Friday, September 12, 2014

A Tribute to Our Elders

Sri A S Narayana Rao, we called him Narayana mava,  also known as ‘aNNaNNa’, passed away recently at the age of ninety six. He was my mother’s first cousin. There was a connection from my father’s side also. He was a classmate and close friend of my paternal uncle, my father’s elder brother, Late Sri M S Ramachandra Rao. His younger brother Late Sri Krishnamurthy (KiTTaNNa) and my father, Late Sri M S Srikantiah were classmates and good friends.  My mother has very fond memories of a childhood spent in association of Narayana mava.

Almost all of our relatives, belonging to this generation, have struggled in life, have had very firm beliefs, morals and values and had retained these qualities throughout their life. We, in comparison, have had an easy life but (at least me - let me not speak about others) have also gone easy on values and morals.

I have felt a sense of losing something very valuable every time one of our elders have passed away, starting with Sri Venkatesha das  (H/O Indira, known in family circles as ‘Inna’.) followed by, in the chronological order, My father, my uncles Sri Venkataramiah (H/O Smt lakshmi - popular as ‘Buchchakka’)  my maternal uncle Sri Vijendra rao  and Sri Anandatheertha rao (H/O Smt Savitri  - known as ‘Saatha’). All the ladies mentioned in the brackets are my mother’s sisters. I am unfortunate not to have known one of the couples Smt Satyabhama (Satyakka) and her husband Sri Venkoba rao, closely  (Sri Venkoba rao actually passed away long time back even before Sri Venkatesha das) and have missed another couple, my mother’s eldest sister and her husband (I do not even know their names) entirely.

The ladies of the family, mentioned above, had their own unique characters and each one of them, endearing in their own way. 

All of the family were highly dignified. It is a pleasure to recollect the way in which they always dressed, spoke and in general, conducted themselves.

I miss every one of them and feel a great sense of loss with each one of this generation passing away. This feeling which had remained dormant surfaced yet again when I received the message for Narayanamava’s vaikuntha samaradhane. A patient missed the appointment providing enough time to try putting my feelings to words. My vocabulary is not sufficient  to put down the feelings exactly and effectively but this will have to do as a tribute to all our elders. 

I might have missed or misspelt some and if so, request my kins to add/correct.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Confused thoughts - Inspired by a Spider.

I was intending to wash the portico this morning and went towards the garden tap to turn it on. A delicately woven spider web covering the space between the Hibiscus and the ‘Paarijaata’ blocked my path. I noticed it just in time to avoid my face getting entangled in the web. If it had, we (me and the spider) would have ended up cursing each other and I do not know which way this cursing duel would have taken my thoughts. The light reflecting from the droplets of water festooning the web enabled me to notice it in time and retract. It was not there when I operated the tap last evening and the spider must have been busy through the night braving the pouring rain. A great job for such a small creature. (It is just below the leaf which is projecting out at the center of the frame - difficult to notice. You will have to click on the picture to enlarge it and see). I did not want to disturb the spider’s luncheon plans and managed to crawl under the net to turn on the tap.

The monsoon, which had taken its job easy this season, suddenly seems to have become duty conscious and has been trying to make up for the lapse. It has been pouring for a week now and has been a dampener, literally, during this Ganesha Chaturthi time. I had to go out in the pouring rain, squelching through the dirty market, a bag in one hand and the umbrella in the other, to buy coconuts, betel leaves, five types of fruits and five types of flowers, as also a number of other items required for the festival. Even with both the hands occupied, one with the bag and the other with the umbrella, I could get the things into the bag as the vendors obligingly put the things in, but had difficulty taking out my wallet and paying them. I managed somehow by shifting the umbrella to my arm pit and freeing a hand but after buying the coconuts the bag became very heavy and this exercise was not possible.  I had to turn around and offer my butt to the betel leaf vendor to take out the wallet from my hip pocket and extract his money. Fortunately the vendor was a male. If it were a female, my wise act might have made me spend the festival in the lock up of the local police station.

My religion demands that I go through these difficulties, worship the gods to please them, in general be ‘good’ and follow my ‘Dharma’ (set of duties, laws, conduct and virtues  - or the right way of living) so that I will be able to be born as a better individual in my next life. Follow the same principle, be better in the next life and be born again as an even better individual. If I manage to repeat this again and again, maintaining my standards all the time, for god knows how many cycles, I will be able to be out of this “punarapi jananam, punarapi maraNam, punarapi janani jathare shayanam” loop (being born and dead again and again) and ultimately attain ‘Moksha’. (be a liberated Soul)

I envy the spider. It has no such worries. It seems to be oblivious to the necessity of aspiring for ‘Moksha’ in the future, or the festival, the pouring rain, its conduct and everything else in its present life. It has been capable of weaving a net in pouring rain, has done it and is now staying serenely suspended at the center and waiting for the breakfast/lunch to be served. (Assuming that the web is not damaged by fools passing through it). No shopping, no cooking, no pooja, nothing. Just a bit of hard work. No other distractions and compulsions like me. Just gulp whatever gets into the net and stay calm till some other creature is stupid enough to fall in. In case, before something else falls into the web, you fall in the sight of a bird, you go in one gulp and there is no more need even to weave a web!

I was rushing through these thoughts on perceiving the spider sitting like a saint at the center of its web when my mind suddenly said “hey, wait”. When I waited and slowed down I realized that according to my religion I probably was a spider myself once!  I had been good spider and had followed my spidery ‘Dharma’ to the letter and so was born as a higher being. May be a fish or a frog. After being a good fish or frog I was promoted possibly as a bird. Then maybe I was a cat, rabbit, deer or most likely a donkey. I must have remained a good donkey - not kicking any one, not rolling in the garbage, not braying loud and probably must have carried my load without a grudge - and so have now ended up as Raghunandan. The human donkey. Now, instead of going up the ladder, if I feel that a spider’s life is better and want to be a spider again, I will have to undo whatever I have done till now and be ‘bad’ for many lives so that I can be born as a spider once more.  

Not a bad idea actually. But there is some difficulty. I have finished almost three fourths of my present life and have been living life like a good human donkey - not kicking any one, not shouting at any one, not rolling in the garbage (or doing whatever is equivalent of rolling in the garbage - for a human) and carrying my load without grudge. Now, this behavior has got impregnated in my being. The time left is too short to learn to kick and roll in garbage and go down the ladder. I can only hope to start my journey back to being a spider from my next life. But then I will have to come back to being Raghunandan once again, be bad and then continue going backwards. It may still be worth it. But science puts a spanner into the works. It says that behaving good or bad is not in my hands but in my genes. If I am born again with good behavior genes in me,  I may never be able to get back to the spider stage at all. This life, at least I am capable of having bad thoughts. God knows what happens in the next life. I am confused. I do not know what to aspire for. I hope I am not confusing you.

I will take some time and try to think clearly. As of now, going back to being a spider seems to be a good idea. Have anything helpful to suggest? 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Trek To Virdi Falls

I do not know what made my swimming group, ‘The Early Birds’, decide up on a trek, soon after the white water rafting trip. As I have mentioned earlier they usually need one or two outings somewhere dim and cool to rehydrate and regain energy. But sometimes they are unpredictable. I received a message saying that we have decided to go on a trek to the Virdi falls, near Virdi village, a drive of about an hour and a half from Ponda. From the village the falls is anywhere between one and a half to two and a half hours by walk, depending up on how many times you lose your way.  We lost our way twice, and managed to reach the falls in two and a half hours in spite of our navigator’s best efforts to make us go round and round in the forest crossing and re crossing the stream.

To reach Virdi village (for those interested in doing so) you turn left at Keri just after the Sattari bazaar and go for another 8-10 kilometers, asking directions from whoever you find on the way. You may park your vehicle in front of the temple at the end of the asphalted road and start walking next to the stream. It is advisable to snatch a stout stick from the fire wood stack in front of one of the houses on the way. You may return the stick after the trek. The track actually is the path taken by the excess water when the stream overflows. Assuming that you enjoy walking through clear water, sludge, thorny overgrowth and slippery rocks you will have an enjoyable trek amidst lush greenery. All of us have at least one cut/bruise on the body to prove our treking but, for you, my dear arm chair trekker, I have made it easy. Just follow the pictures and you reach the falls.

Enjoy the lush greenery of the Sahyadri range, dense vegetation and the clear streams without bothering about slipping and breaking a bone, stepping on a snake (king cobras like the place too) or a sudden down pour which may raise the water level in the stream by a foot or two and increase the force manifolds. There are a minimum of three crossings. You may cross it four or five times if the path you expected on the left bank is actually on the right.  After reaching the falls on this post, if you feel like making it on your own feet - I am here to guide you just as our guide guided us. 

Shifting the weight to the legs and getting ready
Marching on the main street - Virdi village
The trek begins through the stream - just ankle deep, easy. 
Out of the stream - on to the jungle path
Enjoy the jungle
Pose for  a picture- smiling - and not knowing what is in store
Reach the stream again. The navigator feels that we have to cross here. But he is not sure. Go ahead anyway and check how 'easy' it is to cross what looks like just knee deep water. 
Crossed the stream. Now duck if you don't like scratches on your face and keep going. And be on the look out for the path.
Where is the damn path? I swear it was here two years ago. Did the stream shift its course? Let us go back and check on the other side.

But the other side seems to be worse. And slippery. But let us keep going. You follow the stream, you have to find the falls. common sense.

Eureka, there is a path here! Not much of a path,
But the falls is visible from here! Forward march!
But watch your step. One wrong step and there may not be any more marching!
A slippery boulder to step on and an even more slippery boulder to support yourself when you slip. This is where I earned my bruises.
The falls at last.

Time to forget the thorny shrubbery, slippery boulders, squishy paths and enjoy the invigorating splash!
The return is simpler. We know where and how to cross and even have time and mood to sit, relax and enjoy the surroundings
Enjoy not just the surroundings but a tasty sandwich in the beautiful surroundings.
And then it is just another hour's walk and you are back in your dirty civilisation!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Large Green Barbet

I was in the middle of my breakfast - 2nd Dosa to be specific - when my wife excitedly pointed out of the kitchen window and said “see, there is a bird there. Barbet, Coppersmith or something, on the guava tree”. I left my plate, ran to the window and found this Large Green Barbet sitting on a branch quite close to us and contemplating on the next move. It sat there for quite some time selecting a fruit, eating it and in the process provided poses which even my shaky (and greasy) hands and obsolete camera could capture. (For those whose eyes are worse than mine - the bird is in the center of the frame)

It looked at the fruit right in front of it, which would have given me a great chance, but decided against it and went for one hidden from my view, even though it had to exert itself to eat it. 
Bending all the way down and eating the fruit.
Halfway through, felt that the day was going well and  paused to give a profile pose - left

Then a profile pose - right 

And looked inquiringly - straight ahead.

Thought that the other side of the fruit may taste better, turned back 
Went all the way down not caring about exposing its underbelly 
 and had flown away by the time I went out for an even better view.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

White Water Rafting On The Mhadei River.

I have mentioned about the ‘Early Birds of Ponda Pool’ in some of my older posts. This is my swimming group, at least a few from which I meet every day in the swimming pool. We became a group and named ourselves Early Birds (early fishes would have been appropriate) after we found most of us being present in the pool for the first batch at 6 am over a period of time. Casual acquaintance and a cheery ‘Good morning’ before jumping in paved way for exchange of pleasantries and small talk while catching breath at the shallow end and later turned into friendship, followed by development of some sort of a bond. Most of the members learnt to swim in this pool and have continued swimming. Almost all are now experienced swimmers. I mean experienced in swimming in a pool. We are of different age groups, different professions, habits and interests but we gel well. As a result, we now find ourselves spending more time at the shallow end discussing the affairs of the world or poking fun at each other, than swimming in the deep.

During February 2012, just out of a whim, the group decided to go on a day trip to the Dudhsagar waterfalls which involved a trek of  about twenty five kilometers to and fro (My post ‘Trek to remember’ - Feb 2012). Many missed swimming for the next week but the trek was a hit. After the trek some felt that we need something milder - I mean milder on the limbs but stronger on spirits - and it was decided that we meet to celebrate a combined birthday of some members. The hardest task here was lifting the glass till the lips and obviously it was a bigger hit. So now it is almost a tradition that we have few birthday parties (birthdays are combined and celebrated 2-3 months apart - giving enough time to get over the hangover) followed by an outing. We have had successful treks to the Tamdisurla falls - Ten kilometers up and down, crossing streams and avoiding leeches, the Mainapi falls - another ten kilometers but which felt like a hundred because of steep climbing up and down the hills, a night out in the Molem forest camp - where members saw their own wild side when in senses  and wild animals when they were ‘OUT’, Scuba diving in Malvan coast in Maharashtra and a visit to ‘Yana’ in Karnataka.  I missed and regret having missed the last two and have no first hand info about them.

Now, last week some of the members again felt stagnated and looked around for a suitable outing. White Water Rafting on the Mhadei river, in Sattari, Goa, caught their fancy. Mr Kurtarkar, having experienced it once, turned out to be the organizer, guide and coach. After hearing about his rafting experience many members felt that they need fortifications before embarking up on a hazardous task and it was decided that we halt overnight in the dormitory of the Bondla wild life sanctuary, which is on the way, and use it as a ‘Watering hole’.

Saturday night (26th July 2014) saw us at the watering hole with enough stock of ‘water’ which lasted till 1 am. Those who were dry the early morning on Sunday, went for a walk in the sanctuary and were rewarded by sighting of herds of deer. 

A forest stream active during rains.
A herd of deer crossed our path here but this is all I got in my camera.
When we returned, we found the others enjoying a hearty breakfast of ‘Pav’ and fried eggs and we eagerly joined the breakfasters. 

The instructions from the rafting operators said that we should assemble at the designated place near Valpoi town by 10 am and we were there by half past nine.

The group had second thoughts when asked to sign an indemnity bond clearing the rafting operators and the Goa tourism development corporation of liabilities in case of damage to limbs or life. But having come thus far, we could not turn back and being a swimming group we were not prepared to lose face in front of many others who did not even know to swim and probably saw water only in their bathrooms and on their dining tables. We signed the bond, refused to order for food on return (after signing the bond we were not sure how many of us would return and did not want to waste food!) and bravely occupied our seats in the van which had arrived to take us to the starting point.

As it turned out, the rafting was a great experience without any real hazard. We covered a distance of about nine kilometers in about fifty minutes and we enjoyed every minute.  I think the pictures explain the rafting and the excitement better and hence I will stop my narration here and leave it  to the pictures.

On the path leading down to the river. Bravery in the stance and butterflies in the stomach.
Testing the waters
Now testing the raft.
Ready for action. Controller Hari Upadhyaya urges the group on.
Heading for the first rapids.
Right in the rapids. " Forward paddle everybody"

Well done. That was great. 

Two from our group got separated for logistic reasons. Catching up with friends.

Calm stretch, mild drizzle. The picturesque Mhadei river flowing through the Mhadei wild life sanctuary. 
Soaking wet but back in one piece.
Posing for a group photograph with the brain and muscle behind Goa river rafting - John pollard.

 The group which signed the indemnity bond with an air of resignation and refused to order food on return is now talking of going for the grade four rafting (this was grade two) in the Tillari River, Goa being operated by the same operators.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Empty Nest And 'Harichitta Satya'

I will begin this post like a letter from/to a government department.

Ref : My last post about bird watching. 

Much before we went bird watching on the road to Diwar island (last Sunday) one of our tiny winged friends had been watching us keenly and based on the intelligence gathered by its tinier brain, concluded that the folks around were not foes and decided to use our front yard for the propagation of its tribe. 

Ref: another of my previous posts about ‘Ajja,’ the old man who comes to tend to the grubby shrubbery that we call our ‘garden’.

My wife was out in the garden during Ajja’s latest visit giving him instructions (which he was sure to ignore / misinterpret) and I heard an excited shout “Look here, there is a nest in the ‘Parijata’ plant.” (Parijata -  nyctanthes arbor-tristis).   I went out eagerly and there indeed was this beautifully sewn nest, built by sewing the leaves of the parijata plant with fibres to form a cup and then using the cup to hold the eco friendly building materials to make a cozy looking nest there. We have two tiny birds which visit our garden regularly, the sun bird and the tailor bird. When I explained the nest to one of my experienced bird watcher friend, he said that it must be a tailor bird nest.

This was the second nest that we were seeing in our garden. Few years back we had found the first nest in the other parijata plant close to the present one and with lot of excitement had followed the construction process, daily chores of the occupants, the stork bringing the eggs followed by the hatching and hatchlings, only to find, to our horror, the same activities being watched, with more interest, by the stealthy cat and the crooked necked crow. One gloomy morning we had found the nest empty and the parents flying around agitatedly. We do not know which of the higher ups in the eco system got the hatchlings but we were heartbroken.

So, I was trying to keep the excitement level low and was just observing the nest with detachment as advised by Lord Krishna in the ‘Bhagavadgita’. But this time the nest remained empty ever since we found it (nearly a month back) and we have not noticed any activities there.  I do not know who had built this nest, the husband or the wife but I can almost hear the other one chirping when it came to see the future home “What have you done? Look at the location. So close to the ground.  And on such a slender branch. This may not survive even a week in the rains. And any of our foes can just reach out from the road and pluck out our kids. I am sorry but we are not living here.”  Just like my wife who had expressed her opinion in no uncertain terms on seeing the fourth floor flat (without the facility of a lift) that I was intending to buy once.

The nest is exactly at the center of this picture
It is either that or the builder built the nest even before it could marry, hoping that the house may attract a partner, if his/her own charms were not enough to do the trick. Like what we used to hear about the bachelors in Mumbai.  An ownership of a small flat in one of the suburbs (or even the possession of a rented one )being a very strong point in the portfolio submitted to the parents of prospective brides.  But many a hopeful groom ultimately ended up with just the flat and not a wife, this point portrayed very nicely by Sri Purandara dasa  in one of his devotional songs ‘Harchitta satya’.   “Sudati makkaLa bhagya bayasodu nara chitta, maduvyaagadiruvudu harichittavayya”  (The hopeful human may will to have a wife and children- but Sri Hari’s, that is, god’s will, - that you remain a bachelor - prevails!). 

The Empty nest

Monday, July 7, 2014

Bird Watching Walk.

The post on face book said “The Goa Bird Conservation Network is organising a birdwatching morning on the lovely island of Divar this Sunday, the 6th of July. The walk will begin at 7:00 am at the Ribandar-Divar ferry jetty, take the ferry across the river to Divar, and go along the road to the village through prime bird habitat. If it isn’t too rainy, expect to see lots of waders, skulkers, shorebirds and raptors. And if it is too rainy, we’ll just enjoy the rain! The walk is free and open to all. Bring along your cameras and binoculars if you have one, and rainwear if you don’t like getting wet. Also note that we may be squelching around in the fields along the road, so wear suitable footwear.”

 It sounded good and I decided to go. Birds or rain (which we lack this season) I was OK with any.  We (self and son - who was generous enough to give up his Sunday sleep for the sake of this walk) arrived at the jetty at seven on the dot and found most of the group already collected there.  

 It was a very pleasant, though cloudy morning with the sun vainly trying to break through the clouds. The river made a pretty picture from the jetty.

The ferry blew its horn and the walk, rather the float began. It was time to exchange pleasantries.

The Gynaecology department of the old medical college building looked nice and peaceful from the ferry. With the wards overlooking the soothing Mandovi, many a peaceful mother might have given birth to a contented baby here. 

Soon after, we were walking along  the road to Diwar and had identified some Munias and Ashy prinias (which were too fast and small for my camera) when we got the first photographable bird, the Cormorant in the typical position of drying its wings. Yes, the black spot you see at the center of the greenery is the cormorant. It did look like a  bird when viewed through the binocular. 

The walk continued with the enthusiastic participants exchanging information and trying to spot more.

The next one to be spotted was the lonely looking Adjutant stork perching on a bare branch (right hand upper corner in the picture) half a kilometer away and then the black headed ibis (white spots in the picture), three of them, on the ground below. I hope that your eyes are better than my camera and that you do not need me to direct your sight to them. 

Some birds which were flying around were identified as the Yellow bittern, Night heron, Common Kingfisher, Egrets, Lapwing, Bulbul, Brahminikite and so on, all of which looked similar to me but for their size. Like the aircrafts observed from the ground. And then someone pointed to this bird which looked like a real bird to my eyes without the aid of the binocular and which, my camera also agrees looks like a bird. That is the Baya weavever. (in the middle - if you are worse than me) 

We walked merrily in the pleasant weather, pleasant surroundings and the much pleasant company. I would have loved the walk just because of the road - forget the bird and the rain.

And like all good things in life the walk came to an end near the culvert where some local people were involved in a much more useful hobby of angling for fish for the Sunday special. 

We walked back to the ferry and the group posed for a picture in the ferry and for a fuller group on the jetty. 

Then it was back to my daily grind of cavities, fillings and RCTs - unlike the fortunate others, who could just go back, lie down and ruminate on the enjoyable bird walk, I work half a day on Sundays.