RIP Padiyaar mam

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The beauty of the Western ghats is unparalleled. The different shades of plush green, the cold chilly wind, the clouds taking a walk with you, the mist shrouding the trees and the gushing sounds of a hidden waterfall somewhere close by. If this picture makes you yearn to take a trip right-away, hold on, this is not all! At the beginning of the ghats, there is a small quaint police station across which a lovely lake and a garden exist. Just across the garden, the aroma of hot vadas frying in hot sizzling oil, wafts towards you and pulls you along towards the ramshackle cart. Hot vadas, spicy chutney and hot milky tea – now we are talking heaven!

Since my childhood, whenever we would climb down the Agumbe ghats to enter hot sultry Mangalore, we would have a customary, compulsory stop at Padiyar mam’s vada stall. Through globalization and commercialization, the stall, which actually is rather a fancy name for a tin pushcart with plastic sheets hung across to prevent the drizzle, remained the same. Rows of cars, bikes and buses would be parked across the already small, winding road. Weary passengers who would climb down to stretch their legs would invariably be drawn towards the stall and the tasty aroma emanating from there.

The USP of the stall though, was without doubt its owner. Mr. Padiyar, who knew each and every customer by name, somehow with great clarity remember where each one’s child was studying or getting married. It somehow made you feel as if you had wandered into an indulgent uncle’s house in your neighborhood.

And the vadas. Exactly the same taste year after year, decade after decade. No expansion of the menu, no fancy improvements of the stall and no HR people. It was a sort of niche place, with only one item which was world class. Whenever we would go, he would en quire about our education, how our parents and far flung relatives were faring, and introduce us whomsoever around was interested in listening to his banter. As a teenager, this used to embarrass me greatly, but not enough to forgo the vadas! I would mutter under my breath as to why he could not just leave me alone. Every single time when we passed the ghats by bus,(which was, I am ashamed to say, was quite often, given the extent of my homesickness!), I remember, I wouldn’t go home, without the vadas sitting comfortably in my stomach.

After my MBBS , I went to Mangalore quite less. Though the trips were less frequent,when we would occasionally pass by for a wedding, a meeting or a conference, we would eagerly look forward to the stall being open. Padiyar maam (mam,which meant uncle in Konkani and kannada) would always remember. It was like homecoming. What was irritating earlier, seemed like warmth later on. He would have ten conversations side by side with different customers, but still manage to remember them all! We got to know that with this tiny business, he had managed to educate his son and daughter, who were in excellent positions. When a patron questioned him as whether he would close down to go and stay with his son, he nixed it aggressively. This is what he loved, he said, and what he would do till the end!

I met him about a fortnight ago, on my way to Manipal. Little did I know that it would be the last time. A week later he was admitted to a hospital in Shimoga with fever and delirium. It was so sad to see him and realize that he was unable to recognize anyone, let alone the thousands of friends he had made over the years. In a span of one week, he deteriorated, was diagnosed to be having a rare disease, and died. It was unbelievable. Someone whom I had seen hale and hearty, and in the pink of health , suddenly disappeared.

I never imagined that I would experience a deep sense of loss about his death. After all, he was not related to me, nor was I in constant touch with him. But feel sad, I did. I could not shake off that heavy feeling through the day. Later on, I happened to see  condolence messages on whatssapp and facebook, and realized that so many more must have felt the same about him.

He was an integral part of the travelling experience. Somehow the forest and the landscape feel incomplete without him, the hungry traveler bereft. The eager wait for a few minutes respite, a soul warming snack , and comforting conversation is no more going to happen. Padiyar maam, we miss you. RIP!

a whatsapp pic of padiyar maam
a whatsapp pic of padiyar maam
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Are women their own worst enemies??

I am in a sour mood today. This usually happens when my day starts badly, or my daughter is in a god awful fussy mood or when one of my patients is not doing well. Today, the reason happens to be none of the above. Instead, it is because one of my patients told me very nonchalantly that she was pulling her daughter out of school. The girl in question was an 80 percenter, was so popular that her teachers apparently came home to beg her parents to let her continue on. But the parents were unmoved. The teachers went a step ahead and dangled a scholarship carrot which would reduce the financial burden. No difference. They explained that the college which would accept this girl was not co ed, wondering whether that was one of the parent’s concerns. No avail. Coolly, the mother tells me that she decided against it, because, hold your breath…. paying the city bus fare was not worth it!

This probably happens to many thousands of girls across India. But what pricked me most was the amount of carelessness that the mother displayed when she spoke about her daughter’s plight. She tells me that the girl cried for a while, stopped eating well and finally accepted her fate and is now working as a maid. The more I got flustered, the more calmer the mother seemed. My arguing on her behalf did not make one bit of difference. I asked her whether she did not want her daughter to be in a better financial, social position than she herself was in now?  She parrots that the matter is closed and she is happy now. I ask her how she would have felt in that place. She says she was never interested in studies. I wonder whether she did not feel some amount of pity when the girl cried. She coolly denies it. And THIS makes me so mad!

I have been party to many heated debates with my friends and relatives on the matter of whether women were in fact women’s worst enemies.  The topic itself used to drive me crazy. Outwardly calm, I would be fuming inside at anybody who would condescendingly support that statement. I would argue against it and sulk for the next few hours at least.

I am, I feel, slowly having to eat my own words. The amount of discrimination I see in my everyday practice is to put it mildly, is enormous. Over a period of time, I feel I have become over sensitive to it.

It creeps in so mildly, that its over before you think up a sarcastic retort that you hope will teach them a thing or two.

The wilt in the voice when they say, “ Oh, I have ONLY three daughters”, (no matter that they are all double graduates), or when they say” Please keep me healthy till I PUT my daughter into a good home” ( as if it a piece of furniture you want to sell). Or when a patient as old as my granny pats me on my head and says “ Hope you have a son who can follow your path”. Or when they proudly claim” He is my ONLY son” (after three daughters who were sired hoping for them to be sons). When relatives of mine think a hundred times before letting their daughters go to some hobby class far away from home, because “these times are soo bad”. One of my friends once told me that a patient of hers who was grateful for the care given, pulled her aside and thrust a hundred rupee note into her hand as a contribution towards her daughter’s future wedding. The implication being that it was a burden!

I am sure most of us have been through circumstances similar to these on a regular basis. And thinking back to most of these instances, the person who would have sighed the discomfort happen to be women.

Like the word BITCHING. Well accepted, commonly used and quite often by women, but so discriminatory. Somehow, it makes me feel small. Makes me feel ashamed to be a woman.

Like when I see photographs of female genital mutilation, and the people who restrain the victim are always women!

When I read reports in newspapers of mothers in law being held for dowry harassment. When I hear about two heroines having a “cat fight”. When women talk ill about other women and judge them as being characterless. Elderly women in the household who in the behest of upholding traditions of the yore, harass the younger ones. When working women are not cut any slack at home the way their spouses are. When younger women make specific demands of not wanting to live with or care for their in laws even before meeting and gauging them.

And somewhere subconsciously, it does seem as though women are the ones holding the others behind. In their defense, maybe, just maybe a few of the factors influenced their way of thinking:

  1. Women who are less educated, end up believing myths and misconceptions easily. And because they have no solid knowledge of why what is being done, they assert themselves, mainly in front of other younger women, for all the wrong reasons. That is probably the only way they can wield authority, which defines them.
  2. Women who marry so young that they have no idea what they are missing in their youth. The frustration shows through in their middle age, when they are angry with others who seem to have enjoyed more than they have. They end up judgmental- a classical case of sour grapes.
  3. Some others who have been brought up in the above two scenarios who think that it is the normal way of life and repeat the cycle.
  4. And though I seem to be repeating myself way too much, I have a serious grouse against the typecasting ways of the television soaps, which mouth dialogues like “ a girl’s place is always next to her husband” , “ Once married, only my dead body will go back to my maternal home” or “how will you ever live alone in this big bad world( and hence you need marriage asap!) and the like… I’m sure you get the thread. In most homes, people from all age groups between three to a hundred sit glued to watch these. Probably subconsciously start believing that this is the way the world thinks.

I agree these may be oversimplifications, but at least they may help us to start the rehab work.

The theory of women being women’s worst enemies may not actually be true. We hear stories of women having done great service to their fellow beings and the world in general. Women who brave the odds and manage to reach the top.Women who have helped out their children and displayed grit and determination in helping them reach great heights. I feel strongly that these are the stories that need to be venerated, celebrated and followed in media, kept as mandatory reading since primary school, as dinner table discussions in most homes, and as heroines of prime time tv. The social media network and the internet, still only reaches very few.

And then hopefully, this adage will die a fitful death!

A trip into a jungle.

I have often had the experience of hunting  for something very important or valuable all over the place, only to find that it was sitting just there, under my nose, all the time. You end up wondering why you had not even thought about starting your search there! This was exactly what I felt when I visited the Bhadra wildlife sanctuary.

 

the entry to the forest
the entry to the forest

Just about 32 kms from where I live (in Shimoga), nestled amid the Western Ghats,is the Bhadra wildlife Reserve, which gets its name from the river Bhadra, which feeds the jungle. It is accessible through a government jungle lodge, a breed which is getting popular for people who want to gel with nature, alongside basic but necessary amenities.It is now a popular weekend getaway, with the added attraction of water sports like banana boating, water trampoline and kayaking which was what made us venture there in the first place.

I have been to the resort many a times with friends of ours, to have a lazy lunch after a frenzied session of romping in the water with kids and hence, would have no time or energy to indulge in a safari on a hot afternoon.Luckily for me, last week, I was booked into the safari inadvertently, because my daughter refused to go without me. I climbed into the safari jeep cribbing at first, but by the end of it, I was so serenely, blissfully happy that I have made return plans ASAP.

Bhadra jungle reservoir lies on the border between the districts of Shimoga and Chikamagalur. It has a large water reservoir as a part of it and has been declared as a Project Tiger Reserve since 1998. The actual jungle is situated about 4 kms from the River Tern Jungle Lodge, which is named after the terns which throng the place for breeding. As the jungle is a part of the Western Ghats, there is an amazing amount of bio diversity.I can safely claim that I have never seen so many trees, animals, birds and insects ever in my life in a short span of two hours, apart from in a zoo!

The jungle is lush, green and so very silent apart from the incessant creaks of some insects interrupted by a burst of chatter by the monkeys. Trees are so densely packed, that  sunlight seems to be struggling to make its way through. And then suddenly there is a huge meadow in between left behind by the receding waters of the reservoir, where we sight upon a large herd of spotted deer.

a huge herd of spotted deer
a huge herd of spotted deer

Though we saw no tigers or elephants( I am told that you usually see the elephants  coming in herds of 60 to 80 all at once to drink water early in the morning-what a grand sight that must be!), we had our hearts fill with a hoard of smaller, unexpectedly cute, strange and interesting animals.Whenever I used to read in the papers that the western ghats were a hot spot of biodiversity, and home to thousands of species of animals, I used to be skeptical. A lot of what I saw of the ghats were of the road side view,when I traveled. Now, I know that human habitation and intrusion probably makes the animals decide to venture backwards into the heart of the forest, which again offers little solace as trees are being felled indiscriminately! I wish all of you people could come and have a look at the magnificence of nature, so we could protect it all before it is too late!

two huge gaurs looking at us
two huge gaurs looking serenely at us

 

We saw tree snakes aplenty, slimy, bright green and thin, but were too scared to click snaps when we saw them up close and personal! Spotted deer, giant red squirrels, serpent eagles, spotted owls, peacocks, marsh crocodiles, monitor lizards, langurs, and a wide variety of birds of all colors, supremely unperturbed and oblivious to our curious gaze  and hushed cries of excitement when we spotted them. It was nice to see that the animals seemed to be unafraid of our intrusion. We were glad to feel accepted by them.

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can you spot a camouflaged monitor lizard on the log of wood?
can you spot a camouflaged monitor lizard on the log of wood?

Some important facts you should know before you get there:

  1. It is about 300 kms from Bangalore by road.
  2. The lodge has no television, so if you bring kids along, get something to keep them occupied.
  3. Be careful as you can see snakes often all over, apparently most being non poisonous. This is not to scare you, but so you can get rid of your phobia before you visit!
  4. Information regarding the place is available on the internet.

Must see, must visit- definitely a worthy trip into the jungle!