Indian Gods that migrated!…
It was refreshing to be seated with no one I knew on either side of my seat on the Air France plane that I boarded after a hectic schedule dealing with our monastery and other worldly affairs and bidding farewell to my disciples at Bangalore. Finally, I could be with myself and felt a lot lighter. When the air hostess brought me a few papers to read, I could recall an incident that I had read just three weeks before. An Air France Carrier that had been in Bangalore on an earlier date had taken off from Rio de Janeiro airport in Brazil only to crash-land into the ocean just minutes after takeoff and hundreds had perished. That scene replayed vividly in front of my eyes. Two years ago, a similar incident had happened on a flight to Paris that I took from Bangalore and I had a fleeting doubt if this could be the same carrier. The pilot, mindful of a technical defect, had suddenly applied the brakes just at the last second before takeoff and the plane had come to a halt with a roar akin to a winter thunderbolt. It is said that air travel is much safer compared to travelling on train or bus. There are no obstructions on the airways. Every vehicle that is moving in the opposing direction is like a messenger of the Death God Yama! They charge towards us like bullets. Whatever care you take travelling on the left side, if the driver of the vehicle that is moving towards you from the opposite side is “LOADED” (drunk) what can you do? Can you avoid going outside and just sit at home? What guarantee is there that you are safe even at home? You could just slip in the bathroom and crash your head. Is it not ridiculous if you think you can wear a helmet into the bathroom? Even then, how can you be sure that you would not slip and break your leg? In situations like these, the popular Indian expression is, “whatever has to happen will happen, no one can prevent it”.
I recalled the popular saying from Basavanna, “Do I have a choice other than to be born at a place where You want me to be born or die at a place where you want me to die?” The lives of all passengers are in the hands of the Pilot and the Pilot’s life is in the hands of the Lord Almighty. There are instances of Plane crashes where an infant in a mother’s arms had escaped death even as the mother herself had succumbed to death. The popular Indian belief is that no matter what a man does to safeguard himself, it is impossible to circumvent the invisible hands of the Creator. My eyes drooped just as I was recalling the words of Akka Mahadevi, “Like a monkey at the tips of a stick, like a puppet tied to a rope, I play the game that you want me to play”. The air conditioning, a comfortable seat, and the mild humming noise of the plane ensured that I got into a deep slumber. Carrying hundreds of travelers like me and the cargo safely in its belly, the plane had taken a giant leap from Bangalore to pierce the dark sky with a roar and a long jump of about eight thousand kilometers to land us at Charles De Gaulle Airport at eight o’ clock in the morning. Arriving a half hour early, the plane had pushed everyone’s clock back by three and half hours. The book, “Impressions of my France Trip” given to me by the author Nagathihalli Chandrashekar as a ‘travel companion’ was staring at me with open eyes after having spent a sleepless night in my arms! His travel experience stated as, “I floated on the clouds and swung in the sky-earth swing” was true to the letter except that I was not in a position to say, “I grasped the speed of the earth’s movement and measured the vastness of of the ocean with bare eyes”.
As we were about to alight from the plane, an unknown fellow passenger, an Indian mother, saw me and instinctively bent down to offer her respects and instructed the little baby in her arms, “jai bolo beta”. The baby who was obviously tired by a long all night journey, conceding to her mother’s instructions, took a few baby steps and waved to me. The way the mother instructed her child made me assume that she was probably a north Indian lady settled in Bangalore. The popular Kannada saying, “Home is the very first school and mother is the very first teacher” gave credence to the incidence that I witnessed. Mother does not need a formal School to teach her child; she is the personification of mother earth! It is interesting that mothers from the West focus on civilizing their children with mannerisms and etiquettes, while the mothers of Indian origin focus on their spiritual development in a land of diverse cultures.
I was hardly a few pages into Nagathihalli’s book at the Paris airport, when the call to board the plane to Chicago came over the PA speakers. Just a change of carrier, but the full body security screens had to be gone through. Not even the defense minister from any country is exempt from these security checks. Shoes from the feet, belt from the waist, mobile phones from the pocket, handbags, glasses, wrist watches, pen and loose change - all these need to be placed on a tray to be scanned through the X-ray machines. An alarm beep while passing bare foot through a metal detector brings you back to be checked again. Religious leaders need to tolerate a bit more of these checks. A situation of non-belief all through! A cultural torture to be borne for a safe journey! The protocol was put in place as everyone is a suspect basically through man’s built-in cheating tendency; by people wearing good citizen masks.
Journey time from Paris to Chicago is around 9 hours. Another hop and jump from the plane. Time to open up my laptop and review the edited version of “Ganakaashtaadhyaayee”, a Sanskrit grammar based on Panini’s tenets and adapted for use on computers. Concern, when the low battery indicator came on, turned to relief on noticing the electric socket on the arm rest. A sigh at the thought that so much time without disruptions and distractions would not be available when on land! I felt that Bhavabhoothi’s words, “kaalohyayam niravadhirviphula cha pruthvee” need to be replaced by “viphulam cha vyoma” in my case. The air hostess was compassionate that I stuck to just water and fruit juice throughout my journey. She brought me extra cashew nut packets along with the juice with a pleasing smile. The motherly concern to make children eat something when they refuse to eat was very much evident in her attitude!
When we landed at the O’Hare (O! Hare?) Airport in Chicago, Dr. Shivakumar, my disciple, was there to welcome us with his family. To a query I had posed to him by e-mail just before I left Bangalore, ‘if his children would be seated on the back seat of the car taking me to his home from the airport’ I had the answer. Children who had now grown up to be responsible young adults were holding the steering wheel while the parents were seated in the back! When we reached home, the door was opened by none other than Namitha and Ganesh Desai, the artist couple, of “E-TV Degula Darshana” fame. After the mutual greetings, showers and prayers, the topic of discussion at lunch centered on Kavya Shivashankar, the 13 year old NRI girl who had won the Scripps National Spelling Bee Contest, just a month before. Our pride on her achievement got even better after we learnt that she was from Mysore. At this young age of 13, she has won 40,000 US dollars, roughly equivalent to twenty lakh rupees. Award of such a large amount has never been awarded to any famed author in our country. Asked by reporters if she wasn’t distracted by all the spectators, TV reporters, and Press cameras, she had replied, “I never pay attention to them. I am totally focused on the word to be spelled!” Her response was similar to Arjuna’s reply, “I only see the eye of the bird that I am aiming at” to Dronacharya’s question, “What all do you see on the tree?”
It is not only the Hindus that have migrated to America. Along with them, Hindu Gods have also migrated! Shiva, Parvathi, Ganesha, Subrahmanya, Rama, Krishna, Venkateshwara, Lakshmi, Bhoodevi and others! Numerous temples have sprung up across the Americas. Instead of naming the temples by Individual names, it has become customary to call them as Hindu Temples. According to one estimate more than 300 Hindu temples are there in USA and Canada combined. From the architectural angle, these temples are no lesser than the ones in India. From ancient times, Indian temples have not been the places of worship only, but have been artistic, architectural, literature and musical development centers as well. We find such multicultural environment in these American Hindu temples also. On festival days special poojas are offered along with social and cultural activities. In ancient Indian temples there are no lodging facilities offered to the priests. But the specialty here is that the facilities for the priests are planned for during temple constructions. Even though poojas are offered daily, devotees are seen in large numbers only on weekends. The people, who work so hard here from dawn to dusk, hardly find any time to chat with their spouse and children. Therefore, “Even if God comes, He will have to wait for the weekends!” is the phrase sentence here. The temple constructions have not been devoid of native resistance. People who have built residences in suburbs to be away from the hustle and bustle of the cities resent it and have opposed the constructions in courts, citing obstruction to their peace of mind. There are instances where the internal administrative tussles among the Hindu board members themselves have sought court assistance for resolution.
The day after we arrived here, I noticed several responses by the readers to my last week’s column, “Does God catch cold?” Supportive remarks by appreciative readers provide the proper inspiration for me to continue to write despite losing out on my quota of sleep time. Among them, Nayana Rao from Bangalore had provided me with valuable information that Lord Puri Jagannath catches cold during the month of June and so, a cocktail (payasa) made from crushed pepper and cardamom is offered to the Lord earlier than usual and his chambers locked to give him additional rest time to recover. On reading this, I am reminded of my visit to a Sri Krishna temple operated by the ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ sect at the famous American City of Atlanta. It was a little late in the evening, as I recall, when my disciples brought me over there. A wheat- complexioned American Krishna devotee wearing a dhoti, a cloth spread across his front, with a tuft of hair on his head, had met us at the gates. When my disciples had explained to him as to who I was and requested him to open the doors to the temple, he had humbly folded his hands and said, “Sorry, our Lord Krishna is sleeping now, we cannot wake him up!” You may laugh at his statement. But for that Krishna devotee, he had done ‘shayanotsava’ to his Lord Krishna with ardent devotion and nothing could shake him to disturb his Lord. The dharmic rituals we do without such dedicated belief is, in my opinion, just an exhibitionist devotion. Referring to such people only Basavanna had stated, “They don’t trust me, they don’t believe in me, simply they call me for their wants. So trustless are these earthlings!”