Do not stop, with defeat

Do not stop, when failure gives you a sting.
Only after the autumn, comes the pleasures of spring.
This defeat will put you to the test.
So keep moving on your quest.
There will be no companion,
Neither a convoy, nor a procession.
Keep moving, sustained only by your heart.
The destination beckons, so play your part.
And look out; let no one be your distraction,
No matter whatever the attraction.
Keep going, Oh! traveler, do not refrain,
For your destination won’t summon you again.

A Moment in Time

Neither can you advance, nor go back in time.
All that exists; is within this moment sublime.
Scattered along the path are shadows unknown,
Where unseen weeds of ignorance have grown.

You do not know the future, nor can change the past;
Whatever is there, is this moment steadfast.
At this moment, the world is yours to last.
This very moment outdoes centuries passed.

Ahead of this moment, everything becomes stories of fantasies.
This is the only time to fulfill the prophecies.
This moment, you shall receive all that you are due.
For you may not know what lies ahead of you,
Nor can you change what lies behind you.

Only the present moment is lit-up.
Rest is a darkness engulfed setup.
Do not squander this moment on lures,
For, only this instant is yours.

An Oath, A Lie, Or Both.

Promises, lies, love, loyalty and all,
are mere words that mean nothing at all.
You may have saints and angels all around,
These are sheer illusions that surround.
Everyone is your friend in your prime,
But even your shadow abandons in tough time.
There will never be any love so true,
That the other will walk into the grave with you.
When people deceive God himself above all,
You are an insignificant mortal after all.

A Twist of Fate.

Gopi was the eldest amongst the three siblings. His father had taken to the bottle and due to this habit he lost his job, the house and eventually died early. Gopi’s mother, fed up of her husband’s habits, had taken the other two children and had gone to live with her brothers in the village. Meanwhile, due to some favor of some relative or a well wisher’s foresight, Gopi was able to complete his basic education in a free school run by a British mission. Ever since his father’s death, Gopi was the sole breadwinner of the family.  Since Gopi had some basic primary education and could read and write in English along with a few regional languages, found himself a job in a 5-star hotel as a Bell Hop.  His mission-led education had paid-off and it showed in the way he conducted himself at work. He was always found well-mannered and extremely polite and hence he quickly gained popularity among guests and his superiors’ alike. A few years later he was promoted to a Room Boy.

One day, he was asked to assist a guest into his room and Gopi with his usual charm ushered the English gentleman into his suite. Thanks to his Anglo -Indian education, the guest was pleased with Gopi’s mannerisms and was particularly taken to his impeccable language and charm. After a few days of casual interactions, the Gentleman who was referred to as “The Sahib” took a liking to Gopi. He would have Gopi run a few errands after work hours or just chit-chat with Gopi occasionally enquiring about his family and his background.  The Sahib was a frequent visitor and each time stayed for a fortnight or longer and he would always call upon Gopi for assistance.  It was later known that the gentleman was a British national; a chronic bachelor and he along with his two brothers had invested in oil and struck gold. They were immensely wealthy and with no apparent heir, had formed trusts and gave away much to charities.

One evening, the guest asked Gopi to meet him in his suite after his shift and when he arrived, the Sahib asked him to wait in the room while he would return after a few minutes. Gopi went into the room as instructed as soon as the guest left. What Gopi saw in the room was something he was not prepared for; he saw the bed strewn with bundles and bundles of currency notes of various denominations. Gopi had never seen so much money all his life. There were open brief cases with bundles of money kept on the tables too. Gopi felt dizzy with excitement and fear. One side of him told him to take a few bundles and run away. If he managed to smuggle a bag of money it would make his life. Another side instructed him to just do what he was asked to do. The Sahib had said he will be back in a few moments and Gopi feared he might be caught in the act if he tried to steal any money. Again his conscience got better of him and instructed him to stay put and guard the room. Out of perplexity or fear, Gopi stood rooted to the spot cursing the Sahib in putting him into this dilemma.

The Sahib did not have any particular work at all. After instructing Gopi to wait in the bedroom he just headed to the poolside restaurant and had a laid-back evening with a few drinks. After a leisurely dinner, he lazed by the poolside smoking his usual cigars and having an occasional drink. Sometime in the early hours the Sahib returned to find Gopi rooted to the spot just outside the bedroom door staring at the money and almost dazed out of his wits.

Perhaps it was the Sahib’s way of testing loyalty and faithfulness since he already knew of Gopi’s background and circumstances. A few days later, the Sahib took Gopi under his tutelage and employed him as his personal assistant. In a classic tale of rags to riches, the world changed for Gopi overnight. Over the forthcoming years Gopi became prosperous and the Sahib took care of him like a son. He learnt the tricks and trades of trading from the Sahib of handling finances and documentation pertaining to the business. After a few years, the Sahib retired and settled in the countryside and Gopi returned to his hometown, married and fathered two children and lived a contented life.  When the Sahib passed away, in his Will, the lawyers were instructed that all his wealth was to be donated to various charities and trusts, but a substantial amount was left behind for Gopi.

Vendetta

So said the men of honor; the wise and old,
When treachery and deceit goes untold.
Even if you are rid of the last piece of gold.
Your soul, to the Devil, if must be sold,
The vengeance must yield ten-fold.
A Vendetta- first plan and put it on hold,
Patiently wait and behold,
When least expected, let the justice unfold
Since, it has long been foretold;
“Revenge is a dish, best served cold”.

A cut above the rest

An eagle, even with a broken wing, is still an avenger.

But a crow, even if disguised, will always be a scavenger.

Be it amidst the ocean, a dog will only lap-up and lick,

Even in abundance, it can never drink!

It’s a fight, only if it’s among the equal.

Since a mouse can only steal from a lion’s morsel!.

A shard of glass may throw a spectrum of light so grand,

But remember, while glass is made from mere sand,

A diamond is formed over a million years, do understand

So, you foolish young Lass

How could you compare a diamond with glass?

It’s not just a matter of class

It’s always the diamond, that cuts the glass.

The Fusion of Faith

Ancient sculptures and symbolic references have always intrigued me and so I thoroughly enjoy my vacation amidst ruins or historical monuments. But what I saw in the strange little temple in Gujrat was something I was not prepared for. Usually temples are named after the deity and when I heard the name of EME temple, I was slightly taken aback. EME is indeed the name of a temple – a very unique place and probably the only structure of its kind; built by the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (EME) unit of the Indian army, hence the name.

This is an uncommonly modern temple with structures made of aluminum extracted from old fighter airplanes from World War II. The silvery white tower and the dome will make you think twice before you actually accept the fact that it is a temple. The stone slab at the entrance says that The EME temple, was conceived, designed and constructed in 1965 under the patronage of the founder commandant of EME School-Brigadier A.F. Eugene.

This unassuming religious site is a mixture of modern architecture and ancient artifacts, and has been constructed by depicting symbols of various religions. The four entrance doors in an elliptical shape represent Jain architecture. While the prayer hall, which is dome-shaped, depicts Islam, the top of the dome represents Buddhism. A 70-feet tower depicts Christianity and a Kalash-the Vedic motif on top symbolizes Hinduism. The temple premises has over a 100 sculptures ranging from the 6th to the 18th century neatly arranged in the most, serene and picturesque surroundings  amidst seven pairs of banyan trees named after the Saptarishis and their wives (seven  saints). These trees provide ample shade to these ancient artifacts and accentuate the splendor of the surroundings. I was told that the sculptures and antique artifacts were collected from all over India, over a period of many years by the army cadets during their training exercises; in and around some jungles and ancient abandoned cities or forts.

As you enter the dome you see a main deity of Lord Shiva in human form with his feet pressing down on a demon, denoting suppression of all forms of distractions to achieve one’s goals, but unlike the usual temple, there are no priests or any holy men fussing about.

Later in the evening, after admiring the sculptures and statues, when I went into the temple; I noticed people gathered inside the shrine meditating or reading scriptures in silence; after a while a soldier walked in with his army fatigues except his shoes and threw a salute at the deity. He then proceeded to light a few lamps and the people who were gathered around sang some hymns in unison and offered their prayers.  After almost an hour, some curtains were drawn to cover the idol to announce the closing time.

Never have I seen a more classic example of ‘Work is Worship’. There are no priests or incense or any signs of religious practices. The temple is maintained by the Indian Army where the soldiers and their families of all religions and faith volunteer to perform and maintain the cleanliness of the temple premises. A visit to this monumental structure will be an experience that will live in your memory forever. Perhaps for the first time, I felt a spiritual vibe at the amazing architectural achievement of the Indian Army where there are no spiritual barriers, no boundaries of religion and faith, or separation of classes.

The Lotus Lady

It was quite unusual for my so called ‘annoyingly meticulous’ nature that I would make an impulsive decision. I am a stickler for details and by the force of habit; I plan every activity meticulously to its last dot. I was backpacking and had finished most parts of Gujarat and wanted to further explore Rajasthan. As per my itinerary, even though the final destination was much ahead, I was surprised at my sudden impulsive reaction that during my train journey, I just got off the train at a random station without any planning.

As soon as the train left, I was cursing my foolishness when the first sight that welcomed me was a medieval fort perched atop a hill. The railway station itself is so small that a single room serves as a station masters room and the ticketing counter. But he was quite a helpful man and offered to keep my luggage in that same room since there was no cloak room at all.

Armed with a camera bag and my broken Hindi, I stepped outside the station to be greeted by two men, one being the auto rickshaw and the other being a horse drawn cart. Since I couldn’t bear the sight of an animal being whipped to transport people, I chose the auto rickshaw.

The auto driver gave me a short lecture on the place, the fort and local geography as we passed through the seven gates that were en-route to the top of the hill. He said the 300 feet high fort wall spanned 700 acres and the hill was shaped like a Whale. It was divided into three segments; the front portion consisted of villages, the middle portion consisted of many buildings that used to house the royals and the last one was a jungle that still had some deer and peacocks. Out of many structures the first one was a temple that belonged to Meera, the ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. He dropped me at the entrance of a temple and left.

As I wandered about the fort, I saw most of the tourist attractions such as the victory tower and the tower of fame, a broken structure that was called Naulaka Bhandar that roughly translates into the ‘nine lakh treasury’. Some locals said it used to be a complex where a sum of nine lakh currency was stored to be utilized for the kingdom during bitter times.

After a long walk of an hour or so, at an isolated corner of the fort, I came across the entrance of a white building; I was beckoned by an old woman. I mistook her for a vendor trying to sell some wares, but to my surprise she just wanted to apply Vermilion paste to my forehead. She refused to take any money either. The old woman explained that this was Rani Padmini’s palace and she looked after the queen roses.  She spoke of the queen who lived in 1303 AD with such reverence and devotion that I almost expected the queen to just walk in any moment.

Even though I don’t know anyone by that name, I always found the name Padmini that meant lotus, quite pleasing and effeminate. Rani Padmini’s palace is originally built in the middle of a lotus pond adjacent to a complex adorned by a little rose garden. The queen would walk through this garden and a little boat would row her to the palace.

The old woman said that according to legends, which she heard from her grandmother, Rani Padmini’s beauty was unparalleled. The folk lore said that her complexion was so flawless and her skin so delicate that when she chewed her favorite paan- a combination of betel leaves, areca nuts, rose marmalade etc., one could see its crimson juices trickling down her throat. Until a few years ago, I would have dismissed this idea as a blatant lie, but during recent times, I happened to get acquainted with a lady whose name also incidentally refers to a lotus blossom, while she too has an unblemished complexion that is light enough for the veins to show through after a few minutes of exposure to the sun; and to add to which, she also has an unusual taste for paan.

The old woman said the story with such reverence that was so touching and heart wrenching.  The fame of Rani Padmini’s beauty and grace spread far and wide and this led to the first siege of Chittaur garh in 1303.The mogul ruler, Ala-ud-din Khilji attacked Chittaur Garh repeatedly to take Rani Padmini by force but could not subdue the fort. At that time, the Royals and the Subjects lived inside the fort and the food was cultivated outside .So he laid a siege around the fort and cut off all food supplies to the fort. He demanded for a glimpse of the queen, eventually the food stocks ran out after six months and the King, out of helplessness had to heed to Alauddin Khilji’s demand.

Along with beauty and grace, Rani Padmini was also highly intelligent.  Ala-ud-din  was escorted by  Gora( Uncle) and Badal (Brother), into a room built across the pond from Rani Padmini’s Palace where he had a glimpse of Rani Padmini.  This room has a complex arrangement of a mirror and he could only see the reflection of Rani Padmini standing on the stairs of the lotus pond some 50 feet away. I saw the mirror in which the queen’s image was shown. And if you actually turn back and try to see the spot where the queen would have been standing, you cannot see it. It is visible only through the mirror.

Even the reflection was so beautiful that the Moghul King was awed by her sparkling beauty. The stunned lustful ruler decided that such a beauty deserved to adorn his harem. He tricked her husband, King Ratan Singh, to escort him to the gates of the fort.  As soon as they reached the gate, Alauddin Khilji and his body guards kidnapped Ratan Singh and took him prisoner. The Moghul ruler sent a message to Rani Padmini that if the life of the king has to be spared then she must accompany him to Delhi.

What follows later is history. She sends word that she accepts his conditions. On the following morning at the crack of dawn, one hundred and fifty palaquins (covered cases in which royal ladies and their maids were carried in medieval times) made their way towards Alauddin’s camps. And in a strategy that would impress any military commander, warriors pour out of the palanquins and take the Mogul army by surprise. During the encounter Gora fights bravely and lays down his life while Badal takes Ratan Singh safely to the fort.

The humiliated Mogul King summons his army from Delhi and storms the fort. In the ensuing battle around 30,000 men were killed and 17,000 women of Chittaur Garh were slaughtered.  Rani Padmini knew that a defeat was inevitable.  In an act of ultimate revenge, she had a thirty feet deep pit dug out. After a ceremonial bath in the Gaumukh (an underground stream of crystal clear water flows into a pond from a small natural cave through a cow’s head shaped outlet). She offers her prayers to the Gods, and jumps into the pit that had a huge fire burning inside. She was followed by many women who chose death over dishonor.

Thus began an ancient tradition with Rani Padmini. Jauhar refers to the voluntary and honorary death of the queen and other royal female members upon the defeat of the kings. When the kingdom was defeated by the Muslim rulers, the women preferred to commit suicide by self immolation, rather than being captured and raped by the Muslim invaders, who used the royal women in their harems.

Alauddin Khilji looted and plundered Chittaur Garh and killed everyone. Finally, he handed over Chittaurgarh to his minor son Khizr Khan who after a few months returned to Delhi since there was no point in being a ruler of a province without subjects.

I felt a pang of regret and with a heightened sense of respect for the queen; I walked out of the place with a heavy heart. But while the old lady recited the legend and described Rani Padmini,I could almost visualize a graceful feminine form sitting by the lotus pond brushing her tresses and humming a tune.

In the Lime-light

Balram, being one of those who took the most simple things too seriously, he normally gave too much thought to unimportant things. One day, his mother asked him to buy a few lemons from the shop at the end of the street. As usual, being the one who gave unnecessary thought for small things, he decided to go to a traders market that was a few miles away because it would be cheaper there. Although anyone else would normally pick up the lemons, which would normally cost Rupees 3 to 4 each, at any local neighborhood shop. Balram spent over an hour making a trip to the market, without realizing that the petrol spent to commute would cost a lot more. In any case, he went to the market on the scooter and parked it at a distance and walked through the crowded roads to locate a vendor who sells lemons. Eventually he found a vendor who had a large basket of lemons and many more stacked in his shop.  Balram began his lengthy conversations and his inquiries about the agriculture, the region, and the origins of the lemon. He felt it was necessary to negotiate the cost of lemons. He was particularly happy that the lemons cost him one rupee lesser than the local vegetable store. But as usual, he still gave it a little more contemplation and asked the vendor if the price could be reduced further if he bought a large quantity. Since it was a wholesalers market, usually the fruits and produce were traded in truckloads .It wasn’t unusual for such requirements in a wholesale market and the vendors get accustomed to such requests. So, the vendor agreed and asked how much would be required and then, Balram in all his generosity told the vendor that he wanted 15 lemons.