Dec 12, 2011

One Enemy

The king was pacing up and down in his private chamber when the minister came in.

"Your Highness! I disagree with your idea of forging an alliance with the company men", the minister said.

Ours is the best army in the world. We have several lakh skillful infantry who can fight with swords and spears. 

Our cavalry is the best in the world. We have thousands of cavalrymen, each of them an expert at wielding swords when the horses' race at lightning speed. Some of them can also shoot arrows, or throw spears with precision and accuracy that are second to none! 

"We have enough of the army to protect our boundary from all the sides", the minister's voice beamed with pride for his command and their collective abilities.

"My friend, thank you for updating me on the strength of our army. I am sure, we can win all the battles, should we need to face a threat in the future. But then, let's have a long vision, my friend. You will then appreciate that I made my decision in the large interest of our kingdom", the king replied.

Portuguese are marching towards us from the south-west, while French recently captured Pondicherry. We have a constant threat from Mughals in the north. Though the company men (East India Company, or the British) are not interested in politics, they spread all over. 

I do bet that we have the finest army in the world, but should we always have to live with a constant fear of battles?

The question, my friend, is who are our enemies? The entire Bharat has been divided into several kingdoms; each of the rulers is fighting for his own power. While we are busy fighting against each other, the foreigners are coming in large numbers, enslaving us, and forcing us to trade with them.

"I am sure, with our army, we can win the battle for our kingdom. But, what we need is to think of winning the battle for all the kingdoms of Bharat", the king said in a reverberating voice. The minister absorbed the king's message and asked, "What do you see in Robert Clive? Of all the company men, why him?"

The king was happy that his minister understood his point of view. With a smile on his face, he replied, "While the other company men are trying to get our trade rights with them, it is only Clive who appears to have a vision of uniting the whole kingdom under one rule. Giving away the Cuddalore fort to him will help him achieve that goal"

"But what do we get in return, your highness?", the minister asked.

"One enemy! Clive has the potential to lead an army and fight with other foreigners"

"But, the United Bharat will come under a foreign rule. How can we let that happen my lord", the minister asked the king.

"True my friend! We cannot do anything about this. For centuries, we have had a lot of infighting and some of our own rulers are responsible for letting the foreigners come in and involve them in our politics. If we unite our nation under one foreign rule, we can identify that one enemy, who is common to all.

"But the one nation will be the most divisive one, my lord. Am afraid we may fall into a deep pit from which we can never come out again", the minister said in a grieved tone.

"I wish a Mahatma be born who will have the charisma to unite the whole nation and fight against the common enemy. But for now, we need to do this as our duty, irrespective of whether a Mahatma will be born or not", the king said.

"This is how Robert Clive captured the Cuddalore fort, and the rest is history", I finished telling the story to Deepak.

"Those who want to get down at Jipmer or Ashram, please come forward", the conductor was calling out to the passengers. "Should we get down here?", Deepak asked me.

"Let us get down at the Pondicherry bus stand, and roam around the city for a while before we take the connecting bus", I replied.

"I thought the same too", Deepak said. "Let us say "hi" to the French before we go to see the British".

Dec 11, 2011

Troubled Beginnings

Murphy was proving his law one more time while we were waiting for an MTC bus that would take us to the Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT), from where we could take a Cuddalore-bound bus

The MTC buses from CMBT were running towards Velachery, while the ones that depart from Velachery were heading towards T.Nagar. After what looked like eternity, an M70 arrived at our bus stop which Deepak and I, along with a small crowd boarded.

The driver stopped the bus a few meters away from the bus stop to allow the conductor to finish distributing the tickets to all on board, or so I thought! It became clear to me soon when the driver tried frantically to start the ignition that the bus was never going to start!

The conductor went to a nearby tea shop, talked about the problem with the shop owner, brought a pot of water and filled the radiator. Some of the passengers were inquiring from the driver to see if pushing the bus would work. But, the driver's facial expression gave me a feeling that he already knew the bus wasn't going to start again.

The passengers got down from the bus and started to push it from behind. But with the collective muscle power, the driver could only manage to steer the vehicle to the edge of the road, thereby not causing a traffic jam.

We waited for ten additional minutes before the conductor flagged a D70, authorized our tickets with his signatures, for us to travel in that bus. We boarded to find that it was already packed to saturation level. After a tiring journey which took about 45 minutes, we reached the CMBT.

We had a cup of coffee each, and were walking towards a bay for the Cuddalore-bound busses when we heard a loud boom followed by shattering of glass from a nearby platform.

"This is my bay. How dare you park your bus here?", the driver of the bus who accidentally crashed his vehicle with the other one, started to yell at a conductor, who was rushing towards the scene to inspect the crash.

When  we reached the platform, an air conditioned bus was about to depart from there. We located the conductor and asked him if we could buy two tickets to Cuddalore. "This one goes only up to Pondicherry. But you will get a connecting bus from Pondicherry to Cuddalore every five minutes", he assured us.

We did not mind boarding the bus and taking the last two seats, since it was an air conditioned volvo model. But soon, we regretted our decision when we found that the ac outlet was spewing hot air instead.

Moments later, we raised this issue to the conductor. He inspected all the other outlets and said "other outlets are working fine. This one alone seems to have some problem. I will ask the mechanic to service it (after the trip)"!

Just like seeing the sun finally come out after gloomy days, a slow and bumpy ride from the terminus to the outskirts of the city with all the troubled starts changed to a pleasant drive the moment our bus hit the East Coast Road (ECR).

At a stretch in ECR where the road narrowed for some distance, an auto was parked in the middle of the road. The driver of the auto was bargaining with his client for some extra money to strike a deal. Though there was enough space between the auto and the median, our driver decided to choose this particular stretch to overtake a tanker lorry.

A sudden brake was followed by an exchange of few angry words between the two drivers. Our driver parked the bus across the road blocking all traffic, turned off the ignition, got down and engaged in physical fight with the auto driver. It took a conductor and a few bike riders to stop the fight and bring them to their senses and steering wheels!

I asked Deepak "What do you think about all this?", referring to the development of situations since morning.

"We have a lot of stories to tell our readers", he said.

A "Gadget free" Trip in Search of Robert Clive's Fort

Today, 10 AM:
I woke up with a yawn and picked up my cell phone. The notifications tab said I had received 12 missed calls, 17 texts, 9 gmails, 7 facebook messages, 1 poke, and a like. A saintly calmness overtook all negative feelings within me. With a great sense of accomplishment, I texted Deepak "We did it :)"

About two week ago:
"I would like to go on a trip to some place we do not know of. We would talk to the local people and find things there, without using our smart phones", Deepak said.

"Nice idea! How about a gadget-free trip?", I asked him in reply, with a place to go to in my mind.

"Yes! That is the kind of trip I was looking forward to go to"

A week ago:
I recollected a historical fiction that I read a few years ago titled Raja Perigai written by Sandilyan. The story is based on a political situation that let Robert Clive to form an alliance with the then Maratha ruler of Senji to capture the Cuddalore fort.

"Fort St. David is the first fort to be captured by the British (East India Company) in India. The fort is historically significant since it gave the much needed political base to Robert Clive. Lets take our backpacks, leave all gadgets behind, explore and find more about this fort next weekend" I mailed Deepak.

"Sure!Done!", came the reply.

The day before yesterday:
In order to ensure that ours would be a gadget free trip, we framed the following rules to be strictly adhered to.
  1. No cell phone.
  2. No GPS, GPRS, 2G, 3G, internet, Google maps, etc
  3. No watch.
  4. No bank cards/ID cards etc
  5. No laptops or ipods/mp3 players
We decided to take one camera to record our findings.

We packed our backpacks with some fruits, a change of clothes, my camera and a water bottle. We withdrew Rs.1000/- each, and left the cards behind in our respective rooms. At 5 AM, we met in front of the Cauvery hostel, high five'd "Let's do this", and walked to the MTC bus stop and started our trip.

Dec 9, 2011

The girl in a blue top

The first time I saw her was in the campus restaurant a few days ago when I went to have my regular cup of coffee. She was easy to spot since the restaurant was nearly empty with most of the students gone home for the winter vacation. Contrary to my presumption that good looking girls always come in with a company, she was without any, sitting by herself in a remote corner, with her grub.

I finished my coffee and left the place. While walking towards my laboratory, I felt that the thought of the good looking girl in the blue top, sans company lingered in my mind much longer than the taste of coffee!

"Should I go back and talk to her? Will I ever chance upon her again? Even if I happen to, will she be alone then too?", I asked myself.

"Well, what will you talk to her? You can never talk to a stranger, leave alone talking to a good looking girl", my inner voice said.

Perhaps I will introduce myself to her, I argued.

How do you propose to introduce yourself? That you are a guy who looks at the sky through a satellite instead of directly looking up at it? Come on! Now talk sense. Good looking girls and nerdy boys are like parallel universes!

"Maybe you are right", I agreed with my inner voice conceding my defeat.

The lingering thoughts of the girl in a blue top waned after a few days until I spotted her again in the campus restaurant this evening.

She was alone today too, having her cup of coffee, sitting at the same corner table. I grabbed my cup of coffee, and half determined, I walked towards where she was sitting.

While I was nearing her, I heard a "Hi! How are you?" from a familiar voice. I looked around to find that the voice belonged to my colleague. Before I reply, I heard a sweet voice replying "I am fine! How about you?" to him. It did not require me to solve an integro-differential equation to figure out that it came from the girl in a blue top.

After a brief chat with her, he grabbed a cup of coffee, spotted me, came and sat down at my table.

I let out the question which was bouncing all over my head, "How do you know her?"

"I told her that I am a member of the insti Astro club and that we look at the sky through a telescope instead of looking up at it. Guess what? She was impressed with my intro, and said that no one had ever introduced himself that way to her before!", he said.

Dec 4, 2011

A family trip to heritage temple sites

"Planning a trip. Care to join?" my bro pinged me in Gtalk yesterday. It had been long time since I had spent time with my family, so I jumped at the opportunity and sent "sure" as a reply to him.

I got up at 5 AM (which is usually my time to sleep), freshened up and took a cold shower, boarded a government bus near my hostel gate to reach home in time for breakfast. 

While I was devouring idlis, my brother briefed me about the complete plan, which was to visit three of the ancient temple sites in Kanchipuram, namely Chettipunyam, Uthiramerur and Maduranthagam. He had already booked a Qualis, and by the time we finished breakfast and had our coffees, the Qualis arrived. My brother briefed the plan to the driver while I loaded the luggage into the trunk.

The first place we drove to is Chettipunyam, a small village located a few kilometers down south from Singaperumal koil (an ancient temple of Lord Narasimha). Legend has it that in 17th century, when the enemy captured the Devanathaswamy temple at Thiruvendipuram (located in Cuddalore district), the temple priest, taking help from the faithfuls, displaced the presiding deities Lord Devanatha (Lord Vishnu) and Lord Hayagriva (horse faced God who is worshiped for knowledge) to a safer place in Chettipunyam. After normalcy was restored, the people of Chettipunyam who took great care of the deities by worshipping them in accordance with the scriptures, refused to agree to the idea of shifting them back to where they belonged. This resulted in the presiding deity of Chettipunyam temple having two names, Varadharaja (presiding deity's original name), and Devanatha.

Uthiramerur Perumal temple

Uthiramerur perumal temple's rajagopuram (main entrance)

From Chettipunyam, we drove to Uthiramerur temple. The Uthiramerur  temple was one of the oldest temples built by the Pallava rulers, constructed in 8th century AD. Visit the temple once, and you would surely be awed by its architectural marvel. It is a multi-storeyed construction, with Lord Sundara Varadha (another name for Lord Vishnu) as the presiding deity at the ground level. Climb the stairs to reach the first level, Lord Vaikunta Varadha receives you with a warm smile and thaila kaapu. Moving in a clockwise direction from Lord Vaikunta Varadha's sannidhi, one can receive blessings from Lord Krishna (in a 'preaching Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna' pose), Lord Anantha Varadha and Lord Bhuvaraha. Another stair case located outside the second level takes us to the next level where Lord Ranganatha of Sri Rangam presides.

Vedanthangal Bird Sancturary
By the time we came out of the Uthiramerur temple, it was already 11 AM. We realized that we cannot make it to the Ram temple at Maduranthangam which would be closed for mid-day break at noon. So I pitched in the idea of visiting Vedanthangal bird sanctuary, which was on the way to Maduranthagam, and everybody agreed.

Vedanthangal bird sanctuary

We spent a couple of hours at the bird sanctuary where the season is at its peak now, and so it was more crowded than the last time I visited the place along with my friend.

It was nearing 3.30 PM by the time we reached Maduranthagam. We still had about half an hour (or more, depending on the mood of the temple priest) to go before the temple would be opened for the evening darshan. Since there were no hotels near Vedanthangal to have our lunch at, we hunted for one at Maduranthagam. After making enquiries at a couple of restaurants nearby, we realized that we were either late for lunch or too early for evening tiffin. From the locals, we heard about the Highway Inn, which is located on the National Highways NH-45.

By the time we finished our lunch and drove to the Ram temple, it was 4 o'clock. The temple's sanctum sanctorum was not yet opened. We went around the temple to read the history about the temple and the ruler who built it. The interesting story I read about the temple is the legendary story of Lord Ram appearing before the British collector in late 17th century to protect the lake from flooding.
Rajagopuram of Maduranthagam temple

 history of the temple

legend depicted in an art form

art form depicting Saint Ramanuja's samasrayanam

The magizha tree under which Sri Ramanuja was given the Pancha Samskaram (Samasrayanam) by his Acharya Periya Nambigal

The legend holds that Lord Ram along with Lord Lakshman appeared before the then British collector, Lionel Place Durai, helped him bring the flood of Maduranthagam lake under control. This action earned the title "Eri Katha Rama" (the Lord who saved the lake from flood) to the presiding deity. As a token of gratitude, the collector funded the restoration of the temple which was in a dilapidated state then. The lord Ram in this temple strikes a unique pose by holding hands with Sita as in Swayamwara (marriage), which adds to the beauty. The temple priest added a couple of "special" facts about the temple while performing the deepa aradhana (lighting of lamp).

The main idol named Eri Katha Rama or simply Ramaswamy is taken out during temple procession only twice a year, once during Lord Ram's birthday, and the other time, on the seventh day of Utsavam. For the  remaining days, the other idol named Karunakaran is taken out for temple procession.

A tunnel passage connecting the lake with the temple tank via the temple premises can be found in front of the sanctum sanctorum of Eri Katha Rama.

While much of the stories are mythical (popularised on purpose, to attract people to visit the shrine), I liked those stories and the temple visit because they gave me a wonderful opportunity to witness the marvels of our ancients who ruled this part of the world about a millennium ago, when there was not even a trace of what we call "the modern technology"! The trip ended on a happy note after we returned where we started from: "Home! Sweet home!"