Monday, March 25, 2013

My light boy

The light boy

Everyone who goes to Varanasi lights a lamp which is then let into the water. At night its a beautiful sight as it looks like the stars have fallen into the ganga.

I met this boy on my first morning at Varanasi. He asked me to buy his lamps but I said no. He grinned at me with his sheepish smile and left only to return an hour later to ask me to buy his lamp and went back with the same sheepish smile.

That night i headed to the same ghat for the ganga arithi and he was there again. He smiled his sheepish smile and asked me again. I decided to buy one and told him to light it for me.

You want me to light?? I said yes and he was beyond happiness as he lit my lamp and gave it to ganga.

Now everyday that I was in Varanasi, I would buy whatever meal I could find for any beggar who asked me for money. Most accepted my offer including the light boys at this ghat. But they wanted rasagulla (an indian sweet) and I obliged. I asked this little one if he wanted dinner and he said no.

So on our second last evening there, I called him over and told him and gave him a 100 rupee note and he immediately said i have no change. I told him no I want to buy 10 lamps from you and I want you to light them for me.

He was so shocked and happy he didnt know what to do. So he left his basked of lamps next to me and proceeded to light each lamp one by one and ran down the stairs to offer it to Ganga. He did this 10 times and you should have seen the joy in his face.

After that he was a bit too ecstatic, and was trying to find out as much about me as possible. At one point I had to tell him to keep his volume down as prayers were going on.

He ended up lighting and extra light for himself. It was priceless to see him so happy, he had a 1000 watt smile plastered on his face for the whole night.

I hope life treats him better, perhaps one day he will own boats like our boatman. I will tell you his story on another day.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jai Ganga Matha


I finally made the trip to Ganga Matha. Yes I just got back from Varanasi after years of putting off the trip. I hadn’t wanted to go before this as somehow it felt a bit hyped. Is the place truly as amazing as people say it is? I couldn’t understand why people were hooked to it. 

Somewhere last year I decided it was time for me to head there and I picked Shivaratri as the date to go. For years I had been intrigued by photos of the city, more than a spiritual trip, I was looking forward to photograph the city. 

The dance of dawn
We landed at the height of the festival, just two days before SHivaratri and the city was already cordoned off to cars by the police and army. We ended up having to carry our bags on foot to the hotel through the throngs of people around us. Good thing, I had opted for a city based hotel instead of one on the ghats. 

We headed to the balcony restaurant to get an aerial view of the city. Everywhere we turned there were people walking around as instant line barriers were being put up. The cops in khaki and army in blue were in hundreds around the city centre leading up to the  Dasaswamedh Ghat – the main ghat of Varanasi.  

I had decided long back that, I would fulfill my religious obligations before I began exploring the city. All I wanted to do was sit at the banks of Ganga and watch life pass by. 

So we dressed up and headed into the people filled streets and was confronted by a street wise tanker with a soldier at the machine gun control. Yes, Varanasi kicks it into you that Life is short, death could be in the next second. Security for the festival had been tripled. gun wielding cops and soldiers were everywhere with constant blasting of announcements in Hindi. Of course to the non Hindi speaking person, it was pure gibberish. 

Still we persisted and somehow got onto a rickshaw and nearly fell a few times on our ride to the ghats. We were pointed towards an earthen narrow road that would get us to our destination. 

My first view of the Ghats was not spectacular. I remember going, is that it? Ganga was vast and flowing majestically but it wasn’t something out of the Varanasi I had imagined. It didn’t help that there were a few boatmen bugging us to get a boat in a mixture of Hindi and English. I decided I needed to walk and find a spot for our dip in the holy river. We walked past Prayag and Dasaswamedh Ghat and arrived at Ahilya Ghat. 

We were still being hounded by boat men when we heard a voice in Tamil greeting us. Lali was a Varanasian who had grown up at the Chetiar mutt in Kashi and in time had picked up Tamil. Now he was a boat owner and asked us if we wanted a boat. After the chaos of all that Hindi, his Tamil felt welcoming and I agreed to the boat ride at sunset. 

But we had other things to worry about first. Where do we change? 

Morning ritual
There was no way we were going to change right there in the open, no matter how easily the locals were doing it. The cordon of vehicles made it impossible for us to head back and change. Lali finally pointed us to a slightly abandoned corner. So all that we had to do was jump into the river.
It was about 3 in the afternoon as my mom headed into the water first. I was staring at the water. It was a beautiful clear green colour. We had arrived at one of the best times to see the ghats. ¾ of the stairs were visible and the waters were calm and clear and not muddy and filled to the brim as it is during the monsoon months. 

Ganga matha looked welcoming, freezing but welcoming. It was the middle of the afternoon but she was amazingly cold. 

I sat at the edge of the last step just above her gentle waves which were touching my toes. I could feel her coldness but there was something exhilarating about it. I was reciting my prayers to Shiva and ganga as I sat at the edge of her waters. Knowing that her inner steps were slippery, I went down step by step into her. 

The moment the waters reached my chest, I gasped in shock. It was as if she was embracing me. I dipped my head in salutations into her waters and the feeling grew tenfolds, as a cold stream lifted me off my feet. It really felt as if she was hugging me and pulling me closer to her. I have walked into so many rivers and seas, never had I felt this way. My mind was screaming it is true it is true as I chanted 

Jai Ganga Matha, Jai Ganga Matha, Jai Ganga Matha…. 

The water was so cold but there was such warmth in the embrace. The only word that can explain the feeling was – exhilaration. 

I stepped out of her waters after my third dip and just sat at the stairs amazed with the experience. Varanasi looked different to me. The chaos of the streets were gone, the sounds of the haggling boat rowers were gone. All I could feel was an exhilaration and serenity like no other. 

It was all true, the Ganga experience is out of this world. 

Jai Ganga Matha…

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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Rest in Peace - YOU are our heroes

"People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.- Richard Grenier"

I should be asleep, I have a long day tomorrow but too many things on my mind at the moment. Mostly concerning our state of Sabah. For 23 days my country negotiated with Sulu militants from Phillipines before we finally launched millitary attacks to rid them out of our country. This was not before we lost 8 of our heroes from the police force. 

The country mourns the lost of Inspector Zukifli bin Mamat, ASP Michael Padel, Supt Ibrahim Lebar, L/Kpl Mohd Azrul Tukiran, Sarjan Baharin Hamid, Sarjan Abdul Aziz Sakirun, Koperal Sabarudin Daud and Koperal Salam Togiran who died in the line of duty as they fought against the millitants. 

These men sacrificed their lives for us and no words can justify this loss to their families but a THANK YOU for serving our country. 

As I write these, these millitants are reported to be scattered across Kg Tandao in Lahad Datu, Sabah.

Hours ago one photo of a mass grave filled with bodies left by the militants answered some of our questions and for me gave me a bit of peace as I will be away from the country in this dire time. 

"The mass burying of its dead to sidetrack Malaysia and announce than none of them died by the SULU says a lot about how much they value their own people. The fake sulu king sees them as mere pawns in its deadly game of chess for its unknown quest of greed. Kudos to @Zahid_Hamidi n his armed forces for swiftly coming in and proving the AWESOMENESS of the MALAYSIAN ARMY -we SALUTE you.

The photo of the mass burial grave of the sulu will go down in history as the photo that signified our 1st attack victory. this is why photos of bodies will continue to be important in photojournalism for without photos there are no proof of a victory. Today we learn why photos of the dead are important proof after 24 hours of not knowing what happened after the air strike."

I wrote those two phrases after watching the press conference a few hours ago as the photos were revealed. 

Do I support the millitary attacks? YES

We have given so much time and yet they attacked our people and we lost 8 of our heroes. All for the greed of money and power? I wish each and every Sulu militant dies a painful torturous death, one as torturous as what they did to our heroes. 

I hope everything will be solved by the time I come back. My heart wishes it was here or at Lahad Datu but I am neither a soldier or medic, what use would I be there? 

God bless all soldiers, personnels, medics and the people of Sabah as we live through this harrowing days. Please keep them safe as they are risking their lives for us. 

You can read about the situation and its related information here, herehereherehere

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