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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Your Motorcycle Adventure Company - Motours

A small and closely knitted motorcycle touring and adventure group to a motorcycle adventure company that organizes motorcycle trips across India. That is the saga of Motours that started as Old Skool Bikers (OSBs), a small group of people who felt more at home on the road then at home :-).


I feel proud to be a part of this motorcycling/biking community. We have ridden together across different states, terrain, weather and most importantly difficulties. The group's most memorable trip was "Riding to the top of the world" - the Manali -Ladakh highway that takes one to Khardungla, the highest motorable road in the world at 18,380 feet. Riding with the group helped each one of us to get sure of our motorcycle and proved to be a huge learning experience across the spectrum. 

Now, having completed the entire Indian nation on my motorcycle all alone, I feel that I should help fellow bikers enjoy "Incredible India" on motorcycles and feel the wind, hear the rev and see our exquisite country. Hence, I have enrolled in as a tour guide at Motours. So, if any of you folks are interested or know anyone who would be interested in exploring India on a motorcycle with experienced professionals, then drop in a mail to Motours Grease Monkeys. After all, it is your motorcycle adventure company!!

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Mahabalipuram - A 7th century wonder!

It was a bright sunny Saturday morning in Chennai and my friend, his family, my sister and I decided to drive down to the historical town of Mahabalipuram.



Mahabalipuram/Mamallapuram is 60 km south of Chennai and is situated on the coromandel coast by the Bay of Bengal. Mahabalipuram was a busy 7th century port city and houses a lot of temples and historic monuments which have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Since we had left home late in the morning, our agenda was to visit the famous sea shore temple, the pancha rathas, if possible and a relaxed evening session at the beach.



As we entered this quaint dusty, but bustling tourist town, the ladies in the car got excited as they spotted tons of shopping opportunity. Somehow, we were able to coax them into exploring our glorious past before getting into the materialistic present.


We proceeded to the sprawling sea shore temple area after having bought our entrance tickets and hiring ourselves a guide. This shore temple and its boundaries are being managed and run effectively by the archaeological society of India (ASI).


With the guide leading our way, we visited the 3 shrines within the shore temple premises, namely the east and west facing Shiva shrines and the east facing (but tucked inside) Vishnu (Ananthasayanam or sleeping Vishnu) temple. We got to know that this temple is one of the oldest forms of Dravidian architecture and South Indian temples.


The other interesting fact that we got to know was that this temple was submerged under sea for some years during which the salt and sea water corroded the rock surfaces and sculptures. Even to date, rocks and boulders lined up the sea facing territory of the temple to prevent the sea from entering the temple premises. The floor of the temple and the sea are more or less at the sea level.


Our guide told us that remnants of the 7th pagoda were discovered when the sea waters receded after the 2004 tsunami and earthquake that hit this part of the world. The archaeological society of India have been sending divers for underwater excavations since 2005 to uncover the history of an underwater city.


We were shown the place of 'bali' or sacrifice and its significance to Maha'bali'puram getting its name. The influence of the Chinese tiger in the Dravidian architecture can also be seen here. Frequent trade between China and India might have been the trigger. We also saw the place that used to be a school/training ground for the art of fighting. Sculptures in various fighting poses depicted this training facility.


After the shore temple, we made our way to the Panch Rathas or Five Chariots, which are monolithic structures named after the Pandavas of the Mahabharata.

 
These structures, which have been made from a single piece of stone, were more like the school of architecture as each of these 5 structures portray a different architecture - Dravidian, Buddhist and West Bengal styles.
 

One can just gape in wonder and admire these great pieces of architecture. After a small break in the shade and a detailed photo shooting session, we trotted towards the serene looking beach where the men could enjoy a walk in the breeze while the ladies could finish their shopping experience in the adjoining shopping shacks.


With a serene looking beach, exquisite architecture, amazing sculptures, delicious history, a quaint & dusty tourist town in the kitty, our evening had all the ingredients of a 7th Century Wonder!!


The complete album can be viewed by clicking below.

Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

A modern Tamil Brahmin wedding

This event took place a couple of weeks back. The location was the Green Meadows Resort at Palavakkam in Chennai. This place is a heritage Kerala Ayurveda resort on the East Coast Road. Since this was a family event, most of us turned up with enough reason as this offered the opportunity of getting together with family after what had been a long while.

The reason for the title of this post comes from the fact that we, the family, hail from an orthodox Tamil Brahmin cult of society. Most of the auspicious and important events are celebrated in the most orthodox and traditional fashion. The ante gets upped during weddings and they can get as traditional as they can be.

Having said this, I was surprised when most of the traditional aspects of a Tamil Brahmin wedding were either skipped or replaced with modern or if I may say Western props. There was no jaanavasam (inviting the groom to the wedding) or called the Baaraat in North Indian weddings or any of the hymns and pujas associated with it. Instead, it was replaced with an informal dance programme, which I am fine with as it allows all the guests to participate and have a good time. The killer prop addition was the inclusion of a cocktail bar. Now, for all those of you who understand brahminism, alcohol is a taboo in the life of a Brahmin, rest alone, a wedding, where rituals and rites are performed and gods are invited through hymns and chants to bless the to-be-weds.  

On the day of the wedding, many traditional components, if I may, like kaasi yatra, unjal (swing), the traditional games, etc. were excluded. But, the other traditional aspects like the seven pheras, thaali (mangalsutra), traditional attire, garlands, traditional music were not excluded. Such a wedding doesn't irk me as I am also a person from the same generation, but it makes me think as to whether we are slowly losing a grip on our culture. 

I have read a fair bit on Brahminism and the reasons various processes are followed in traditional events and it makes perfect sense to me as each of these traditions have a certain deep-rooted meaning to it. But, at the end of the day, it boils down to the wishes of the couple who are getting married and I guess we should respect their decision.

Which brings me back to my question...Are we losing a grip on our rich culture? 

Overall, a great and a well-organized event and it provided the opportunity for me to meet with most of my family members and catch up on the latest happenings and musings in the family.
Having said the entire above post, I would like to say that the opinions expressed here are entirely my own and is not aimed to be offensive in any kind.

All pictures have been removed from this post as the concerned couple in this wedding sought privacy.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

The famous Murugan Idli Shop!!

Murugan Idli Shop - this might sound a new name to you, but for the passengers of Indian Railways who have had their breakfast of Idlis and Vadai sambar at the Madurai railway station will tell you otherwise. These people, including me and my dad, blindly trust this brand name for the sheer taste  and quality that they offer. Murugan Idli Shop is one of the rising South Indian cuisine brands in India and Singapore. A recent entrant into the Chennai market, they have been seeing a hugely positive response from the masses. People of Chennai typically don't go out to eat Idlis at restaurants, but most people break the trend here as the Idlis at Murugan Idli Shop are much better than the ones made at home.


On the morning of Aug 16, 2009, my friends and I went to sample their Idlis for breakfast at their newly opened T Nagar branch in Chennai. We had to wait for a while as this place was bustling with people and activity even at 10 AM, which is post standard breakfast timings. Once we found our place, steaming hot Idlis, 4 types of Chutneys and Sambar was served to us on plantain leaves. On special request, one can even ask for the searing mulagai podi (gunpowder mix made of lentils, red chillies and sesame seeds) with nalla yennai (sesame oil). The food was truly amazing. It was the best South Indian breakfast I have tasted. The only breakfast that tastes better than this are the ones cooked at my Grandma's place. After a series of helpings, we topped off our breakfast list with Sakkarai Pongal (Sweet Jaggery Rice) and steaming hot South Indian filter coffee. 

While I liked the hygiene that this place offered, I would prefer if they did not serve drinking water in disposable plastic glasses and rather in traditional stainless steel tumblers. Overall, a great dining experience. Traditional South Indian breakfast at its very best!

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Ride down the memory lane with punjabi khana!

Indian Independence Day Dinner!! I was with my college (Vellore Institute of Technology) friends at Chennai and we had just finished watching the bollywood movie Kaminey starring Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra. As we were coming out, we were repenting our movie selection decision and decided to do something right for this evening.


Thus, with an unanimous decision, we landed at the Vellore's gyan vaishnav punjabi dhaba on Anna Salai as we used to regularly visit the vellore version of this restaurant during our college days. 

This restaurant, which serves vegetarian mouth-watering punjabi cuisine, brought back memories of good 'ol college days when this restaurant offered to fill our palate and minds irrespective of the moods we were in. It was a ride down the memory lane with each of us filling the group in with the latest happenings of our college gang. All this while we were served hot, spicy and sumptuous punjabi food that include makki di roti, onion kulchas, rajma masala, chana palak, butter naan, butter rotis, malai lassi, paneer butter masala and more.

A treat for one's palate!

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Kaminey - A different bollywood movie experience

It was Indian Independence day (August 15) and I was at Chennai with my college (Vellore Institute of Technology) friends when all of us decided to watch a movie. Thus began the last minute scramble of getting tickets for that evening. We wanted to get tickets for a good Tamil movie, but all theatres were sold out owing to the holiday weekend. After a lot of scramble and hunting, we decided to go for the only movie tickets we got, at the Woodlands theatre for the bollywood movie Kaminey. And, we bought these tickets in black :-)

Now, here I was going to see a movie whose review I had not read, whose plot I did not know and whose poster I had not seen. Keeping my fingers crossed, I went in with an open and un-opinionated mind.

The first half of the movie was a mystery. I did  not know what hit me coz I could not make head nor tail of the storyline. The only thing I could appreciate was the seriously good acting. To make matters worse, a baby nearby didn't allow me to sleep. Thankfully during the movie break, my friends who had read the review cared to explain the plot, which cleared some of the cobwebs in my head. The second half of the movie proved to be much better as the plot began to unfold and the story started to take shape. Net-net, I cursed my fate of having spent my money on a totally rubbish movie whose only saving grace was the good acting of Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra and that too in totally new roles for them. A very different movie experience for me!

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Mystery of Mother Teresa

Below is a truly inspiring article on Mother Teresa written by Navin Chawla. I am personally proud to have lived in her era.

To love one’s neighbour was to love God — this was the key, not the size of her mission or the power others perceived in her. Mother explained it thus to her biographer: “We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful.”


Mother Teresa, the diminutive nun who straddled her century as one of its most towering personalities, was at one level a very simple person and at another a complex enigma. In modern management parlance, she could well be projected as a management guru who could have presented to the world’s best business schools her uniquely evolved model for success. With 4,000 nuns, she created a multinational enterprise of service that encompassed 123 countries by the time she died in 1997.

She would however have rejected such a proposition because her model was not based on material achievement, but on its spiritual quotient that sprung from and was nurtured by her faith. It required no banks of computers, no army of accountants, no bureaucrats. Her Order was rooted to a unique vow of “wholehearted free service” to the abject poor and marginalised.

As her biographer, I found there were several mysteries that lent themselves to no easy answers. Mother Teresa was hardly qualified in academic terms. She never went to university and her studies were largely confined to the scriptures. And yet she set up hundreds of schools that lifted poor children from a desolate life on the streets. She provided a safety net for the homeless by opening feeding centres and soup kitchens and also started Shishu Bhawans for infants her sisters found abandoned in the streets. There were homes for the terminally ill, so that they were not alone when they died. Not all these centres were in the poorer parts of the world; many were in the affluent west where loneliness and despair was a sickness she likened to leprosy.

Her coming to India itself was a mystery, a word I use in its mystical sense. Born in 1910 in Skopje, then a small town in what was Albania at the time, Agnes was raised in relatively frugal circumstances by a fiercely Catholic mother, the youngest of three children. As a young girl, her imagination was stirred by stories of Yugoslav Jesuit priests who worked in distant Bengal. At the age of 14, barely a teenager, she asked her mother for permission to join the Church and work in India. At 18, she had her way and when she bade her mother goodbye, she was never to see her again.

We might well imagine Kolkata from an Eastern Europe standpoint in 1928. The journey from Albania to India would itself have seemed inconceivable to most. In those days missionaries hardly ever returned home and India was a world apart. To leave her tightly knit family for a most uncertain future in a land of whose language, customs and traditions she knew nothing was, at the very least, foolhardly. But young Agnes never recorded any doubts about this decision, even in her later years.

She had learned that the only way to India was through the Loreto Order of teaching nuns headquartered in Kolkata. Her route however lay through the heart of the Order in Ireland. From Zagreb she travelled by train and ship to Dublin, where she spent six weeks learning a smattering of English, a language unknown to her but which she would need in India. Her ship journey to Mumbai would have exposed her for the first time to peoples and climate so different from her own. And, finally, when the Bombay Mail steamed into Howrah station in Kolkata on a January morning in 1929, an 18-year-old had taken a major step that covered geography and time zones into a world that would gradually unfold itself. But of her decision, she was even then not in doubt.

She had said to me, as she had said to others before, that it was a lesser wrench for her to leave mother’s home than it was for her to leave the Loreto Convent in Entally. In her 20 years as a Loreto nun, first a teacher and later Principal, she developed the discipline of an Order; in its most simplistic sense, her life was regulated by the ringing of the school bell. Here there was order and security, but also some exposure to the disadvantaged, as many of her wards were orphans and children of poor parents, with whom she could speak in Bengali with ease.

She was happy in her work, but restless too. The world she glimpsed from her classroom window was made up of slums and abject poverty: it seemed to be the real world, and she slowly sensed that her vocation belonged there. She began to attempt this almost impossible transition from convent to street, but with her vows intact: a Catholic nun within the Church order, yet outside of it. This was inconceivable in the Church’s rigid framework. Her Superior General of Loreto gave her the nod to try. But the Archbishop of Kolkata forbade it.

In these many divides of life, she resorted to prayer that deepened her faith. I often found that she faced dilemmas by first a retreat to prayer, and then renewed attempts, until the object was achieved or otherwise. Two years later, surprisingly but perhaps not, the Vatican made its first exception of this kind.

Her early steps, too, were a mystery. What a strange sight she would have presented on the streets of Kolkata in 1948. A European not in a familiar western habit, but in a cheap sari similar to what the municipality sweepresses wore, her feet encased in a pair of rough leather sandals: a nun in her belief but not in appearance.

She was alone. She had no helper, no companion and carried no money to speak of. She stepped into a city in which she had taught long years but of which she knew nothing. She taught herself to beg, the ultimate humiliation for one whose life had not been luxurious but it had been secure. In her only diary, which I was privy to, she wrote of her struggle between her faith and the temptation to return to the security with convent walls.

Between occasional bouts of tears and longing to get back to Loreto, she set up her first school in the very slum she saw each morning outside her classroom. It had no classroom, no table, no chair, no blackboard. She picked up a stick and before a group of curious children who had never seen the inside of a school, she began to write the Bengali alphabet on the ground.

Within a few days, some rickety furniture appeared; someone donated a blackboard and chalk. Lay teachers from the Convent soon volunteered to teach. Her little school in Motijhil became reality. And soon there was a school in Entally. A tiny dispensary followed, stocked with a few basic medicines cajoled from chemists. Bengali-speaking Teresa discovered she could multi-task, and her disarming charm and directness moved people to want to help her.

Her early admirers included the legendary Chief Minister B.C. Roy’s family members. In later years the equally legendary Jyoti Basu lent her his shoulder. Till the end she invariably prefixed the words ‘my friend’, whenever she spoke of the latter. In the years in between, the Calcutta Statesman began to follow her activities. Her name became known outside Kolkata when the Indian government awarded her the Padma Shri at a ceremony where she arrived matter-of-factly in a van and at which she moved many to tears.

As a Hindu, armed only with a certain eclecticism, I found it took me longer than most to understand that Mother Teresa was with Christ in each conscious hour, whether at Mass or with each of those whom she tended. It was not a different Christ on her crucifix and a different one who lay dying at her hospice in Kalighat. Neither existed without the other; they were both one. There could be no contradiction in her oft-repeated words that one must reach out to one’s neighbour. For Mother Teresa, to love one’s neighbour was to love God. This was what was essential to her, not the size of her mission or the power others perceived in her. She explained this to me simply but meaningfully when she said, “We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful.” In her life, Mother Teresa exemplified that faith: faith in prayer, in love, in service, and in peace.

(Navin Chawla is the Chief Election Commissioner of India and the biographer of Mother Teresa.)



http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article9166.ece?homepage=true

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