Saturday, December 26, 2009

Re visiting Shirdi

My first visit, almost 45 years ago, was on an impulse. It was memorable and significantly changed my notions about worship! The moment I stepped into the main hall, the whole congregation began to sing. It was as if they were just waiting for me to enter! After aarthi I moved with the other devotees towards the idol of Saibaba. No one shouted at me to move on and none pushed or pulled to speed me up. I rested my head, copying others, on the footprints carved out on marble. I felt very peaceful and very content.

In fact, the memory of my first visit is still fresh in my mind. I am happy with just that memory! I have this strong belief that Saibaba has taken care of me all along. I have made many visits since then and have always returned with a better clarity in my thoughts.

This visit was different in every way from my first, there were probably 10 times more number of people (3000!).
The whole area around the main shrine was enclosed and barricaded! Tara, Shubhadaji and I deposited our shoes and cell phones at the booth and entered a large hall. We joined the long queue, two in a row, zig-zagging the entire width of the hall. The queue moved in spurts! Seats were provided in each lane for us to rest.

Good idea as often the queue did not move and it was a long wait. The drawback; those who were behind usurped our space as we sat down! Not really right, but that is how we are! Also a few would step forward into the gaps created while we made a U-turn and gain a couple of feet. Progress of some sort, though selfish!

As we waited, we watched the TV monitors and saw the Idol being readied for the aarthi. Suddenly the queue moved, I cannot say my spirits soared, as we just entered another hall! I was pleasantly surprised to see a small outlet selling coffee, snacks and even ice cream! I heard someone say that it will take an other hour and realised that we would surely miss the aarthi. Other queues also merged into ours ahead of us slowing us down further!

The aarthi began and I was lucky to see the aarthi on a TV monitor. Shubhadaji joined in the aarthi, but her voice was soft and muted. There were many who could sing, but there were many more, like me, who stood in silence. While looking around, I discovered that if I craned my neck I could see the aarthi on two monitors and it somehow felt better! Really illogical, but there you are!

After the aarthi, I saw many turn around in a circle and gesture with their hands in many ways to show their bhakti. I am always humbled by such devotees who are able to express their devotion anywhere and with such sincerity!

In time, the queue moved and we were finally in the main hall, and there were more lanes and I chose the last one on the left. I knew that this would lead me to the side of the idol, wherein the icon of Saibaba's feet are located! As I came parallel to the idol, I was dismayed to see that the 'feet' were also barricaded. While I just walked out, I saw that many managed to reach the 'feet' across the glass cover and then touch their heads. I admired them for not giving up!

This visit I could hear the shouts of security guards urging devotees not to linger and move on. The flowers and other offerings were hurled at the idol by the pundits. Time and Motion study was at work to deal with ever expanding line of devotees!

Tara said she was impressed with all the gold that was artfully used! It created an illusion of a palace as we walk towards the idol. I also noticed on the way out that the shrine also had gold covered gopuram!

I had heard that Shirdi had developed beyond recognition and it is true.

But it still caters to those with a modest budget!

While we find many nice buildings all around, the shanties have not gone away completely.

As I walked around Shirdi I wondered if Saibaba would really have wanted it to develop this way. Would he be upset by the disparity or should I say the grandeur one sees in what was essentially a dilapidated masjid in his time?

Then I thought that he always loved his disciples and forgave them their many foibles. I also realise that it is wrong to think that his influence is limited only to Shirdi.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The way we drive!

Prasad (from Malacca) sent me an article as a primer to driving in Bengaluru! Supposedly by a Dutchman, very apt, it is a mixture of humor and desperation! However right, I still hate a phirangi ridiculing India and I needed to justify the mayhem and chaos on our roads! I could always blame the British or state vehemently 'we are Indians and that is how we are!'

At the same time, having lived overseas and seen a more courteous behavior of drivers, I know that there is something amiss. For instance, just a few days ago, as I looked down from my balcony, I noticed that a lady driver slowed down to park, probably without signals, and the fellow behind her car kept leaning on the horn to show his annoyance. He kept at it till the lady parked her car and he could move on! In fact, he was at it even as he passed her! This is unacceptable behavior in any part of the civilized world. I was shocked even more when I realised that he looked to be a normal type of guy!

Yesterday was scary, as I turned into the main road under the railway bridge I was shocked out of my wits by a young father with his daughter on the rear seat coming down nonchalantly on the wrong side of the road! I still get goose pimples when I think of the risk this man takes obviously every day! Then there was this young cyclist who suddenly decided to move from right to left right in front of me and surely god was kind to us at that moment!

Then there was this scooter rider who cut in front of my car, a normal occurrence, but in this case he took a wider turn than I had anticipated and I had to really brake hard! The reason he was not able to turn sharply was that he had stored material between the seat and the handle and his turning was restricted because of this.

My first reaction was that there is no hope! I keep talking about my daily dose of shocks with Raghu. His trite comment was 'we have a genetic flaw!' It is not that he just picked up a fashionable word. When he speaks about 'genetic flaws' its implications are far more serious!

While I hope to write more about his assessment of us Indians, let me dwell on what the Dutchman said:

He has many things to say, but I begin with the truck, which I guess has caused maximum number of deaths and harm on the roads. (It could be that buses, transport and tourist, may lay equal claim on the deaths caused on the roads.)

"Night driving on Indian roads is like playing Russian roulette, because you do not know who amongst the drivers is loaded with liquor. a truck attempting a speed record. Our roads do not have shoulders, but occasional boulders. Do not blink your lights expecting reciprocation. his total cerebral functions add up to little more than a naught. Truck drivers are licensed to kill. Often you may encounter a single powerful beam of light about six feet above the ground, a truck approaching you with a single light on, usually the left one. It could be the right one, but never get too close to investigate. on the trunk roads. During the daytime, trucks are more visible, except that the drivers will never show any signal."

While it may appear that the truck driver, he definitely is one of them, is the villain of the piece, there are many more! I have yet to inspect the new trucks and buses, but I know that earlier ones were the shoddiest of vehicles that I had the misfortune to ride on. The steering was so hard, there was no way a truck driver would go on the (non-existent) shoulders of the narrow roads and if he did, would probably have caused more accidents! I consider that the manufacturers and those who make, inspect and approve such terrible roads as the other villains! (It is claimed that things have improved!)

The owners of the vehicles who would not maintain the vehicles, not even give the drivers a set of spare bulbs, are also in this category. Their argument would be the drivers steal, bulbs do not last and so on! How many times do we read that a speeding vehicle(!) rammed into a parked truck in the night as there were no lights and many were killed!

If you probe deeper, the owners would claim that there are other expenses. I remember that the drivers of commercial vehicles would carry cash to distribute along the way. Not that they were innocent victims, the trucks were usually overloaded. Obviously the brakes would not respond to the extra load and would fail and kill innocent pedestrians! I am not sure if there are any statistics on the number of deaths caused by burst tyres!

So it is clear that there are many more who are guilty than just the inebriated, uneducated truck drivers for the many for deaths on the road and we choose to turn a blind eye!

Here are the links to many stories on the way we drive!
http://www.mizozo.com/weird/07/2009/20/driving-in-india-a-hilarious-account-by-a-dutchman.html

http://www.insideline.com/features/driving-test-indian-style.html
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life/spirituality/speaking-tree/Driving-as-a-spiritual-exercise-/articleshow/4460502.cms