Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Trip to Delhi: Representing Team India Inclusion Summit

This was my first non-tourist Delhi visit, means, for the first time, I left out places to visit/things to do from my itinerary and filled it up with meetings/visits. I must admit that it couldn’t have got better. 3 days, completely packed schedule and lovely weather- I had ball of time representing Team India Inclusion Summit at various {a}venues.

To start with, it was at Vigyan Bhavan where I went through mix of emotions sitting in a hall which I always saw on TV. This was the Launch of "Accessible India Campaign" and National Awards for employment of persons with disabilities 2015, by Govt. of India. It was thrilling to watch and listen to Doordarshan anchor, the master of ceremony, and ofcourse, listening to Hon. Minister for Finance, Arun Jaitley, Hon. Minister for Social Justice, Thawaar Chand Gehlot who was accompanied by other ministers and beurocrats. I was amazed by the execution of event agenda and the way govt. event runs- with elegance and protocols! Not to forget, at this award ceremony I am undoubtedly introduced to few incredible IIS 2016 speakers who are the living epitome of humility, humbleness and motivation! This made up for my heartbreak of not seeing PM Modi live, who gave this event a miss as he had flown to Chennai which had drowned due to heavy showers and poor urban planning. I’ll wait for my next date with you, Mr. PM!

People rose up with smiles and tears in their eyes for this “special” national anthem {performed by troupe of people with hearing and speech impairment} at Nipman Foundation award, in India Habitat Center {oh man, I loved the campus- artistic and classy}. I was at this event to meet and greet 2 people- our rockstar IIS 2015 speaker and CEO of Nipman Foundation, Mr. Nipun Malhotra and charismatic politician who presided Nipman Foundation Awards, Mr. Shashi Tharoor. I had the privilege of spending some time with Mr. Shashi Tharoor- briefing him on IIS and getting some of his books signed. I met some interesting people here and I have this task of reconnecting with them looming over me for a long time now! Also, here is where I took a “Zen smile” picture with one of the awardee, host of IIS 2015, Deepa Narasimhan!

I went for a half hour appointment and spent close to 2 hours with an iconic journalist of India, Sandipan Deb, who interestingly happens to be an engineer and management graduate. Prior to Swarajya Magazine {of which I am a subscriber}, Sandipan, IIT and IIM alumnus, was with Open{which I used to read when Sandipan was the editor} and other media houses for close to 25 years. I loved every moment of this meeting, his Calcutta humor, his views on socio-political scenario and his oneliners from his wisdom of vast experience. I’ll look forward for more such opportunities to meet him in person and upskill myself.

I was at 1st International film festival on disabilities, hosted by Govt. of India and at 2nd National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament. I spent some time and clicked pictures with Karnataka Wheelchair Basketball team- most of them were daily wage workers from Yadgir, Davangere and other tier 2/3 cities of Karnataka. Today, Irony is neither govt. nor any firm supports them and they have self-sponsored to come all the way to Delhi ! But that doesn't stop them... They had managed to finish runner's up last year and were super-motivated this year too!

Vigyan Bhavan event and other things which made my Delhi trip memorable was only possible through most respected Mrs. Uma Tuli. I visited Amar Jyoti again and was lucky to spend a day with her. I wrote to her the following once I was back in Bangalore-
Thank you so much for allowing me to shadow you. I am indebted with the learning and I am going to cherish the day for long. I had life time opportunity in piggybacking you to basketball game, film festival and meeting everyone at the lunch in your home. Special thank you for anaar kheer! I felt I am part of your family and I would look forward to host you & your family in Bangalore/Udupi. I am also extremely grateful for arranging me an entry pass for PMO event,. It was as well my first time at a govt. ceremony and dream come true when I entered Vigyan Bhavan.
Last day of my trip I woke up and followed these instructions for an soulful experience-
  1. Reach Saket metro and take shared auto to Tigri stand from gate 3 (Saidullajab exit) 
  2. Come to tigri stand and cross the road (the auto vala can guide u here
  3. Take an auto from there to J block school. Make sure to tell the auto vala that u need to got to J block SCHOOL NEEM CHOWK SE AAGE VALA. Once you have the deal, he'll drop you off at my school.
Geographies changed- from luxury of South Delhi to slumber of underprivileged. I was here to meet my inspirational dear friend, Sanymi, who as part of Teach For India makes us envy of her life as Didi, everyday! These kids taught me knitting in exchange of a 30 min story telling by me. My respects towards TFI and their teachers grew two-folds and I certainly wish that their network expands to keep igniting young minds with best teachers. This experience was indeed fitting end to my incredible 3 day trip to Delhi!

[Thanks to Core IIS team for giving me the honor of representing you! Special thanks to IIS volunteers for building World's biggest community led event- IIS! ]

Trip to Hampi: Magically sail to those Times of Glory

I am sure that many have written their travelogues on Hampi from time immemorial, err, I mean from times of Lord Ram and Hanuman till today, from times of Kishkinda of Dandakaranya with most sacred Pampa sarovara to Vijayanagara to modern day Hampi. I see this as never ending fable in praise of limitless and His love for this place. They say, you would return dejected as you would seep in the sorrow of seeing Hampi ruins, but I, have made up my mind to revisit since I am caught speechless by the imagination and infinite stories, by that of irrigation systems and structural engineering, by that of the glory and intelligence of our forefathers. Hampi- for sure is a place for those who love history, architecture and stories. It is limitless and of limitless!

I spent first 3 hours at Virupaksha temple. It is believed that this temple has been functioning uninterruptedly ever since its inception in the 7th century AD. Most of the temples here in Hampi have been damaged some way or other and not fit for Puja. If I am not wrong, there are only two functional temples in Hampi- Virupaksha and Malyavanta Raghunatha Temple, only place where Lord Ram is in sitting posture. Post Virupaksha temple, we walked the bazaar lane to reach monolithic Nandi. Another 15 min walk we were at Cave temples of Ram {kondandarama temple} and Yantroddaraka Anjaneya temple, Chakratheertha, established by Vysasatheerta in 15th century. Vyasatheerta used to often sight Anjaneya and wanted to capture him in “yantra” so that he could worship him. This is a very holy and sacred place of worship for saints {Udupi Pejavara Swamiji was initiated to Sanyasa here}. We took a coracle boat ride to Purandara Dasa mantapa, where renowned saint and poet, who gave up his wealth worth 9 crores and turned philosopher, Purandara Dasa meditated. This place is really magical. From there we walked to what is popular known as Hampi group of monuments, which consists of the Vitthala Temple with the Stone Chariot, and the musical Mandapas, and the King’s balance.

That evening I got lucky- it was last day of auspicious Karthika month of Hindu calendar and at Virupaksha temple, villagers had come over to spend their night. They lit up entire premises beautifully with diyas and there was a pallakki utsava of Shiv and Parvathi, led by elephant, Lakshmi. I was transported back in time! A Russian lady walked up to me, understood more on what was happening and left me with a sentence- “I have never experienced anything beautiful before!

Next day, we started series of temple visits with Mustard & Groundnut Ganesha, followed by Sri Krishna Temple, Ugra Narasimha Vigraha and the Badavalinga, Veerabadra temple, Lotus Mahal, Elephant’ stable, underground Shiva temple, Queen’s bath, Hazara Rama Temple, Fort area, remains of official chambers, Mahanavami Dibba {modern day parliament}, Kamalapura museum, Pattabirama temple and Malyavanta Ragunatha temple, where Ram spent 4 months, chaturmasya. I would probably end up writing books if I start writing on each one of them. Every place is for sure treat to be and I suggest you don’t pack this in a day like I did!

Last day at Hampi, we crossed over Tungabhadra River on a 10rs ticket boat to reach the other side, Virupapur Gadde. Here we started off with visiting Pampa Sarovara {purana’s say this is one among 4 sacred sarovara’s of India- includes Manasa Sarovara as well} and Sabari Caves, where Sabari waited for Lord Ram. From there, we visited some cave sites to check out 14th century unexplored paintings. Next stop was at Anegundhi Gagan Mahal palace and Ranganthaswamy temple, on the way to Vaali Parvata which has Durga temple. Post this we visited Chintamani, from where Ram shot his arrow towards Vaali who was fighting Sugreeva in neighboring hill. You’ll be reassured of Ram’s archery skills here! We climbed up Anjanadri hill, the birthplace of the Monkey god, Hanuman and ended the day with visiting mesmerizing Sanapur lake reservoir. Magical end to my journey in the Times backtracked, unexpected and unexplored!

We took the overnight Hampi Express from Bangalore and reached Hospet. Hampi is 14kms aways from Hospet- accessible by bus and auto{don’t forget to bargain!}. I came back to catch overnight bus to Bangalore at the same place. Eating at Hampi is a delight. Every restaurant has similar menu. Must tries- oats, pastas, pizza, all sort of lassies, parota’s, paddu at Brahmin’s vatara and sunset at Hemakoota hills! I spent 3 days there. Got out from the shack by 8.30am and returned at sunset. Enjoyed every meal with those trance music and drank gallons of water. Hired guides {very senior Mallikarjuna and very junior Maruthi} and did innumerous attempts to capture the mesmerizing sights in my camera. I would revisit. This is my Hampi. You, discover your Hampi- your own ruined sandalwood castle, inverted gopura on your palms and meditating Hanuman in your hearts!

A photo posted by Jaideep Rao (@jaideeprao) on
A photo posted by Jaideep Rao (@jaideeprao) on  
[Special thanks to Vikas, Archi and Adyasha for making this trip memorable]

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Trip to Coorg: Shades of Green and Miles of Emptiness

Imagine that your birthday is on a Sunday and you have made no plans. All of the sudden, you make couple of calls on the Friday night and plan things out, and you start at 5am on Saturday morning and cover Abbey Falls, Mandalpatti and rest in a coffee estate homestay {Vinayaka homestay} at Madikeri, and on Sunday, i.e., on your birthday, visit holiest Bhagamandala, Talakaveri and Tibetan Monastery or The Namdroling Monastery or The Golden Temple, Kushalnagar, and return back to Bangalore by midnight- with your best buddies! Can’t get better right?!

It happened to me and I am left with that fulfilled heart which wrote these lines:
Throw your soul into a world,
Where there are endless roads…
Filled with clouds and shades of green…
Where in yourself- you explore,
A new life, a new friend, and a new love…
Unaware of those noise, you pray,
In silence, in solitude, in sync with your heart…
Spotting that raising sun with a cup of coffee,
Stopping to thank an unknown guide for those directions…
To knock the heavens, that exists here with us,
Midst miles and miles of perceived emptiness…
Throw your soul into a world,
Where there are endless roads…
To know how monsoons inspired me write this poem and get to know some places to visit in Coorg during a weekend getaway from Bangalore, watch my 4 min video {pardon my language and no-edits, intention was to keep it raw and capture first impressions!}

Friday, August 7, 2015

Trip to Malenadu in Monsoons: Nature at it's Best

This trip marked the new beginning. Things I wanted to write, we video recorded them. Things I struggled capturing in words, camera has captured for eternity. This trip was to Belur, Halebeedu, Mullayanagiri, Chikmagalur, Kundadri Hills, Kuppalli House, Sringeri, Ambutheertha, Jog falls and Harihara Temple- all in 3 days driving past lush green and gorgeous Malenadu, where farmers were busy with agricultural activities ignoring the pouring rains of monsoon.

We stayed a day each at Taj Gateway Chikmagalur and KSTDC Mayura Gerusoppa, later was many miles ahead compared to Taj in terms of experience. This trip, I got a chance to visit Town Canteen at Chikmagalur for Benne Dosa, Coffee and Jaamoon, some good street food at Hosanagara, sunrise at Jog Falls, roadside ananas, jackfruits, lessons from travel guides at Belur, Halebeedu, walking in coffee estate and opportunity to wake my recruiter up for his DSLR camera at 4am in the morning, thanks Dinu!

Sometimes you have to be your own hero! Here in this video we track journey of Jog Falls!

The real purpose of searching after facts is not so that we can manipulate the world to our advantage, but so that our own awareness can be transformed. Here is majestic Belur and Halebeedu-

I revisited Kundadri Hills, Sringeri and Kuppalli House- and it doesn’t size to amaze me-

Those moments experiencing 16c temperature and non-stop rains at the top most of Karnataka was worth living for-

Hope you liked the new experiment, all thanks to my limited experience travelling. I would like to sign off with the saying- “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled

{Thanks to Manu for all camera work. Thanks Dinu, Manu, Archi, Sushma, monsoons and Malenaadu for making this trip memorable}

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bengaluru Diaries: Pyramid, Aeroplane and a Historic Palace...

This weekend, for a change, I didn’t step out of Bangalore and instead, went on to explore some offbeat places {I mean places other than malls, eateries, pubs, gardens, lakes, getting stuck in traffic!}. I must confess that I was quite taken aback by what Namma Bengaluru had in store for me. Here is the travelogue of my weekend exploits: 
Bangalore Palace

Pyramid Valley, situated in Kanankpura road, near Harohalli, is a quick soothing getaway, hardly 30 kms from Banshankari, Bangalore. Spread across beautiful 26 acres, houses the 102 feet tall Maitreya Pyramid which is inspired by Pyramid of Giza, Egypt. As you enter the pyramid, temperature rises a bit. Inside the pyramid, there is a staircase to reach a platform which is at much higher height and temperature. I learnt that cosmic energy passed on to body while meditating is thrice as much higher in that elevated platform. This place has free lunch & dinner. There is also a place where one can pay and eat. Other prominent things here are Statues of Buddha & Gandhiji in the lake- who transmit calmness through their face. There is shop where they sell some FMCG products, books, DVDs and sovereigns. One can also book rooms and stay overnight. This place is good place to sit and meditate, experience tranquility for couple of hours. While returning, we took a deviation from Harohalli that connected to Kengeri in the Mysore Road {you should explore Maddur Coffee Day, Rasta Café or Bidadi Tatte Idly!}
HAL Museum

HAL museum or HAL Heritage Centre and Aerospace Museum surely inspires with the evolution of aerospace industry post Indian independence. The MIG’s, LOH, Cheetah, training flights, Satellite launch vehicles, ATC radar are on display. The photographs showing those first flights and renowned dignitaries taking tour makes you feel very proud of the country. It also has a sustainable park and informative garden. Indeed, a very good place to visit for couple of hours.
Pyramid Valley

Bangalore Palace, situated in Vasanth Nagar has an entry fee of 225 INR inclusive of audio tour that takes you to 21 spots in this architectural wonder with beautiful narration available in multiple languages. This palace belonged to Rev. J. Garrett, who was the first Principal of the Central High School in Bangalore and was bought out by Mysore Wadiyar’s in 18th century. They got it restructured and the palace plans provided by Calcutta firm is also on display. When you enter the palace, hunted down huge elephant head welcomes you and sets the context. You’ll see many elephant & tiger hunting photographs and various chairs/flower vases made out of them. If you appreciate paintings, this is the place to be! The Durbar hall is a showstopper and gives you a glimpse how administration used to work back then. Gothic and Victorian architecture styles are treat to watch. The maharajah’s courtyard has a colorful bench and a fountain which was a gift from the King of Spain Don Alphonso.

Palace, also has a big garden and a horse stable. It took me almost 2 hours to explore the palace completely and was enchanted by it’s history and beauty. It’s quite an irony that it only had around 1/10th of Garuda mall visitors {which I later visited for tasty dinner at Panchavati Gaurav} May be, palace is not so popular among masses and I am no exception, it took me more than 3 years to reach here. So do visit before it becomes crowded and loses it’s peace and charm! Till now, I didn’t have a must visit place in Bangalore to suggest. Now I have one!

{Thanks to Archi & Sharath for making this trip happen!}

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Trip to Goa and Belgaum: Calmly Sailing Past Those Waters...

Late planning and late execution always lands you in a heap of surprises. If not you, the one who not even in his dreams thought that all of us would attend his sister’s grand wedding, would be left speechless and in tears! These are the moments we live for, right? One such opportunity came to us and we took no time in surprising our friend, Vijay, we took KSRTC Airavat Club Class overnight bus to Belagavi from Bengaluru and planned Goa {last time I had covered- Anjuna, Fort Aguada, Chapora Fort, Baga, Calangute, Dona Paula, Panjim, Churches - in my hired bike, during those days, when India won world cup 2011!} for later part of the week. Here is the travelogue of my trip-
Bogmalo Beach Resort

#Belgaum, with wide roads and decent traffic, looked clean. Thanks to pre-monsoon rains, weather was very enjoyable. Wedding was scheduled to be at Gandhi Bhavan, near Sanman Hotel. After managing quick shower at Keerthi Lodge, I attended the wedding wearing Modi jacket (no surprises!). Loved the typical North Karnataka food at the lunch. Soon after the wedding, we bought couple of Kunda boxes, the local delicacy; we caught Kadamba bus, run by Goa govt., to Margao. The single road, NH 4A,passed through many breath taking visuals {thanks to plush green Western Ghats} and a university that has constantly taken student’s breath, VTU- Visvesvaraya Technological University!

#Bogmalo Beach Resort, we sort of crashed here directly from Belagavi or Belgaum. We hired a cab to travel 28kms from Margao to reach Bogmalo. Cabbie, John, reminded us the Goan attitude and Goan unique lingual! His stories were around cab tourism mafia, places to see in Goa and anything related to tourism! The bubble lake, were bubbles appears on a lake when you clap, still resides in my memory and I will explore, sooner or later!
At Vijay's Sister, Shweta's Wedding

At the resort we had those rooms which directly opened to the beach view. I think mercury had soared up to around 35c and good amount of humidity added to the summer of Goa- leading us all the time in the water- either in the pool or beach! I recommend this resort- for its swimming pool, decent food, shacks in the beach, poor room service and proximity to Bogmalo beach! {Which was almost empty most of the times}
Basilica of Bom Jesus

#Baga Beach, spent a evening there, just to soak the hyped #Goa excitement! Tried jet skiing and spent some time at a shack- Britto’s, which needs to credited for it’s amazing ambience! Did some shopping and window shopping, and didn't get into pub hopping!

#Basilica of Bom Jesus, we hired a guide for 100 INR and it was totally worth it. He spoke how in 15th century it all started with Portuguese, how St. Francis Xavier spread Christianity with Society of Jesus and passed away on the way to China. Guide also tracked the life of relics of St. Xavier, after his death, which travelled to Malaysia, Rome and then finally, to Goa, at Basilica of Bom Jesus. This church is also called old church of Goa and UNESCO world heritage site, you'll spot IHS- first 3 letters from Jesus in Greek, inscribed on top of the church. IHS also means Jesus- Human Savior. Outside the gate, we had good dosas and ice creams to beat the heat!
Mangeshi Temple

#Sahakari Spice Farm, new trend in Goa these days is to show rich flora and fauna of Western Ghats. They include food prepared from veggies grown in this 132 acre farm! For those who are from western ghats, nothing much to look out for, for the rest, it may turn out to be eye-opening exciting 1 hour study tour in the farm- showing coconut, Arecanut, jackfruit, mango, cashew, feni preparation and display of spices.

#Mangeshi Temple houses Lord Mangeshi, form of Lord Shiva, the main deity of Gowda Saraswath Brahmins. This temple looks rich with unique Goan architecture comprising of a sanctum and a tower kind of structure that can lit 450 diyas (lamps) at a time. The road leading to temple houses many eateries (Don't forget to drink kokum juice here!)and small shops selling memorabilia.
Sahakari Spice Farm

#Margao Flea Market was up since to mark the feast of local church that was coming up. We entered and exited (in VRL sleeper bus which stopped at Ankola for dinner) Goa via Margao- and both the times were held up in middle for some time because of the crowd that was busy shopping and blocking the road!

{Thank you Manu for being amazing trip organiser, yet again! Thank you Vijay for inviting us and inspiring us to plan this trip. Thanks to Archi, Manu & Sushma for making this trip memorable}

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Trip to Delhi, Kanpur & Lucknow: First Glimpses of Hindi Heartland

Having already been twice at Delhi, I had thought I had nothing much to explore or do. But, it indeed had few best things in store to throw at me.
Crisis- when written in Chinese is a two letter word, where first letter denotes ‘Danger’ and the second, an ‘opportunity’
I concluded my talk and walked away leaving audience ponder over deeper philosophical meanings! This was at a recent IEEE conference held at Amity University, Noida where I presented a research paper that I had co-authored. Conference was titled as “INBUSH ERA- 2015: International Conference on Futuristic Trends in Computational Analysis and Knowledge Management”- basic reason for my trip- thanks to SAP for encouraging research work. Presenting in front of Professors, Academicians and PhD students is indeed a challenge, since you need to convince them and any attempt to confuse will cost dearly. This being my third research work, good amount of mistakes already done in past, I worked really hard on my 15min presentation, thanks to my fellowship days, I have learnt a trick or two to get audience engaged! And thankfully, it worked!!
Mughal Garden at President House

Tasting Kulle Chaat or Fruit chaat: I got out of Chawri Bazaar metro station of Delhi, entered a road that had more cycle rickshaws & row-shops leaving hardly any space to walk! It wasn't tough to identify tiny Heera Lal chaat shop famous for it’s Kulle Chaat- innovatively sliced fruits like banana, papaya, watermelon, orange and others, with Indian spices added to it! Hats would go off for the Creativity and no ambience- the real street food!

Jama Masjid is built around 1650 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, it is the best-known mosque in India. I ended up here at around 6pm and what a time to be there! We bought tickets to climb up the narrow pillar and bumped into a Bangladeshi bureaucrat who taught me a lesson or two on our own culture! It did inspire me to learn Bhagavata! Coming back, views of Red Fort & Delhi were just marvelous and every penny worth. Do visit this Masjid for it’s serenity, birds and sacred feelings it invokes!
Jama Masjid

Hauz Khas Village and Deer Park looked like lover’s paradise. Basking on it’s 13th century history, you'll encounter quite a few structures which will tell the tales of past. Walk is quite healthy with best of air and best of cool breeze from lake. Apart from some lake birds, ducks keep sailing in the waters which looked polluted. Park is pretty big and I managed to get out at a random gate, one of many! Hauz Khas village houses many eateries, I had initially planned to try one of them, but getting out at a random gate ended me up at a restaurant in Green Park market area! No complaints!

Mughal Garden at President House or Rashtrapati Bhavan was serene! It is open for public just after Republic Day (Jan 26) for a month. I was thankful for the privilege I got. Taking a walk in this beautiful garden was a dream come true! President's house was FEW yards away. Majestic tri-color kept flaunting! What a feeling! Apart from patriotic feeling that you get, nearly 10,000 Tulips in vivid colors was be the main attraction spread across Spiritual Garden, Herbal Garden, Bonsai Garden and Bio-diversity Park. Names of flowers are as well very amusing- few like- Black Lady, Double Delight, Eiffel Tower, Granada, Mr. Lincoln, Sadabahar and Taj Mahal!
Kulle Chaat at Heera Lal chaat 

Jhumroo at Kingdom Of Dreams was my second show at the venue. Now I undoubtedly say that KOD is the bestest of best! Jhumroo was a tribute to Kishore Kumar and seeing him live on stage gave Goosebumps. This show was technically very rich and I have no words for the stage settings & music!

Rahagiri Day, is a unique celebration that is catching up. I got a chance to experience it first hand at Connaught Place in Delhi. Rahagiri Day mostly happens on Sunday mornings where citizens get together to celebrate the fun and freedom to walk, sing, dance, exercise and play on the street! Though the rain screwed up with set up there, enthusiasm of participants & over lookers was infectious! Big salute to people who organize this and who participate on Sunday mornings!

I stayed at Kanpur for 2 days since was there to attend a wedding {held at Hotel Landmark with amazing ambience} of my friend’s{Arpit} brother. It was great to get royally treated and enjoyed super-duper hospitality! Had great time exploring Kanpur and experiencing British leftover culture like Indianised version of British names! Meanwhile, Arpit made sure that I had tea in an earthen pot cup at famous Banarasi Tea Stall and ate some street food like Matka Bread Maakan {a glass of butter milk tasted best with wooden pan fired bread-butter- I was bowled over!} and Chole Bhature.
Hazratganj at Lucknow

My trip to Lucknow was limited to 18th century creation, Hazratganj. I took a quick stroll and grabbed my hands on unique Basket Chaat, Aloo Tikki Chaat at Royal Cafe. Though I caught glimpses of the Legislative assembly and Ambedkar Park, wasn't lucky enough to explore more, thanks to canceled train and quick trip back to Delhi on Uttar Pradesh state govt. run bus that played Bollywood music throughout the night. Lucknow, will come back soon to see you with more luck!

I sincerely thank Arpit, his family, Pranshu, GS team at SAP Labs and Archi for making this trip happen and memorable!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Living Faith: Bliss of Srimad Bhagavata

I recently got a chance to attend “Bhagavata Saptaha” hosted by Ambalpady Padakannaya family, discourse that ran across 7 days covering 12 skandhas (chapters) of Sri Veda Vyasa composed (not written!) Bhagavata- treasure of knowledge that has every detail pertaining to God, need for avatars, life, purpose of life, science, universe, birth and future of universe, famous Mahabharata and Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Psychology {to an extent to educating the fetus}, Philosophy, medicine and what not! It was life-time delight listening to very well-known scholar, Padma Shri, Shri Bannanje Govindacharya, who logically and scientifically answered those questions that any non-believer may ask {I was surely one among them!}. During the course he busted many myths, misinterpretation, British influence surrounding Indian mythology and indeed inspired many of us for a better way of life. Hope the learnings that I am writing here will help you set off to a journey to explore more on life and yourself! I have personally started one now! Note, I am keeping in mind what Acharya told- “Easy paths to attain hell are being the ‘misleading pundit’ and ‘misguiding with false purana stories’” I have no intentions to go to hell!
Stage set for Discourse!

Although there are many interpretations of Bhagavata available, they largely suffer from “Swabhava” {the personal attitude of composer/interpreter} and “Prabhava” {social influence on composer/interpreter}. To understand beauty of Bhagavata you need to have a teacher who understands Sanskrit and Science! I was so fortunate to listen to one such kind of teacher. No doubt, many false interpretations have led to great disbelief about religion & Gods. The discourse cleared many questions that were haunting me for long and made me firm believer of Greater Power and Greater Cause! Clearing some disbeliefs from my learnings-
  1. Our land was known as Anjanabha, land of black soil that included entire Indian sub-continent. We follow “Sanathana Dharma”. Foreigners called us Hindus, since Sindhu river flowed in our land and later it got modified to India. Hence Hinduism is a culture, not a religion. There is no harm referring people living in sub-continent as Hindus!
  2. Aryans & Dravidians- is a great misconception created to divide and rule by invaders. Dravida comes from “dramila” or “tamil”. Hence Dravida means only Tamil, not any other languages!
  3. Bhagavata is a work that correlates geographical and physical aspects. For instance, 7 oceans in “Samudhra Mantana” story refers to 7 ductless glands of human body, and “mantana” or taking them into control can lead us to spiritual awakening! Similar concept of idol worship.
  4. Today’s Big Bang theory was more accurately explained in chapters of Birth of Universe in Bhagavata. It contained 9 stages of creation. Stage 1 to 5 explains how the matter in vacuum came together, how the creator- Chaturmukha Brahma’s 12 hours is equal to one cycle of yuga’s {concept of inception!} and occurrences of pralaya {deluge}, what is Shiva and other assigned Gods for different aspects that directly correlates to our body parts. Stage 6 is the curtain which basically hides the creation process that has happened in previous stages. Next stages explain evolution. Stage 7 is creation of various plants, stage 8 animals and birds, and finally, in stage 9 is creation of human beings- including good ones and demons {terrorists!}! 
  5. Bhagavata is written on calculation basis. Sage Kapila gave mathematical proof for everything related to creation process. Bhagavata believed in calculations, not on language since it can be misinterpreted, but 2+2 can never be equal to 5!
  6. According to Bhagavata, Currently we are well 5000 years into Kaliyuga and it has 4 lakh more years to go! It also gives accurate life of it’s creation, mentions about pre-historic man {Adam}, pinpoints at the center of universe- star called Dhruva with his beautiful story. Gravitational pull and two occurrences of Earth falling out of it’s trajectory {Varaha avatar of God at rescue} finds place in Bhagavata, and scientists have recently vindicated the fact!
  7. Our ancient political system believed in Monarchy that was democratic! There are instances where sages have dethroned King for welfare of state. Bhagavata also mentions about creation of first civilization by Prathu {hence our land is called Prithvi!} and not surprisingly, industries!
  8. Women were treated at par with men and they had all rights for education. They played equal role in everything.
  9. There was no hour-long Draupadi’s saree drama by Dushasana shown on tv’s these days during Mahabharata. Logically it wasn't possible. In Fact, during those times there were no sarees! Similarly, Ganesh wasn't born due to dirt from Parvathi’s body and was not beheaded for not allowing Shiva. Similarly, Narasimha didn't break the pillar to come out and save Prahlada. These have unfortunately become popular bedtime stories and are easily the cause of disbelief toward God and Religion!
  10. According to Bhagavata, we need not throw money and beg for favours from God. Then it is equivalent to corruption and God is no businessman! Instead, God is like the Sun and all of us are like reflections of Sun in innumerable ponds on earth. There are so many of them and so many varieties- all unique & diverse. We need to respect lives and work for betterment of all. Hence the 12 qualities for ideal human being were defined. It can be attained by anyone and they can become Brahmin. Son of Brahmin may or may not become Brahmin! It is not a caste; it is a distinction/qualification! By working for those 12 qualities, anyone can attain Moksha, the ultimate Nirvana, free from punarjanma. {Even Old Testament of Bible mentioned about punarjanma or reincarnation of the soul!}
  11. Lastly, Sanskrit has no written form and more importantly, can be expressed in three forms- Samadhi {back with facts}, Uhahei {predict} and Darshan {tell what you see}! Hence find yourself a scholar who can narrate Bhagavata in Samadhi form! Unfortunately, the books & teachers today mostly employ the latter two and hence there is great disbelief and lack of knowledge on God & Religion! Current Indian education system introduced by British is not helping the cause either. 
    Let there be Peace and Prosperity!
We, Indians are living in despair and failing to recognize our own strength, knowledge, legacy and potential! Hope things change. I hope I have triggered some thoughts in you. Note, this is completely incomplete! Thank you for reading! Hope it was worth your time and I could pass on the joy I had listening to the master! With this, I am marking my 100th blog post. Thoughts, comments and advice- Welcome!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pondicherry Trip & Auroville Marathon: For the Joy of Running

After day long work, I caught Friday evening train to Puducherry {a.k.a Pondicherry} from Bangalore at 9.30pm from Banaswadi, remote railway station that looked more like a small 2 bhk home! Hotel Corbelli in Pondicherry was my home for next couple of days, a decent budget hotel in Mission Street. This street houses many eateries and is very accessible to everything in Pondy. Town was so intuitive in itself that just after spending couple of hours there, I was aware of most of map, thanks to localities as well for being very accommodative and helpful {they even spoke French here!}. Right opposite to hotel was Hotel Bombay Anand Bhavan where I had my first of many tasty meals at Pondi and that set the tone for the tour!
Matrimandir of Auroville

#Auroville Marathon was in it’s 8th edition on 8th of February, amazingly beautiful trail midst the greenery and at the "universal township" of Auroville, known as “City of Dawn”, 8 km from Pondicherry, run by Sri Aurobindo Society to realize human unity and where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The place stands for every word mentioned above! Auroville marathon, one of biggest run, runs through their textile, handloom, handicraft, food industries and Matrimandir {amazing architecture and breeze of calmness hits you here}, and ofcourse constant encouragement from the residents & volunteers, was very satisfying.
Paradise Beach Island Clicked from the Boat

I ran 10k that started at 7am in the morning and with constant drum pepping & energizers, clocked 59min, which anyway doesn't matter since every runner is a winner here. Kudos to organizers and fellow runners who ran for “Joy of Running”. I look forward to run half marathon next year! If you love running, then do run in Auroville Marathon, it is indeed a must thing to do in life!
French Colony

#Aurobindo Ashram was very peaceful and was amazed with the natural flora. We parked our Activa’s, which we had hired for 225 INR per day to roam around Pondi, and took the famous stroll in the famous French colony, which was just-incredible & felt out of place! Don’t forget to visit Museum, Bharati Park that has Monument called Aayi Mandapam {interesting story behind it, to know- you have to visit museum!} and Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple- all in walking vicinity.

#Beach Road visit in evening hours is pure bliss. Take a walk and explore French Consulate, French War Memorial, Seaside Promenade, Statue of Dupleix, Secretariat offices and Gandhi Statue. It reminded me of Marina Drive of Mumbai for sure! 

Gandhi Statue in Beach Road
#Churches are quite old here are surely one time visit. Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus near railway station, Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Mission Street and Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges near Beach Road- I visited all of them, surprisingly, when the mass was going-on!

#Arikamendu took me by surprise. There was no one when I went there and finding way was nightmare/super fun. Romans had come here in 2BC to trade and now houses ruins of a house like structure. I was fascinated with whatever was remaining and could feel the energy that could have been possibly existed here, previously/historically!

#Paradise Beach is 20min boat ride away from Chunnambar Boat House. This had flavor of Goa. Only a part of Beach was open to public, rest looked like encroached by resorts there. Nevertheless, thumbs-up for it’s ambience and boat ride!
Arikamedu Ruins

#Serenity Beach and #Auro Beach are surely one time visit with lovely crystal clear blue waters and long sand shore with beautiful sea shells.

#Botanical Gardens was a dudd and I didn’t enjoy much, thanks to it’s poor maintenance and “Under Construction” banner everywhere!

#Food was just brilliant! Must haves from whatever I had: Chocolate Pakora at Zuka, Wooden pan fired Pizza at Cafe Xtasi, Ferrero Roche shake at The Indian Kaffe Express, Special Thali at Surguru. Masala milk at KBS Kofi bar and Ghee Dosa at Bombay Anand Bhavan

{Thanks to Rashmika for being co-planner and co-executer. Thanks to TripAdvisor for suggestions. Special thanks to auto-drivers of Pondy for their generosity}

Friday, January 30, 2015

8 things you need to know on new Indian GST

GST has been a buzzword offlate and even after good amount of reading, I was not able make much out of it. Few of us got a privilege to be at Le Meridian Bangalore for a one day conference on Goods and Services Tax (GST) organized by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM). I went with the clean slate (read blank sheet of paper) and blank mind. In this blog I am putting down my learnings of Indian GST and how I have started understanding it, finally!

Why GST? Multiple reasons- Value Added Tax (VAT) was introduced in 2005, though it took less time to stabilize, now has become bone of contention, especially in interstate trade. Today, CST, service tax, VAT, excise taxes are levied on multiple taxable events which leads to multiple indirect taxes by central and state govt. which is not recoverable against one another- there is cascading of taxes and at the end of the day, end user (we!) has to bear all of them. There is a necessity of uniform tax rate for same commodity in different states of India. Apart from shortcomings of previous tax regime, we are in a time period where every IP of electronic gadgets can be tracked and trade can be done on the basis of digital footprints, with amazing computational powers of our computers. Also, in trade, all goods have component of service in it and same with service as well- tough to separate both of them. Hence the need for GST which promises to be a fair system that is transparent and trade friendly- biggest bang in financial history of independent India.

Proposed GST is “Dual Control” one, means that both state and central govt. will levy central (CGST) and state GST (SGST) respectively on same transaction. In an intra-state transaction, all taxes get distributed either in CGST or SCGST and both of them will be added to cost. In an inter-state transaction, SGST will be of state where goods/service is supplied, CGST would remain same and IGST- integrated GST (CGST+IGST) is added to cost. Point to note- alcohol and petroleum is not in the scope of GST!

With GST, it is important for central and state governments to arrive at a consensus. GST article amendment, which is currently in parliament, gives legislative power to both. Hence it is put as separate item in constitution which will later become law. Hence, GST is not in either state or central or concurrent list. A GST council is set up to decide which taxes comes under SGST & CGST, for framing model rules to form the law and to decide flow rate to harmonize differences between govt. of union & state.

There are 4 major players in GST- manufacturer, trader, service provider and consumer. The later should ideally benefit since previous 3 players in the chain only have to recover their respective IGST & base price while selling to next person. First 3 players will have to register themselves in GST so that they get their adjusted money back after a transaction. There will be a day when we will have check for traders registered with GST for lesser prices! Note, they will fill only one form for returns and robust IT infrastructure of GST will take care of all computation.

The day at the conference was MODIrated by official from ASSOCHAM, Mr. Crasta. He virtually cracked every popular election one-liners of Modi, except for “Abki baar Modi sarkaar”! Conference ended on a lighter note by a bureaucrat from IT (you get a pat on back if you read IT as income tax) dept. who covered all major e (electronic) and m (mobile) schemes of Karnataka govt. and missed on telling how prepared they were towards GST! He kept saying- "You don't believe me" and "I have 4108 contacts in my phone and 2000 are on my whatsapp", was a laugh riot with his mannerisms and #selfthoos on his veterinary doctor background!
Getting back, these were the key takeaways from conference which all of us need to know {I request peers and seniors to add on them}:

  1. Get ready for Paradigm Shift with GST: taxation will happen on destination basis or place where goods or service is supplied. It is not just mere tax changes, it will impact how business run, especially in supply chain management- procurement policies, wearhouse location, raw materials consumed, stock transfer, everything in trade!
  2. Will come into force from April 2016. Skill, speed and scale key points in PM’s “Make in India”. GST is a step towards it. India needs to move up in Doingbusiness.com !
  3. IGST will be recoverable and will save some money for end users whereas CST in prev. tax regime was not recoverable.
  4. Dual tax (intra-state) & single tax (inter-state) in GST whereas multiple taxes & cascading in prev. tax regime.
  5. Industries will evolve, like telecom did, hence brace up for new versions of GST in future. It will have to evolve!
  6. MRP will be way of past. Hence transparency will be required in invoice for fair price, else there is an opportunity for vendors to increase their margin since cost is bound to come down with lower IGST.
  7. Lack of Intellectual experts on GST during its enforcement might hurt businesses and result in a short economic slowdown. At least till it gets stabilized.
  8. Last but not the least; Finance Commission predicts that India’s GDP will increase by 1 with introduction of GST. Achhe din aane… You said it!