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Sunday, 17 January 2016

Roads, Ruins and Temples!

Temple 1:

It will save you from a lot of boredom and save valuable newsprint should this see the light of the day if I refrain from establishing the ‘atmosphere’ for the story as is the practice. Suffices to say it was only after pressing the ‘book’ button for the tickets up to Mumbai that you realise that the train halts at Pune and you can save about 100 kms of drive and half a day by alighting there instead. Or the friendly Marathi Manoos of Pune have no idea what ‘Very good’ is when they say the road to Shirdi is precisely that. Or the fact that half of India seems to have descended on the temple town the day you are there. Or the fact that after spending the whole night in the queue for attending the Kakada Aarti you are pushed to such a corner in the Samadhi Mandir that watching the rituals on Tata Sky would have been a better option!

Samadhi Mandir, Shirdi

So let me come down to the story right away. After having been a victim of ‘VVIPgiri’ during the Kakada Aarti, self and wife with kids in tow decided to queue up again for darshan in the ‘general’ queue. After spending an hour or so in the line, the queue direction was abruptly changed to the reverse and we found ourselves at the end of the queue. If this was bad what followed was worse. Another hour or so later the same adhoc decision to change the direction of the queue was imposed on us and yet again we ended up in the end of the queue. If you think I spent the next three hours meditating about Saibaba then you have me wrong. After every hour spent on the queue and then jostling among crowd who would have been better off fighting the bulls in a Jallikattu contest and cursing the organizers for their penchant for adhocism, we managed to get near the sanctum sanctorum. As I readied up to catch the glimpse of the deity, out came one more instance of adhocism! Just as I neared the proverbial last mile the security officer turned me and family away, from the general queue to a narrow lane taking me straight to the idol! To a wonderful, peaceful and a long darshan with none between me and Saibaba! Was it destiny that we finally had an unexpectedly great darshan? Or was it divine justice for all the adhocism that we encountered earlier? If it was the latter then I must concede Saibaba would have made a great Twitter troll. Imagine making up with adhocism what was denied to us by adhocism in the first place!

Temple 2:

I once again refrain from wasting your time on creating the ‘atmosphere’ for the story. Suffices to say that if the ‘very good’ roads between Pune and Shirdi were not so ‘very good’, the equally ‘very good’ road between Shirdi and Pandharpur was....well......nonexistant!

Bhu Vaikuntha Pandharpura!

As we alighted from a mini ride in a horse drawn cart at the starting point of the queue for Darshan at the Vitthal/Panduranga Temple, the mind instead of being focused on God was yet again on the adventures of the adhocism that lay ahead. This temple has a unique arrangement called a Pada Darshan wherein every devotee enters the sanctum sanctorum and physically touches the feet of the residing deity. And given the crowd it was quite likely that we would spend the next few years in the queue. As I stood before Vitthala two hours later overwhelmed with devotion, I realised that despite the crowd and the time consuming ritual of touching the feet, the crowd was not only well behaved but the temple authorities had made wonderful arrangements to move the crowd swiftly without appearing to rush either the devotees or themselves! So much so that the multitude in the queue indulged in what Pandharpur is famous for, singing Abhangs and Namasangeertanam! Indeed Bhu Vaikuntha Pandharpura!

Temple (?) 3:

You must indulge me a bit as I lay the ‘atmosphere’ for the story here. Finally I found it. There indeed is a reason for Mumbai to exist. I am sure you will agree with me that you can’t have a city just because Ambanis live in it or Sachin Tendulkar played here or its staple breakfast is Vada Pav! There has to be something more compelling for Mumbai’s existence, and I found it. BY ELEPHANTA! I found it!

A one hour steamer ride on the Arabian Sea takes you to the Elephanta Island also known as the Island of Shiva. The exquisite cave temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, commissioned by the Chalukyan King Pulakesin II around the 7th Century. Post the mauling the cave temple received in the hands of the Portuguese and subsequently the British, what is left behind still speak volumes of the sheer scale of engineering, the epitome of architecture and art and the unshakable devotion of the Indians of the yore. I will not even try to explain the exquisite carvings based on the various stories of the Shiva Puraan for I know words will fail me. Instead here is a small tour through the Elephanta Cave Temple. Welcome!    


Mahesha - The Trimurthy

Ravana Humbled!


The Cosmic Dancer -Nataraja!

PS: My 10 year old I believe has done a better job of describing the Island of Shiva. Please check out the same here -->  

Marathi Manoos : Marathi speaking populace
Kakada Aarti : Early morning Prayers at Shiridi
Samadhi Mandir: Temple where the mortal remains of Saibaba are buried.
Darshan : Sight of the God/Idol

Jallikattu : Bull fighting sport. Part of Pongal Festival of Tamilnadu
Pada Darshan : Sight of the feet of the Idol

Abhang/Naamasangeertanam : Devotional Songs dedicated to Lord Vitthala
Bhu Vaikuntha Pandharpur : Heaven on earth, a sobriquet given to Pandharpur
Shiva Puraan : Tales of Lord Shiva

Monday, 11 January 2016

What Delhi should but what Delhi will!

They say in India things don't move till the nth hour is upon us. That too only when pushed to the brink. Take the hastily passed bill on Juvenile Justice. But for the overwhelming public outrage before the release of the Juvenile rapist/murderer in the Jyoti Singh case, the Parliament would have been happily stalled and plodded through the winter session. 

Do it now. NOW!

The other case pushed along because of judicial activism was the rising pollution levels in Delhi. When the push came to shove due to the court's stricture, out came a hastily thought about solution popularly known as the #OddEvenFormula. It meant that the car owners in Delhi would be able to take out their vehicles only on select days depending on the odd or even numbers of their registration. Despite the many exceptions allowed and some stopgap decisions taken to support the formula like keeping all Schools shut during the trial run, the jury is out to evaluate the effect of this attempt. At the time of going to the press, claims and counter claims galore later, the following seems to be emerging as a consensus:

Pollution in Delhi doesn't seems to have reduced by any noticeable levels. There is a fear the prima donna citizens of Delhi might end up buying another car with even/odd number registration to beat the system.There is a more dangerous possibility emerging of people indulging in "jugaad" of a fake number plate.The public transport arrangements in Delhi have been stretched and are threatening to burst at its seams.The positives to emerge out of the trial run have been lesser cars on the roads and thereby far lesser traffic jams on Delhi roads. Violators have contributed handsomely to the Govt kitty vide fines.Despite the doomsday prophecies, Delhiites have been fairly supportive of this idea.


What next Delhi? I would suggest to build on the positives that dry run has delivered. While cars on the road alone aren't the reason for Delhi's poisonous air, there is no debate that they too are large contributors to it.
 For a start, I would want Delhi to continue with this arrangement.I would want the Delhi govt. to fast track buying of more buses vide a transparent e-tendering process to augment its fleet and services.I would suggest a subsidy to commercial establishments and educational institutions while procuring buses to transport its employees and students.Continue to encourage public participation by car pooling beyond photo ops.Crack down on violators not only by way of fines but also suspending/revoking driving licenses.Crack down on cabs/taxi/rickshaw services who are indulging in fleecing customers by either refusing rides, overcharging or both. It is going to be a long haul and the Delhi govt will face many a hurdle while trying to doing this. Fortunately the citizens have shown that they would back the initiative implemented with sincerity. Fortunately again for Delhi govt. they wouldn't be facing the ballot box anytime soon.

However I have this strong feeling that the situation might not pan out as I hope it should. Instead I fear this is likely to end in the same kneejerk fashion it started with. Once the data will out that as feared the pollution levels did not listen to the Delhi Govt's dictum and reduce itself to tolerable levels, the plan will be ditched unceremoniously.Committees will be set up to study what else needs to be done to reduce the fuming air quality of Delhi, with no deadlines.While in search of a comprehensive policy to fight pollution, the benefits of the baby steps will be sacrificed at the altar of popular pressure.


Assuming the OddEvenFormula continues beyond the trial period, I expect Delhi Govt to bestow licenses left right and centre for putting more cabs/rickshaws on the roads. How is one passenger in a cab less polluting than the same man in his own car better? Beats me!
Reinforcing the public transport is likely to be reduced to a very public tu-tu-main-main over lack of funds and how the “hostile” federal  govt  is sabotaging the local Delhi Govt. by not footing the bill for buying more buses.
The overstretched Metro Rail network would be accused of deliberately reducing its services to show the Delhi Govt in poor light. 
A well timed strike by the Cabs companies and Rickshawallahs against "police highhandedness" will throw life out of gear.
And all will be back to square one. And the Delhi Govt will move over to the slew of elections that are due this year. Or the next case of intolerance. Or the next case of allegations on the "corruption" in Delhi Hockey or Kabaddi or KhoKho or Stapu or Pitthu Federation or........

Pollution? Modi is responsible!

Or till the next stricture from the courts!

PS: I sincerely pray what happens is what should but I am willing to wager what will happen will happen. Will eat my words if what should happen happens and not what will happen!

Jugaad : An Indian slang for innovative ways to beat the system.
tu-tu-main-main : Verbal cockfights over an issue