Thursday, 28 February 2013

of Tirupathi and Bangalore

We are back from a short but eventful and hectic trip to India. It was just a visit to spend time with my husband's and my family. I was in Bangalore the whole time but managed to squeeze a trip to Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh.

Trip to Tirupathi was an experience in itself. Tirupathi is a very famous and one of the richest pilgrimages of India. It is also one of the most visited temples. Devotees throng to the temple from every corner of India and Indians staying abroad. We decided to pay respects to Lord Venkateshwara this time. I had an experience of the temple and its crowd once before this. I knew what to expect. The queues to see the god even after buying a hefty priced ticket is a minimum 4 hours wait. The free entry wait time is easily 8-10 hours.All this for a blink-and-miss split second slot to see the lord!

I was amazed at the efficiency of the system in place to control the crowd. Waiting people were broken into different queues to avoid stampede but mainly to control the flow of people to the main temple. There were people who used the waiting areas as toilets (highly insenitive bunch). In spite of that and huge crowd round the clock, cleanliness in temple premises and waiting area was very impressive. Even though there was no personal boundary while in the queue and you were walking sticking to the person in front of you and behind, no one misbehaves. Majority of the crowd waits patiently for their turn resigned to the fact that there was no use pulling/pushing.

On the other end, Informants and monitors of queue were impatient and non-courteous. Corruption such as bribing is heavily practiced. One can't find a single item for fixed price on the Tirumala hills, not even hotel accomodation or sweet laddu offering to God. Even priests ask for money in return for extra prasad.

Temples are supposed to be peaceful places to pray and meditate. One can't even see the main idol for more than a second, then why go there to pray? One can't sit in temple premises for more than a minute, what purpose does this serve? Does one go there to find out why so many people throng to the temple? I didn't understand. If you go there to use the temple premises as urinals, bribe to get an extra laddu or get pushed by one of the temple guard like a cow in a herd, what is the point?

To my dismay, I realized that I have lost the street-smartness required to manoeuvre on Indian roads - be it crossing a busy road skillfully, bargaining with street vendors or communicating with auto wallahs.

There was this one incident that leaves me puzzled even now. I went to a roadside vendor selling few books. I picked up a couple of them and asked for the price. The guy behaved creepy. He looked at me intently quoting 2-3 prices and eventually settled to 140Rs for 2 books. I asked him if he can give me the books for 100Rs. And that's all I spoke. Before I opened my mouth again, the guy was shouting at the top of his voice - " What are you talking? Dont you have any shame? What do you think of these books? These are original books. You are asking for such a low price!" I tried to diffuse the situation "Ok, tell me for how do much you want to sell?". There was no stopping the guy, he was still shouting at the top of his voice that I was a shameless lady who wants to buy things at cheap prices! So I dropped the books and being ill-tempered, I talked back to him "Don't you think I know how original the books are?" "Then why are you buying here?" came the answer. I left that place silently with the guy still shouting and throwing curses at me. Was I over-reacting? Was it normal for him to get defensive thinking that I was going to bargain real hard? Or should I have paid 140Rs silently and gotten the book even after he harassed me like that?

A couple of more days on Indian streets and I would have gotten back to the game(of shouting in frustration and hurling curses to bounce off the ones coming my way), but my skills were rusted and I needed help to get out of a situation.

On a general note, Bangaloreans were very hopeful and happy about the Infrastructure development in Bangalore. People were hopeful about Namma Metro project and development of few new roads and fly overs. Also on the other end, I heard comments about people worrying about slowing economy and IT companies moving away from Bangalore because of lack of infrastructure, population and government policies.

Whatever is the infrastructure, pollution or population, Bangalore has never failed to impress me. Be it in 2004 when I first resided in Bangalore as an intern drawing no salary or now, as an NRI. It remains Namma Bengaluru - the IT capital, the city of opportunities, the city of mouth watering food, the city where my dear ones reside, the city where my heart lies.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Conversation with a free thinker

I was having lunch with a colleague the other day. I was getting to know her better. She mostly dominates every conversation and steers towards the topics she likes and makes it interesting for everyone. She was getting to know me as well. We started with the usual banter - work, followed by kids and then conversation was steered towards our costums, values and beliefs.

She asked me about my religion. Any topic about Indian religion always starts with the many gods we have and the main gods - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. And it invariably moves to discussing cast-ism in our society and various traditions that dominate a particular caste.

I asked her about her religion. This is how I asked her. "So what are you? A Buddhist or Christian?" Those are the two religions that a Singaporean Chinese belong to. She answered 'none'. I asked her again. She has to be something, to me the thought of not belonging to a religion just didn't exist. She said again "none, I don't have a religion." It took me a while to understand what she was saying. She was saying that she doesn't believe or belong to any religion. She was a free thinker.

To an Indian, she had said something unthinkable. We Indians belong to one or the other religion. We are born to a religion, we do not chose our religion.
Even if an Indian doesn't believe in his religion's traditions and practices, he still belongs to that religion because he is born to parents who follow the religion. Religion forms the foundation of India, its culture and its society. Religion defines who we are, what we can achieve, what is expected from us. It has influence on politics, architecture, cuisine, dressing and thinking. There are religion and caste based reservation policies. Religion is so important in our society that you cannot understand India or Indians without first learning about their religion and its influence.

How can my colleague not belong to any religion? She must automatically belong to a religion her husband follows. She said her husband's family are Buddhists but her husband himself is a free thinker. So don't they believe in God? She says no, she says that there are things that are beyond her control in this universe, but that is science, not God. How are values inculcated in them? As kids, we were told stories of God, that he is the supreme being. The fear of god, the notion of hell and heaven teaches us what is right and wrong. She says, while growing up, they were told that they are supposed to follow certain things because their parents said so. Their parents are experienced and they know better; they were the guardians, so the kids listened to their parents. They learnt values for the greater good of society and not for the fear of God or religious practices. She clarified that she or her family is not against any religion or its practices, its just they do not follow any one religion. They are free to learn from all religions and pick and practice what they like from each religion.

Whats the role of the society in their lives? Racial harmony is one of the fundamental value of Singaporean government. All the religions co-exist in this country peacefully. Each religious group observes their traditions and government supports and encourages it. Schools and offices celebrate all the major festivals of religions here without bias. In-fact, being a free thinker is a religion in itself in this country. All official documents accept free-thinkers as a religion. There is no religious bias.

My colleague is a very warm person. She is an extremely friendly girl who is liked by almost everyone. She makes anyone welcome in the group. She can make witty conversations. She is a super-mom. She is very well balanced emotionally and is seen to be calm even in stressful times. She is a go-getter. Free-thinking or not being bound to a religion obviously hasn't done her any harm!

That conversation with her left me debating within myself. Free thinking is accepting the values of others and extending friendship by respecting their religion. And since the society doesn't need you to belong to a religion you call yourself a free thinker. This is same as being in a religion, because your society wants you to and respecting & adopting values from other religions. There are many Hindus who bring home a Christmas tree or cut a cake on New Year. Isn't this free thinking? Or is this just religious harmony?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Mission packing

I am packing bags again, to go on a short trip to my home country. 

Packing is not tough for me, I make lists. I usually don't forget anything important. I have 2 big suitcases in which I can dump 20Kgs. Previously, I did just that. I used to dump everything into those 20KG bags. I stuffed the suitcase with everyone's clothing, gifts, food items, toiletries and literally everything that is in my list. 

This kind of packing was so messy. I could hardly find anything in that big suitcase. I had to search endlessly for every simple thing. There was another problem - repacking. When I go back to my home country I travel to other cities and have to re-pack a lot of times. I would unload a lot of things from my big suitcase(like gifts, food items etc) and I ended up repacking every time. I would not have the right luggage size or the time and patience needed to re-pack. Also my husband and I usually split up to travel to different places and this needed repacking again! I need order with my things, even if it is in the form of organized mess. So I ended up by being stressed about packing and re-packing. It was about time I felt that this process needed some thought and organization.
This is how I am tackling it this time. As usual, I have made a list of all the things that I would need. I made the list as exhaustive as possible. And then I eliminated as below:

Carry only those items that you really need:
This sounds like common sense. But previously, I carried too many things 'just in case I needed'. I ended up bringing back most of those things untouched. Accessories were one such thing. This time, I am carrying only those accessories I would use for the dresses I have packed. Good-to-have, just-in-case items were ticked out of the list. I also tend to wear traditional wear back home. Western wear could be cut down to bare minimum. So I chopped off a significant portion of my wardrobe from the packing list.

Instead of carrying bulky toiletries, I bought travel sized empty bottles for my toiletries and filled those up with the things that I need. This reduced my baggage size and space significantly. 

Buy things at destination:
If there are things that might be needed, see if it can be purchased at destination. If so, tick it out of the list. Items like my daughter's snacks, specific food items, toys, just-in-case diapers, our extra footwear were all ticked out of the list.

Layer and wear bulky items while flying:
Airport and airplane cabin temperature is pretty cold. I have decided to wear bulky items like Jeans, Jackets, scarfs, caps and shoes. I also carry books by hand which forms a significant portion in my luggage.

Organize the luggage:
Since there is lot of repacking required, I decided to break up my luggage into multiple small bags. All the toiletries and makeup in one bag, all our clothing separately in individual bags per person. I will stack these small bags into the big suitcase along with items that will have to be unloaded at destination(gifts, food items). This way, I will not have to repack our individual bags. We can even pick our own bags and split up and travel around without the need for repacking. Bonus, I know exactly what bag to look into for my item.

All these sounds so simple that it makes me think why didn't I do these before. Oh well, experience teaches you a lot! Hopefully, next time I wont be paying hefty price for luggage space in airfare.