Sep 28, 2011

Land of Celebration

At my farewell party in Takasago, many of my Indian colleagues acknowledged, and referred to my moving from Japan to US as one from the Land of Mysteries to the Land of Opportunities. While LoM is widely associated with the US, few refer to Japan as LoM. (Google search shows Egypt as LoM though-for the most part).

Was wondering what India is Land of! Land of Religions? Land of languages? Land of cultures? Land of ... what, what…..? I can’t conclusively think of anything, with my not-so-wide knowledge about my own country :- (

When I was in India in late June, the famous painter MF.Hussain died, and as I watched in the media, MF.Hussain used to refer to India as the Land of Celebration. I dismissed it as a fancy phrase by the Indian painter who was one among the highest paid artists in the world (he was worth several hundred million of dollars, I read), but who defamed India by giving up Indian citizenship citing protests to his depictions of the Hindu Gods in naked.
As I was heading home following a visit to our ‘family temple’ in Thandupathu with mom and sister in a rental car, I could spot some saffron-clad pilgrims walking barefoot towards Tiruchendur. There weren’t many; but every 2-3 minutes of my ride I could see 4-5 people walking in a group. I learned that in the next 2 days there would be Visakam festival in Tiruchendur for which these pilgrims were walking to Tiruchendur- some from faraway places in Madurai/Ramnad district. They were mostly not-so-well-off people, apparently they had taken ‘oath’ with Lord Murugan to do this barefoot pilgrimage, hoping in exchange a remedy to their problems. Seeing them walk in barefoot in hot sun (it was noon then), I took pity on them. “What the hell had Lord Murugan done for you, after all? Why should you take this pain of walking to Tiruchendur to worship him??” said I.

The next day as I was returning from KKarisal with my sister, again I saw these pilgrims. Being evening (6 pm), there were quite a number of people walking alongside the Tiruchendur road continuously –hardly there was a 50m stretch of road in which I did not see someone walking. Not just the number, the type of crowd also was different; this time I saw people in normal clothes, and none of them was saffron-clad. People were walking in groups –groups of young boys, young girls, families. In a moment I recalled the “Kakogawa City March” we used to do in Japan in which tens of thousands of people gather at the City Office and walk around the city in 10 to 40 km courses. We have done (the whole family) the 10 km course 3-4 times, and in Y2010 I did the 35 km course, the longest then. The City Office organizes this annual event, in which the city residents from every corner participate in great enthusiasm. While appreciating the city Office efforts, I also used to wonder how good it will be if only back in India our Municipalities or City Corporations arranged this kind of ‘healthy’ marches.

And here in Tuticorin tens of thousands of people do a similar – or, to be honest, much tougher walk- every year (twice, one for Visakam and the other one during Tamil New Year, as I learned later)! I felt ashamed that I didn’t know of this event, happening right in my hometown!

I got tempted. Why not join the crowd?

I asked my cousin Askar in KKarisal, who said he has been doing it for 5-6 years but this time he had a leg injury. Asked another friend Baskar who would have joined me but for his maiden trip to Sri Lanka the next day. I decided to go myself.

It was 8pm when I started with a backpack carrying water-bottles, snacks, fruits and a towel. I had changed to half-trouser and walking shoes. (It turned out that I was the only one guy in the whole crowd –I would estimate it to be 30-40,000- that was walking with shoes). After 2-3 kms, the crowd was too much that it was blocking half the road. It was like going in a mega procession. There were a number of places where they were serving water packs free. Some places they even served hot milk –again free of charge. There was no need to carry water bottles! Also, throughout the route, in all the towns petty shops remained open 24 hours, where one could buy bananas or cool drinks. There was no need to carry snacks/fruits either!

As I said earlier, the crowd comprised of mostly ordinary people –not saffron-clad – and nowhere I felt like being in a religious pilgrimage. They kept talking, cracking jokes…. And it seemed they were doing a sport adventure in a light sprit. It was amazing to see those men, women and children who were actively walking 40km in a single night –and doing it ‘just like that’. Most of them were walking in good speed –I had had to walk pretty fast to catch up with them. Young boys and girls who walked in groups were almost jogging; I gave up catching up with them. For most of them, it was more than a pilgrimage; more than a sport; they were in a festive mood, yet tiring and mindful of the remaining kilometers they still had to walk down before the dawn.

In Authoor I sat for 10 min around midnight. Some people were sleeping on whatever little space available; some right on the road. There was no police anywhere in the entire 40 km route. Yet, there was no disturbance or disruption to the traffic though the crowd was covering half of the road for most part of the route. There was no fear of any misbehavior. I had never imagined even in my wildest dreams that India could be this self-disciplined and safe. (On the other hand, the Govt machinery was so indifferent and careless –they had not even arranged temporary toilet facilities anywhere in the entire 40 km stretch).
It was sharp 4 am when I reached Tiruchendur. Though I wasn’t keen in visiting the temple, took the extra 5 min time to go inside, which might please Dee who kept talking to me (from US) at my cell phone throughout my walk. The temple was jam-packed with ‘walkers’ and there was a mile-long Q before one could get inside the main temple. I gave up the idea of seeing Lord Murugan, and instead visited the “VaLLi Cave” which is my & Deepika’s favorite spot in the Tiruchendur temple. As expected, there wasn’t much crowd there.

At about 5 am, I left Tiruchendur for Tuticorin in a pre-arranged rental car.

It was such a great experience to have walked 40km with thousands of people the whole night, that I wanted to do it every year –I should schedule my annual visit to India to match this event (around June-12). It was great that some old practices are indeed health-related activities and such an activity -‘the 40km marathon walk’ – is still popular among a section of people , be it in the name of God or whatever. On hearing about my walk, a relative of mine got excited of Lord Murugan’s Godly powers –that He made even an atheist Subahar go to see Him walking 40 km!

And I found there was some truth in what MF.Hussain said of India: “…Land of Celebration"

Sep 27, 2011

நீண்ட இடைவெளிக்குப் பின்…..

சில மாதங்கள் வலைமனைக்குக் கட்டாய ஓய்வு தந்ததில், எழுதுவதின் நோக்கம் பற்றிப் பலமுறை யோசித்து, சரியான பதில் ஏதும் கிடைக்கவில்லை. சுஜாதாவே ‘இலக்கியம் என்பதே ஒரு பயனற்ற வேலையோ’ என்று சந்தேகம் வருவதாக ஒருமுறை எழுதியிருக்கிறார் (கற்றதும் பெற்றதும் –டில்லி குளிரில் பிளாட்பாரத்தில் தூங்கும் குழந்தைகள் பற்றி எழுதும்போது). இருந்தும், ‘நல்ல எழுத்து’ பற்றிப் பலமுறை அலசியிருக்கிறார். அழகான ஒரு காட்சியை காமிராவில் ‘கிளிக்’ செய்து அதன் அழகை, மனதில் அது ஏற்படுத்திய ஒரு சின்ன பாதிப்பை வருடங்கள் கடந்தும் நினைவுபடுத்திக் கொள்வது மாதிரி, (நல்ல) கவிதையும் எழுத்தும் மனதின் உணர்வுகளைக் காலம் கடந்து நிற்க வைப்பதாக அவர் எழுதியது நிஜமே (என்றாலும், பழசை மீண்டும் நினைப்பது அவசியமா என்ற கேள்வி எழுகிறது!)

லைமனையில் இன்றைய தேதிக்கு எழுதிக் குவிப்பவர்கள் ஏராளம். காதல் முதல் ‘புடலங்காய் சாம்பார் வைப்பது எப்படி?’ என்பது வரை தமிழ் கூறும் நல்லோர்கள் வலையில் தொடாத சப்ஜெக்ட் இல்லை. “என்னை நானே பட்டை தீட்டிக்கொள்ளும் களம்” என்றெல்லாம் அதி தீவிர முன்னுரை கொடுத்துவிட்டு “சேகர் பஸ் ஸ்டான்டில் காதலிக்காகக் காத்திருந்தான்” போன்ற சிறுகதையோ, “செல் போன் சிணுங்கியது. காதில் வைத்தேன்; என்னவள் சிணுங்கினாள்” என்று டப்பா புதுக்கவிதையோ எழுதிகிறார்கள். பின்நவீனத்துவம் ஏன்று புரியாமல் எழுதும் மோடிமஸ்தான்கள் ஒருபுறமும், மோடிமஸ்தானின் கூட்டத்தில் வேடிக்கை பார்க்கும் வெட்டிக்கும்பல் ஒருபுறமுமாக, வலைமனையில் குவியும் குப்பைகளுக்கு அளவே இல்லை.

ருந்தும் எழுதுவதில் ஒரு கவர்ச்சி இருக்கிறது. “சொல்லப்போனால் எல்லோருக்குமே கதை சொல்லும் ஆர்வம் இருக்கிறது” என்று சுஜாதா சொன்னதுபோல. எழுத்து, ஒரு ஃபோட்டோ ஆல்பம் போல. அவ்வளவே. சமயங்களில் புகைப்படம் சொல்லாததையும் எழுத்து சொல்லும்போது, அது சுவராஸ்யமாகிறது.