Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Man Whose Home Is A Devdar Tree

1st week of June, 2008

For almost a month now we had been trekking in the Himalayas. 2 of us. I and a friend.

Friend was too tired, but I was sure I wanted to visit Khirganga (Himachal): the place was not part of our itinerary but it had been described in the most savoury of terms by people and I had begun to fantasize about it.

It was 12 kilometers on foot. I was concerned because I had to return the same evening since I had booked my bus ticket back to Delhi. I would have 24 kilometers to cover in one day.

I set out anyway, all alone, took the bus to Varshaini, where the trek would begin.
When I had made up my mind not to take a guide or a porter this time and go alone, people came to me one by one and told me about a lone foreigner woman who had been murdered by a Nepali on the same route, a few days ago! Should I go at all?
I spoke to the boys around, haggled, hired a guide for Rs 150/- a day and started.

For the first few hours, the walk was difficult. I could see forests, trees on mountains all around, there was no shade where we were walking and it was very sunny.
And then we walked by apple trees for a while.
The scene changed by noon. The weather was cooler, there was the drone of water in the valley and it was greener.

The river Parvathi roared in the valley. Standing on a narrow wooden bridge I thought it was a beautiful yet frightening sight. It was one of the mightiest water flow I had seen in all my Himalaya trip. The plunge, the volume of water, the pace, the force…

After the bridge, the forest became denser.

It was green all around and moist. There were tall Devdar trees of different kinds, their leaves of different shapes, branches on some perfectly horizontal, others stooped low, the colour varying from parrot green to emerald – unlike in other places I had seen before where only one type of Devdar grew in an area and provided no opportunity to make comparisons.

As we trekked, we met people returning from Khir Ganga. Almost all of them said “Wahan kuch nahin hain (there is nothing there). Wapas laut Jao (Retrace your steps)”.
I continued anyway…

We stopped at a small dhaba for refreshments. There was a motley mix of people there. An experienced local fellow inhaled from the chillum a really long puff of smoke and exhaled a large amount of smoke. The others, some foreigners tried to imitate him but could not match his capacity. He surely had bigger lungs than the rest. Or perhaps, it was experience.

Right across me, sat a Mauni Baba. He was on an oath of silence: a 12-year period silence. He had completed 8 years. There were four more to go. He spoke in sign language to the locals who seemed to understand him completely.

By four, we reached a clearing. There were a few huts, wooden shops and makeshift dwellings here and there. The clearing offered a 360 degree panoramic view of mountains around – some covered in Devdar, some in snow.

The legend about this place is: Shanmukha or Subramanya, the elder son of Shiva had pangs of hunger. Lord Shiva planted his trident at a spot and what came out was kheer (payasam), a sweet made of milk. That’s why the name Khirganga.

On the way, my guide entered a wayside dhaba and greeted people he knew and told them what he was doing there, while I stood at the entrance.
A man seated on a chair, with his back to me, turned and said “Namaskara. Chennagiddeera?”, meaning ‘how are you’ in Kannada.
I walked up to the fellow Kannadiga, smiling, and spoke to him. He introduced himself as Arun. People there knew him as Arun Babaji. He invited me to visit his dwelling (not far from that place), after I had returned from seeing the milky water-stream. I said I had to return the same day. He said I had come to a beautiful place and I should stay there overnight. I smiled politely, not wanting to bluntly refuse.

When I and the guide reached the spot, what we saw was a narrow trickle of a waterfall. But on the bed, a layer of cream – like moss had formed, giving the water, the appearance of milk from a distance. Perhaps the water contained some natural chemicals which caused the deposit of moss on the bed.

Nearby was a hot water spring in the open, for men. Next to it was an enclosure for women.

As I returned, I saw that the grey blanket in the sky had parted in the west through which parting, the sun appeared on the horizon. The effect was that the whole evening was washed in a yellow. I love this effect. I’ve always loved it.

I changed my mind about returning the same day :-)

It was getting cold. I rested in the dhaba for a while. It was warm inside as there was a Tandoor that was lighted and stoked from time to time. The floor was covered with thick quilts. I rested for a while and set out with my guide to meet Arun Babaji.

A short distance away, in the midst of several Devdars and other trees, stood a giant Devdar. This must have been a very old tree, for I noticed that its root was forked into two or three all of which were big and broad. Usually, there is just one root. The area around the root had been dug and leveled with the effect of creating a sort of platform, 3 feet above the leveled ground on which stood the Devdar. A tarpaulin was raised to a height of 6-7 feet from the ground. On the platform was a small bed, a few boxes containing provision and eatables, some blankets and then some firewood.
This was the home of Arun Babaji. This has been his home for 18 years.

As I entered his home I saw that Upma was cooking in a pan that sat on a heap of firewood. Baba was sitting in front of the fire and stoking it. He welcomed me with a smile, placed a mat before the fire on which I made myself comfortable.

He wore a white dhoti and a T-shirt. He must be in his early forties. He had a salt-and- pepper beard and wore a cap in the fashion of the local people. He spoke to me in English. He had a calm face, a fair complexion, a smile on his face and eyes that betokened innocence and humility. I was simply exhilarated about coming close to a person unlike anyone I had met before.

As we were making conversation, the Upma was ready. He asked the guide to pluck leaves from a nearby shrub. He served Upma to both me and the guide. In that cold weather, and after nearly a month of having Roti - Daal, Upma came as a welcome delight.

He enquired about me, my family, my education, job, my journey, etc.
But I was not able to learn much about him.
He was born in Bangalore. He left home when he was 16 or 17 to live in the mountains. This tree was special for him and he knew it even before he had seen it. When I asked him why he had made such a choice, he simply said, he loved nature.
Didn't he feel cold, sleeping in the open under a tree? 'This tree God keeps me warm'. Occasionally a jungle bear paid a visit, but did no harm.
When I enquired about his lineage, he said he was a Harijan.
When I asked him “Do you preach?”, he said, “No, I practice”.

He spends a few months in a year under the tree and for the rest, he is travelling – all over the world, East Asia, China, Switzerland, England, Lakshadweep, Copper Canyon in Mexico, England and all the exotic places on earth.
He does not work for a living. He says he is not educated.
When I asked him who provided for all that, he said, “HE takes care of me”.

He shared with me a few jokes. Good ones, I must say.
“Hitler went to an astrologer to know when he would die. The astrologer said “On a Jewish holiday”. How did the astrologer know? Well, any day Hitler died would be declared a Jewish holiday!”

We chatted thus and did not notice that the evening had turned into night. He pointed to the sky and I looked up. There was the crescent of the moon against a dark cobalt sky. All the trees and their branches stood out in a single continuous silhouette. There was perfect stillness and silence in the air.

It was time for Babaji to bathe in the kund(hot water spring). He invited me to join him in the morning for a cup of coffee – Bru Coffee! We said good night and I returned to the dhaba.
There I heard from the people, more about Babaji - that he was the son a of a very important person in India – the top ten rich list, that Manisha Koirala had sent him a flight ticket when he wanted to visit Nepal, that he was not a Harijan but a Brahmin or a Thakur(Kshatriya), that he conversed with scientists, that people revered him a lot – they would not light tobacco before him and much more... half of which must be rumours.

As I slept that night, my last thoughts were of Babaji – had I just met someone really out of the ordinary?

The next morning, after bathing in the Kund, I went to Baba’s tree where I had Bru coffee with biscuits.

And then we trekked a short distance on the trail leading to Mantalai.

There was smoke rising from the bottom of a Devdar. Some shepherds had lit a bonfire and left the spot without completely putting off the fire. Babaji took a plastic bottle, filled it with water from a nearby stream and poured it over the fuming ashes.

Guess what flowers these are, he said pointing at a patch. Strawberry! In about 15 days time, all these would bear strawberry fruit. How I wished I could prolong my stay.

As we walked, we came by a bark of Silver Birch(Bhojpatra) fallen on the ground. Babaji peeled layers from the bark and gave them to me. These peels still rest between the leaves of my notebook.

There was a walnut tree close to Babaji’s Devdar tree. He gave me a handful of walnuts that still rest on my kitchen slab.

It was time to leave. Word had been sent to the cook who usually cooked for Babaji that he was to expect two guests that noon.

The cook had been taught by Babaji how to prepare certain dishes to his liking.
Meals arrived in two thalis. The rotis were made of wheat grown in the hills. The curry was made of vegetables grown there. The curds had been made from the milk of Buffaloes that grazed in the vicinity of the hills.
The chutney was made of Marijuana seeds!!!

When I had first seen the plant in Rashol, I had wondered why God had created such a thing.
But I realized soon, ‘it all depends on how we use it’. Nature couldn’t be flawed. All beings are wholesome and perfect. It’s when we, men make unwholesome fragments of them that there arise problems.

A great meal it was. As pure as it could get.

Babaji shared some more jokes.
An accused man was questioned in the court “How old are you?” “35” said he. The judge asked him, “Had you not given the same answer 10 years ago in this very court?”, to which he replied “I am not the kind of a man who says one thing today and another thing tomorrow”!

We exchanged phone numbers. I gave him my address and said farewell to him.

As I sprinted down the mountain I was glad I had ignored all hurdles and compulsions on the way – my bus tickets to Delhi, the girl who had been apparently murdered on this trail, the trekkers who had said there was nothing up there and asked me to return… I was glad I had not read them as ‘signs from the universe’.

I talk to Babaji when he is not travelling and he always ends the conversation with a joke. He has visited Bangalore twice after our meeting and each time, he has awed me with his stories. He would like me to visit him in Uttarkashi where he has a cottage and make Dosas for him. I have yet to fulfill that wish…



This post has been written as an entry for the Around The World With Expedia Contest organized by Indiblogger and Expedia

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Moments of Redemption

Life was redeemed.
When I saw your innocence
The way you placed a hand on your heart
While speaking, without guile or art.

Sincerity in your eyes,
No smartness, no cleverness.
Genuine, every gesture,
Even pride and anger;

A form, I’d first felt
Somewhat imperfect
Chocolate-ish with two crooked teeth
Became the most handsome - face to feet.

Life was redeemed.
When after nine days of raging fever
Since you were gone the first time ever,
For so long to Hong Kong,
You appeared on the floor
From behind that door,
Looked at me, stopped,
And that smile of relief you smiled,
I just knew
You had had fever too.

Life was redeemed.
When after a month and two weeks
Of stolen glances and careful sneaks,
Of Mind games of silence,
And a flourish of indifference,
You picked up the phone and made that call
To ask of that project of last fall.
That the reason was fake, you thought I couldn’t make?
Your voice, a clear lake, reflected your ache.
Two and two were four.
I knew you could endure it no more.

Life was redeemed.
When out of my way you stepped
As if repelled,
Only days after I’d turned my face away
Hurt that I was part of your life in no way,
In equal measure
You returned my coldness with pleasure.
Though revulsion, a response it had surely been,
Happiness brought to my eyes water
For what else could it mean,
But that, to you, in some way, I did matter?

Life was redeemed.
When you looked up from the newspaper
you weren’t reading-love makes the innocent clever!
With hope in your eyes
To find on my face
The same agony and pain
That had begun to throb in your every vein
Now that there were left
Only sixty more days
For us to part ways
Only sixty days were left
Of each other, we’d be soon bereft.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Everest Calling - Namche to Dole

20th April 2011. Towards Dole.

After a few minutes of walking, we had to stop abruptly. Our tour guides doubted that our luggage had got mixed with the luggage of another group that had gone a different way!
We waited for our porters to arrive, and identified our respective bags and when all had confirmed that their luggage was there, we moved.

There was Ama Dablam, the mountain with twin peaks watching over us all along the trail.

And this was our very first view of the Everest.
Slightly to the left of the centre, the small cap like top of mountain, mostly hidden behind a wall that is another mountain – that’s Everest.

In this picture, the peak at the left of the picture is the Everest.

All of us agreed unanimously that Everest is just the highest of mountains not the most beautiful. There are so many other peaks we have seen that are more beautiful – Bhageerath peak, Shiv Link Peak etc. Looks are not everything said someone. Really? I mean, in case of mountains, looks alone matter since they have no other utilitarian value for man. Isn’t it?

Can you see the black spec on the patch of snow on the taller peak of Ama Dablam? Someone got the idea that it was a mountain climber summiting Ama Dablam. The pair of binoculars that someone had on him suddenly came to be in demand. People looked through it, zoomed in and out until they got a good look at the climber!
It took me some thought to realize that the spec was probably a 100 feet tall rock or boulder, given that the mountain itself was thousands of feet tall. A five feet man would not be visible from where we stood!
Ha Ha!

There were villages on the way and loads of stone jewellery on display. I put off shopping for after base camp.

Half a diamox the previous night had proved to be a mistake. A costly one. A diuretic, it killed my sleep for the night. Sleep deprived as I was, the day’s trek became a pain - much less enjoyable than it should have been. I felt neck and shoulder pain, as I usually do when I am sleep deprived.

We had lunch at a place called Mongla. I ached for rest and sleep but the group was already moving.

Phortse Thanga. At Phortse Thanga a sign board showed two directions: one, left, upwards towards Dole and the other, right downwards to a charming hotel by a blue green river.
As per the original plan, we were supposed to halt in Phortse Thanga that day and move to Machermo the next day. But someone suggested that would be a lot of altitude gain so it was decided that we would not halt in Phortse Thanga but proceed to Dole, halt there and the next day, cover the distance from Dole to Machermo.
As I took the left, I looked down at the river and wished we could halt by it in the charming hotel.

After Phortse Thanga, the ascent gave an ever widening view of snow mountains.

Water streams cutting our trail had turned into ice at places.

There were stones rolling on to our trail and when I looked up, I saw workers above.

I was almost sure there was Everest in this picture though the guides denied it.

The one to the far left, I thought might be Everest.

This one, Thamsherku, I was sure would turn pink or orange during sunset and I hoped we would still be on the trail by then and more importantly, this one would still be in view and not disappear during sunset.

We were nearing our destination. It was getting dark now.

We walked and walked. And at last, reached Dole. It had been a long day and everyone who entered the hotel was cheered by others who had reached before. There was laughing and singing and some dancing in the hall.

Dinner was served later.

‘We will take a happy picture before everybody starts eating’, said Swami. That should tell you something about how our enthusiasm for the food had plummeted down after just 4 days.

After dinner we gossiped (something I usually don’t do). About someone that used to chant Om in the bathroom on the toilet seat, another who had asked the guide to sing and dance on the way, another who had stood before a Yak and said ‘excuse me’, and so on...but it was all in good spirit.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Who Knew It Was Forever?

Sitting on a branch high above, Yaksha asked a thirsty Yudhishthira standing by the lake, looking up at him with joined palms, the last of his questions, ‘What is the most astonishing thing in this world?’

Yaksha owned the lake (or so he had stated) and forbade Yudhishthira from touching its waters. His younger brothers who had disregarded the warning lay in a row on the ground, still and lifeless. Dead.

Yudhishthira had given all the right answers before this.
“The most astonishing thing in this world, O Yaksha, is that we see people dying around us so often and we do not think it will happen to us one day. It does not once occur to us that we too will have to go. We live as if believing that we will live forever”.

Very true. It never once occurs to us that it may be our turn next. That it may be our turn to fall ill, to fail in the exam, to be robbed on the street, to get fired from our job, to lose a friendship, to lose a die.

But one day, life ends. Forever.

All throughout the drive, the road keeps forking and merging again. For a few moments, you lose sight of those fields, those hills, the windmills on them and then they all come into view when the forks merge. Again you lose sight of them when the road forks and again they are back there... you drive on like you will never leave that path or it’s never think for a moment the next fork could change everything...
But one of those forks is a final one. After that, there are two divergent paths, never to meet again. You search for those fields, for the hills and the windmills, but you have left them behind, never to pass them by.

There comes a point in the journey when the road forks forever.
Never to converge again.

In the course of the relationship, you fought and you patched up, you distanced yourself from him, sometimes in anger, sometimes just to torment him and then got close to him; you played mind games thinking you had all the time in the world to get real.
But there came a moment, when you turned your face away from him, thinking you would come together in time. Like always.
But this particular time, he didn’t come to you. You went on like you didn’t care, believing deep within that he wouldn’t be able to endure this silence any longer, that any moment now his steel resolve would melt and he would look at you with those eyes...
But he didn’t.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. It was you who melted in the end. And when you looked up at him you knew he had drifted away. Forever.

You looked back at that moment, when you had turned you face away, and wished life would give you a second chance.

We live as though life will go on forever.
We live our relationships as though we have all the time in the world.
We give all room and all time to our ego, pride, anger, impulses, to clashes and distances as though love can wait.

When it is all over, we look back at that one moment and ask ourselves if we should not have been less hasty and more deliberate; ask if the clock couldn’t be rewound to that moment, so we would get a second chance and do it right this time.

But the clock can never be rewound.

The song ‘Dil Mein Aag Lagaaye Sawan ka Mahina’ from a Rajesh Khanna film has a beautiful line that contains within it a philosophy about all those things in life that can never be the same again, for all we may cry...
‘Is mausam ke bichde shaayad mile kabhi na...’

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Amritadhara Goshala

You drive down Kanakpura road, pass the Art of Living Ashram on your right, and drive on until you see a signboard that says ‘Fireflies’. There, you take a right turn. After you have left behind shabby tenements, the green fields begin.

One should be careful not to get lost and ask, in case of doubt, for ‘Fireflies’.

This is Fireflies on your left and a lake on your right.

Continue on the mud trail and then swerve to your left and you have reached.

An initiative to protect, promote, develop and research Indian breed of cows, established by Sri Sri Raghaveshvara Bharathi of Ramachandrapura Matha, Sri Samsthana, Gokarna, in 2004.

This is one of the seven Goshalas in the state (Karnataka). There is one in Kerala too.

In this Goshala, there are 130 cows in all. There are 26 different breeds.

Seeing them all tied one beside the other actually made me see the differences, the variety. Otherwise it is difficult to imagine so many different breeds and actual physical differences.

There were totally 1400 breeds in India out of which only 33 are surviving today.
The reason is that cows of Indian breed have not been encouraged/supported/bred and foreign breeds like the Jersey cow are encouraged.
The Indian breed does not yield as much milk as the Jersey cow. The yield is not proportionate to the fodder it consumes. Not only is the quantity of milk low, but also the milk yielding duration within the cow’s lifespan is less, the result being that milk and by products obtained from the Indian cow are more expensive for the consumer compared to those of the Jersey cow.
On the whole, the Indian cow is considered uneconomical and receives no care, attention, nor investment.

Another example of how the ‘indigenous’ suffers and even becomes extinct in the face of foreign competition. A specific case of the broad generalization that free trade and free market are nothing more than idiocy, that regulation by the State is extremely important, that the consumers are shortsighted fools, that most of the products that enter a market when you open it wide are mostly products that we don’t need (although not in the case of milk since we need a large supply of milk for this population)

The fact that the milk of the Jersey cow may not have the same medicinal value as that of the Indian cow is not factored in by the consumer while evaluating price.
A specific case of the broad generalization that while computing economic viability, we only take into account quantitative factors and not qualitative factors and therefore the popular economic theory built on the incomplete formula, is such a misleading farce.
Apart from economy, the fact that we have to protect our home species from extinction is the kind of social responsibility you don’t expect from our people who see nothing beyond their pocket.

It is saddening to know that of the 1400 breeds, only 33 are surviving today and the rest have become extinct.

Initiatives such as this Goshala come as a respite.

They bring in stray cows from various parts of the country into the Goshalas and nurture them – give them fodder, water, control their breeding, clean them, clean the sheds, milk them, collect the refuse from their bodies – for everything that comes from a cow lends itself to use – there is not an iota of waste – a reason why the cow is called Kamadhenu …
I even had the chance to meet the veterinary doctor who had come on his periodic visits to this place. He was highly appreciative of the effort made by the caretakers of the place. It is funded mostly by donations from people.

Sometimes, injured, disabled cows, such as the calf below without a whole leg, are brought in and they are accepted.

Since the breeding is controlled, they do not permit cross breeding between different species, but only pure breeding. 28 yrs is the ideal life span but actual life span is 22 years on an average.

There is greenery surrounding the Goshala. Farms of coconut, arecanut, coffee plantations…

Another shed…

Turmeric being made into Kumkum. That’s another thing they do here.

I did not know Kumkum is made out of turmeric.

Pure kumkum powder is prepared with ancient methods used by our sages.
Procedure: Make a solution with 3/4th litre of lime juice, 150 gm borax and 10 gram alum. Soak 1 kg dry turmeric pieces in this solution for 24 hours. Dry in shade for a month, make fine powder, add 100 gms (10% of Turmeric quantity) of pure ghee made of cow’s milk, mix and sieve to obtain pure kumkum.

In the market, we often get coloured powder as kumkum that can cause skin allergies/diseases and other ailments.

A small yellow slip given me carried the Kumkum making procedure along with this “Kumkum has a very significant place in Indian society. Men and women, according to our tradition, are supposed to wear kumkum on their foreheads every day. Kumkum is believed to be auspicious. It has been proved to have the power to affect the state of our body as well as mind. According to Ayurveda too, Kumkum has medicinal property…”

The office of the chief caretaker.

Buttermilk. Offered to every visitor for free. This too is authentic – it’s made not by diluting curd as is done everywhere these days, but by churning and removing butter.

The equipment you see is used to process cow’s liquid refuse or urine. Out of 20 litres of cow’s urine, 11 litres of purified urine is available.

The urine (Gomutra) for the purpose of processing thus is collected between 4 and 6 in the morning everyday for it is 100% medicine.
That collected later in the day has only 70% medicinal value.
When heated as shown, vapours of Gomutra rise upwards into the tube. These vapours are met by cool water flowing through an outer concentric tube. The vapour thus turns into liquid and is collected in a container placed at the other end of the tube. It is then filtered through a piece of fine cloth. The liquid is almost colourless and odourless. It is fit for consumption. It is called Go-Arka. It has immense medicinal value and is a proven cure for BP, diabetes. Even if you have no health concerns you could still consume this for health benefits –both physical and mental.

How to consume Go-Arka – after brushing your teeth in the morning, on empty stomach – mix 2 spoons of Go-Arka with 4 spoons of boiled, cooled water and consume. For 1 hour after wards, nothing should be consumed.

After the first eleven litres, the cooled vapour begins to be strong in colour and odour and not fit for consumption. This is used to make a sort of phenoyl that could be used for cleaning – mopping the floor etc. This is believed to have properties that keep away insects, mosquitoes etc.

The container when drained of all the liquid is found to have pasty material stuck to its surfaces. This is collected and dried and called Go-gandha. This too can be used for application on skin where there is a cut, bruise, allergy. Mix a pinch of Go-Gandha with Go-Arka and make a paste before applying.

The brown bottles contain Go-Arka, whereas the yellowish liquid in containers below is phenoyl (a name they use for disinfectant).

Do visit this place, make generous contributions and help protct the cow. Amrutadhara Goshala, Dinnepalya, Kaggalipura, Kanakpura Road, Banaglore – 560082
Phone – 28432724

I want to conclude by telling you that I feel proud that Ramabhadrachar, my father’s maternal uncle, a great Sanskrit scholar and preceptor to many seeking knowledge was the guru of Swami Bharati Theertha for several years. :-)