My experiences , my thoughts.. A little bit of everything…

As a child I always wished to swim like a fish; smoothly, swiftly and elegantly. The way the fishes maneuvered and propelled under the water, interested me immensely.

I was too afraid of water however. Every other visit to a local swimming pool with my dad, who took me there to teach swimming, would end up me watching others play in the pool and me sitting in one corner, scared. Every time my dad tried to hold me and get into the water, I ended up crying and pushing back. Tired of pursuing me, my dad would leave me on the side and go swimming in the pool alone.

It was not until I had grown a bit older; into my teenage, that I gathered a little courage to learn swimming. It took over ten years to finally shed the fear of water. The wish to swim like a fish kept the lamp of hope burning. It was always at the back of my mind. Thanks to a school friend of mine, an expert swimmer, who volunteered to teach me swimming.

My swimmer friend lived in the country side. He had big old house adjacent to a large garden of mango trees. A little distance from his house was a big well, rectangle in shape surrounded by a wall of stone and concrete. The water in the well was around thirty feet deep. The interior of the well was secured with construction of uneven stones and concrete. The uneven stones left gaps between them which lead to the growth of slippery creepers from the soil contained beneath them. The creepers had grown long and hung all over to decorate the walls of the well. One side of the well had stony steps descending from top of the well up to the level of water.

Besides serving as a source of irrigation to the farms, the well also served as a place for the kids to take a dive into it in the hot summer. During the summer vacations, school kids from the nearby area gathered at the well to swim. Kids as young as four years old dove from the top of the well.

One of those summer vacation days I planned to take my swimming lessons from my friend in that well, after he assured me that it was safe and as good as a swimming pool. I got myself a safety vest. The safety vest consisted of a throw away motor bike rubber tube blown with air that had to be worn around the waist.

Being the oldest boy at the well who didn’t know swimming, it embarrassed me a little. All other kids had not even reached their teens but swam proficiently. The small kids gave a strange look at me and giggled among themselves. I’m sure they thought it funny, that a boy this big didn’t know to swim. Read the rest of this entry »



It was a hot summer afternoon, in the month of April in my home town in India; I must have been around ten-year old. The sun was baking the ground with its intense heat. I and my friends were playing in the hot sun, our favorite game, “cricket”. The hot sun was burning our skins while we played. But that did not deter us a bit from playing, as we were engrossed in the game. The playground was just a quarter mile away from my home. There were not many houses around the area. The ones that had been, were placed far distance from each other. The ground was surrounded with vast expanse of mango trees, tall tamarind trees with little white flowers that sprung up during that time of the year. There was a small fig tree beside a temple on one end of the ground. There were rows of guava and sapota trees on another corner of the ground. The spaces between the trees were covered with thick tall grass that had grown wildly. Butterflies and dragon flies usually flocked over the grass in large number. Hidden behind the thick expanse of trees, was a huge abandoned palace, partly visible from its rising tower. The ground was always filled with kids from surrounding neighborhood who played there the entire day. Some played “marbles”, some “Gulli Danda”, some “Cricket”; the girl folk mostly played “Lagori”- the game of hitting a heap of shells. Smaller kids kept busy chasing butterflies and dragon flies in the tall grass beneath the trees. Cricket had been my favorite game and I was on the ground for the same.

While we were playing, all of a sudden there was electrifying lightning. A roaring thunder followed it. The hot sun which was burning since morning was slowly covered by grey clouds those gathered. The atmosphere turned gloomy. Drops of water started dropping from the sky. Many of the kids who were on the ground started leaving the ground expecting heavy rain. Rains that happen in midsummer in tropical countries like India, pour for a short period but are often exceptionally heavy.

This was the first of the midsummer rain. I was excited to feel the first rain of the season. So I was reluctant to leave the ground though some friends kept calling me to leave as they departed from the ground. Couple of friends stayed back to enjoy the rain. As the rain drops fell on my head and body a chill ran through the body. Taking a break from the game I realized how much my body had heated in the sun. The drops of rain on the heated body were working like ice on fire. The rain intensified in some time. The tiny drops gave way to bigger and bigger drops until each drop seemed like big transparent gem. Our excitement had no bounds. We were enjoying each drop of the rain on our body. We danced and sang as the rain-soaked us. The lightning and thunder every now and then added to our excitement. With each roar of the thunder we screamed to tune up to the sound of the thunder. The wind blew strong and shook the trees on either sides. The sound of thunder frightened the little birds that flew with their chirping noise, from one tree to another to take refuge on the safest tree.Water started filling in the small pits around the ground slowly. The rain drops that fell on the accumulated water on the ground made a rhythmic sound. Each drop that hit the ground water rose slightly creating small ripples in the water. Read the rest of this entry »

My Aunt’s cat

“Pets” are lucky beings that get love, affection and caring from humans. In return pets fulfill their duties by offering good companionship, comfort and security to their masters. Some people are in so much of love with their pets that they do not differentiate them to be animals but part of the human society.

My old aunt whom I recently met after several years lives a lonely life. Her sole companion is a small, black, frail cat that she loves as her own son and is in always praise of it. In my recent meeting with her I got to see her pet.

The small house that my aunt lives is among one of the many houses lined along one of the busy streets of a small town in India. The rising dust from the vehicles passing by on the road has turned the narrow two storey house, muddy. Small dark passage from the main entrance leads to the upper store which my aunt calls her home. As I walked to the upper store climbing the stairs one by one, my legs brushed against something soft on one of the steps. I could hardly notice in the darkness what that thing was. I would easily step on it if I hadn’t heard the chirpy “meow” that the thing cried out. There is sat on one of the steps with its legs tucked below its body. As I brushed it, he got on his feet quickly and as I moved towards the door of the house, he ran ahead of me and made it selves comfortable in one of the warm cozy corners of the house. He gave one strange look at me and slowly closed his eyes and relaxed. The familiar shaky voice of my old aunt was quick to question “Who is it at the door?” I announced myself to her as I settled in one of the old wooden chairs in the room. My aunt looked at me with her eyes sharpened in the dim light. “Oh, it is you my child… after a long time, how good to see you” she said. I had met her after almost two years.”Did Mani show you the way to home?” she asked. I guessed it was the cat that she was referring to. “Yes, off course he did” I said with a smile. She smiled back at me and then with kindness, caressed Mani. “He is such a smart boy”. “I have not seen a cat in my life as intelligent as he is”, words of appreciation were soon to shower on Mani. “Will you have some hot milk or you like some biscuits” that was a token for his smartness to show me the way to the door.

“He will snuggle around the legs and then bows down with respect (as if to say “Namaste”, the traditional Indian salutation)” to known people. “See how he soon recognized you to be a non stranger”. “Come on boy, show how you salute”.” She ordered Mani. When he Grrred, she pulled out a stick from beneath a cot to scare it a little. Mani ran with fear and quickly clung to my legs and shrank between my feet. “Yes… see how he obeys now.. see how he is bowing to you with respect” Aunt said. “He is too smart”. “You know…He knows that it is forbidden to eat flesh in the house (my Aunt is a strict vegetarian) so he devours rats, lizards and other flesh outside the house. There was little that I could do to verify that. I just kept listening. “And when he is done, he washes himself and then comes inside”. Wow too good manners for a cat, so tidy and clean. And how intelligent that he knows my Aunt is a strict vegetarian I thought with sarcastic amusement.” He never puts his mouth in the milk bowl inside the house. If he wants milk, he signals by voicing “meow” and gesturing meaningfully to come out with him to serve him milk outside”. “He loves chicken. Whenever we pass by the chicken store next door, he “meows” and gestures with his head and eyes rolling, asking us to buy a lump of flesh for him to eat”. “You know…he understands two languages already.” She moved close to his face and talked to him in a different language to prove to me that he indeed understands. Mani kept shaking his head and kept crying meow in response. My Aunt thought that was the sign that he really understood what she was saying. “Whenever guests leave home, he follows them to the door to bid them good-bye”. What an impressive little chap he was !. Too much for an animal to do. Could be envy for any kid at home I thought. I knew that my aunt was over exaggerating everything about Mani. But the fact that she was drawing so much happiness in that and the loneliness that she was trying to kill with the help of the cute little thing, was heart touching.

Fanatical Order

In a closed, dark, secretive enclave, in a remotely unknown place, there assembled a group of notorious men. There was silence in the room except for one man who spoke, seated at the center, circled by the group. He had dark glasses on, and had serious disposition. He had a deep scar across his cheek which suggested he had probably dared a valorous fight. His gestures demonstrated that he cared least for others but expected others to follow his orders. With each of his instructions there was consensus of agreement and dreadful cheer. His voice was authoritative and imperious. There was no scope to raise a question on his orders. Questioning him was considered as questioning his authority and rebellion to this status. There were rules that bound each member of the group. The activities of the group were carried out in secrecy.  Members of the group had to follow the discipline of the hierarchy. The motive of the group was to spread the order and have  people in following and to establish its supremacy and govern the lives of people by the rules of the group. Extortion, kidnapping, terror, intimidation were the basis of the ideology. Opposing the ideals of the group was considered betrayal and was punishable by death. Fear and punishment formed the basis of the ideology.

Far away in a remote place, under a quite, expansive edifice with tall towers, there stood a man with a dark robe that extended from neck to his toe. There assembled a large crowd who listened to the man faithfully. The edifice was silent with only the voice of the man in the dark robe in high pitch. The man’s voice was imperious. His words followed from a book he held that he swore was from a supreme authority who had written the book and who claimed to be proclaimer of the will of god. His words were un- questionable. He quoted from the book and elaborated the meaning. Following the quotes, there was common consensus and a dreadful cheer. Questioning the teachings was considered questioning the supreme authority who spoke through the book. There were rules that bound the followers of that book. Faithful to the book had to follow the discipline of the hierarchy prescribed by the supreme authority. The motive of the authority was to spread the ideology and establish supremacy and govern the lives of people by the rules of the book. Terror, intimidation or deception, if done for the cause of spreading the ideology, was considered righteous duty and forgivable by the supreme. Opposing the ideals of the supreme authority was blasphemous, punishable by death. Fear and punishment formed the basis of the ideology.

Ideals of both were parallel. One had a face that communicated its followers; the other was hidden in disguise. The former had a minority following, the later had following at large, across boundaries.  The former carried out the criminal acts and was known for his notoriety. The later did the same but in anonymity and disguise . The former was considered evil and threat to the society while the other, who was a greater threat, not just for society but the entire humanity was mistaken to be peaceful diviner. Both were sides of the same coin, both followed fanatical order.

Making Sense Of Phonics

Baby phonics

@ Sketch by Me

As we get ready for our daughter’s phonics lessons , it is time for us to experience the English phonics lessons ourselves which we have never studied as students back in our native country. Coming from a non-English speaking country(India) pronouncing English according to Phonics as taught in the American schools is a new a different experience. Even though many of us learn in convent English medium schools back in our home country, the way English is pronounced is influenced by the native language phonetics. So we grow up learning to pronounce English the way we would do in our native languages. That results in an accent way different from native English speaker’s English, which though not obvious to non-English speaker’s ears, sounds unusual to the native English speakers. Often ridiculed to be wacky  and subject of satire  in some English movies and stand up comedy shows (If you have seen Russel Peters stand-up comedy you can recall Indian English accent getting tormented…. “Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad” ?? ). On the other side, non native speakers wonder why English speakers speak the way they do.

The same goes with writing English words following phonics. Non-Native English speakers who are used to writing as they hear and pronounce words find it difficult and confusing when certain words are not written the way they are pronounced per phonetics. It is challenging at the same time to explain why many words are not written the same way as they are pronounced to a kid who has just started learning phonics.” Cow”, “Cat”, “Cap” makes sense but “CYCLE”  which sounds as “S” does not make sense, why not write “Sycle” instead?. Why are many words which sound like “S” written starting with “C” , like  “Cinema”, “City” , “Circus” etc. It is difficult to explain these subtle differences to the curious little minds for which we struggle to seek an answer ourselves. When I ask my daughter which letter does “cereal”, that she is fond of eating daily for her breakfast, starts with, She replies with ease , “S”. When I say, “No” , it starts with “C” she questions me why? I do not have an answer why it should start with “C” rather than “S”. Many times it is confusing to make a difference between words that start with “K” and “C” the same way. And all those silent killers? Knee, Know, Knob, Knight.. Why use them when they don’t sound in the first place?. But off course , there must have been some reason the word structure is made the way it is. Back in the days as a student, we did not have much choice when learning in English medium in our native country. If the teacher said “Cereal” starts with “C”, it had to start with “C”, no questions asked. It would had been so much fun, if we were exposed to this area of learning English with phonics. Learning wouldn’t have seemed a liability but a joy. With all the complexities in phonics , writing and several exceptions to the stated rule however, English language remains “exceptional” indeed.


India Kumbh Festival

Naga Sadhus at the Mahakumbh

On January 13th, commenced one of the biggest religious congregations in the human history. No, it wasn’t in Vatican, nor was it in Mecca or in Jerusalem.The biggest religious congregation was neither Christian nor of Islamic faith as would be invariably assumed because of the vast number of adherents of both the faiths around several countries in the world. The biggest congregation however was that of adherents of the Hindu faith. Adherents of Hinduism constitute  the third largest religious group in the world with 90 percent living in India. It is also the largest congregation of holy men anywhere in the world. This congregation is called the Mahakumbh. Around 11 Million people gathered for the holy bath on the banks of river Ganges, in Allahabad , India on January 14th alone. Over the next 2 months as many as 100 million people are expected to participate in this humongous congregation.Several thousands coming from countries other than India.

The tradition of Mahakumbh is believed to be  several thousand years old, which delves in the story of the Devas(noble me or gods) and Asuras(demons) who according to Hindu mythology, are believed to have fought for the pitcher of Amruta(nectar), consuming which would make them immortals. In this battle between good and evil, as expected, the Devas  or the noble ones, won. In the course of the fight four drops of nectar fell on four places on earth(apparently all those places were in the Indian subcontinent 🙂 ). The places where the nectar fell is considered holiest of the holy by the Hindus and that is where the holy congregation happens once in every three years to commemorate the victory of good over the evil. The last of the congregation is the fourth Kumbh which is on the twelfth year and is called Mahakumbh( Maha-Mega, Kumbh-Pitcher).


A Sadhu taking bath in Holy Ganges

For the people who know about the Mahakumbh, it is more than just the holy congregation. It is the life time experience of the confluence of the spiritual thoughts that happens at the Kumbh. The real-time experience of Yogic mysticism attracts some people, especially people from western countries eager to learn about eastern religious philosophy. Yet many other curious enthusiasts flock the Kumbh to get glimpse of some of the most unbelievable and some bizarre practices demonstrated by the Sadhus and Yogis (Holy men) like,  lifting blocks of bricks with their genitals, pulling carts with genitals, rolling and twisting the genitals with stick much to the awe of the people. A show of yogic energy to control the sexual energy which forms the basis of sexual tantra. Some perform advanced forms of Yoga postures. It is very common to see naked Sadhus (called Naga Sadhus) with dreadlocks, , smeared with holy ash and vermillion all over their faces and bodies, roaming in thousands and demonstrating their martial arts. I had a chance to talk to a person recently who had once  visited Kumbh when it last happened. One account of his experience was hard to believe. He mentioned that he saw  a Sadhu who sucked a glass of Ghee(clarified butter) with his private part before a group of people. Yes, too bizarre to believe. He said this was a yogic Kriya(process) called Urdhva Rethi, or reversing the order of natural flow of fluids from the body,which is only possible through years of yogic practice and continence.

All the bizarreness and hustle of crowd, the rising decibel that deafen the ears, and all the nakedness  apart, the interesting thing however is to know how several thousand-year old tradition still coexists with the modern world (Just some hundreds of miles apart is Delhi , the urban bustling capital of India). And out of nowhere saffron clad holy men congregate at this place in millions in a short period. The fact that such a long tradition still survives and is growing every passing years is a great example of sustainability. The governmental arrangement to support such a huge crowd, with several million tents, makeshift hospitals, cell phone towers, eateries etc is also a demonstration of incredible mass scale planning. A vast vacant land is suddenly converted into a mega city with millions and millions of people. A Mahakumbh ( Mega Pitcher) of diverse and interesting people indeed.

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