Monday, 6 June 2011

From Kashmir to Kanyakumari to Lost and Found and Nano

Like other Organisations, my erstwhile employer-Bank has a system of meeting Leave Travel Expenses of its employees. It is called Leave Fare Concession (L F C). I had availed myself of our first LFC for a trip to Kashmir. Daughter I as a toddler; the wife and my mother had accompanied me.

Just before retirement in 2009, we decided to avail ourselves of
last LFC for trip to the other end of India, that is Kanya Kumari. By that time, my mother was gone and the Daughters had their own families. So only we two traveled. (This reminds me of the fact that when we married, I was a Probationary Officer in the Bank, being posted to different places in India for training in different areas and for exposure to different situations, which we called Bharat Darshan. Getting leave during that period was a luxury and and a daunting task, I had availed myself all of 4 days’ Casual Leave to get married (!) and had to rush back to my ‘On the Job Training’ at the Bank. There was no time for the two of us to travel together anywhere. My would-be-wife's family was perhaps apprehensive that they might lose this eligible bachelor for their darling daughter if they waited.:))))))) The trip to Srinagar was our first holiday together when Daughter I had added to our joys.)

For this last L F C, we left Vishakhapatnam in the morning and flew to Chennai. The connecting flight to Thiruvantapuram (earlier Trivandrum ) was at 4 P M. So we had to spend almost the whole day at Chennai airport. We reached Thiruvanthapuram at about 5.30 P M and checked into our Bank's Holiday Home there.

Next morning, we went to a hill tourist spot called Ponmudi. We drove through dense forest, which was very enjoyable. On the way, there is a lot of rubber-plantation. On reaching the hill, the wife could climb only up to some height. I climbed to the top and while standing atop, felt like the ‘monarch of all I survey’ in the poem of Alexander Selkirk. In the afternoon, we visited Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple. The temple-rules do not permit anyone wearing trousers and shirts or Salwar Kamij to enter it. Sarees have free entry. So I had to rent what looked like a half-dhoti (like a lungi) for Rs.15.00. I removed my trousers, banian and shirt, and changed into that half-dhoti. I had to be bare-bodied. While in the temple, we saw many girls and ladies draping similar half-dhotis over their Salwar Kamijs. The visit took about one hour. I wondered as to how much money the temple-authorities would be making by renting out one half-dhoti over its life-time!

Next morning, we started for Kanyakumari by taxi. On the way, we visited the beach near Thiruvanthapuram airport, Velli Tourist Village, an art museum, an art gallery and an old palace. The one thing in the palace that amazed us about the palace was the toilets (lavatories) of the King and the Queen. We also visited Kovalam beach. On the way, we visited Suchindrum temple, where I had to leave my shirt and banian in the taxi as these are not allowed inside. I felt funny being bare-bodied with the trousers.

We reached Kanyakumari in the evening and checked into our Bank's Holiday Home there. It is located about 500 metres from the Sacred Feet of Mother India, the confluence of Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. (Kashmir is called the Crown of Mother India and Kanyakumari, her sacred feet, washed by the great Indian Ocean.)

The sun-rise and sun-set at Kanyakumari are simply breath-taking. We stayed there for 4 days and watched these heavenly sights on all these days. Anyone would be floored by these sights. We took photographs of sun-rise, cupping our palms below and over the sun’s image. These photos look great! In one photo, the wife and I are sitting on the stone embankment on the beach with the young sun glowing radiantly in its crimson glory between us!

We visited Vivekananda Rock Memorial, Kanyakumari temple, and Vivekanand Kendra. At the Kanyakumari temple, I had to remove my T shirt and put it on my shoulder like a gamchha, as advised by the prists there. On the Vivekananda Rock, there is 'Sripaada', almost an exact imprint of a human foot on the rock. Legend has it that Goddess Parvati as a maiden did tapasya there, standing on one foot seeking to please Lord Shiva to marry her and the imprint on the rock is that of her foot. Spending time in the Meditation Room of the Memorial has a very soothing effect on one one’s nerves.

We also visited a Wax Museum near Kanyakumari. We took photos with the wax-images of Amitav Bachan, M S Subulaxmi and Mother Teresa. There are images of Mahatma Gandhi, Vivekananda, Rajanikantha, Jayalalithaa and many other celebrities. The wife took a snap with Indira Gandhi. And I had a photo with Saddam Hussain!!!!!! ???????

(By the way, it would be interesting to know that the first lady Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was earlier spelling her name as ‘Jayalalitha’. On the advice of her numerologist and to please Lady Luck to shine on her, she increased the number of letters in her name by one and became ‘Jayalalithaa’.)

We had a very nice time at Kanyakumari. The primary reason was the vastness of the sea before us. The sun rises from the Bay of Bengal and sets into the Arabian Sea. We savoured every moment spent on the tip of India. Earlier, on one occasion, I had visited Rameswaram, along with my mother and the Daughters. By train, we had traveled along the legendary Setu Bandh laid by Lord Rama. At that time I had thought that Rameswaram was the tip of India!

After returning from Kanyakumari, I remembered the slogan, ‘From Kashmir to
Kanyakumari, India is one’. Having started with Kashmir, we finished at

One reason for my fully enjoying the holidays, which I had discovered during our trip to Andamans, was that while holidaying, I used to wear shorts and T shirts. At Kanyakumari, I have got myself photographed wearing T shirts with markings of 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA', the White House, Washington and the Merlion of Singapore. These T shirts were gifted to me by the Daughters. When I wear these T shirts, I feel very relaxed and free from mundane things and routine life. The wife calls me 'Old Boy' when I wear shorts and T shirts,:))))))))))))))))

At Thiruvanthapuram, we enjoyed the local delicacy Appam at a restaurant. So we decided to discover how it is prepared. While moving in the market, we found an Appam Pan and I promptly presented one to her. We collected the recipe of Appam first from that shop-owner. Next day, we found two ladies taking lunch in the same restaurant where we were having food. Shedding all her inhibitions, the wife asked them about the recipe of Appam. They were only too happy to share their secret with her.

From Kanyakumari, I have brought a conch-shell as a memento and have been trying to blow it every morning as a part of breathing-exercise.

Now, the ‘Lost and Found’ story.

We had visited Kashmir in May but it was still very chilly. Daughter I, then a toddler of a little over two years, was playing in the hotel-room and the wife went out to dry clothes, asking my mother to keep an eye on the child. I had gone out to book the Return Tickets. My mother was lying on the bed under a quilt. She dozed off. Exactly at that moment, Daughter I decided to explore the world outside and sneaked out. When the young mother returned, she was aghast not finding the baby. The mother-in-law and daughter-in-law duo panicked and ran helter-skelter in search of the missing baby. They ran to the street in search of her. To their utter relief, she was found nearby, crying bitterly. A pious and kindly Sardarji was holding her and was trying to comfort her but she was unresponsive to all his endearments!.

When Daughter I had done the disappearing act, Daughter II (i.e. after she was born) did not want to lag behind. This, she did at a small town in another State, when she was a little older. The four of us had gone to a vegetable-market to buy the requirements. She, who used to always attach herself to her Mama's apron-strings, suddenly went missing. We frantically searched for her and found that she had done an intelligent act. She was clinging to my motor-cycle at the parking-spot!!!:)))))))))) She told us that she waited near the motor-cycle, knowing that we would eventually return to that spot!

That was the time we four used to travel on a motor-cycle, with Daughter I and the lady sitting on the pillion, Daughter II sitting astride grandiosely on the petrol-tank on the front and me sitting in the middle and driving the bike.

Now, this reminds me that Ratan Tata is reported to have conceived of the idea of the small car Nano, when he saw a family of four riding on a scooter, with the lady on the pillion clutching the baby, the Master of the family driving the vehicle and the elder child standing in the front!