Auspicious Visit…. Ganpati Bappa Morya

The most awaited and loved 10 day festival arrived with lots of joy and pomp. We welcomed the Elephant God; Lord Ganesh, Ganpati Bappa to our homes. 

Adorning the Lord Ganesha with flowers and a little love! The  decoration is a labour of pure love and devotion.

This is a Rangoli, a decoration done in front of houses during festivals and auspicious occasions to welcome prosperity to our homes. Rangoli colors are fine grounded rice flour of different colors.

The third days marks another divine visit from the sisters of Lord Ganesha; Goddess Gauri, Laxmi, Mahalaxmi are few of her names. The Goddess arrive in pairs with their two children. In some parts of Maharashtra she is also known as the mother of Lord Ganesha.

                                       Elaborate preparations and extensive decorations are made as her visit marks the visit of health, wealth, happiness and prosperity at ones home.

On the second day of the Goddess’s arrival an elaborate meal spread is presented to her that consists of 16 vegetables, 5 sweets, chutneys, 2-3 varieties of fried delicacies, rice, dal with the sumptuous heavenly smelling ghee.

An arti is performed to the divine guests requesting them to accept the food that is offered. Every one in the house prays for health, happiness, wealth and prosperity to always dwell in the house. 

  Then all the family members and the guests invited over for the puja sit down to have the prasad or the sumptuous meal and I can assure that this meal seems the most delicious with a dash of divinity!  

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Spiti, Acute Mountain Sickness and a Donation box!

                                                   Do you recollect the first thing your eyes meet when u first enter a mall, a hospital, billing counter of any departmental store or any religious place of worship? There is a common permanent member: a transparent donation box! A transparent donation box to show off all high denomination notes! The religious places of worship do not believe in show off hence; they have a metal donation box. Many times, this donation box is accompanied by a heart touching description or picture of a recent unfortunate event. Given the grandeur of the places where these donation boxes are found; I wonder if those people really need the donation money to help the cause.

                                               With this urban notion; my family and I had planned a trip to Spiti valley in 2018. Now Spiti valley is in Himachal Pradesh, India; and is a high altitude, cold mountain desert with very low levels of oxygen. Armed with the newly found knowledge from Google; we all set out; not bothering to understand what actually “high altitude, cold mountain desert with very low levels of oxygen” can do to us. I must mention our travel agent from Spiti Holiday Adventure informed us all about the challenges and how to be prepared for them, what to pack, precautions for AMS (Acute mountain sickness) etc.; however; I feel an urban person embarking on a holiday throws all caution to the winds!

                                                 We all flew to Delhi and travelled by road to Shimla. Reached Shimla at night had a homely dinner in a beautiful bungalow. The next morning, we opened our eyes to find ourselves in a Paradise! Our bungalow was beautifully nestled on a small hill surrounded by winding roads lined by beautiful pine trees and lovely colorful flowers. After a beautiful walk and a breakfast; our driver for the trip; Mr. Raju arrived. We all set out for Spiti Valley! Since ours was a road trip Mr. Raju kept us entertained with his stories about celebrity sightings. Spiti valley is a famous location for film shoots. He highlighted the fact that Akshay Kumar sat in his jeep and we are all sitting in the same privileged vehicle!

                                                         With local stories and beautiful views as our companions; we reached Kalpa (9711 feet); Lord Shiva’s summer home having majestic views of the Kinner Kailash range and Jorkandan Peaks right outside our hotel window. It was beginning to get extremely cold at nights for the month of May and there were no heaters in rooms as it was required that way for acclimatization. Hence thermals out. We enjoyed the beauty of the town and the next day set out for Tabo (12,000 feet). As we headed for Tabo we noticed that the landscape was changing, the pine trees had vanished, vegetation was getting scarce. Color brown had taken over the color green. And of course, the color blue; blue skies and blue river gushing with water of melted glaciers were constant companions. How not to mention the Himalayas! The mighty mountain stood with pride showing us different moods and colors of nature, some beautiful, some grim, some threatening; and we watched dumbfounded! Tabo has a 1010-year-old monastery; and awesome views to offer. From Tabo; my thermals gave up, and I kept shivering all night even with socks and gloves on. Our next stop was Dhankar (12,774 feet) which also has a beautiful monastery on a treacherous mountain top. From Dhankar, my personal misadventure started; I began feeling quite tired. I dismissed it as travel fatigue. We then reached Kaza (12,470 feet), here we were to stay put for 3 days to acclimatize. Clearly fate had other plans for me.

Kaza; Day#1: Now even the days felt increasingly cold for me. I was always under a jacket plus a thermal inner while my 6 yr old daughter roamed around in thermals without any complains. The mustard oil that I carried helped me survive the night in that heater-less room under loads of blankets. Next morning, sleep deprived, I still set out to follow our travel itinerary. Alas, the body doesn’t understand travel plans. Our trip for the day had just begun and I threw up. Our driver cum guide made an emergency stop-over; gave me tea and crocin and asked me to take rest. His attitude was way too casual and hence I thought I will feel better rather soon. We came back to our hotel as I threw up 3 more times. My husband informed the hotel staff and they were very helpful and kept assuring that its AMS and will pass. I kept throwing up almost every couple of hours and denied eating anything. The good hotel staffers kept checking on me. They brought me a tea made of fresh Himalayan berries every couple of hours. I write today that it tasted good, but then; it felt inhuman. Even worse; my husband ensured that I finish that tea.

Kaza; Day#2: The next day while I was confined in our room, the rest of the family left for the day, my husband decided to stay back and ensure I drink that tea. Our room was on the second floor and due to low levels of oxygen, climbing stairs was a mammoth task, hence I avoided it completely. From our hotel room window, we watched the sky change colors, the dust storm come and go, we could count the number of shrubs in the vast expanse of land, there were no trees. I could sleep a little during the day; at night the cold kept me stark awake and using the washroom at night was no less than a third-degree torture.

Kaza; Day#3: I had started eating but I felt very weak and kept throwing up frequently. The hotel staff then advised us to visit the hospital. As our driver/guide had taken the rest of the family for the tour of the day, the hotel arranged a vehicle to drop us at the government hospital of Kaza. The good driver gave us one of his mobile phones and asked to call him once we are done. In Spiti valley; no mobile service provider except BSNL works and we didn’t have the required one.

Kaza Hospital: For the first time in my life I stepped into a government hospital. For my expectations; it was very clean. There were clear arrows marked in English and Hindi to guide us to the OPD. A young doctor checked me and confirmed that I was suffering from AMS, she asked me to drink more water and prescribed few medicines and asked to collect it from the medicine counter. Before leaving we asked her about fees; she said, “No consultation fees, you can donate if you like.” We thanked her and left the OPD and decided to donate for the hospital. Following the same marked arrows; we reached the small window of the medicine counter. That guy handed us the medicines, explained how and when to take them. We asked him the total cost and he replied, “Medicines are free, you can donate if you like.” Now we were even more determined to donate however a donation box was no where to be found. We thought that we must have missed it at the entry. My husband went in search of the donation box as I wandered to a nearby temple. My husband came back after his search yielded no results. We again headed to the medicine counter and asked the guy about the donation box. Imagine our shock, even at 12,470 feet; he said the donation box is on the first floor! Shocked, surprised and weak; I simply stood there while my husband went up panting; to find the donation box and put something into it.

I really repent not being able to see that humble donation box!

                                                    These people’s simplicity, contentment and lack of greed despite their daily hardships in an extremely rugged terrain has floored me beyond measure. These qualities are so rare that it is very hard to believe they even exist. The more I try to forget this trip; the more I think about it. Returning for another visit to this place is a scary thought but the strange thing is that; I frequently have thoughts of re-visiting! I like it; in the mountains; they are so hugely enormous that they show us our insignificance. They teach us humility and once we submit our egos to nature; we achieve contentment and tranquility.

                                            Ruskin Bond has rightly put it in his book; Rain in the Mountains: Notes from the Himalayas: “It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.”

What’s in a Name…. 2 short stories #ZombieBlogHop

#1

I was a kid in school back then. Those good old days when children could complete their homework, play with friends, talk to their heart’s content and still find time to do other things….

I particularly enjoyed paying regular visits to my neighboring Aunty and spending time with her. We used to live in company accommodations in a remote location and the major source of entertainment we had there was socializing with the people around us who belonged to different states of India. Of course, I had a selfish motive too, Aunty had a color TV and we had a black and white one. Our black and white TV had strict timings as my brother, and I were students, but Aunt’s kids were all grown up and had left the nest. Hence the color TV was MINE and Aunty didn’t mind!

                            I enjoyed observing Aunty going about her usual business. As she was a Maharashtrian and I; a Bengali, I couldn’t help noticing how the same things were done differently by my mother and by her. Naturally my curiosity bombarded her with many questions which she was only happy to answer. She used to talk about cultural differences and how she adjusted to them. How she didn’t have a very luxurious childhood. How poor her parents were but very strict with her and her siblings. How she cared and nursed her younger brother when he was ill despite, she herself being very young. How she wanted to pursue her studies but had to get married. Stories about her friends who got married and had their names changed despite of not wanting to.

She remembered everything……

                             Here I interrupted; “What is this name changing business?” I asked; after all Bengali marriages had no such tradition. She replied that this is a Maharashtrian tradition where the groom can change the bride’s name as per his wish and asking for permission seemed unnecessary! I was a kid still couldn’t believe that someone wouldn’t even bother asking me if I am ok with my new name! In sheer disbelief; I asked her; did Uncle change her name too? To my horror she said “Yes”. I couldn’t believe the Uncle who was such a hit with kids; with us; could have done something like this! Aunty’s name is beautiful though; I asked her; what was her name before marriage?” She replied casually “Ohh, its being so long, I don’t remember!”

She didn’t remember……….

# 2

Life has a weird sense of humor! Many years later, I married my longtime friend, boyfriend; a Maharashtrian! Most of the marriage preparations were overseen by Aunty, Uncle and their children as my parents were not aware of Marathi rituals. My “name” was not changed, and I was happy and basking in marital bliss and decided to add my husband’s surname to mine. My husband agreed that I won’t be adding his name as my “middle name” and that I will also be retaining my maiden surname. Now I had to update my name in my office, in my bank accounts, PAN card etc. So, it was decided that the next day I would walk to my Bank with my marriage certificate and have my name updated.

                                  Life is always simple for the inexperienced! I had clearly underestimated the Bank’s resolve. As soon as the lady behind the counter heard my request, she replied with a firm “NO”, “You can’t have 2 surnames”, “Also no middle name?” “The form won’t be accepted as this is not a valid name”. Irritated I blurted out that; how then Madhuri Dixit Nene and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan have bank accounts? She replied, “They don’t have salary accounts in this branch, Mam.” Well, Of course.

She further challenged me, “Bring me your updated name in any government document and I will update your name here.” “Challenge accepted!” I told myself.

                                         I immediately applied online for name update in PAN card, they replied that they need another government document other than the marriage certificate with the updated name. My office admin guy asked me to change my name in the bank first to be able to get my monthly salary. So, end of road; a deadlock!

                                         Luck finally smiled in the form of the newly introduced Aadhar card. The lady at the Aadhar registration center didn’t find my name odd enough; though she still enquired about my husband’s name; she was the only one who took my marriage certificate seriously. At last, I had my name as I wanted it to be! The road ahead was easier and now I have my name as I want it to be even on my passport! Pat on the back!!!

The day my daughter is old enough to understand this, the day; girls, boys, men, women read this story and understand the seriousness of one simple thing; that all women have the right to decide their own names at least; my life will come to a full circle.

What’s in a name…. Well, I am sure Shakesphere must have lived in simpler times!!!