Friday, November 28, 2008

At 25

I turned 25 today, a quarter of a century, at 10.32 am. I suppose the number is a rather overwhelming one, but it was just another day today. Some calls, some cute things, some very sweet people. It is nice. Several thoughts, life inching along.
And nothing about the picture, couldn't find anything more appropriate on my office computer. I took this one Deepavali night.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Just "a story"

Some reports say 80 dead, its not the final number. There is a live encounter on the television that, like a voyeur in the drawing room, I am watching. The Mumbai blasts, yet another one. I never watch those 24 hour news channels, but today I cannot take my eyes off. One channel showed a man die in front of the camera, showed him being lifted like an animal into a car. I kept telling the cameraman, mentally, to not show those damn images, yet there I was, thinking of "the story". I felt sick, yet, I knew that was "the story". Terrorists are always a step ahead, aren't they? My country. Some young boys, they are saying, what runs through their mind? Does anything run through at all?

The things we, the media, do!

This evening, on the posh M G Road, I saw, yet again, what my country has become. Right next to my office is a supermarket. Foreigners are dime a dozen on the road. I almost don't notice a bald, fat, middle aged man. There is a little girl walking next to him, must be those pesky beggars, I assume. Wait a minute, there is something very wrong, when I see them both walk into the supermarket together. The best friend looks away, mutters 'paedophile'. My eyes stay on. A little later, the man bills a kilo of rice, a glucose packet, some snacks, two big bags. Is that the price? The little girl giggles, the fat man leans forward, I still don't turn away. Somewhere in the corner of my mind, I hate myself. I don't take a step forward.

This is not the first time. There were once three girls, one, the familiar rose girl, one lean old man. Some others. I remember books, reports I have read. I want to write these stories. For the journalist in me, the little girl would have been "a story". The very thought makes me turn away from myself.

The encounter is still on. I am still watching blood and bodies and the stories.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Story of Two Devadasis

The gorgeous Yamunavva. Pic courtesy: MK

Mudhol, Bagalkot district: When a cup of tea cost a princely ten paise, the man she fell in love with bought her a cotton saree priced Rs 4. For Rannavva, a devadasi, it was equivalent to a lavish drape of Rs 10,000. The graceful woman, chirpy and ever enthusiastic till now, breaks out into giggles. She must be about 50, it is hard to tell people's ages, weathered that their faces are by the vagaries of having a life lived. They cannot be expected to know their ages either; they have better things in life to bother about.

Rannavva is one of the old timers from a little village in Jamakhandi taluk. Her love story is quite contrary to the conventions of her community. Dedicated when she was just a little girl, her "hiriyavaru" (the elder one), the permanent partner, was poorer than her family. But she fell in love, stood by him when he ran a tiny tea stall, encouraged him to seek a job that his TCH training merited. Her wrist watch became his when he had to move away for a teacher's post. Every weekend he visited her. Ten years of bliss and he married another woman, with her consent of course. It was a happily ever after, with the two women tolerant of each other, with their three children each sharing a happy sibling relationship.

Rannavva breaks out into a 'chowdike pada', traditional verses and poems that devadasis are taught to sing at temples and at functions. She forgets the lyrics once in a while and is embarrassed because she hasn't been practicing off late but the elegantly beautiful Yamunavva, one the most respected devadasis in the area, reminds her of the next line. Both sing in rich baritones, slightly off key, but melodious nevertheless. Both are peaceful, enjoying their lives too. But talk of passing on their traditions to the next generation and they vehemently dismiss all such intentions. Passing on the songs, the beliefs and the faith in Yellamma devi is all fine, but not the dedication of women that denies them all their lives, the titles of a wife.

Yamunavva's partner is a rich man, the jewellery that compliments her graceful beauty, the 'boar-mala' (a chain of hollow peanut shaped gold beads), a gold and black bead mangalsutra, a large pearl nose-pin testify that. Her 'hiriyavaru' saw her when she was helping her mother in laying roads. A short stint in Mumbai and she was back in her village of Chimmadu. Her partner has taken a wife but has never denied her any comfort. Money for the son's wedding, new sarees, trips to the village fair and to his home, everything, except the institution of marriage. She has no reason to complain, her life has been good, her beauty still visible, her partner still loyal.

The system of devadasis, though banned by the government, is still prevalent in several parts of the northern districts of Karnataka. Belgaum, Bagalkot, Bijapur, neighbouring districts practice the system in considerable numbers. There are no new recruits into the centuries old tradition but the older women continue to perform some rituals, the prayers to Yellamma continue. Voluntarily they have now stopped breaking bangles and practicing widowhood for a month during December-January. Begging for the 'joga' is also not practiced. Yamunavva and Rannavva are both peer educators today with a women's organization in Mudhol, about 50 kms from Bagalkot. They are happy with their partners but dead against young kids being dedicated now. Any inkling of a family planning on dedicating a girl child and they rush to educate the family against it. In extreme cases, the police is discreetly informed too.

The age old system survives in pockets today. Awareness of their rights, exposure and social acceptance has made life better. But then, never have the devadasis been shy of who they are. Yamunavva is greatly respected in her village, her status high. Her large red bindi, green bangles, all her symbols of eternal 'sumangali' reflects her pride, her quiet acceptance of her life. At that age, must be around 65 years, she is still shy when she talks of her partner. Rannavva is more exuberant in her joy. Her joie de vive visible in every flick of her hand, in every verse of the songs she sings. The devadasis, despite all that the city talks of them, are not too unhappy. They are a rather content lot today.

An age old practise:
* Devadasis are girls who are dedicated to Goddess Yellamma at a young age. They can take on a permanent partner and bear children. Nothing stops them from taking on other customers. They do not marry and children do not have claim over the partner's property.
* Devadasis are called the eternal brides. Dedication process includes an elaborate ceremony where they are dressed as a bride. Five rules are whispered into their ear to follow all their lives, to feed the hungry, to not lie, to keep secrets, to give water and to give shelter.
* Earlier begged with a bamboo bowl at two houses on Tuesdays, at three houses on Fridays. Shared the gruel made from the grains with five other 'jogathis'. Seen as representatives of Goddess Yellamma, women often confessed and sought advice from them.
* Continue to fiercely guard and practice their traditional music and dance called Chowdike.
* Women who have had a miscarriage beg Re 1 from jogathis on a new moon day and with that money, pierce the nose of the child that is subsequently born. After a trip to the Yellammana Gudda, they are invited into homes, treated to a feast and people of the household prostrate to pray before her.

Hampi, her people

I say this often, that was amazes me most about my beautiful country is the myriad colours that play a riot with the mundane details of daily life. No matter how grey the day, there is always a bright red, a flaming orange, a deep blue that paints the frame of the eye.
At Hampi, the rocks were brown, sometimes grey. Sombre look, except when they took breathes away under the brilliant lights of the night. But people, in blues and reds and yellows and a mix of all those decorated the rocks, the dry terrain. Some posed, most did not. Yet they were there, oblivious to the camera, just curious, just so colourful.
First and second, siblings taking shelter under a rock mantap with their parents, refused to pose together.
Third, folk artists, just before a performance.
Fourth, the very colourful Yakshagana artists, again, in the backstage, before a performance. Yakshagana is one of the traditional folk arts of Karnataka, mainly prevalent in South Kanara districts.
Fifth, a beggar, very fashionable dressed. And no, I did not ask him to pose.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


My free spirit has been accumulating many miles off late. Got back from a busy four days in Hampi. Loved loved loved it, yet again. In a couple of weeks, the day after my birthday, I am off to Chicago, on work to cover a conference. My first trip to the US! Goes without saying that I shall look around, peep around the corner and do all that I am told not to (ok people, I'm kidding!) The visa thingie is left and I need to go to Chennai for that. My travel miles I shall encash, for experiences, many a story, many an adventure.

Hmmm...looking forward, to travel and a lot of other things.

Hampi and Conversations

The ruins of Hampi, indulge in conversations. I have always been fascinated by the rocks of Hampi, the only place where, to me, rocks are not just that, but monuments of stories, of history and grandeur. It had been long since I went there. The Hampi Utsav 2008, I was at work. Hot days and long nights of work, no food, no sleep, no mobile network (the best part), too many people, badly organised, there was little that was nice about it. But at dusk, when the lights came on, nothing mattered. The Virupaksha, Vijaya Vittala, the many many others, all began to speak. I could not take my eyes off. Hampi... I walked alone, explored, walked, photographed a lot, met people, discovered, yet again...did a lot that I loved.
Here, a few of the frames I loved. The main temples have been seen enough in other frames, this and many more, was the Hampi I saw.