It is the 5.30 pm alarm, the one I have set as a reminder to call Amma.
I’m at work reviewing the work done that day and simultaneously making a list of tasks to be completed the next day. I still have about 30 minutes of work left before I can really call it a day and head home.
It was twilight, that magical time between day and night, when she arrived at the gates of the Jalakandeshwar temple in Vellore, Tamil Nadu. Though it was a summer day in May, the gentle breeze going around made the heat bearable.
She stood diffidently at the entrance, looking around and wishing she were elsewhere — maybe exploring the Fort within which the temple was located… She didn’t really believe in God or rituals and found temples to be noisy, dirty places. But she had promised her father that she would visit the temple while in Vellore, so there she was.
She entered the temple complex hesitantly and looked around. To her surprise, the temple wasn’t overly crowded and there was a pleasant buzz in the air. While some devotees were offering prayers at the various shrines, many others were sitting around talking, socialising, relaxing and presumably waiting for the evening aarti to begin.
As she was wondering which way to head, the faint strains of music wafted her way and decided to follow the sound. It led her to an old man sitting on the ground outside a small shrine with a shruti box and singing Rama nannu, a Tyagaraja kriti. The old man had a beautiful voice, full of devotion and passion, and she immediately entranced. She sat down near the old man to listen to him and was soon caught up in the emotions of the song, which was about the all-pervading nature of God (Rama) and His existence in every living being.
When the old man finished singing, she realised that her cheeks were wet. As she wiped her face with her dupatta, she heard a voice whispering to her:
In my previous post on the “Summer of 1992“, I shared with you one of the reasons why that year was so important for me. I continue with another post on the same theme, but set in the winter of 1992. Once again, this involves travel for the purpose of study as part requirement of the Master’s programme in Geology I was pursuing at that time.
“Right. Everyone take off every single piece of metal on your body and keep it in your bags. No belts, earrings, chains, rings, loose change, metal rimmed spectacles, etc. You cannot carry any metal inside as it is dangerous. Also, no lighters or matchsticks or any combustible substance.”
I listened to these instructions carefully and started taking off the metal items on my body. My classmates did the same.
“Once you’re done, please keep your bags in this corner of the room. Don’t worry about its safety for the room will be locked and a security guard will be stationed outside.”
It took us a while to remove all metal and combustible items items from our person and pockets, put them in our backpacks, and then stow them in the corner indicated. Finally, we were done.
“Everyone done? Good. Come and collect these hard hats and headlamps from me. I’ll show you how to wear them.”
All of us lined up to collect out ‘gear’ and get ‘kitted’ out with a growing sense of excitement and wide grins on our faces.
“All set, everyone? Good. Follow me.”
And we followed him as led us down a flight of stairs going into the earth. Deep into the earth.
1992 was a very important year for me. A turning point, you could say. A coming of age even. I can’t pinpoint to a particular moment or event for there were many that made the year so memorable. But two of them were really special and, interestingly (or maybe not !) both involved travel. It was not the kind of travel I do today; rather, it was travel for the purpose of study as part requirement of the Master’s programme in Geology I was pursuing at that time.
In May 1992, I arrived in Bhuj (in Kachchh district of Gujarat) with AK, a classmate, to undertake a 15-day field trip for our Master’s dissertation in Geology. Though both of us were based in Bhuj and had a common faculty guide, we had separate field work sites (about 15 km away) and our field work was individual. Our faculty guide was scheduled to join us in Bhuj after about 10 days when we would have finished the bulk of our field work and be able to present our preliminary findings to him.
I was very excited about this field trip to Bhuj for this was to be my first solo field trip. Previously, I had always been part of a larger group of classmates. Having a geological hammer, compass, and topographical map all to myself and not share it with anyone made me feel quite grown-up, important and empowered ! 😛
The first day of field work was exhilarating and as perfect as a young geologist like me could hope for — excellent rock exposures, variety in rock structures and textures, fossils, some intriguing geological puzzles… It was also very distracting, but I soon settled down and within the next day or two established a field work routine.
The invitation took me back to the time I was studying in Fergusson College (Pune) where Milind and I were batchmates with some common classes and practicals. We were not close friends or belonged to the same ‘group’, but were more of acquaintances with some common friends. All through college, I had no idea of Milind’s music and got to know of it only in my third year of college. How I got to know is a story worth sharing, but I request for a little patience from you.
Milind and I re-connected many years after college when I joined Facebook in 2007 and over the next few years, remained in touch via Facebook. I followed his concert announcements and tours and listened to the snippets that he would share, but never managed to meet him or make it to one of Milind’s live performances. The invitation was a chance to remedy that. 🙂
The invitation was doubly attractive as it was taking place at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, where I learnt Hindustani Classical music. Every Wednesday morning, for 2 years, I attended vocal music classes before college. I loved everything about my music school — my guruji, the traditional architecture of the school building, the cool whitewashed halls and dhurrie-covered floors, the music rooms lined with tanpuras, sitars, harmoniums and tablas… Those musical mornings were magical and after a world filled with Bihag or Kaafi or Yaman or Patadeep or whatever raga I would be learning at the moment, it would be difficult to concentrate in my college lectures.
In other words, it was musical heaven and one that I had not visited in 22 years. And after I receive the invitation, I could not wait to visit it again after all this time. So that Wednesday in January, I took the afternoon bus to Pune to arrive well in time for the evening concert.
You know that feeling when you are about to meet someone or return to a place after a long time? That feeling of mounting excitement? That’s what I was feeling when I got off the rickshaw and walked towards the entrance to Gandharva Mahavidyalaya.
On Sunday, as I was finishing my weekly vegetable and fruit shopping, it started raining. It was a short, sharp spell and the sun was out in about 5 minutes.
And along with the sun came the rainbows—all three of them. People stopped to look at the rainbows; some even took pictures of the rainbows with their mobile phone cameras, me included. And then went about their own ways, me included.