An Act of Kindness  

Posted by Ray in ,

When I was about 9 years old I was down with Jaundice. The allopathic treatment did not work and after taking me to a number of doctors, my Dad finally took me to Sheeba Nursing Home, which someone had recommended. When we went there the first time, we were told that it would only take 3 visits for them to cure the disease. (I still remember the tonic that they gave tasted awful). By our third visit, I felt a lot better and the third visit was more like a formality.

As we left the nursing home for the final time, my dad brought me some tender coconut water from an old man who was selling them on a small wooden cart right outside the hospital gate. Without realizing that he may not have enough money to pay for the bus tickets, my dad brought me one இளநீர். After paying the old man (thatha), he realized we did not have enough money to go home. We still needed Rs. 1.50 for the bus tickets. The hospital was too far away from our home that it would have cost a fortune for us to take the auto-rickshaw.

Seeing that we were in some kind of trouble, the thatha inquired about the problem and once my dad explained him the situation, without any hesitation, he loaned my Dad Rs. 2. My Dad did not accept the money from the thatha. But he insisted that we take the money. He said that we could return him the money when we return the next time. My Dad once again refused saying that this was our last visit and we would not return. The thatha said not worry about it and asked my father to take the money.

My dad had paid the thatha Rs. 1.50 for the tender coconut water. And now the thatha was giving us back Rs. 2.

My Dad finally accepted the money from the thatha. The thatha told my Dad that I was like his grandson and that he would think that he he gave money to his grandson.

This happened sometime in 1987-88. At that time Rs. 2, I'm sure, was a big amount for a thatha who sells tender coconut water in a wooden cart. The thatha wasn't even wearing a shirt. Just a dhoti. For him to part with such a big amount, knowing that he won't be getting it back, was a big act of kindness.

செய்யாமல் செய்த உதவிக்கு வையகமும்
வானகமும் ஆற்றல் அரிது
Voluntary help from unforeseen quarters is,
in quantum, worth heaven and earth

He was so happy to help us. He was a great man. I wish I could meet that thatha now.

Book Review: The Ramayana  

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As the author Ramesh Menon puts it, this is a modern rendering of the great Indian epic. Before I read this book I knew what Ramayana was about thanks to the Sagar brothers work on Doordarshan. But I wanted to know the little known details and this book is full of it. The author has used a very simple language to re-tell Valmiki Ramayana. The book covers Uthara Kanda and it also has a number of extra stories like that of the the story of the great sage, Viswamitra. Though, written in prose form, the author has taken every effort to keep the poetic beauty of the original. Elegantly written, this book is a must in your personal library. I'm looking forward to read the authors' other works.


Posted by Ray in

Thiruvaheendirapuram or Thiruvandipuram, is a small temple town outside Cuddalore, my adopted hometown. The main deity of the temple is Lord Devenathar, who is said to be the elder brother of Lord Venkateswara of Tirupathi. The general belief is that if a person is unable to visit Tirupathi, he/ she could visit Thiruvandhipuram instead and that the elder brother would take care of the issues.

There is also a small hillock opposite to the temple. On the top of the hillock is another small temple for Lord Hayagriva (A god with a human body and a horse face). Legend has it that when Hanuman carried the Sanjivani mountain, a small rock fell and that small rock is the hillock in Thiruvandipuram. The hillock is called as the Oushadagiri. Another rock that fell elsewhere in Tamilnadu is called as Marudamalai (Marunthu Malai), which is just ouside Coimbatore.

Thiruvandipuram is one of the 95 Vaishnava sthalams in Tamilnadu. There are 11 more outside Tamilnadu and 1 each in ThiruParamaPaadham and ThiruPaarKadal.

The City of the Cosmic Dance  

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I can never stop thinking about the time I spent in Chidambaram. One of my Physics professors told me once that the readings from our Gravitational study experiment would be close to perfect as some imaginary line passes through Chidambaram/ Annamalai Nagar. (I don't remember the name of the line). According to Hinduism Today, "In 1983 a team of geophysicists mapping the Earth's gravity field told devotees that the town had the highest reading they had so far encountered anywhere on the earth. Objects here are heavier than anywhere else. "

Recently I did some research about the history of Chidambaram. Here are some interesting facts:

Out of the five universal elements, the Lord lives here in the form of the Sky or empty space. Legend has it that Chidambaram was believed to be the axis mundi of the earth. it is said that no other place could sustain the energy of the Lords' cosmic dance. Hence Lord Nataraja chose Tillai as the place for his cosmic dance. (A statue of Lord Nataraja sits in the CERN campus)

In those days, the word 'koyil' simply referred to Chidambaram, which is the holiest place of worship for all Saivaites, though it is one of the few places of worship for both Saivaites and Vaishnavaites. Great tamil poets like Thirunavukarasar, Thirugnanasambandar, Manickavasagar and Sundaramoorthy Nayanar composed most of their famous works in Chidambaram. Their works, which were composed on palm leaves, were lost somewhere in the huge Chidambaram temple and eventually discovered to be buried under an ant hill by the great Nambiandar Nambi. There are so many interesting facts about the Chidambaram temple. Kindly check the links.

Whenever my friends and I used to go to the temple, we always visit the small shrine next to the the Chitrakootam, the shrine dedicated to Thillai Govindarajan. There the different prasadams like puliyodarai, ven pongal, sakkarai pongal and curd rice are served on lotus leaves.

Chidambaram is also home to the great Annamalai University. One of my Maths professors in Annamalai University, Dr. Vairamanickam, told us an interesting story about Annamalai University. This is how it goes:

One night, Lord Siva came in Rajah Annamalai Chettiars dream and asked him to build an educational institution for the poor and the downtrodden. The Rajah, gave the dream some very serious thought and started looking for a place to build a university. He was very particular about building the university in a place that was a famous place of worship of Lord Shiva. He decided on two places - Chidambaram and Thiruvannamalai. For some reason, he couldn't get the land required to build the university in Thiruvannamalai. He then decided to go to Chidambaram. Chidambaram was a very backward place except for the temple.

He went around Chidambaram and almost all places were dry with thorny shrubs and plants. It didn't look like a suitable place for a university. Dejected, the Rajah decided to return and as he turned around his angavastram got stuck in a thorny plant. This to him was like the Lord Himself asking the Raja to stay back and build the university there. At that time when the Rajah looked up into the heavens, a Krishna Parunthu (Kite) was circling in the sky right above the place where he was standing. Taking it as a good sign, the Rajah decided to build the University in that place, which is today known as Annamalainagar. The small park opposite the Administration Building is where he supposedly stood at that time. A statue of Rajah Annamalai Chettiar stands in that place today.

Thanks to Giovanni Chierico (CERN) for letting me use his photo.

The Bell Pepper Bounty  

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We finally 'harvested' the bell peppers from our plants. I cooked a curry with them and it tasted pretty good. The bell peppers were very tender. Most of them were small, probably because we grew them in pots and that might have deprived them of fertilizers. We tried to grow them as 'organic' as possible.

(Click to enlarge)

The Most Dangerous Animal on Planet Earth  

Posted by Ray in , ,

The financial turmoil and terrorism in the name of religion - these are the two major challenges the world is facing today" (America has it's own share of problems like dealing with people like Bush, Palin et al.) Greed, stupidity and hatred against each other - that is what is causing all this.

Recently a Finance Minister from another country said to a reporter, "Even my 6 year old knows that you don't lend money to those who can't pay you back". So why was money lent to people who couldn't pay back. It was a high-risk and high-profit game. As one saying goes, "The greatest risk in life is not taking one." But you can't risk your life (and others lives) to take one.

வேண்டற்க வெஃகிஆம் ஆக்கம் விளைவயின்
மாண்டற் கரிதாம் பயன் (Kural 177)
Shun the gains of covetous wealth; its fruits are bitter to taste.

அரண்அறிந்து வெஃகா அறிவுடையார்ச் சேரும்
திறன்அறிந்து ஆங்கே திரு
The wise do not covet; gain beautifulwealth, on a righteous path.

Greed - that is what caused and is causing this financial disaster.

The other challenge is terrorism. Here is a short story I heard recently.

"A group of doves lived on top of a Hindu temple. One day, the temple management decided to give the gopuram (temple tower) a new coat of paint. They chased the doves away. The doves, looking for a new place to stay, settled down on top of a church tower. After a few months, the church management chased them away to decorate and paint the tower for Christmas. The doves now settled on the dome of a mosque. After a few months, they were chased away from the mosque as the people in the mosque wanted to paint the dome for Ramadan. The birds, returned back to the Hindu temple tower.

One day, people were hacking each other with machetes and bodies were lying all around in a pool of blood.

Looking at all the commotion, a baby dove asked its mother.

"Mom, who are they and why are they fighting."

"They are human beings and they are fighting because they are crazy", replied the mother.

"Mom, why are they crazy?", asked the baby dove.

"They are crazy because they like their religion. They like their religion because they are crazy", replied the mother.

"What is religion, ma?"

"Remember we used to live in this building, the people who go to this building are called as Hindus. The people who go to church are called as Christians. And the people who go to a mosque are called as Muslims."

"How is that possible ma?. We lived in a temple, a church and a moque. But we are still doves. Aren't we?", asked the baby dove.

"I'm glad you see it that way. That is why we are up here above them and closer to God and they are still down there fighting.

It is ironic that most of us do not choose our religion. Instead, the religion chooses us. It is thrust upon us by birth. Almost all the religions say the same thing. "Love everybody and do no harm". Instead we choose to "love nobody" and "do harm".

Homo sapiens will be the dangerous species on Planet Earth until we live with greed and hatred. We will forever remain the most dangerous animal on planet Earth.

This was my Toastmasters Speech# 4

The Vice Presidential Debate  

Posted by Ray in

As I was watching the Vice Presidential debate, I drifted back to the time when I was in my 5th standard. We had to memorize a Robert Frost's poem and recite in the class and that was a part of the mid-term exam. Memorized and Recited - that is what Palin did. Of course what she recited wasn't anything that can be compared to Frost's poem. She decided to change the rules of the debate by saying she wasn't going to answer the moderator's question. A little bit of an arrogance there. Not sure if she had a pre-debate dinner with Dick Cheney.

On the other hand, Joe Biden almost put me to sleep for the first few minutes. Perhaps he was sleeping as well. But he did wake-up and made sure that the Americans knew that the only difference between Bush and McCain is the speilling in their names. I liked the way he said 'Maverick, he is not', when Sarah Palin kept repeating the keyword of the McCain campaign.

As Palin said, the only difference between hockey moms and a pitbull is the lipstick. Well, today she was a pitbull with a lipstick. She kept recycling the things she knew and I had a good laugh when she said that the Vice President should have more powers.

Perhaps the only touching part of the debate came at the end when Biden spoke about the time when his sons were injured in an accident. Overall, I thought Biden won the debate by a big margin. But I'm sure Palin did excite the 'conservative' base. Her efforts to project the republican ticket as the most progressive one was just laughable.

The experienced Biden won for the substance but Palin trigerred a new hype. Looking forward to the next Presidential debate.