Speaking Tree

TOI regularly features articles from this place called “Speaking Tree”. This is one article which I enjoyed

Seer of Dravidian Vedas – Sangeeta Venkatesh

In a small, quiet village in Tamil Nadu called Alwaar Thirunagari, close to Tirunelveli, there is a beautiful Vishnu temple. The temple houses an ancient tamarind tree. Though the tree has gnarled branches, the leaves remain fresh and, surprisingly, they do not close at night. This special tamarind tree is connected closely with one of the greatest bhakti saints, Nammazhwar.

Nammazhwar’s birth was prophesied by Veda Vyasa in the Bhagvata Purana. It has been mentioned in the Bhavishyath Purana that a great saint would be born, at the advent of Kali Yuga, in Dravida land by the river Tamaraparani. As prophesied, when the divine baby was born, he neither cried, nor moved nor suckled milk, yet he continued to remain healthy and glowing. When a baby is born, it is believed that a ‘vital air’ or shata engulfs it, which prevents it from imbibing true knowledge. However, the shata did not affect this divine baby and hence Nammazhwar is also known as Shatagopan or the one who has conquered the shata.

Nammazhwar’s parents were so puzzled and worried that on the twelfth day after his birth, he was kept in a golden cradle and placed before the deity. He was given the name ‘Maaran,’ meaning one who is unique. The baby instantaneously crawled out of the cradle and took his position under the divine tamarind tree and assumed the Padmasana posture. Indeed, this tamarind tree is believed to be the incarnation of Adishesha, the divine serpent, whose role was to protect Nammazhwar who is believed to be an incarnation of Viswaksena, the commander of Vishnu’s army. He remained in this posture and meditated for 16 long years.

In Ayodhya, another saint called Madhura Kavi noticed a glowing light which did not recede – and he saw this night after night. Finally, Madhura Kavi followed it and walked for many days till it finally vanished in Thirunagari. Madhura Kavi knew that he had reached his destination and hurried towards this motionless figure under the tamarind tree. To attract Nammazhwar’s attention, Madhura Kavi dropped a huge stone. Lo and behold! Nammazhwar opened his eyes and smiled at Madhura Kavi.

To test whether the child could hear and speak, Madhura Kavi asked in Tamil, “If in the womb of what is dead, a subtle thing is born; what does it eat and where does it abide?” (Here the dead body meant the ‘achit’ or insentient matter and the subtle thing is the formless soul.)

To this cryptic question Nammazhwar replied in Tamil, “atthai tinru angey kidakkum” which means, “It will eat that and lie there”. This profound statement philosophically meant that the soul experiences the pleasures as well as pain of the body in which it stays. Alternatively, if the soul is fixed on serving God, it will experience divinity.

Madhura Kavi prostrated before Nammazhwar and requested that he accept him as his shishya or disciple. Nammazhwar is considered to be the foremost Alwaror seer of Dravidian Vedas and has composed four Prabandhams covering the essence of the four Vedas, namely, Thiruviruttham on the Rig Veda, Thiruvaashiriyam on the Yajur Veda, Peria Thiruvandadhi on the Atharva Veda and the magnum opus, Thiruvoimozi on the Sama Veda. This rich treasure expounding devotion continues to be taught in temples and religious institutions of south India.

I generally like folk lore and fairy tales and depending on how one views these stories, they do provide an entertainment cum enlightenment quotient.

One thing which attracts me to Tamil deeply (and also gives rise to the ever lasting regret that I cannot read/write Tamil to save my life) is the way with words this language has. Pure Tamil is a very metaphorical language, where everything is explained in terms of allegories and crypt-ism.

There is another famous story of the lady poet Avvaiyar. Apparently Avvaiyarbecame very arrogant as her popularity grew and Murugan decides to teach her a lesson.  Wikipedia explains the story very well.

One day Avvaiyar became tired while travelling because of very hot summer and so came under the shadow of a fruit tree. She was very hungry and thirsty. At that time, a small boy who was sitting on the tree asked her whether she wanted fruits from the tree. Avvaiyar told that she wanted fruits. At that time the boy asked Avvaiyar whether she wanted roasted fruits or unroasted fruits.

Avvaiyar who was a famous Tamil poet, litterateur and having indepth knowledge in Tamil thought,”Is there any roasted fruit in the world?” and decided that the small boy didn’t have knowledge even about a fruit. But, as she was very tired, she didn’t want to argue with the small boy and asked him to pick roasted fruits for her.

The boy shook the tree and so fruits fell under the tree. The mud under the tree had stuck on the fruit. Avvaiyar took the fruits and blew on the fruit to remove the mud. It was observed that as the fruits were roasted and had become warm, Avvaiyar had blown the fruits to cool them. At that time, the small boy asked Avvaiyar whether the fruits were warm? Avvaiyar was astonished, “How had a small village cowboy played such an intelligent drama? She had thought that the small boy had no knowledge about fruits and how the fruits in the tree may become roasted fruits. But blowing the air on the fruit to remove the mud is like blowing air to reduce the heat as the fruit is roasted.

What a beautiful comparison. Such a beautiful comparison would not have risen in her mind even though she had gained rich knowledge in Tamil.” She asked the small boy, “Who are you actually?” At ,the small boy disappeared and in his place, Lord Muruga appeared. Now Avvaiyar realized that it was a play of God and she understood that there were more and more things that she had to learn. She bowed to Lord Muruga and requested him to bestow her with bountiful knowledge.

The experts do not say Tamil is one of the most beautiful language for nothing….


Misadventure of Adventure

I have been known to be quite an adventurous person. I love trying out new things, new foods (as long as it’s veg), new places, new sports etc. However, it seems like some parts of me to not like the adventurous me.

Once in a while (or most often I should say), my stomach decides to teach me a lesson and heaves and throws it’s weight around, forcing me to scuttle between the washroom and the washbasin. That’s what happened recently

Some colleagues and I visited a Chinese restaurant and I decided to try out a new dish called Tofu in Mushroom Sauce. The dish was not that great though what it ended up doing was beyond my imagination. I spent the whole of the next day moaning with pain and running to the washroom.

wish tummy-dearie would get a life 😐




Last year was a fun-filled year in India as far as out-of-work was concerned. We had formed a group comprising of the 2 Germans who stayed with me at the guesthouse, a Chinese, another German and Indian colleagues who worked with me. Our weekend routines went something  like this:  brunch on sat followed by dinner, then party all night, meet for coffee/lunch on Sunday then prepare for Monday.

In this routine, our breakfast/lunch/coffee was usually in one place, Aromas. Aromas is a place F found out during one of our house visit’s to S. He was missing pancakes a lot and was delighted that Aromas had pancakes on their menus. And decent ones too! Having a nice ambiance and being close to all our residences, Aromas was the place to go to.

So yesterday I felt like reliving those days and decided to visit Aromas for dinner. Post dinner and payment, when I was making my way out when the following conversation ensued:

Waiter: Good to see you back miss. Long time

Me: huh?

Waiter: You used to come a lot last year with your friends. You always sat at that couch

Me: Wow you remembered!

Waiter: Yes miss. Was nice to have you ppl. They all went back?

Me: Yes. In fact, I will be going back too, next week!

Waiter: Oh ok. Will miss you miss. Take care

Me: You too, and good luck

As I was heading out, the waiter came running after me

Waiter: Maam, one minute

Me: Yes

Waiter: here miss. Hands me the only drink I have at Aromas, a Caramel Latte. Don’t forget us miss

Not in a long time young man, not in a long time

Big Blue becomes a Centenarian

It’s all over the bulletins that Big Blue turns a centenarian today. And what an achievement.

Through two world wars, depressions and recessions, communism and fascism, financial crashes and dot.com crashes, Big Blue has not only come out intact, but also stronger and more resilient…and the credit goes to its ethos of constant change and adaptability.

IBM in the modern era of Googles and Apples is not a sexy company, one you would want to associate with or talk about or even one whose products you want to show off. But the Microsofts, Apples and Googles of the world would never have been born without the inputs of the grand dame of computing; International Business Machines, or IBM.

The bulletins are filled with history of IBM etc etc. In fact, IBM itself has come up with a YouTube video charting their growth here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrhDaAmn5Uw&feature=player_embedded).

But some interesting trivia…

Did you know?

  • IBM has been outpacing the growth of U.S. GDP by almost two-to-one (11% vs. 6% compound annual growth in the last 100 years)
  • IBM successfully faced three anti-trust lawsuits (1969, 1952, 1932) by the US government trying to break up the company. The 1969 case which lasted 12 years, was also one of the most expensive US anti-trust lawsuits
  • IBM i (AS/400) is sold in more countries than Mac and is used by practically every bank/major institution
  • Name of the first laptop from IBM was called Convertible
  • IBM’s watson supercomputer has 15 trillion bytes of data from books and Internet resources — roughly the size of the printed material in the Library of Congress

Kewl eh?

Note Bene:

According to the Bank of Korea, there are 3,146 firms founded over 200 years ago in Japan, 837 in Germany, 222 in the Netherlands and 196 in France. There are seven companies in Japan over 1,000 years old. About 89% of the companies with over 100 years of history are businesses employing fewer than 300 people.

All Information taken from various sources


Dear Kaka

Dear Kaka,

I am sure you will never read this. In fact, I doubt if you even remember me, but here I go down memory lane….

Today, somehow of all days, I am reminded of you. You were the first one outside home to greet me with a smile early in the morning. You made me squeeze into the top portion of the rickshaw, giving me numerous opportunities to play pranks on the other girls. You bore my jumping from the back to the front and insisting on driving the rickshaw during peak hours on the busiest road in Pune.

You went out of the way to give us sugarcane juice, bravely holding against the furious mothers/ayaas who came down on you. You showed us crocodiles, birds more beautiful than any and allowed us to enjoy monsoon as children should. You made sure we did our homework, more judiciously than our own parents.You nearly skinned us alive if there was so much as a speck of dirt on our shoes.

I shall stop here or there will be no end. I cannot say I do not miss my Pune school life. It was undoubtedly some of the best years of my life. A huge portion of fond memories was made because of you. And for that, I thank you.

I do not know where you are now or what you are doing…prolly you are a granny now and I can quite imagine you playing with your grandchildren. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope you are happy and….I miss you

Ladakh Trip – Day 8 – Spagmik – ChantangLa – Kuru – Leh

The last day of my trip saw S and me getting up at 0500 hrs to see the sunrise. S was told that the sunrise from Pangong Tso was beautiful and be being the usual art-cum-nature buff; I forced myself to wake up. Sunrise was quite disappointing more due to the cloud cover than anything else.

We headed back to bed and woke up only at around 0800 hrs. A week of cold has made my body sore. True, I have lived in cold places, but it is with first world amentias like a warm hearth and good clothes. I realized that I was woefully unprepared for the cold of Ladakh which is like the winters of Europe, just worse as the altitude saps the energy out of you. Added to that, we have been staying in tents and hotels here do not have the concept of heater. Thus we have been facing one week of biting cold all the time making my body plead for some much needed warmth.

Anyway, aunty prepared a breakfast of Tibetan dish called Lomo-Momo. It looked like a cup and seems to have been made out of wheat flour. Quite tasty though equally filling.

Plan today was that I would head off to Leh from Kuru while S and P would head off to Pang and eventually Manali-Chandigarh-Mumbai. This meant that we would have to re-cross ChangtangLa. S did not sleep well last night due to his AMS (he could not breath the whole night). Naval, our driver also started feeling dizzy half way through forcing S to take over. We did not halt at ChangtangLa and headed straight to Kuru which we reached at around noon. A fond farewell later (how I miss them!), I headed to Leh in a public taxi.

A quick shower later, I headed back to Il Forni for a long lunch. My plan was to shop a bit (for what I have no idea) and then head back to hotel and finish my updates. However, as usual, I ditched the plan in favour of sight-seeing Leh. Thus I first decided to head to the Leh palace.

There are two ways to go to Leh palace, or should I say three

1. Via road which is what vehicles use
2. Via a staircase
3. Via a shorter staircase route

I decided to take the third route in the hope of getting to the palace more quickly. I knew with the altitude and my hopelessly-bad fitness, reaching the palace itself was going to be a challenge. Just did not expect this challenging.

The so-called shorter route was a literal climb though the hillrock to reach the palace. This meant that I was hiking up the stone mountain in torn shoes (yes, my shoes tore; the story for another time). This was not a joke, especially not with a broken ankle and hiking up alone. I was so wishing S and P were there. But as with all things, I did manage it in the end.

The palace was quite a disappointment. All the rooms were empty. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is restoring the interiors of the palace but for now there was nothing in there. The view of Leh from the palace was superb. ‘Kidhe Kath Diya’ (Ants started biting) as S and P would say and I decided to come back the way I climbed instead of taking the much simpler route  Needless to say it took a long time tough the feeling after that was quite something.

I then spent the next 4-5 hours just walking through the city, taking in the sights and sounds of Leh. I am not sure if I will ever be back to this place and wanted to absorb as much of the place as possible. Tomorrow will see me back to Mumbai and back to the hustle and bustle of daily routine. But for now, I will enjoy the raw sensuality and physical poweress of the place that is Ladakh.

Ladakh Trip – Day 7 – Leh – Changtang La – Kuru – Lukung – Spagmik

The next say saw us leave for Spagmik. To reach Spagmik through Leh, we had to cross another high pass called ChantangLa. Apparently crossing this 17000ft pass is more difficult than crossing the 18198ft KardungLa due to road conditions. We reached the pass and were greeted with complimentary tea, courtesy of our Military 🙂

One thing note about the passes is that the view is nothing great from the top. So my initial expectation of seeing ranges of mountains as in the movies was crushed. The neighbouring peaks were just as high and the only thing you see is the mountain next to the one we were in. The real treat came from the route to the pass as we came across the most awe-inspiringly-breathtaking sceneries. The other noteworthy experience was the sheer lack of oxygen we faced. Touch wood, I never really had any problems with high altitude but S really suffered with headaches and breathlessness poor thing. From what I understood from S’s relative the oxygen levels during winter reduces by a further 25%.

There were military personnel stationed that ChangtangLa and we were astonished to find out two things:

1. They have been in Leh for 2 years
2. They have been on top of ChangtangLa for 2 years
3. They stay there during winters too and never come down!
4. Winters in ChangtangLa is -40 degree Celsius!!!

Gods above, hats off to these guys! They were sweet enough to offer us some hot water and tea. They were also quite happy to see some ladies I guess as they came to P and me and were happily chatting away to glory 🙂

Post ChantangLa, we headed straight to Lukung, from where we could see Pangong Tso. Pangong Tso is completely land-locked salt water later around 26 km long. Towards the end of Pangong Tso, one side of the lake is China and the other is India. We did not go that far though. The lake is crystal clear and I kid you not, see the pics for yourself!

The late is also deep blue. I remember reading somewhere that the blue colour is not necessarily good. A blue waterbody could mean two things:

1. The waterbody is very deep thus the vegetation colour at the waterbody bed cannot be seen at the top (e.g. Seas, oceans)
2. The waterbody is not clean and thus no vegetation grows there.

Looking at the crystal clear waters of Pangong Tso, I am guessing the blue colour means the lake is as deep as it is big.

Our timing to come to Pangong Tso could not have been better. Our whole trip is not during the peak tourist season of July-Aug. Thus wherever we went, we not only found good accommodation at economical prices but also no crowd. We were told that during peak tourist season, Pangong Tso gets so crowded and dirty that it’s a mess.

We stopped at Lukung for lunch before heading off to Spagmik. The food at Lukung was quite delicious. In fact, we did not have as much food problems as we anticipated as being pure vegetarians we were told to carry our own food. So much so that this is what P packed:

1. Ashoka and MTRs ready mades, including pav bhaji and sambar rice
2. Dry Nuts
3. Fresh fruits to last us for 15 days which we bought from Shrinagar
4. Ladoos and Biscuits (The Ladoos are awesome)
5. Maggie
6. Cooking utensils (in case we had to cook ourselves)

We stayed at a Tibetan home stay. The uncle who runs the homestay is a 68-year-old Tibetan who ran away from Tibet along with the Dalai Lama in China’s idiocy of ’59. He was charming and blabbered non-stop. I saw blabbered coz other than S, none of us quite understood what he was saying, at least I did not 🙂 But the guy must have been very well-educated which I deduced from the following:

1. He grows vegetables in self-created underground pits. No one else in Spagmik does that
2. He has single-handedly set up solar panels to provide is establishment with much needed electricity
3. He spews out Shayaris as one would words! In fact he is so good at is one wonders….
4. He had traveled the length and breadth of India

I did venture to ask him about his escape from Tibet but he clamped up the moment I did so and I decided not to press further.

We rented a room overlooking the lake. Now the original plan was for S and P to carry on towards Hanle, Tso Morrori etc while I head back to Leh as I had a flight to catch to Mumbai from Leh on the 12th. However we had a misadventure which threw S and P’s plans to disarray.

From Lukung, we decided to follow a bus which seems to be taking a route which goes by the side of the lake instead of the BRO roads. Bad idea. We came cross stone path and the poor car screamed in agony. Upon reaching Spagmik, the first thing S asked was if the Chulchul road, which is the road towards Hanle, was going to be the same. We were told that there is no more proper road and the rest of the way to Hanle and Tso Morrori and Tso Kar etc was a stone path. S then decided to scrap his plans of going to Hanle etc and decided to head back to Manali via Kuru and Pang, thus cutting short his trip by 5 days.

Later that evening we came across another group who have been crossing paths with us quite often. Surprise oh surprise, we found out that they had the same plans at S and P. And more surprising, the roads were not that bad! They were not tar roads but were packed earth, which is a better road then even ChangtangLa! However, S and P decided not to change their plans again as they were missing the kids.

Well needless to say, 14000ft above sea level is freezing cold. Added to that, there was a strong wind next to the lake which would have been awesome had it been hot Mumbai but in Ladakh, it froze our socks off. But there were almost no tourists and we pretty much had the lake to ourselves, which included the peace and quiet lack of people brings. I was sorely tempted to dip in the lake but the cold, my lack of swimming clothes and the vastness of the lake made me decide otherwise.

Well a good meal prepared by the good aunty saw us packing off to bed well ahead of normal sleeping time.