Homelessness & the power of Hope

 

People have different views & perspective towards life. Some are satisfied with what they have, while others  are too sensitive & long for comforts. If some hang on to their pride & ego, others would do any work for a living.

I saw 4-different youngsters in different parts of Manhattan {one right in front of Mr. Trump’s living quarters} holding banners that said If I have $20 I could find a room in the hostel & I could get a proper job or I could go to school or something like that.

I was forbidden by my family to take pictures… since it’s an apparent invasion of their privacy!! I fruitlessly argue with them that when they are physically fit & live in the land of opportunities & social security & still beg, why can’t I take picture? Many a times homelessness is forced on people by war or some kind of calamity which is really unfortunate. But in USA it’s not fair, infactI saw a young homeless man at Albuquerque (New Mexico), asking for help while holding a cardboard that read- “I am too honest to steal & too ugly for prostitution”!

Way back in 1990, my family and I, were homeless for 9-whole days. No home, no bath & we were exposed to fine dust storm in the desert No-man’s land between the Iraq-Jordan  A journey which takes less than 5 hours stretched to 9-days & nights! Being homeless is really sad & stressful…. Something like labour pain – it can only be experienced but can never be explained! The other day my daughter asked me Mum how can people live without a home? I think I would die if I become homeless… then I told her their time has not come for death… their Karma is still lingering on… more than that the word HOPE has a long reach. Hope is like the carrot & the donkey… somehow its pulls one to move forward in search of a better day. I explained to her of a worse condition than being homeless I had witnessed.

It was a leper without limbs (below his both knees), with raw pink flesh & flies sitting on it. He sat on a make shift wooden board with 4 small wheels pushing himself ahead with his palm. Sometime around 2008, I was walking along with my husband behind Mohan Bhandar at Mysore searching for some light fixtures. It was a crowded narrow street & suddenly he appeared right in front of me. His gaze was so sharp, transfixed almost piercing my soul as if blaming me for being able to walk… I just stood there, dumbstruck, unable to move, & my husband had to walk back after realizing that I was not following him anymore. His image is still imprinted in my mind…. Many a times I wondered what made him tick? Is that what is called the mortal “Vyamoha” in Sanskrit (roughly translated as deep attachment)? Or is it simply fear of the unknown, the death? Wish I could ask him what made him mentally so strong? What was he hoping for… a miracle? I realized then that if he had the courage to live, then no one on earth has the right to kill themselves- whatever may be the circumstances.

Usually homeless & begging goes hand in hand. Some may scrape from the dustbin than ask for handout. Begging style differs from country to country, & from person to person. There are many ways to beg… some will follow you or try to hang on to you like leeches. Some will silently beg. Some will sing or play music & expect some payment. While some will entertain with animals & rope tricks etc., etc. Some will earn money but are so used to their life on the street that they could never live a normal life. Beggary just becomes a way of life… old habits die hard…

Lately a beggar died in action (i.e. while still begging) on the streets of Bengaluru, India. When they lifted his body to be taken to the grave yard, they were in for a surprise… under his quilt on which he sat in a semicircle igloo like makeshift tent & begged, was currency worth more than 13-million rupees. Enough to give him a comfortable home, warm bed, food & clothing. Yet he sat on it till death, perhaps hoping it would hatch or lay eggs!!

More than that I was amazed to watch the video in which so many gathered with deep fervor, young old like, guarded by a police man with a lathi (stick) in hand, to count & sort the money. Touch & scent of Money, in any form & from any source is still desirable like bed of sweet smelling roses…. Hum. God knows how hands it will pass through & how many will try to pocket some… Begging from the Beggar rather from the Dead Body!! Ironically, his lifeless body was laid right next to the whole drama, ready to be lifted… Dead Body, a funny strange word… Wondered IF, his Soul was hanging around watching the drama what would it must be feeling?

I always wondered how the homeless attend to their body waste. One day I was at McDonald’s in San Francisco, California & I saw a homeless man walk & buy a sandwich, & later go to the washroom. I was told that the restaurants can’t deny customers food & use of their washroom because of their back ground or attire… there are for all intents and purposes, public toilets! .

Two days back, we went for a walk late night after dinner. Weather was nice & streets were not crowded. Right opposite to Queensboro Bridge, finally I saw how they manage to sleep at night, at least few & when the weather is good. On the threshold of one of the shops, 2 individuals slept in close proximity fully covered with a sheet. And strangely, rested just above their head, was a brown leather bound bible with Holy Bible written in golden on it. I think that’s what Hope really means. When the world says give up, hope whispers, try one more time. Just across, opposite the entrance to tramway, on the rows of benches sat a man with a bottle of alcohol & flask practicing, perhaps a new tune, on his guitar. At a distance sat another, eating his dinner listening to music at the quiet of the night… he actually did not look like a homeless man. At the far end sat a homeless lady perhaps waiting for everyone, including us, to vanish from there so that she could sleep peacefully. The positive yet saddest thing was that even though she was homeless she had combed her hair very neat & her belongings in the cart were well folded & neatly stacked, maybe reminiscent to her past…. She reminded me of what a lady said to me when I visited a thrift market earlier… “when the country had better days, I worked at Pier 26 & I would buy expensive stuff & now I am selling them for throw away prices for a living”… the tone in which she said was very touching…. No one knows what is in store for anyone tomorrow…

My younger daughter says, mum why you are so interested in homeless people…. I don’t know why they always catch my eyes perhaps because once in my life, at a distant past I wore their shoes … thanks to Saddam & the so called Big Guns who stirrup troubles, as if possessed by some evil spirit to aid on something which doesn’t have an ending in the horizon!

Sometimes I see so many contrasts in one place. Like the other day when we were walking across the Rockefeller University, along the Hudson River bank, I saw brand new barbeque grill abandoned & loads of waste in the bin, may be leftovers from previous night partying. Right opposite to that slept a homeless woman in a neon green reflective safety west …… she slept so peacefully that even the traffic on the highway besides did not deter her sleep. Little further, on another bench, sat a well-dressed young woman (seemed hungover from the previous night) with a cell phone trying to type a message & half way through she fell back asleep, still clutching the phone. How she got there is beyond my understanding. When we returned, the young woman was still sleeping… the older woman was eating something that seemed like pancake from foil paper. Next to her stood a man eyeing everyone & when I saw his face, he was moving his tongue awkwardly, like snakes move their tongue… it reminded me of an old proverb: Even if the tamarind tree is old, the tamarind is still sour!! I wondered why the hell am I keep coming across so many strange characters & events?

To end with, here is a delicate story narrated by a Real Estate agent…. It seems once a couple approached her saying they wanted a home with just two specific requirements… the flat should be facing the main road & should have a large window. They did not bother if the flat was old or fittings/furnishing were broken as long as the two criteria were met. The reason they wanted the flat was that they wanted to keep their dog close to their work place so that they could come & visit the dog whenever possible. While they were away, the dog should not stress, bored or depressed… hum… I can say that some dogs are luckier & better loved than humans…

My DIL tells me that the government gives them shelter, food & clothing… but some people just don’t apply or collect. I have no idea how far the government aid is stretched but end of the day Super Power is just a virtual status which sounds fruitless once you know or live the sad reality like the empty shell of a hermit crab. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, every country is the same only the percentage differs!! After all Shangri-La is yet to be discovered & there is no such thing as Utopia!!

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Being Kodava – “No Thank you”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going against the theme of this blog by saying “no thanks” to being a Kodava. That’t not what this is about. Often I get asked where I’m from and more often than not people haven’t heard about Coorg. I also sometimes explain to people how and why the culture is so different from those that surround us.  There’s a lot of hype about our origins, including that we’re somehow connected with the Greeks of Alexander’s time. “Being Kodava” is my take on what it is to be a Kodava, and some of the things we should be proud of.

Someone once asked me how do you say thank you in your language. I told them in my language, we do not have words for “Thank you, Please, or Sorry”. We have never been taught it, and as far as I know, these words don’t exist. Did they once exist but were got rid of once the brits took  over our educational system? We’ll never know. But what I was told was the reason for this paucity of “Golden words” is because for kodava’s,  it’s our duties as family, community and friends to help each other out at all times, to always be there for anything, without having to ask please if you want something, say thank you when you have been helped, or say sorry if you have hurt.

kodava coorg traditional wedding jewelery men peeche odi kathi

This is quite deep if you think about it. Western education is steeped in the use of golden and kind words almost mechanically, sometimes without really meaning it. Making helping others a duty is really unique in our culture, and it really has to do  with the unique clan setups we have in Coorg: Clans typically helped each other with everything from planting crops, defending them against wild animals, celebrations, festivals, weddings, wars, etc. Every traditional wedding begins with the close family members getting together to cook for the entire wedding. It is our duty to help.

See there is more to being Kodava than coffee, Greeks and our weddings!

The day I ran away from my Mother

It happened a long time ago, I was in 4th standard, barely 9 years old. Today my dear mother is no more & I am myself a mother & grandmother! Now when I look back it sounds ridiculous to me but this is my story of how I ran away!

My father was a school Head Master & was always getting transferred to many towns, & up until I was in 5th standard we always went along with him. However, after that, we ended up staying in one place to take care of our education as well as our coffee estates & my father only came home during weekends & holidays. One of the places we moved to was Kodlipet, a small town in Somwarpet taluk of Kodagu district in Karnataka. We lived in a nice comfortable rented house with very large compound, almost half an acre with lots of fruit tress like jackfruit, guava, etc., a large garden & farm animals like cows & chickens. Next to our compound was the local Civil Hospital which had a larger compound with lots of fruit trees.

Behind our house& hospital compound there was a vacant bit of land, another half an acre or so with thicket, then there was a pliable mud road with jelly stones leading to another place called Kyathe. Beyond that road there was a large Lake partially covered by forest with numerous fruit & flower trees including Seethe poo (wild fragrant orchid). We were well aware of the surroundings as weekends & holidays we roamed freely everywhere searching for fruits, berries, tamarind, mushrooms & butterflies, etc. There were a small variety of edible orange colored palm fruit which I have not seen anywhere else. Among everything there was a tree, my favourite tree, with tiny flowers called Suragi, one of the most amazing white & yellow flowers with round reddish buds which bloomed almost all over the stem, which was a rare sight. Add to it even when dry it had that amazing heavenly fragrance.

I was a very healthy child but one day I became very, very ill & my temperature started going up, practical burning with fever my whole body had turned red. Usually when we were sick, mother always tried some home remedy first & if we don’t get better then a trip to hospital next door. Since I was very bad with sudden rise in temperature & home remedy had no effect, my mother forcibly took me to the hospital. I was sobbing & throwing tantrum & blabbering without making any sense it seems. When doctor saw us, we got priority & he made me sleep on the medical table & checked. After the initial checking & looking at me he said don’t worry child, you will be fine by tomorrow I will write medicines for you. I was still on the table as he walked out gesturing mum to follow him & was telling her in hushed tone she is in very bad shape. “Why didn’t you bring her earlier… guess you have to admit her immediately & before that I will give an injection.” He called out the nurse saying I have done with the patient here prepare the injection for the next patient outside.

I had terrible phobia of injections & I summarized the whole thing in my mind & concluded that the injection was meant for me. Even though I could not sit or stand, just managed to get up from the bed & managed to slip out. Perhaps no one was expecting me to do that in that condition either. With the fear & fit of rage, managed to walk home, then realizing they would be looking for me, I decided to hide.

Where would I hide? I choose to walk towards the vacant land behind our house, then aimlessly walked further as if possessed crossing the road towards the little forest on the lake bank. By then my fear & rage subsided & the high fever putting pressure on me I started crying for my mother. When I left the hospital I had only one problem: fear of needle. But now the whole scenario had changed & I had one too many problems in hand.. I wanted to sleep on my mother’s lap, was thirsty, was scared, was exhausted, feeling giddy & could not see properly & on top of it wondering if my mother would punish me for bad behavior, etc., etc. Somehow, staggering I landed near my favourite tree perhaps that was the closest to my mother in my mind & collapsed rather passed out under the tree. The whole saga from home to hospital to home & to the forest was a haze… all jumbled up.

In the meantime big commotion at the hospital as to how such a sick patient disappeared mysteriously? My mother frantically searching & crying for me, word was sent to my father at school about me missing. No one knew what really happened to me… no those days they did not fear about the kidnapping… hahahaha. A voluntary search team was formed & my mother was nonstop crying bitterly… guess she must have thought I fell & died somewhere. For many hours they searched without any trace of me. Finally someone returning from his farm happened to see the commotion & when he learnt of Head Master’s missing daughter, he told them that: on my way to farm I saw her near the lake & I was wondering what she is doing alone on a school day. Guess she was headed towards the forest. I did not talk to her because I was in a hurry. So now that the search area is narrowed, they managed to find me under the tree passed out (or sleeping) I have no idea.

When I woke up my mother was holding me & crying, & my father sitting holding his head in despair. Don’t know if I was dead or only slumber or unconscious, I was not aware of how I landed back in the hospital. Doctors could not believe that I managed to survive the ordeal. I spent 6 days in the hospital & another one month at home resting. It’s a miracle I survived… seems like there was some kind of divine intervention or perhaps a fairy was sitting among those pretty Suragi flowers watching out for me or if the tree/flower had healing powers. I lived through it to tell the tales… if I was not found so soon, if not from my sickness perhaps I would have died of my other three phobias!! All for a mere injection… so phobia’s can have unimaginable effect on us… only good thing came of it was that I am not afraid of needles anymore!!

Note: I did go to Kodlipet few years back to get my school certificate as proof to say I am from Karnataka for my son’s engineering admission but could not go anywhere as we had to get back immediately. After we left Kodlipet I never saw those wild flowers but I can still feel the fragrance & see the prettiest flowers in front of my eyes. No wonder this ancient tree is called Punnaga (best among the trees). My mother loved them too. We made garlands & wore around our neck, on our braided hair, offered to God, kept under the pillow, between our books, as potpourri, made tea, etc. During the rainy season when the fresh water flowed to the lake on grass, the fish moved upwards from lake towards the fresh warm water & we used to go & pick them up even with bare hands too. Those were the times of plenty. The fun/beautiful moments, we had was once in life time experience & believe me way cooooolll than sitting in front of the note book-ipad-mobile!! If any of you readers have seen a wild tree (not hybrid) of Suragi please let me know!

Knowlegde is power

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I’ve been wanting to write for a long time now. My children have been forcing me to write… but it never happened for two years now. Finally, my daughter-in-law said “I always learn something from your mails and stories, why don’t you write in a blog! We set up a site way back in November 2012, which forced me to write… I spent two months wondering what to write… and finally settled for an interesting thought and observation I have.

I’ll start with a small advice which was passed on to me by my departed father: old men are wise and that too fathers are always wiser, right? His advice was about education vs. wealth. As an Indian I have grown up looking at the pictures of gods and goddesses all my life. I am sure most of you know that Goddess Saraswati is the goddess of education and knowledge and Goddess Laxmi is the goddess of wealth. I wonder how many people really thought of or glanced at the depiction of both of them in either the Vedic symbolism or in the Indian philosophical perspective. Vedas are one of the oldest books known to mankind, yet they are also relevant and even modern in its thoughts, that can cater to the unending quest of the human mind. There is meaning for everything if one really wishes to learn, everything is given for a certain reason with certain inner meaning.

Take for example Goddess Laxmi. The goddess of wealth stands on the lotus with wealth (gold coin to be precise) falling from her hand. Wealth provides comfort, luxury & material enjoyment for the body. On the other hand Goddess Saraswathi, the goddess of words, knowledge and inspiration, clad fully in pure white sits gracefully either on a rock or on lotus playing her veena (lute). In Sanskrit the word ‘Sara’ means ‘essence’ and ‘swa’ means ‘self’. Thus Saraswati means ‘the essence of self’. She is known as the awakener of the consciousness to right thinking or right states of mind. She represents intelligence, consciousness, cosmic knowledge, creativity, education, enlightenment, music, the arts, eloquence and power. While Goddess Laxmi represents material wealth related to body and senses, Goddess Sarswati represents the purity of thought, word and deed.

A deeper meaning is that knowledge and education is like a rock which once gained cannot be moved. They are solid foundation that, rain or shine, sits like the rock. It’s a permanent gift one can give to oneself. No matter how hard one may try, they will not be able to steal it from you. Wealth on the other hand, is fickle. Like how with every passing wind, the lotus standing on water will sway from side to side, wealth always sways unsteadily. Unless one is really careful, it’s difficult to hold on to the wealth. In an instant, wealth can be blown away. Over the years I have seen people born with a silver spoon losing their money in a short span of time. However, a few years of hard work and dedication to education will reap healthy benefits in the longer run.

Moral of the story is: Give primary importance to education: It is the true key to success. I remember my son when he was in first or second standard singing his school anthem will full gusto “Knowledge is power! Knowledge is power! (I don’t think he understood the meaning back then) An education can also help you to manage your wealth.

I know one might say Bill Gates is a school dropout. Well there is only one Bill Gates out of 7 billion in the world right? Unless otherwise you are pretty sure that you are born in the right place at the right time with right luck, (did you check your horoscope this morning?), give the highest importance to education. That’s what I have been preaching my children all along!!

Na chor haryam, na raaj haryam, na bhratra bhajyam na cha bharakaari,
vyaye krate vardhate eva nityam, vidhya dhanam sarva dhan pradhanam

Meaning: The wealth that cannot be stolen, neither abducted by state, nor can be divided amongst brothers, Neither it is burdensome to carry, The wealth that increases by giving, That wealth is knowledge and is supreme of all possessions.