Friday, July 15, 2005

Turn of the Tide

Day 6, Sathyanarayana Temple, Brahmotsavam, July 2002:. A cable wire slowly got caught onto the top of the chariot bearing the Uthsavar of Lord.Sathyanarayana as the chariot tried to turn right from Srinivasan street on to Thambiah road. The crowd of 1000 people gathered did not notice it. This was the very first Brahmotsavam this temple "celebrated". A festival that was put together and organized with lot of pain and hard work. As the people pulling the chariot increase their speed, the wire entangled itself to the chariot and pulled it down. The huge 20 Ft chariot toppled and killed 1 person as it fell down. Many residents of W.Mambalam left home in tears as the days event was abandoned.

Some say good bye to people and some say good bye to events. This is a time in my life when I am closing things related to the current phase of my life and moving on to the next phase. I am saying good bye to people, events and a little more. The Brahmotsavam activities in the Sathyanarayana temple close to where my parents live in Chennai is something I have been increasingly involved in for the past three years. The 2003 Brahmotsavam happened at a time when I had just 1 week's gap to switch between jobs. And that was no mean coincidence. I had read about the 2002 fiasco in the online version of "The Hindu" newspaper, while in the U.S. The next year I was present in person. As the chariot negotiated the same right turn, we all watched with bated breath. A person was stationed to lift the very same cable wire that played the villain the previous year. We all let out a big collective sigh of relief as the chariot thudded and gawkily turned right and rolled its way into Thambiah road in its noisy wooden wheels. Among other things, this event taught me that bad starts don't mean a thing. If you want to, you can comeback from bad events and bad phases. Sometimes it is good see failures early on in life. It provides the rich base of experience required to negotiate bigger challenges. Since that time my involvement with the temple increased and I took active interest in learning things concerned with daily activities of the temple and the sort of festivals they celebrate. Why they do it and how they do it? While I am excited about moving on to what I think are 'greener pastures', I am also a touch misty that I will be missing the festivities next year and possibly for many many years to come.

The Brahmotsavam is an interesting festival. In the pre Doordarshan days, Brahmotsavam was the major form of entertainment for many people living near a temple. Nowadays retired parents, whose children have gone outside Chennai ( or out of the country ) to pursue career interests, find that such temple related activities occupy a major portion of their retired lives. I find that people walking towards the evening of their lives find sudden attraction towards God and involve themselves in such activities to attain some sort of fulfillment in their lives. I see that many of the participants are people who consider their involvement as an atonement to the many years of theistic neglect. A neglect that is possibly a result of material and career related compulsions. This leads to another interesting thought. Is what we consider important today really that important 50 years from now ? (or) Should we really worry about such things? Are we all condemned to do things that are important only for a very short period of time? In a "long enough timeline", it is interesting to note the changing importance of many things that we do. What we consider as "the big thing to do" now and in different stages of life is also largely disconnected. Isn't there no way to link these short-term "importances" to achieve a much larger and more satisfying long-term goal? Can career, spiritual, artistic and other goals be inter-connected to achieve a larger meaning to life? Now in this disconnected state -- there are things that you know before hand as ones that may not matter in the long(er) run. However, they are the ones that we still have to do (and do very well) because they are immediate, closer to our current reality and so more important. The M.S, MBBS, MBA and other material and career related aspirations are good examples of what I am talking about. I realize that someday I may become one of these people and whatever I do in the next 30 years may not be as important as what I do after the next 30 years.

In any case -- Brahmotsavam is usually a 7 to 9 day festival. Many Temples customize Brahmotsavam to their own style. Thirupathi has its own style of doing Brahmotsavam. While Kancheepuram, the temple town, does things slightly differently. Our Sathyanarayana temple here features the Hamsa Vaaganam, Yaanai (Gaja) Vaaganam, Simha Vaaganam, Garuda Vaaganam and last but not the least The Chariot. IMHO, in Madras, no other place outside of West Mambalam can celebrate Brahmotsavam in such a grand style. Given the congestion and traffic problems, I do not think, any other part of Madras (even Thiruvallikeni) can host such an elaborate and grand celebrations. The rectangle formed by Thambiah Road, Bhaktavatsalam St, Arya Gowda Rd, and Srinivasan St offers the correct amount of seclusion and has enough space for a crowd of around 2000 to 5000 people.

There is the Oonjal sevai (A sort of a swing/cradle) every day. The Uthsavar ( The version of the God that can be taken out of the temple and into the streets in a Oorvalam) is brought outside in a grand manner. Music is provided by a Nathaswaram group and a band. 4 people bear the Utsavar on a Palanquin (I hope the usage is right here.. I really did not get a better word. Palanquin usually means A covered litter carried on poles on the shoulders of four or more bearers, formerly used in eastern Asia . Only that here it is not covered but open.) as they come out of the temple. Outside the temple, the bearers dance to the music and it appears as if the Utsavar himself is dancing to the band. Later they place the Utsavar on the Oonjal. The Oorvalam (The procession of the Utsavar on the streets) then happens on a much bigger palanquin with 4 people bearing each leg of the palanquin, making it a grand total of 16 bearers. Depending on the day of the Brahmotsavam, the Utsavar is placed on an elephant, Garudan etc and taken out. The people who bear the Utsavar on the Vaahanam are specially trained. While this temple is assembling its own set of bearers, in the past specialists have also been brought in from Mylai's Kesava Perumal temple and The Srirangam temple to assist in the proceedings. These specialists know how the handle the palanquin and can move it in a style that will provide an illusion of the Utsavar dancing. The work of these specialists in any Brahmotsavam is something that we all neglect to recognize. I was thoroughly impressed with the way they did some moves, which made the Utsavar appear as if he was walking with a swagger and at the same time dancing wonderfully to the tune.

The chariot (or the Ther) is something that I pulled for the 3rd year in succession. Starting from Srinivasan St pulling the chariot using a rope ( called vadam ) was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Admist loud whistles all the cable wires floating above were cut down. None of the residents complained about this at all. I guess for once, these old people did not mind missing their soaps/mega serials in their lives. The funny thing about such events is that there are always thousand people shouting gzillion instructions. Each offering his own advise on how the chariot should be pulled. As it happens, nobody but the person next to him would be even remotely interested in that piece of advise. It was hot and humid but the kind residents of the four streets gave us water, butter milk and rose milk along the way. A person was specifically appointed to cut the over hanging wires (see picture on the left). There were fireworks on display too. Late in the night (which is 9:30 PM in W.Mambalam) people gathered for a huge fireworks display. Needless to say the fireworks sucker that I am, I kept taping every aerial bomb that was sent up. Then there was the classic thing with Thirumangai Mannan/Alwar. Legend has it that there was a person called Thirumangai Mannan who stole jewels and valuables from people. One day he stole it from God Himself. After releiving God of all his jewels Thirumangai mannan finds that he is unable to remove the metti-like minjee from His feet. After trying hard he realizes that the person whom he is trying to steal from is God Himself. God then catches him and fines him a lot of money. Thirumangai Mannan on realizing his folly apologizes and writes some paasurams (hymns / verses) in praise of the Lord. He was granted moksham because of this and was henceforth called Thirumangai Alwar. There is a sequence which was enacted where masked people carrying the palanquin of Thirumangai Mannan enact a robbery-chase scene. Then a big litigation ensues where God names each stolen article and Thirumangai Mannan is fined for various thefts. Then a group of Veda Parayana Goshtees sang the relevant paasurams before the day's events got over.

Standing with near and far family members and with people in the neighborhood, enjoying a common event, brought out a variety of emotions. I wasn't here hundred years before so I do not know things were then. But this festival must've done its best to take us back in time to the way Brahmotsavam was celebrated decades or centuries ago. The simplicity and innocence of the whole thing is the key here. People just want to celebrate. Especially the Thirumangai Alwar enaction. It is so difficult to find temples that do it in today's times. Nobody has the land or space that such elaborate pursuits require and certainly the people who are interested in spending time watching such medieval form of entertainment are dwindling. But here the team spirit was unmistakable. There was a collective pull in everything we did in the last 7 or 8 days, I began to develop familiarity with many faces. I was nodding and acknowledging more people than I ever did in all my life in this area. I am to start my M.B.A in University of Michigan, Ann Arbor this Fall of 2005. I worked my rear-end off all last year to get where I wanted to be. I quit my job 2 weeks ago and am getting ready to leave. Now, I find myself increasingly unwilling to and unable to disassociate myself from this temple, this neighborhood, this city and this phase of my life. But such things have to be done. Standing every night, watching the fireworks on display, I knew that I may not get to see this event for some years to come. And I couldn't help but feel a touch emotional. These are innocent, simple times. I was leading a quiet and peaceful life (well! at least by my standards). I had to go and complicate things, didn't I? Like Gollum and Smeagol, I think inside everybody there is a personal guy and a career guy. While for a major part of the year, the career guy dominates you, kicks you, makes you get up at odd hours, sleep at late hours, miss birthdays, functions, events, makes you lose touch with people. Then in the end when the career guy's job is done and he dusts his hand and gives over the reins to the personal-guy and leaves the scene. The personal-guy finds that his side of life is in tatters. He cleans up the leftovers, renews the broken bonds, the missed events and shouts at the career-guy, "My god man! Look what you have done. What did you do? Don't you know what is important?".

Well! Who does?


lxsn said...

Good one Bharath.
Made me relive with ecstasy the 2001 Chitirai festival celebrations , I was a part of, in Madurai.

All the very best for ur new pursuits. Keep blogging..


Anonymous said...

As Usual, Good Post , Bharath !

anantha said...

Good one! And congrats! We can finally congratulate you in public!

Vijay said...


Couldnt agree with you more about the "personal guy" and "career guy" ! Good luck.

Btw, you got a great blog going here.


Suresh Ramani said...

u schizophrenic! .. jk ..

i guess most people spend about 2/3rd of the average human lifetime in the career guys' shoes and then look back on their life and wonder about their personal life .. u seem to have started wondering quite early though :-)

I am sure there is lot more to such internal conflicts: the lazy guy vs. the ambition guy; the silly guy vs. the suave guy; the stupid guy vs. the intelligent guy; the fun guy vs. the hard-working guy; etc. etc. but, if you notice carefully, one guy always wins over the other at a particular instant and that decision is already made for you - and you are left with the choice to accept it and move on ..

Good luck with your new endeavor ! ..


Ram said...


It has been a great pleasure to follow you through this 'carefree' phase of your life. Don't complicate things too much! As someone who is dreaming of pursuing an MBA someday, I hope that this blog or its successor from you.. will tell-it-as-it-is for people like me, who have no clue on what really an MBA is ;-) All the very best and Welcome back to the US!!

Atta Girl said...

>>>Are we all condemned to do things that are important only for a very short period of time? >>>

Yes, career reasons take us to far away places but wherever we are it's upto us to stack up our priorities. You know Bharath, the fact that you are heading there with an awareness of things that can give you personal & emotional fulfilment is a feat in itself. I believe that for people like us, who are so strongly attached to our country & culture, this awareness will be a governor of sorts, a guiding factor in the kind of things we do, career we pursue, our contribution back home etc.

>>>Can career, spiritual, artistic and other goals be inter-connected to achieve a larger meaning to life?>>>

There has never been a time, when i have considered these goals separately. They have always been interconnected. May be to start with (depending on the market situtaion), i might have to opt for a 'mid-way' career to pay off my debt. I have sort of found my calling...but i need to solidify my thoughts and that's an ongoing process. I'm waiting for that 'THIS IS IT' moment to hit me. I know it won't hit me until i dabble around, experience & make'll happen if and only if I go out n try new things!

My best of wishes with you & priya. I'm sure you will be able to beautifully merge your other goals with the pursuits you are headed for.

PS: With you on that emotional phase part. Moist eyes, gulping emotions, i dunno...these days, I get so sentimental & touchy over nothing. I'm dreading the airport goodbye!

fieryblaster said...

So the career guy wants u to say goodbye to India. just heed to him for few years and do come back with loaded market value so that ur career guy would get satisfied with the luring job u get in India and ur personal guy need not feel the guilt, leaving u as a balanced man.

The post was as usual wonderful.

Hawkeye said...

lxsn, anonymous and anti,

thanks folks

Hawkeye said...



is vijay == viji ?

Hawkeye said...


i owe to a big mail and one is coming on its way. i havent been at home lately so doing very bad email-wise.

i remember the seinfeld thing about the working guy Vs the weekend guy.something along the lines of.. one guy postpones all the work to the weekend and makes the weekend guy go crazy. And the weekend guy spends all the money on parties etc that makes working guy go crazy.

Hawkeye said...


thanks! the intention was to spread MBA related gyaan after i quit my job. this was to avoid complications. now that my job has been quit :-) i can start writing about the MBA. i think after having troubled other MBA bloggers and fed out of them for so long. it is my turn to give back to society.

Hawkeye said...


In a way we live in better times. at least we can realistically think of coming back to india in the future and not kid ourselves at all. this was not the case in the past.

your second para echoed my thoughts exactly. i cudnt have put it better. i sort of know the approx things in which i am good at. the gruelling application process has at least given me that platform. But i am still waiting for the "THIS IS IT" moment.

Thanks for your wishes. The airport thing is a raw nerve that you have touched. my friends always make fun of me for that. but i guess it improves everytime you leave. but never goes away.

Hawkeye said...


to be more accurate the career guy has foced the personal guy to say goodbye.

and like suresh said the personal guy never had an option.

Vijay said...


Vijay == Vijay B, in Chicago :)

Hawkeye said...


got it! :-) need to send u a mail too. i am becoming a bad person :-(.

Kaps said...

Hey Bharath,

All the best for your MBA. My parents also live quite close to the temple (Thiruvengadam Street). We hv been residents of West Mambalam for the past 25 years ( we used to live in BRP Street earlier). Where do u stay?

Arvind said...

Badri, Good article and for once your images look right! ;)
Also, congrats on the MBA, I had no clue but when you're here maybe we could meet..

Babs said...

Good move Bharath i.e Techie to Mangie, I thought you were more techie but u r proving me wrong for all good reasons :-).

All the Best mate.

Like the comments you have below lightning strikes you are fighting (club) with your dua(e)l personality. Like AG (Atta Girl) said Career and Personal are very closely related, infact they are best friends its upto you to make them ONE.... wait a minute who am I advicing being two :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Bharath,
Congrats, to make it to the top college for an MBA amidst all this blogging.... congrats again:)

It will be great if you can write about this whole process.

Should we stop expecting more blogs from you?

Anu krish

Hawkeye said...


my grand parents moved to postal colony in 1960s and have been there ever since. although i travelled and studied in many places in India (and madras), this has been my 'real' home.

Hawkeye said...

aravind ganesh,

i left a 'bathil' comment to your comment in sudhish's blog (where u, me, sam and sudhish had sort of a virtual get together) regarding the MBA ...but i guess u dont check for replies to your comments :-)

thanks anyway! and host me when i visit calif :-)

Hawkeye said...


i envy people who have successfully integrated personal and career interests.. i have never been able to manage that. maybe someday i will.

Hawkeye said...

Anu kris,

this blog has been a welcome ditraction to all the MBA applications.

i got so tight and wound up with this compact essays with word counts, brevity, succintness, business writing, etc. i just wanted to write long sentences and never ending essays. this blog provided me that relief.

tilotamma said...

Bharath - do you read the blogs of your readers ever?

Hawkeye said...


what do u mean.. :-) i read blogs like crazy.. my blog frequency has reduced because i read more than i write..nowadays. in fact i was kind of evil in quoting from past blogs when bloggers contradict themselves.. now ive stopped doing that...

if u meant "do u comment ever" . thats a different topic.

the answer to that is "i do". but nowadays more carefully. i dont think i'll look credible if i comment on cooking stuff...etc..

tilotamma said...

oh ho! nakkalla?