Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Delhi dash 2 – Lotus Temple & 108 Foot Shri Sankat Mochan Dham

My train was supposed to reach New Delhi by morning half past eight but the overnight foggy air coupled with Indian railways’ well known punctuality made my arrival just before twelve noon! The purpose of my visit was purely official once again, so, didn’t make any major travel plan but certainly I had made a rough sketch in my mind to cover some tourist spots which are easily accessible by Delhi metro and could be utilised to spend my five-six free hours. But situation turned out to be completely different and I was left with two-three hours to pamper my touring spree… after all I had a return tatkal ticket of seven O’ clock evening from Old Delhi station following the collection of my document from office at four. With my backpack, camera and a half-bitter mind started the Delhi dash…
Last time I couldn’t enter Lotus temple as it was a Monday so I wanted to close that old file this time. The actual name of Lotus temple is Baha’i House of Worship and it is popularly known as Lotus temple owing to its design like a big white lotus whose petals are made up of white concrete and clad in white Greek marble panels. I would like to share little more info about this exquisite elegant structure Lotus temple which I got to know from the free booklet distributed by volunteers to the tourists. The Baha’i House of Worship of the Indian subcontinent is the latest of seven edifices raised in different parts of the world (Apia, Sydney, Kampala, Panama City, Frankfurt, Wilmette), each with its distinctive design, each inviting peoples of all religions and races to worship the Creator of the Universe and to express the love between God and man. The lotus shaped House of Worship is surrounded by nine large pools of water that, not only enhance the beauty of the building but also play a significant role in the natural cooling system of the prayer hall. The common characteristic of Baha’i Houses of worship is that they are all nine-sided because nine is the highest digit and symbolises comprehensiveness, oneness and unity. If you’re coming from New/Old Delhi railway station you get the corresponding metro station just outside the railway station compound which will be the yellow line (Delhi metro route is divided into six colours, checkout their website for exact understanding) and you have to get down at Central Secretariat metro station to change to violet line for Kalkaji Mandir station. It is useful to know that Lotus temple is an easy five minutes walk from Kalkaji Mandir Metro station whereas some fifteen minutes from Nehru Place metro station but if you ask customer care of Delhi Metro they’ll advice you to reach Lotus temple from Nehru Place and in Nehru Place station also you’ll find big photo frame of Lotus temple for tourists… now I call it an old database error!

My next destination was Karol Bagh metro station which is in blue line. A good fifteen minutes walk from there brought me to the Link road before a colossal 108 feet statue of Hanumanji. The speeding metro passing at the level of the chest of the Hanumanji’s tatue gives one a chance to see two very different India on a same canvas- an India so rich with her traditions, cultures, myths, mythologies and religions and another India which is accelerating rapidly towards ‘God knows where’ direction. The Hanumanji’s statue in 108 Foot Shri Sankat Mochan Dham is very unique for another reason. As in epic ‘Ramayan’ the statue of Hanumanji, through its automatic electronic system, shows the presence of Lord Rama and Goddess Sita in His chest by tearing it from the middle before thousands of devotees who gather around the statue to have a glimpse twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8.15 a.m. and 8.15 p.m. As per their website this is the highest Hanuman statue in the world! My Delhi dash ended prematurely and I discovered that 108 Foot Shri Sankat Mochan Dham is only five minutes away from Jhandewala metro station! In the evening, while chomping momos I watched the news of protest before India Gate in restaurant TV… I found it cruel to end my Delhi dash with a Delhi belly… so prayed for the poor rape victim and thanked Hanumanji for my gender… really Thank God I’m an Indian man of 21st century. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Seashell Seller Girl

I consider life much more dramatic than our legendary Raj Kapoor’s films and similarly more varied than the mighty Mahabharata. Luckily human brain preserves only the creamed part of it and the rest keeps on getting recycled each and every moment. We all are rolling stones and keep on striking with other rolling stones in different locations of the globe starting from those fanatic days of infatuation to this robotic timeline I’m living off late. I was reflecting on such rolling interactions along my bygone timeline.  I remembered glue stuck gazing at the blue eyed school girl named Manali in the Shimla tour in my schooldays to the grey haired British gentleman whom I had come across very recently in my trekking to Mukinath. But finally when I decided to blog about it, an incident crept up and crawled out like the lettuce seeking larva of a caterpillar. The venue was beautiful but not among those glamorous ones of its type… well many of you must be familiar with the beach city Puri of Odisha which is undoubtedly more appealing to Hindu pilgrims than crazy beach lovers. It happened long back… long before I had the lethargy of Mastercard… even before the rising trend of digital photography…

One day back we had devoted the full day in bus trip to Sun temple at Konark, Lingaraj temple, Mukteswar temple in Bhubaneshwar, Caves at Udaygiri, Khandagiri etc. I don’t know exactly how much the Kalinga School of architecture or the aesthetic sculptural arts of Jainism and Buddhism could occupy my teenage mind but the English speaking guide’s narration about the sexuality in engraved contemporary life had certainly made me an avid listener along with a European travellers’ group. It was a hectic day of sight seeing, so me and my friend both had decided to allot the next day for some beach relaxation or in a young man’s word we both were panting for some beach fun. Like good souls we warmed up before the crack of dawn to witness the mesmerising sunrise on the beach with my modest Yashica fixed lens film camera. The sparsely populated beach comprising hand few enthusiastic tourists and some hat clad fishermen looks more photogenic with its wet golden sand. The freshness of the daybreak even masks the coarseness of the otherwise sand and one feels like standing still on the unruffled territory of neglected oysters for hours and hours in bare foot. With the first glimpse of rising sun when I fixed my eye behind the viewfinder to trap the red molten iron like curling waves, a na├»ve voice distorted my clicking spree, “Sir, take these beautiful seashells… only a rupee Sir…”. I was displeased for the unwanted interruption and turned my head to find a seven-eight years old girl with a packet full of shells pleading my friend. Oh it was not for me… at least the girl in the shabby frock had that much sense not to interfere in a photographer’s study. But once I put down my camera I need some recoil time. I became vengeful for a moment and thought of taking some fun out of my silly concentration breaker.
“Eh listen… what are you selling?” I tossed to the girl.
“Sir these are beautiful sea shells… look at this one…” she promptly handed over a somewhat large, pearly shining oyster shell to me.
It was mind stealing but I was determined not be fascinated by her goods, so I put my next query, “So what would I do with these shells?”
Her eyes widened as she replied, “You can decorate your house… like wall, mirror, handbag… Elder brother you can even make collection of these rare ones in my packet… trust me all your guests will be amazed by them…”
The ‘elder brother’ instead of ‘sir’ made me angrier. How dare the unknown idiot addresses me brother. The ragging spirit in the higher secondary boy rose to a higher level and so I said, “Can you show me some pieces which I can make with these useless shells?”
“Yes brother I’ll show you a Ganesh my mother had made out of these seashells yesterday…” she said.
I was enjoying it more, “Oh good… so where’s your house? Will it take much time for you to bring that?”
“No… no… just give me fifteen minutes… I’ll go and come back like these waves… meanwhile you can take some nice pictures of our sea…” she tried to assure. Now her advice to me felt like a harpoon at my back and the two words ‘our sea’ sounded like headmaster’s miser permission. All these similes were making me more and more unkind towards the little girl.
She ran few metres and again came back to tell something she had forgotten, “But one thing… even though you’ll like that Ganesh piece you can not buy it from me because my mother won’t sell it until my father returns from the sea… Ok?”
I found this hurting my ego more than ever before. How can a poor girl decide my buy who is supposed to beg me for the same! I simply nodded my head to let her run again. The second she vanished in the sand I called my friend, “Sanjay let us go back to our hotel… we can have some tea”
Sanjay relaxing few yards away in the coolness of the morning was totally unaware of my negotiations and plans. He looked surprised, “Why to the hotel buddy… we can take tea from these beach hawkers…”
I didn’t have time to explain him my vindictive action, so I dragged him by his hand and headed to our hotel which was just in front of the beach, may be some two hundred metres from where my ego was wounded. I was satisfied with the utter thought how that girl would react to find her morning customer vanished. I swore to myself to watch her face searching for me through binoculars from the roof of our hotel.

As soon as we approached the counter to ask for our room key the receptionist told politely to Sanjay, “Sir there’s a telegram from your home”.
What followed next was one of those worst nightmares. Sanjay was sitting on the floor, with a piece of paper washed out with streaming down drops of intense pain from his eyes… I was shocked and helplessly sitting beside him with an arm over his shoulder, ignorant of how to console a friend who has lost his father. Our trip had ended for sure… our belongings were eagerly waiting in our room to be packed up. Sanjay was speechless… his father didn’t die of any disease… it was the saddest death… he had committed suicide in the midnight! I was dumping our clothes and other goods one by one into our bags and simultaneously patting my silently moaning companion. I knew my duty at that point of time but had no single word in my lips to soothe the lamenting soul. It didn’t take long after that to checkout from the hotel. Seeing the graveness of our situation, the hotel manager himself arranged for a taxi to drop us to the railway station.
When our taxi left the hotel gate the seashell seller girl almost clutched our open window and screamed, “Hey brother stop… stop… how can you go like that?”
The manager sitting in the front row yelled at her and ordered the driver to ignore her. I don’t know what had overpowered me… I requested the driver, “Please stop the car… only a minute”
“Sorry sister for keeping you waiting for us… we’re leaving because something very bad has happened in our house… you keep this…” I told her while holding loosely a five rupees note.
The disappointed expression in her dry tanned face took a concerned motherly shape… without looking at the money in my hand she asked, “What bad has happened brother?”
It seemed to me that I had found a quantum of solace in those few words of sympathy. I really needed someone to talk to… to tell what we were undergoing. “My friend’s father has passed away” I spoke out like I was ready for it.
She quickly ran and came to the other rear window where Sanjay was sitting with a mountain of grief. She quickly offered a colourful showpiece of Lord Ganesh built from oyster shells of different size to Sanjay and told, “Oh brother don’t cry. Keep Him with you and He’ll manage the rest… my mother says that He never lets anyone to cry… He looks after all…”
May be Sanjay wasn’t touched as much as I was as he hardly knew of the morning incident and moreover he had something bigger to cry for, till then he was hesitant to take that gift from the girl.
The girl was adamant and he almost pushed it onto his lap, “Take Him brother, he’ll take all your sorrows and bless you all the joys… He’ll take full care of you”. Then she ran away from our car and got mixed with the crowd in the beach.
My voice had clogged… I couldn’t gather enough hatred to hate the selfish self embedded in me… I didn’t have enough courage to touch that poignant souvenir from the heart of a real human being… no I dared not… my hands were not so pure… I closed my eyelids as tight as I could but wild stream of remorse slipped out of them to touch my lips and remind me of my error…

Decades have passed… life has been through so many high as well as low tides as if rapidly filling up the pages of our individual Mahabharata… but within these pages dwell some stories those grab our heart… perspectives those make us stop our breath and think… and emotions those make us reflect. If we dig deep in some brave reminiscence we really find those true hidden gems, treasures worth rediscovering! Today, I felt so good narrating my bygone encounter with the seashell seller girl, whose name I wasn’t fortunate enough to know… but something I know for sure- I’m blessed to have met God in the seashore in those days when I was too small to recognise Him. God marks his presence in all those things which our ever growing immoral eyes fail to trace!

- Anunoy Samanta

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Qutub Minar - a World Heritage Site

At the end of October I had been to Delhi… not for experiencing the onset of winter… strictly for some official reason. I was in real hurry to finish up my work there and not to get into any Delhi belly as I had already over-exploited my Durgapuja leave and badly needed to resume my duty as soon as possible. I usually depend on my mobile calendar but it betrayed me for the first time… I reached Delhi on a national holiday with Sunday as the next day! The sheer frustration from the idea that I’ve to waste two nights in a hotel with nothing fancy to do kept me encaged in my hotel room at Greenpark for the whole day. I tried to be more rational and searched the contact number of Delhi tourism from internet with the intention of using the following day for Delhi Darshan but luck didn’t favour this brave once again… the lady regretted politely, “Sorry Sir, all the seats are already booked for tomorrow”. HoHo bus was another option I could opt for but I was actually lacking the traveller’s spirit due to my pending work, so, settled with some leisurely walk. Late risers are always deprived of good photographic opportunities… I took a kilometre of auto-rickshaw ride from Qutub Minar metro station only to find endless Sunday-crowd and an ‘almost overhead’ sun dominated World Heritage Site …

Well, I’m not much into historical facts and all but there’s no harm in reading at least those few lines inscribed on marbles exclusively or tourists. You may google search for more detailed information but here I’ll summarise the historical background of Qutub Minar. Qutub Minar, the tallest stone tower in India, now a World Heritage Site, splendid demonstration of Indo-Islamic Afghan architecture was conceived by Qutbuddin Aibak towards the end of the twelfth century. The variegated plans of its three lower storeys, the projecting balconies with beautiful stalactite pendentives brackets and ornate bands of inscriptions on its facades heighten its decorative charm. Qutub Minar has a diameter of 46 feet at its base and 9 feet at its top. With a height of 238 feet and 379 steps, although Qutub Minar is the highest stone Minar in India, it’s amazing to know that its height is 5 feet less than that of Taj Mahal.

Noon time stroll inside the Qutub complex stole my travelling gusto very soon. I remembered that I didn’t take any breakfast… I was thirsty too and can’t recall how many glasses of lemon-soda I had gulped. Oh I forgot to mention an unpleasing scene inside the Qutub complex. A western lady was repeatedly being requested to pose with them for photos by a group of Desi guys whose intentions I better not write. I think I don’t have to describe the outfit of the lady (you’ve got it from the craving of those brats right?) and I couldn’t solve the puzzle why she was agreeing to pose several times with those ‘face speaks it all’ strangers… or, was it courtesy of a co-tourist? Anyway I repented for visiting so late and getting all over exposed shots under the rowdy sun and my repentance reached its peak when I discovered that Saket metro station was closer to the Qutub Minar complex than the metro station with the same name! Before I returned back to Greenpark, I wishlisted another visit to Qutub Minar in my next Delhi trip…

Monday, December 3, 2012


Something you want to get rid of evermore;

You start trying with your magic wand:

Ogle at wise men’s book-

Savour old matured wine-

Chinwag with a madcap-

Sniff an eau de toilette-

Gulp some vintage porn-

Mount the white Himalaya-

Lunge into an oasis pool-

And when the giant day bids goodbye,

You’re left with a battery drained remote,

Duh that sadistic ‘something’ reappears again!

- Anunoy Samanta