shri ramachandra charanau manasa smaraami
shri ramachandra charanau vachasa gruNaami
shri ramachandra charanau SHirasa namaami
shri ramachandra charanau SHaranam prapadhyae
On Rama’s feet I meditate
With words I praise
With lowered head I pray
At Rama’s feet I seek refuge!
It was a blazing hot summer afternoon in Hampi. As I walked out of the magnificent Vithala Temple, my throat was parched. Even my sweat had dried in this arid North Karnataka summer. The sight of this woman under a bright red umbrella, tending a cooler with drinks was an oasis of bliss to a weary traveler. I ambled over and quickly gulped two bottles of my favorite: Limca! Aaaah! I bought a few more bottles for M and the driver.
She charged me 12 rupees for each. I gave her the money. But ever eager to practice my kannada and engage in conversation, I asked here only jokingly, why it was 12 rupees here, while it was only 10 rupees in the city. She must have been surprised by my heavily accented and rudimentary kannada, and realizing I was joking, she started giggling. I could not keep a straight face and started to laugh too.
I made small talk, asked her name and generally how many drinks she sold in a day. Her name was Uma and she sold about a crate (of 12) each day. I estimated she made 4 rupees profit on each bottle, netting her about 50 rupees a day (slightly more than a dollar)! And for that she had to stand in this heat all day! And some one had to drop her here and pick her up in the evening. And she has not yet eaten! Life is tough! But she had a certain calm about her and I think this pic radiates her inner peace. And her confidence!
As I prepared to leave, I asked her again why it was 12 rupees for each drink: yaakae hutnerdu rupaiya?
Now she really burst out laughing, and I laughed with her. After a few moments she composed herself, then lifted the lid of the cooler, pointed inside and with a twinkle in her eyes mouthed a single word: Ice!
On this blistering hot day, she knew the magic word. For that thirst-quenching ice cold drink, I would gladly have paid twice as much!
I was gifted this small, yet well done bronze of Uma by my cousin brother Ramnath. He has a good eye for art work.
This is Uma (Parvati) as Shivakami – the beloved of Shiva, in a classic tribhanga pose. This is purported to be a late 18th century reproduction of the 11th century piece from the Kulottunga I era. I have had this for several years and I never tire of admiring it. It is small and fits nicely in the palm of my hand. I am drawn to her graceful pose. I am drawn to her exceptional beauty. I am drawn to the inner calm she radiates! And I am drawn to the confidence she exudes!
The craftsmanship is exquisite for so tiny a piece and we have no idea where this statuette resided for the last several centuries. The sharp features suggest she was not used for any puja. Prolly stayed in a noble household.
It is said that the easiest way to reach Shiva is to appease Parvati (or Uma) and have her champion you to Shiva! Perhaps it is that restlessnes in my heart that draws me to her. I certainly thirst for her grace! And every time my eyes fall on Uma, I know my thirst will soon be quenched.
During one of our trips through Karnataka, we visited Hampi to see the ancient city of Vijayanagar. What a fascinating city! Under a UNESCO mandate, extensive restorations are ongoing. The temples are awe inspiring! But for M, the best part of the trip was our stay in the nearby town of Hospet. A busy, dusty town at the crossroads of the Manganese ore trade. Here we made camp at the “Shanbhag International.” There was nothing international about this place. Even by Indian standards, it was an average “Hotel,” but importantly it had a few air-conditioned rooms. Continue reading “Shanbhag Fastfood”
A nice part of visiting temples in India is, I get to meet the locals. The hard working laborers with a few days off to visit temples. These you wouldn’t meet in hotel lobbies or in coffee shops. Their kids care less for the soulful art, and are playing around with each other. Them, I look forward to meeting.
And so many I met on this trip to Karnataka. All, despite being poor, were rich of heart, of kindness and grace. Their eyes brimmed with joy. Through them life reminds us – there is a way to live! Through them I asked – what have I done with my life? For what? In the kindness of these, I find my happiest moments. Not in the bars, not in ritzy coffee shops on Colaba Causeway, not with my fancy gadgets. My camera incidentally is the vehicle for reaching out; actually, for them to reach out to me.
It's usually the poorest who will strike a conversation with us. Perhaps they have nothing to fear. Most are kids – certainly fearless! When they see I have a big camera, they come up and ask to take their pic. The common phrase was, “Anna (elder brother) photo!” pointing to themselves. I gladly shoot multiple pics and they scramble away, jumping up and down. With my big camera, they prolly feel like stars in a movie production. And I treat them like stars. Some stay back to ask where I am from. If they hang around long enough, I show them the pics on the LCD screen – then their amazement sees no end.
While I derive joy from this encounter, what's in it for them? Perhaps in approaching and dealing with me, their confidence is boosted. They may hesitate less, the next time they have to stand-up for something. Perhaps. Here I have assembled a few pics from our recent trip to Badami, Pattadakal and Hampi. Other than the actual sites, these interactions I craved the most.
Pic above: As we parked near the Cave temples of Badami, these two came up and he confidently asked me to take their pic. They appeared to be siblings – look at their beautifully intertwined fingers.
At the MahaKuta Temple complex near Badami: The kid selling Goli Soda darted by as I tried to get his attention. The other two noticed, ran after the kid and brought him back to pose with them. The kid was ~ 8-10 years old, selling Goli Soda.
Busily shooting at the Hazara Raam Temple in Hampi, the girl in the center asked to first take a pic of their largish family. Then she wanted a pic with only a couple of her friends.
These boys did not want to be left out and asked to take their pics.
These girls were tending the baby and were thrilled to have their pic taken.
At the Vithala temple in Hampi, this young girl Gouthami asked me to take a pic of her family. About 10, she directed her mother and older relatives to pose. Then she wanted one with her mother (above). While I was surprised at her english, my jaws dropped when her mother spoke flawless english and explained. They were from a village in AndhraPradesh and were leaving for Tirupati on the night train. Gouthami wanted more pics and her mother wrote out their address; and I mailed the pics.
I saved the best for last!
While visiting the Tungabhadra Dam, the adjacent gardens had a light and water show. We found seats in front of the fountains, which was to “dance” to the music. This group of kids were hovering along the perimeter of the fountain. They kept staring at us. To break the ice, I took a pic. They ran away. This happened a few times and finally one of the boys, boldly stood in front of me and posed a body-builder's pose. I took his pic and showed it to him on the LCD. He and his friends stared in amazement. Then they all wanted pics. Finally I got this pic of the 12 boys and girls in the group.
By now they were very friendly with us and all over our bench, squeezing themselves between M and me. I found some packs of Wrigleys chewing gum and offered it to them. They were thrilled! They spoke Telugu and I only knew a spattering of Kannada. I did understand “uuru” (town) in one of their queries and I replied, “Mumbai.” Sighs of approval spread through the group. They asked many more questions, but I could not understand what they were saying. But they just kept talking, and we listened intently and nodded. There was an older gentlemen with them, and he too only spoke Telugu. We could not figure out if the kids were from one family, or neighborhood kids out for a picnic.
As the show ended, our driver came to fetch us, and I asked him to inquire with the older gentlemen. We found that these kids were from an Orphanage in Raichur and were on a picnic to see the Dam and the gardens!!! My heart sank like a rock!
We walked back to the car in stunned silence; the kids waved us goodbye.
Here were kids with literally nothing in this world, not even family, and they seemed so content to be merry. M & I talked about how we had been quibbling earlier in the evening – we who have so much; and the kids, with nary a penny to their name were happily enjoying the moment. That was for an important evening, and I hope it changes our lives forever. Even today, whenever M and I have a disagreement, we think of those orphans we met at the Dam, see how happy they were with what little they had! Certainly, we have much more.
As part of our annual charitable givings, I hope to identify an orphanage in rural karnataka and make a huge donation to them. We have also decided not to take any more gifts to our relatives in India, but to instead continue and increase our contributions to the schools and other deserving opportunities. I encourage you to do the same.
Update May 2009: Now many years later, I see this event did have a profound impact on our lives.