Monday, October 15, 2018

Strawberries and Cream at Wimbledon

Sometime in July this year, my google notification popped up and asked me to click on the link showcasing the photos of this day, ten years ago.
Intrigued… I click on the link and traverse down the memory lane.

04th of July 2008 … 

It all began the previous day over an innocent remark about some article on that day’s tabloid about the happenings at Wimbledon.   With exams drawing to a close we had a little breather and were thinking of chilling out.

Feeni, my classmate from Pakistan suggested we give it a go. As students on shoe string we thought the tickets would be expensive . Wimbledon in my mind was also associated with a place where the high and mighty of the corporate worlds and the socialite’s hob-nob while they watch the Tennis matches as well.

One of our friends educated us. While it was a place where the who’s who possessed season tickets year on year to watch the best of matches at the center court, everyday, there were tickets available for as low as ten pounds, for tennis lovers which let you enter and watch any match at the  Wimbledon championships except the center court. However, we were warned the queue would be long and the wait much longer.  Moreover, there was no guarantee that we would get the tickets to enter the championships leave alone the center court. 
Even if we did,  we would get to see some inconsequential match at the Wimbledon and tick it off our bucket list.

Thus, began our conquest to the Wimbledon on that warm and bright day at 6.00 am in the morning.  By about 7.30 am we were at the Wimbledon entrance and were astonished at the queue.  There were students like us and tennis lovers from all over the world who would not be able to afford a proper Wimbledon season ticket, but were committed nevertheless to watch the sport.
It was English summer and the sun had risen early.  There was a slight nip in the air when we joined the serpentine queue to try our luck with the subsidized tickets. 
We were not too disappointed. Our ticket queue numbers were 242 AND 243. Going by the sleeping bags and mats, we guessed the ones much ahead of us were the ones who had come really early in the morning or had camped overnight. 

For me and Feeni, my classmate from Pakistan it was a part of our blind list.  We just wanted to be there and experience it all. We did not follow Tennis and were not a great fan of the sport.  
Setting out to a place you have never been to before, to have no expectation and to just go with the flow is the best part of the ‘blind list’.  It can never be a list, but just an agenda to be open and go with the flow.  That is what we were determined to do that day. 

Killing and indefinite amount of time waiting for our turn was not difficult at all.

Me and Feeni got talking.  We were not thick friends, just acquaintances as we attended a few classes together.  She was from Pakistan, but bore a striking resemblance to a Malayali colleague of mine from my previous job in India and every time I saw her I would wonder if they were twins. 

When we got talking she said her ancestors were from India and while she did does not remember the place where they were from, they spoke a language that could be spelled just the same from left to right. That confirmed to me the ethnic connections.  Feeni spoke Urdu and English.

Not a word of Malayalam.

It may sound cliched, but only as we got talking, I realized there were so many culturally common things between people of the two countries or for that matter all of the world. World over people are driven by the same things. A sense of identity, the need to be loved and to love.

Where we differed as we steered our discussion was when we got talking about politics, history and particularly the Partition of 1947. Feeni had her perspective on the partition while I had mine. This is what our respective history books and television programs had taught us.  

That opened me up to a very different perspective that I had not imagined earlier.  No matter how open we think we are, we are all so limited by our view of the world around us!!!    

By about 10.30am the gates to Wimbledon opened for the day. We were given to understand that depending upon the number of ticket holders and pass holders that were visiting, the queue for the subsidized tickets would be cleared.  In short, we were dependent on how many socialites and the corporate big wigs decide to visit Wimbledon and watch some tennis that day.  Luckily it was a week day, and early in the Wimbledon season. We were hopeful.

I finished reading ‘A thousand splendid suns' by Khalid Hosseini which was in the best-selling list of that year while we lay on a sleeping mat taking in the warmth of English summer. It was a hard-hitting book and its melancholy lingered on much after I had finished the last page.
Not a great mind set to have for an exciting day ahead, I thought to myself, desperately hoping that the queue ahead of us would clear up and we would get to go inside.  

A few hours on, my wishes would come true. It is about mid afternoon and we get to enter the Lawn tennis championships entrance gate.

It was a riot thereafter.

At the 'today's match fixtures' board we note the qualifying matches for the day. Federer, Nadal were part of the day's fixtures. Martina Navratilova and Leander Paes, two of my favorites were going to play a mixed doubles.  But the icing on the cake was a Ladies doubles quarter final match between N Dechy / C Dellacqua and S Williams /  V Williams at the center court later in the evening.   

It was one hell of a garden party. The lawns, the gardens and the wooden benches had people sprawled over them with their picnics. The tennis matches seemed like a poor excuse. The point was to enjoy the sun, strawberry, cream and champagne.
The sun was shining and HSBC was offering free strawberry and cream for their account holders. I have never been a prouder customer of HSBC. Through the day, I helped myself thrice with bowls of Strawberry and cream flashing my credit card, debit card and my flexi card. Those were the good old days when we were oblivious to the Global financial crisis that would hit the banks, world over in just a month ahead in August 2008. Those were days of opulence and plenty and so the free Strawberry and cream flowed.
Apparently Strawberry and cream were introduced as a tradition in Wimbledon in 1877 and  served to about 200 spectators.    

History has it that Wimbledon’s connection with Strawberries and cream began during the reign of King Henry VIII. Thomas Wolsey, a powerful figure in the king’s court, served the dish at a banquet in 1509.  Later, Wolsey built a grand palace that is known today as the Hampton Court Palace. It was here that Strawberries and cream were served to the spectators who came to the Royal Tennis court. By the time the first Wimbledon tournament began in 1877, strawberries and cream were trendy and in season given it was summer. It was considered a delicacy and given its limited shelf life, it became a favorite among the wealthy spectators who patronized the sport.

I was thrilled to watch Leander Paes and Martina Navratilova pair up for a mixed doubles match at one of the outer courts.  Later in the evening, we managed to get a free entry pass into the center court. (if the center court is not full, some entry passes are given to subsidized ticket holders to enter the center court for a limited period of time to watch the match in progress.)
I could not believe my good fortune as Serena and Venus Williams made their entry for a doubles match against Nathalie Dechy and Casey Dellacqua for the ladies’ doubles quarter finals.   Up and close to Venus and Serena Williams at the Wimbledon center court made it feel truly surreal.
The day ended on a really high note as the Williams sisters effortlessly won the quarter finals match.

That is what happens when you open yourself to possibilities that you think did not exist.
Who would have thought as a student on a shoe string budget, I would get to watch Venus and Serena Williams at Wimbledon center court if I had not listened around and made it to the Wimbledon on a whim.  
Excited, contended and tired by the end of the day, I stepped out of Wimbledon but not before picking up another free bowl of Strawberry and cream at the HSBC counter before stepping out and heading to the Southfields tube station.


This post is my submission for Lufthansa's exciting  new campaign

 #TheBlindList and #SayYesToTheWorld,

Friday, October 12, 2018

Lifestraw water purifier - a reliable travel companion.

Before I eventually quit my day job, I would spend many months day dreaming and drawing up a wish list of where I wanted to travel and what I wanted to hoard up as part of my travel gear. 

Stuck in peak hour traffic on the Outer ring road I would drool over the huge billboards from Decathlon and Wildcraft with backpacks and travel gears sported by chic models with unbelievably flat bellies. 

‘Mera number … kub aayega…’ I would say to myself and sigh, as the private bus behind me would honk and wake me from my day dreaming slumber .

But like they say… be careful what you wish for, because wishes can come true.

And here I was, just a few days to go before my stint in that cubicle jungle would come to an end.  I knew there were no more of those fat paychecks coming into my bank account for a long time now. The income and expenditure had to be tightly balanced.  

Whatever indulgences with money had to be made, it had to be made right then. My wish list of Amazon and flipkart had plenty of items from a trendy backpack to herbal mosquito repellants. But the most alluring among them was ‘Life straw’ water purifier.

The portable water purifier that travelers carried with them came from different brands.  Some Indian and some imported.  I had set LifeStraw up on my wish list and had done considerable research on other brands and the product reviews by other travelers about life straw. 

Then, on a whim I purchased it.

Partly because I did not want to spend money buying bottled mineral water and wanted to travel to places where bottled water would not be available. But mainly, I was conscious of the menace that the use and throw plastic has been creating everywhere in the world. 
My city being the worse of them all. We do not know if what we throw does get recycled or gets dumped in some farmers fertile field in the garbage dumps outside the city. Reuse and recycle is all fine. Fundamentally we need  to reduce the production of plastic as much as we can.

 It was the peak of monsoon seasons when I started travelling. I travelled across the western Ghats along the Konkan and Malabar coast in the monsoon of 2018. 

From the water streams formed in the rains up the Kodachadri mountains in Kollur, to road side restaurants on the way to  Udupi, Kochi, Nashik, Pune and many other small towns, my lifestraw water purifier has been filled in with water from every conceivable source, including the drinking water outlets of railways stations of  Pune Junction, Ernakulam junction or Mavellikara. 

If there was one place where I did not test my Lifestraw water purifier, it was in Aranmula in Kerala . This was a place we went to for flood relief work a week after the devastating flood had submerged that quaint temple town into water. 

Ironically the wells which were the main water source in this small town were declared unfit for use as there was bleach sprinkled everywhere to avoid outbreak of diseases from the dead livestock that may have decomposed in the floods. 

There was a high chance this could cause many water borne diseases.  Aid agencies and the government had supplied abundant supplies of of bottled mineral water for the residents and the volunteers alike, until such time the place was restored to normalcy.  Sadly, all those empty water bottles may find their way back into the Pampa river. 

On a personal level, I had to make sure I did not drink bottled water even if that was a situation that could be treated as an exception.  I lived on that one bottle of water from LifeStraw for an entire day just to prove the point.

 The journey so far has been great.  And my LifeStraw water purifier has been my constant companion.
In the jungles, especially in the monsoon this year water has been in abundance  and I could not thank my Lifestraw water purifier bottle enough for helping me travel light.

Despite all the travelling, I have not fallen sick in the last three months. … touchwood’ (For those who have known me before this time, you know how often I fell ill and how long it took me to recuperate every time I was down with a cold or a flu).

Please watch this YouTube video of mine that sums up my experience.

LifeStraw water purifier works. I can vouch for that.

Although it comes in various other sizes and colour , mine is a one-liter bottle capable of filling about 650ml of water since the in-built straw takes up the rest of the space.   

I would highly recommend Lifestraw (or any other instant water purifier) to anyone who wants to stay away from buying the use and throw bottled mineral water

Lifestraw has a water purifying filter that kills all the protozoa, bacteria and other particles that could come into contact with the filter. The filter is inserted into the bottle like a straw. It can filter upto  a thousand litres of water before you need to change the purifier.

        LifeStraw and various other brands are available on

P.S :    Just in case you are wondering, LifeStraw water purifier manufacturers are not paying me anything to write this post. (Although I would not  mind if they did 😊 ) . 
It was just a curious comment from Vinod Majumdar on facebook that triggered this post. Thanks Vinod.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Life on the slow track ... season 2

Life on the slow track... season 2

Watching the rain drops fall on the leaves …  

Following the butterfly as it sucks the nectar out of the flower 

Jumping into the river and swimming  upstream against the river…

Bearing the weight of the waterfall as it falls over your head and shoulders before it hits the rock boulder    

Flying over the Arabian sea skirting the Konkan and Malabar coastline ...

Hopping pandals to watch the Ganpathi a day before they went down under this  year...

Bending yourself backwards for the yet another fifteen seconds that feels like eternity…

 Reflecting about yourself in the reflections of the mountain in the still waters…

Watching the sunrise on a cloudy overcast sky as the world  slowly wakes up to yet another  dawn

Sipping a cup of hot frothy milky tea as you watch the drizzle turn into a downpour

Riding along the state high way and stopping for breakfast

Feasting on the onam sadya

Lending a helping hand for the flood victims

Yawning away  as you watch the sunset and yet another day came to a close…

Frightening a little frog from under the bushes ...

Spotting the camouflaged butterflies on the rock boulders

Observing the mating rituals of the Rooster and the hen as they play out their hide and seek game…   

Feeling blessed for a thousand things that brought me to live these moments  …

And the journey moves on ...

Stay tuned ...

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Onam Eve at Aranmula

The date sheet calendar at Anila teacher's house on the street next to Aaranmula Pathasarathy temple shows 15th august 2018. That was the day the River Pampa breached the banks and the floods drowned the possessions of the rich and the poor alike. 

A couple of hours before the overflowing dam's shutters were opened up, the army picked people up on rescue boats and transported them to the first floor of the municipal school and to other safe locations. Soon the water levels would breach the first floor of the school building as well the police and everyone would flee to the terrace waiting for choppers to rescue them. 
Their houses were submerged. Apparently from atop the helicopters, even the massive Aramula temple was submerged    Their houses, humble as well as the not so humble were nowhere to be seen.  

In it were passports,progress reports, marksheets, title deeds , school homework, wedding albums. Winter clothes. mattresses and many other things that had to be left behind.

Memories of millions of things from an era before the floods of August 2018.
Soon enough the first floor of the school as well as the police station would submerge as the shutters of the dam up the Pampa river were opened up.The downpour would not cease for atleast the next twenty four to forty eight hours  hours. said the weatherman. 

The police station transferred its files to the terrace under a sheet hoping more rains would not lash and trash them apart.  Alifa, District civil police officer who happens to be stationed at Aranmula says they were holed up and on duty for four full days without rest or sleep. 

It must be difficult being a woman police officer, i ask, clearly showing her that i am in awe of her choice in profession.  
There are about 3000 women police in Kerala, she replies in a matter of factly manner.  

Considering how massive the devastation has been there are no flood reported deaths from this district  says Shiju her colleague with some pride.  

Full credit to them. The army the police and everyone who worked towards it. I let them know that their thankless job is being appreciated. 

There is a constant demand as well as supply for volunteers and it is all regulated seamlessly. You report to the local police station and they identify the houses that need overhauling  call out for the occupants and escort the volunteers there. 

About twenty of us from Sivananda ashram near Trivandrum and the young men from the local football club from around the area ( here in after referred to as Kallikad FC aka KLK FC) teamed up. They wore bright yellow colored  t-shirts possibly sponsored by the owner of Kallikad FC ( KLK FC) . It read r 'Kurian trading agency'.  We started our four hour drive at five thirty in the morning.

Biju thomas our local contact at Aranmula lives amidst his rubber plantation about 12 miles away from the flood hit area of Aranmula.  He arranged our introductions with the police and in no time we got going. He along with his teenage son Noel accompanied us throughout. 
Here is how we operated.

 About 10 to 12 of us volunteers entered the house like a flash mob. We ask the occupant, mostly the woman of the house what over hauling was needed. We received our instructions and we  got going. Mostly silt had to be washed away and the doors to be opened. Mattreses dripping with stale water had to be put out in the sun to dry out or to be thrown out,  the kitchen essentials had to be cleaned and sorted out. 
Text books and title deeds had to be spotted and handed over for hyper care. 
Wedding albums and warm clothes needed the warmth of the sunny outdoors. 

Most importantly the silt that had covered just about everything from the kitchen utensils to the antique furniture had to be de-silted. At some houses you waded through silt up until your ankles.  The task was a dirty one in its literal sense. The smell of dead livestock permeated beneath our face masks and the effect of bleaching powder that was generously sprinkled across the streets and inside the houses irritated our wet heels. It left cracks in your heels almost instantly. 

But the task at hand was such an all consuming one that none of us really noticed

As I rescue Obin Jayakumar's second standard school textbooks and notebooks and put them out to dry in whatever conditions they could survive, Little Obin was nowhere to be seen. 
It is going to be a long holiday and he has a valid excuse for why he could not finish his homework. 

I notice the woman of the house, possibly Obin's mother feeling overwhelmed with all the overhauling and cleaning that was getting done at her house at such a quick pace. Here, at her command for possibly the next one hour she had a dozen volunteers from places as far away and as varied as Uruguay, France, Russia, Kallikaadu , Bangalore  and Zimbabwe team up and clean up her unbelievably untidy home. She clearly did not expect this and  profusely thanked us all.

We took a selfie with her and took leave and marched on to the next house as per the instructions from Alifa our police woman incharge for the day. 

After a couple of houses done, we are tired. 
As if by cue a bunch of volunteers appear out of nowhere and offer us sweet buns (dil khush)  Another volunteer goes around with a huge stalk of ripe elakki banana and offers it to all volunteers. 

Our stomachs are full and we are now rearing to go.  

This time around it is a rather well stocked house that we are let into. On some other day in some other blog post  I would have described to you that quaint old house by the river side in its entire glory.  
But it was not such a pretty site to behold on this day.

Water soaked cotton mattresses are huge. heavy, dirty and stink like hell. To carry them one after the other to dry them out on the first floor terrace required the strength of a superman.

Besides there were rooms to be cleaned, water to be drawn from the well and furniture to be lifted out . It was heavy duty  work. But very gratifying. 

As expected the Kallikada FC team sporting their yellow t-shirts with 'Kurian trading agency' truly rocked. Their team effort to accomplish the work at hand was amazing.  And truth be told no one was watching them. Certainly not Mr. Kurian. In case you are wondering who Mr. Kurian  is, blame it on your rather poor General knowledge. Mr. Kurian's relatinship to the Kallikad FC is similar to
Abhishek Bachchan's to Pink Panther and  Malcolm Glazer's to Manchester United. Some day you will thank me for this piece of Trivia.  
Anyway ... I digress.  But let me make the point.  From what I have seen Kallikad sports club rocks.  

Noel the teenage son of Biju Thomas. our local host was feeling proud and was working really hard mopping up all the muck on the floor. He told me later that it was his teachers house that we were cleaning. It must be a strange sight seeing your teacher in her house clothes. Even stranger must be to see her flustered what with all the havoc created by the floods. This sure was going to be the topic of discussion with his friends when school reopens. 'Flood is a great leveler', Noel would reminisce to his school friends.    

Soon three nuns from their school came visiting. Anila teacher told them about how a rescue boat rescued her ailing father out to safety on that fateful night of fifteenth August. 
That is when I notice that the date sheet was still stuck at fifteenth august. 
It would remain stuck for a long time to come. 

Three generations of memories. Memorabilia washed away by the floods, she reminisces pointing at the soft toys rotting in the show case.  

After about four to five homes overhauled, an overwhelming sense of tiredness engulfs us.
We know there are thousands of such homes that need a lot of help.  

Our volunteering for a day is but a small drop in the ocean. 

But I have seen today that the ocean of humanity is a really vast one. As we head back we see another bunch of volunteers walking with another police man.  Their T-shirt says they are from the 'art of living foundation. 

There will be many more to come we hope. . 

Tired and exhausted we walk towards the temple where our vehicle is parked. 
It is Onam eve. Any other year, this day would be a day of feast at the temple.  But this year the temple looks forlorn and defeated by the fury of the floods.
On the way a kiosk sponsored by 'kerala catering association' offers  rice payasam to all passers by.

I pick up a glass and drown it down. It tastes delicious. 
They are offering free food as well. But we turn it down.  We need to wash up. Our hand gloves and face mask are smeared with silt and muck and there is no telling what disease could be lurking around. 

And then. as if by cue volunteers from the local primary health care center are distributing tablets.  One before food to avoid gastroentitis and these two are for after food, to prevent  brain fever, they say and hand you down the pills. Don't forget, they add. 
They repeat this to every volunteer and visitor and the locals who pass by.

Here is my message from the ground at Aranmula to the rest of the world.:

People from all over the world who have donated in cash and kind,  be assured your contributions are being well spent and well administered. Atleast from the little bit that I have seen here at Aranmula. . 

Of course not everything is perfect. There was a shortage of facemasks for the local residents and there is a perpetual shortage of  field volunteers. But barring a few hitches here and there it is a brave front indeed. 

Kerala will recover from this and march on....

As we drive back towards Kallikad, I am filled with gratitude that this karma yoga ( Selfless service) opportunity was presented to me that too, to work at Aranmula.  

The feeling is inexplicable and the sense of gratification is overwhelming. 

P.S : Three years ago I was at Aranmula featuring the Aranmula metal mirror for my feature on Unusual occupations. Please read about Aramula metal mirror here.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Endaro Mahanubhaavu …

Bear with me for a little flashback.

This happened somewhere in the late eighties …

Our house was getting spring cleaned and the children (especially us girls) were told to be in the best of our behavior for the next two to three days.

It was because we were expecting a guest.

Our guest was related to us from our Maternal grandfather’s side. Apparently in his hey days he was a much respected Harikatha (also referred to as Katha Kalakshebham) exponent. He was a direct disciple of the famous Mangudi Chidambara Baghavathar (whose famous name we had not heard until then).
 We were told that our great grandfather and later my grand father patronized this artiste till bad times fell upon them in the form of urban migration and old age caught up with all of them.

Our guest arrived and within hours his presence was overpowering.  My mother who at that time was in her late thirties apparently grew up being cradled in his arms as an infant and in his lap as a toddler.  He recalled many of her antics as a little child and was amazed at how that little one had grown up so soon. 
She was still being treated like a toddler by him despite being the mother of three young children at that time. This amused us girls to no end.  He addressed her with endearments like the ‘naughty girl’, ‘the plump little imp’ (all loose translations from Tamil) that sent us into bouts of suppressed laughter, behind his back.  

Clearly the old man was stuck in a time warp. 

He chided her for falling for the trap of modern gadgets when he saw her cooking rice in a pressure cooker and using a mixer grinder to grind coconut for the sambar.  His view was that the modern consumer driven gadgets were the root cause of all diseases and she should get rid of them.

He concluded that Amma  wasn’t conceiving enough children (she had borne more than her quota of government allotted two children) because she was leading a ‘modern lifestyle’.  He took Appa aside and advised him to steer clear of all the modern family planning methods that the government was so aggressively pushing down their throat.  

Later he asked Appa for my Horoscope and said that he would help find alliances in good families who hosted him as he travelled all over.  

When Appa said that I was barely fourteen and that he was not planning to marry me off anytime soon, he did not realize what he was in for.

With his typical story telling abilities in full exhibition, he sat Appa down and explained why he should not go against the will of nature.  Young girls, he said are like freshly sprouted paddy saplings.  They need to be transplanted at the right time in the right place for them to thrive and give a good yield.

He was very vocal and made it clear that in these modern times, young men like Appa were getting carried away by the Modern day moralities and lifestyle, that did not carry much of the wisdom and knowledge that our own culture has imbibed upon us.  
As young girls growing up in a nuclear family we felt he was a massive intrusion into our privacy. My sister lost her cool when he tied up a clothes lining right in the middle of our drawing room and hung his dhoti, angavastram and loin cloth over there after washing them off himself in tap water (without any soap). 

To say he was a storm that swept us over for the two three days that he visited us, would be an understatement. But like in all Indian families where the guest is like a god (athithi devo bhava), especially an elderly guest like him who enjoyed much admiration and respect in his hey days had to be respected and served as long as he was our guest.

As his train that was woefully behind schedule by two hours finally departed that afternoon, when we went to send him off, the entire family sighed in relief and laughed out loud. 

‘What a character he is, in this age and time, behind schedule by 30-40 years’, Appa remarked.    

‘I hope he does not go and give a scathing review to my parents about how I run my household’ a slightly worried Amma remarked.

For a long time thereafter, Appa quoted his ‘Paddy sapling’ example and threatened to marry me off if I did not do well in my examinations.  That in itself was deterrent enough to study hard and get decent marks.

Thus was kept alive the memory of MDB , the old, slightly senile and arguably the most  regressive Harikatha exponent whom we hosted at our home in the late eighties. Others forgot him soon but for some reason he remained etched in my memories.

Many years later in a quiz the question was asked.  ‘Which art form originated from Maharashtra and flourished by the Maratha rulers of Thanjavur'' ?  

That was when I again heard Harikatha or Katha Kalakshepam mentioned. It was an art form of oral story telling that Saint Samartha Ramadas from Maharashtra brought to Thanjavur in 1677, when he visited Ekoji, Shivaji's step brother, who was the Maratha ruler of Thanjavur at that time. 

The mention of Harikatha re-kindled the memories of that rather old, senile, overpowering, country bumpkin of a man who visited our home many years ago.

How that perception of a typical Harikatha artiste would change and  transform me on that hot and rather humid evening at the auditorium at Udupi Sri Krishna mutt …

She had me teary eyed and left me with goose bumps all over as she concluded her show.

I am in Udupi.

As I step out of Uttaradi Mutt in Udupi where I am staying for the day, I take in views admiring the grandeur of the Vaishnavaite temples and their architecture. Around the temple are institutions run by various Mutt’s who are headquartered in Udupi, one of the top five Krishna temples in India.  

Intricately carved wood work, delicately designed entrances and grandly lit facades speak of an ancient culture that must have once thrived in this temple town giving artistes and art forms prestigious platform to express and showcase their art.   

I would witness one such art form in a short while that would blow my mind over. 

This is off peak season and pretty early in the evening.  A ‘darshan’ of the richly decorated idol of Udupi Shri Krishna gets over in no time.  

I have nothing much to do and so I walk in to the temple auditorium, attracted by a performance of a young girl with two accompanying artistes, one on the harmonium and another on a tabla.  The plastic chairs are all taken, so I sit on one of the stone walls, far away from the stage.  

I am awe-struck by the performance. I decide to hang around for a while. Besides me comes and sits a middle-aged woman and tries to strike conversation with me.  She asks me where I am from and how long I am here for. As much I am interested in striking conversations with strangers, the performance is too good for me to get distracted.  I do not pay her much attention after the initial few minutes.

Later she is joined by another woman who comes and sits besides us. They are talking about some shopping and are inviting me into the conversation.

That is when the antenna of the solo traveler in me rings the alarm. I surreptiously check my gold chain and the gold ring in my index finger.  They are safe. I embrace my hand bag closer to my body and get a a little extra vigilant. 

I always wear some gold when I am travelling because it is the best insurance, when you need strangers to help you in case of an emergency like an accident. Arguably it also makes it unsafe to travel for the fear of getting mugged. But I would any day absorb the collateral damage of being mugged, to not being attended to by strangers, for want of money if you are caught in a nasty accident, when you are travelling solo.    

At the next chance I get, I tip toe my way out without excusing myself from the chatty middle-aged women and move towards an empty plastic chair closer to the stage that has been vacated by someone.

I am enthralled by the Harikatha performance by this young girl would could be in her teens.  She wears absolutely no makeup, sans her bindi.  Her short, slightly curly hair is  oiled and plaited into a single braid. Dressed in a blue long skirt (Lehenga) and pink blouse, she is standing at the middle of the stage reciting the ‘Srinivasa kalyanaa’.  The marriage of ‘Tirupati Venkatesha’ to his consort ‘Padmavati’. While the format traverses through the various avatars of Sri Vishnu, Rama and Krishna being two among them, the story telling is interspersed with teachings from the Bhagavata Puranam.    
As she bursts into songs, stories and anecdotes while reciting the story her expressions, her tone and her demeanor change. On her right hand in a cymbal that she plays in order to keep the rhythm and add music to her recitals, she is accompanied by two men, much older to her, one on the harmonium and the other on a tabla.

Her recital is in Kannada, a language that I have just begun to sparsely understand. But the story of Vishnu Avatar’s and Bhagavata Puranam is universal. So, I have no problem understanding it. Moreover, that universal language of music can enthrall anyone and language can never be a barrier.

I am mesmerized.

When she bursts into ‘Venkata chala Nilayam … vaikunta pura vasam’, the composition by Sri Purandaradasa describing, Sri Vishnu’s abode in ‘Vaikunta’, there are tears in my eyes.

With such a talent, she should have found national level recognition, is what I think. I do not even know her name or where she comes from.  I am a stranger, who just passed by and happened to sit for the performance.

As the performance draws to a close, the father of the young artiste is introduced.  The audience, as mesmerized as I am, put together their hands for a huge applause for nurturing this young talent. I walk up to him and let him know that despite not knowing Kannada, despite not being familiar with this art-form (which is only partially true) I was spell bound with his daughter’s performance.

Sraddha, from Kasargode learns Harikatha from her Guru Sri Adiga.  She is studying for her bachelor’s degree at the local college in Kasargode. 
I congratulate her for a wonderful performance and let her know how talented she is. A very shy and introverted Sraddha thanks me for the compliment and moves closer to her father, while busying herself packing her backpack with her belongings as they wrap up the show.
I ask her if she has plans to pursue this art form as a full-time career. 

She says she would do her Master’s degree after her Bachelor’s degree.
I let her father know that he should not let her talent go wasted and take leave.  

Not sure if Sraddha will ever get to perform at a bigger platform to a wider audience. 

All I can say is she has the potential.

There must be many like her in small towns like Kasargode and beyond, whose talents may be lost to the world.   
But it opened my eyes to what depth of talent lies hidden in a rich ancient culture that promoted story telling as an art form for many centuries over.

I am glad that the art of Harikatha did not die a slow death with opinionated artistes like MDB.  It is alive and kicking among millennials like Sraddha from Kasargode and various other more glamorous exponents like Vishaka Hari, who add a contemporary twist to the good old Bhagavata Puranam and keep the centuries old tradition of oral story telling alive.

As I walk out of the temple auditorium that evening in Udupi, I feel small and humbled.

Had Sraddha appeared for an interview as a fresh graduate in the ITes industry that I come from, we may have possibly rejected her for ‘lack of confidence’ and ‘below average communication skills’.   

When you free yourself away from the narrow confines of those glass buildings, where you are constantly sizing up others or getting sized up, is when you realize the vast expanse of how there are so many unsung heroes whose talent will sadly remain unseen by the larger world.

It is in that moment, that the ignorant soul cringes. It cringes out of shame and out of sheer awe and bows in utter admiration for all those less recognized art forms and unsung artistes that have ever existed.   

Involuntarily, I hum
Endaro  Mahanubhavu .. anthareeki vanthanamulu

Saint Thyagaraja’s famous composition, which he is supposed to have spontaneously composed  when he saw great people assembled in a hall as he entered. 

Loosely translated from Telugu it means

There are so many great people in the world
To all of them I offer my salutations.

For more on Harikatha as an art form and its history and tradition please visit the blog by Sriram V
He is the expert on these matters. Salutations to him as well.

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