Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ladakh - Day 3 - Shanti Stupa

After touring all the places south of Leh and saying tata to driver, I still had some energy left and decided to go to Shanti Stupa.

Built by the ‘Peace Sect’, an association of Japanese Buddhists, and inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 1983, the Shanti Stupa crowns a hill on the western edge of the Leh valley and can be reached by a flight of steps (157 in all) that rises just off Changspa.

The climb is most enjoyable. Every 2-3 steps, you stop and turn around - to look at the same picture - from a higher and higher point as you are climbing... The sun sets a little more each time. The hue of the evening mellows - as the hot afternoon white transforms to a softer gold, yellow, and then peach and pink and eventually blue... So dramatic...

The Stupa immediately next to my guest house, by which I had to pass whenever I set out, the very first of the pictures in this post, can be seen in this picture as I clib the hill...Bottom right...

The chalk white Stupa is a place of peace and reflection.

The walls of the dome inside are embellished with Buddha images; on the lower level are 53 Buddhas while the upper level has the master portrayed in four symbolic poses. There is a small shrine outside the dome enshrining a golden Buddha.

Dinner at Womderland - Primavera - capsicum, olives, capers, parsley, sundried tomato, garlic and olive oil. Banoffee pie... very interesting...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Coming Home

It’s been five years since I came to Bangalore for work.
I did not receive the same Bangalore that I had left behind in 1997. Road traffic was certainly a reason. But it was not the only one.
The character of the city had changed. And I cannot say that the change was to my liking.
A certain innocence was lost.

Unfortunately, I was stationed in places that had changed the most.

Way too many people had immigrated to the city from everywhere.
None of them could speak Kannada. Most of them would never try to learn. They were aliens to the city. Commercial complexes had outnumbered homes. More streets, more areas were without an element of culture.

My first paying guest accommodation was in Domlur.
This ‘paying guest’ thing is another nasty business that has infested the city in the recent times owing to the opportunities that exist in plenty.
This is run mostly by cut throat business fellows from the outside. (The local Kannadigas are a soft-natured, accommodative people and constitutionally incapable of shrewd business of any sort)

So - my first PG.
2800 rupees for a bed on the first floor hall, with two more girls. So three in the hall.
Two more girls lived in one room, two in another and three in another… ten girls on the first floor. That’s not all. There were two in the hall below and two in a room below… 4 on the ground floor.
So 14 girls altogether… and two bathrooms. No receipt would be given as the owner had no intention of paying taxes.
A 70 year old Malayali woman, whose age made her suitable for charity, had taken upon herself all this blood sucking, money sucking business. Her daughter and daughter-in-law, whose husbands were in Dubai, were doing this PG busniness elsewhere in Bangalore!!!!!!

An inmate had to vacate the PG as her mother had undergone operation. The old woman refused to part with the advance as the girl had not completed the notice period yet. The father of the girl requested and pleaded for half an hour, explained his financial position, wife’s operation and all, but the wretch of a woman would not budge…

I stayed in other localities for short periods before I moved to a PG on Airport road. This was a PG run by two characters I will always remember for all the wrong reasons. These two – husband and wife – Samuel and Sabeena – are perhaps the most wretched and money minded creatures I have ever known. These fellows had erected a wall in the middle of the hall so they could turn a 2 bedroom flat into a three bedroom one and earn more money. The wall blocked the window completely with the result that the hall was totally dark. Even during noon, lights had to be turned on. This fellow did not stay there but came once in a month to collect rent. He lent it to all sorts of people. Girls who smoked inside the room, girls who dried clothes all over the place, call centre, BPO, girls with questionable character… all that mattered to him was money.

The impression of the drastic change of the city’s character made upon my mind was due not only to these money hungry sharks that saw all human beings merely as a source of income or a business opportunity but to the inmates of these accommodations as well.

Before I continue, let me present a disclaimer.
I am not exactly judging these people here but trying to tell you that I found it difficult to identify with them, nay, I was baffled by them and this was because of my own background and upbringing.

When I had arrived in Bangalore in 2004, I had been shocked to see women smoking! And that too soooo many of them! When I smelled tobacco in my PG (a ladies’ PG), my shock turned to vexation.

I returned home one day from office and saw that one of the inmates had cooked meat in the kitchen. I being a vegetarian Brahmin, my vexation turned to fear! Had she used my utensils? I called up the owner and reminded him that not permitting meat inside the house had been one of his assurances to me. How did this happen then? He told me that we would have to sort it among ourselves. (The leech was only interested in money. We could go to hell)

To my misfortune, this part of the town (old airport road) had mostly carnivorous people. Every time I stepped out of my door, I smelled chicken or fish being fried.

This girl in Leela Palace, an 18 year old from Bihar, who was a student of Indian Institute of Hotel Management got pregnant! It was a boy whom she had known for just over a month! And it was her second boyfriend. She went to Manipal hospital and got an abortion done. Of course, the boy paid for it. As if she had been sleeping innocently when he was having sex with her!
Initially she pretended to be sad about ‘killing her child’ and after a few days, it was business as usual.

There were women who did drugs. And women who got together regularly to watch porn movies. “Do you go to shops and ask for these movies?, Don’t you feel hesitant to approach a shop owner with such a request?”, “NO. We get it from our guy friends. They have easy access to these things.”! came the reply.

Those subjects that were not at all debatable until now had suddenly become debatable.

I thought all honest, patriotic individuals unanimously agreed that ethics were central to character and all unscrupulous people who cheated other people or the government were naturally deserving of contempt.
And lo! When I grimaced at the mention of Ambani, I found myself ridiculed by a couple of girls in the PG who patronized Ambani! When I told them with vivid details of an example, how he had found loopholes in laws and circumvented them, and how he had cheated the government, they said “Oh what a smart chap he is!” Yeah right. Veerappan was smart. So was Saddam Hussein. And Osama was the smartest of them all!

Much time was wasted in debating over call center character…!!!
I who believed in true love and sanctity of relationships was introduced to new concepts that I had been ‘ignorant‘ about – ‘one night stands’, ‘friends with benefits’, etc…
I was bewildered when there was a debate over whether Rakhi Sawant, Mallika Sherawat, Bipasha Basu and the like had any character and deserved any respect at all. I was worried when I found my inmates admiring a skimpily and provocatively dressed ‘model’ for her ‘hot body’ and ‘sex appeal’!
Did we not(once again) unanimously agree that these women were nothing but sex symbols who paved the way for a very wrong trend in Bollywood, that they were having a bad influence on society and all the young boys and girls in general? Why were we debating about this subject?
Well, the debate came to a temporary halt after Big Boss was aired and all these ‘celebrities’ appeared in all their ugliness and the mask wore off…

It’s not a difference in culture that I can’t tolerate, but the complete absence of culture.

People seemed to have taken to a very different value system (if they can be called values at all!). Was it a choice they had made after careful deliberation or was it an arrangement of convenience? I mean, did these people have a weak character and integrity issues themselves and therefore choose to subscribe to a different set of values so they could conveniently defend their own position? I am sure, for all those colleagues in office who presented false medical bills and forged house rent bills to evade income tax, patronizing Ambani was a convenient thing to do.

Living in all these localities gave me exposure to a different type of people. It familiarized me with the ‘latest social trends’. It showed me how a good chunk of people thought and behaved – but when I look back today, I wonder if all that was just noise – that I could have done very well without… like you could learn a whole lot of slang and colloquial and claim that you extended your vocabulary, but you could do very well without such vocabulary.

I thought all the young were changing. They had changed. The prudish ones were a misfit. All innocence was lost.

Should I bring my children into this world? How am I going to protect them?
While I was contemplating thus, I found myself having to shift my residence once again. I had found a new job. I would have to shift from Airport Road to South Bangalore.

Banashankari, Jayanagar, Basavanagudi and JP Nagar were some of my options.

I was looking for a house this time. To live all by myself. I dialed numbers from Ad Mags and Free Ads expecting to hear another shrewd land owner experienced in negotiating.
To my pleasant surprise, this time, there were polite enquiries in Kannada about my background.
Are you a vegetarian? Where are you from? Where do you work? Almost all of them ask before talking money.
The minute I told them I was from Mysore, they warmed up to me. They were even willing to reduce the rent. These were people who cared about who lived in their homes and not just about how much money they would make.

Having made a few calls, I shortlisted some places and began inspecting them one after the other.

I liked two of the places that I visited. They were both in residential areas, where families lived, away from monster commercial establishments. I requested them to cut down the house rent and they did almost immediately. They even told me about the nearest bus stop and eating joint. I asked them if I could pay the rent by the 5th of every month and they said they had no problem at all. I could not believe that such people existed still.

Both houses were on the first floor.
I chose the smaller and the less connected of the two houses. What was it about this place?

It was the Tulasi plant in a quiet corner. Yes. It was the Tulasi plant that won my heart. And the Rangoli design in front of the house. And the sight of vermilion and turmeric here and there.

The day I shifted here was homecoming for me. The place had such good vibes. It had the familiar smell of the charming good old Bangalore I had known before. This was where I belonged. This is where I had to return to after all the wandering…

Coming home is coming back to one’s culture.
After all, home is where one’s culture is.

You have heard this phrase “coming full circle”. Haven’t you? Like “Life comes full circle”? I think people come full circle too…
In the recent years, I have personally been experiencing this “coming full circle” in many different ways and dimensions.

Shifting to this new home was also in a way, ‘coming full circle’. It was returning from another paradigm to a paradigm where I belonged. It was returning from corruption to innocence, doubt to hope, uncertainty to reassurance.
It was returning to culture from an arrangement of convenience disguised as culture.

These days, I wake up in the morning to MS Subbalakshmi’s Suprabhata everyday and on some days, Bhajagovindam of Shankaracharya sung by MSS again.

On certain days, the decorated ‘Kole Basava’ (bull) and its owner, visit our neighbourhood, stop before every house to play Shehnai and collect whatever the woman of the household gives him.

When I return home every day, the first thing that greets me is the humble and quiet Tulasi plant in its corner. A thing of reassurance. A thing of hope.

Like I said, coming home is coming back to one’s culture.
After all, home is where one’s culture is.

In these modern times where everybody is talking about “change” and the necessity of “change” in life and how “change” is the only constant in life, I am so happy that certain things never change :-)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ladakh - Day 3 - Stok

Stok is a village on the southern bank of the Indus, overlooked by the Stok (17139 ft) and Stok Kangri (20,088 ft) peaks.

Its famous for its palace that now houses a fascinating museum in one wing. Built by king Tsepal Nyamgal in 1820, the palace became the permanent royal res idence when the invading Dogra army devastated the Leh castle in 1834 and forced the king to abdicate. The erstwhile royals still live in one wing of the 77 room palace while much of the dynasty’s heirlooms are on display at the museum.

The approaching road from the palace

The palace commands superb views; the kind of views that make you feel it was worth coming to this world, for all its pain, for all its miseries...
Here I am, enjoying these views

As we returned

Those of you have read my post about Khirganga would know about Arun Babaji, the mysterios man. A few days after I returned from Leh, he had called up to tell me that he had toured Ladakh recently and stayed in the Stok palace following an invitation from the Queen!

Also, he had visited Bangalore a few months after that to meet a few friends, yours truly being one among them. We met at Lalbagh where I used to go for my morning walk and after a short walk, we went to MTR and had Masale Dose, Idli and Jamoon! WE met again at Pizza hut at Brigade road and ate Tortillas and Pizza! Babaji loves to eat.

During conversation, he showed me Arnold Schwarzenegger’s phone number and told me that when he went to California, he stayed in the governer’s place! Of course, the next day, perhaps regretting having revealed too much about himself, he called to tell me that it was a joke!

Anyway, you get back to pictures of Stok :-)