Thursday, May 28, 2015

Jai ho! Indian railways!

I don't generally have family visiting me and since last year, I prefer to travel by air - even if it stirs the inexplicable binge. Yes, I am nervous about flying, I guess I will always be but it is time-efficient. So, when my maternal uncle and aunt came to visit me, I was excited to pick them from the railway station. I remember feelign excited about returning to the railway station after so many months, little did I know what lay in store for me that very evening.

The Gujjar uprising has led to delay and rescheduling of several trains and Indian railways, at its competent best, thinks it only wise to have travellers wait at the platform, in the heat wave that is causing roads to warp. So, the Mumbai bound Rajdhani was scheduled to depart from New Delhi railway station at 4.25 pm. We arrived well in time and were at the platform by 4 pm, only to realise that the train had been rescheduled for 6 pm. The gruelling two hour wait in the summer heat gave me ample opportunities to see children and elders getting sick and throwing up on the tracks. Few local trains came and went, we waited, gulping water whenever we could, unable to leave the platform with the luggage we bore, unable to find a single decent spot to sit under the inefficient ceiling fans. Perhaps, I should not blame the fans, the phone showed a temperature steady at 45 degrees.

When it was finally 6 pm, horrified expressions went about as GT Express pulled into the platform number 3. Most of the travellers bound to Mumbai via the Rajdhani were sick already and very visibly irritated as the announcer said that the Rajdhani faced certain technical issues and would be brought to the platform after the GT Express departed. This last hour is when pandemonium ensued. Tempers flared and frequent sickness led to a general stench of vomit and sweat on the platform. The Rajdhani finally pulled in at 7 pm. Travellers had no way to know when they would reach Mumbai but it didn't seem to matter as everyone clambered onto the AC coaches for whatever respite they could find.

Most of the women had been consuming a lot of water, owing to the heat, but were not able to use the toilets and there was quite the rush to occupy the washrooms even before the train left the station. The train finally left at 7.25 pm. Leaving my uncle and aunt to find their way to Mumbai with whatever food Rajdhani would provide, an extra bottle of water and some fruits, I mustered whatever strength I had left to head back home in the city. I got sick on the journey back.

My uncle and aunt, meanwhile, called the next day to share that the train would take 26 hours to get them to Mumbai. They thanked me for the fruits I had left with them, there was little else to have. The constant question that arose was why Indian railways cannot make a simple app to notify travellers of trains running late or were rescheduled? Why did travellers for several trains have to wait in the gruelling heat only to be told that the train had been cancelled? My uncle and aunt reached Mumbai at 11 pm last night, 28 hours after departure from New Delhi. Needless to say, they will not be taking a Rajdhani for a very long time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How I found Krishna and left him right there!

It all started with a friend's visit to Vrindavan to pray for happiness for her family. Guided by a family priest, she visited a particular temple in Vrindavan with family but did not feel as much at peace she had hoped to be. In our little chat, late one night after she was back, I talked about my own experiences in 'brajbhoomi'. We decided right there that we would head out for a little girl's away from town trip. On the said Sunday, we started from Delhi in our own vehicle. None of the boys with us, we poured our hearts out for better part of the way.
My plan was to take her to Gokul, the village where Krishna's father had delivered him to Yashoda. We found ourselves off the National Highway 2 and on the rather bumpy ride to Nandgaon. The road was not easy and there was no respite, given the summer sun at its peak and the poor condition of the roads. Once we reached the main temple in Nandgaon (Incidentally, this is the village of Krishna's foster father. His wife, Yashoda, was in Gokul, her maternal village, to deliver her child) we were received with curious eyes that soon turned unkind, as soon as they heard that we were unaccompanied by "our husbands". Two grown women visiting this part of the country alone, is not well-received. On of the elders commented from the porch how "we were looking for trouble". Guarding my friend, I walked the stairs to the temple where we were received by a number of men dressed in white clothes. They kept asking where we were from and then whispered among themselves as we stood in the temple to pray. Needless to say, we decided to leave quickly. There was a beautiful view to be enjoyed, as the temple is constructed at a height and offer an undisturbed view of quite a distance but we did not want to attract any more attention. A bunch of well-dressed children huddled around us, begging for cold drinks and goodies and we managed to make our way back to the car and left quickly. Neither my friend nor I spoke of the episode at the time.
It was quiet and rushed drive back to the national highway. I quickly made my mind to head to Gokul village now and hoped the temple would still be open for visitors. Most temples in Vrindavan and its surroundings are closed in the afternoon as Krishna is worshipped as a living God. The deity, worshipped as the idol, is woken in the morning, served food, sung songs to and even allowed an afternoon nap! The temples remain closed while the deity takes his siesta.
The village of Gokul lies just ahead of Mathura (17 kms or so). Having been a part of the grand celebration of "Uttar Pradesh development" and having seen the massive hoardings and boards along the journey, I was sure I would be there in time. Wrong! Turns out that there are hardly any signs to Gokul. I even spotted two large road signs torn down along the National Highway 2. It was starting to get uncomfortable. We kept stopping to as for directions, and the probing eyes of the locals was unmistakable. Then, a few kms before Mathura, the locals started saying, "I can take you there for Rs 50." No one wanted to give us any directions! I do not need to state that two women in a car are not the best setting to invite a stranger into. I seen enough horror films to know what follows. We kept driving along the National Highway. Finally, at one major turn we were stopped by a bunch of men, asking for Rs 50 to guide us to the temple. When we refused, politely and asked for directions. They pointed towards a main road on the left and said it was straight ahead. We thanked them to realise shortly afterwards that we were headed straight into the main city of Mathura. After a painful hour of driving through the traffic and stopping to ask for directions at every turn and crossing, we decided to give up ad head for whichever Highway we could find.
Another half hour of driving back and forth on the same roads and criss-crossing several major traffic centres, we seemed to finally come upon the correct path and found ourselves under a single (and only signboard) pointing to Gokul. We could have been relieved but the worst was far from over. As soon as we set foot out of the car (and into the blazing sun) we were surrounded by men of all ages trying to be our guide for Rs 100. I had to shout at them to get away and then started to head towards the only logical road leading into the village and away from the car parking. We picked up sweets for the deity, more to appease the sweetseller to point the right direction than to please any God. But it was going to take some more effort for the Gods to be pleased! From comments on being unaccompanied by men, hence looking for trouble, to being threatened that we would lose our way in the alleys. When we did finally found our way to the ghat and then to the house, we were very relieved.
At the house, now converted into a temple to worship Krishna as a child, the priest sat facing his back to the Gods. A strange sight indeed! He spoke continuously with every sentence he uttered having at least two references to money. He kept pointing to a box set aside for offerings of cash to "feed brahmins". And hardly bothered with any semblance of devotion. I agreed to pay him Rs 100 if he would let me sit in peace and pray, he did not. I got up to leave and he yelled at me for the money. I refused and he threatened to curse me. I yelled back but honestly, I felt so disgusted by the whole episode I flung the money and a fifty extra at him.
I did find the deity I went looking there for but I had to pay the price with my own faith on humanity. Such a tragedy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Morning at Mondarmoni

It was about six in the morning when I quietly crept out of the resort by the Bay of Bengal. I had been by the sea for an entire evening but I hadn't got the chance to spend some quality time, alone. Knowing fully well that once my family wakes up, there would be no more chance to do so, I dressed quickly and quietly and rushed to the main gate. Only nto find it locked. The resort owners had had a long night and no one was awake yet to open the gates. No one in the resort was awake as yet. There was still about half an hour till sunrise, something I was not going to miss, not again. I looked around for a way to exit the resort and found that the wall on one side was low enough to jump over. Now, it has been quite a while since I attempted anything remotely as adventuruous. My brain was quick to suggest looking for an alternative but my heart, as always, yearned for trouble. I have to admit, as soon as I landed, safely, on the other side of the wall... I was ecstatic. Years of not taking risks, were regrettable. It was just a few more moments to the glorious sunrise, definitely not the best time for regrets, so I headed to the sea.

There was no one in sight and as is the nature of the sea, the water had withdrawn a long way from the beach. The beach was alive, though. Thousand of little red crabs scampered at the sensation of my approaching footsteps. I was obviouslly not welcome here. The red crabs, now a protected species, nest all day in the sandy beach of Mondarmoni and are active at night when humans, and other predators, are no threat to them. A good half an hour of carefully avoiding stepping on any nests or crabs, I was where the sea meets the sand. The beach, now extended as far as the eye could sea, was a glorious sight. Golden sands in the morning sun and the sound of the distant waves put me in a trance and my feet too heed of my heart's command and I walked on... seeking the sea. I stopped several times, spotting starfish, sea urchins and an incredible array of seashells. I walked on and on for about an hour, yet the promised horizon eluded me. With every step, I felt a nothingness engulf me. I seem to drop my worldly cares behind me and moved on to a promised happiness.

With every step the waves sounded closer, the sky seemed clearer and the horizon, unbroken. I walked on, feeling no fatigue, thirst or any human need. Finally, I came upon a slight mound of wet sand and beyond it, the sea. I had no notion of when the tide would turn against me and although logic appealed that I might be too far to return to safety in time, it did not seem important. The sound of the waves, crashing at my foot like clockwork, was magical. It was a powerful magic that held me there, where no man or woman ever stood. That place, that time, was mine. Only mine. I sank to my feet at the wonder of the creator, the blessings that led me to experience this powerful moment. As my mind whirled with the magnitude of the experience, the sea kept lapping at my feet in rhythm. Life goes on, I had heard so many times and here I was, moments after a spiritual experience, waking up to the reality of the saying. My life had changed in those few moments by the sea and yet, nothing changed for the sea.

It was time to return to my responsibilities. I turned around to the shore only to spot my husband in the distance, making his way towards me. The few people on the shore seemed like small specks, like the crabs from ealrier that morning. I xmiled and started to make my way back.