Thursday, May 27, 2010

Misleading Headline: Shirdi bans VIP darshans.

Not really! Still good news for the lay devotee!
Recently I blogged about how Shirdi had changed for me over the years!
Still a place I would love to visit again!

Shirdi bans VIP darshans

You don’t have to make way for celebrities at the Sai temple, thanks to the new system. But devotees, be prepared to shell out a fee to offer prayers during weekends

Santosh Andhale

Posted On Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 02:26:42 AM in Mumbai Mirror

Sai Baba devotees can rejoice. The Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust, that manages the shrine, has decided to ban VIP darshan during week days. The decision was taken on Wednesday at a meeting of the trust held at Mantralaya.

VIP darshans at the popular shrine has been a contentious issue because devotees regularly faced inconvenience when their queues were stopped to enable politicians and other bigwigs offer their prayers first. The trust has now decided that paid darshan, in which devotees can pay a fee to jump the regular queue, will be allowed on Saturdays and Sundays between 9 am and 12 noon. On a regular day, over one lakh people visit the shrine, which is the second richest in India. On holidays and weekends, the number goes up to five lakh, and during festivals it exceeds eight lakh. Though most devotees are from Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, a large number come from other parts of the country. The shrine has been attracting devotees from abroad as well. “To be fair to ordinary devotees, we have decided at our board meeting to do away with VIP darshan because it caused inconvenience. Now we are introducing paid darshan, quite like the Tirupati Sansthan. At the meeting, some trust members suggested Rs 100 for regular darshan and Rs 500 for aarti. We will reach a consensus on the fees very soon. It has also been decided that the number of devotees who will be able to avail of the paid darshan will be limited to 10 per cent of the total number of people waiting in the queue, said Jayant Sasane of the trust. “For instance, if there are a 1000 devotees waiting at the temple, we will allow only 100 people through paid darshan. Once they go out another group will go in. Our intention is not to generate revenue but to avoid inconvenience to ordinary devotees,” added Sasane. VIPs holding up queues of the regular devotees has been a perennial bone of contention. It is estimated that every VIP visit holds the queue for at least 15-20 minutes - not a pleasant experience for pilgrims, some of whom wait for five to six hours before getting close to the saint’s samadhi. During holidays, the temple town is so packed with pilgrims that no accommodation is available at hotels and charity hostels. The number of pilgrims visiting the shrine has been going up in the last five years and there is also a growing demand for VIP darshan from ministers, political leaders, government officers and celebrities. The trust gets thousands of requests for VIP darshans every day. Temple authorities say that most VIP darshan-pass seekers demand both a regular darshan and a special darshan during the early morning an noon arti. The SSST (Shirdi) is one of the richest trusts in Maharashtra with annual revenue exceeding Rs 240 crore. The trust has invested huge amounts in property and government bonds valued around Rs 450 crore. It also donates money to social causes and relief efforts. Sai devotees are known to devote crores of rupees every year to the trust. Pay for god Hanumant Jagtap, CEO of Siddhivinayak Temple Trust said, “We started the paid darshan system four years ago. We offer a one-time darshan at a fee of Rs 50 to anybody waiting in a queue We also issue a Rs 6000-annual pass for those who want it.” At the Tirupati Balaji temple, 60,000 devotees visit the shrine every day and the trust encourages you to book 90 days in advance for darshan. “There are two types of special darshan,” says the temple website, “Rs 40 and Rs 50.”
Devotees speak
Rohit Ugale, software engineer, who regularly visits Shirdi says, “This is one of the finest decisions taken by the trust. Now devotees can offer their prayers easily and do not have to wait endlessly for VIPs to offer their prayers first. The official paid darshan will also help keep things manageable.”
Kiran Kashikar a businessman, who has been a Sai devotee but has not visited the shrine because of the long queues says, “I don’t have the influence for Sai darshan but now if the sansthan is introducing an official paid darshan like Tirupati we definitely will visit Shirdi. It’s a really good initiative taken by the trust.”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why Q in Vain!

As I read the article by Jug Suraiya featured in TOI as 'Jugular Vein', I reacted with 'Why is he poaching in to my territory?'! He was writing about things which I thought was reserved for us, the just returned NRI's. I feel that deep observations on 'Indianess' is our prerogative.

He goes on to define the normal queue as a vertical queue and the one followed ('invented' he claims) by Indians as a horizontal queue. I am with him in that we Indians clearly show a lack of understanding (are not bothered) as to who is before and who came after.

People do bunch around any official, the giver, the taker and the dispenser of various things. We are not horizontal in the true sense of the word. We try to be as equidistant as the next person by leaning forward or making a semi circle. The aim is to catch the eye of the official. If he catches your eye and he decides to deal with you, your day is made! Our psyche has deep imprints from the days of shortages and rationing! We get anxious even if we have reserved seats and rush to get in and occupy them!

We feel embarrassed to be seen standing in a Q. It is something to do with our prestige (Swabhimana!). How many times do we hear people boasting 'I just walked in and got my .....(whatever)' and add with a pompous smile 'and there was a mile long Q'.

Even if we are constrained to be part of a vertical Q, we form knots of two or three. We tilt 45 deg to the person in front and the one behind you will tilt the other way, reminiscent of a DNA structure. The reason could be that we do not trust the system. We want a clear view of the counter, to able to detect any hanky-panky at the counter!

Our mind is also working over time in figuring out ways to get ahead of the Q, somehow manage to get there ahead of those waiting in front! We have no sense of guilt in trying to get ahead out of turn! Rather, there is a feeling of achievement!

I have not stood in a queue in Delhi. I suppose all the things Jug mentions happen there. I have not seen any serious galis being exchanged, neither dhaka dhaki's nor mukha mukhi's in Bengaluru. At least not yet! I do see an occasional jostling but not an aggressive one. I agree with the comment made by a mubaikar that such a phenomenon is not seen in Mumbai. ( and Pune). Others in the queue do not tolerate any one breaking the line. I remember even the officials are also conscious of the rules of a Q.

Not so in my dear Benagluru. Occasionally a known local goonda walks in and just thrusts his hand inside the counter. Very rarely do I see a protest or does the person at the counter tell such people to get into the Q . Bengalurians are generally milder in nature.

But we in Bengaluru are more subtle in the way we beat the Q. We use the side entrance if there is one. The other ploy is to 'act' as if there is no queue at all and walk to the front. This is practiced by older and fairly well dressed ones. They gaze at a distant horizon as they walk to the front. If one locates an acquaintance closer to the counter, they greet him or her as a long lost friend, linger to chat and merge into the queue. They get away with it most of the time and smile as if they have a won a lottery!

Actually at most of the places people form a Q; the bank, post office, railway bookings. It is not a vertical one, people are seated as they wait for their number, picked up as they enter, to be called. I still do see a cluster around the counter in spite of this, but people are getting used to the system. In some places they are seated and move to the next chair as it gets vacant in an orderly manner. The incidence of a horizontal Q is not evident in these places.

I see a semblance of this when people stand around a hand cart vendor or a grocery shop. I used to get annoyed with the brazen way, mostly women, would walk in and start ordering things they wanted regardless of the fact that I was already talking to the vendor. Now I have realised that there is a system here which is similar to the way the computer works when multiple windows are opened! Probably the vendors process the multiple messages better!

I have now understood that there are ways and ways to get things done, so why Q in vain. The best advice I have got is 'why do you go yourself, send some one else'!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Morning Ritual in Bengaluru

Since the day I got hooked on to the WWW, my morning routine has been this; Rush to switch on the computer as soon as I wake up, even before brushing my teeth. As I walk in later with a hot cup of coffee the computer is logged on:-). My computer does take time with all the rarely used programs provided and those added by me without thinking!

Anyway this was my routine in Thailand, except when the computer(s) got ill with Virus! Many Hard(!) Discs' have crashed and died due to virus! Honestly I could never comprehend how they got infected! I thought the wall of protection created and given for free by the software companies would be adequate! Obviously not!

My routine in Bengaluru is almost similar! Except I had to add some more rituals to suit the local conditions! Here as I sit down in front of the monitor everything looks fine, but the small icons at the bottom tell me the real story!

The google icon, normally in white, is turned to a gloomy grey. The skype icon, which is green when all is well, is murky!

Usually this happens when instead of four green lights, only three or two are glowing on the modem! A sure indication that the internet is not on! Earlier I would call BSNL and complain! Nandini suggested an easier cure for this! She asked me to just switch off the modem and switch on after a minute. For some reason this works most of the time!

This is good advice as it is not easy to get the service supervisors easily on phone! And when I do get them, they put me on the defensive by blaming the modem. The modem is not supplied by BSNL and they were, in fact reluctant to use it at the time of installation. I guess that either their curiosity or professional pride got better of them and they managed to set it up for me.
But just the green lights glowing does not mean that the Internet is working! So when I again complained to them one of the techies put me through a drill ( Ritual!) which seems to work reasonably well!He taught me to log on to the modem website. It is a series of numbers which luckily the website remembers!

Once logged on I reboot the modem!
Then sometimes I do a diagnostic as recommended just for fun!

If all is well the status is all in black. If not, 'up' will be seen as 'down'
I 'reconnect' if the status is 'down'!If it is a good day the status becomes 'up' once it is reconnected or it continues to be 'down'. I then give up and go for a walk and start the ritual again on my return.

A brahmin would understand the importance of a ritual. We are expected to do 'Sandya Vanadana' thrice in a day or at least twice! This sandya is performed to invoke the blessings of surya and other gods!

Now I perform my own style of 'vandana' twice a day normally and may be thrice on some days! I do not understand why the computer (or is it the modem) works after I perform this ritual! I have no clue! That is because I am a mechanical engineer!

I am actually very impressed with the system of diagnosis and correction and I feel proud that I am able to do it by myself! My success rate has been good!

But my question is: 'why do I have to perform it everyday'? It is the same modem and the same computer!

Probably the answer would be: 'the computer gods HAVE to be pleased'!

Friday, May 14, 2010

An interview worth watching!

Our dear friend Marisa from Bangkok gave me a link to this video interview. She titled it

(Kelabamanhash) The Best Interview In The World... Must Watch!!!


You MUST, I repeat, MUST, watch the video link below.

This gentleman is probably

the new hope for mankind. Watch it and be amazed

at the pure wisdom of his philosophy and

how open and liberal his thoughts are.

Unfortunately, such wise

people are hard

to find in this world.

Regardless of what religion

you profess, Islam,

Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism etc, if all of us

have such wisdom and

intellect as this gentleman,

the world is surely

a heavenly place to live-

-for all mankind!!!

Please circulate to all your friends, Christians,

Muslims, Buddhists,

Hindus and even the free thinkers.

Let there be peace in this

world, we are all children

of God!!!!


Please watch to the end

of this clip. Can we believe

such a tone in the Arabic thinking

... I hope so...



The video calls for a serious discussion on the many points raised by the interviewee!
The one that set me thinking was when he said there were 70 million illiterates in the Arab world! His view was that it was so easy to mislead them!

I quote from another website:
A person aged seven and above, who can both read and write with any understanding in any language, is treated as literate. As per 2001 Census, the overall literacy rate of India is 65.38%. The difference between the highest and the lowest literacy rate in India is very high. Kerala has the highest literacy rate which is 90.92 %, while Bihar has the lowest with 47.53 %.A

Not surprising that we have a larger population of illiterate people here in India. I remember a claim made by a friend during a discussion on India in Bangkok; 'Our Netas are not really serious about education'. His stand 'They want vote banks, more ignorant the voters, the better it is!The poorer they are, the more manageable they become!'

(I remember we used to have many serious discussions on India in Bangkok! We had answers and solutions for most of the Indian problems! I could call them as 'Drink Tanks' as it was usually over a glass of wine! God I miss the passion and heat of our discussions in Bangkok here in Bengaluru!

At my age I tend to get a little cynical, but I do hope that the video inspires people all over the world to act better. It is great to see this on TV in the Arab world! We need many such voices of sanity!)

Monday, May 10, 2010

More on Traffic!

As I keep blogging about Bengaluru and
my traffic woes (either driving or walking!), the advice I get from the knowledgeable is to 'Adjust maadi!'

As a newly returned NRI, I am accused of being too critical and expecting too much. A few point out that efforts are constantly being made. They say 'Don't just compare with the other places you have seen' and urge me to remember how it was earlier and see for myself how things have changed for the better. True there are many visible signs!

For instance there is the ongoing mega Metro project! While it is creating a havoc at the moment, it is expected to encourage people to leave their scooters and cars at home! Papers rave about PPP (Public Private Partnership), when Private parties and government contribute 50% each to build expressways and highways. Organisations like the Cityconnect have done a lot to alleviate traffic woes! The New Airport road is an example! All very laudable!

There are also individual efforts, like the one Sriram mentioned;
A very commendable effort made by Dr. Joglekar, residing in UK, to educate us about safe and sensible driving practices. Using this as a guide, a Pune NGO is attempting to save Pune from traffic woes!

I also read in papers about the 'Cons' of such macro projects!
But the guru of BRTS says flyovers would only lead to promoting use of private vehicles, increase in congestion and a decline in the quality of life for those who live beside these elevated roads. "More flyovers, elevated roads and over bridges will not solve traffic problems in the long run. Building roads means adding more vehicles, but improving bus systems means moving more people faster," says Penalosa, who is president of Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

Having lived in a mega city, Bangkok, I am inclined to agree with the guru! But just today the papers wrote about a monorail project and a tunnel instead of a flyover! The cynical view of such projects; some lucky people will make money!

Another deeper message I get is 'Enu madalikke agolla'.This translates into'Nothing can be done!' This is a refrain which is constantly heard in Bengaluru. It is not just about traffic, it is about everything which is not right! Empty Gutka packets, plastic coffee cups and dog shit on the pavements, politicians, lazy or corrupt officials, noisy neighbours or what have you!

I was a bit surprised when this 'same' message came from none other than the popular additional commissioner of police (traffic), Praveen Sood, in his View Point, TOI of 6/4/2010. He called his viewpoint 'One-way? Two-way? Absolutely no way!'

I gleaned some gems from his article:
#City has 4000 km road net work with 40000 junctions!
#Traffic is still moving in spite of the vehicle population doubling from 18 to 36 lakhs in the last nine years.
# Decisions taken based on well researched traffic and volume patterns by BATF and ably supported by transportation experts!
He goes on to analyse the pros and cons of the various measures and says:
'Patience being the most the most scarce virtue among commuters, it leads to indiscipline, road rage, honking and violations. Too many junctions being the hall-mark of our road network, multiple signals in close proximity become inevitable. Lack of consensus on prohibiting right turns aggravate the agony. Two way traffic may lead to gridlock as commuters are tempted to overtake beyond center line and block opposite traffic in the absence of medians'.

I guess he is talking about the main arteries which have traffic lights and traffic cops in place! He also speaks of a situation (when traffic is not monitored?); 'extra width of road may become convenient place for parking. Also finding six lanes of instead of three tempts most road users to throw lane discipline away to wind and resort to zigzag movement jeopardising safety of everyone. (I have experienced this early in the mornings and it is scary!) He also speaks of the need to widen roads and grade separation as a part of the solution. I hope he gets his wish before he retires or is transferred to better posts! (more likely!)

But what really hit me was his beginning: 'Can we allow individual convenience to override logic? Whom does the road belong to? People who live by or the people who pass by the road? No one really seem to have the answer!'

My observation as a resident of Kumara Park is that the road belongs to every one! I speak only about the roads in residential areas! It belongs literally to every one; the pedestrians, cars, scooters, bicycles and so on. As the pavements are either badly made or occupied and as cars are parked on either side of the road, people are forced share the road! How it is done depends on so many factors, caste, education, culture, from which state they are from, the language they speak. Also their age, marital status, the mood they are in, whether they had a fight with someone at home or at the office. Anyway the list is endless. In short, our unique individuality (or selfishness!) shows up!

Luckily the only rule applied to this seeming anarchy is that traffic should not hamper my speed, I should move without stopping, without slowing down or changing gears! Essentially traffic must flow like the river and they ensure this by occupying any available space, left, right or centre, We can probably call it our 'Traffic dharma!' At the moment only the successful netas have this privilege of moving with speed and without interruption! Others try to emulate this, whenever they feel they can get away with it, police or no police!

The attitude is, if you do not have the dexterity and skill, the daring to risk your life (to be honest others' lives) you better stay at home!

This raises many questions; what about the old, the very young, the timid, the disabled? 'Do they not count in this new resurgent India?' How do we change the attitude of these selfish people? Is there a way? Is there any hope that we can do it?

The answer is probably in the realm of our real dharma, I guess intellectuals and custodians of dharma use the word 'dharma sukshma' to explain this aspect.. May be we can talk about this later.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It was tough!

When I joined a course on Counseling, I did not realise how serious it could get! While I hoped to learn, I also enjoyed the idea of doing something other than playing golf or go visiting!

My class last Sunday was very different! Instead of the usual lecture, we heard Mala and Ravi and they have occupied my thoughts ever since! Ravi is in his late forties and Mala is a bit younger! Mala began first introducing herself as a member of Al-Anon and requested us to hear Ravi, a member of the Alcoholic Anonymous, without interrupting and they would answer our questions later!

Ravi was very articulate and spoke fluently and while he was not dramatic, his talk was very gripping. He began with a statement 'I am an alcoholic'! A serious disease, he said, 'I inherited it through my genes and there is no cure available so far'. He mentioned that WHO defines it as the third most serious ailment after Heart and Cancer. He then traced the events in his life which gradually took him down the path towards alcoholism.

While I will not go into the nature of an alcoholic, the narration of his degradation from a man with a successful career to a deceitful person and his admission of physically abusing his wife, in front of his children, was moving and very disturbing. His pain and his deep remorse for having put his wife and children through hell was very palpable. He said thanks to his brother who supported him and spent huge amounts of money on him and his wife who never gave up, he was off drinks for the past four years!

His redemption began truly after he joined the AA. He was very clear that he would not have succeeded but for the support he received from AA and the family. He still needs to keep attending their meetings to maintain the pause he has managed so far! They both were very emphatic that there was no cure and he could go back to being an alcoholic in a snap! Very scary!

While he spoke Mala used the blackboard to highlight the points we needed to remember as trainee counselors. They spoke of the Denial, Fear, Lies and Ego which comes in the way of seeking help. I felt that while they had not rehearsed the presentation, they combined well. It was due to the fact that they had deeply felt experiences which were similar and knew the pitfalls, the pain, the anxiety, the guilt, the whole gamut of emotions of an addict or being the wife of an addict.

Later Mala spoke and her story sounded very familiar! A very young girl falls in love and marries the guy. She is happy setting up home and soon the idyll is broken as she gets her first shock! She is advised by his friends in the colony that 'he has a drinking problem' and she should take control! Here again the story travels in a downward path. She discovers that he is very deceitful and she finds herself using all her savings paying off his loans! His family typically tell her that it is she who is the cause of his increased drinking! She is blamed for not working for or seeking a cure for his habits. (She asked where were they when he got into this habit?)

She finds succor in Al-anon and learns that it is not she, but her husband who has to take control of his life, address the causes for his habit and find a cure! This understanding takes a heavy load off her shoulders. She also learns to be tough in love. She tells her husband to seek help to get out of his habit. It so transpires that he is not willing to make the effort and she comes home to her parents hoping that he will learn his lessons and come back to her. But instead she receives a notice seeking divorce which she gives.

She writes on the board, 'once an alcoholic always an alcoholic'! It was fascinating to watch her while she listened to Ravi. You could see that she was living her past life again! She also made it clear to us that Ravi is a special case and even he is in the danger of sliding back in a flash!

She does not appear angry but she comes across as a hardened realist. She said 'I used to be so angry and frustrated that I would take off my mangala sutra from my neck and stamp on it. It was no more sacred'. She does not know how her ex-husband is, she guesses that he may not live very long. 'He will die' she says and adds 'It is better he dies! There is no cure and we all die!'

Her words still echo in my mind. She told us 'You cannot empathise (A counselors' mantra!) with us as you may do with the others. You cannot imagine what we go through. So do not show sympathy, only show concern'. She adds 'Do not try to advise them. Refer your clients to us!' and then she gave us their tel nos.

As we concluded they also thanked us! Talking to us was a part of their continuous healing. Her words keep ringing in my mind: 'In the end we both were the same, only thinking of the bottle. He about how to get hold of one! And I how to see that he does not! We were going through the same agony. I am glad I am out of it now!'

Ravi added 'As I listen to Mala, I learn more about the sufferings my wife had to go through. While she told me some, many she kept to herself'.