Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Vedanta Retreat in Rishikesh.

When I received a mail from Neema and Surya about their plans to hold a retreat in Rishikesh on Vedanta, I looked up the meaning of the word. ‘A period of several days of withdrawal from society to a religious house (Ashram in our case)’. As I had never been to a retreat, I chose to join them thinking it was surely the best way to experience a retreat.

My preparation (reading up on Vedanta!) for the retreat was in reality only limited to packing for my trip! Tara wanted me to carry clothes for all possible weathers! I suppose we both forgot that Rishikesh was just at the beginning of a climb to the Himalayas, so I packed two sweaters (Tara’s idea!), a jacket and raincoats: light (for light showers) and heavy (for a downpour) and also a few full sleeved T shirts! This was in addition to my regular clothes! I also added a pair of shoes along with sneakers and slippers. Quite a lot for an ashram! My instincts said it was too much but I chose to ignore the warning!

I realized how heavy my bag was, only at the New Delhi railway station when I decided to roll the suitcase on its wheels not spotting any porters. No problem till I reached the pedestrian bridge, it was then a steep climb and a long walk. This Excessive baggage and its burden I carried were entirely due to my ignorance about the weather and about life in an ashram. Few veshtis (dhoti) and shirts and the slipper would have been just right. The sneaker would only be needed in case we went trekking!

I had no clue that it would be so hot on a coach without A/C and that is how we travelled from ND to Hardwar. Our assumption that it would not be hot on evenings in a moving train was wrong as the train stopped often! As we struggled with the heat and the noise I hoped that this was not the beginning of a really testing retreat! I hoped that the cottages (or would it be thatched huts?) in the ashram would not be this hot. The old stories of Rishis doing katora tapas(Harsh penance!) had surely colored my imagination.

As we got off from the train at Hardwar we saw the porters and engaged them promptly! Actually this station was better designed with ramps to wheel our bags easily. Anyway the porters had a good time. We got into the waiting taxis, a new Toyota Innova and were soon on our way through typical small town roads once we crossed the bridge at Hardwar.

We were pleasantly surprised as we entered the gates of the Ashram. The ashram was large, open, clean and fairly modern. My room was on the first floor and I could easily take my heavy suitcase up as there was an elevator! I was pleased to see that my room was functional, even had an overhead fan! I discovered later that the bathroom was clean and included a geyser for hot water and a shower!

While I was a little disappointed that we were not living in a thatched hut, it was also a relief to be staying in a nice room! Even though we reached the ashram well past the dinner time, the ashram officials, Swami Hamsananda and the manager Gunananda, had very kindly kept dinner for us. It also demonstrated to us the regard the ashramites have for Neema and Surya.

(An old picture of the Ashram!)

We took a walk to the riverfront after dinner and while it was dark, we could hear the river, reverently addressed here as Gangaji. The sound of the river as I stood there with my eyes closed was magical and the thought came to me that while the river was as old as history, the water that flowed down was always new, it was a clear example of the ‘here and now’, an expression often used by Neema and Surya in their teachings!

I hurried back to my room as we were to start early in the morning at 6.30 am for meditation to be guided by Surya! I did not want to be late on the first day of my retreat! In fact, Surya was planning to take a dip in the river early in the morning, ‘At 5 am sharp’ he said! I was not even remotely tempted!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ananya and I walked to the playground next to the Kumarapark micropark

Last Sunday Ananya came with her parents for a visit. A little older than my granddaughter Leela, she is all of 7 years! She actually loves to read but I suggested we take a walk to the playground next to the micropark as it would be fun! As we walked to the playground I asked her if she liked India. She said yes! You can also see that in the neat pictures she has taken with her camera.

As we walked back from the playground Ananya said she had fun in the park but I was a bit worried while we were in the playground! You will soon understand why!

Ananya walked past the See-Saw as she was alone and no one was playing. Obviously no one could play as the seats are damaged!

She then tried this merry-go-round and I stopped her when I found that it was wobbling. In fact, one of the parents came to warn me that it was dangerous to play on it.

The slide, could be as old as me, was definitely a no-no.

She then joined some other kids and had a great time!

She tried the parallel bar all by herself!

I was relieved that she opted not to go on the swing. There was a puddle below.
Ananya took this picture of a playground near her grandparents home. Seems to be in a better shape or possibly it is closed for children! Anyway it will not last long as it looks very flimsy.
If you comment on the shabby state 0f our playgrounds, the answer given is that some children play too rough! I would have agreed earlier, but not any more. I have seen very good playgrounds in the west where even bigger kids play. Our children deserve better designed equipment and it is a shame we cheat them! We seem to be incapable of designing good playground equipments. May be we should import them from China. Better than importing idols of gods!
Below are some pictures which Ananya took and the reason she loves India!

Monday, September 7, 2009

On living outside the bubble!

As an expat in Thailand it was easy to live in a bubble . On our return, even though our intentions were to get involved with the real India, Roopa calls it the nitty-gritty’s, it is no surprise that our first instinctive reaction was to get into a similar bubble here as quickly as we could! We soon learnt that a lot more time is needed to accomplish this feat.

We were fortunate in Bangkok as we were absorbed very early on by the Indian Diaspora and began to feel that we belonged! While you miss your home and family in a new country, you are in some ways a pioneer! Your friends are your family and they are mostly of your choice and are like minded. You are given tremondous support that you did not expect and it humbles you!

In Thailand, while you may stick out like a sore thumb, you still retain a kind of anonymity. While you know you are an Indian, you will be surprised that it is not so obvious to many. I have been asked if I was a Muslim from Pakistan. Some of them do not even recognize your county of origin and ask you 'where you from'! It is funny but I have even been mistaken for a German or a Japanese.

But I felt very soon after my return that I was treated differently by the public here and surprisingly I felt different as well! I surely did not blend with the scene here! Your craving to be accepted, to be able to share the very valuable lessons you think you have learnt becomes very strong! While I have yet to find avenues for sharing my experience, my age being a deterrent and there are so many like me, there are certainly many ways for you to share your hard earned savings!

To my chagrin the vegetable and fruit vendors invariably overcharge me, while Tara seems to have a little better time. There are still a lot of adjustments to be made. For instance, the maid Tara hired, while a nice person, expects to be adopted as one of the family. We are made to feel obliged to take care of her various responsibilities. There are loans given for school fees for her children, sister's marriage, renting a house and parents ill health as of today. They also go missing often on various family errands. It is apparent that it is not just the IT and BT stalwarts who are offered 'Signing up' bonuses and flexi-times! The lowly maid is also able to manage the same perquisites in a very subtle way!

Then there is the experience of renovating our apartment! Probably that is a story for Tara to tell and I bet she will not! But she got it done to her credit!

I will soon blog about the fun of buying a car and hiring and managing a driver! I expect it to be as challenging as any! While waiting for the car I now use the auto as my transport. I guess it has to be an other blog as the experience gained by dealing with the auto drivers is really very diverse and deep and surely affects your psyche and creates an urge to find your bubble fast and crawl into it!

Why is a stamp paper so critical?

I remember as a kid I often heard elders exclaiming 'Naanu Maathu Kotte'. (I have given my word!). Promises were not made easily then and once made it was sacrosanct. Recently I had to give my word to the GOI and it involved not just my word as I had to give it in writing! Not on any paper, I had to give it in writing (actually it was typed!) on a stamp paper and it was then signed and stamped (we called it a chop in Thailand) by a Public Notary. As I was new to this, I admit that I hired an agent, who introduced me to a (petty) lawyer, who in turn obtained the signature and the chop from a govt. approved public notary. It was not at all that difficult once we had the stamp paper and the agent appeared from nowhere as soon as we had bought the stamp paper. The tough part was the buying the stamp paper!

No, this was not for my Ration Card. I was actually making an affidavit to be submitted to the police along with many other papers by Shakku. She as an American citizen needs to go through a process of registration as a foreign national and I as an Indian National have promised to take care of her bills during the duration of her stay here in India! (The official language is different!)
The spin off was that I learnt how to buy a stamp paper and get it notarised. This experience will surely help me when I approach the FCS in the near future for my RC .

The queue was long and was still building as we approached the rear of the issuing Bank. We almost gave up, but could not afford to, as Shakku needed the affidavit to process the application within the week! We were worried as to whether the issuing window would close before we got there. A person next to us, obviously experienced, assured us that once a challan is issued the stamp paper would surely be sold to us.
We then asked 'where do we get the challan'. He said 'Just stand in the queue and someone will come and give you the challan'. We heaved a sigh of relief as soon we were given the challan! I liked the system, no rushing from one line to another.
Shakku then realised that she had forgotten to carry a pen and she had to borrow it from some one in the queue! She was lucky as not many are willing to loan a pen. The lesson I have learnt is never to leave home without a pen and coins if you hire an auto rickshaw. Earlier, I remember we had to take along (gund)pins as well. I now carry a stapler in case I have work at govt. agencies!

I suppose I should rush with my own RC project as stamp papers go out of stock often! This notice warns us that it may go out of stock very soon!

Not always true as the branches often go out of stock. Strange that some branches specialise only in one denomination! As we were waiting there was confusion as some windows went out of Rs100 stamp paper. No stampede or commotion thank god!
This has no connection to the present story. I was reminded of my trip to FCS where I was not permitted to use the elevator! This is other end of the spectrum, where a department store discriminates against its own staff!