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Greece diary- Athens


First let me say, it’s great being back home in familiar spaces, familiar smells and familiar onslaughts on the taste-buds.
But I also have to add that travelling also helps forming a wholesome perspective and underlines the importance of hanging on to what is worthy of continuity , of giving a due place to the memories of our past and its heritage as at the same time, appreciating the dynamics of change.

The city of Athens is all of that, unfolding before the curious traveller to the once so ancient and now modern city, steeped in fables of pagan worship , which got absorbed somewhere within the new religion of orthodox Christianity which the majority (around 97%) of the populace are now part of . Catholics are around 1% and just a miniscule belong to other religions. Religion, however did not come across as a public affair.

When one had been studying about the Mediterranean type of climate in school, for some reason, the imagination had cooked up pictures of orchards of different fruits dotting the landscape and greenery all around. Greece would be like that , one had thought. May be it is like that in other parts of that country. But Athens wasn’t. The hills that we spied as the plane descended were pretty barren and rocky .

Many areas along the route that took us to the hotel that we were to check into, looked familiar, much like Karol Bagh in Delhi or Commercial Street in Bangalore would be .

But what struck us almost immediately was the friendliness of the people . The driver of the pick up vehicle gave us a warm welcome , assuring us that we would enjoy the city tour and the visit to the Accropolis the next day. He was proud of the fact that it was in Greece that democracy was born and how power came to be vested in the people. He was a little sceptical though, about how it was being played out in the present times.

“It is all about money now. You have money, you have power”
Now that there , was very familiar ground. “And family is important for us”…Yep as we saw in the “The Big Greek Wedding”, familiar too for us Indians.

“Yes…and the woman is boss”, he chuckled “The wife and the mother…very important…the man…he just goes out and works”…Try listening to those words in the Greek accent , rolling the “r”s 🙂

The young man at the reception was equally warm and welcoming. After we had settled in, we took his help to find a small eating place nearby before settling in for the night. We tried out the salad, which was quite ordinary , and chicken gyros which was good. We would be experimenting more on that front in the following days.
We had to skip breakfast at the hotel because the coach that would take us around along with several others to be picked up from various other hotels nearby, was to arrive early in the morning. He left instructions however for having breakfast boxes ready at the counter before we left.

Of the morning, I’m going to give you a virtual tour through the videos I had taken , most of them while sitting in the bus. But you will then be able to see and hear from our guide directly.

Angela was a treasure trove of stories about the ancient past of Greece. She has been in this job for 38 years. She had started working as a guide when she was just sixteen or so and continued doing so even after she went on to college, during the Summer holidays. Then she took up a teaching job in a college for about five years but went back to working as a full time guide, as she found that more flexible and conducive to bringing up her children. Angela must She has been working thus for 38 years now. She has been to India on two or three occasions, Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

“We share a lot in common , you know…worship of the forces of Nature , our connection to mother earth and so on ..”
I’ll load all the videos by and by , in the order the tour progressed.

These videos are of our morning drive through Athens beginning with the stadium where the first Olympics was held and ending at the Acropolis Museum and then walking up to the Acropolis itself.
Photography is allowed in only certain parts of the museum which now lodges most of the artefacts unearthed below the Acropolis.
At the Acropolis there was a very huge crowd, and this was almost the end of the season. Couldn’t imagine how it would be like during the peak of the tourist months.

It was hot and we were herded along, almost.
But it was an experience, standing there at the top of the hill, looking down at the city that had spread out gradually all around. Once, long, long ago when Athens had just come to be established, the populace would have scuttled to the safety behind the walls of the fortress that then stood invincible, as soon as enemy vessels were spotted approaching across the blue Aegean Sea.

It would have been kind of spooky had the dusk been settling around, the tall columns casting shadows and you were alone there.
But this was midday , in the midst of teeming hundreds , literally jostling for space .

Still, it was an experience.





 
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Posted by on October 23, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Bhutan Diary-2 -Driving through


“Khozazampo”  Hello (Greeting)

“Kathi joomo”? (Where are you going?)

“Na thathu Thimphu jui. Na nava Paro jui” (We are going now to Thimphu. We will go to Paro tomorrow.)

“Bhutan Leshimdu” (We like Bhutan)

“Bhutan , nima tatumdu…chyure chomme” (In Bhutan it is hot during the day . In the night it is cold)

Smatterings of Bhutanese picked up from Wangchuk , who drove us to Thimphu from Phuentsholing and through it the next day and thence to Punakha and Paro and back to Phuentsholing.

map of Bhutan

As you can see, our itinerary covered only the South-West part of Bhutan.. I hadn’t really taken a look at the map before we had started out. If I had, I would have realised that most of the forest cover extended beyond this area , covering a major part of this country. It would also have left me better prepared for the comparitivly lesser green territory that we passed through. Lesser green as compared to the images one had installed in the mind whenever one read about how ecologically conservative  the development policy of the land has been.

The road trip was magical even then. Wangchuk had a collection of Bhutanese melodies on his pen drive and it gave an additional ambience to the experience. The roads were almost empty, once we left the city precincts , with an occasional vehicle overtaking us or approaching us from the opposite direction. Autorikshaws, an identifying feature of the roads in India, were altogether absent.

At this time of the year, at the beginning of Winter, during the day, sunlight poured down through the clear blue skies,creating patches of dazzling brightness interspersed with shadows at different turns of the road that wound its way round the mountain slopes.

Bhutanese labourers engaged in the building of roads and other construction activities earned around Rs.700 if they were men and around Rs.500 if they were females. Workers came from outside too, mainly India and Bangladesh.

Did corruption exist?, I asked Wangchuk.

The occurence was rare, he replied. Government officials caught taking bribes would be straightaway sacked, without even a pension.

There were no hoardings anywhere in sight. The people we passed by, were all wearing traditional clothes, the knee-length gho for men and the wrap-around skirts called kira for women. Even school uniforms were in the same traditional style.

We stopped for lunch and tea here and there at quaint eating places. Every building that we entered, even the monasteries , had the photos of the royal family decorating the walls. Clearly the loyalty was indisputable.

“The king is like God to us “, Wangchuk explained.

Did they have something akin to blasphemy laws? Did they have the freedom to utter anything against their king?, I was cuirous.

“Who would want to?” Wangchuk replied. “He gives us everything that we need ”

I recalled an article written by Professor Thurman in the local newspaper I found at the hotel reception that very morning. He was singing praises of the constitutional monarchy of Bhutan that was built on the bedrock of the principles of transcendental individualism, non-violence, learning, voluntary altruism and constitutional democracy.

After returning from Bhutan, I tried googling for that write-up and was pleasantly surprised that it turned up in a jiffy. Here is the link:

Turning to monarchy fortuitous for Bhutan, says Prof  Thurman

It was true…there was no evidence of any aggressiveness anywhere. There were lots of smiling faces. Their voices had a gentle timbre. The whole atmosphere was unhurried and non-competitive. Nothing exemplified that better than the pace at which Wangchuk ferried us across , with his frequent reminders that we could ask him to stop anywhere we wanted to take in the view or capture the scenes in our camera.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Living and letting go


 

dewdrops

Let our lives  dance lightly on the edges of Time
Like dew on the tip of a leaf..”
Reflecting the light of love and joy
Through it’s passage brief.

Let no thoughts dull the radiance
Nor yearn to keep clinging on
Let go with grace when the time comes
And the circle will be done.

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2016 in Photography, Poetry, Uncategorized

 

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I am and I’m not .


sun-in-a-aglassI(

(Photograph taken by my friend Arun Azhakesan)

 

I  can, if I want to , capture the setting sun

And  make it sit in my glass of water

I can if I want to  give the skies a run

And  then make it sleep  inside my decanter.

 

I can , if I want to, hold the world in my arms

And sing to it a soothing  lullaby

I can, if I want to , set the sun and skies free

I can be the deep ocean and the limitless sky

 

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Stepping into silence


The silence slowly  filters the trash

Floating on the sultry  surface

It dredges the slimy silt of thoughts

Piled up  with no purpose.

 

Just me and my awareness of  breath

That steadily  goes in and out

Just my closed lids that takes  me within

From  the world of worries without

 

Just a picture of a lucid pool

With the sunrays reaching deep

Just the joy of a little doe

As through the grass it leaps.

 

Just a stretch of soft white snow

That I  joyfully plod through

Just the green of a lotus leaf

On which sits a drop of dew

 

Just  a bunch of purple flowers

Peeping through the crevice of  a rock

Just  a slice of endless time

That’s not measured by a clock .

 

Just the languidness of a village  path

Winding through the palms

Just some   images seeped  in beauty

That soothes and cheers and calms.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Thank you for the music


Music is like meditation….

Sink into the eddies created by the seven notes and one is swirled away from the flotsam and jetsam on the surface of everyday routine  to the breathtaking calm and peace and beauty of the ocean floor, where   fishes big and small, swim in shoals amongst the coloured corals and spectacular  sea-weeds sway in rhythm  on rocks. .

Music is medication ….

A salve that anoints the muddled mind  and  heals the hubris in  our sequestered souls.

Music is manna  showered down upon us  in the wilderness  of our wants,  that  satiates our senses and our spirit .

 

Music is the bird that beckons from blossom-laden branches , the fragrance that floats in the spring air, the lightness  and lure of a child’s laughter,  the growth  of green moss on a rock turned bare, the solitary shell on a stretch of sand,   rain that runs in random  ripples,  the hush that hums to  the mountains  grand  , the mellowed dusk on a meadow and the grass that tickles.

 

Music is magic to our mortal fears,  that casts a spell on our ordinariness , the whisperings of the  wise old seer  who   foretells  of  our freedom  from  madness.

Music is love  for it is a rising swell  that envelops the peaks and the dust in the dell.

Music is divine for it annihilates the  shelf on which we stack our illusions of self.

Music is grace.

 

 

Okay all that as an introduction to my Sunday morning.

Usually , I’m not wont to synchronising my day with the rising sun and am better attuned to stretch in slumber in the early hours of the morning. But for the past couple of weeks, my Sunday mornings have been different  and refreshingly so.

I’d convinced myself that there was no age –bar to being a student and  a while ago,  had spent a few hours surfing  the internet  to locate a teacher who taught Hindustani classical music in the vicinity of where I lived and had courageously enrolled myself in one such group.

It’s okay for you to smile or smirk at this stage.

 

I’d been given a slot that began at eight in the morning and that sort of dampened my spirits in the beginning.

But here I was waking up this morning at 6 : 00 A.M , feeling bright and beautiful  by the time I had finished having tea and bath, had watered my plants , practising the sargam under my breath  and was sitting in an auto, with a braid of jasmines in my hair that I had bought on the way.

 

My voice is not at it’s best ever and in the mornings it is at it’s worst. But  I’m beyond the feelings of embarrassment.  The others around me  will just have to deal with it 🙂

 

I would like to share with you all a beautiful prayer from the Rig Veda  to which I was introduced by my music teacher.

संगच्छध्वं संवदध्वं

सं वो मनांसि जानताम्

देवा भागं यथा पूर्वे

सञ्जानाना उपासते ||

 saṃgacchadhwaṃ saṃvadadhwaṃ

saṃ vo manāṃsi jānatām

devā bhāgaṃ yathā pūrve

sañjānānā upāsate ||

May you move in harmony, speak in one voice; let your minds be in agreement; just as the ancient gods shared their portion of sacrifice.

समानो मन्त्र: समिति: समानी

समानं मन: सहचित्तमेषाम् 
समानं मन्त्रमभिमन्त्रये :

समानेन वो हविषा जुहोमि ||

samāno mantraḥ samitih samānī

samānaṃ manaḥ sahacittameṣām

samānaṃ mantramabhimantraye vaḥ

samānena vo haviṣā juhomi ||

May our purpose be the same; may we all be of one mind. In order for such unity to form I offer a common prayer.

समानी आकूति: समाना हृदयानि 😐

समानमस्तु वो मनो यथा : सुसहासति ||

samanī va ākūtiḥ samānā hrdayāni vaḥ |

samānamastu vo mano yathā vaḥ susahāsati ||

May our intentions and aspirations be alike, so that a common objective unifies us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2016 in Music, Uncategorized

 

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Aligarh-hindi movie by Hansal Mehta


I’m glad I went to see  the hindi film “Aligarh” this afternoon. I almost missed it . My daughter had booked my ticket online , but at the counter I was told that it had been booked for yesterday . I rechecked the message delivered on the mobile and realised that it was sadly true. Fortunately, lots of tickets were still available for the current show and so apart from the money  she lost, all was well.

 

One vaguely remembered reading about the newspaper reports that spoke of a professor of  Aligarh Muslim University, in North India ,  being caught on video in a compromising position with a young rikshaw-puller  and his subsequent suspension from his post , at a time when a High Court had revoked Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code  which made homosexuality a criminal offence.  Some journalists had broken in into his house, barged into his bedroom and filmed them. Almost immediately, four of the faculty members had turned up at the place and from that point onwards, life had become a nightmare beset with persecution and humiliation for the sixty four year old professor who had spent over two decades , teaching Marathi in that University.  Two days after the petition filed by him in the High Court was decided in his favour for revoking his suspension , he was found dead  in his rented house. The post-mortem  had revealed that there were traces of poison in his blood.

professor siras

 

Hansal Mehta’s cinematic version of this true-life incident is remarkably well executed.  Manoj Bajpai ,  enacting the role of Professor Srinivas Ramachandra Siras is superb. As the soft-spoken, unobtrusive, almost nondescript professor whose lonely evenings were spent with a glass of spirits and old hindi songs of Lata Mangeshkar,  his portrayal etched the character indelibly in the viewer’s mind, I felt.

 

Raj Kumar Rao, in the role of the young  Delhi based journalist  Deepu Sebastian Edmond, then working with the newspaper Indian Express, who had followed this case along with his photographer colleague Tashi Tobgyal, is also very impressive.

deepu sebastian.jpg

 

It was Deepu  who had  highlighted the culpability of the persons who had intruded upon the right of an individual to his  privacy and against whom no action had been taken.  In actuality, Deepu and Professor Siras, had never met and there had been only one conversation on the phone after the judgement was delivered. In the film,  they are shown to have met several times and the mutual understanding , respect and affections that developed between them have been very   touchingly depicted.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JezwsQKpXuU

 

“I don’t like the word gay”, the professor objects in the film.” To me it is like poetry, an indescribable urge”

And how can that be a crime if that relationship is  between two consenting individuals , if it doesn’t  impose or intervene or disrupt another’s space or rights or well-being?  That it is  unnatural , is the reason provided by  almost all religions and the law. How can an individual help the way he feels about love or it’s expression if that is how his nature is ? Isn’t Nature itself a testimony to the fact that homogenity is against the very nature of Nature itself , with it’s myriad forms, colours, contours , climates, niches and nurturing ,  food cycles and courtship and reproduction.

 

In this age of taking sides , of information and counter-information and misinformation,  of strident voices dominating  every aspect of human existence , of confusions and helplessness, how does one sift through the incoherence and arrive at any conclusion? How does one know for sure that what one is standing up for is indeed the Truth in the shifting sands of morality , patriotism, religious beliefs, definitions of propriety, social norms, traditions , culture   and so on?

The truth is perhaps that one may never know . May be the only way we can justify our perceptions is by gauging the truth of  our own feelings . For me, the touchstone would be whether  my alignments are motivated by love or animosity for my fellow human beings. Which side I am on is not perhaps of  any significance .

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2016 in Community, Movies, Uncategorized

 

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