Mass Karma – the thread that links different lives

Some years back, I was traveling in Train No.6602 Mangalore – Chennai Mail when the train plunged into the Kadalundi river near Calicut, killing 52 persons. Even though I miraculously escaped, I could never sleep in peace for months/years thereafter. Many times I woke up with nightmares of the scenes I had witnessed during the accident. Even though I had no time to think while helping the many passengers in the heavy rain at that time, I also happened to witness many a heart wrenching scene. There was this young couple whose one and a half year old child had drowned. Then there was this Gulf returned youth who was visiting his parents after many years in the gulf – His relatives were asking as to why they had to wait for so many years to receive him at the airport just some hours back, only to see him die in that accident. Then there was this colleague of mine, Shri Gangadaran, who gave lunch to me that very afternoon – and in the evening, he was dead. Like this, there were many stories which I found very moving and touching.

I often wondered – Why should persons who have no connection at all with someone else, die together in a tragedy? I also heard of a story where some passenger, who was booked to travel by this train, was delayed heavily by some strange events at a temple – he was cursing his fate that he was wasting his hard earned money by not boarding the train and the next day, he saw the news and was relieved that he lost only money and not his life.

But all this, had set me thinking on the lines of Karma – I could understand individual karma where something happens to a person because of his past karma. But it took me quite some time to understand that the individual karma of many persons can combine to produce mass karma – and similar individual karmas somehow get together.

It was then, that I realized that almost everything in this world can be explained through the Law of Karma. Even a person who “heads” an organization carries the load of organizational Karma – and he/she also transmits his/her Karma to the organization, and vice versa.

The good and bad karma need not necessarily reflect the present personality – for example, a very evil person may experience a lot of good things even after doing evil because he/she may have a very good Karma from the past – and a very good person may suffer a lot because of previous bad karma – so the present personality is rendered irrelevant unless a person reaches a point in his/her life where the good karma equals bad – I believe such points are achieved by every individual – and such points in one’s life are some of the best periods – for marriage, new job, death of a relative, for a new venture, for remolding life, for a transfer, etc.

Karma guides various individuals in various time/space spheres – and at some place, one’s individual karma may overlap another – when this happens, mass karma is attracted. A group of individuals, who otherwise would have never traveled by Mangalore – Chennai mail, came together by the power of Karma – they traveled together by the power of Karma – their collective mass karma acted upon the various factor and the tragedy took place when the mass karma assumed the right proportion – Perhaps the place also has karma – the accident could have happened anywhere – why Kadalundi? – The answer lies in the karma that the place carries. (It is said that there is a small circle, with a diameter of about a feet, in a temple in Cannanore, Kerala, that has never seen death – this was a King’s wish which was granted by the Lord ) The combination of an individual’s karma with that of the place, jointly decide the person’s fate. In an accident, a person may die just out of shock, and another, may not die even after terrible physical injuries – according to their individual karma.

Since Mass Karma attracts individual karma of similar individuals, not only tragedies, prevention also can be attributed to mass karma. We have come across many averted disasters where the mass karma must have been very strong in preventing a disaster.

When 9/11 took place, even though it was a terrorist attack, there were reports of people who were saved by a second in the 9/11 disaster – again, perhaps, karma at work.

But such karma can only be explained by rebirth and theories of rebirth and reincarnation. It is believed that Napoleon, who vowed that he would destroy England, did exactly that when he was reborn as Churchill – it was during Churchill’s regime that the sun set over the British Empire when many English colonies gained freedom. Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda has said that Judas, who betrayed Lord Jesus, was reborn many times before he became a great saint many centuries after the advent of Jesus Christ.

Theories of Karma and Re-incarnation give hope to a suffering world – we can seek solace in such hopes that our next life on this earth will be better, by living righteously in this life, and that our karma will one day, save us….

Kali, the Mother

The terror and the fury

Of sickle and scythe –

Weapons of death and destruction

Dancing in her hands

Her bare breasts covered with blood

Still dripping from the severed head that she carries in her hand –

What terror she must infuse in the evil minds of evil men?

She annihilates the past, the present and the future,

As the presiding deity of Kala, time;

Her formless form pervades infinity,

Devouring the maya of time and space,

astride on the wings of Infinite knowledge;

In primal purity she stands, wearing nothing but

The fundamental elements of nature as her clothes;

Lord Shiva had to hurl himself on the ground

To stop her from destroying all creation

In mock regret she bites the tongue,

When her feet touches her lord’s inert body on the ground

What an excuse for the Shiva – Sakthi leela?

Fifty skulls adorn her neck

One for each character of the Sanskrit vowel, claim scholars

As if she belongs to a language!

Even if Sanskrit is heavenly, is she not the mother of the universe?

The mother of all, wicked or wise, weak or strong;

Her heart melts to true devotion, uncoated with egoistic and educated theology

Ferocious she may be,

She is still the loving mother of the world;

For all her ferocity, for all her intolerance of evil, and for all her Motherly Love,

She ever remains the Mystic Mother of the Cosmic Universe….

And yet, men paint her black and call her Kali.

( Navratri just got over. These days, the true meaning of Navratri celebrations is being lost in the commercial sellout of the festival. Hopefully, the real meaning will resurface after some westerner publishes a book about Indian festivals and their meanings……)

Note : The father aspect of God, the Father, and the mother aspect of God, the Mother, are two interesting concepts of Indian/Hindu faith. In this, the mother aspect of Kali, is most misunderstood as a primitive God, wanting sacrifices. On the contrary, we find great poets like Bharathi, Aurobindo, Tagore, Ramprasad Sen, Kamalakanta Chakravarti, Trailokyanath Sanyal, Kalidas, and Kazi Nazrul Islam inspired by the notion of the mother aspect of God, as MAA KAALI, or simply, MAA. To the Great Mother of this Cosmic Universe, the true symbol of feminine godliness, I humbly submit this poem.

Saying it when it matters…..

For more than forty years she had taken care of me, and not once had I said that I loved her. In our family, we don’t easily tell things like that. It is always in the background, and it is best left unsaid. We are not a very expressive family, and I have not hugged her much. Some years back when I hugged her on impulse, she said she felt good. From then on, I have been hugging her every time I met her.

My father was a very straightforward man, and very little money was there to take care of us eight children. She was always careful that no food gets wasted. Feeding a large family of 10 was no mean business, but she always managed to feed everyone without complaints. In fact, there were times when we had jokingly called her “Jesus” for her ability to feed the entire family with very little food, like some fish curry and a loaf of bread. She used to make small dishes out of leftovers. One of her favourite leftover dishes was the “paniyaram” – the bananas which go very ripe that they can’t be eaten, she used to mash them into a pulp, add a bit of sugar, salt and mix it with atta and fry them as doughnuts – It became a favourite dish between me and her, and since I was her last child, she always made it even with fresh bananas, just because I liked the paniyarams.

She was a pure vegetarian, but she always made very good Non-veg dishes for all of us. On my birthday, invariably she will send my elder brother Sharo to get crabs – for she knew I loved crabs. Only she could cook the crabs that way. I have traveled a lot in the last two decades to various parts of the country, but have never got to taste crab the way she used to make it.

When my father died, she took over the mantle of the head of the house without much ado, and did what was necessary. For more than 25 years, she never forgot even one Ammavasai day. Every Ammavasai day, she will make pumpkin, drumstick leaves or agathi keerai, and offer them to the picture of my father kept in the puja room. She will fast that day and will only eat a small portion of the prasad. All of us children will line up to pray and receive the prasad, a hand mixed mixture of all the rice and side dish that was offered. That prasad always used to taste different. Many a time, we children have tried the combination – But the taste of her hand mixed prasad always eluded us.

20 years back, when I joined Railways, I was feeling lost being in a large organization like Railways. I wrote to her that I felt “lost”. She sent me a card, of a picture of a wooded forest, with the words, “Sometimes if you don’t get lost, there’s a chance that you may never find your way” – That card adorned my table for many years till it got tattered.

All these memories came flashing as I raced to towards Chennai, as soon as I received the news that she was admitted in the hospital and that her condition was serious. At the hospital, I saw her connected with so many tubes and instruments. She was happy to know that I had come. She stayed in the hospital for a week and died. Just the day before she died, afraid that we were losing her, I held her hand, and told her, “Ma, I want you to know that we all love you very much” – She looked at me, her eyes moistened, and she said, “Yes, I know. That is why all of you are taking such good care of me”

Now, it is more than three years since she died, and I am ever grateful to God for having given me the opportunity to say that we loved her….. Every now and then, whenever I miss her too much, I remember that day of having told her that we love her, and that gives some relief. Saying it when it matters has become a very important thing to me now.

Hell hath no fury like nature scorned…..

Some time back, there was a discovery that the Global warming statistics and warnings itself were doctored by some people with vested interests. And suddenly, people all over are not so convinced about global warming and climate change, saying that the stats could be wrong, or that it is hyped. But whether they are right or wrong, one thing is for sure – Concerns about how exactly the world climate is going to behave in the next few decades, and how exactly it would impact the world, is here to stay.

Climate Change and Global warming – are the two key issues that the world has to deal with, collectively as well as on the individual level, in the days to come. 2012 is one popular movie that has fuelled the imagination of a world running amok with all kinds of fears. World Leaders of advanced nations are trying to lessen the impact of Global warming by adopting various strategies whereas developing and underdeveloped nations are asking the developed nations: Why should we alone be deprived of polluting the earth freely, whereas when you were developing, you had the whole wide world to pollute? Why should the rules be different when we are developing, as compared to when you were developing? That the developed world had one brand new world to pollute then, perhaps not knowing the consequences like global warming and climate change, and that the situation is completely different now, is escaping the less privileged nations.

The hold of oil over the world economy seems to be losing the grip increasingly to water. The new battleground, it seems, will be for water. Cities, especially in India, and other developing nations, are so busy undermining the groundwater resources that water tables are fast becoming hollow spaces, easy for seismological shifts to occur. Builders and real estate developers are making a fast buck, least bothered about the fact that concrete jungles are mushrooming like never before. High rise buildings are threatening the ecological balances like never before. All this and more, are the real concerns that the world has to look into. But unfortunately, the leaders are so busy readying themselves for a political dialogue with nature, which is never going to happen.

Nature is not going to sit and wait for us to start a dialogue. Nature knows that Man, with all his powers of science and technology, is nothing before its mighty powers. In answer to all the destructive things like pollution of the atmosphere, making animals and birds extinct, creating concrete jungles, denuding forests and destroying rich flora and fauna by quarrying mountains, Nature is responding in the only way it knows : Climate Change. Nilgiri Mountains in South India recently received 800 mm rainfall in one single day, an unparalleled gush of water from the heavens,that people were actually praying for the rains to stop. It did, after creating real havoc in the Nilgiri Mountains by landslides.

No longer do we see the ordinary swallows that adorned our window sills looking for food. For all we know, they might have already paid a price with their extinction, for our industrial advancement. Gandhiji was one person who knew the perils of industrialization, that he advocated self sufficiency at the village level. Villages are fast vanishing, and urban areas and cities are slowly swallowing the villages around its suburbs. All these and more, are the result of our ever growing neglect of nature. We yearn to control mighty nature – but when it hits back, like the 2006 Tsunami recently proved, we are nothing against nature.

We all wait for world governments to take the lead in resisting Global warming and climate change. We all hope that some nation, or leader, takes charge and battles climate change. Unfortunately, it is not going to be so, for any leader or nation to change or reverse what billions of people are doing around the world. The time has come for collective leadership and collective action – for that is the ONLY thing that is going to save planet earth from disaster. Every single individual who does countless things like taking a walk instead of the vehicle, or using public transport instead of private ones, etc, will be taking the lead in fighting global warming – the emphasis is more on individuals. Finally, Global warming and climate change has made the individual, very powerful – what he or she does determines whether the planet will be saved or not. And, given the grim scenario, No individual is going to do anything that will harm the planet he/she is living, once they know what each and every action of pollution, leads to. The onus, rests purely with the authorities, the organizations, and the MEDIA – to educate, and empower the ordinary citizen to know the ways and means to fight global warming. In this transformation, it is only the individuals who are going to matter, who are going to be affected. But unless they are empowered with the knowledge, unless they know, they are not going to act. And for them, to act, the media must use its powers of persuasion collectively, to ensure this transformation. But will the market driven media COLLECTIVELY do it for the sake of planet earth? Is the question.

Way back in the 1800s, the great explorer and writer Jack London tested the extreme depths of human emotions in journeys that he actually undertook and later wrote about. In his book, THE WHITE SILENCE, he writes about his solitary travel across Alaska, thus : “Nature has many tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity–the ceaseless flow of the tides, the fury of the storm, the shock of the earthquake, the long roll of heaven’s artillery–but the most tremendous, the most stupefying of all, is the passive phase of the White Silence. All movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and man becomes timid, affrighted at the sound of his own voice. Sole speck of life journeying across the ghostly wastes of a dead world, he trembles at his audacity, realizing that his is a maggot’s life, nothing more. Strange thoughts arise unsummoned, and the mystery of all things strives for utterance. And the fear of death, of God, of the universe, comes over him–the hope of the Resurrection and the Life, the yearning for immortality, the vain striving of the imprisoned essence–it is then, if ever, man walks alone with God.”

Jack London has shown years ago, what the media can do now.

Culinary Mistakes….

Nearly 18 years back, when I was working in Madurai and was a happy go lucky bachelor, I used to frequent all the nice eateries that Madurai offered, and I was a regular in some of the good hotels (both veg and non veg) I once had an occasion to order “Onion Rava Dosai” and was waiting for the crisp dosa when I was given a dour looking “Onion Uttapam” – “Excuse me, but I ordered for Onion Rava Dosa, not Uttapam” I told the waiter, who took back the plate, and holding it in his hand, yelled out, “Has anyone else ordered for Onion Uttapam?” and seeing no one evince interest, he disappeared into the kitchen, and after sometime, came with my Onion Rava Dosa.

Being an inquisitive chap, I enquired of him as to what became of the “Onion Uttapam” – “Oh, that! I ate it” – he replied and explained that if any waiter makes a mistake in their orders, they would have to “eat their mistakes” – Seeing the portly fellow, I assumed that he must be making a lot of such “mistakes”

When I got married 11 years back, I was given a taste of this philosophy when I was made to eat all the “culinary mistakes” of my wife. Thanks to her expertise in making culinary mistakes, I learnt a lot of foods that can be made without much strain, especially when I had to “redo” old excess food (a nice name for leftovers) with tips from my mother. Here are some of them:-

Leftover Idli Upma/Puttu: This is made when lots of idlis from the previous day’s breakfast are left over. The left over idlis are broken into very small pieces, and kept aside for sometime (Some people add a little bit of curd into the waiting idli pieces, although I prefer it straight) – The tawa is heated with a little oil, mustard seeds are put along with some karipatha (Karuveapilai) leaves and cut onion – when the onion is slightly brown, put a pinch of haldi and a little salt (remember, the idli already HAS salt) and mix it with the idli pieces nicely – if needed, sprinkle some water so that the your idli upma or idli puttu is ready.

Left over Roti Bhujia : In the same way, if a number of rotis/chappatis are left over from the previous night, break them into very small pieces (Some even mash them by giving a twirl in the mixer) Just as we make idli upma, the same procedure is followed : in a tawa, heat a little oil, put mustard seeds, karipatha (Karuveapilai) leaves are put along with cut onion, haldi and a little bit of salt and fried – Break one or two eggs (depending on the amount of chapattis/rotis – for two or three rotis, one egg would be fine) and scramble the eggs along with the roti/chappati pieces – your left over roti egg bhujia is ready.

Left over rice gruel: This is one of my favourite foods, although it is not recognized as a grand food, because of its poverty tag. In Tamil, we call it “Pazhayathu” meaning “old food”. If rice is left over, pour water on the rice and keep it soaked for the night (such a nice way of preserving food in the old days, when refrigerators were not there) – the water should be just enough to submerge the rice (If too much water is poured, sometimes it will spoil the taste) – In the morning, take the soaked rice after squeezing the water out, mix curd or buttermilk with cut raw onions, coriander leaves(optional) and cut green chillis (must), add salt and serve – Those who like it solid can make it solid, and those who want it more like a gruel can mix the water taken from the soaked rice (in Tamil, it is known as Kazhani thanni) and make it more liquidish and serve – This is one of the best foods for summer, my mother used to tell me.

Sweet Paniyarams: When very ripe bananas and fruits are left over, they can be mashed along with some gaggery or sugar, and mixed with wheat flour and a pinch of salt – it will be semi-solid pulp – which can then be fried as “Paniyarams” – This is a sweet dish mostly made for evening tea and such occasions. This is a dish that was made by my mother when I was very small, and it continued to be a tradition between me and my mother….

Set Dosai & Vada curry: There is a slight difference between the flours for making Idli, and Dosa. For Dosa, the ratio of rice: urad dhal is slightly different from that of Idli, and for Dosa, a little bit of Fenugreek seeds are added (For what this is added, I don’t know) – When the Idli/Dosa mix is left over and has become quite sour, then, thick dosas of small sizes are made, known as “set dosa” – why it is called so, I know not, but these dosas are normally served with vada curry. Again, the vada curry is a preparation made from left over dhal vadas. The dhal vadas are broken into small pieces and made into a fine curry. Many hotels serve this as a speciality!

Vada Curry: The left over dhal vadas are broken into small pieces and kept. In a tawa, a little oil, mustard seeds, cut onion, ginger garlic paste, turmeric powder, chilli and dhania powder, tomato, (some add curd also) and salt to taste is added and the broken vada pieces added with a little water. Some add minced coconut and tamarind paste in the end, whereas some do not add. Vada curry is one of the easiest things to make if you have left over dhal vadas.

Dahi Vada/Rasa Vada: If you have made a lot of Urid Dhal Vadas for any occasion and they are left over, then take the vadas, soak them in hot water for some time, and then squeeze the water out of them (We must be careful or else it can become dissolved in the hot water – so duration of soaking should be very minimal) then, if you want to make Dahi Vada, put the vadas in thick dahi, and add some chat masala on top. If you want Rasa Vada, then, put the vadas into hot Rasam cups. This dish makes for good evening snack.

So far, I have been telling only about left over foods. How to cook foods which don’t get left over? That is something my spouse is yet to learn. However, I shall share recipes which have been taught to me by my mother. She’s not alive today, but by sharing her recipes, I am fulfilling one of her long held desires to write a book on recipes…….

Mutton Chops: When you buy the mutton chops, make sure that the pieces are flattened. Once the pieces are washed, keep them aside, and proceed to make the marinating mix. Take a very small bunch of Pudhina leaves, a large bunch of coriander leaves, two/three spoons of pepper (for half kg mutton) salt to taste and a cup of curd – grind this paste in the mixie. Now, mix the washed mutton pieces in this paste and marinate for at least half an hour. After it has been marinated enough, pour oil in the tawa, put in cut onion, a little bit of chilli powder (mainly for the colour, remember, you have already used pepper) put in a spoon of ginger garlic paste, and then put in the mutton pieces along with the mix (or whatever is left of the mix) and close the lid. After 25 minutes, your mutton chops is ready to eat.

Coconut Rice: This is one of the tastiest foods, but very cholestrocentric. To make this, we need a good coconut – Make sure that the coconut is neither tender nor ripe – to get good milk. The coconut is scraped well, and the scraped coconut is soaked in hot water. After 15 minutes, the scraped coconut is squeezed and taken out of the water – Now, you have good coconut milk. Keep it aside. Take one or two measures of basmati rice (according to your need) and soak it. Take the pressure cooker and pour a little bit of ghee (oil is also used, if not ghee) and put in one or two leaves of TEJ PATHA, two pealed Elaichis, cardamom, and cut onions. When the onion is slightly brown, put in the rice, and pour the coconut milk. For those who want it spicy, or two green chillies can be put in the oil along with the TEJ PATHA. The ratio of rice: coconut milk is normally like that of water, i.e., 1:2 – i.e., if we put in one measure of rice, then two measures of coconut milk has to be put. Add Salt to taste, and close the lid. After the required number of whistles, (three, four, or five, according to various cooker types) and after the steam has settled, then the cooker can be opened, and good hot coconut rice can be served.

Onion Raitha: Take large onions, and cut them into small, thin slices. Take adequate salt, and mix it with the onion, and let it marinate for a few minutes. After a few minutes, take the onion pieces, and squeeze them and keep – all the bitter juice will go away. Then, mix it with thick curd, and add cut tomato pieces and garnish with green chilli pieces and coriander leaves and serve. This Raitha will not have the usual taste of onion. In fact, it will be a little bit sweet!

My wife normally cooks in a very organized fashion, as do all housewives, I guess. I normally cook as if the kitchen is a battleground with all the ingredients strewn around, on Sundays, since I want to give her a day off. Because of our varying approaches to cooking, she does not allow me to cook often, unless we have visitors, in which case, she does not mind the mess.

Women Saints and Sages of India…..

“Who is the sexiest Indian female? – this was the topic my wife, who is a free lance writer, got one day as an assignment through the net from an agency she works for, as I was leaving for office from home.
As I was driving to office, I was thinking about the subject and came to the conclusion that instead of asking who is the most endowed, had they only asked to name Indian women of the 19th and 20th centuries who can be considered as a real symbol of the true, spiritual India, then, I would have listed the following :-

Sri Sarada Devi (West Bengal)

Rani Rasmani (West Bengal)

Saint Alphonsa (Kerala)

Akka Mahadevi (Karnataka)

Lallayogeshwari (Kashmir)

Mirabai (Rajasthan/Madhya Pradesh)

Muktabai and Janabai (Maharashtra)

Avvaiyar (Tamil Nadu)

Andal (Tamil Nadu) [Andal is considered as one of the 12 Alwars]

Karaikkal Ammaiyar (Tamil Nadu)

Ananda Moyi Maa (West Bengal)

Aghormani Devi, popularly known as Gopaler Ma (Disciple of Sri Ramakrishna – West Bengal)

Golap Sundari Devi, known as Golap-Ma (Disciple of Sri Ramakrishna – West Bengal)

Yogindra Mohini Mitra, or “Yogin-Ma” (Disciple of Sri Ramakrishna – West Bengal)

Giri Bala (West Bengal) and

Shankari Ma ji (Uttar Pradesh)

M.S.Subbulakshmi (Tamil Nadu)

This list is certainly not exhaustive, since there are a number of women saints in India, and most of them have expressly shunned any kind of publicity. Just like Sri Nivedita and Sri Daya Ma, many foreigners have followed Indian spiritual teachers and have attained success in spirituality. But unknown women saints abound in India, and since most of them prefer anonymity, they remain hidden. There was a very famous woman disciple of Sri Shirdi Sai, who lived in Bangalore upto a ripe old age – like this, there are hundreds of women saints and sages all over the country, but somehow, we know very few of them….

But I would like to mention more than their names when I mention the following three:-

Gauri-Ma

Gauri-Ma was born in 1857 and was named Mridani. She was also called Rudrani. Even as a child, Gauri-Ma exhibited traits of fearlessness and was uncompromising in her attitude to go towards God and renunciation. During a pilgrimage, she escaped into the crowds and carved out a yogini’s life for herself, carrying the stone shila of Lord Vishnu as her “husband” – after enduring many trials in her travels, often disguised as a man, and smearing ashes on herself to hide her beauty, and after extensive travel, often on foot, she finally came to Sri Ramakrishna, and accepted him as her Guru. She was very bold and courageous, and Sri Ramakrishna reportedly told her that her mission in life is to educate and liberate women. In 1894, Gauri-Ma founded the Sri Saradeshwari Ashrama for women on the banks of the Ganga at Barrackpore in Kolkata. During Sri Ramakrishna’s birth centenary in 1936, Gauri-Ma gave an address in Bengali, which was broadcast on All India Radio. She consciously passed away on 28 February 1938, after informing those nearby that her time had come. She lived and braved the male dominated spiritual world at a time when it was very, very difficult for a woman to roam India as a saint.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa is perhaps the perfect symbol of the Indian Woman that I would like to look up to. From very humble beginnings, she showed that love moves the world. Born on 26th August 1910 as Agnese Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, the Abanian nun founded the Missionaries of Charity in Kolata in 1950. For over 45 years she worked for the poor, sick the orphaned, the aged and the dying, believing that they all needed love and service. In her lifetime, she won the Nobel peace prize as well as India’s most famous title, The Bharat Ratna. After her death, she has been beatified by the Pope as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Shortly before she passed away, when she was hospitalized, an entire nation prayed for her. I still remember when she passed away and when her body was kept for public viewing at the Salt Lake Stadium, at Kolkotta, the then President, Dr.K.R.Narayanan, who came to attend the State funeral, bowed at her feet. It was then, that the entire nation stood still in silent homage along with the crowd at the Auditorium. It was not just a President saluting a lady, it was a nation saluting an institution.

AMMA.
I have seen Sri Mata Amritanandamayi on two or three occasions personally, and have been following her activities through the media for quite sometime now, and I am convinced that the Mother of a Billion hearts embracing all humanity stands out as the finest example of Divine love – She does not perform miracles or astound the audience. She sits, patiently, most of the time without even eating or drinking anything, for hours together giving darshan, saying comforting words, embracing visitor after visitor with only one thought – of proving to the world that love and kindness CAN be shared through a hug. I have often wondered, “What keeps her going?” – And I am sure it is not a desire to enter the Guinness Books of records as the person who has hugged half of humanity. It must be an intense love for the whole of humanity that must be moving her to embrace the people from all walks of life, irrespective of region, religion, caste or sex. Strictly speaking, I am not the religious type. In fact, when I first accompanied my wife to see Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, I was skeptical. But when I first stood before her, all skepticism simply vanished from my mind. Such compassion has to be seen to be believed. The simplicity of such a personality can certainly be called the real Indian Woman. From a small fishing village in Kerala, she has embraced her way into the hearts of billions…..from all over the world.

Vanishing Vendors…..

Way back in the 70s, when I was a very small boy, Vellore Fort Maidan (Vellore town is some 120 kms from Chennai in Tamil Nadu) used to have some very unusual vendors :- One selling Root slice of a very special root ( they used to call it BHUMI CHAKRA KIZHANGU ) – the 2 or 3 feet high root column will be placed in a wet sack, and the vendor used to thinly slice the root and give it for 25 paise. The root was supposed to have medicinal qualities which can not only heal stomach disorders, but also give other benefits such as improving immunity against diseases, etc. Another occasional vendor was the one selling a milk sweet made from the first milk given out by the cow after the calf is born – this milk, called SEEMA PAL, is supposed to be very nutritious. There was also the fried bees for the Non veg eaters – the fort maidan had an unusual ground bee population – just before it rained, a large number of ground bees (called YEESAL in Tamil) used to come out of the ground at dusk (these bee stings don’t hurt at all – in fact, many will vouchsafe that they don’t sting!) in thousands searching for light – the bee vendor will simply attract them using a gas lamp and catch them in the net, fry and sell them – I have personally never eaten them, but this was supposed to be a delicacy in those days.

Then there was the Kolamav (white powder used for rangoli) seller, the occasional Date seller who will give dates in exchange for iron waste that we dispose. Then there was this Bhoom Bhoom Mattu Kaaran, called Gudu Guduppaandi, who will come with his bull, bedecked with all kinds of finery, and try to predict the future and earn some money. There were other regulars : the raw ground nut seller, the fruit and vegetable vendor, the regular greens lady, etc. In Madurai, one could find idli vendors even in past midnight, vending idlis and dosas and omelettes along with hot, spicy chutney. Like this, in every city, village, and town, vendors who once were doing brisk businesses, have vanished….

The very fact that you could sell something odd like the root slice I was talking about, or like just small items that one would normally not expect in a shopping mall, speaks of the business prospects of any place – be it a dish to be eaten, or an ornamental piece to be kept on the table.

But today the scene is different, with many of the street vendors avoiding to come to residential areas. The greens vendors have considerably reduced, because they discovered that more and more people are buying the same greens to the shopping malls. The same greens that the greens lady would give for 3 rupees, and for which we will haggle baggle for 50 paise less, we will very dignifiedly give Rs.10 in a shopping mall – the only add on will be a plastic cover, to increase pollution.

Handicrafts, which comprised a huge portion of the Indian economy in 1947, have somehow been pushed to the background. Nobody wants handmade items anymore. All the children want are foreign toys – Who wants the mud doll, or who wants the wooden doll? So, these dolls have become very costly, because of so many factors, including limited supply. The makers of these toys are always scared that it won’t sell. Which is why if you want handicrafts, you have to go to a showroom. Sad to see the average Indian Middle class family not wanting mud toys anymore than they would like to see the back of wooden toys – It is gadgets, gadgets, gadgets all the way. Perhaps this is what is called Science dominating Art….

Whatever happened to the fairs that were so common sometime back? We used to have evening bazaars where one could get everything, from a pin to a pistol – Most of these small vendors used to trick or cheat also – but somehow, it always added colour to life, when one sees these vendors.

But over the last few years of this decade, these kinds of vendors have simply vanished, especially in cities. Instead, huge shopping malls have cropped up everywhere. All over India, commercial and residential complexes are coming up at lands which once produced crops. There is a huge shift in the spending pattern of the Great Indian Middle class families. No longer are they content with indigenously produced goods. Right from Cornflakes to Colourful shirts, they are looking for foreign brands. Streets that never had cars are now fully lined up with cars on either side. Many families have two cars. India, all of sudden, has become a paradise for foreign companies that wants to sell its products and services. In short, India, has suddenly become a seller’s dream.

If one were to ask, where have all the vendors gone? The answers can be found in a series of answers. Nobody trusts a street vendor anymore, especially in cities where terrorist threat perceptions are more. Street Vendors have themselves diversified into other businesses or taken up jobs. Families of such vendors do not want to continue the traditional business. Instead, many branch out into other jobs. The vendors themselves are seeking other vocational avenues. And suddenly, the ordinary street vendor has become extinct in many cities and places. Some have been bitten by the development bug (Which is good if that has happened) so that their families are now trained in computers or IT field or some other field other than his/her art of vending – that is also nice. Otherwise, if he/she has pushed their families out of this business because they themselves could not survive, then it is bad…..

I had to take it upon myself to write about these vanishing vendors because sometime back, I spoke to a journalist friend from a reputed financial paper and asked her to write about these vanishing vendors. She told me that her editors would never approve of it if she did ever write in about vendors. Vendors? She echoed. Her voice still echoes inside my head. In my opinion, Ordinary vendors only make up a bright and vibrant economy – be it beedis or bindis that they sell.

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