Living Life through an LCD Screen

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Our niece Deepthi, and her fiancée, Dean exchanged their marriage vows at the picturesque Lake House Inn, Philadelphia, United States on 04 June 2016.  The ceremony was presided over by Dr Alan David Fox, Professor of Asian and Comparative Philosophy and Religion in the Philosophy Department at the University of Delaware.  Dr. Fox had mentored both Deepthi and Dean while at the university.

At the commencement of the ceremony, Dr. Fox requested all invitees to be seated and not to indulge in any photography.  He said that the official photographer present would post the photographs on the internet for everyone to see.  He also requested all the attendees to pay attention to the readings and the vows being exchanged and also participate in an important event in the life of the bride and the groom.  He opined that such a solemn occasion should never be viewed through the LCD screens or the viewfinder of one’s recording device.  A very profound thought.

Is there really a need to record these solemn events in one’s life?

Surely it is a once-in-a-lifetime event and it costs dearly with no upper limit.  During any wedding, a great portion of the money would be spent on things that will be gone forever the day after the wedding.  Only a few things remain – the rings, the dress, the photos and the memories.   In this digital age, the pictures will stay until eternity, perhaps stored away in a virtual cloud, unlike our marriage album – faded, distorted and moth eaten –   but the memories will fade.

Turning the pages of ones parent’s or grandparent’s wedding album is a remarkable experience. The youthful looks  of the familiar haggard persona, a sort of reverse metamorphosis; the fashions, customs, traditions and rituals of a bygone era; the  images of many close and not so close relatives, many of them no longer amongst the living.  All of this results in a plethora of emotions flooding the sensitive mind.  It is an enthralling experience to cherish.  So, why on earth should this privilege be denied to the future generations?

Nikhil, during his cultural exchange programme to France was very enthusiastic to visit the Louvre Museum, mainly to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.  On reaching near the famous painting, he was somewhat disappointed as he felt that the original of the much revered painting now before him in ‘flesh and blood’, looked much like a fake duplicate of the many grand prints and photographs of the same painting that he had seen.  Moreover, it was one of the smallest in the room.  He was more bothered by some over-enthusiastic tourists, many trying to photograph or ‘selfie’ the painting.  They were least bothered about others around and proved to be a real nuisance by getting in the way and sticking cameras and selfie sticks in the face of others.  These ‘enthusiasts’ were merely interested in telling the world that they were there and had the least concern for others around or for the masterpieces which they had purportedly come to see!

These days it costs a mini fortune to physically witness any major sporting event.  To make it a profitable experience,  one must simply soak in the atmosphere of the sporting arena, get emotionally involved in the sporting action and partake of every thrilling moment of the sport.    With a cell phone in hand, it appears that everyone has taken on the role of a photographer, resulting in their watching the entertaining action through LCD monitors.  They would have done well to sit in the comfort of their homes and watch the same action, inclusive of slow motion replays, on their large LCD television.  Then why make all the effort to go to a stadium to watch such a sporting event?  Here again the selfie sticks pose a major problem and many sporting arenas in North America have rightfully banned them.  These self-styled photographers should realise that all the important moments of the game have been recorded by many professional photographers with their high-resolution cameras and would be available on the websites of the newspapers and the sports organisation.  Then why miss such an opportunity?  Why not become part of the celebration and enjoy every moment of it?

Many parents see their children growing up through the camera lens.  For them, many special events in their life slip by as they have seen them only through a lens.   They do not participate with the children while on an outing or at an adventure event or at an amusement park.  They fail to see the emotions and expressions on the faces of their children.  They forget the prime importance of living the experience and capturing the image in one’s mind rather than in a memory stick. They forget to participate wholeheartedly, live the moment with the children and absorb the experience through every pore.  Holding a costly camera or cell phone, one is sure to be scared of action and water.  It would be better to take a couple of quick snapshots, then pack the camera and celebrate the occasion with one’s family.  Family photos are surely a trigger for memories, but for posterity – when you are old – your eyesight will rarely be good enough for you to appreciate them. But the memory of a cherished moment, etched in one’s mind is joy forever!

I always pity those dads who video/photograph their kid’s birthday parties.  They are busy adjusting camera angles and lights and hence do not participate in the celebrations.  It would be prudent to call for a professional photographer to cover such events or one can request a friend to do it.  Another option is to mount the camera on a tripod and get some shots with a wireless remote.

While visiting any place of interest, spend time fruitfully to learn about it.  Listen attentively to the tourist guide if present or read through the information boards posted there.  Help your children to understand what they are seeing and a few lines of explanation from the parents would enhance the kid’s learning.  Use the time to travel or walk between objects for photography.  In case you are very much interested in photographing the place, reserve it for a subsequent trip.

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A photograph of any object would record many a details which one would have missed while seeing it live.  One may come across interesting features that the naked eye would have otherwise missed.  Sophie and Joe would bear me out. 

Unlike the digital cameras of today, film photography of the good old days was a pretty costly affair and one did not see the results until the all the 36 shots were taken.  Many a time this would take over six months.  In those days, it was easier to maintain the required balance between looking through a viewfinder and experiencing life.  Today one can easily get over 200 shots in one day with hardly any effort and at no cost. 

Remember that it is vitally important to maintain a right balance between viewing life through an LCD screen and experiencing it through all the senses.

Thankachan – Our Fish Vendor

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In our young days the fish vendors would come cycling down the street early morning, howling at the top of the voice mathiye  mathi… roopakku aaru  (Sardines, Sardines – six for a rupee). One of the women from the household would go to the street on hearing his calling and the vendor would dismount. Putting the cycle laden with the heavy fish-basket on the rear carrier gingerly on its stand would commence the procedure. It would begin with ascertaining the freshness of the fish, the type of fish and the price. The lady would most often complain that the fish he sold last time was not all that fresh as the vendor would have claimed. After exchanging a few bargaining words, the price would be settled and the vendor would count out fish as demanded. Sometimes the men would also go out to the road to purchase the fish.

After our eldest brother turned a teen, it became his duty every alternate morning to buy the fish. As we all grew up, everyone took turns. During my vacations from boarding school, I was entrusted the duty for the two months. Whenever I bought the fish, Amma would always compliment me for the ‘deal’ I clinched from the fish vendor. Our eldest brother became suspicious of my ‘deal’ and one day he asked me the secret behind it. I told him that I would tell Amma not the actual price I paid, but half a rupee or a quarter less. He then wanted to know as to how I managed the balance change and I told him that the few coins I saved up from my pocket money at school was used for this. If I could gather a few brownie points over my brothers and above all if I could make Amma feel pleased, it was worth it, I thought.

We generally bought fish every alternate day as we all liked a day old fish curry.  It was only with the a day of ageing that the kodampuli, a specific type of tamarind from the Malabar region in Kerala, would soak into the soft flaky flesh of the fish from the backwaters of the Arabian coast… and that is also when all the spices let out their combined aromas. The day after, the fish curry with steaming hot fresh puzhungarisi choru, boiled ‘boiled’rice, tastes truly like it was made for God, in his own country, none the less!

After our father’s retirement, he would rise early, clear the fallen leaves in the courtyard and await the fish vendor. We never had any particular vendor, but would buy the fish from the one who arrived first. One day Thankachan came with the fish and our father bought some from him. Again after two days it was Thankachan who sold fish to our father.

Promptly, Thankachan appeared on our doorsteps the next day requesting our father to buy fish. My father explained to him that we bought fish only on alternate days. Now Thankachan narrated his story.

Thankachan had been into the fish vending business for the past two years and not even one day he could sell off all his fish. At the end of the day he would sell all the remaining fish in the basket to the Toddy Shop at half price and this always ate into his earnings. Our father was his very first customer for the two days and on both the days his basket was empty by noon. That was why he did not sell any fish to anyone on his way from the market to our home and wanted our father as his first customer, being a good omen.

From that day we bought fish every morning and Thankachan would give us a good deal, but always made sure that he received the payment only from our father. This customer relationship continued for the next ten years until Thankachan called it a day from his business of door-to-door fish vending.

Many vendors in India still feel that the business for the day would depend on the first sale they execute and the day will go well only in case the first customer is a lucky person for the vendor. The vendors hate when the first customer wants credit and some even refuse such customers or in case it is unavoidable, would request them to come after an hour.

With the changing times, development and prosperity setting in Kerala, where in all the strata of the society prospered together, the fish vendors discarded their bicycles for motor-bikes. Now they do not howl at the top of their voices, but would text preferred customers the details of the type of fish and the price and the interested customers would confirm by a return text message. Once they got confirmation for their entire stock, then only will they set out on their bikes from the market.

The days of the haggling fish vendor has now been confined to history.

Where to Find God

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A very pertinent question being asked in today’s world, filled with evangelists from all religions and sects, standing on rooftops and on TV, shouting at the top of their voices.  Everyone it appears want to prove to the world that the Gods they sell are the best, accompanied  by miracles in various forms.  Most of these evangelists, exploiting the greed of humanity, have amassed wealth that even their Gods cannot fathom.

The city of Kottayam in Kerala, which boasts of near cent percent literacy, is better known as the city of three Ls – Latex , Letters and Liquor.  It is the trading centre of natural rubber in India and the Indian Rubber Board is also located here.  The city boasts of many educational institutions with their glorious past and also is the home for most publishing houses in Kerala with Malayala Manorama and its allied publications leading the pack.  It also set many records in liquor consumption, but of late, other smaller towns have leaped miles ahead of Kottayam.  The city boasts of many Hindu temples, Muslim mosques and Christian churches that dot the townscape.  It is the headquarters of most factions of the Syrian Christians.   

Panhandling has been banned in Kottayam since my childhood, but one can always spot a few beggars in and around the town, especially adjacent to religious places of worship.  On the  days of various festivals in these religious places, an army of beggars, mostly immigrants from the other Indian states, congregate here.  It appears to be an organised racket and the way they are moved from one place to another and the methodology employed in locating them at vantage points would put any army to shame.

On a Friday morning, a  beggar, desperate to get a few bucks as he was really hungry, located himself in front of a mosque in Kottayam.  In the afternoon, everyone came for the prayers (Jummah).  (The schools in Kerala have a long recess on Fridays, extending till 2:30 PM to facilitate Muslim students to offer Jummah).   On culmination of the prayers, everyone folded their caps, dusted and rolled their prayer mats and went home.  No one even bothered to give a glance at the hungry beggar.

On Saturday morning the beggar placed himself at the vantage point of Shiva Temple of Kottayam.    The devotees came in droves (Second Saturday of a month is a holiday for all offices and schools of Kerala) and offered Poojas, Nivedyams and Abhishekams and left and no one gave any offering to the hungry beggar.

On Sunday morning the beggar placed himself in front of the Cathedral.  He reached there well before the priest and the church manager could even open the doors.  During the Holy Mass, Gospel reading was from the Gospel According to Saint Mathews – Chapter 25 – Verses 35 to 40.  Verse 35 says  “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”  At end of the mass, priest in his sermon reminded all true followers of Christ that they must feed the hungry as it would be equivalent to any offering to God. 

The beggar was full of hope that he would surely get something, especially after the priest’s sermon.  The Clergy and the Laymen all assembled after the Holy Mass for the meeting and elected  committee for the coming year and dispersed.  No one gave anything to the beggar.

On Monday morning, by about 10′ o clock, the beggar perched in a shady corner, next to the outlet of Beverages Corporation of Kerala (liquor vent).  A queue of about 30 people had already been formed, without any jostling or pushing, awaiting the auspicious time of 10 AM for the sale window to open.   The salesman at dot 10 AM opened the window and brisk sales proceeded and more people joined the queue.

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By about 11 AM, the beggar found his pan full of money and overjoyed with it, he prayed to God Almighty.  He wanted God to answer his query as to why He gave him His wrong address.  God appeared in front of the beggar and explained to him His reasons.

“Look! These are the real devotees.  Everyone has formed a proper and well disciplined queue which you will never find in front of any other places you had been till now.  There is no difference between rich and poor; literate and illiterate.  There is no segregation  along caste, creed or religious lines.    They stand in a queue in most descent manner, braving storms, rains or hot sun.  They respect each others’ privacy and ensure that they do not even touch the one in the front.”

“These devotees are only asking for what they want and never for their parents, children, relatives or friends.  They never request that others should not be given what they want.  They ask what they want in minimum words, in a language everyone understands.  They neither sing praises about their brand of liquor  nor do they sermonise about evils and goodness of liquor.  Here there are no VIPs and one does not have to pay upfront at various counters and obtain a receipt for services rendered.  There are neither  any commission agents nor are there any long forms to be filled.  There is no need for any written application on a white sheet of paper.  They never try to bribe Me with their offerings in cash or in kind, without realising that if offered to the needy would be of immense help and if offered to Me would never be of any use to anyone.”

“Hence isn’t this the best place in Kottayam for the God to be?”.

On hearing the reasons given by the God, the beggar asked “Then why did You make me beg around for the past three days?”

The God replied “That is to show you beggars as to where to find Me.”