Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sri Lanka, the island of Ravana

If you have grown up in Chennai or Tamil nadu, in the 80’s, chances are you would have heard quite a bit about Sri Lanka. Mostly stuff that are horrific and tumultuous. 

My earliest hearsay about this place is when my fathers family discussed about two of my dad’s brothers who worked there in Colombo, in the 50’s and 60’s. Only one of them returned and the other married a Lankan lady and decided to settle there with no contacts with family back in Kerala. Have heard dad lament about his long lost brother, Jacob.

There is yet another memory of Sri Lanka. Much more vivid and clear. 1985, when the Sri Lankan Civil war caused by the LTTE, and its atrocities were at its peak, as an adolescent, had watched another young girl few years older than me, come over to my neighbors house in Chennai. She must have stayed for around 3 months or so with them, or longer, using Chennai as a safe transit before moving to one of the European countries, which I now fail to recall. Could be France. 

This girl was a catholic, though the family hosting her were protestants and they used to send her with me to church every Sunday, which was a good 2 km walk. I have listened with fear and heartache, the turmoil that her family had to go through in Colombo and how her house was razed to the ground in one night. She had 9 siblings and each of them had to struggle to get out of Colombo and get parked in safe havens across Tamil nadu, before they moved to one of the wealthier countries. Their family could afford it and they were many others in Colombo, who couldn’t and were struggling with the devastation around. She spoke in length about how war can tear families apart and create unimaginable loss of lives and resources. It stuck in my young mind and has never left me. 

As the flight took off from Chennai and moved towards Ceylon, that’s another name I am used to, the map that I had looked at all these years in hard copy and soft copies, came alive and the excitement of the holiday set in. Although we are going to spend only a few hours in Sri Lanka, I was looking forward to it.

From up above in the skies, Point Calimere, Vedharanyam, Dhanushkodi and Rameshwaram, just like how they were in the maps ( how else did I expect it to be?). J was also relating to the road trip he made to these places few months ago on his own and I could relate to all the photographs taken from the land and here I was getting a bird’s eye view of the Island. Sri Lanka as a country is so close, just like Bangalore may be. 

Sri Lankan Greeting 

We get off from the aircraft to the greetings of Ayubowan, and it makes as much sense as Vanakkam. Reminiscent of a time when my uncle would tune into Rupavahini, Srilankan TV channel and get to see a grainy screen to watch movies, and have heard anchors using this term to greet 😊 

Welcomed by a huge Buddha statue at the airport, we quickly moved onto our waiting cab and guide Chamika. I liked that name, traditionally Sri Lankan. isn’t it? Young boy who took us around. Colombo looked much like Kochi and its difficult to believe we were in a different country. 

The large Buddha Statue, Serene,  that welcomes guests at the Airport
Being a Sunday, though we couldn’t attend a holy mass, J insisted that we go to a church and we had finalized on St.Antony’s church, Kochchikade. A mass in Sinhalese was in progress and it was quite interesting to listen to the sing song tune of the language. It’s a small shrine and recently renovated by the Srilankan navy after the mass killings that happened in the church last Easter on 21st of April 2019. We witnessed the bullet marks on the church floor and apparently around 90+ people died in that terrorist attack. 

Dutch Hospital, Sri Lanka, Colombo

Granite tiled floors of Dutch Hospital
The areas around the Dutch hospital was fascinating, as here is where the old and the new co-exist. The World Trade centre of Sri Lanka is just opposite this old building. WTC is a twin tower with 40 floors in each, and has the most modern amenities and houses national and international businesses. And right there in front of it is a heritage building in old colonial style, so endearing with its pillars, granite tiled floors, red clay tiled roofs and a central courtyard, built by the Dutch ( and hence the name ) as a hospital for the soldiers of Dutch East India Company. Its no more a hospital now, and is transformed into an high end, expensive shopping and dining arcade. 

The thick walls, the door, windows and rafters made of teak reeks of history. I spent some quiet time here with J, on the granite seating area thinking about this place as a hospital and looking at the flight of pigeons. Dutch hospital was a soothing place, in spite of the hot sun. Must have been designed that way.
Inner Courtyard of Dutch Hospital now an expensive Dining and shopping arcade
Chamika slowed the car along Galle beach and showed us the latest skyscraper, the lotus tower and since we did not have much time during the layover to our destination, and since we wanted to spend more time at Gangaramaya temple, we just had to view them from the car. By now, we had finalized SL as one of our must see tourist destinations.
One of the Buddha Statues at Gangarmaya temple, Colombo
Jade Buddha

Few Giant sized Buddha at the sanctum sanctorium of Gangaramaya Temple
Buddha always reminds me of our girls trips and I must have bored J to death with our gals stories. Right in the middle of a busy city, stands Gangaramaya temple in all its majesty. Thankfully, like in all Buddhist temples, its calm and serene. Situated near Beira Lake, this temple was originally built many years ago, the temple gradually grew into the vast place with a monastery, pagoda, a building which is full of colorful Buddha statues, a Bodhi Tree and a Relic Chamber, as well as a library and a museum. At the far end of the courtyard are rows of elevating steps on which huge Buddha statues of the Thai style have been sequentially placed. Another of the many unique features about the temple is its museum. The collection ranges from small relics to large thrones and elephant tusks. Buddhist monks chanting is a common sight in all temples and I sat next to two huge burly dogs, who seemed comfortable with all the visitors here. I sat with them for a while, and had to leave as our time for peeking into Ceylon, was limited. 
Rows of Buddha statues in front of the temple
Left Ceylon with some mixed feelings primarily because it kindled a lot of thoughts about war, unrest, terrorist attacks and killings that this place was synonymous with in my head, since I was young. a single visit may not erase years of accumulated memories. It would take another long trip to Srilanka to erase those parallels and feed my head with pleasant and calming ones, but for now this one picture should keep me calm.

Some good company

Saturday, January 25, 2020

An astonishing colossal surprise : Straight from Heaven

When the almighty wants to show his Prowess, he will.  And he would plan it so meticulously and spring a surprise that you would be caught unawares.  That’s what happened to me today. I cried in ecstasy and wondered if I really deserved this special treatment. 

So, I get a call from my Parish church, where I used to teach Catechism in Sunday school.  I had to discontinue the classes due to my surgery and I moved out of the Parish Council too, for the same reasons.  The request was to do a reading during mass, as it was our church feast day.  Why me, amongst all the parishners who total around 2000 families? Ours by the way is one of the largest parishes in Chennai.  J and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary this January and incidentally our Parish church was built 25 years ago and it was the silver jubilee feast. our anniversary is on 30th January to be precise, and church has these records.

(In a Catholic church, that I belong, a holy mass is an act of worship, usually conducted by a priest, and includes readings from the bible read by the laity, members of the church congregation among other forms of worship and adoration)

Now "reading" during mass, especially something like a feast mass means practice and I have no time, since I am travelling tomorrow.  Yes, a travelogue on its way.  I refuse diplomatically, but the church insists.  Finally, people in the Parish council decide that I do not need practice, so all I had to do was reach church 30 minutes early.  I had no options, but to agree.

At church, J strategically picks one of the middle pews, to inconspicuously merge with the crowd.  The plan was to join him after my reading.  The council members look surprised seeing me alone and they want J, as we have special chairs to sit in the front, close to the altar and seen by the entire congregation.  We also have special responsibilities, like accompanying the priests for lighting the lamp, being the first ones to do the offertory, and finally as a couple give away gifts to the visiting priests. The offertory itself was quite symbolic, we had to offer two saplings.

I had to start the feast mass with the Introduction reading and I see there is an entire presbyterate coming in procession to the church and finally followed by the Archbishop himself. Midway during the service, with more than 1000 people participating in the mass, I begin to feel overwhelmed.  

There, slowly it was unfolding in front of J and me.  None other than the Lord himself, had planned it out for us and humbled us more than any words.  It looked as if, the entire congregation had gathered there just to celebrate our Silver Jubilee.  Even our wedding wasn’t this elaborate and grand - A Bishop's mass is exceptional and there we were amidst all the action, and feeling special. I had no clue about all this till I walked into the church. Many wishing us and many asking us if we really are married for 25 years, or just seeking some attention.

When the Almighty himself gets into action, the planning is precise and the surprise is colossal and I realise humbly it astonishes you no end.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Magic of Hand written stuff

Here is a meme that I came across today and it matched the high standards of pun set by my blog friend Gilsu.  

"I am a woman.  I have ovaries. And that’s why I ovary act."

After I got the joke, I realized, even this damn meme is not true for me.  That’s how easy it is for me to get negative these days, given my circumstances in life.  

The last one year I have realized the need to refocus my attention on positive things and make it a mindful practice.  Its important to look at the little wonderful things in life that elicit gratitude, to lift up the spirits and also to keep me grounded.

This new year one of the days,  happened to step into a craft store itsy-bitsy, (didn’t you like that name?, I did too ) and spotted a glitzy notebook which I picked up  instantly. itsy-bitsy-glitsy Did you notice it rhymed too?  ha ha. This little notebook has become my gratitude journal. Always in  love with handwritten stuff, so excited when i write stuff in this everyday. I also hunted down my hero pen which needs some minor repairs, until then i will have to do with a ball pen. I somehow think the mind works better when you write using pen and paper.  Writing by hand, touching and feeling the writing surface, holding the pen in your hand kind of directs the thoughts and lets it flow.  Doesn’t it?

While conducting webinars, even today I take down notes extensively to record the inputs and comments my participants would share and use those notes to play back to hold on to their attention in a virtual session, which is otherwise a daunting task. I think I belong to old school – every single day I have a handwritten "Things to do today list" that I put together and use at work, a habit that I have kept up right from the initial days of my career.

One person who comes to mind when I think of Handwritten notes is Petula, we must have written a ton of letters to each other.  This gratitude journal is keeping me upbeat for the last 15 days. I also do read the entrees in the journal, when there is time and its amazing to count the blessings. 

New year, New habit towards a better me.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Ushering in the new decade

This morning, a quote from Paulo Coelho caught my attention and it is something that I have been thinking about too.

“The first step to getting what you want is having the courage to get rid of what you don’t” – Paulo Coelho

What a lovely way to kick start a decade.  Purge all that does not spark Joy.  And that’s what I am going to do.

This year started differently for me with an entire day of rain.  Climate change is real folks, I have never had a rainy new year day at Chennai as far as I can remember. As always I was at Church when the old year ended and the new year commenced, thanking the Lord for the year gone by and to be safe in his arms during the coming year.  

Ramesh, my blog friend and ever faithful commentator and motivator is on a trip in my state, Tamilnadu, we are still waiting for his destination and the best is, he is doing it on a Montra Trance Pro. A BICYCLE. Can you believe that?  I couldn't. His travelogues are an education by themselves and I am getting a high just  reading them every single evening.  

My closing note for 2019, was on my therapy that you folks were to me, the process is still going on and I am going to need your support, this coming year too. 

Here is my wish for all of you,

May you have
Days when your coffee tastes like magic,
Sky so bright that it touches the soul in you,
Love so strong, that gives you the strength to accomplish
Courage to purge stuff that doesn’t spark joy
And Family and friends, who surround you with unconditional love

Happy New Decade folks. 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The therapy that was

I have been wanting to write to you all about this for sometime now. Like everyone of my posts that take its own course of time, this one also did. Thankfully, it made it to the virtual world.

When I ushered in 2019, I looked at this virtual space as my therapy, and boy, it did live up to it.  Every one of you, you came in and read me, did.  Some stretched a bit and left me all those loving comments, some made me laugh and it all worked. Worked like magic.

2018 was nothing short of a disaster for me and family.  I did write about the surgery that I had to undergo last year.   So, when I came in to my virtual space in Jan 2019, I was literally at my lowest.   Physically, mentally and every other way.  But I was determined to get out of it, in style

The comprehensive health checkup in September 2019 was more than mandatory and thankfully I cleared it all.  I am at my healthy best right now, but a conversation with a doctor changed the way I look at my health.  So this doctor was going through my records, and asked me so what surgery did you go through last year.  A hysterectomy and an oophorectomy due to an ovarian tumour, I replied.  He casually asked me the next question, which slapped the daylights out of me.  So, how many Chemo’s did you go through?  None, mine was a benign one, was my response.

That question also reminded me how lucky I was to get away with it.  Pretty close.  

While I got a bit lucky there, the surgery left my body reckless.   It was as though my body lost its control on itself – physical and emotional.  The changes were apparent as soon as I got back home from the hospital.   Panic attacks and hot flashes /sweats became the norm.   Lack of sleep and depression were my new friends. A sudden sense of fear, as if I heard a terrible news of losing a loved one, along with accelerated heart beat would wake me up from sleep.  Falling asleep after that was difficult.  At least a couple of times in the night and few times during the day.  I read up and recognized those as Panic attacks. Hot flashes were more interesting, with the AC switched on, and when everyone is feeling normal, I would sweat like a pig, drenching myself as if I just went under a shower head.  This for a person, who would normally not sweat at all, was unbearable. The best is there were no short cuts to all these, had to just endure them.

I was upset, angry and the normal Why me ?  questions.  Answers were never easy, and the universe forced me to find it myself.  I read and read and read all about my conditions.  Medical science offered HRT, Hormone replacement therapy, which had more cons than the pros.  That’s when I decided I will chalk out my own therapy and here is what I did.

Blog more
I had my space and had a set of wonderful folks like you and I decided to come in here.  And if you read my first post of the year, here, I have clearly mentioned that I am coming here for my own reasons.  and sure enough, this turned out to be my best therapy.  I have written around 30 posts this year and yes each one has been a potion to my troubled head. Every comment that you left me, helped me move forward, slowly.  And as I key this in, I am tearing up.

Walking / Zumba and physical fitness
I got back to my walking trail and walked as if my life depended on it.  In fact, it did.  I rejoined my Zumba classes at work and went without skipping it 3 times a week.  My sleep improved when I danced and also started a small funcitonal training routine after my every day walk, which kind of helped my body secrete all the right hormones.  In January 2019, I had clocked more than 2 lakh steps on my pedometer and I have maintained it almost every other month.

Took up a theatre assignment, and performed the role of Leanardo cianculli, in spite of the schedules and yes it helped.   My gals were there for me in person, to cheer me along and to tell me I was the best.  It did so much good in my healing.

My plant babies and fishes were a great distraction.  Hand painting my pots and repotting the plants and seeing them grow made me a wonderful plant parent.  I could watch the fishes for hours together, when I found time and they were healing me too – have you heard of the Japanese peering into their Koi fish tank and attaining nirvana?

Designing clothes
Distracting my head was paying off, so I was lapping up stuff that I once did and ditched.  Designing clothes was one of my favorites and  couldn’t pursue it as finding a good tailor is an arduous task. I explained my ideas to my existing tailor and he started doing well.

This year probably is the most travelled year – starting with Dubai for our anniversary, Wayanad, Vietnam with the gals, Auroville, Tada falls not including my business trips, I set my heart to enjoy the world so I would distract it as much I can.  And it did work

Little DIYs around the house
Like a brick wall that J and I created together at the altar at home, or plans for the plate wall that we are yet to put up, the Yaazhi’s as the entrance décor to the washing area – Yes they all added to the therapy

My diet had more fruits, nuts, and seeds to it and everything that would stabilize my body temperature.  Friends pitched in and helped.  They checked in on me and I knew I could count on them anytime.

In spite of all the efforts, there were times I was getting out of control and I did talk to a doctor.  She listened to me and said you have taken all efforts to minimize the effects of the surgery and an HRT would have done only this with lesser impact.  I would use you as an example to my patients in controlling the after effects of a surgery.   You don’t need a treatment Vincy.

In the meantime, the intensity of the hot flashes, panic attacks have come down.  I do sleep better these days and so, here I am folks, at the end of the year,  baring it all for you and thanking you from the virtual world for being my successful therapy. I have healed because of each one of you and I cannot thank you all enough.  Love you.

Terribly Tiny Tales

Sometimes his memories hit her like a hurricane and left a trail of emotional chaos in its wake.

# # #

I pulled the door marked PUSH and realized why I remember every detail that I wanted to forget

# # #

And maybe that's all she needed.  A little love to last her a lifetime!

# # #

He took care of her - not in a materialistic kind of a way, but her soul, her well-being and everything that was her

# # #

I love you can also be told as " Did you go to the Doctor? "  "Watch what you put in your mouth"  "There's nothing wrong with you" and "You are the best & I truly believe it"

# # #

Have you ever loved and lost?  She has no clue if it was all planned and staged.  She has no regrets, because when she was loved, she was loved well.

# # #

However zestful and spirited you are, the world will go on with or without you as if you never existed.  Have you ever realized that?

# # #

Friday, December 13, 2019

Letting it be!!!

The invisible furies of my heart
Are the most difficult to tackle
When my stronghold crumbles down
But, I let that be

There are a zillion things my heart wants to whisper
Instead I endure the silent violence
Of all that I choose not to say
And, I let that be

Not able to choose a middle path
I still obsessively hold on
Wish I could let go indifferently
I am not able to, and I let that be

There is no potion to heal the pain
Of an amputated spirit
since I have fed you to my hungry soul
But, I let that pain be

Soaking in the absurd comfort
Of the ambiguities of life
Blurred lines of relationships
And so, I let it be.

Vincy Joseph

Friday, November 29, 2019

Little surprises / Quirks of Vietnam

After so many posts on our Vietnam trip, 10 to be precise, thought I was done.  but, here I am back to you all with one last post.  No more posts on Vietnam - I promise.  

*On the fourth day of our trip, after an exhaustive day, the babes went on a shopping spree - specifically looking for something that I wanted to pick up for Dennu and voila, I found a shop named after me.  First-time ever!!  Here is the Vincy Shop.

That's a store with my name folks!!

*One of the funny habits of the locals, the gentlemen seem to be lifting up the T-shirts and showing off the mid-riff / paunches to the general public, making us feel a bit embarrassed / funny.  After we saw many of them practicing this, figured out this could be to beat the heat of the tropical climes around this place.  Still, pretty weird.

Man in the park, with his Tshirt lifted up showing midriff
*On the day we were at Hanoi, and all of us dressed in the same costume, a guy mistook us for sales girls at Hanoi airport Souvenir shop.  Later, we figured out that guy was completely drunk and ended up with a liking for me - sure its alchohol induced.  We had to call for the cops, as that fellow started following me.   Arghhhh!!! 

*We met a Chinese lady and her son at Hanoi who got interested in us since we were Indians.  One of the questions she asked us was about the red dot that Indians wear on the forehead and why we were not donning it. Excited and thrilled we took a short session on Indian culture while we were waiting for our delayed flight.  Since we didn't speak or understand Chinese and they struggled with English, the entire communication happened in Google translate on our mobiles.  Technology brings cultures closer !!

*Every house in most lanes in Hanoi city would turn into a small joint for the dinner in the evening.  Small stools and big stools made of plastic are pulled up and they serve dinner mostly non vegetarian stuff with beer.  The Vietnamese seem to enjoy this evening snack parties.

*Vietnamese love to squat - you will seeing them squatting all over the place.  The men, women and the children!! and they do it so effortlessly!

That's all folks !!!

Au Revoir Vietnam

One of the places we included in our already hectic last day was a quick visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the embalmed body of the founding father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh is kept.  It is an imposing memorial for a leader of his caliber and Vietnamese speak about him with a lot of reverence and I figured out that he is as important as Mahatma Gandhi for us Indians, if not more.

The Mausoleum is one of the most visited places and Lan, our guide spoke as if it is one of the seven wonders of the world and how could we go without peeping in there.  It is said that the leaders’ body is embalmed and kept for the general public to be viewed in a massive Mausoleum amidst a gigantic square in the middle of the town.

Ba Dinh Square in front of the mausoleum is noteworthy as the site is where President Ho declared the independence of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. The square is composed of 240 patches of grass divided by intersecting concrete pathways. 

The impressive and most revered Mausoleum
 Inspite of the pressure from Lan to visit the inside of the Mausoleum, we just crossed this place and viewed it only from the outside, the babes not very interested to get into the snaking queues and lose out on our time.  Lan was not very happy, she had to deal with that.  Ho’s Mausoleum was crowded to the hilt, with high security right from the entrance and we already were slowing down our pace.  Ample security guards were around this place and they were quite strict – wouldn’t allow us to take pictures anywhere near the monument for Ho.  They were doing their duty with an absurd sincerity. I also noticed people looked grim, not many were speaking in raised voices and there are strict dress codes too – indecent clothing is not allowed, most elements that are followed in a religious place. Photography was not allowed.  Period. One of the young guards almost snarled at us when we wanted to take a picture of a beautiful garden, because it was on the Mausoleum’s side.

The prayer flags around the Pagoda

We instead visited the one pillar Pagoda, within the security zone.  Prayer flags adorned the surroundings of this pagoda and by now our brains had stopped taking in new inputs and we were drifting along. We could’ve easily miss the history of this place and dismiss it as a concrete pillar topped by a wooden structure in the middle of a grubby pond, thankfully Lan took us to this place.

The One Legged Pagoda, the smallest of the pagodas that we visited in Vietnam
Rising from one pillar in the centre of an elegantly square shaped lotus pond, the One Pillar Pagoda is said to represent a lotus flower growing up out of the water. The little temple is constructed from wood based on a single stone pillar crafted into the shape of a lotus blossom and has been rebuilt several times, and is set in a beautifully tranquil garden with benches provided for comfortable seating. The shrine inside the pagoda is dedicated to the Vietnamese Buddhist deity Quan Am with her effigy nestled inside the tiny three square metres temple. Legend claims that this temple was built by a fatherless emperor who was granted a son on a lotus flower and commissioned this pagoda in gratitude to Quan Am.

The lotus pond and the prayer flags 

We came down the stairs and I was watching my gal gang – all of us in silent contemplation and Sudha busy clicking pictures one moment and then she was gone. Literally into thin air. A bit of panic there as we couldn’t trace her for almost 20 minutes.
Though  Jay and I went in searching for her first, leaving Lan and Rosy, the place was crowded and we couldn’t find her.  We got back to the place where Rosy and Lan were waiting, took Lan along with me and almost ran upto the entrance, all the way telling Lan that she has to look for black and white stripes (that was the design of Sudha’s top).  Kept screening people swarming around me for this design and repeatedly told that to Lan, ( or for myself) and my head kept telling me to find Sudha.  My logic told me she would probably get back to the starting point, when she figured out she got lost.

Only Lan had a phone and none of us were carrying it, so I know she cannot call.  Myriad thoughts ran in my head, but focused on the look out for Sudha, I heard my name being screamed out at the end of 20 minutes, only to be tightly hugged by a flustered and tearful Sudha.  It was such an intense moment for both of us, and all my grit seemed to melt away once I saw her – shaking and tearful, we stayed in an everlasting embrace for some moments. This probably was the babes longest 20 minutes.  Ahhhhh!!!

Shopping at Dong Xuan market got us squealing like kids, and helped us put the “lost and found” incident behind us and that’s when we regretted not planning out our shopping time well.  I wanted to buy almost everything from that market, crockery, souvenirs, and what not, anyway we managed to pick what we could in an measly one hour. This is the largest indoor market in Hanoi and throws up a very endearing local lifestyle with its variety of wares, that we could have brought back home.

Vietnam still tops the list of the best places we have visited so far, her thick greenery, Karst mountains, flowing green and yellow paddies, aquamarine blue seas and scintillating views all steeped in rich culture and history, refusing to get out of our minds eye.  Even now.