Friday, February 18, 2011

The Kind Lord

"Our leader, true to his name, has proved that he is the epitome of kindness," said a minister who got two minutes of glory before the Lord walked on stage.

The crowd clapped. 'They had better,' thought the show manager, 'they are paid to do so.'

The Lord took out his notes and ran through it before facing the crowd. Just a glance from him made some frenzy with delight. "Our Lord, our Lord!" some shouted, and not just because they had been paid to do so.

He raised a hand and all fell silent.

"We are pleased to see you assembled here. Our aim has been to work for our people. We are proud to announce that this year alone, we have distributed 50,000 gold coins amongst the poor, arranged for noon meals in 3000 villages, built homes for the poor in 300 villages, and free medicine delivered to 500 senior citizens in families with no income."

A roar of approval went through the crowd. He looked up and smiled. His brother had no chance of breaking through this popularity, he realised happily.

He raised his hand and without dropping it, roared in return, "Why should the poor slog and the rich enjoy the fruits of their labours?"

The crowd was ecstatic. As he finished his speech and stepped into his golden chariot, the crowd went to the waiting bullock carts and packed itself back into the seat.

"Yes, why should we work?" each asked and on returning to their villages, they registered with the village head to benefit from the schemes the Kind Lord had announced.


"My Lord, we cannot find masons to build your palace," said the soldier, trembling.

The Lord looked up. "Did you mention it was for me?"

The soldier hung his head, fearing to say yes.

"How dare they!" he roared, with the same power he had displayed on the stage.

"Sir," the soldier trembled. "The masons are ready, but they do not have labourers. The carpenter guilds have designs, but no carpenters to work. The clothiers have the materials they imported, but no tailors to stitch the curtains, and the goldsmiths have gold, but no acharis to craft the designs."

The Lord fumed. "They don't fear me?"

The soldier feared him. He said, his voice shaking, "You are the Kind Lord, sir."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Unexpected

We were in Tiruvannamalai - my husband Srikant, Baskaran - the publisher for whom I was doing a coffee table book on the the district, and I - ready to trek up a 4000 feet high hill called Parvathamalai. I pride myself on my sturdy stomach, but the night before, I threw up unexpectedly. So skipped breakfast.

Morning, we started at around 7 with a local boy for guide. He assured us that we can reach the peak in 3 hours, worst case scenario. And he was supposed to be taking us through an easy route (!) We reached the foothills at 9 and were shocked to hear that people never climbed during the day as the sun beat down mercilessly. The guide kept showing us a peak that I couldn't believe we would ever climb! What with nothing in the stomach, I slowed down the climb completely and we took - gulp - a mere six hours.

There is no shade, and except for climbing up, no other way of reaching the top. We were humbled to see older men running shops on the way up carrying kilos of stuff. Even their young children carried burdens and were more nimble than the city-bred lot that we were. To think that a temple had been built on top once upon a time, and an ashram in recent times! Just the thought left us breathless.

The guide's mother ran a shop closest to the peak. We were relieved to take a break there, enjoying the cool breeze that blew around us. It amazed me that she lived alone there, her sons living with her father to complete their education in the city. She had just a radio for companionship.

But if we thought our adventure was over, we had a thought coming! The last stretch was steep, on the sheer side of the hill. At least today there is a semblance of a grill to protect a fall. Till a few years back, people would simple lean against the hill and move ahead sideways with the drop behind them! What devotion!

Must admit, I am nervous about climbing hills after this :D But it was a worthwhile experience.

Another late evening, we visited a temple in a remote village located amidst paddy fields. This had been excavated in recent times. On the way back, we found some men with a bike in the middle of the road. As we wondered what they were doing there, we saw a baby snake escape from under the wheels of the bike! We couldn't get out of the area fast enough!!!

Can't forget this either - we walked through paddy fields looking for a rock said to be worshipped as mother goddess in prehistoric times. The girl who took us through casually told us there maybe snakes, but they run away before we can reach them. Ulp!!! Her father wakes up in the middle of the night to water these fields!

I am happy to announce that the book that I wrote for Amish Media on Tiruvannamalai after undergoing all these experiences is finally being officially released next week (! Can't say how happy I am. It had been a once in a lifetime experience traveling through the villages of Tirunnamalai.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Turtle Walk

If it hadn't been for my daughter's school - Vruksha in Chennai - taking my seven-year-old on this Turtle Walk, we would have been home, watching Dance India Dance Doubles on Feb 4, 2011. But the school gave us an opportunity, and for my daughter's sake, I went along.

The harsh man-made light on the beach was a disappointment. But it gave us an opportunity to sit around our guide, Arun Anna, and find out more about Olive Ridley Turtles. Except for knowing they were endangered, I had felt no curiosity about them. But that night, I was amazed that there are a set of people who give up their sleep periodically just to ensure that the eggs laid by the mother turtles are transferred to safety so that they may hatch in peace, and have better chances of survival.

The beach at night is like listening to soft music. The dark night enveloping the dark waters, the monochrome broken by the white waves that hit the dark sandy brown beach, the white crabs near the shore. To see a turtle peep from the slope would have completed the romance of the night. But that was not to be. We only saw a dead turtle. And a nest - an amazing work of architecture. A neat pit with a cylindrical passage down the wet sand. Eggs soft and small like ping-pong balls, laid in layers - 105 of them! A few broken, but at least, not because of human intervention, unlike the dead turtle.

But the beach itself was sad. Dirty, littered...

Can man not respect nature? Is it a compulsion to destroy what we have and then rebuild from scratch artificially?

Somehow, while enjoying the prospect of seeing a turtle, I felt like an intruder.
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