Another Year….

No matter how much one may love to travel, they still like to come back home….

Again and again every day I fall in love with this city just the same! It is exciting to go away and so so assuring to return…. that I could go to places just for that feeling of coming back!

There are stray evenings when I just walk alone by the side of flowing traffic…. watching intricate tree canopies turning dark against gold and purple sky….. Air is so warm and crisp with just a hint of winter fading away into spring…..And it is scented with profuse mango blossoms when slight breeze rustles through….

On weekends when I drive out, my loved hills are flaunting deep pinks of bombax and fiery reds of erythrina…. How could one doubt why the flowers are named after slow burning flames….like a devoted offering to some unknown deity of trees!

Since  who knows when, I have been measuring years in these blossoms…. and wonder every time I watch them, all wide eyed in amazement, has another year really passed me by?! Is it already time for another blossom?!

So much changed in the mean time….. Something gained and something lost…. and some things that never never change!

The city is still flowing by….absolutely undisturbed by my thoughts of aging!

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INR 1000 to 40… A food journey

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Typical road scape in Auroville….

No matter what, life is often nothing but a food journey. From one meal to another, we survive on hope and promise of the next repast! One could write a travelogue through many perspectives, but food seems like the most appropriate spoon to share this soundhidian experience with yeh all!

It is an ancient faith that the divine mother takes care of your basic needs like food. It means that the man need not worry, work and covet for the next meal. His life is for a greater purpose. The survival part will be taken care of as long as he is “useful” to run the machine of this world…as long as he is doing is first duty of evolving into a better being. It is not just a faith or mythical belief but a crude universal law of usefulness! Some call it the universal energy or the holy mother Mary or the divine mother, goddess Kali, Guadeloupe, mum, aunt, grandma….and so on. The variables in this equation change but the constant remains the same, that we are fed!!

And so was I fed for last 12 days by the many forms of divine mother! It is an interesting account that connects tummy with heart…spirit with intestine!!

During one week at Auroville, most of my day was spent in lectures, case studies, studios and a ginormous stack of books to be finished in such little time. In addition to intellectual gymnastics, I also had to spend first couple of days in trying to get the map straightened in my head, balancing a torch and bicycle at once and such other skills. There was no time to look around for places to eat, though Auroville holds a unique range of restaurants for those who have ample time to bicycle through the woods searching for hidden food heavens!

Stone-like bread splattered with butter and marmalade was my permanent dinner plan. I followed it religiously every night, sitting in a clearing carved out of books and notes spread on the floor! There would be exotic music drifting through the open windows, along with clouds of mosquitoes, I must add, since the windows had no idea of closure at all! French, Italian, Greek or sometimes Middle Eastern folk music was the only variable ingredient of my dinner!

Though when I think of that one week, all I remember is the bright library of the earth institute, quite, except the chirping squirrels and soulful cries of peacocks….soft wind rustling the foliage, sending an array of dancing shadows through leaf- filtered sunlight! The smell of rows after rows of finest books in the world, disturbed only by wafting cups of real south Indian coffee twice a day!

Lunch at the institute is crazy time when all the international pack of students gathers around an international food fest! There is dosa in coconut milk, sometimes a tamil version of chappathy, as they call it! I thought I reached the ultimate global food unity when I was served pasta and samabaram in the same plate!

Accepting that the lunch was the only time I could get a real meal, I thanked the divine mother who had then appeared in the form of “Anjani” amma at the institute! She served with a smile whatever crazy combination lunch was made for us! She would save some for me, in case I spent too much of the lunchtime in the library…

After spending a studious and hungry week at Auroville, finally I grabbed my chance to escape to Pondicherry. First thing I did was finding an authentic Tamil restaurant! Idli wada sambaram and a hot cup of kwaapi was my contemporary definition of heaven! Mere smell of curry leaves afloat in sambaram can change one’s perspective about life!

The driver was smart enough to gauge the silent foodie occupying the back seat, so he drove me to a fine French restaurant for the lunch. It was run by a French architect who, naturally hails from Auroville again! Admiring the ambiance that was casual and tastefully aesthetic at the same time, I settled in a comfortable corner cane couch! An excellent fish cooked in French basil sauce, mashed potatoes, vegetables and rice served with a glass of decent French wine. Divine mother looked very inconspicuous as a tamil server, suggesting me the best on the menu! I like her as long as she feeds me with that charming smile!

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Massive wind chime at the Visitor’s Center, auroville

My time in Auroville finally came to an end with a quick excursion through the town and the beach. It was an absolutely unplanned and obvious thought to spend my last evening in Auroville, at the visitor’s center restaurant, an elegantly structured court surrounded with boutiques and brick arches. The sun was setting beyond high masts of palm trees, there was happy bauble of diners around me, a tiny candle fluttering inside paper lantern on my table, a glass of pomegranate juice and a piece of cake to go with a book about Aurovilliean perspective of education!

Divine mother feeds not just our stomach but our spirit as well…. That evening will remain in my heart forever, like a caress of a loving mother, smile of an appreciative teacher and a warm handshake with the future!!

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A kairali breakfast is incomplete without banana!!

Her lovely care does not leave me even when I leave the mystical land of Auroville. I reach Trivandrum after a day spent with cold airline sandwiches; throw my bags in a hotel and dash to the nearest diner! A sweet mallyali lady welcomes me with a whiff of jasmines in her hair, and looks up intently at my face…. I am not sure I can hide long spells of hunger very well! When she serves a heap of rice with sambaram and typical kairali chutneys, she smiles at me again and adds two pieces of fried fish that I never asked for! We do not really need a language to communicate, my half smile and teary face says everything that was to be said…..

Trivandrum auto drivers are not so gentle though, they drive like a charging bull in an arena! But I must admit that my Laurie Baker pilgrimage in Trivandrum would have been hopeless without their unmatched skills of finding strangest of addresses! This auto driver too soon figured out that the best way to coax a good tip out of me was to drop me to the best food place he could!

On the way to Kanyakumari I slept careless as a child… too full to stay awake! The calm salty breeze from kovalam beach was adding another sedative to my brain…. Once in a while if I woke, I could see a solid wall of green passing by the car window…. Endless coconut orchards make you dream green even in your sleep, I assure you that!

Reaching the quiet serene campus of Vivekananda Kendra was like smoothly drifting from one dream into another. After a strict scrutiny of my documents and probably ancestry too, VK administration consented me to stay with them. In spite of initial strictness, eventually these people loved me and fed me like I was their immediate family! The VK canteen, GouriSankar restaurant is an odd place where all sorts of VK guests and life workers dine together. The manager smiled and showed me a table, and I felt easy, belonged, not a stranger anymore! The so-called limited rice meal was definitely more than my appetite. But the servers rushed again to offer more rice when I had managed to empty my plate with immense effort. What was the idea behind limited meal really, to overfeed?! The manager even offered me a banana, for good digestion, he said, munching one himself!

I never mind having a meal alone because it allows me to read simultaneously. Somehow everyone at VK restaurant found that very quaint. Saying that “You have a very good vibration” is their style of appreciation! Honestly, I am no expert on classifying people by their “vibrations” but the restaurant manager sure is!

I met a Malaysian lady who had grasped her Chinese New Year leave to escape to VK for a spiritual retreat, and a VK life worker who runs a facebook community for spiritual aspirants. Ticket man at the Vivekananda Exhibition blessed me that I would be a “top architect” one day, though I tried to explain to him that there is nothing like a “top architect” in reality!

Often when you speak plain, unglamorous truth, people think you are too modest. Then there is no option left to you than wearing the hat of greatness. It is not a flattering feeling, just too sweet sugary syrup that leaves a bitter aftertaste….

I hoped that it was their innocent goodwill and it need not be destroyed with my harsh frankness. It is simply good to turn deaf when your limit of endurance is reached. These people approached me with a smile and treated me graciously for no reason at all. There cannot be any motif, anything for them to gain from me. I was just a guest, who would be gone in another couple of days. But surprisingly I was not a stranger to them. Probably my “vibrations” were good!!

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VK NARDEP Campus

The main point of my visit to VK was to meet Vasudev ji, who is a secretary of VK’s Natural Resource Development Project, NARDEP, a fine man with multilingual skills who speaks about organic architecture, as a delightful life experience. Meandering through the campus of Technology Research Center, which took shape under his able hands, is a model experiment of sustainable architecture. The office in charge of TRC is a slight lady, sister Saraswathi. The moment when I met her first she was frying papadam in the backyard of Center’s kitchen, singing a “hari-song”! Saraswathi akka sent me to have a look at the campus and then ordered me to return to the kitchen for lunch. I tried to refuse politely, saying that I could go back to the VK canteen. And she turned to me with her eyes wide and yeah, quite scary, “when divine mother says you should have lunch with us, you do not object”. I had nothing to say in reply. I helped her in the kitchen, to serve plates and to clean, hoping that the divine mother would not stare at me again with those dark eyes widened with anger!

She was pleasant once I settled to stay for lunch, said that Pune was an atrocious city. I agreed instantly, wholeheartedly! She said that architects were pests! I nodded to that as well! And so we went on in perfect harmony! I even learned bits of Tamil under her rule! Kunjum meaning little, modu meaning buttermilk and podum meaning enough…. And here I must say podum to my Tamil vocabulary!

Slowly I saw her world unfold around me. Her trees, her people, her trainees, her kitchen, her birds and kittens! She loved all, including me. Saraswathi akka was the one who brought me to realize essence of this travel. It was through her words that I touched the shocking realization of how and why I was fed. not just in last two weeks but throughout my life. The meal may cost me a thousand rupees, forty rupees or just an angry look, but I am fed every day. There must be some reason to it, I wonder…..Image

Imprints of places…

Every place….every city and every village has its own distinct weave…. And she displays a unique side of her self to every traveler, who treads the soils her paths…

Every city and village I believe is like a bollywood actress who changes her attire five times in a single song!

Delhi....

Delhi, the heart of India…. Her all faces are enticing gestures of a flirty north Indian maiden! Twisting bazaar lanes of old Delhi those are ornate with all sorts of merchandise to lure women of all age!! Wide plush landscaped roads of capital city, New Delhi….

Rashtrapati Bhavan….with its wide gardens…Sight if India gate through morning mist… and her beating vein of metro-lines…

Delhi is inspiration of so many literary pieces, verses and movies….but for me…Delhi dwells in Karol bagh lanes…clad in vibrant colours, twisting and wandering through lanes…glittering with jhumkas and everything! Her rhythmic steps flaunting jutti!!

Amritsar....

Amritsar…is holy land of the Sikhs, the place where the Sikh epic of faith and perseverance starts. Each moment in the golden temple is mystic for every one who enters it, whether a religious soul or atheist…. Golden temple embraces all in its golden glow…. Forever on chanting of bhajans and devotional songs….saints and gurus wearing white… devotees, old and young, newly wed couple …everyone comes there to bow their heads in front of revered Guru…

Through all the glimpses of Amritsar, one that drifts first to my eyes is that of one old grandpa….who was doing service in the temple. His simple welcoming smile and childlike innocence so mismatched to his robust appearance!

Mumbai...

He stood in the premise of temple, giving out “prasaad” in disposable bowls pinned together from leaves…. Chanting name of god he smiled at everyone, as if he could see god in each person passing by…. His smiling face is all the essence of Amritsar for me…..

Mumbai… One cannot think of Mumbai without its spiky skyline….without bustling markets and buildings of British elegance in south Mumbai… without her new jewel of the sea-link… Whether in British times or in present days…Mumbai still wins the crown of marvel in man’s engineering skills! She holds half the wealth and charisma of this nation on her tiny sea-fronted land…..

Goa….it unavoidably brings scenes of beaches lines with palms…and the temple of Goddess Mangeshi…. I can still smell sweet smell wafting from amboli, a kind of pancake prepared with fermented rice flour and coconut milk, when I think of Goa….

Chennai...

Chennai….had won me over in the first look of the railway station, I must accept! But when I think of Chennai, first glimpse that flashes to my eye is that of a curt madrasi uncle in traditional white wrap standing next to his plush car, with an air of elite unconcern about the world!

The warm smell of filter coffee on Chennai station….. “quaaapi” as the most southies pronounce it!! That small quiver tone on “quaaa” is matchless! Just to hear that coffee call again, I wish to go back to Chennai!!!

Mahabalipuram reminds me of lazy foggy morning around the Shore temple….. The streets overflowing with stone sculptures….. It is indeed a place to worship god through stone! All forms that god may have taken to bless his devotees; these artisans have tried to worship them all through their chisels!

Madurai has a special place in my heart…. A treasure kept safe in my memory is the city of madurai. It is special for me to write about her….like revealing this most treasured glittering diamond.

A fresh clear morning…. I woke up with heavy bells ringing in distance…. And the first sight to my eyes was the aerial view of the meenakshi temple lit up for morning rituals….. Bells could be heard clearly through the winter cold air…..I did not know if I was awake in reality or I had dropped into another dream…..

Madurai....

Elegant gopuram lit up early in the morning….still glows in my vision, even today….

The fantasy day that started with the goddess calling out to wake me up preceded the same texture of madurai! Those few minutes in garbhagriha of the temple….the Goddess glowing in sacred chamber… clad in ornaments and flower arrangements….she smiled. Her prowess to mesmerise my mortal eyes……cannot be compared to any other attraction!

When I think of madurai….I remember the sharp glittering diamond nose-pin of that goddess….

Its brilliant reflectance had caught me off my guard…..and since then I am still musing about the mesmerising smile of the Princess of Madurai, Goddess Meenakshi….

All these places will have different images in everyone’s mind. I am sharing with you the images that I carry in my heart…. And I am eager to know what imprints you carry with you….may be of these places or some other places as well….

I have not travelled far and wide….it is only few places…few imprints that I have shared here. That only reminds me that there is so much to see…so much to reach out to…

Don’t you too feel that?!