Friday, July 7, 2017

A journey from 6th to 16th Century

The Gol Gumbaz
The temples at Pattadakal, a UNESCO Wold Heritage Center. 
It just took me little over 2 hours to cover the 100 odd kilometers from Badami to Bijapur. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it was a journey from 6th to 16th century. The landscapes remained the same with a medley of contrasting colors exploding all around you; the lush greenery on both sides of the meandering road, the freshly ploughed brown earth and the clear blue sky with piercing sun. It would be a crime to roll up your car windows and switch on AC. What’s the fun if you don’t hear the various noises on the countryside with wind softly patting your face? While I enjoyed my morning drive from Badami to Bijapur, rechristened as Vijayapur, I was hit by jealously looking at the bunch of villagers sitting leisurely as the golden yellow maize ears were spread on the roadside for drying. I waved at them and they waved back. While I was still fascinated by what I just saw, my driver told me to expect more such views on the way. And he was right. On the way I was greeted by loads of onions, sweet potatoes and other seasonal harvest crops drying on the roadsides. Though it’s a common sight in the country side in India, it still amuses me. A group of villagers sit together chatting away to glory while they watched over their harvest from the passers-by and the animals. Such sights make me nostalgic and make me take a trip down the memory lane when I chased the crabs perched on the golden yellow beach at my village, when I climbed the lighthouse and watched the blue Bay of Bengal that seemed closer than it looked, and how I soaked myself playing with the waves, building sand castles…ah! the simple pleasures of village life.
While the landscapes remained same from Badami to Bijapur (I like calling it Bijapur), the centuries old architecture changed. It was like travelling in a time machine as the 6th Century old temples, built in the rich Vimana and Nagara style, disappeared slowly and I found myself in a city that housed palaces and tombs built in the Persian and Indian fusion architecture. Both Badami and Bijapur were the capital cities of two dynasties – Chalukyas and Adil Shahs, separated by 10 centuries that ruled northern part of Karnataka and the adjoining states during their times. 
The Adil Shahs came from erstwhile Persia which is today’s Iran and made Bijapur as their capital in their times. Today Bijapur is a bustling town. People from nearby villages flock here to buy/sell goods other than an impressive number of tourists who visit Bijapur every year. Just like any other Indian city or town, it’s an organized chaos on the roads as people seem to deal with it easily. But my eyes wandered to the old buildings peeping from behind the newly built ones. Though the brownish façade of the old structures looked pale compared to the freshly painted new building, their curvy bends, the self-designed motifs on the walls and window panels were charming. Since long I’ve associated Bijapur with Gol gumbaz. I was yet to come face-to-face with its sheer size but its huge dome could be seen from a few kilometers. I decided to save the best for the last.  One can’t ignore the numerable small tombs all around the city. According to the historians, they were the tombs of soldiers who died, mostly during peace times. Most of these tombs were built by the fellow soldiers whenever anyone among them died. Today, there are roughly 200 tombs across Bijapur city!  My guide joked that during peace there wasn’t much work for a soldier! Hmm....I chose to ignore that.

You can view photographs from Badami and Bijapur along with captions here. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A happy place called Khurda Road

At my Alma mater with classmates.
The house I called home.
Reliving the childhood days is like eating comfort food. The food that reminds us of home and one can never get over it in spite of eating it every single day. This post is long due. More than a year back I visited my alma mater in a town called Khurda Road, the place where I left a part of me while leaving two decades back.

For most, Khurda Road is a railway junction to board the next train. However, for me and most of us who lived there and studied at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Khurda Road, this was the only place where we felt belonged. Even today I keep saying that I grew up in a small town unaware of the hustle-bustle of the big cities. This was a place where everyone knew everyone. Be it pandal hopping during Ganesh Chaturthi or Dussera, or at a marriage reception or buying hot samosas or aloo chops at the street corner, it was impossible not to bump into your teachers or school mates. 

It became all the more difficult for me and my siblings as my father enjoyed almost a rockstar status. A teacher by profession; loved and respected by the students, colleagues and the people just because of his persona. My house witnessed a continuous flow of visitors including students, parents, teachers, my friends, my siblings’ friends, and mother’s friends. It was a small house with a beautiful garden in the front and at the back. However, it had enough space to accommodate everyone. We all had our own corners to spend time with our groups.

Our lives were centered around the school. We played with the same people at school and outside of it also. The only difference was at school we played in school uniforms and outside, in civil dresses. But I must confess we looked better in school uniforms. The roads on Sundays were deserted just during Ramayan and Mahabharat serials. After that we used to invade the playgrounds. The winter holidays were spent sitting on the portico basking in the winter sun chatting with our neighbours or at times chasing the butterflies. Our tanned bodies were further shone by the application of coconut oil. There were days when the mist wouldn’t lift for a long time and I remember riding into it on my bicycle singing a song or running gleefully with my siblings on the road outside my house. 

The junior and secondary sections of the school were located at two different places. While we waited for the school bus, we used to embark on little adventures – invade nearby houses for plucking guavas, Indian berries and raw mangoes, most of the time without their permission. The days we missed the school bus, we used to simply get back home walking either through ‘pahad rasta’ or ‘jungle rasta’. Our parents never panicked as they knew we would get back home in soiled uniforms and at times, barefoot with shoes in our hands. That only showed we climbed trees while on our way home; especially jungle rasta which had lot of mango trees. As if the days’ activities were not enough, whenever there was a power cut in the evening, we used to run out of the house and play ‘All India Radio Cuttack’ or ‘anthakshari’ under the moonlit sky. Friends from nearby streets used to join us within no time.

A decade passed in a jiffy between school and home. Days were spent finishing projects, preparing for CCAs, practicing dance sequences for annual functions and closing ceremonies of sports meets, and of course, the exams. Life seemed like a never ending picnic as we busied ourselves shifting from one activity to the other and yeah, in between studies happened too. Life was simple and stress-free.

It was a surreal feeling when I got down at the Khurda Road railway station a year back. Little seemed to have had changed from the inside though the entrance got a facelift. I was received by Rauf, a quiet guy with whom I interacted very little at school.  He took me through all the familiar places, asking me if I remembered this building or that place. Most of it had changed, there were too many houses, less of greenery, better roads and in between I saw few old buildings still held their ground like a trooper. All the efforts of holding back my tears failed when I stood in front of the house that witnessed my growing up years. Eyes welled up as I stood outside not knowing how to react or what to think. The façade of the house was extended to build an extra room. Much of the garden space where my mother spent years nurturing the plants was gone. It was a far cry from the one it used to be. Yet, it didn’t matter. I resisted walking past the iron gate of the fencing.  Leena, my classmate from ‘B’ section kept calling me to check how far I’ve reached. Her mother, checked with me what would I like to have for breakfast and lunch. I never met her mother before but Leena’s (Sasmita Mohanty) parents knew my dad very well.  It was heartening to see Leena after so long and absolutely loved the way her mother received me.  A warm embrace and a peck on my cheek, a quick enquiry about my parents and the best part, “go freshen up. I made gogni (dry mutter) curry and poori.” Yeah, that’s how home feels like, right?

Later in the morning I met many of my classmates at the school.  Contours of expanding midriffs, a bit of flab here and there, grey sideburns, receding hairlines, spectacles – we met amid laughs, warm embraces and tight handshakes. Now, the entire school is housed at the same place. The erstwhile senior section had been converted to the junior section. It was a working day and the school was assembled for morning prayer; we had close to 15 minutes to ourselves when we walked from one classroom to other trying to remember who was our neighbor and where we sat.  The principal sir invited us to his chamber, where we had a brief interaction over a cup of tea and biscuits before we bid our goodbyes.

Traversing through our childhood in those forgotten alleys, this unassuming place called Khurda Road, taught us a very important life-hack - how to appreciate the simple things and light up a mundane life.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My Man Friday

“Hope you filed your IT returns.” I got this blank mail last week with this as the subject line. I could not help smiling and replied, “Nope. Need help!!” Within few minutes I got a call from an international number with a baritone voice on the other side. I don’t remember if he asked about my well-being, the usual drill after picking up the call. All he said was, “send me your details; I’ll file it in the weekend.” Oh yeah, after that we did try to talk but as usual it ended up in an argument and calling names to each other. I’ve been sharing this love-hate weirdness for the past 5 years now.

It all began when I joined my present workplace 5 years back where I met this portly spectacled man who greeted me with a faint Bong accent (he disagrees with me) and a smile that instantly changes the contours of his face in a pleasant way. He along with other colleagues made me feel comfortable within no time and today, I owe it to them for making so many good memories. Of all the people, I enjoyed talking to him for his love for literature, art, books, music, architecture and life in general. Trust me you don’t find many with such varied interests among techies. Nothing makes me happier than an interesting and thought provoking conversation. At one such conversation, he asked me what I am doing in a software company. He still thinks I’m a misfit here and I can’t agree with him more.

I was often asked by many at work that how could I get along with him? Even I wondered. There’s nothing nice about him according to the usual conventions. He is not soft-spoken, arrogant and has zero tolerance for people with limited knowledge. Many times generic topics became personal, we argued passionately and soon the cafeteria turned into a battle field pushing others into uncomfortable silence or arbitrators at times. This led to many weeks and months working in silence and behaving as if the other person didn’t exist (our workstations were adjacent to each other). So, yeah I wondered why I put up with someone who drives me up the wall.

He knows how to keep me grounded and doesn’t hesitate calling me terrible sounding adjectives if he thought I made a mistake. He is ruthlessly honest; though his comments hurt but it’s one of his qualities I admire. Once I wanted his opinion on a sensitive mail. His feedback was, “humility is definitely not your virtue and whoever is going to receive that mail will not recover from the humiliation for a long time.”  He was quite upset with me for writing such a mail but it served my purpose.  He moved on 2 years back, got busy with his new job and since then we hardly met, spoke occasionally. But he was the first one I called when I was getting the agreement done for my house. He guided me to reach my lawyer’s destination while attending the meeting in the car. He read and re-read the documents before he allowed me sign on the dotted lines, he helped me buy electric fixtures for my house just before hours he was scheduled to fly to the US. He pushed one of his meetings so that he can drop me home when I wasn’t well, he never allowed me take a cab late in the night and dropped me home even though his house was on the opposite side of the city.

Our interests are different; we enjoy completely different kind of food, hardly socialize, and watch completely different genres of movies. I can’t think of at least one similarity. It took a lot of time for us to agree to disagree and stop proving a point.

I’m not sure when will we meet or talk again but, I’m sure he’ll not ask any reason when I ask him to come over at an ungodly hour during an emergency. I’ve been lucky to have some wonderful people who continue to be a part of my life though I talk to them once in a blue moon. Man Friday is one of them.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Letters from your Soul - a book review


It took me 4 months to read ‘Letters from your Soul’, not because it is bulky but because I lived few chapters of the book. From moving in to my own house to losing a dear one, the book has covered it all. For me, ‘Letters from your Soul’, is a monologue that is meant to be read to an audience, understand it and absorb it. But here the audience is none other than the reader himself/herself.

"What died with you, were my expectations...my future conversations with you.
But what didn't die is my love for you...your wisdom, and the things I learned being around you...my lessons will be more treasured now...
What didn't die, is my gratitude, for having you in my life..."

When I was grieving the loss of a true guardian angel to my family, these lines brought me comfort and left me misty-eyed. It is not possible to fill the void left by those departed however; they can be kept alive in our memories by cherishing the days spent with them, by being grateful for feeling their love and for inspiring us to realize our dreams.

'Letters from your Soul' deals with the complexities of life in extremely simple manner. The emotions, states of mind, habits, social structures such as marriage, society are personified so that the reader can relate to them. Freedom is depicted as bird so is jealousy. Society is presented as human, so are fear and death. It is a book that has to be read loud as if you are thinking loud; as if you are facing your own monsters, existence of which you refuse.

"May be love needed to be first, and the changes we wanted second...
Why did it take me a lifetime to see that where there is love, miracles follow...
Why did it take me a lifetime to see that I just needed to love...
Each day that I wished your were different is the day I lost..."

Love is a feeling, a state of being, which some of us have felt it and some want to feel it. We use this term so easily and often get it confused with so many other feelings. But yet it is mystical, alluring and unfathomable. The subtlety of the expressions enhances their beauty yet they bring out emphatically, the hard fact that defeats the very spirit of love with the last line, "Each day that I wished you were different is the day I lost..."

"House did not become yours just because you made lot of money...but because it also wanted to be yours.
This place is as alive as your are...
Area of a house is not measured in square feet...
It is measured in disappearing distances, between its dwellers..."

These lines brought me the long awaited smile that comes only with contentment, as fruition of hard work, as an answer to umpteen questions and as a sound sleep after a long day. I hung on to each line as I was able to relate to everything that was said.

The writing structure and technique of 'Letters from your Soul' does not follow the established norms, which is its uniqueness. As the title suggests, it is your inner voice that speaks to you which does not understand the framework nuances of syntax. It is free flowing and only concerns with striking a chord with you. The thoughts in the book are meant to sink, make you question, hate them yet they simmer in conscious until it becomes relevant to you and you realize that it is nothing but the truth. As a reader, do not expect to understand and relate to everything that is said. Probably, you may not agree with most of it but they sure leave you thinking. Somebody who is going through testing times and figuring out the answer to "why me", may not find a comforting answer unless it is approached with a free and unbiased mind. 

'Letters from your Soul' is a celebration of human spirit, freedom from the shackles of self-imposed beliefs and societal norms. Use this as a guidebook to free your entangled mind, heart and soul. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Magnificent ruins


My 4-year long wait came to an end on a warm April evening with the first glimpse of magnificent ruins of Hampi on the banks of Tungabhadra. The ruins looked mystic in their poignant beauty in the fading sun. The resounding quietness of the place made even the chirping birds, flowing river and gliding breeze noisy.  And for me, time simply ceased.
As one approaches Hampi, the terrain transforms into interesting contrasts of rocks and lush greenery.  It’s hard to ignore the precariously placed heavy boulders while traversing through the mountain rocks. I decided to stay in Virupapura Gadde, a small village on river Tungabhadra across Hampi town. The boat ride to reach Hampi every day gave me an opportunity to connect with locals, though briefly.  
Unlike other historical cities and towns where monuments and buildings are generally tucked away to one corner, the whole of Hampi town looks like a piece of art. The way intricately carved mandaps, pillars, unfinished statues are strewn around the place, it makes one believe that stone carving was a favourite pastime those days. The grandeur of temples and bazaars, finesse of work, intelligent town planning speak of a bygone era marked by pomp and prosperity, good living standards and unprecedented achievements in the fields of art and culture. At the same time, I couldn’t help feeling philosophical about the fact that even a shining star meets its end. Once a bustling city has now reduced to mere ruins. Walking through the deserted streets, the eeriness was overwhelming as if everyone left the town in a hurry.
There’s something for everyone in Hampi. It gives an insight into the engineering techniques used in building magnificent structures 500 to 700 years ago. One can also get a sneak-peek into the art and culture and administrative guidelines followed by one of the most successful dynasties in southern India. And finally, it’s THE place to go if one is seeking tranquillity, some time to introspect and lose oneself in the serenity.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chitra, my friend


Some people walk into your life and leave their footprints on your heart. For me, it was Chitra. I didn’t think much of her when I met her in Net Savant, a web-hosting company in Vizag. It was her first day in office and so was mine. The calm doe-eyed girl used to transform into a gregarious and vivacious girl during lunch hours. She giggled, laughed and never missed a chance to take a dig at somebody in amicable way.    
She was proud of her younger siblings and fondly talked about them on our way back home. It was difficult not to like somebody like her who was full of life and saw the brighter side in the gloomiest of situations. Once when someone from our group sulked about the insensitivity of the boss, she said, “Not everyone can be fun-loving like us. Just be happy that this place brought all of us together otherwise, how else we would have met?”

After spending little over a month at Net Savant, I moved back to Hyderabad to work on an assignment with a software company. I kept in touch with her and others as much as possible but as I got dragged into a fairly new field of work, the frequency of calls decreased until one day when I was told that Chitra was unwell. Both her kidneys failed. Concerned, when I called, the chirpy girl sounded just normal. She teased me that I was more worried than her.  
Chitra: Can you plan a trip to Vizag soon?
I: Yes but promise me that you’ll take care of yourself?
Chitra: I have so many things to tell you, Sudha. I didn’t think you would leave Net Savant so soon.
I promised her that I would come as soon as possible but then it took me few months. Her brother informed that Chitra was in hospital and I could meet her there. I knew that she was getting her dialysis done regularly, so I wasn’t surprised. I started getting uneasy when I got to know at the hospital reception that she was in ICU and I can meet her there.

I saw my friend, emaciated, looked like a grown-up child clutched in a web of tubes. Clad in a white gown her body was tormented by violent spasms.  I was dazed, frozen; nothing made any sense to me. A nurse walked up to me and said casually that she didn’t have much time left.  I watched my friend slipping away into nothingness. Everything looked like a crude joke. 

I met her mother and brother outside ICU who were waiting for me. Her mom grabbed me and asked if her son was fine; if her son was coming back home? Chitra was the son to her mother and brother to her siblings. While her father washed hands off his responsibilities and left them to fend for themselves, she stepped into his shoes. When girls in their 20s’ spend time in beauty parlours, theatres, shopping malls and with love of their lives, Chitra worked in night shifts in a hotel as receptionist, accountant and other such jobs to run the house. In my 2 years association with her, I never heard her complaining about her father or life in general. When times are not favourable, how many of us wouldn’t think, “why me?”, “life’s no fair”? And blabber about our sorry state to a close friend or family. She never believed in eliciting sympathy or empathy from others.

Chitra never returned home. Even though her life didn’t come to a full circle, it was worth more than those who live long wasted life. She will always be an inspiration to her siblings and friends, and a priceless memory to her mother. It’s been 5 years since my friend’s gone but there’s not a single day when I don’t think of her especially in testing times. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

The day WTC was attacked


While driving back from work yesterday I was listening to “I’ll remember you” by Amy Grant, a tribute to WTC victims. It brought back the memories of that crazy night when I was still a sub-editor, trainee at The New Indian Express (TNIE) in Hyderabad.
I was 4 months into my training and still learning to get over the uneasy feeling every time I entered the Desk (editing section). Generally I was put in the peak shift between 3 pm and 9 pm. Even though the shift used to start on a relaxed pitch but by 6 pm it used to pick up momentum and by 8 pm it used to reach a crescendo when everything around you cease to exist. Before leaving for work, it became a habit for me to say a silent prayer that the evening should pass without any event.
On Sept 11, 2001, the evening seemed to be usual and I was able to finish Page 9 after few last minute changes. Page 9 is the second most important page after Page 1, where usually either news items related to Page 1 or Page 1 “continuation stories” are carried. Relieved, hungry and tired, I was ready to call it a day. Around 9.20 pm, my edition in-charge walks in after a quick meeting with Resident Editor and announces, “World Trade Centre is attacked and we’ll have to re-do the edition.” We all rushed to the TV and watched with disbelief as the terror unfolded.   
We threw our bags and started rummaging for the latest stories as news started pouring in from the news agencies all over the world. For a second it felt like the shift had just started. Discussions begun around new page layout, bigger pictures, victim stories, eye-witness stories, nation’s and state’s reaction. Generally, stories are selected by a senior and a trainee’s job is to edit and place it on the page. But looking at the urgency and shortage of time, I was asked to shortlist few stories by going through the ever increasing number of stories that started to flood in. This was one of those times when there’s no time for your copies to be reviewed and you cannot afford to make a mistake. Otherwise also, this is one profession where there is no scope of correcting a mistake. You are in no control once newspapers hit the streets. The last 4 months taught me the style and feel of TNIE. For some reason, I perform better whenever I’m pushed to the wall. This was one of those days. The next 2 hours felt like few seconds. It was 11.45 pm when I finally emerged out of the office but the night was far from getting over. As I strolled out on the empty street to get some fresh air, I heard the TV blaring out the live telecast of WTC crumbling from every household.