Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tirupati over the years...

My Dad had a close friend who owned a printing press at Sivakasi. And as a housewarming gift for Dad, he brought a HUGE golden engraved print of Balaji. We'd of course been to Tirupati, but till that day, this God hadn't featured largely in my prayers, as his photo wasn't there in our prayer room. There was a Siva and a Krishna and a Ganesha and Saraswati, but Venkateswara..... No. So the photo - by virtue of sheer size- got a prominent place in our puja room. This was when I was in the 9th std.

Gradually, over the years, the picture grew to be a part of the lords called in to assist me in various things. But still it was not quite THERE in the front row, until, I finished my MBA, started working, fell in love... and faced opposition. I moved from Cochin to Bangalore for work, and then a colleague in Bangalore told me that if you promised Balaji to climb up the hills and perform a kalyanotsav for Him , He'd take care of matters. That was really when Balaji gained prominence in my prayers. To cut a long story short, I finally got to marry my best friend, and we kept our promise.

Since then, almost every year, we've been to see Him, offer thanks and get His blessings. By ourselves, with the husband's family, with mine, rail, by bus, and for the last 3-4 times, by road. Friends have proved invaluable in helping to make arrangements for darsans- especially a blogfriend I've never seen or spoken to even, only written to.. God bless him!

There's this saying that- you cannot get to see the Lord at Tirupati, unless you get a call from Him. Over the years, I've seen this to hold true, but never so much as this year.

So this year, when I wanted to go and offer thanks for a good year at work, I was trying to see if there was anyone who could arrange for a darsan ( my Mom was with us, so the bus package was out). And I didn't want to bother the blogfriend every time ( especially when I was not even blogging regularly) , so was hoping to find some other way... In the middle of a conversation with a vendor (one who'd become a good friend as well) at Hyderabad, I mentioned that I'd been wanting to go to Tirupati  and asked him if he could help..He said he had an excellent contact at Tirupati, and he'd arrange matters.  But then, he called back- the friend had been transferred and couldn't help. 

However, he said he would check for alternate options...He said he'd check with another friend of his who was with the police force at Tirupati. We were to leave on Fri, and I had to travel on work to Chennai the previous Wed and Thurs. I was at the airport waiting for my (as usual delayed)  flight back home on Thurs night when my friend called me to say the police friend would somehow arrange for darsan and that I should leave the next day.
We'd made tentative plans with a cab guy, however, in the morning when we checked, the initial driver who agreed had signed up for another trip and we had to make last minute arrangements for another driver/car.
Darsan in place, cab in place, but -  it was a working day and I had not applied for leave, as I didn't know if I'd be going or not till late the previous night. Called up my boss and got my leave approved within an hour of our going.( Kaala teeka-this does not happen always, actually NEVER)
We expected to leave by around 12, so that we could be at Tirupati by around 7 pm, but the cab driver was delayed by more than 2 hours. And then it was raahu kaalam , so my Mom said we could not leave till that was over.  So finally we left at 3.30 finally. We hoped to reach Tirupati by at least  9pm and accordingly informed my friend . He said it would be ok..We made good time till we reached the Andhra- Karnataka checkpost. And then, AND THEN, we found that the driver didn't have the correct papers with him!!!!!

'This cannot be happening!!!!' was what collectively ran through our minds. Our driver had his interstate permit alright, but he didn't have some other paper, the term of which had expired just 3 days prior to our trip- and had not been renewed, or at least if had been renewed (as he insisted ) , the papers of which were certainly NOT in our car.We were halfway across, ( to Tirupati!) and it looked like we'd have to return!  Being good Indians, of course we checked if money exchange (sic) would solve the problem, but apparently, it wouldn't. The husband called up the cab guy's boss, and had a discussion with him. The man was most apologetic, said that it was the driver's mistake.... and the husband said that all that was fine, but what was a solution?? We had an old lady past 70 and a young boy past 8 in the car with us. We could not POSSIBLY be stranded halfway like this.  End of discussion - it was decided that he'd send another car with another driver, and we'd go back a bit, and at our meeting place change cars and proceed.

So we turned around. And went back the way we came. We called up the other driver and ensured that he had also started out. It was Fri evening and the city was bound to have horrendous traffic at that time of the day, all heading out of the city. Finally at about 8 pm, both of us met at Kolar. The owner of the cab had also come along with the driver- to apologise once again.  Apologies and replacement car accepted, we decided to have dinner from Woodys there and start out again. Phew.
Once we'd had dinner and were on our way again, we felt a bit better. Called up the sister and related our travails and LAUGHED in sheer relief over the ridiculousness of it all. Also called up the friend and told him about the delay in our plans. As per plan, we were to reach Tirupati by around 7, or latest 8 pm, so that we could see whoever had to be seen and get the accommodation sorted out.  But now, we would reach almost 4-5 hours later. The friend said he'd call up his friend and explain the circumstances of the delay, but we felt bad. We couldn't expect anyone to wait for us indefinitely.  We requested the driver to drive the fastest he could so that we could reach early. That's when we had our next surprise. Apparently at 12 midnight, the ghat road from Tirupati to Tirumala is barred till about 3 am. 

This was to allow Balaji at least 2 hours of rest from all those tireless petitions from devotees, so all devotees had to wait at Tirupati till the roads were opened up again at about 2.30.  Was this the Lord's way of testing us yet again? Now we really started alternating between counting milestones and looking at our watches anxiously.  Would we reach, or would we not? We were never gladder to see the Garuda at the bottom of the hill than that night!  Yay! There were still vehicles passing. The time was 11.59 pm.  We passed through the security check and got on the ghat roads, and gave thanks to the Lord!
Now it only remained to see the friend's friend and sort out the accomodation for the night.  We went to the TTD office praying that it would still be open. It was! ( Later, we learnt that the office was open 24/7) And we went in and told them that we had a booking for that day and gave our names.  Yes, the man knew about us, yes, there had indeed been a booking, but next hurdle- the booking had been made for Fri. This was now Sat morn, the next day!  Technically speaking, the booking was not valid as we'd not reached the day the booking was made.

We were utterly dismayed, however, the man listened to our incoherent explanation and finally agreed to let us have the room. PHEW!
Reached the guest house room and collapsed on the bed.  Messaged the friend that we'd arrived without further mishap and had gotten accommodation as planned, many thanks.
The next day dawned nice and fresh. We had our darsan after nearly 6 hours of waiting in the queue, but it didn't matter too much. We waited patiently, it was just a question of waiting, there was no uncertainty to the wait unlike in the previous day/night's happenings. And we had a good darsan.

The moral of the story is- the Lord always shows you a way.  Just that He doesn't let things come to you too easy. There are plenty of twists and turns to spice up the journey. :-) While going through those twists and turns life seems horrible, but at the end of it all, its fun to look back on and say - see we triumphed through all odds... with God's help :-)

Monday, October 22, 2012

No casual read - The Casual Vacancy

So there was this curiosity when I heard that JK Rowling had written another novel. Which grew when she mentioned that this was definitely not a novel for kids. And then as luck would have it, the husband happened to be in Justbooks when they received their set of The Casual Vacancy. Spanking new! So it came home and of course the husband registered his prior claim on it.
And then, I forgot that it was there at home!!! And just remembered the last week.

Its a long read.
In the beginning it rambles a bit, and you tend to go back pages wondering who was who, for there seems to be no connection whatsoever between some of the characters.  But as you progress, the tenuous connections become clearer, among people who are as different from one another as chalk from cheese; and incidents become more and more inextricably linked. Like how in Harry Potter, subsequent books throw more light on the who's and why's, in The Casual Vacancy, each chapter throws more light, or rather, more darkness on happenings in the Parish.

The book is a stark comparison between the haves (Pagford) and the have-nots (The Fields ) . It tells of people who want to make a change to the status quo and those who are determined to let it be.  Of parents and their so imperfect relationships with their kids.  Of flawed relationships and neglected responsibilities. Of the utter hopelessness of a junkie's life. (Makes you wonder if some of that was a bit autobiographical)....

Parish Councillor Barry Fairbrother is a man committed to bettering the lives of the less fortunate in his community. With his sudden death, things seem hopeless for The Fields and its citizens. The Pagford crowd seem likely to get their community 'unsullied' by the junkies and thieves and riff-raff of the Fields.  But then, Barry seems to come back from the dead. As the election towards the vacancy created by his death looms closer,  his 'ghost' sets ripples in motion, which go on to become dark undercurrents in the Parish.
Secrets get leaked.
About Simon- one of the persons standing for elections- stealing a computer (among other things) from office and being unfit for elections.
About Parminder-the doctor- actually being in love with Barry, which was probably why she supported him in his efforts to keep the drug de-addiction clinic going,
About Cubby, the headmaster of the local school being a possible child molestor.

To me however, the book is about Krystal, ....  The teenaged daughter of a junkie, in whom Barry sees potential and whom he sets out to redeem. Who is amazingly resilient, and who, determined to rise above the filth in her life, responds slowly but surely, to the confidence shown in her abilities. Who in the face of heartbreaking neglect by her junkie mother, strives to give her little 3 yr old  brother as much of a home as she can. She tugs at your heart at how, with so less, she tries to make so much more of her life.
It is amazing how one drug addiction clinic can affect so many people, in so many utterly different ways. If Barry Fairbrother is at the heart of the novel, Krystal Weedon is the soul of it.

The book reminded me of Agatha Christie's the Moving Finger, in how a small sleepy village held so much of  the passions in the world. And how inspite of having nothing to do with one another, all of their lives were so interlinked. But the difference is that in this one, there is no murder. There could almost have been, except that at the last minute another tragedy interrrupts.

Like I said- while in the beginning, it fails to hook you, towards the middle, you start getting intrigued and later, you want to know how it is all going to turn out. What will happen to Krystal? Is there redemption for her? Who eventually takes Barry's place? Will Bellchapel (the drug addition clinic) get relocated? What about Sukhwinder(Sooks)? Does the tenuous friendship between her and Krystal survive the malicious rumour that Krystal's grandmother dies owing to the wrong drug being prescribed by Sooks' mom Parminder?

All of their lives are so interconnected and you can only marvel once again that Rowling has managed to think everything out with such precision and attention to detail. Her amazing characterisation. Its not a book you would read again and again, like the Potter series, - its too dark for that. But it does have its moments.
And it ultimately makes you reflect about how in our selfish preoccupation with our lives, not many of us realise what a difference each one of us can make. How a little help given at the correct time can make such a difference to so many lives.
Certainly not a book for kids, very much a book for adults, definitely worth a read.  Go for it, people!