Monday, October 18, 2010

Festivals and celebrations! Part IV

Chapter three
Date- Present day
Location- Hotel Park Inn, Berlin

I managed to get myself out of bed. Was there anything that I could do to get all that happiness back into my life? Will that color, joy and innocence come back ever again I thought. I managed to pick up the phone and made a call, home.

“Hey Amma, Happy Dusshera.” I managed to croak. It felt like there was a huge lump in my throat not letting me speak.

“Happy Dusshera to you too Kanna, what happened? You sound dull. Everything fine back there?” She asked with a note of panic in her voice.

“No Amma, I’m good, just woke up after a tiresome day. Feeling lazy, that’s it, missing home.” I said. Only mothers have the power to gauge your mood from a single word that you utter.

“Is it just that, or is there anything else that is bothering you?” She asked; the note of panic now replaced with a note of anxiety mingled with curiosity.

“I was just, lying in bed, thinking about how we used to celebrate the festival at home, how we visited our Kanaka Durga temple once. When I remembered all that, I just felt a little… Lost… Like I was missing out the happiness and pleasure of having a family to celebrate a festival with.

“I can understand how you feel son. It’s been three years since you came here for any festival. It’s hard to go on alone in life. You need people to share emotions with. Goals are important in life but, in order to achieve it, you must never let go of family, friends and the joy of being together in celebration.” She said. Always the wise words, I thought.

“Yes Amma, it took me this long to understand that. Now, I realize how much I’ve missed out in the process of chasing down targets in life. This will be an eye opener for me.” I said.

“I’m glad you realize that now. People, happiness and the sense of pleasure that you experience in the company of others is what gives festivals that air of magic. The sense of tranquility that you experience when you worship a force superior to you, makes the experience more complete and fulfilling. See if you can create that magic.” She said.

“I understand what you said Amma. I’ll try to create the magic you’ve mentioned. Thanks for making me feel so much better.” I said and cut off the phone, as a flood of new energy hit me like a tsunami wave striking the beach.
I strode into the hall and picked up the phone and called room service.

“Guten Morgen, Ich brauche ein Telefonbuch.” I said.

“Sie finden es in einer Minute, Sir.” The cheerful voice on the other end replied.

“Vielen Dank”, I said and put down the phone.

I picked up my phone and typed out a message to all of my friends. It went like this,

“Hey guys,
Today is a very important day. I guess most of you don’t remember why, but today we are going to celebrate. Celebrate together; celebrate the victory of good over evil. May sound a little crazy but I want all of you in my hotel by 10 AM sharp. All of you must dress in Indian clothes, the best you can find. You’ll miss out on an event if you don’t come, I promise.”

As I pressed the sent button, it started reaching the inboxes of more than 25 Indians, most of them my friends from graduation. Most of them were worried about my state of mind, but nevertheless, they were curious to find out the reason and agreed on coming.

In the meanwhile, room service got me the telephone directory that I requested for. I started browsing though, looking for the right telephone numbers. I found them soon enough and I started calling them.

“Yes, I need that photo, the biggest one you have. I also need the necessary things that we may require. Send in a priest if you can find one. Nine AM sharp, Hotel Park Inn.”

“Yes, a lunch for twenty five people. The best Indian dishes that you can find. I need them here by twelve PM sharp, Hotel Park Inn. “

Next, I was on the internet, looking for some information. Google proved as efficient as ever, giving me all the information that I needed. I was fishing out print outs. Now, I had all that I needed.

I looked at my wrist watch. It was eight thirty. I called in room service again and asked them to book the “Festsaal (Banquet hall)” that could accommodate some fifty people. I went inside the bathroom, took a shower and dressed myself in the “Kurta Pyjama” which has been lying at the bottom of my suitcase for such a long time now.
The things that I ordered came in by nine and the priest who came in wanted to know if it was a marriage or an engagement that he needed to perform. When I told him what I wanted, he was shocked and surprised.

“After all these years that I’ve lived in Berlin, this is the first time anyone has asked me to perform Durga Puja. I’ll do it with pleasure son. This is a very happy day for me.” He said, voice mixed with emotion and happiness.

People started pouring in at ten, All of them looking a little skeptical about what was on offer. As they saw the festive decoration, the priest and the huge portrait of Durga mata seated majestically on her tiger, they were shocked. As all of them settled down on the huge carpets on the floor, I went up and addressed my friends.

“Hey guys, as most of you don’t remember, I am going to remind you why this day is significant and what all of this is about. Today is Vijaya Dasami. The final day of the festival we celebrate as Navaratri. This day, we celebrate the victory of good over evil. This very day, Goddess Durga killed the demon king Mahishasura, bringing in peace and prosperity to the people of the world.”

As I was speaking, I was able to hear groans of recollection as it hit people. Everyone knew, but no one remembered.

“So today, we offer prayers to the great mother as a tribute to what she has done for us. We join in celebration, celebrating the victory of good over evil and the end of darkness that prevailed when evil reigns over the world.” I continued and took a pause.

Everyone was listening to me with rapt attention, hanging onto every word that I said.

“What does it mean today? Why did I call you here? I’ll explain. I woke up this morning to a message from my mom reminding me that today was a festival that was worth remembering. This reminder of hers sent me into a flood of memories that I had when I was younger, the joy and happiness associated with the celebration of festivals. I’m sure many of you must’ve had similar happy times with your families.”

I found many people lost in reflections and memories just like me when the news hit me. I found many people nodding their heads in consent.

“But, where has the spirit of celebration gone? Where has all the enthusiasm and reverence gone? What happened? We got so lost in building our careers and making a name for ourselves, we just ignored all these little things that gave us happiness and peace of mind. Today, when I realized all that we’ve missed over the last few years, I wanted to make up. I wanted to get that spirit of celebration back into our hearts. That is why we are here today. To celebrate our happiness, to worship the almighty in whose shadow we live. To pay tribute to the force that controls everything beyond our power.” I said, feeling emotional and charged as I ended my diatribe.

Everyone was silent for a long time as I handed them the sheets that had English translations of the mantras we had to chant in the course of the puja. The next hour, the room was filled with an air of holiness as everyone chanted the name of the god with a vigor and respect. The next hour was spent in listening to the stories of the goddess that every one of us had long forgotten. As everyone applied tikkas on their forehead and ate the holy Prasadam, the lunch arrived, there we were, one happy family. Everyone was smiling with content, serving food to one another, exchanging jokes and laughing together.

I looked out of the window at the busy Germans running around trying to catch up with the hectic life of today. I smiled to myself and muttered,

“Ich habe die Magie ( I created the magic), thanks mom”

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Festivals and celebrations! Part III

Chapter two
Date- 17th October.
Location- Kanaka Durga temple, Indrakeeladri hill- Vijayawada.

I was trying to maintain my balance as a hundred people propelled their bodies forward as the queue moved on inside the temple complex. We were fortunate enough to get a chance to visit the holy temple this festival. With some help from dad’s colleagues in office, we were able to secure special passes for the darshan. That did not help much as some of the most important people in the state craned their necks and tried to stand on their toes just to get a glimpse of the holy mother.

So, why is this temple so famous? Why do so many people come here when there are so many other temples?” I asked dad, as we waited for a VIP to finish his special pooja.

Dad adjusted his voice and started telling me the history of the temple.

“Once upon a time, demons and humans lived together on the earth. It is said that the growing menace of demons became unbearable for the humans. A sage named, Indrakila practiced severe penance, invoked Goddess Durga. When the goddess appeared the sage pleaded her to reside on his head and keep vigil on the wicked demons. Goddess Durga agreed and made Indrakila her permanent abode. Later, She also slayed the demon king Mahishasura freeing the people from his evil. To celebrate the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon king Mahishasura and to worship the goddess, the temple was built and the ten day celebration, “Navaratri” originated.” My dad narrated as we moved further into the temple complex.

“What form is the goddess adorned in today?” Someone enquired my dad.

“Since it is the final day of the Navaratri, she will be taking the form of Sri Raja Rajeswari Devi.” My dad told him, as I looked enquiringly at him.

My dad started to explain what the form was all about.

“Sri Kanaka Durga Devi, the chief deity of the temple is portrayed as blessing the visiting devotees in various forms (avatars) during the ten day festival. A symbolic representation of the 10 forms of triumph of good over evil, this form (known as 'Alankaram') of the day is chosen as per the astrological star of each day, in accordance with the lunar calendar. The goddess takes on the forms of, Sri Swarna Kavachalakruta Durga Devi, Sri Bala Tripura Sundari Devi, Sri Annapurna Devi, Sri Gayatri Devi, Sri Lalitha Tripura Sundari Devi, Sri Saraswathi Devi, Sri Maha Lakshmi Devi, Sri Durga Devi, Sri Mahishasura Mardhani Devi and Sri Raja Rajeswari Devi during the course of the festival.” My dad told me.

I was wondering in awe at the richness of the history that created this place where I was standing now. We made it to the final part of the temple called the “Garbha gudi” where the main deity was kept. We were able to see the goddess for a very short span of time as the people pushed on. But the picture of the goddess froze in my mind in a picture perfect frame. A picture of tranquility and generosity showed on her beautiful face adorned with turmeric and fresh flowers. She was holding a sugarcane stick in one hand, the goddess who bestowed prosperity.

We came out of the temple and sat in the huge porch of the temple strewn with herds of people moving about busily trying to get into the temple. My dad got the Prasadam that we happily ate. The whole visit made me realize how people can be brought together in the name of festivals and celebrations. Everyone looked happy and radiant.

The drive down the hill was very pleasant with the huge flood lights reflecting in the rippling waters of the river Krishna. The devotees marched down the temple in huge groups as a ritual to please the holy mother and to wash off their sins. They sing songs in praise of the holy mother as we add chorus to the fervent chanting’s.

The rippling waves of the river Krishna and the chanting’s of goddess Durga fade away, as I find myself on the bed again, homesick and fed up with my current life. I have to do something to get myself out of this misery, I thought to myself.

Festivals and celebrations! Part II

Chapter one-
Date: 13th October.
Location: Home Sweet home, The city of destiny- Visakhapatnam.

“Harsha, wake up kanna. It’s nine already. You have to get ready for the Saraswathi pooja.” My mom insisted, trying to pull the blanket off me.

“Amma, Let me sleep for ten more minutes.” I retort as I try to pull the blanket back on.

“You are waking up. And I know how to do it.” She mutters to herself as she goes and switches off the fan.

I twist and turn, groan and moan and finally accept defeat as I get myself off the bed. I take some twenty minutes to the bathroom where my mom has the special head bath that I dreaded all my life.

First, she applies the preparation known as “Nalugu”. A semi solid mixture of Chickpeas and turmeric mixed in water.

“Why do you apply this to me? What good does it do?” I enquire mom as she continues to rub the paste hard on my body.

“This is a natural form of beauty maintenance which was used before any of these fairness creams or beauty soaps were invented. The chickpea paste acts as a cleansing agent which removes all the dead cells of the skin and the also gives a radiant glow to the skin. The turmeric acts an anti-septic which prevents fungal and bacterial infections.” She continues to explain like an erudite scholar.

“Oh, this yellow paste does this much of good?” I wonder as I try to visualize myself like a tiger with all the yellow paste.

“Now sit here like a good boy till the paste dries off.” She says and goes to the kitchen.

I sit there in the bathroom making moves like a tiger till the paste becomes super hard and it becomes difficult for me to move my jaws.

“Amma, it’s dried now. Can we wash it off now?” I manage to scream though the unmoving jaws.

“Wait, I’m getting the Soap nut. I’ll be there in a minute.” She screams back.
The mention of the word soap nut evaporates my happy mood.

My mom makes a reappearance as she mixes the soap nut in the hot water producing lather and a bitter smell that sends chills though my bones. I sit there, on the wooden stool, in a towel, rigid, too scared to move.

“Close your eyes.” My mom orders me.

I shut my eye lids as tight as humanly possible as she applies oil and starts to put the soap nut on my head. The bitter smell mixed with the touch of hot water on my scalp make me dizzy. I get through the ordeal without any of the bitter acid like juice of the soap nut getting into my eyes or mouth.

The next part feels heavenly as she washes off the paste and the soap nut juice with warm water. I step out of the bathroom feeling clean and handsome. I put on my new clothes and go into the family room where my sister, dressed in the traditional “Parikini Voney” comes running and gives me an affectionate kiss.

“You look great Annayya.” She says.

“You look great yourself sis.” I say, as we give each other a hi-five.

“Kids, get your books, we have to do the Saraswathi pooja.” My grandmother calls out from the Prayer hall of the house.

I select the Maths and the English text books, the subjects that I’m not good at school, hoping that goddess Saraswathi could help me a bit with my scores.
We sit in the prayer hall cross legged with our eyes closed and hands in a Namaste stance as we worship the names of the goddess in different languages asking her to bestow wisdom, strength of mind and character upon us.

It takes us about an hour to run though the pooja and we happily hop into the dining hall savoring the smell of the various special dishes that mom had prepared for the lunch. Some of our close relatives join us for dinner as we talk, chat and reflect on various things that are happening in our lives.

I and my cousins discuss the latest episodes of Swat Kats, bemused and stupefied at the heroics of T-bone and Razor, and how they manage to save Megakat city from the clutches of the wicked Dark Kat. The elders discuss current politics with the aunts sharing animated descriptions of the latest gossip and exchange information about new jewelry that they’ve purchased for the festival. It is all one happy family celebrating the festival that binds us together like an invisible chord.

The evening is a blur of color as dad takes us out to see the various Durga mata idols set up in the city. I and my sister stare in awe at the imposing idols of the goddess with ten hands, a different weapon in each, seated majestically on a tiger with the head of the daemon Mahishasura in her hand. People throng to see the idols as we wait to get the “Prasadam” from the priests offering special prayers. We return home late in the night to be treated to another sumptuous meal with the seasonal fruits to add to the delicious dishes prepared by mom.

I find my way out of the memory and find myself staring at the breakfast of scrambled eggs and bread going cold along with the coffee. A tear drops from my cheek as the memories of those happy moments unleash themselves on me. I was missing my family, friends and the joy.

Festivals and celebrations! Part I

I was a dragon with huge wings flying into space. My speed was blinding and the surroundings were dimming away into a passing blur.

“Are we there yet?” I found myself asking the voice inside me.

“No, we are still one strata away from reaching the top most layer of the earth” the voice said.

“Did we not beat the best already? I’m getting a little tired now, I’m missing my family, and I’m missing the pleasures of my planet. Don’t you think we should go back?” I heard myself imploring the voice inside me.

“You are yet to become the best. You become the best only when you reach the highest peak. Relative victory is nothing. You’ve worked for five years now, what is one more year. Push yourself, more. You are just a whisker away from being unbeatable.” The voice was encouraging and commanding at the same time.

I saw the target I had to reach, the luring idea of becoming the best makes me ignore the pain building up in my joints. I spread my wings out completely and give it a bigger heave.

All of a sudden something in my wing bone goes snap and I see myself plummeting down into the vast emptiness beneath me.

“Help me. Please help me.” I call out to the voice.

“You have not achieved the ultimate success. You deserve this, DIE!” the voice says as it fades away.

I wake up with a start only to find myself in my king sized bed with my forehead breaking into a cold sweat.

“You are Rajiv; you are in Berlin on a work related assignment. You are still alive and that was a bad dream.”
I mutter to myself. That makes me feel better as I survey the surroundings.

My job brought me to Berlin to deal with a supplier the prices of the equipment we needed for an upcoming project of ours. The operation of the equipment needed some extensive training and there I was in Park Inn Berlin-Alexanderplatz. The full glass windows with the curtains drawn out showed me a panoramic view of the beautiful city bathed in the dim light of the morning sun. I was staring into the landscape enjoying the emptiness in my head when a tower with a pointed edge with the rounded part in the upper quarter catches my attention. It sends an uncanny signal to my brain suggesting that today was something I should remember as important. I reflect for a moment, as nothing comes to my head.

I shrug the thoughts aside and look at myself in the mirror. I see myself, a disheveled man in his early thirties, still slim and well-built with a mop of curly hair that came close to my eyes. The stubble that used to give me an air of youth in my twenties looked ominous now. The random strands of white hair here and there didn’t help things much.

I hear my phone buzz with the missed calls and messages that I received over the last night. I sit back in bed, cross legged and open the first message from office. I breathe a sigh of relief was I read the contents. The message was from my friend.

“The transformer at the factory got fried last night due to an electric short circuit. It’ll take them a while to get the systems running again. We have a day off man. Give me a call when you wake up. We’ll go out and check what the city offers us today.”

The message was followed by the trademark wink, which makes a smile spread on my face. I read the rest which are work related details. I read the next which makes me remember what I was trying to recollect earlier. The message was from my mom.

“Son, today is Dusshera. I hope you remember the festival. I know you are busy in Berlin with your assignment. But take some time off and worship goddess Durga and seek her blessings. You’ll be amazed at the amount of satisfaction and mental relief you discover from it. Love, Mom.”

The message strikes a box of memories which opens up instantaneously sending me into a recollection of memories. They wash over me like a deluge as I go back into my childhood.