Acharya Devo Bhava … Salutations to the Guru.

Image source: mustseeindia.com

The scriptures tell us that if you see your Guru and God together, then fall at your Guru’s feet first. This is because your Guru shows you the way to God. And this is why the word ‘guru’ means ‘remover of darkness’.

The 15th day of the month of Ashada is celebrated as Guru Purnima, and this year, that day falls upon Saturday, July 12. In Buddhist tradition, this was the day on which Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon at Saranath, after he attained enlightenment. Since Gautama set the wheel of Buddhism in motion with this discourse, it is known as the Dharmachakra pravarthana sutra.

This day marks the birth of Veda Vyasa, revered in our mythology as the Guru of all Gurus. Vyasa was born to the sage Parashar and a fisherman’s daughter, Satyavati, the same Satyavati who later wed King Shantanu, father of Bhishma.

Veda Vyasa is one of the most important personalities in Indian mythology. Vyasa is the author of the Mahabharata, and is also the progenitor of the Kuru race. For it was he who fathered Dhritharashtra and Pandu, the sons of Vichitravirya. Vyasa played a central role in the key events of the Mahabharata.

Vyasa systematically organised the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas into various sections, that made it much easier for ordinary people to appreciate our ancient scriptures. After splitting the Vedas into four sub-Vedas, Vyasa first imparted that knowledge to four of his disciples, thus creating the guru-shishya tradition. This system of teaching is unique to India.

Nowhere else in the world is the relationship between a guru and his disciple worshipped as it is in India. The relationship between a Guru and his disciple is considered sacred. It is above and beyond material considerations. It is purely spiritual and totally selfless. The Guru gives to his disciple all that he knows, and he expects nothing in return. The student accepts his Guru’s teachings with humility and reverence. The Gurukula is not a school. It is regarded as a sacred abode, in which the Guru and his disciples live together as one extended family. The term ‘Gurukula’ itself means ‘Guru and his family’. For years, the Guru and his disciples live as one, until the Guru deems it fit for the student to take his place in the world.

The student, before taking his Guru’s leave, offers him Gurudakshina, in acknowledgement of his gratitude for his Guru. No Guru asks for money or for objects of desire, and no student is expected to insult his Guru’s teachings by offering him money as recompense. The Guru usually asks his student to perform a task for him, as did Dronacharya when he asked Arjuna to capture King Drupada, as his Gurudakshina. Arjuna promptly set forth, defeated Drupada after a mighty battle and presented him before his Guru. Drona generously gave Drupada back his freedom but retained half his kingdom, not for personal gain, but to prove to Drupada that he was his equal in all ways.

More often than not, Gurus in ancient India took nothing at all from their students. They would consider their students’ success in the world as their Gurudakshina.

Even in modern times, our reverence for our teachers remains. Even in the age of the Internet and even with all the on-line educational courses available today, there is no substitute for the guiding presence, the motivation, the inspiration, the dedication and the selfless love that a student gets only from a real teacher.

So this Guru Purnima, do not forget to seek your teachers’ blessings – and to show them your gratitude.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”   William Arthur Ward, 1921-1994.

Cheers … Srini.

Posted in Amchi Mumbai, Dharma | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Where Aves rules – Ranganathittu.

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Spot-billed Pelican. Resident species at Ranganathittu.

What I love about namma Bangalore, and the sole reason why I continue to live in this garbage-laden, dog-infested, over-congested and rapidly decaying city, is the proximity of so many prime birding locations.

Ranganathittu is one such. Spread over just 700 square meters, this sanctuary is one of India’s smallest. Yet, it is home to well over one hundred avian species and several other flora and fauna.

During the winter months, the star attraction at Ranganathittu is the Eurasian Spoonbill. So named because of its characteristic flat bill, the Spoonbill is a long-distance migrant that comes down to India all the way from Europe.

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Eurasian Spoonbills.

Come October and hundreds of Spoonbills arrive at Ranganathittu to breed. Spoonbills prefer shallow waterbodies and feed on small aquatic animals, like snails, frogs, crabs, aquatic insects and young fish. Spoonbills have a typical feeding style. They walk around in shallow water with their open bills dipped in, constantly sweeping for prey. The bill snaps shut instantly when it touches its prey.

While the Eurasian Spoonbill is a winter visitor, there are many other resident avians at Ranganthittu that are just as spectacular. The gorgeous Painted Stork is one of them.

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Painted Storks at Ranganathittu.

So is the Asian Openbill Stork. And the Oriental Darter (alias the Snakebird), and the Woolly-necked Stork, and the Spot-billed Pelican, and the River Tern, and the Great Thick-knee, and the Indian Shag, and many more.

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And look out for the Marsh Crocodile (or Magarmach, if you prefer). Ranganathittu is one of the few places where you can see the endangered Marsh Crocodile in its natural habitat. You can usually spot a couple of these magnificent monsters sunning themselves on the rocks.
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There is a large colony of Flying Foxes at Ranganathittu. Flying Foxes, FYI, are bats. In fact, they are the world’s largest bats.

If you take a boat across the lake, the boatman will take you very close to these crocs and foxes – for a small financial incentive, of course!

The entry fee is Rs.50/ per head (per Indian head, that is). For foreigners, the entry fee alone is Rs.300/-. And that, to my mind, is not fair. Why do we always assume that visitors to our country are all stinking rich and are all very happy to pay ten times the normal fee?

The fee for a common boat is Rs.50/- per head. Or, if you have money to spare, you can shell out Rs.1000/- for a four-person boat and a prolonged half-hour ride across the lake. Shell out another Rs.100/- to the boatman, and that half-hour can become one hour!

The gardens around the lake are equally rich in avian life.

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Green Bee-eater, Ranganathittu gardens.

 

Look for the Green bee-eater, Grey wagtail, Oriental magpie robin, Black-rumped Woodpecker and India’s smallest bird, Tickell’s Flowerpecker. About the size of an adult thumb, this elusive little fellow prefers to feed on the fruits of the Singapore Cherry tree, which is where I snapped this Flowerpecker trying to gulp down a meal.

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Tickell’s Flowerpecker, Ranganathittu gardens.

 

Distance from Bangalore is about 120 km, an easy two-hour drive from the city. Ranganathittu is close to Mysore. If you prefer, you can stay at Mysore for a couple of days, and visit several birding spots around the town.

Ranganathittu is good for a visit through the year. If you want to see the Spoonbill, visit during October-March. If you’re serious about birds and photography, then strictly avoid weekends. Mid-week is strongly advised. Visit the place as early as you can. Ranganathittu opens at 8.30 am, at which time you will probably have the place to yourself.

Please avoid loud clothes. Dull greens and browns are the correct attire. We don’t want your ultra-tight jeans and bright-yellow tank-top to scare those poor birds, do we?

Do avoid exposing large amounts of your skin – and not for moralistic reasons. There is no shortage of mosquitoes and other stinging insects at Ranganathittu. Odomos is well advised.

If you have no car, no worry. There are many buses from Bangalore and Mysore. Or gather a few friends and hire a taxi. The nearest rail station is Srirangapatnam, but I think a road journey is far better.

Just grab your binocs, hit the road one fine morning, head for Ranganathittu, and leave your worries to the birds!

Cheers … Srini.

Posted in Pakshigiri, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cycle Day … simply cycle maadi!

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If there is one event in Bangalore that embodies the never-say-die spirit of its citizens, it is Cycle Day.

For you won’t see an event of this kind anywhere else in India. On the last Sunday of every month, Bangaloreans get together, ditch their gas-guzzling, smoke-belching coffins of metal, and hop on to a more sensible form of transport – the good old bicycle.cyclrepday11

Bicycles were first brought to India by the British during the late 19th century. After Independence, India banned the import of cycles, in order to encourage local manufacturers. India is now the second largest producer of cycles in the world and exports its cycles to almost every nation on earth. Hero Cycles of Ludhiana, is listed by Guinness Book 2004 as the world’s largest manufacturer of cycles.

Did you know the bicycle is the most energy efficient form of transportation ever made? Over a comparable distance and with a comparable load, a bicycle consumes less than one-twentieth the energy that a car consumes. Even the most fuel efficient car, and for that matter, even an electric car, is nowhere as energy efficient as a bicycle.cycle day apr27-14-1-6

If you consider the time it takes to drive your car out of the garage, drive down to your workplace in all that traffic, and look for parking space, you will actually take much less time if you simply rode to work on your bicycle. Not to speak of the free cardiovascular exercise and relief from stress.

cycle day Dec 29 2013-1-2Cycling offers better cardiovascular benefits than running or swimming. Running impacts the knees, ankles and hip bones, while swimming creates excessive stress on the upper body. Cycling on the other hand, is a low-impact activity that employs the strongest muscles in your body, your thigh muscles. When you run or walk, the thigh muscles are largely used to maintain the body’s upright posture, instead of being used to generate motion. When you swim, most of your body’s energy is used to just keep you afloat. As a result, running and swimming tire you out quickly and you can’t work out long enough.

When you cycle, your body is stationary and the thigh muscles are used only to generate motion by pedalling. This is why cycling is more energy efficient and does not tire you out quickly, and this in turn allows you to work out your cardio system for a longer period of time and increase your endurance.cycle day apr27-14-1-8

That my friends, is why it is always better to cycle.

Cycle Day celebrates the simple joy of cycling and makes you realise that a humble cycle can indeed be a serious mode of transportation in an increasingly congested city.

What I like about Cycle Day is that the event is anchored by state government agencies, notably the Department of Urban Land Transport. Several NGO’s and private citizens join with great enthusiasm. Month after month, the number of participants keeps increasing.

Cycle Day is about fun. Pure and simple fun.  cycle day apr27-14-1-33You’ll see all kinds of colorful people, you’ll relive your childhood playing lagori and hopscotch, you can try your hand at the various fitness challenges, watch your kids express their creativity at the street art section, pick up some useful tips on cycling, make new friends or simply wander around like me, clicking pictures to share on Facebook!

If you don’t own a cycle, no problem. You can rent one for a nominal cost at the venue. If you can’t ride a cycle, no problem. There are instructors who will teach you how to ride – no matter what your age is.

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Don’t want to ride a cycle at all? No problem. Try out the skateboards and waveboards.

Think you’re too old to cycle? Nonsense. Meet Mr Janardhan. At the age of eighty four, he cycles 1000 km every month.cycle day may 24 2014-1-67

Cycle Day is everyone’s event. Rich, poor, young, or old, nobody cares. The Bangalore Traffic Police goes out of its way to block off traffic at the venue and ensure everyone’s safety. And, the police joins in the celebrations too.

If you’re in Bangalore on the last Sunday of the month, just hop on to your cycle, join Cycle Day – and yenjaai like anything only.cycle day may 24 2014-1-73

And if you’re not in Bangalore, and you still want to celebrate Cycle Day – then who’s stopping you?

Cheers … Srini.

Posted in Amchi Mumbai | 11 Comments

Perambulations in Puttenahalli.

Scared witless by dire warnings from medical friends about the horrifying ailments that will befall those who turn fifty, one decides to embark on a fitness drive.

Thus, clad with one ‘Reeback’ tracksuit from a roadside boutique (made as USA, assures the label), one pair of cloned Nikes, one Chinese iPod and hot walking tips from the Net, one sets off on a morning walk.  In Puttenahalli.

The walker’s website advises ‘Start with a deep breath’.  So, one goes ‘Aaaahh, Inhaaaale !’ Bad mistake. There’s an overflowing garbage bin at the corner. Gasp, choke, gag.

puttenahalli-1-2-c‘Avoid main roads’, the website further advises.  That’s easy, no main roads here. In fact, no roads here at all. There’s a huge bottomless pit where 15th Cross used to be. This bottomless pit, the notice board says, is the JNURM Underpass – that should have come up in Feb 2009. So much for the IT City.

One trips and stumbles across the debris, and ducks into a side-lane. Another bad mistake. No tar on this road. The stones slice into desi Nikes. The feet howl in protest. One takes a detour into muddy 8th Cross. Soft mud may be dirty but it doesn’t chew up your soles.

Mud doesn’t chew up soles but the local canine brigade certainly does. For sheer raw excitement in the morning, there’s nothing like five growling feral dogs charging right at you.

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One takes very quick detour into the next lane. Right. We start again.

Feel the air in your lungs, the website says. The air has a misty feel. Just like a dream sequence from Bollywood.  Gasp, choke, wheeze. Dream sequence shattered. The mist turns out to be dust from a local maid’s vigorous broom.

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Website walking tips be damned. One finally seeks refuge in the newly tarred main road.  Nice smooth tar, no dogs, no vigorous brooms, no bins. One can put in some serious walking finally.

Impact of one round object on the cranium. “Ball please!”, yell ten future Sachins, in one collective scream, from the playground across the road. One doesn’t wish to ruin the future of Indian cricket.  So one tosses ball. Which bounces back from the fence. Future of Indian cricket giggles loudly. With a mighty heave one clears the fence. And adds injury to insult as one’s ancient shoulder screams in protest.

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Now it’s one lonely man against the Elements. Dusty lungs, torn feet, aching arm, but one walks on grimly.

“MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”  “Daari bidee Saar !”

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Entire cardiac system skips one colossal beat.  It’s the local milkman and his bovine employees. One doesn’t wish to incur the wrath of 300 crore devis and devtas that our scriptures say reside in those cows, so one makes a strategic retreat. The Gods have won.

One retires hurt to one’s pavilion, and one bows to the inevitable. One joins the local gym, for an astronomical fee. It’s expensive, it’s crowded with brash, pushy IT types, the music is loud enough waken the dead but it does have a couple of good treadmills – and it does have several nubile nymphets in clingy garments, merrily jiggling away with no concern for the laws of gravity or for an elderly bachelor’s pounding heart.

Finally, one can put in a brisk walk…and flirt a bit in the process. And maybe get oneself a nice young girlfriend. Thus filled with hope in one’s heart, one grins broadly at the nubile nymphet merrily jiggling on the next treadmill and says, “HI. Isn’t it a fine morning?”

And afore-mentioned nubile nymphet sniffs and says, “Hello, Uncle”.

Next morning – armed with one TV remote, one tunes into the aerobics show on ESPN , and firmly settles down into nearest couch.

Potatoes are good for the heart, say my medical friends.

Naturally, that includes couch potatoes.

Cheers … Srini.

Posted in Health, Humor and General Rambling | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Great Drugs of the 20th century – Viagra – 1998.

STAND UP AND BE COUNTED – VIAGRA – 1998

keep-calm-and-have-a-viagraOn March 27, 1998, men across the world stood up to be counted. Literally.

On this day, the USFDA formally approved a drug called Sildenafil citrate, better known as – Viagra.

And the world was blessed with a new form of adult humor – Viagra jokes.viagtoon

But make no mistake. Erectile Dysfunction (ED), or primary impotence, isn’t funny at all.  It can be devastating. Right from the dawn of recorded history, quacks have been peddling all kinds of ‘remedies’ for this extremely embarrassing and traumatic ailment.

Viagra is mankind’s first serious drug against ED.  It’s reported to benefit about 80% of ED patients who have taken it.

Actually, we’re lucky. Sildenafil was almost discarded as a failure. In early 1990, Dr. Ian Osterloh and his research team at Pfizer’s lab at Sandwich, UK, began work on drugs that could expand blood vessels and reduce hypertension. One promising molecule was code-named UK-92480.  This compound had a moderate effect on blood vessels but it did not remain in the body long enough and it could cause muscle pains in some volunteers. By 1992, Osterloh was about to abandon the drug as a failure.  Until some test subjects said they were having erections.  Osterloh and his team investigated this finding further and the results were, well, ‘upstanding’.

Osterloh convinced Pfizer to invest in extensive clinical trials on this potential treatment for erectile dysfunction. Eight years after UK-92480 was first made by Osterloh’s team, several clinical trials and a few hundred million dollars later, Pfizer formally applied to the drug regulatory authorities for a license in 1997.

viagra_45305Viagra is now regularly prescribed to more than 30 million ED victims. It has ‘uplifted’ men and saved millions of relationships.

Technically, Sildenafil is a vasodilator, i.e. it can dilate blood vessels. Sildenafil blocks an enzyme in the body called phosphodiesterase (PDE5). By blocking PDE5, certain blood vessels in the body expand and allow more blood to flow through. And this in turn causes a rush of blood to, well, the “right” place. What is special about Viagra is that the rush of blood it causes is in a specific direction – the afore-mentioned “right” place. Until Viagra came along, no other vasodilator could increase blood flow specifically to that one organ.

Incidentally, Viagra can cause other things to stand up as well. Israeli and Australian researchers have discovered that small concentrations of Viagra dissolved in a vase of water can double the shelf life of cut flowers, making them stand up straight for as long as a week beyond their natural life span.

Viagra, however, is not a toy.  Osterloh cautions that, ‘It is a serious medication for a serious disease.  It is not intended for healthy, functioning men.  It is not a ‘stud’ drug.’

Dr. Ian Osterloh says he has never taken Viagra himself.  Presumably because he does not need it!

And in case you’re wondering, yes, sildenafil is available in India, from several Indian manufacturers – but only on prescription.

Great Drugs of the 20th Century … Concluded.

Cheers … Srini.

Posted in Health | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments