it. The big lady of the house along with her husband dominates it. There are only the usual decoration plants. One or two flowering kinds. Sadly, none of them are my kind (Like tomatoes!). But recently, I picked up some nerve, and decided to change the way things are. What better time than when the MIL goes on a long tour. I laid siege to the empty pot cramped between two huge crotons. Got overenthusiastic and sowed both chilies and guess what else? Tomatoes! :) Nobody noticed. Even after MIL returned back. Whenever I had time, I tiptoed to the garden and peered around the crotons to check whether my saplings have come out. They took some time but finally they did. Both of them. After a few days, the chilies became too much for my poor tomatoes. All the tomatoes died :( Only chilies left!

The envisioned future. A big big garden of my own. I shall be the queen and I shall reign supreme. The mister and mistress of the land. Everyone shall ask me permission before setting foot inside the holy land. Yes, including the dumb dog. Oh ye dog's master, you better ensure your dog poops outside before he ventures inside my land. Lest he soil my soil. In the worst case that that happens, I will make him eat his own stuff which I am sure he wouldn't mind anyway!

A garden. Oh, yes please, a garden of my own. A neat vegetable plot on one side, a few flowers spread here and there. One or two medium-sized trees. Some underplanting. And if the surroundings permit, a Mango tree. And I shall sit and pray each day for the birds and bees to come. And when they do come, I will hope with all my heart for them to return and make my garden their home. My little one shall play in their midst.

A dream. Almost a fairy tale. Perhaps I will secretly wish for the fairy circle too.