God’s Eye

The World is changing fast and so is the nature. And, looking at the rapid depletion of our natural resources, I wonder if the Mayanโ€™s theory of the Doomsday on the 21st December, 2012 will really hold true. Maybe the nature will show its fury and gulp us all in one go (hehe, like in a fantasy novel, huh ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) Oh but, hey hold on! Why am I even saying all these? Greenpeace has been warning us about the El Nino, climatic changes, melting ice-caps, deforestation etc for years, isnโ€™t it?

Anyway, I digress. Back to what I was saying, todayโ€™s post is not about all of those (I hope youโ€™re still reading ๐Ÿ˜‰ or heyyy! You dozed off already??!!ย  C’mon!!) Some days back on the 3rd of July, 2012 I experienced a very unusual phenomenon. It was a full moon night, and here in India there was a small festival called Guru Purnima (Ehh! What did you think? That I was gonna talk about vampires and devils ๐Ÿ˜€ ) I was just about to go to bed when I thought of going to the verandah and inhaling some fresh air. And, as I looked up, I was stunned! I quickly ran inside, got hold of my camera and took this picture.

โ€˜Guru Purnimaโ€™ is derived from the Sanskrit words โ€˜Guโ€™ which means darkness or ignorance, and โ€˜Ruโ€™ which means remover of the darkness. So one who removes the darkness of our ignorance is a Guru. And on this day, disciples pay respect or homage to their Gurus. Although frankly speaking, I do not see this festival celebrated with much pomp and gaiety in most of the parts, and also the institutions and offices remain open, so itโ€™s more like a normal day.

Back to the picture. I used a basic kit lens so it didnโ€™t give much of an opportunity to bring the whole moonโ€™s โ€˜smiling faceโ€™ into the picture ๐Ÿ˜€ so I had to lay on the floor. By the way, I am pretty sure you now know why I named this post โ€˜Godโ€™s Eyeโ€™. If you look carefully (by โ€˜carefullyโ€™ I mean go at least 2 feet away from you computer screen ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) youโ€™ll be able to see a BIG EYE (one thatโ€™ll poke its nose onto you ๐Ÿ˜€ ) with the full-moon as its pupil and the rainbow-coloured iris on the outer end. And so, I laid on the floor and took another picture. Ahh! This one came out better ๐Ÿ™‚

And as I lay down there to click one or two more pictures, a hostile ant found my ear hole and probably thought it was its resting cave for the night ๐Ÿ˜‰  so I had to dispose off that idea (Thanked God it wasnโ€™t a baby elephant ๐Ÿ˜€ ) I sat there for some more minutes, and enjoyed the โ€˜Godโ€™s eyeโ€™ view and finally it was time for me to retire for the day. A wonderful day, indeed!

The Miracle

Before I start this post, I have some questions for you. When was the last time you think a miracle occurred in your life? Another question that I would ask, at times when you are highly annoyed by this or that in life, which is that place you go to? In other words, what do you really do to cool off your head? The terrace-top has always been one of my favourite places that makes me feel comfortable and feel free. Maybe because there’s only the open sky above my head and it reminds me of free thinking and freedom, or maybe because there’s always air blowing there, and the feeling of air hissing on my hair with my eyes closed gives me a Zen feeling about life.

Now, let’s travel back to the summers of 2010 when a small incident took place. I had gone home on one of the semester breaks after my Engineering studies. My grades in one of the subjects hadn’t come out very well. Not that, that I was a topper whole of my life, ๐Ÿ˜›ย  but parents have heavy hopes from their children (and I think it’s true all over the World, isn’t it?), and so I got a good scolding from my mom and in the process I had lost my temper and I badly needed to go somewhere away to cool my head off. A cultural cue here: In India, youngsters have deep respect for their parents and so, it’s very unlikely that someone will shout back at his/her parents. As the terrace was the only place I could go and have some free thoughts, I went away. I sat there for about an hour, when suddenly a “Miracle” happened.

Beautiful dragonflies started circling over my head and gradually the terrace was filled with hundreds of them. For all those people who might have read Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist“, will surely understand what I am about to say. All these beautiful, tiny creatures seemed to be good “omens” to me. I was more surprised because dragonflies, which otherwise are skittish and fly away the moment you try to make a connect, had started playing with me. And in the process, I had forgotten everything about my altercations with my mom. I quickly ran downstairs and brought my sister’s DSLR. These jittery angels were still there, although quite curious about the newbie, the black-bodied instrument on my other hand. I finally managed to make a wonderful connect with one of them and get this shot.

And as they say, patience and timing are two key things you need to get good shots, I tried my best to give my best. You will be quite amazed, or maybe even shocked to know that I was on my toes for a continuous 8 minutes to get the above shot. More-so, I was standing on the top of a stack of shaky bricks, which would at any moment send me to the hospital with a fractured leg. I am sure, I somehow acquired the tenacity of a Yogi during those 8 minutes. ๐Ÿ˜€ But, as they say, some things are just worth it!! I just hope my mom doesn’t read this because I am sure, this time it will be her who will want to send me to the hospital, if she gets to know the behind-the-scene story ๐Ÿ˜€

For all those still wondering why I named this post, “The Miracle“, I think a day that was so worse and it changing to a day where you felt bright sunshine come into your life, I think that definitely has all the ingredients for it to be called a miracle. Moreover, you must have noticed in all my posts until now, I try to throw-in a cultural cue. Hehe, maybe today I would like to end by saying that most of the Indian moms are very strict (and, you definitely have to score some really good marks to keep them happy all the time. Damn!) ๐Ÿ˜€

Hanuman : The Monkey God

It’s the weekend, you haven’t planned out anything and all you’re doing is idly sitting in your crib, bored and uninterested. What would you do? I walk ๐Ÿ˜› Yeah, you heard me right. I walk. But hey, you don’t just go anyyyy-where. You at least plan out before you go somewhere, right? Nope, I just keep walking! Unplanned and clueless ๐Ÿ˜€ I like to walk, and I like to travel to new directions and explore new places. By the way fellas, what do you do? I am sure, you don’t just WALK or graze away somewhere unknown! {like a cow does ๐Ÿ˜€ }

So last weekend, I started in the direction of the main road hoping to find an interesting place. Everyday I come through this same road, but due to the hustle-bustle of the daily life, its quite humane to miss out on interesting things along the way. So after walking for about half an hour, I saw this really beautiful and colourful temple. I knew, it was my day to explore this place of beauty. By the way, I had also added this picture in my very first post.

When I reached the gates of the temple, I found some ice-cream wallahs sitting beside a big banyan tree sheltering from the heat of the late afternoon. For all those who don’t know, ‘ice-cream wallahs’ is the Indian derivative of the coloured Popsicle vendors. I was dismayed to hear from them that the temple gates opened only at 1900 hrs in the early evening, and that meant I had to wait for about two and half hours [which obviously I wouldn’t do ๐Ÿ˜› ]. I found another small gate, which probably was meant for only staff members of the temple. I found no one to object me, and so I took my chance and sneaked in. Wow! It was beautiful. It was a Hanuman temple. Hanuman is the Indian monkey God. I took a close picture of Lord Hanuman doodled on the wall.

Many of you might be wondering who are those two people in his chest. Well, they aren’t people, they are Gods too – Lord Ram and Sita. Sounds funny, ehh? Gods inside Gods! ๐Ÿ˜€ Kinda like the Hollywood movie Inception, huh? ๐Ÿ˜€ Yeah man! India is full of these beautiful stories, and I personally believe it has tremendous potential of inspiring Hollywood with many of its legends ๐Ÿ˜‰ Jokes apart, let me tell you this wonderful story. But, before I quote the story, I am certain it would be quintessential to also tell you who Ram and Sita are, isn’t it? So look, Ram or Rama is this Indian Superstar, the equivalent to Chuck Norris ๐Ÿ˜€ย  … whoa … whoa … whoa … are you kiddin’ me??ย  … C’mon! Are you serious, you think I will be able to explain to you the whole world of the Indian legends?? No way!! Ahh anyway, for the records Ram is the avatar of the Indian God Vishnu {Now stop complaining, I already warned you there are thousands of Indian Gods ๐Ÿ˜‰ } and Sita is his wife. Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen …. please welcome another God … Hanuman!! ๐Ÿ˜€ And, so Hanuman is an incarnation of the divine and a disciple of Lord Ram. Below I exactly quote the story of Hanuman tearing his chest.

Once Sita, the wife of Lord Rama gave Hanuman a necklace of pearls. After a while, the residents of the city observed him breaking the necklace and inspecting each pearl minutely. Intrigued, they asked him the reason. “I am looking for Rama and Sita”, replied Hanuman. Laughing at his apparent naivety the spectators pointed out to him that the royal couple was at the moment seated on the imperial throne. “But Rama and Sita are everywhere, including my heart” wondered aloud the true bhakta. Not understanding the depth of his devotion, they further teased him : “So Sita and Rama live in your heart, can you show them to us ?” Unhesitatingly, Hanuman stood up and with his sharp talons tore upon his chest. There, within his throbbing heart, the astonished audience were taken aback to find enshrined an image of Rama and Sita. Never again did anyone make fun of Hanuman’s devotion.

So that was the brilliant story of devotion of Lord Hanuman. I wonder, what would happen if I did the same. Certainly a heart and the aorta and some veins maybe, I can guarantee that, haha ๐Ÿ˜€ So that was the story of Lord Hanuman. In case, you are interested to read more amazing stories about Hanuman, you can click here. And for all those of you very religiously-hearted, you know I was kiddin’ all along. So just in case, you’re offended, I whole-heartedly apologise for that!

And finally, I had my day and after sitting in the beautiful garden beside the temple for some time, I strolled back to home hoping that Lord Hanuman didn’t come and punish me at night! ๐Ÿ˜€

The Alchemist

When was the last time you read a story or watched a movie, and after some time you experienced something exactly like that? In other words, when was the last time you had a feeling of Dรฉjร  vu?

And so it happened, that I was travelling from Shimla to Manali in the winters of 2010. Shimla is a beautiful hill-station in India, similar to Manali. In fact, it is the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh. And hence, it attracts lots of tourists, and you can find the hustle-bustle of the city almost throughout the year. Also, the Englishmen who ruled India during the British rule, made Shimla their summer capital. That’s a reason you will find many ancient cottages and houses of British architecture. But, let’s not talk about Shimla now, because if I start expressing the beauty and colours of this pristine land, am pretty sure the Sun would already be shining again, and Neil Armstrong would have made his second attempt on the Moon ๐Ÿ˜€

In order to reach Manali, we had to take the Indian National Highway – 21 (NH-21). It is my personal preference to normally travel by road or rail because, you get to meet a lot of people in your journey, and that gives you some good opportunities to know the culture better and also to see a lot many things of the locals. True to that, that an air travel is much faster, but that is what it is. Moreover, its costlier too, man! My suggestion to you if you are travelling in India will be to either travel by train or the road (for short distances.) Am pretty sure, you would love to see so many new things. Also, cultures in India change around every 500 kilometers, so it will be that you won’t even have had the time to soak-in a new culture, that another will await you the next 5 minutes ๐Ÿ˜‰ So, while on my road journey, which was about 273 kilometers (170 miles approx.), I came across so many different cultures. It was really hard to soak in all at one time. Somewhere, the women would have these big-big nose-rings, with a heavily coloured cloth on their head, and then only after a 5-minute drive, the rings would exchange places to the ears ๐Ÿ˜€ I was lucky enough that the car driver kept reiterating all the stories of these locales. Suddenly, after about half an hour of round and round travel through  those narrow mountainous roads, I came across this BIG flock of sheep.

It was almost sunset, the Sun was sinking and there was a bit of dust in the air, and guess what …. the car was surrounded by a huge flock of sheep. All that I could hear was the “Baaaa…..baaaa…baaa” …. sheeps bleating all around the car. We were covered all around. Seemed to me that probably the sheeps were telling the car-driver to get out, so that they could drive and give Michael Schumacher a run for his money ๐Ÿ˜€ Hehe, finally I spotted the shepherd a few metres away, and he helped the sheep move back away from the car. As our car stopped, I turned around. Wow! What a view!! It was as if the World stopped in front of me!

The Shepherd and his flock of sheep

The Sun shone high, once again. All that I could think at that moment was of Santiago. All of you who must have read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist  will surely know what I am talking about. I went towards the shepherd, smiled and said a soft hello. We conversed for about 5 minutes. I asked him, where his home was. Everything of what he said, seemed exactly as what I had read in the book. The feeling of Dรฉjร  vu. He had no home. He had only one purpose in his life. Travel. Travelling was all that he knew, and these sheep were all that he had. Maybe he was following his dream. Or, maybe seeking an unearthly treasure. He didn’t talk much, but occasionally smiled. Finally, it was time for me to leave. I waved and said good bye. “Wow!! That surely was an amazing feeling“, I thought to myself. I had met the alchemist. While returning to the car, I saw this wild dog and clicked a few shots.

The mountain dog

Back in the car, the driver told me that these wild dogs are even meaner than wolves. They know only their masters and their only purpose is to protect the sheep and not let them get away. And that they got threatened when any stranger would come near them. “Thank God, I am in one-piece”, I thought ๐Ÿ˜€ I had gone way too close to take a shot. But anyway, c’mon it doesn’t look like a Tiger, ehh? Finally, as the dusk was falling, we sped fast to reach Manali, and in all that time thinking only about one thing — I had met The Alchemist.

The Silent Whispers …

In the December of 2010, I got this wonderful opportunity to visit the ‘beauuuutiful‘ hill-station town of Manali. Manali is a small town in the Northern part of India, in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. It’s a famous tourist place and a hill station with really peaceful and beautiful people. I call them ‘beautiful’ especially because, apart from having very warm hearts, most of the people there have these appealing ‘rosy cheeks’ ๐Ÿ˜€ Don’t get me wrong, but maybe its because of the climate, or their cheeky genes! Or maybe because they chew on a lot of apples all fresh from their orchards there ๐Ÿ˜€ (Would be wrong to make it a generalization, though)ย  And, I am sure everyone will be mesmerized by their helping and down-to-earth attitude.

Talking about climate, I bet you India has a lot of extremes all around. You maybe shivering {or, maybe also on the verge of dying ๐Ÿ˜€ } when you’re in Kashmir. It hits -30 degs below zero sometimes. And, in the same day at the same time your friend down in South India might be ‘sweating’ profusely, like a pig ๐Ÿ˜€ย  And, I am telling you, I have an experience of both. So its always better to do some research before going to places.

Back to Manali now. You will find a lot many Buddhist monasteries, and also some ancient temples. One day, while walking on the street for about an hour, I stopped inside a makeshift restaurant. The chilly wind, did little to keep me warm and so I ordered a cup of Chai. Chai is the Indian name for Tea. I stroke up a conversation with a man sitting across me. I got to know from him that Manali was also known as the ‘Valley of Gods‘. According to Indian mythology, there was a sage named Manu who had stepped from his ship into Manali after whole of the Human race was destroyed due to the Great floods. It was after the sage that this place was named. His story sounded similar to the Hollywood movie 2012. I was pretty confused as to whether this man was mocking me with his own made-up story ๐Ÿ˜€ I couldn’t stop myself from asking him,ย  “Hey man, are you kiddin’ me? You must be talking about the movie, right? and cooking up this story. Also, I believe 2012 has surely inspired you way too much” ๐Ÿ˜€ He gave me a gentle smile, and then said “Son! That’s the story of Manali. We heard it from our fathers and fore-fathers and that’s how it passes from one generation to the next”. He gave this innocent look, and I could do little to not believe him. At times, I really feel so foolish, either Hollywood is making a mockery of the mythological stories or the locals are ๐Ÿ˜€ But, naah I had to agree to what he said. He seemed to be a good man. And thus we chatted for about half an hour more.

Finally, when I thought it was time, and stood up to leave, I could hear the gongs of bells coming from somewhere nearby. I sat again and asked him, what these sounds were. He told me that just 100 metres from here, there was a Buddhist monastery. The smell of the incense sticks livened up the atmosphere. Wow! what more can you expect apart from a cup of hot tea in this chilly atmosphere and the smell of the fresh incense sticks. The feeling was awesome. I thanked him for his time and started walking. I was pretty excited as I could feel the hymns as I came nearer. Finally, I entered the huge gates. Just outside the pagoda, there was a woman sitting alone. I was curious what she was doing.

I went to her and saw her holding a Buddhist Mala or a rosary. A mala or a rosary is used to keep count of the number of times you recite the hymn or the chant, the mantra. The most commonly used mala contains 108 beads made of Tulsi wood, although malas made of many different materials can also be found. Some of the malas also contain more or less beads, but normally are in multiples of 9. I didn’t know why it was only “108”, and so a quick Google search tells me this as the reason . Now, you might be wondering how I know so much about these rosary beads. I have a funny story here.

When I was a really small kid, I was sitting on my mom’s lap in one of the store-rooms. She was delicately cleaning some stuff that she thought, she would put in the living room as ornamental decoration. She opened a box, and inside it were about 7-8 malas that others had gifted her. While she was cleaning, I picked up one with bigger beads and put it in my pocket, without her noticing. I still kept sitting there, and my mom told me how and when these delicate things were used. Earlier the previous day, I had actually lost my ball in the gutter, so I had nothing to play with ๐Ÿ˜‰ Finally, when I was alone, I pulled the mala from my pocket and kept on staring at it for about 5 minutes. The innocent mind in me started thinking, “Wow! I had lost just one ball. Now, I have 108 balls to play with (literally speaking so as to say) ๐Ÿ˜€ And BOOM !! I pulled apart the string, and one by one all the beads started falling. Fact is, after almost 16 years from when it happened, I still have one bead as a prized possession that reminds me of that innocent and naughty childhood, haha PS ~ I just hope my mom isn’t reading this !! ๐Ÿ˜€

Okay, so back to the monastery now. I watched as the lady continued her prayers and then she picked up the rosary bead and started with her soft hymns (which I couldn’t hear BTW!) I walked up to her, and asked her what she was doing. She didn’t reply. At first, I thought I was disturbing her. And so I waited for another 2 minutes. As I slowly grew impatient and irritated that she didn’t answer me for so long, I was about to go. Just at that moment, I found what it really was. There are some Buddhist monks and nuns that take their vows very, very seriously! They don’t speak at all!! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ All of you who must have watched the movie “Hangover Part 2” will surely know what I am talking about. Immediately, I turned back and she was smiling. Maybe, I had made the connect, or maybe she did ๐Ÿ˜‰ And it was then that I realized that at times, we humans are so full of our own thoughts that we completely forget, that there’s also another side of the story. I signaled to her that I was taking her picture. She didn’t mind. I clicked. Then, I bowed and thanked her. She smiled. I left this beautiful, spiritual lady in her zen world and felt good that she had taught me a lesson for the day. And then, I walked from there hoping that a new story awaited.

The Journey Begins !!

โ€ฆ laces tied โ€ฆ bags packed โ€ฆ and I am ready for the ultimate hop โ€ฆ and as ย Neil Armstrong would say โ€œOne small step for a Man, a giant leap for Mankindโ€.

Namaste ๐Ÿ™‚ and a very warm welcome to Hopping Across Cultures. I know that my brothers and sisters in Europe and the Americas would be smiling, as my warmโ€™nessย  is doing rather too less a thing to prevent the cold waves from hitting, but you get me. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And at the same time, I thank you from the core of my heart for accompanying me in this journey, and I hope you enjoy every moment of it.

This being the first post, let me begin by saying what โ€˜Namasteโ€™ really is! You will be shocked that most of my fellow-men use the word everyday, but donโ€™t really know its deeper meaning ๐Ÿ˜€ It goes something like this : โ€œThe divinity within me salutes the divinity within youโ€. In other words, it meansย  bringing the palms and fingers of your hands together, and bowing to the God in the other. The syllables โ€˜Naโ€™ and โ€˜Maโ€™ means โ€œNot Meโ€ and โ€˜Teโ€™ means โ€œThee or Godโ€. So, โ€˜Naโ€™ and โ€˜Maโ€™ refers to the ego that steps back in reverence to the God. So โ€œNamasteโ€ also reminds us that we should all treat each other with love and respect because that same God is in all.

Here, watch this :

Now, that you have watched the funny video by Pastor Smith, I welcome you once again. Namaste!

Being from India, and the World knowing India as a peaceful country with lots of colours and traditions, my first image is of a beautiful temple from Hyderabad. I will talk about it in a later post. Till then, I wish you the very best. Happy Journey!! ๐Ÿ™‚