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Sunday, 11 August 2019

The Rarest of Sightings

A tiny drop blooms and grows. It merges with other drops that grow in a similar manner and a thin stream begins to run down from the temple, down the outer edge of the right cheek to land on the collar bone. I watch this process in shocked fascination, wondering how the lady on my left copes with the sweat pouring down her face without trying to wipe it off. Minutes later, I find out the answer. At 10.15 in the night, my face is bathed in sweat too, but I can’t move my hand up to wipe it off – for the simple reason that there’s no space to move my arm.

Wondering where I am? Join me in the “Sarvadarshanam” queue waiting for the darshan of Lord Athivaradhar in Kancheepuram! 

(For those who are in the dark about this rare, once-in-40-years event, here’s a link that will give you more information.)

Standing in the middle of a 2.5 lakh strong crowd (as we later learn), I reminisce about the miraculous way in which this entire journey has unfolded.

My husband has been planning this trip from the beginning of July. One or the other thing intruded and the earliest date to travel is 19th July. We tried booking online for a special seva but that didn’t work out, so we’re counting on Athivaradar’s grace and some help from a person known to our relatives Narayan Mama and Lakshmi Maami who are accompanying us.

Miracle #1 - I’ve read up online about the huge crowd, the mismanagement, unsanitary conditions and the heat and yet, am raring to go, albeit with a niggle in a corner of my mind that I try to quell by constantly reminding myself that “surrender to the Lord’s wish” is the key to happiness – one divine Lord, and one worldly one, if you get my drift!

Miracle #2 – We take the advice of our Kancheepuram Mama and decide to leave on 18th afternoon itself (instead of 19th morning), so as to reach the place called Thoopul (about 2 kms away from Kancheepuram) by 18th evening , park the car there, and travel further by local auto/bus. This is important, because they’re not letting non-Tamil Nadu vehicles into Kancheepuram town.

Miracle #3 – We reach Thoopul by 6.45 pm and pay obeisance first to Sri Vedanta Desikan, the great Srivaishnava Acharya who was born here, and then, to the presiding deity, Sri Deepa Prakasar also called Vilakkoli Perumal which literally means “the giver of Light”. It being Sravanam day, we are blessed with delicious sakkarai pongal and dadiyonnam as prasaadam, too.

Kancheepuram Mama tells us to come there as soon as possible because the crowd is thinning now. Reason – a sad one - some 3 or 4 people have died in the melee and so, darshan has been stopped for some time, and many people have gone away.

Just as we’re looking out for an auto to take us to Kancheepuram, one of the elderly archakars from the Thoopul temple appears on his bike, and offers to take us close to the temple. Indicators flashing, and patiently waiting for our SUV to navigate the narrow bylanes, he is the Deepa Prakasar for us, helping us bypass the main roads manned by traffic police.

At one point, we lose him because it takes time for our large vehicle to pass through a traffic jam, but by then, we’re pretty close to the temple, and so we find a suitable spot, park the car, and start moving like the people in a walking race do, to quickly make it to the East gopuram (which is the entry point).

Miracle #4 – Even as we reach the place, police have just finished putting up barricades to stop entry for the day. One local Iyengar Mama suddenly appears, and tells the police we are “his people” and makes sure they let us in. We’ve never seen each other before. We’re the last set in – the barricades close after us.

Miracle #5 – We rush into one queue, then find ourselves jostled into another one and reach a point from where we’re turned back and told to go to the other side. Struggling to make sure we don’t lose sight of each other, the 6 of us push through the crowd, barge here and there, and finally, inexplicably, find ourselves in the correct queue. Other people around us have been standing in this queue from 3 pm, so a lady next to us wonders if we’re pulling her leg when we say we entered only at 8.45 pm. 

From 9 pm to 11 pm, we stand in the queue, like puppets on a string – not knowing when the next yank will take us ahead, or make us grind to a halt. Total sharanaagati! Being unable to move any part of your body certainly makes one the model of humility! The mind has grown totally blank and is filled with only the prayer to Athivaradar – ‘Grant me Your darshan, and make this ordeal end.’

Pushed forward by the crowd, we finally reach the Vasanta Mandapam where Lord Athivaradar is lying supine in all His resplendent glory. The dark-hued body looks like it’s chiseled out of stone – hard to believe it’s made of wood of the fig tree! As always, my mind blanks out when in front of the Lord’s form – my eyes focus on His feet and a feeling of immense gratitude for all my blessings wells up from within.

Miracle #6 – The policeman who is pushing and egging the crowd along, bends to pick and hold up, one after the other, two young children in front of me, who’re in the queue with their mother. This compassionate act ensures the kids a good darshan – it also lets me stay in front of the Lord’s form for a few more seconds than other people around me.

We make our way out and realize we don’t know which street we parked our car in. With help from some local people, and piecing together our memories, we finally find our car, reach back to Thoopul by the main road, this time, thanks to Google Maps, have a hurried dinner at 1.15 am, and collapse on the floor in the main hall of the Parkala Matham for a few hours of rest after the almost 7 km walk through.

Come morning, we catch up with a cousin of my husband who has arranged for a VIP pass and this time, the darshan is a breeze, and over in 45 minutes, allowing us to stand right next to the Lord Athivaradar Himself.

Tamil Nadu is a holy land and yet, it is also the land where many political leaders flaunt their anti-Hindu stance. Seeing the huge and swelling crowds for Lord Athivaradar’s darshanam has therefore been very reassuring of ground realities!

This is one pilgrimage I’m not going to ever forget. As my mother-in-law very sagely remarked, one can probably see the Lord sitting at home thanks to television and the internet. But for the Lord to see you, and grace you with His krupa-kataaksham, you have to brave the odds, and go stand in front of Him!

Note: None of the pictures are mine - I found them online, but forgot to note their sources and there was no time to go back and find them. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Little Things….

There’s a washbasin in a little space just outside my staffroom in college. About a month ago, the tap in this washbasin developed a problem – it continued to drip even after being turned off. If there’s one thing that sets me on edge, it is the thought of water going waste when so many people in this world struggle for a mere few drops of it.

Years of living in a house where taps tend to drip because of “washer” problem came in handy. So, when I noticed this dripping tap, I realized what the problem was. Years of living in a house where the lord of the house is absent-minded enough to leave perfectly ok taps dripping and also least inclined to get leaking taps repaired also came in handy. So, I knew how to arrest the drip in the faulty tap. Not rocket science. Just a small twist in the anti-clockwise direction after first fully closing the tap.

But I realized this couldn’t be a long-term solution. And I was optimistic an institution wouldn’t be as laidback as the lord of my house. So, I spoke to someone in the office and brought the dripping tap to the notice of whoever was supposed to deal with such things.

Soon, I realized my optimism was premature. No one came to repair the leaking tap. And water continued to be wasted, as people (not as experienced as me with a leaking tap) didn’t bother to try to stem the outflow after using the tap.
One day, unable to take the torture of the dripping tap, I decided to do what little I could. I put up a poster right above the washbasin. With my rudimentary drawing skills, I depicted how the tap’s dripping could be arrested.

The very next day, a teacher from the cubicle adjoining mine in the staffroom, gushed about how doing what that poster explained, ‘worked like magic’ to stop the leaky tap! I managed to accept credit for the poster while battling the jealousy that sprang unbidden at an inference my mind drew - her not knowing about leaking taps indicated the lord of her house took his responsibilities quite seriously! 😑

As the days passed, I found myself keeping a close watch on that tap. And it was quite obvious that except for the sweepers who didn’t know to read, everyone else was following the instructions on the poster. So, I demonstrated to one or two of them.

A few days later, as I thought of writing a blog about this, I chanced on a video and an article that explains what one man is doing to save water. 

80-year-old Aabid Surti has helped save 10 million litres of water by going around with a plumber and volunteer and fixing leaking taps!

Read about it here, or watch this 2-min video

One drop at a time, he’s helped save a precious resource from going waste by just doing a 'little thing' he believes in.

As I ponder over all this, I’m reminded of a famous poem titled 'Little Things'.

I haven’t written a blog post in months because I’ve been busy, preoccupied, and in a slightly “focus-on-what’s-really-really-important-things-in-life” mode. 

But then, people have been asking when I’m going to write again, and as I read that poem, I realize that the things I write are also one of the “Little Things” that make a difference to the askers. 

And, as I re-experience the sense of joy and peace that comes out of writing this piece, I realize that this “Little Thing” of writing does indeed make a big difference to my own life, too.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

I am only one....but still....

As I enter the house with my sister, I’m greeted by a frail yet clear voice reciting the Vishnu Sahasranaamam. I wash my feet, then sit next to my mother, and join in her recitation. A few minutes later, my husband and another sister and brother-in-law return, and they too sit down and join the chanting.

By the simple act of doing a thing herself, this 77-year old woman has ensured a few people around her also do the same. No force, no coercion – all she has done is set an example by her own action.

Even as we chant, it strikes me that just by this very approach, my mother has succeeded in bringing up her daughters with the right values. One person doing all that she can to the best of her ability has influenced the path of 6 lives and - indirectly - the lives of all these 6 touch.

I’ve recently been grappling with the magnitude of certain tasks I’ve taken up, wondering about what impact the small things I do will have on the immensely larger picture. This epiphany has come at just the right time for me. 

I step aside for a moment, and click a photo of Amma because I know I will write about this on my blog.

Her frail voice fades away as we come to the end of the chanting. 

This event has served to remind me of a quote I’ve read somewhere long, long ago. Google attributes it to Edward Everett Hale.

I’ve been meaning to write this post since Sunday. Somehow, I’ve been putting off the moment. 

But just this morning, I stumble on a picture my sister’s friend has put up on Facebook, with a very fitting caption. 

Dr. Sunayna Padbidri Rao is a pro at not just medicine, but also at photography, and as I discover today, at giving them the right captions. 

As I read, and re-read her caption for this picture, this blog post has somehow written itself.

Here's to hoping this post has a ripple effect of inspiring each ONE who feels "I'm only one...." to do the smallest "something" that they can....

Monday, 31 December 2018

You know you are content when......

I'm blessed to have friends who send me uplifting messages every day. One such message I received on 27th December, 2018, was a quote of Swami Chinmayananda, and it said:

“They are rich who are content with what they have. Even a king is but a miserable pauper when he feels his vast kingdom is not enough for him.”

I put this quote up as my WhatsApp status and after a few hours, someone who saw this responded with a question…

“But when is the time you realize that you should be content with what you have?”

For once, I had no glib reply.

But I wanted to give the asker of the question an answer. So I thought I’d poll my ever-obliging set of dear readers. Replies came in thick and fast, and within two to three hours of asking, I had about 50 replies.

I sorted through them and  picked the ones that were clear to understand. I’ve edited some of them for typos/brevity. Here they are:




You may also read this blog post written about his encounter with a barber that gave him some insight  
Here are a couple of more detailed replies.

Dr. Shreyas, Pharmacologist, wrote:

In the initial days of my career I too aspired to get promoted, incentives etc. But I used to be very stressed all the time and not happy. Then I started thinking why do I work? How much do I need? I realized that at the end of one year I was paying 1/3 my earnings to the government. Plus there were only so many investment options without risk so at some point we had to invest in risky options which as you might have guessed is quite stressful. I also realized that a clerk could also live decently within his means. So this meant that we were slogging hard for money which was surplus and which was also a cause of stress. So we both decided to slow down a bit and enjoy our earnings in travel. But I have always been content with few materialistic things and I really don't feel the need for any expensive things in my life. But my quest for improvement in self, art, and skills is always ongoing but whereas in my younger days there was some amount of stress involved, now I just do as much as I can and don't bother about the outcome so much.
This is an ongoing process since last 8-10 years.
Now I firmly believe 1)everything happens for the best. 2)Nobody receives either more or less than they are destined to. So we should do our best and let be.

Smt. Shailaja, Pharma professional said:

As life unfolds with its twists and turns, the priorities change and there comes a time when we seek beyond the materialistic goals. This shift or realization will be different for all people depending on the situations /circumstances we are faced with , books we read, learnings from epics, history, near death, suffering, disease humbles us, trivial nature of wants and basic needs of pure joy, love warmth of being human and gratitude makes one appreciate LIFE! Being alive is a celebration in itself!

These thoughts are a true representation from the experiences of people in the real world. 

They come from different backgrounds, and have different personalities, and have faced different experiences. 

So, I’ve offered the asker of the original question – and all of you reading this post – a wide range of responses to illuminate the path towards finding your particular answer. I’m very thankful to all those who responded to my question – even though they may not have figured on the blog, they’ve helped me gain insight and grow.

A little footnote. Generally, when someone asks me a question, I always have a ready answer. Why not this time? I wondered at my behavior of not giving an outright answer. And I realized that this being stumped for an answer came from a truly deep acceptance of the fact that my answer would not be the one that’s best for the asker. Now, I always knew this at the intellectual level, but that day, the fact that I didn’t jump up to give my answer indicated that finally, the learning of all these years had translated into actual action – or, rather, inaction in this case!

The universe has conspired to make sure I’m filled with contentment, but that does not give me any right to say that my way has to be the best way – I can only say my way is best for me, based on my situation; so it naturally follows that there will be as many paths as there are individuals.

But I don't want to disappoint those who wanted to know my answer to this question. 

The famous poet Kahlil Gibran wrote:

"And what is fear of need but need itself.
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?"

So, here's my standard operating procedure to decide when to be content. 

First, I check to see if I have a well. 

If I have one:
1. I check how much water it contains.

2. I estimate if that quantity will satisfy my needs.

3. If it will, I leave it at that...

4. If it won't, I find ways to ensure sufficient water in the well.

If I don't have a well:

1. I think about whether I need one.

2. If I do, I go about digging one and letting it fill.

3. If I think I don't need a well, I leave it at that...

At every stage, I pray that God guides me in the right direction...and keep reminding myself that He is ultimately the provider of the water - well, or no well...

Writing this blog post, I’m reminded of that famous Leo Tolstoy story – How Much Land Does a Man Need? A poor peasant is told he can walk around to purchase all the land he wants provided he reaches back to his starting point by sunset. He sets out, covers a huge area and then, realizes he’s very far from the starting point, begins to run, reaches there just as the sun is setting and then, his heart fails, and he drops down dead. All that’s needed to bury him is 6 feet of land.

Perhaps setting up our major life events in the context of this story will help us decide when it is time to be content.

On a lighter note….I recently read an anecdote that spoke of a king suffering from some grave illness. The astrologist said the king would be cured if he could be dressed in the shirt of a contented person. After a thorough search of the full kingdom, a contented man was finally found.....and....he didn’t have a shirt…..

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Fleeting Moments.............

December 12, 2018

I receive a call from Vidwan Shri. Ganapati Bhatt, the Samskruta teacher at S. Cadambi Vidya Kendra, where my son Sanath did his schooling. Just the previous day, we have received the school’s letter inviting us for the annual day to be held on 21st December. Sanath is to receive a merit prize for being the school topper in the May 2018 SSLC exams.

I assume the call is to confirm that we received the letter. And then, the unimaginable happens. I’m asked a question that leaves me flabbergasted. In my shock, words tumble uncensored from my mouth. “Why me, Sir, I’m sure you can find someone really good to come as Chief Guest!”

Pat comes the reply, “It’s because YOU are really good that we’re asking, Madam!”

Things move very fast after that. I’m asked to send my biodata. Within the hour, Bhatt Sir and the Principal Smt. Jayalakshmi Sharma turn up at my college with a letter of invitation, requesting my presence as the Chief Guest. There’s another request they have – I must keep this news a secret from Sanath. They want to surprise him on that momentous day.

“A student getting the prize from his own mother will be a historical moment,” they gush.

I agree because I don’t want to deflate their enthusiasm. Deep within, I wonder if this whole setup will be an intrusion on his moment of glory because teenage is a time when you want to establish an identity that’s independent of your parents. Because, although I don’t let it go to my head, the fact remains that people get impressed by me and my talk.

Anyway, there’s no point in worrying, so I do what I usually do when I can’t figure things out – leave it to Krishna.

On December 21st, I make up some story to avoid accompanying Sanath to school. I reach there alone and am given all the honour due to the Chief Guest. I do all the things someone in that role is expected to do – lighting the lamp, garlanding the founder’s statue, giving away the merit prizes, and addressing the gathering.

Sanath receives a hero’s welcome when he comes on stage. 

The ‘historical moment’ passes in a blur, but I notice that the kid who usually touches the feet of the guest from whom he receives a prize, hasn’t done that this time. Did he think, perhaps, that after all, the Chief Guest is Amma only?

By the time I get off the stage, he’s rushed off somewhere with his old school friends who’re now spread out across different colleges. They’re going out somewhere, and although he does call a few times during the rest of the day, it’s only to ask me to make some Paytm payment at an eatery/for the autorickshaw.

Later at night, we finally get to actually talk. Yes, it had been a surprise for him. But he doesn’t seem to be affected by it in any way – he is neither gushing with joy, nor does he feel I’ve intruded. He’s basked in his moment of glory and is happy about it. His friends have stayed back to listen to me speak and told him, “Your mother is superr!! Her speech was very informative.”

Where was he, I ask. Because he’s used to Amma’s talks at home, he had walked outside to catch up with yet another set of old friends – the security guards who’re standing outside the venue!

For the umpteenth time, I send up a silent ‘thank you’ to Krishna, for this cool teenager.


Tuesday, 11 December 2018

My Complete Man by Gayathri Srivathsan

Gayathri Srivathsan (who is a cousin of my husband's cousin's son) sent me this write-up about her role model. There's much we can learn from this amazing person, and so, I'm sharing her writing here. 

All of us have come across the question of who is your role model? And the answer to that differs from one age to another. But once you gain maturity about life, your way of looking at life changes and that's when I identified my role model and I am blessed enough to be living with him. 

I once read that a person who can get up in the morning without snoozing his alarm can do anything in life, but I have never achieved it till date. But this man has never had an alarm clock but he has never got up late. 

Every morning 4 o'clock he wakes up with no alarm at the right time, and he has been doing this for years now. He is 92 years old but still is a working person and he has been serving a govt aided school as a correspondent for 50 yrs now. 

Every morning he wakes up with the same enthusiasm, walks to his school, and works there without a penny as salary. In a generation where people complain that work is monotonous, he stands apart to prove that if you're committed to a work, no matter what your age, you can still work hard. He has developed the school from a small thatched hut to a 2-storey concrete building now with help from others. The initiative he has taken is not an easy task at all. And yet, he is a definition for discipline and punctuality and the most independent person I have ever seen. 

Mr. V. Lakshmi Narasimhan
He is a man who taught me what life is. I remember him saying, "Gayathri whatever happens, remember to walk with your head up; right and wrong depends on one's perception and their attitude. Unless you feel guilty about anything you have done, nothing is wrong. Even when you feel guilty, put your head up, and say 'It's alright, I may be wrong this time, but not always.' Never try to be good to anyone and rather just be yourself - it's not necessary that people like you and praise you. If you are happy in your life, nothing or no one else matters. 

This complete man is none other than my grandfather, Mr. V. Lakshmi Narasimhan. I am blessed to have been living with him and now he is all set to inspire his 4th generation with my son. 

Gayathri, her husband and son with Mr. V. Lakshmi Narasimhan
Lots of love and respect to Thatha - my real hero and a role model.

A proud grand-daughter,
C.Gayathri Srivathsan

Friday, 30 November 2018

NaBloPoMo 2018: Day 30: A Humble Thank You

One day in November 2000, I sat inside a small temple near my house, with a mike in front of me, ready to deliver a discourse on the topic, “Spiritual practice for a blissful life”. 

The only problem – there was no audience! Not one person was sitting down, waiting to listen to me. When I turned questioningly to the temple personnel, I was told to just start, and that people who were interested would come and listen. 

An uncanny situation, one I had never encountered before in the 24 years of my life.

In that nerve-wracking moment, when every instinct made me want to run away, I found the strength to mentally surrender to the Guru. Praying that He take me through this weird test He had devised, I started.

I noticed some people turn to look at me and I hung on to their eyes. Slowly, a few of them came forward and stood around me. Some people sat down for a while. Even as I relaxed and got into the flow, some of them got up and walked away abruptly. The audience kept floating throughout the 40 –odd minutes.

Even as one part of my mind directed the tongue to keep talking, another part was trying to make sense of it all. Why was I being given this experience? Had I grown too egoistic from the praise I had got on previous occasions? Was this being done to teach me to be humble and realize that I’m a mere instrument and God is the actual Doer?

Overall, it was a situation that made me truly experience the meaning of the Bhagavad Geeta quote

Which means:

“You have the right to work only but never to its fruits. 
Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.”

In simple words – do what has to be done without having any expectations about the outcome.


Every night of November 2018, I sat in front of my laptop, keying in words, talking to yet another floating audience, this time in the blogosphere. 

Some readers responded regularly and some intermittently either on the blog, or through WhatsApp or in person or by a phone call – to them, I’m very grateful, for taking the time and making the effort to communicate. 

Because I learned my lesson of November 2000 very well; there is nothing more to say.

Every time I sit down to write, I send up a prayer, asking God to guide my words to be of some help to someone in some way. 

Whether I come to know what it means to someone or not; whether it even means something to someone or not, is, therefore, totally irrelevant.

Day after day, I’m realizing that all I can aim for, is to become an instrument worthy enough to be held in the hands of the Doer.

I thank all of you, dear readers, for coming along on this journey. 

NaBloPoMo 2018 is officially over.

I will, of course, continue to blog ...........  as regularly or irregularly as possible.