Friday, September 26, 2008

The Pilgrimage Part II

Right after we reached the top of the first hill, the landlord’s elder son fainted due to exhaustion and we had to stop. We all felt very let down, but there was nothing much to do except slow our pace. From then on it was a sob story. The crowd got bigger each passing minute and we made very slow progress. To top it all, we got stuck in the series of gates (kilometers long u-shaped enclosures) and had to wait long hours before we finally reached the Sanctum Sanctorum.

Finally we saw the 18 golden steps which would take us to the Sannidhanam of Lord Ayyappa. The gold glittered brightly in the morning sun (maybe they apply some polish on it too!) almost blinding one with its grandeur. Thankfully, I could place my foot on all the 18 steps! Generally the crowd carries you forward with such force over these steps that you hardly touch any with your feet.

As we neared the Sanctum sanctorum the crowd became unbearable, I very nearly suffocated but at the final moment by a strange crowd pocket formation, I was able to view the golden idol of lord Ayyappa for at least half a minute! A record I think. But the long wait, the crowd and the snake-like queues had all but sapped our spirit. It was just not the way I had expected it to be. Especially after the terrific start we had made. As I made my way back, I was thoroughly disappointed. “I will come back again!” I told HL, he shook his head in agreement and said “next time, only both of us!”

Till date, I have not been able to make that pilgrimage again. But a story I heard from my mother made me think that I was not so unlucky after all.

Chakki chouvathi and Kelan were the servants of my great grand father. Each year Kelan would take penance to go to Shabarimala. During those times, the pilgrimage was fraught with real danger. The path through the forest had a lot many wild animals, chances of contracting some disease like malaria were high and sometimes pilgrims got lost.

Those days, it was believed that if a person looked back at his home or family after tying the erumudi-kettu, he would die. Each year after taking the requisite penance, Kelan would tie the erumudi-kettu and start out for the journey. But each time before he could leave, Chakki chouvathi would start beating her breast and cry in such a pathetic manner that Kelan invariably ended up looking back.

Then, thinking of all the penance he has taken, Kelan would start off anyway, much to the agitation of Chakki chouvathi. The first leg of his journey would take him to Koovapally, where my mother’s father stayed. There was an un-official servant’s quarter near that house where all such devotees could stay.

By the time he reached there, Kelan would literally be shaking with fear, convinced that he was going to die. Each day, he would start out on the journey and after travelling a small distance he would return, making one silly excuse or the other. Finally after a week or so of this thamasha, he would just lose heart and return home! Kelan never ever made it to Shabarimala thanks to Chakki Chouvathi...:D

I guess, I did better than that…:D

Friday, September 19, 2008

The pilgrimage - Part I

You Idiot! Why did you take food from my plate? Shouted Anoop(H.L) as I took a bit of the masala dosa from his plate. I was quite bewildered by the outburst.
Why, what’s the problem? I asked.
I am taking the penance to go to Shabarimala. I am not supposed to eat food touched by anybody other than the cook. Now, thanks to you, I have to order again!
Oho, like that huh? Good, go ahead and order again!
Then I turned around and shouted to the guys sitting at the next table “guys, come over! H.L won’t eat anything that is touched by somebody else”.

As far as I know H.L went hungry that day.

But my curiosity was piqued and I felt a bit envious. Shabarimala had always held an enigmatic attraction to me. My mother’s native place at Koovapally sits on one of the major traditional routes to this south Indian pilgrimage centre. All through my childhood, I would see men and children dressed in black, with the “erumudi-kettu"* make the pilgrimage. The whole thing had a slightly romantic touch to it, especially since I was born into a Christian family and not allowed to make the pilgrimage myself.

“Da, can I come along to Shabarimala with you?” I asked H.L the very next day.
“No food stealing Christian is allowed into Shabarimala! Screw off! I am not going to take you anywhere”. He pompously shouted back.

I must be a real persuasive guy, since in hardly half an hour I had not only managed to convince him to take me along, I even roped in Arun George (AGT) for the same.

The hardest part of the whole exercise was the penance. I was doing it only for 22 days rather than the customary 45(?) so that I could go along with H.L. It was 22 days of abstinence from non-veg food (the maximum I have managed in living memory!!!), porn, female contact and a basically anything interesting in life! By the end of the second week all the “romanticism” and “enigma” had been rubbed off. I was dying for my rightful chicken leg!!

Finally the D-Day came. Our Shabarimala party had by then expanded to include H.L's room mate Sujith (Kokku) and his landlord's two sons. Before starting out on the journey, one was supposed to go to the temple and tie the erumudi-kettu*. I was a bit tensed when I went to the temple. What if the priest found out that I was a Christian? I thanked my stars that despite our different religions we all looked the same ( *general* look and feel i.e. I am of course, way more handsome..:D) Fact is, I needn’t have worried, seems that Ayyappan’s greatest friend vaavar-swamy was a Muslim! And the temple allowed entry to non-Hindus.

After the ceremony, I was in extremely high spirits (not literally!). Our bus journey was un-eventful and we reached there by 12 in the night. A swift dip in the Pampa River was the first on the itinerary. The water was cold, but not extremely so. I was raring to go by then. Faith, excitement, fear**… they were all palpable among the devotees milling around. Everyone around me seemed to be high on steroids.

The Shabarimala route is a set of five hills one after the other. Most of the path is concreted and a hill is almost razed to the ground. The “thorn-and-stone-beneath-our-legs” legend is exactly what it is… a legend!

As we began our journey we were joined by a group of Tamil pilgrims. All stout men in their twenties, they were actually running the route chanting several mantras as they went by like, “swamiye sharanam-ayyappa, devanae-deviye, eshwaranae-eshwariyae,kallum-mullum kaalukku meethae” etc. We ran alongside this group chanting at the top of our voices. Their devotion and fervor was infectious, it was like the mantras plucked out raw energy from thin air. I wasn’t even out of breath after the first hill. The way it was going I guessed that we would reach the sannidhanam (sanctum sanctorum) in half an hour. I had guessed wrong…:(

*Head gear consisting of two coconuts and other assorted offerings for lord Ayyapan)

**It is a forest path and supposedly you can see wild animals (The last of them who tread the path in a very long time being yours truly!) The fear is baseless but somebody shouts “animal” and everyone gets keyed up.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mala-naadu liberation front

[Warning: Language vitriol.]

Door Darshan did it. Some might already have guessed it. Yes, I am talking about the north Indian conspiracy to impose their language upon us Dravidians (the true sons of the soil!). I wasn’t prejudiced to the language you know. Even when I got zeroes in the language at school, I persevered and got even more zeroes…:(

By the time I was in 8th standard, my practical and far-sighted parents wisely allowed me to drop Hindi altogether. After all, there is a limit to which parents can see red in the report card and still abstain from infanticide.

But like most kids my age, I idolized Hindi movies and heroes. Over-the-hill-young-turk Amitabh, muscle-popping-rapist-cum-sister-protector Dharmendra and chocolate-hero Sharukh, they all conspired to teach me Hindi and what’s more I loved the conspiracy.

All the Hindi I ever learnt was at the foot of my 21 inch Idiot Tube. Hindi was thus an inalienable part of my day to day life. With one potential glitch however, I did not know to count after “Dus” (after “dus” it was “bus” for me!)

But along with worshipping Hindi movies and heroes, I also worshipped that supreme Indian sport, Cricket. What turned the tables against the Hindi language was the advent of the day night scheme of the game.

A run-away success in our sun battered subcontinent. It had but one disadvantage. The ending/most interesting part of the game always coincided with news on DD. And not one session mind you, but two bore-you-to-death sessions. One in Hindi and the other in English. Torture like this was enough to make even the most saintly south Indian ask in exasperation "why the hell am I watching news in Hindi when a nail-biting match is going on?"

It is only natural at this point of time that the reader notices a defect in my line of thought. Why is this guy ranting against Hindi news, why not English (foren language!!) news?? Valid q, but you see, I knew how to count in English, not Hindi! So when dear news-reading-auntie announced in Hindi that India’s score was “dou-so-chakees(?)” I would look heaven-ward and ask “what-the-f***ees?!!!”

Of course, you could brush me off for “not cause enough to hate your rashtra baasha”, agreed! But look what DD did right after that. They started doing cricket commentary in Hindi (a crime upon humanity, May heaven open up and strike a thunder bolt on the idiot who came up with this idea!!!). It was pathetic, no barbaric… no I am just lost for words to describe it!

Compared to all that we Indians put up with, Hindi commentary was definitely not the last straw on my strong back. I mean, I had a good mind to join the Tamil Tiger Eelam(M) - (Mallu group!!) and put a bomb right up DD’s backside, but being the non-violent Indian I am, I desisted (not knowing Tamil did not help either!).

But, while it did not break the camels back, a prejudice was born. And the prejudice deepened each time I heard “bastsman ne Shaantar drive kiya hai…seetha filder ke taraf!” (A beautiful shot, right to the fielders hands!!) I always wonder whether Gandhi could have heard this kind of dialogue and still stayed non-violent!

But what finally pushed me into the liberation movement was human contact with north Indians. It happened in Bangalore at my job. While I knew Hindi, I was never a fluent speaker (you can’t talk back to your T.V right?) So, I preferred replying back in English while in conversation with the northies. And that is when the last straw fell.

“You are *expected* to know the national language” says a northie to me. “err… excuse me” I said “did you just say you are “expected” to know Hindi”. “Yes, it is our national language. You are supposed to learn it”. My blood pressure shot right through the roof. The way my eyes bulged and veins stood up, he must have got a general gist of what I thought about the “national language” and “expectations” regarding it.

I controlled myself somehow and asked him “if our national religion was Islam and you were “expected” to follow it, would you?”. Something told me that he wouldn’t take the question in a light manner.

I was right. He went semi ballistic.

“But that is a religion!!! I Would NEVER follow it. Language is not like that. How can you ask questions like that?”
“To me language is as important as religion, if not more. I think being a Malayali and speaking that language defines me more than anything else. So don’t tell me I am “expected” to learn any language!”
“But it is our national language” he says.
“You made it our national language, not us!”
“well, so? Now it is and as long as it is, you have to follow it. I know so many Malayalees who speak the language well, what’s the problem with you? Eh?”

This guy was getting on my nerves!! No wonder rakshasas (our forefathers as per Karunanidhi) murdered these guys in cold blood.

Thus after much deliberation I have decided to create the nth secession movement of India. This one is for the independence of Keralasthan…hey! Wait! “sthan” is a north Indian word. Independence for Kerala-nadu it is! Wait again! “Keral” is also a Sanskrit word…argh! Ok, ok, I want independence for Mala-nadu.

With these thoughts in mind, I waived an auto rickshaw. Time was of the essence, I had to reach back home and start planning future bombings, arson, loot, rape, murder, what not!
The auto rickshaw stopped in front of me and I asked.
Madiwala Jaayega kya?