Walking Around Kathmandu

I was on a market street somewhere between Thamel and Basantpur, walking towards the Durbar Square in Basantpur, which I was told by the people who gave me directions was at a walking distance, though I was finding the rightness of the expression “walking distance” very questionable with every kilometre I walked. Much as I disliked admitting it, the walk was actually not that bad, though a little outside of my zone of expectations in terms of the distance. There were honking scooters, speeding rickshaws and men, women and children going in every possible direction in the narrow galis or lanes where I was walking, which had double storey houses on both the sides, and small shops at the ground level. The houses had an entrance door opening in the gali, sometimes with some small verandah, where some women and old men were sitting and talking, or just sitting. I thought it uncanny, since I had not seen people just sitting like that, though I let it pass. “Maybe one of their lazy days, or some slow hour of the day”, I thought to myself.

Travel-1

The Durbar Square came upon me as a surprise, just as I had gotten habituated to the walking and looking around. There stood marvels in carved wood and red brick, scattered in large open spaces, where you could stand and take in the splendour of it all. While I looked on in wonder, I also saw that there were men sitting everywhere in the Durbar Square, in the pastel colored Nepali hats. This was becoming too uncanny to ignore. There were men sitting on benches, in the corridors of the buildings and on the steps leading to the temples. Just as I was ready to dismiss them as “jobless”, I stopped to rethink my perception of people, the given situation and life as such. What is it that makes us so productivity-driven? Why is it that the idea of sitting with one’s own self, alone, without any work and without any thinking felt out of ordinary? Why was it that I was so quick to think that just because some people looked free and without any work, I equated them with being jobless?

I discovered that every place can teach us things that as yet we don’t even know we need to learn. And it is for that reason that we need to travel. Even though we may be cultured and polite on the outside, inside, many a time, we are thinking something that is a polar opposite of what we project to others. So, while I thought I was perfectly at peace with myself, I understood that I really did have the need to constantly do something or talk about something or atleast think about something. I had lost the inability to enjoy and cherish silence inside and outside.

With this pensive mood, I took a cab to the Bouddhanath Stupa, a sacred monument and monastery where Buddhist monks lived and practiced the higher truths of living. As I entered there were pigeons flying all around, and little monks were feeding the pigeons the seeds. They playfully fed the seeds to the pigeons and talked amongst themselves, occasionally laughing and sometimes getting into an intense discussion. A smile came to my lips. The men in the Durbar Square created a question in me, and these little monks were the answer. Do we need to be jobless? No. Do we need to be efficient? Yes. Do we need to work or think or talk all the time? Not at all.

The Bouddhanath Stupa looked different to me seeing it with a silence inside. Only now I really noticed the intensity in Buddha’s eyes which were watching over the world. Only now I relished the serene smell of the incense around the Stupa. The silent space inside, once discovered, doesn’t just make us more relaxed, it makes us be more with where we are, and who we are. It makes us available to the new lands we explore, and makes the exploration a complete experience.

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Satori at Pashupatinath

Image (c) Arti Agarwal
Image (c) Arti Agarwal

“So what’s the story behind the temple ?”, I ask my friend, munching a typical Nepali breakfast of poori, jalebi and tarkari outside the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. My friend is a Nepali who left his country in the year 1999 before the political drama had begun to unfold in Nepal. Twelve years later, his spiritual wanderings see him outside this temple today eating breakfast with a fellow spiritual seeker like me. All around shopkeepers and vendors try to sell me rudrakshaskum kumdiyas, flowers, beads, incense, idols, pooja fans and an assortment of pretty items which I admire and politely decline to buy – just yet.

“Many stories are afloat”, he answers, sipping his tea. “One of the more popular ones is that the Pandavas after the battle of Mahabharata wanted to redeem themselves of their sin of killing their kith and kin and prayed to Lord Shiva to forgive them. Lord Shiva assumed a bull form to elude them. After a lot of tapas and search, the Pandavas saw the bull and immediately knew that this is Lord Shiva. On seeing them, Lord Shiva, in the bull form, started to dig into the ground to avoid them. The Pandavas run after him and could only catch his head as the rest of his body was already under the ground. Seeing their earnestness, Lord Shiva forgave them. Since then, He is worshipped as the Lord of Animals or Pashupatinath in this temple”.

“Interesting”. True ? Who knows ? Considering the number of times the face of the world has been swept by the forces of nature – and man – in the last twenty centuries and more, can there even be any tangible proof of any tale dating that far back ? For that matter, is there any proof of anything worth knowing in life ? Maybe our biggest achievements of today will be met with a similar scrutiny and skepticism by whatever exists in the world twenty more centuries from now, one never knows.

“Do you want a pooja basket ?”, asks my friend bringing me back from my train of thoughts as I look around the place wondering how, when and by who – or who all – this temple was put in its present form. I ponder over the fact that this temple is the biggest place of worship of Lord Shiva in Nepal, and has been under the direct patronage of the kings of Nepal since time immemorial, getting contributions from many rulers to expand the temple complex. My sense of time and place gets momentarily boggled and my sense of history feels flustered.

I realize my friend is looking at me and smiling and waiting for an answer. “Yes ofcourse, we’ll take a pooja basket. And a rudraksha mala, a big one, to go with the rest”, for I was already wearing two. A mala is another term for a string of beads worn around the neck. Rudrakshas are beads that hold the cosmic energy in them – which means, the more you meditate and the deeper your connection with your inner self, the more energy therudrakshas will hold and the darker their color will be.

Since my childhood my connection with deities and temples had been nothing greater than my connection with road signs, which is to say, not at all. They were something people used to follow and take seriously but I never understood why, because they never lead me to anywhere. I had questions in my mind which I wanted answers to, but a temple did not seem like a place where I would find answers on existence.

Today I was in one of the holiest temples of Lord Shiva, the God of enlightenment.  As I enter the temple compound I am instantly taken in by the grand pagoda structure, the crowds, the incense, the loud Nepali music, the camphor, the electrifying energy in the atmosphere and the monkeys hopping from one place to the other like its their playground. Here, I, with my malas, do not stand out at all. Here, I fit in comfortably. There is an erstwhile unseen energy in the air which begins to penetrate my very being, raising me beyond the physical, immersing me into the present, the immediate, the inner world in sync with the outer world. I see people and their faces, their expressions. My friend tells me I should stand in the queue for the pooja and darshan. He is talking to the priest trying to find the best way to get the darshan. He has been here several times, but he is trying to ensure I don’t miss anything important. I tell him to relax. Some people hustle and bustle in the queue, like they always do. I can see them struggling to get near God. They dont want to miss God. But how can you ever miss God?

It’s my turn. I step forward and give the pooja basket to the bhatt who takes it, without pausing his mantra chanting. My eyes are now arrested on the golden eyes standing out from the stark black shiva linga which are staring right at me. In that moment, I am transfixed on the eyes – they seem to be talking to me, without saying anything. The bhatt brings back therudrakshas and the sandalwood paste and I walk out, blissful. My friend and I walk around the temple having darshan of the remaining deities and soaking in the temple vibes. I am very aware … in my mind, there are no thoughts, only the present moment and its experience. While in the queue, the question had occurred to me, why am I here? And the answer came, this time. I am here, not because I want to be here, but because Pashupatinath wants me here.  Because the cosmos wants me here. I did not fret aboutdarshan or pooja, I knew I was here not because I wanted something but because the cosmos wanted to give me something, all I had to do was receive. And I did. I let myself be a path for His energy to flow through me. And I could feel it now, vibrating in my being like the membrane of a drum. I know now, that some answers come, but not in words – but as an experience.

Where is Everybody Going?

Image (c) Arti Agarwal
Image (c) Arti Agarwal

 

It’s past mid-September in Bangalore. It’s around 8 in the morning. I take my breakfast of vada, Sāmbhar and chutney and sit at a free table. I am at the Bangalore International Airport Terminal. An elderly gentleman asks me if he can sit at the table. “Ofcourse, please”, I reply.

As I eat, I look around. In the same moment I both see and hear – birds! Twittering ( No , I don’t mean on an android ), chirping, hopping away. Flying around all over the café. Flying from the supports in the ceiling to the chairs in the café. Landing on the floor like little kids landing dangerously on the ground from a slide swing, while people munch at their food absently, their bodies and minds having no connection with each other, shown by their blank, distracted gazes into the great nothing.

I am slowly feeling deafened by the incessant announcements for people who will miss their flights if they don’t rush now and reach the boarding gates in time. People look at me with a confused and curious look. I am smiling. They look around me to see why. They don’t seem to be able to see it! They don’t see the birds! The birds are now sitting on the chair right in front of me, twittering away. I wonder if I have some mighty power by which only I can see and hear them. I look around and take a 360 degree view of the place and the people moving about in the place. Nobody is looking at the birds! There are atleast two dozen birds. A whole airport is missing such a riot of activity.. how is that possible?

People all around. Their faces say they are either busy socializing with their bosses and colleagues, planning their next strategy or move, or worrying about the never ending, all possessing work. I’m now sitting at the boarding gate. The man sitting next to me is wearing a beautiful suit, and playing with a big phone. Have we, humans, totally lost the capacity to enjoy life? We are either worrying or trying to keep our hands and minds occupied withsomething. The man just discovered that we have started boarding. I don’t think he paused to think before going and standing at the extreme end of a very long queue for boarding. What’s the rush? It doesn’t seem possible that the plane will leave without collecting everything and everyone it is supposed to take, proven by the many announcements.

I wonder if anyone paused to look at the very huge screen display with a beautiful photograph of the colors of holi, the festival of color celebrated enthusiastically all over India. Everyone tells me they “appreciate photography” and have very recently bought the xyz camera by Nikon or Canon and want to know more about it. But no one here seemed to pause and look around or see the beauty in the tiny things. How can anyone learn photography if they don’t know how to appreciate beauty, I wonder. Another man in a chair after mine just wakes up from a very deep sleep. Again, no thinking, wakes up startled, sees the boarding queue, goes and joins the queue at its end.

There was a time when people used to enjoy travel. When people used to look around, observe and cherish the little things that make a place, a place. That make a city, a city. Now, it seems, travel has become just another mundane part of life. Now, people just dress up in expensive clothes to board flights after flights and walk into meetings and business tours without even having a vague idea of where they are. They could be anywhere. They would still be doing the same thing – worrying, planning, missing sleep, missing family, missing life. Where does this lead us? Where is everyone going?

If Only…

If only you could have been there
If only into your joyous eyes I could stare
If only I could hold your hand
All the world and its vicissitudes I could stand
If only the grass was greener this side
If only my pain I did not have to hide
If only I could love you all day
If only you had had the heart to stay…

Why do women talk so much ?

This is something I have always wondered. There was a point of time when I thought I talked a lot. And I guess I did. It was more like some bubbly prattle. Because the child inside me had somehow managed to live on despite the rough changes my life had undergone. But what I am talking about right now is something very different. Why do women have this compulsive need to talk …always ?

I will take the liberty to quote some of the incidents which I have been a part of passively which have now led me to take seats in restaurants and cafe’s far from any table which has more than one woman on it.

The most recent one – Leopold’s Cafe. Upper Seating Area. So I enter there with my boyfriend and on the table next to ours was this herd of women who seemed to have no idea exactly how loud and unruly they are. And dint seem to care either. We left the table in less than 5 mins for a table which was more crowded but thankfully less loud. I say less loud because there were 2 women in the next table again who erupted into loud shrieks and thunderous laughs from time to time. But I could watch F1 Races on the TV, so well, I could tolerate it.

Another one – in the local train to CST. It is common knowledge in Mumbai that not too many women travel in the normal compartments in the local trains but rather in the ladies compartments. I never ever ever even try to travel in the ladies compartment, not even when it is fall-off-the-train crowded. And for good reason. Within minutes you will know why. The train was not particularly crowded that day. Very emptyish, since we were traveling in the direction opposite to the rush. Apart from a few sideways glances at me, all the men in the compartment were silent and minding their own business. At some station, I think it was Kurla, some 5-6 women entered very boisterously and assertively sat down on the limited space available in the compartment at that point of time. That was okey. Most men are respectful towards women in general in trains.  After a few minutes I realized that I could not hear the music from my ipod very well. Damn the chatter. The women were talking amongst themselves. Or that is what they thought. They might have been talking amongst themselves, but well, if I knew Marathi, I would, and so would the rest of the entire compartment, know everything about their discussion at the end of the ride. It was just so hard to ignore. No matter how loud music you play, if your headphones are not noise-cancelling, you just cant miss it.

Another random incident. I was trying to buy some furniture for my new unfurnished house. It was the middle of the day in October and I was tired of the bike ride and sweaty. To avoid a bike ride back home in the afternoon, I suggested that my boyfriend and I cool down at a cafe and wait for the sun to set. Unfortunately there was only one table left in the cafe which was crammed in the middle of other tables, without any room to move around too much. And also, I guess we were out of luck. On the table behind us there was woman sitting with a very quiet guy. This woman, could do nothing but whine. She was something from the creative arts, maybe some0ne somewhere in the media, considering the part of town that we were in. We were forced to hear all her sob stories about her colleagues and what not. We couldn’t help laughing. We were not in the best of moods, but it was really amusing. We switched to another table as soon as it got free.

Now the big question. Seriously, what is it that makes women talk so much ?

There is one theory that I came up with. It kinda makes sense to me. Dating back to the times of kings and queens. The time when men used to go out and work hard and earn a living for the household and women used to stay at home, clean the house, cook food and take care of the children. Think about it. Men were too  busy working all the time to leave them too much time to spend in talking amongst themselves. Women, on the other hand, staying at home all the time, needed some time away from their daily routines doing something else. This was talking. To other similarly free and bored fellow women. They discussed their lives with each other. Every small thing. Small things, because their lives at that point of time were made up of really small everyday tasks. While on the other hand men after having spent all their energy in their work, had no energy left to talk. They wanted to enjoy some quiet peaceful time in their home. This is 0one explanation. This also explains the unending need for women to always talk about relationship issues with their guys and discussing it with their friends whereas men are more accustomed to dismissing every day trivia and avoiding any talk about it. Also, they are not very good at talking and are inwardly afraid that they will mess it up, since they are not used to it since old ages.

Another contributing theory of mine also dates back to old ages. This has to do with importance and rank in the society. Whereas men gained honor and importance in the society by dint of their work and skills, women were not allowed to have any skills or do any work other than the household work. But everyone has an inherent need for importance. Women gained their due importance by merit of their communication skills and the capacity to converse.  They must have been known for the subjects which they were good at talking about, their ability to draw attention of others to their conversation, their style etc.

This also explains why w0men are generally thought of as attention-seekers. Its not really their fault. They were denied all possible attention for centuries when men devoured all the social glory and left women working on petty tasks which no one cared about.

And all of this has made the women of this century the loud, boisterous, attention-loving, tirelessly talkative creatures that we loath to sit next to in restaurants. If only ancient men knew !