Monday, June 28, 2010

The sham side of young India

God men or God who can be man enough? We have seen enough Nityanandas, Bala Sai Babas and Swethambari maatas and the whole microcosm of other bogus babus and babas that we have just the eyes left for seeing unpretentious kids, supposed to be cavorting in schools, masquerading as maatas and swamis. What is the world coming to? Why should these kids be denied their fundamental right to education? Who is to be blamed- parents, society, the kids ( for the pesky rodents they already are) themselves or the media which is a true bummer at blowing
things out of proportion and take credit for it? We are spoilt for choice here. This is sad situation
our country has to face at this day and age. India is a developing country. Time and again we
have been proving that it will remain so, thanks to these fake-o's and the nitwits who entertain
them. Period.

What started as a simple-news-viewing-over-dinner developed into a cobweb of a story that startled my senses and made me despise everyone connected to it.

Once upon a time (2010) there lived a little girl, Shambhavi, all of 8 years, in the small town of Nandyal in Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh. Her father ran out on the family and she lived with her mother Usha Rani, in a shoddy house. The mother couldn't have afforded the regular education so she enrolled her in a Vedic school teaching Sanskrit Vedas and Upanishads. Not a bad idea so far. They must have gotten bored of the plain learning and the bizarre idea struck their empty heads. What next? Bam! Lets try quick money! And what better way than create a ballyhoo that her daughter is a messenger bestowed on us by God to cure us of all our sins. The girl was palpably oblivious to the hidden dangers. Roll the next scene and we have a star- a juvenile in a saffron robe, the big red tilak, flower adorned hair and tulsi maalas weighing her down. She made the temple of Suryanandi her holy abode and kept lurking among mobs who came by thousands to seek her blessings. We also hear that Anil Ambani is giving Rs 1 crore for developing the temple. No wonder he's joining his rival brother now.

The Human Rights Commission, however, got a whiff of the story and inquired into the snafu. When it was found to be true they quickly formed a bench committee and hastily decided to pass a legal order stating that the girl should be removed from her Vedic seminary and force fed maths, science and economics at a regular school. The concerned authorities were to submit a compliance report on the issue to the Commission before the deadline fixed by the jurisdiction. But hey, never underestimate a single mother. The mother-daughter duo quickly deserted their ramshackle house and found their way into the Tibetan bastion of Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. The kid was again subjected to learning Sanskrit, Hindi and English, dining with the dignitaries from the Dalai Lama empire and sharing stage space with the Lama himself. apparently her name was no more just Shambhavi. It was Acharya Shambhavi. The repartee didn't end there. She claimed that she was a friend of Dalai Lama in her previous life, was a disciple of Buddha then and that her aim is to fight for the Tibetan people's freedom.

The underdogs back home tracked her down by sniffing their way to the northern part with the help of media and splashed pictures of her royal spiritual life all over the TV. Rumours were also rife that a 3D movie was being made with her as the protagonist in which, of course, she will be showcased as a small goddess.

Enraged by the 'bold' fax message sent to the Collectorate of A.P giving details of the kid's admission into the school by the mother, the officials warned her of consequences uncalled for and extended the deadline for her homecoming. Usha Rani refused to budge and reiterated that she and her daughter be left alone, away from the media hoopla. The girl was already being referred to as 'Miracle Baby'. What in the blue blazes is that supposed to mean?

While all these thoughts echoed in my head I came across another story that struck me like a bolt from the blue. It alleged that Dalai Lama was not as holy as he thought he was. Rumour mills were once again abuzz with tales of the yore suggesting the spiritual leader and his battalion of zombies (no offense meant) actually import destitute, orphaned and helpless kids to their empire and beguile their minds with all the crap about healing the world ( in the prodigal way) and preaching that 'monk(e)y'ness is the way to go. Now whether Shambhavi is one of those unfortunate kids or not is not for me to decide. No one can be too certain as to what the truth is. Its all a vicious circle that reverberates the fact that all that is shown is not, but false! If we thought child labour was the worst that could happen to kids, check this out!

It all boils down to a set of questions that linger at the back of our heads finally. Who is the evildoer? What should be the fate of Shambhavi? Should she be forced into an atmosphere which she's not comfortable in? (there are high chances that she might be ridiculed and execrated among the 'regular' crowd at schools) Or should the authorities define a legal standpoint on her spiritual activities and let her be comfortable in her own skin? Circumstances hardly offer any choice. Man, I have so many questions. I am hapless and helpless. All I choose to is write about it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chronicles of my journey to the U.A.E

'I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move' - Robert Louis Stevenson. Little did he know that this line would gain phenomenal importance over the years and metamorphose into a lifestyle hangover for the rest of most of his species.

On exactly how many resumes, slam books, facebook profiles et al do we find the common interest of 'travelling'? The answer is 'too many to count'. Whether we actually travel or not is a secondary issue. But the word, is a must-have. Till a few weeks back I was a minion of the same tribe, but not anymore. I couldn't rest until I made that very word conducive to truth!

Euripides had rightly said, 'Travel - an education in itself'. Travelling is a bliss, be it in a group, with family or even alone. That said, I'd like to share some bits and pieces of memories of our(mom and I) journey to the U.A.E. recently.

It all started on a bright and sunny day when we embarked on a journey from Visakhapatnam to Abu Dhabi, the capital city of U.A.E, on the 22nd of May'10. It all went good except that we were feeling ravenous towards the end as we started with an empty stomach(you know how disorganised a mother/daughter combo could be) and hardly got any good vegetarian food. We had to change flights in Mumbai from domestic to international. The airport is much like the city itself, chaotic! We got a window seat again and since I have a fear of flying across oceans(Arabian sea), engrossed myself in watching a movie in a language I didn't even understand. By 11 p.m local time we were to land at Abu Dhabi International Airport which was 5 minutes away. Looking from above, the city cut a pretty picture with a beaming night skyline, specked with interminable lights. I could hear all the passengers switch on their mobile phones in spite of the captain's repeated requests not to do so. That reminded me I had to follow suit. Screw the request. He sounded sleepy anyway.

My father is a doctor here and works for the NMC hospital. Surprisingly enough doctors here have shifts like the BPO executives. Also, everyday sees a new time. So he came to receive us after his shift. Since airports can't help being on the outskirts, took a taxi home. Had dinner and rested for the night.

A new day. It was a month long trip at hand. They'd kick me out even if i wanted to stay over as my visa would expire. Nothing was chalked out in an order, but we had to ensure nothing clashed with anything. This is so much in consonance with Lao Tzu's quote - 'A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving'. Being, but, a girl in her early 20's my priorities were fairly shopping, sights to see and fine dining. The very word 'shopping' from my mouth sent shivers down my father's spine. Fathers are like that. Nothing much to worry there. So we set out for a day at the Marina mall by bus. It was fairly big with all the coveted brands, a multiplex, some cafes and eat-outs, fountains etc. Window- shopped every expensive store and asked for something they dint have so we could walk out dejected at them. Got some reasonable stuff anyway and returned home.

The next few days passed by with condonable expenses and miscellaneous nomadism. The weather here is just above the threshold levels humans can tolerate. It was freaking 50 degrees Celsius outside and I thought my city was the hottest. Obviously I overlooked considering this as a desert and a whole bunch of other deserts. The best part about this concrete jungle is you might as well commute past the insurmountable constructions as opposed to buying an entry ticket and seeing the same. I say this at the risk of sounding penurious. It holds good where it has to. Some of them are the engineering marvel, WAVES, a huge bridge over the sea, the High Court of Abu Dhabi, The Palace Hotel with its private beach, Etihad towers, Etisalat tower, royal residences, all famous hotels and the list goes on. Please refer Google images for pictures.

Next was the foreordained trip to Dubai, 1 1/2 hours from Abu Dhabi. Called on friends there. Now its more obvious that Dubai is more sophisticated and urbane than this sibling of its (there are a total of 7 emirates). Without wasting time we started with the Dubai Mall embodying the aquarium (sting ray barbs, groupers and white sharks were my personal favourites), some huge names from the fashion fraternity, a beautiful fountain show with the backdrop of the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world), the Ice Rink. We were famished from all the eye and leg jobs and scooted to an Indian restaurant, Saravana Bhavan, to get sumptuously full. Next came some more shopping for folks back in India because they'd be ready to plunge and throw tantrums, make faces and fleece us even more as compensation. By this time I was familiar with the Arabic numerals( how else would you shop) and was starting to really miss the grime and filth so quintessential to our country plus the stray dogs. What's life without some? The following day was crammed with visits to the Burj-Al -Arab hotel, Wild Wadi theme park, Palm Islands, Jumeirah Madinat Mall, Atlantis hotel (must try the Cold Stone ice-cream there), the under-sea tunnel, the gold trunks and fronds of the palm and sneak peeks of the Dubai Maritime, Dubai International Financial Center, Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates, Dragon Mart(if we are not bothered by Chinese goods and the child labour part of it) and Dubai Trade center. It was enough bait to reminisce about for a few days. We, although, missed the helicopter ride above the palm islands as it was 10 p.m. The Jumeirah Mall is a must-see, distinctly for people with a knack for medieval architecture. It also has a boat-ride canal ala Venice.

We returned to Abu Dhabi after 3 days and 3 nights. Got back to our windshield tourism. Checked out the Abu Dhabi Mall and Al Khaleediya Mall. There was a particular restaurant owned by the singing sensation, Asha Bhonsle at the Al Khaleediya Mall - Asha's Contemporary Kitchen. The smorgasbord of feed and grub was indeed good. Not to miss -'ghar ki dal'.

Back in India people were either getting married or getting admissions to colleges or celebrating birthdays or getting jobs. So kept calling whenever whatever happened to whoever.

As time whizzed past us 15 days of our trip had been done with. 15 more to count down. Hence we quickly packed our bags and headed to the Yas Islands at Abu Dhabi (also to attend a medical conference). The ride was awesome over the bridge with other sets of islands, the turquoise sea, white sands, mid-sea constructions and such. Checked into the Rotana hotel, settled comfortably and sallied forth to explore the place. The island is in the shape of 'Y'. Hence the name. Much to our chagrin everything was under construction. The Yas Mall, Ferrari World, Water park, sailing creek and Warner Bros theme park. Such a dampener. But the good part is we got to rubberneck with the Golf Course, Yas Marina F1 Circuit, Marina Bay and of course the other hotels. It was a 2 day trip and concluded with a gladsome joy.

Back in the city, did some more shopping and were trying to make the best use of our time. Doctors have an added advantage. And it's always worthier when that advantage is amiably coupled with the medical reps of famous companies. They arrange dynamic meetings/lectures by eminent people from the medical coterie, book reservations in all the swanky hotels for us, have us served some of the finest of lunches and dinners (family included) and of course we get to meet all the pretty people. On one such occasion, Mr. Michael from Aventis Pharma booked reservations for us at the Le Royal Meridien hotel. We were rooting for a buffet so we could scour for some vegan stuff but it turned out to be a 'more relaxed 16 course European meal' which hardly had anything vegetarian. Instead, we bartered for a wholesome meal of Indian food with the cliched dal, roti, rice, sabzi, juice and dessert. Then this guy comes and apologizes for the goof-up and offers Sea Food Night as compensation. Bozo! The whole idea of people sucking on the juices of slugs and squids (remember Mr. Bean), ripping apart lobsters and crabs and munching at their biology made me feel delirious. We thanked him and walked back home.

Muslim architecture is eye-catching. Especially mosques always hold that charm and make us want to go inside and see what each is like. Not all allow women. Keeping this in mind Sheik Zayed, the father of U.A.E, constructed a giant mosque, on the outskirts, named Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Grand Mosque, mainly for photograph enthusiasts. Women have to wear an 'abaaya' and 'shela' (burkha and scarf), make sure they don't hold a man's hand and they are ready to go. The design was marvelous, with king size chandeliers, huge domes, Islamic inscriptions on the walls and a huge prayer ground. Worthwile!

It is particularly endearing to see fellow Indians living outside in the same country as us. Obviously we seldom care two hoots when back in India. So paid visits to all such friends, acquaintances and colleagues. Mom is mad about pujas, temples and stuff. In order not to get killed by her for making her miss any I tagged along to every prayer. Less than 10 days to count down already.

In about 5 days came dad's birthday which was the purpose of our trip. I decided to cook a dish and gift him a shoe-tongue so he needn't bend or lift his leg every time he wore a shoe. It just made a difference that we were there and together. He had to work the day anyway. This was on the 19th and we had to leave the next night.

Time flew with some impressive packing that earned me brownie points with my dad which I used for shopping of course. The day was short only for the night to feel longer than ever. The rest of the itinerary was filled with over the top lay over times which could well be used to travel to and fro U.A.E 3 times from India. But somewhere in the middle of experiencing pangs of discomfort in the squeaky aircraft seats I witnessed a marvel. Dawn break from the stratosphere. It was 4:30 by my watch which spelt a different time zone, but it was morning back home. Crimson skies, vermilion sun peeping out of vanilla clouds. What a looker! Couldn't take my eyes off it and also the large head beside the window. Reached Hyderabad and over to Vizag. Finally home after a day in airports and aircrafts. Added the meaning of jet-lag to my dictionary and settled in to the warm climate again. Deja vu.

Days would just roll by from now. But this trip will sure remain in my hippocampus part of the brain. Well, that's a total wrap. Hope you liked the sarcasm I was trying. Take care. Cheerio!