The Saga of Savitri Brata

I was on the usual everyday call with my Mom. But something was different today. The awkwardness in our conversation was just too obvious. Both of us were consciously staying away from ‘that topic’.

“It’s high time to do away with all this!”, I would have repeated umpteen number of times, persuading her to stop participating in Savitri Brata. Each time she had the same response, “I’ve been doing this right from the time I got married, can’t stop now.” This would be followed by give-away pretentions of blaming my grandmother (her mother-in-law) for initiating her into practicing the same. Nothing is ever enforced in our family, so we both knew how lame her accusations were. The feminist in me would sometimes struggle to understand her sentiments.

Savitri Brata is a religious event consisting of Puja rituals where women pray for the well-being and long lives of their husbands. I have been witnessing this annual tradition right from my childhood till the time I left home, a good decade-and-a-half ago. Prevalent in the East Indian states of Bihar, Bengal, Assam, and Orissa, this festival is celebrated mostly by the Bengalis, Maithilis, and Odiyas. It’s essentially a counterpart of the North Indian festival of Karva Chauth minus the fanfare and extravagance of dressing up as brides, adorning mehndi, and seeing your husbands through sieves against the backdrop of the Moon. Savitri Brata is relatively a quieter affair of getting together and participating in Puja rituals with the accompaniment of some harmless chatter and heartfelt laughter.

Usually Savitri Brata happens around the end of May or early June, the dates depend on the lunar calendar. This year it’s happening now. My mother used to actively participate in the annual festival and has been doing so for the last 40+ years. With my father’s demise, the very purpose of this festival doesn’t exist for her anymore. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for her!

The description of the rituals I provide in this post is based on how I have seen the festival celebrated in my home and in the neighbourhood. Hence, this is an account of the manner in which this festival is observed by the Bengalis living in Assam, Meghalaya and other states of North East India. The rituals and traditions in other states could be different, I have no idea.

Savitri Brata is spread over three days. Women wear new clothes and partially fast, living on a diet of fruits for the whole of the first two days and half of the third day. Preparations begin 2-3 days in advance. The sacred grass Durva (Bermuda grass) is collected from the garden, cleaned, and sorted. They are bundled into neat packs of 108 along with flowers. During the Puja, each woman dedicates a bundle to their respective husbands.

Long ago, when my grandparents were around, the puja was done exclusively by a priest at our home and was attended not only by women in the family, but those in the neighbourhood too. As the years passed by, the elaborateness of the puja coupled with reduced manpower made it challenging for my Mom and Aunts to continue conducting the puja at home. Now, the puja is conducted at a centralized location where everyone assembles (except for the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021).

Many a times, we have urged Mom and Aunts to quit the puja. My Dad and Uncles also persuaded to the best of their abilities. They disliked the additional task of making the necessary arrangements and ensuring that everything was in place. Moreover, carrying the psychological guilt of not doing something similar for their wives didn’t make them feel any better. But the women, in a world of their own, were relentless. In fact, they would enjoy those three days of merry making in the form of prayers, get-togethers, laughter, incessant chatter, new clothes, and not to mention the special attention. Logic, blackmail, humble cajoles, we tried it all. Finally, we just gave up!

However, like many other traditions and rituals, Savitri Brata will soon be gone without a trace. I don’t know a single woman of my generation who observes this festival. In just a few years, it will become a forgotten thing of the past.

Many may condemn this as a regressive affair reflecting our inherent patriarchal mindsets. Probably they are right, but over the years a new realization has dawned upon me. I see nothing wrong in following rituals or traditions, especially when they do no harm to others. Rather, they bring forth few moments of joy and happiness. If offering a prayer for your husband/partner puts a smile on your face, there cannot be anything wrong with that. It’s all about individual choices.

Legend of Savitri Brata

(Source: Wikipedia)

The brata was named after Savitri, the beautiful daughter of King Aswapati of Madra Desa. She selected Satyavan, a prince in exile who was living in the forest with his blind father Dyumatsen, as her life partner. She left the palace and lived with her husband and in-laws in the forest. As a devoted wife and daughter-in-law, she went to great lengths to take care of them. One day while cutting wood in the jungle, Satyavan's head reeled and he fell down from a tree. Yamraj, the God of Death, appeared to take away Satyavan's soul. Deeply hurt, Savitri pleaded to Yamraj not to be separated from her husband. If anything, he would have to take her along too. Yamraj, moved by the devotion of Savitri, returned the life of her husband. Soon Satyavan regained his lost kingdom too. 

Click here to read more.

A Kick in the Teeth

The pandemic has spared me so far, none of my family members or close friends and relatives have been affected. The virus did catch a few acquaintances, but they got away with hardly any troubles. My sincerest gratitude to the Almighty. By saying this I absolutely don’t mean to negate the unfathomable hardships many people are facing in various parts of the country (world).  And of course, I could be next in line.

I have stopped following the news and reading stories of death and devastation. This was after the two fateful nights when I couldn’t sleep a wink, having watched some visuals displayed on a television news channel. Added to that were some articles and stories that I had consumed from the Internet. A little deliberation and I realized these aren’t things in my control. I can do nothing by thinking about the sufferings people are going through. Either I go out in the field and make a difference by doing something meaningful or I better shut my mind off. I’ll cross the bridge if and when I need to. Selfish? Yes, but my wellness and sanity are my responsibility.

Right now, I am already fighting my very own battle. Though I am fully cognizant of the fact that in the current scheme of things what I’m going through cannot be categorized as a problem at all. But then, every single waking moment I am aware of it. It’s bothering me constantly and I am struggling.

This goes back to the month of March when I fell sick and had two blackouts resulting in a broken front tooth.

The dentist I was visiting had a very fancy clinic and several degrees under his belt. I did feel unnerved by his extraordinarily fancy clinic when I first visited him. It was my intuition at work, which I had failed to recognize. Afterall, he was recommended by another doctor who was a friend’s friend. His fee was exorbitant. My mind felt repulsed. Once again, I ignored the warning signs and instead told my mind to shut up – quality comes at a cost I concluded.

Now, I am at the receiving end of a treatment that’s gone horribly wrong. The dentist screwed up my teeth so much that the entire alignment of my jaws is messed up. The damage is permanent as he resized my original tooth and made them smaller in order to fit a crown over them. Not just that, I had broken one tooth, but he convinced me that the procedure is required on two of my front teeth. Now I am dealing with multiple problems – unable to chew my food, certain words just slip out of my mouth, and many other associated problems.

These teeth are cosmetic, not functional – he stated callously after completing the procedure and taking all the money. Something he ought to have explained before the procedure, which would have enabled me to take an informed decision. When I countered him, he was uninterested and gave illogical justifications.  This is one of those times when I feel that I have S-T-U-P-I-D written all over my face and people just easily take me for a ride. An online consultation with another dentist confirmed my fear of the wrong treatment and a permanent damage done. Now, I have no idea if the situation can be salvaged so that the feeling of discomfort eases a bit. That can happen only when another dentist examines it, which would not be possible until the current Covid scenario improves.  

My teeth problem is nothing compared to the Covid Problem. But I am unable to ignore it with the immense discomfort I am facing every single moment.

Lepakshi – Nandi and Jatayu

Nandi is looking towards the Nagalinga”, my sister stated standing right behind me, while I was busy staring at the colossal structure. Thinking that she was trying to be funny, I turned back with a chuckle. But, in all seriousness, she was reading from the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) description board that was located just next to us. I joined her and in turn read aloud the part that stated – The head is held at an angle higher than usual. Consequently, the typical expression of submission before Lord Shiva is conspicuous by its absence here.

I have seen many other Nandi idols or statues in South India but had never noticed the expression of submission. Well, made a mental note to do so next time.

Pic 1: The massive monolithic Nandi statue.

Nandi is the sacred bull, the vehicle and gate keeper of Lord Shiva. It’s no wonder that the giant monolithic Nandi is located just a stone throw away (about 500 m.) from Lepakshi Temple, dedicated to Veerabhadra, a form of Lord Shiva. Possibly, the Nandi would have been part of the temple complex in the olden days. We had just left the temple, after having spent a little more than 2 hours admiring the 16th century architectural splendour.

The monolithic Nandi, carved out of a single granite rock, is 20 feet in height and 30 feet in length. The details of the carvings, including the necklace and the bells are truly praiseworthy.

Pic 2: The Jatayu Theme Park

Now that we had a close inspection of the giant Nandi, we were all set to go to Jatayu Theme Park and take a closer look at Jatayu. The park was just across the road, hardly a walk of 5-6 min. The giant bird, perched on a huge rock, was clearly visible from here.

Jatayu is a mythological character from the epic Ramayana. No less than a demigod, Jatayu is the form of a large eagle. Jatayu had tried to rescue Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, from being kidnapped by the demon king Ravana. In the fight that ensued, the demon king had chopped off one of Jatayu’s wings. It is believed that the bird had fallen on this rock and remained alive to narrate the incident to Lord Rama. Le-pakshi – meaning rise O’ bird – is what Lord Rama had told the dying bird, blessing him to attain moksha (liberation from the cycle of life and death).

I remember having read of another huge rock in Kollam district of Kerala that claims to be the rock where Jatayu had fallen (Read Here). So, when my sister narrated this tale from her ‘Google-Guide’, I protested that she was reading about the wrong rock. However, a description at the park corroborated her findings. Well, nobody will ever know which of these claims is more accurate than the other.

Pic 3: Jatayu statue atop the largest boulder
Pic 4: A foot impression in a boulder just below Jatayu statue, no description provided.

The manicured park is dotted with large and small boulders. On the largest boulder sits the big statue of Jatayu. We climbed up through iron stairs build in the space between the boulders. The park was artificial, so was Jatayu but the boulders and the view from the top were as natural as could be. We found a nice spot up in the boulders and sat there for a while enjoying the cool soothing breeze, which certainly wasn’t artificial.

Temple Tales From Lepakshi

There it was – the hanging pillar – our main reason of visiting this ancient temple that dates back to the 16th century. We stood there for a while along with other bystanders watching someone slide a scarf, someone else a paper underneath the pillar to ascertain that it didn’t touch the ground. It was mind-boggling to imagine the kind of design that enables this wafer-thin gap between the pillar’s bottom and the stone floor. And, to think that our modern era of hi-tech technological advancement is unable to unravel the mystery of this architectural riddle.

This pillar is just another testimony to the engineering genius of ancient India. It is said that the pillar is slightly dislodged from its original position. This is attributed to the British Era when a British engineer made an unsuccessful attempt to uncover the secret of the pillar’s support.

Pic 1: The mysterious Hanging Pillar at Lepakshi. Notice the thin gap between the pillar’s bottom and the surface of the stone floor.

We were at Lepakshi Temple, located in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. Also known as Veerabhadraswamy temple, this Vijayanagar style temple is just about 120 Km. away from Bangalore. Hence, it’s a favourite destination for daytrips from Bangalore. I was always intrigued by the mysterious hanging pillar of Lepakshi but with my preference for places of nature superseding I hadn’t landed up here before. Lepakshi, however, turned out to be so much more than just the hanging pillar.

Pic 2: At the center are pillars in the Assembly Hall of the main temple, just outside the sanctum sanctorum. Among these stand the Hanging Pillar. Left and Right are close-ups of the ornate sculptures on two pillars.

Dedicated to Veerabhadra, a fierce form of Lord Shiva, Veerabhadraswamy temple was our first stop at Lepakshi. As we stepped into the temple, the first thing we noticed was that it felt extraordinarily cool. It’s always hot in this part of the country and this day was no different. The design of the temple certainly has something to do with it. Apart from Veerabhadra, the sanctum sanctorum has idols of Bhadrakali, Vishnu, Lakshmi, and Parvati.

The brilliant  mural paintings in the temple represent some of the finest artwork of the Vijayanagar dynasty. The fresco of Veerabhadra on the ceiling before the main sanctum sanctorum is supposedly the largest in India. The strikingly contrasting colours of black, brown, orange, green, white, black, and shades of ochre-gold are simply astounding. (Unfortunately, I realised that I have no pictures, possibly was lost admiring the artwork.)

Pic 3: Just outside the main temple. The main temple is the pillared structure on the right.
Pic 4: A Shiva Lingam just outside the main temple complex.

Having seen the hanging pillar and the sanctum sanctorum, we moved around exploring other parts of the temple. The temple houses 70 pillars, each uniquely engraved with gods, goddesses, mythical animals, dancers, saints, and the like. The place was quite crowded with a lot of tourists on that day. It was early January, 2021 – a time when we had happily forgotten that we were in the middle of a pandemic. Not many people wore masks and there was no social distancing at all. The marvelous architecture kept us engaged and we had little time to worry about the pandemic. We remained masked though, taking them off only when clicking pictures.

Pic 5: The incomplete Kalyana Mantapam or Marriage Hall
Pic 6: A close look at the sculpture of one of the pillars at Kalyana Mantapam.

Moving on to the temple’s outer enclosure, we were now in the Kalyana Mantapam or the marriage hall, meant for the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. There were intricately carved pillars, each representing a God or Goddess supposedly attending the marriage ceremony.

This was an incomplete structure with no roof and has a gruesome story associated with it. The temple was constructed by two brothers, Viranna and Virupanna. While the king was away, Viranna used up the royal treasury to fund the increased cost of construction. On his return, the King was furious and ordered that Viranna’s eyes be gouged out. Upset with the King’s sentence, Viranna gouged his own eyes and rubbed it on the temple wall. The two red blotches on the western wall of the temple is said to be blood marks of Viranna’s eyes.

Pic 7: The unique monolithic Ganesha. Spot the snake coiled around it’s rounded belly.

A little away from the marriage hall is the monolithic Ganesha, a unique one at that with a snake coiled around it’s belly.

Next, we found ourselves standing before the impressively massive Nagalinga with seven hoods and three coils that shelters a black granite Shivalingam. It is believed that the Nagalinga was carved from a single block of stone while the sculptors were waiting for their mother to cook lunch for them.

Pic 8: The astounding gigantic seven hooded Nagalinga. The associated belief that it was carved out by the sculptors while their mother prepared lunch makes it even more fascinating.

We walked around the temple courtyard, admiring the archaeological and artistic splendour. The courtyard was characterised by pillared hallways and several tiny chambers. We found an empty spot and sat there for a while. We should have hired a guide we thought, as we watched others enjoying a guided tour. My sister thought Google could be our guide for now.

Pic 9: The temple courtyard characterised by ornate pillars and small chambers.
Pic 10: The sisters managed to request someone to click a picture for them – precious memories!

As she googled, we learnt several fascinating tales of the temple, including the legends of the incomplete Marriage Hall and the Nagalinga. She also read about Sita’s footprint, which we discovered on our way out. It’s the impression of a huge foot on the stone floor that has a perennial flow of water. Apparently, the source of the water or where it drains out to is unknown.

Pic 11: An enormous foot impression, which is believed to be of Sita Mata.

After spending close to two hours at Lepakshi Temple complex, we stepped out and headed towards the Jatyayu Park. Read more in my next post.

Pic 12: The sublime flowering Frangipani tree on the way out. It reminded me of a similar tree that had captured our imagination at Virupaksha Temple, Hampi.

Temple Tales from Nandi Town

Nandi Hills is perhaps the most visited place in and around Bangalore. Bangaloreans literally flock to Nandi Hills, especially to view the amazing sunrise from the hilltop. Also known as Nandidurg or Nandi Betta, it is located in the small town of Nandi about 60 Km. away from Bangalore in the Chikkaballapur district of Karnataka. I have no count of the number of times I’ve been to Nandi Hills.

Pic 1: At Nandi Hills in 2010. The place looks a lot different now. It’s no longer open as you see here. There are guard rails all around, which does affect the experience to a large extent

This post is however not about Nandi Hills, though I guess I should write one. This post is about Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple – an ancient temple located close to Nandi Hills. We happened to visit this temple quite accidentally when we were on our way to another place. A friend casually recommended that we could stop by this temple as it’s on the way. And, what a miss it would have been had we not take his recommendation seriously!

Pic 2: Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple entrance. Note the stone wheels on the right.

Dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, this is supposedly the oldest temple in Karnataka. It was built in 9th century by the native Kannada Nolamba dynasty. It is now a protected monument, maintained by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The heritage temple has a unique aesthetic charm, accentuated by stone carvings of Gods and Goddesses that adorn the walls and the pillars. It is believed that the temples of Belur and Halebidu were inspired by this temple.

The first thing that caught our attention even before entering the temple was the base of a giant chariot. This chariot would have probably been used during temple festivals but now it did a good job of taking us on a flight of imagination. The stone wheels of the chariot were also neatly arranged just outside the temple entrance.

Pic 3: The chariot lying under a tree just before the entrance.

On entering the temple complex, we discovered that there were three shrines housed in three separate temples that were adjacent to each other. Uma Maheshwara is at the center flanked by Arunachaleshwara in the North and Bhoga Nandeeshwara in the South. Arunachaleshwara depicts Lord Shiva’s childhood while Bhoga Nandeeshwara, depicts Lord Shiva in his youth. The temple of Uma Maheshwara or Goddess Parvati has a Kalyana Mantapa or a marriage alter. The exquisitely carved black stone pillars of the Mantapa is gorgeous. Sadly enough, photography is prohibited in this area of the temple.

Pic 4: Bhoga Nandeeshwara temple on the South, dedicated to the youthful form of Lord Shiva .

The temple also has a lovely pond, which is locally known as ‘Kalyani’. A series of steps encircle the pond. It would have been amazing to walk down and dip our feet in the waters, but the entry to the pond was closed on that particular day.

Pic 5: The ‘Kalyani’ or the temple pond. During special festivals about 100,000 lamps are lit here.

The Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple is a magnificent piece of Dravidian Architecture. It preserves the architectural legacies of the five dynasties that ruled this region. The temple was constructed by the Bana Queen Ratnavali, it was then expanded successively by the Ganga dynasty, Cholas, Hoysalas, Pallavas and finally the Vijayanagara Kings. As a result, the temple can be a real treat to history buffs, conservationists, and architectural analysts.

Pic 6: There are several such corridors in the temple.

As I walked around the temple, I thought to myself how did I miss visiting this marvelous structure in stone before. Especially when I have been to Nandi Hills so many times. Rather, I didn’t even know about its existence. I wondered why my friends, some of whom who were locals from Bangalore, never mentioned this temple. Perhaps they had no clue, or they weren’t interested.

Pic 7: Carvings of Gods and Goddesses on the temple wall.
SIDE NOTE
As Covid-19 surges in India and the pandemic takes an ugly turn in its second wave, I feel somewhat frivolous writing this post. Nothing seems to matter anymore. The situation is extremely distressing, and everyone is affected in one way or the other. Even though the virus hasn’t caught my near and dear ones yet, it feels like it’s just a matter of time. It’s difficult to digest the visuals of how much people are suffering. And, the feeling of helplessness is killing. Well, nobody ever promised that all our experiences would be pleasurable. Trying to keep myself and those around me positive. Sending healing prayers for everyone. May the Divine give me the strength to accept the bad just as I easily accept the good.

Temple Tales from Somnathpur

It took us a while to get into the temple premises. The temple is a protected monument and maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI). Tickets for entry to such places now require scanning an ASI QR code. Our phone network happened to be unusually slow causing some unnecessary delay, testing our patience, and sufficiently frustrating us.

As I entered through the doorway after reading the description displayed at the entryway, my jaws literally dropped. The magnificence of the temple caught me off-guard. I knew about this temple but hadn’t expected such stunning architectural brilliance. “How did I never happen to come here before!”, I couldn’t help wondering, having stayed in Bangalore for more than a decade now. This reaction was triggered off just at the very first glance. As we walked around exploring the temple, every corner only left us even more astonished.

Pic 1: The mantapa on entering through the doorway adorned with lathe turned pillars, which happens to be a typical feature of Hoysala architecture.

The 13th century Keshava Temple, also known as Chennakesava Temple, is located in a small town called Somnathpur in the Mandya district of Karnataka. It is at a distance of about 140 Km. from Bangalore and just about 35 Km. away from Mysore. Situated in the banks of River Cauvery, the temple was built by Somanatha, a celebrated army commander of the Hoysala Dynasty. He established the town of Somnathpur, which he named after himself.

The temples built during the rule of the Hoysalas are unique in their intricate sculptures and great story telling. The temples of Belur and Halebidu are said to be the best ambassadors of Hoysala architecture. I haven’t been there yet but have heard a lot about their spectacular grandeur. I had no idea that Somnathpur Temple belonged to the same league and was another masterpiece of Hoysala architecture.

Pic 2: The Western and Southern Shikharas. Notice the star-shaped elevated platform on which stands the temple.

The temple is carved from soapstone and is dedicated to Lord Krishna in the three forms of Keshava, Janardhana, and Venugopala. The main temple is at the center of a courtyard, built on an elevated star-shaped platform which, I learnt is one of the unique aspects of Hoysala temples. Surrounding the courtyard is a pillared corridor that has several chambers all along. Perhaps they would have housed deities at that time, they are empty now.

Pic 3: The pillared corridor that surrounds the courtyard.
Pic 4: The pillared corridor from another angle. Notice the chambers all along.

The temple wall on the exterior has intricate carvings and sculptures depicting stories from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, and also Bhagavata Purana. The exquisite attention to detail that has clearly gone into these carvings was mystifying to say the least. The dancing Goddess Lakshmi, the angry Lord Ganesha, the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the four headed Lord Brahma, the intricate Mahisashura Mardini – just to name a few. The meticulous carvings also depict battles, folklore, music, dance, and much more. The stories in carvings are in a clockwise direction, thoughtfully designed as it is the same as the direction of a pradakshina or circumambulation.

Pic 5: The fascinating and exquisitely detailed sculptures on the exterior wall.
Pic 6: The magnificence of these sculptures are a delight to the eyes.

After spending a decent amount of time walking around the temple admiring the detailed carvings, we stepped inside. The inside of the temple is just as fascinating. The magnificent ceiling with all the intricate ornate carvings and miniature sculptures is simply amazing. A guide, who was with another group, explained that the ceiling constitutes of 16 finely carved symmetrical squares, some of which are depictions of the Lotus flower at different stages of development. The main idol of Keshava is situated on the sanctum sanctorum while Janardhana and Venugopala  are on either side. According to ASI, the original Keshava idol went missing and has been replaced. The idols of Janardhana and Venugopala are damaged.

The temple is not functional and is not used as a place of worship anymore, the idols being broken and desecrated by invaders of that age and time. It stands as a monument today bearing testimony to the superior craftmanship of the artists and sculptors of the bygone Hoysala era.

Pic 7: The extraordinary craftsmanship is like a poetry unfolding.
Pic 8: One can spend hours examining the details that have gone into these carvings.

I am a nature person and usually get disengaged very easily with things that are lifeless. Museums and places of architectural significance as not quite for me. That explains why I overlooked visiting this place earlier. However, when it comes to such intricate artwork it’s a different story altogether. My mind weaves stories thinking about the artisans, their unparalleled creativity, the lives of people at that time – the royalty, the commoners, their festivals, their triumphs and hardships, and so on and so forth. It’s mind-boggling and fascinating.

Now, I can’t wait to explore the Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebidu. Had it not been for the pandemic, I would have long been on my way. Smitten by Somnathpur Keshava Temple, I was curious to know about the other Hoysala temples in the state of Karnataka. I learnt that there are 137 Hoysala temples of significant value in the state. Quite a number that is, isn’t it!

A Bizarre Travel Experience

Didi, for heaven’s sake be careful…..that sari may just slip from your hands!”, she pleaded. My wavering attention was immediately back to the precarious situation we were in. I controlled the urge to rebuke her at that moment for being so insistent on wanting to be at this place. A noisy family of more than a dozen people had just landed right beside us. My attention was quite automatically diverted towards this freshly added commotion. As if the already chaotic situation wasn’t enough!

We were at Triveni Sangam and had just taken a dip in the holy confluence of the three rivers – Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati.

My cousin had made sure to include Triveni Sangam in the itinerary when we were planning our visit to Varanasi. During her previous visit to Varanasi, she couldn’t make time for Triveni Sangam and this time she wasn’t going to miss it. I wasn’t much keen but agreed on her insistence.

Pic 1: Boats that take people to Triveni Sangam.

Triveni Sangam is located at Allahabad and is about 83 Km from Varanasi. It is a sacred place, one that is of religious importance to the Hindus, where the historic Kumbh-mela is held every 12 years. It is believed that a bath in the Sangam washes away all sins and paves the way straight to heaven. That’s not the reason why my sister insisted to come here though. It was just sheer curiosity. As for me, I just accompanied her though experiencing a Kumbh Mela is in my bucket list.

The Sangam is located some distance away from the banks and one must take a boat to reach there. At the confluence, the greyish and opaque waters of River Ganga is distinctly differentiable from the greenish and clear waters of River Yamuna. The mythical River Saraswati is invisible, believed to be subterranean. A series of boats were set up forming a sort of a platform where people performed religious rituals. There was a special arrangement for taking a dip in the waters. You step onto a log of wood holding the ropes on either side that are tied at the two ends of the log, much like a swing. The rope is slowly lowered till you are immersed in the water.

My sister was keen on taking a dip and also in conducting the rituals. I wasn’t sure for a while but then decided to take a dip too. It was going to be an interesting experience I thought, but no rituals for me. All the more, as the priest there demanded Rs 500 just for a coconut, some flowers, and a little vermillion.

Pic 2: Triveni Sangam marked by the flags seen here where a series of boats are set up to form a sort of a platform.

Now, the only problem was that we couldn’t see any place to change into dry clothes after the dip. It was the month of December and hence quite cold. We would have to get out of the wet clothes. Our boatman assured that he would make the necessary arrangements. “Yeh sari hai na” (we have this sari), he said, picking up two bamboo poles, as he spoke. Both of us assumed that he would use the bamboo poles and the sari to create a makeshift arrangement in the boat with enclosures on all four sides. We didn’t bother to clarify.

When we were done with the dip, he just handed over the sari to us. One of us was supposed to hold the sari from one end and stretch our hands up. The cylindrical sort of an enclosure created by the 9 yards yarn is where the other would change. It was a HORRIFIC proposition. The sari even seemed quite transparent to me. We resisted a bit but soon realized that it was the only solution and we could either do as instructed or shiver our way to the banks. Opting for the latter would most certainly cause us to fall ill. We were also quite shocked to see other women doing the same. Nobody seemed to have a problem, except the two of us.

Pic 3: Siberian Seagulls that migrate during winters making the holy rivers, Ganga and Yamuna, their temporary home.

My sister had to admit our Varanasi trip didn’t have to include Triveni Sangam, at least not now. However, it’s an experience that we hilariously recall each time we talk about our Varanasi trip. All said and done, our wish to be at Triveni Sangam during a Kumbh Mela remains as strong as can be.

The New Normal

It was Day-1 of my new job.

The year 2020 was just ending and we were exactly in the middle of December. People all over the world were eagerly waiting for the ominous year to end. The general feeling was that something magical would happen on January 1st, 2021 and everything would become just like it how was before the pandemic. Around the same time, I stepped into my new job.

The last time I had changed my job was in 2012. I clearly remember that day, just as I clearly remember the first day of all the other jobs before that one. By and large, they have had a similar pattern. You dress up well, arrive at a particular time in the office lobby, exchange greetings with other new joiners, sign a pile of documents, get your laptop and other office accessories, have an induction/orientation session, meet your manager and your team, get to know the office campus, and things like that.

But today everything was different. A lot of it felt strange and weird. To start with I wasn’t dressed in my best clothes. I did shower, combed my hair, and wore something decent but I surely could have dressed better. Certainly, my attire wasn’t one that I would have worn on a Day-1 to any office. Since about a fortnight ago a ton of emails had been steadily arriving in my mailbox with a lot of paperwork and with directions about how to get going on Day-1. Even then, naively enough, I was under the impression that I would have to be physically present at the office for Day-1. Two days before Day-1, the recruiter called up to inform she was available over phone, if I needed something. It was only then I got to know that I don’t need to go to office at all.

The day started with a meeting with my manager who tried his best to make me feel comfortable and took me through a ton of slides that talked about the Business Unit I was joining. My mind couldn’t register most of it at that time. And, the fact that I was using my precarious 12-year-old personal laptop didn’t help much.  A 2-hour long orientation session followed a little while later. Once again, my aged laptop and I struggled to keep each other afloat. Here I saw other new joiners of the day. I read some of the names, not even one I recall today. A few, like me, were on camera but I don’t recall a single face. In all my previous jobs, I distinctly remember the meaningful connections I would make on Day-1. None of that happened today.

In the afternoon a chauffeur-driven car arrived at my apartment gate to hand-over the company laptop and the Company Identity Card. He even clicked a picture of me holding the laptop – proof that the laptop was delivered. The laptop didn’t work and had to be returned and reissued – not getting into the details. I also heard that a bag of Day-1 goodies is on the way and I should receive them soon.

I am more than 3 months old in the company now and quite settled in but I haven’t met any of the people I work with. Well, that’s only partially correct as I keep meeting my immediate team through our regular video calls. They are all in the US and I am the only one who connects from India, so that isn’t odd. That’s how it would anyway be. Working virtually isn’t something new to me. The rest of the larger team are in India, and in Bangalore for that matter. Of course, we haven’t met and don’t know when/if we ever will.

But I must admit that I haven’t felt alone or left out even once. Grateful to have joined a team of some of the most genuinely authentic and immensely helpful people. Perhaps, the virtual connections are working afterall!

Will I have workplace friends like I did in my previous company? Will have to wait and watch!

My Maiden Bike Trip With a Trek

I have to admit that I was slightly anxious as R sped through the narrow empty road that morning. The sun wasn’t up yet, and the air was chilly. The early morning breeze inundated my entire being, which was quite pleasing to my senses. A mixed feeling of joy wrapped in a little bit of apprehension was perhaps how I felt then. R had planned everything and I had no clue where we were headed. All I knew was we were out to trek somewhere in the outskirts of Bangalore.

It was the month of December, 2020, when R came up with this idea and I was going to be his partner in crime. We were to travel in his bike and this was going to be my first long drive on a bike. Quite naturally, I was a little nervous. My bike rides have always been within city limits. Well, there’s a first time to everything. Besides, I had to have faith in R, who extensively travels in his bike and has even been on off-road biking trips to places like Leh-Ladakh. R is an avid trekker too. In fact, R and I met during Rupin Pass Trek and ever since we’ve been very good friends.

Pic 1: That’s Kabbaladurga – the monolith we climbed.

The Ride

Off we went through crowded city roads and busy highways, stopping for a snack here and there in roadside eateries. We passed through charming quaint villages with cute little lovely homes. In some places, those meandering roads with gorgeous scenery unfolding at every bend was just picture-perfect. At one time, we even took a wrong turn and travelled for 9 Km. through a broken road passing by bushes and wilderness, with not a soul in sight. Needless to say, we panicked a bit and the entire stretch was filled with anxious moments. Being adventurous by nature helped at that point and finally we made it through. Overall, we did have a wonderful time.

Pic 2: L-Somewhere on the road; R-A hut at Kabbala village

The Trek

Kabbaladurga is a beautiful little hillock, nestled somewhere in the rock-strewn slopes of the Kanakapura mountain range. The monolith hillock is located at Kabbala Village, about 80 Km. away from Bangalore. The initial stretch of the climb was easy as we maneuvered our way through tall grasses, bushes, shrubs and trees with boulders strewn here and there. There was a flight of steps too, carved out somewhere. R, however, decided to follow the trail through the wilderness instead and that’s not surprising at all.

Pic 3: The initial section of the trek was easy as we walked up though the wilderness.

We climbed at our own pace and took frequent breaks enjoying the splendid view of the surrounding hills and lakes that progressively got smaller as we climbed higher. R is a photographer by profession. Hence, many of these were photo-breaks. Sometimes, I would surge ahead only to realize that R was left far behind.

Pic 4: L-The greenery was slowly giving way to the rock-face; R-Just after descending.

Everything was fun till we reached the rock face of the trek towards the end, which was almost a 70-degree climb. This section was tricky and wasn’t easy. Some places had indentations to enable a proper grip on the rock-face, some had hand railings too. Even as I concentrated on the climb, my mind worried about the descend through those steep sections.

Pic 4: The rock-face precarious section. Guard rails and indentations were present only in some places, not everywhere.

A temple dedicated to Goddess Kabbalamma is located on top. Villagers regularly climb up to pay their obeisance to the Goddess. During our climb, four villagers passed us. They were bare-footed, and the climb seemed like a piece of cake to them. Parts of a ruined fort also exists alongside the temple on top. After spending some time on the peak, we descended. My descending demons, as always, took no time to make their ugly appearance and trouble my mind. I needed a helping hand from R, especially at the rock-face section of the trek.

Pic 5: L-A water pool at the top; R-The temple was a slight descent away on another side.
Pic 6: L-Clicked somewhere midway through the climb; R-A quick phone break at the top.

The River

After lunch at a roadside eatery, we rode around the countryside for a while and then visited Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. Here we spent sometime relaxing at the banks of River Cauvery. The sanctuary authorities bothered us about permissions, but we did manage to find a spot where we wouldn’t be discovered. I had been here just a few months ago and had waded into the waters. This time the river had swelled, and we had to contain ourselves only at the bank. R even managed to take a quick nap. I had no intention of closing my eyes even for a second and missing the magnificent view of the river.

Pic 7: Us and River Cauvery

The Sunset

On the way back, somewhere on a random bridge over a waterbody, we witnessed a glorious sunset. Couldn’t have asked for a better end to the wondrous day! We reached home late night after having covered nearly 250 Km.

Pic 8: The splendid sunset.

When Sickness Comes Unannounced

I opened my eyes, stared at the ceiling, and wondered what I was doing there. Wasn’t I supposed to be laying on bed? Why am I laying on the bathroom floor? It took me less than a minute to understand that I would have had a blackout and fallen down. I can’t remember how I was feeling at that moment, but I did get up, finished my business in the bathroom, and stepped out. Before I knew, I found myself laying on the floor once again. This time right beside my bed. So, I had a blackout once again! As I tried to get up, I could feel a small hard piece inside my mouth. I spit it out on my hand. It was the broken piece of a tooth. I would have fallen with my face hitting the hard-tiled floor that caused my front tooth to break off. Later, I discovered bruises all over my left arm, which was a consequence of the fall in the bathroom.

It was an early Wednesday morning when all of this was happening, and I was all alone at home.

I placed the broken tooth on my bedside table and somehow climbed onto the bed. After about 10-15 minutes, my mind started connecting the dots and drawing conclusions on what was happening. The day before, I had very high fever with temperatures ranging from 103°F to 105°F, sometimes almost 106°F. No paracetamol, no cold-water therapy was helping and the fever that started off in the afternoon, continued late into the evening. The fever came down only middle of the night accompanied by heavy sweating. As a result, my body would have lost salt and electrolyte and my BP would have fallen. Also, I couldn’t drink or eat anything the day before, except a few sips of ORS.

After a while when I felt a little better, I climbed out of bed and made myself a cup of black tea. I had that with two biscuits, only to throw up within moments of swallowing the same. Immediately, I typed a message to M, my ex-colleague, friend, and neighbour. M stays in the flat just below mine and was the only person who was aware about the severity of my sickness. I hadn’t told my family much as they are far away and cannot do much other than just worry for me. My sister isn’t in town too. She is visiting our home, Shillong. I have no idea what I would have done without M.

A simple Tonsil infection went awry, just because of a Doctor who refused to prescribe any medicines till I got tested for Covid. Did people never suffer from any fever-related ailments prior to Covid! Well, I got myself tested and the results were negative, as I had anticipated. Along with the tonsil infection, I had a molar tooth fracture too. The two were unrelated but managed to confuse me and my body sufficiently. To add to all the misery, the dentist I visited goofed up. As a result, I was suffering from acute toothache along with fever and other associated symptoms of an untreated Tonsil infection. Reeling under the pain of a fractured tooth and an overall unwellness due to the Tonsil infection, I surely have taken some wrong decisions.

Well, a lot of water flowed under the bridge for the past two weeks and I am doing much better now. The tooth problem remains, which is now multiplied with the addition of one broken front tooth and another sensitive to touch. I don’t remember being this seriously ill anytime in the recent past. Not at least in the Bangalore chapter of my life, which is 11 years now.

If the first doctor would have cared to give me some antibiotics, none of this would have happened. And, she happens to be the General Physician in one of the most reputed hospitals in Bangalore.

I routinely visit this hospital, however, this time I felt very negative after going there and this was even before I saw the doctor. There were no distinctions whatsoever for patients who were coming in with fever and flu symptoms. There was zero social distancing and many people didn’t have their masks on.

In all the things that went wrong in the past few days, I can only express my gratitude to the Almighty, who certainly made sure I wasn’t broken beyond repair. Whenever I look back at my blackouts, a shiver runs down my spine thinking about the things that could have happened but didn’t. I just need a good dentist to fix my broken tooth. M was there all through, taking care of me like a God-send angel. I can never repay all the things she did for me. A few other friends helped too in various ways, but M‘s proximity to me enabled her to do things that others couldn’t. Last but not the least, I must mention my housemaid. She went above and beyond her duty to make sure my recovery is quick. She had never seen me this sick in the past 6 years that she’s been working for me and that had her totally freaked out.

The last time I had fallen severely ill was when I had an Anaphylactic Shock. However, I feel this time was it was more critical. Last time I had received prompt medical attention, which didn’t happen this time.