Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A wkend in Gunma

I recently had the opportunity to attend the anniversary celebrations of the founding of a Buddhist temple in Japan. The officiating priest, R , has a doctorate in Indian Buddhist Philosophy from Delhi University and he runs this temple in a quaint village in the Gunma Prefecture in Japan. It took us two hrs to get to Gunma from Tokyo. We were met by R who then proceeded to show us around the place, before we headed to the Temple. The Shot above is from a coffee shop overlooking a golf course. It was a bright and sunny, albeit cold day. However, we enjoyed being out in it. The fall colors were still changing and the sunlight filtering through a myriad of colors gave everything a beautiful hue.

This is a waterfall that has its origins in a natural spring. The water is so pure and clear that it is bottled and sold commercially. Even while we were there, people were filling their water bottles with the water from the spring.

This is the spring itself , or rather, the spring is flowing below that maple leaf. The leaf itself is suspended over a cobweb. On seeing this pic, an IM buddy remarked that I must have real quick fingers. While I am a trigger happy , camera toting maniac, even I am not that good. Just really really lucky when it comes to shots like these.
Next stop, the spa we were sposed to go to. The original plan was for us to head back to the temple, have lunch, laze a little and head to this spa, have a luxurious bath in one of the hot springs and then have dinner and go sleep. This stopover was just a photo -op , that R was kind enough to provide us.
It is right next to this river, offering us beautiful vistas, wherever we looked.

The maple trees on this lane have completely changed colors to a dark shade of red. Imagina a long line of crimson red headed maples on a curving road that runs by a river. Heaven does not get any closer than this.
This is a shot of the bell ringer in front of the temple. Notice the Ganesha figurine. Statuettes of hindu deities are a common feature in a lot of temples here.

A tree in the temple compound with a natural stool to sit on , under its shade , during the summer months maybe.
Here's R , in his full ensemble, talking to his congregation. While I don't understand nihongo, just the gamut of expression on his face while he talked , were a delight for a shutter bug like me.

A view of the temple altar

A few old ladies from the village. These troopers had come the previous day and cooked. They'd come back again on the day of the ceremony , really early and finished the cooking. They then proceeded to serve some 250 ppl, their lunch. Not for a moment did I see their faces without a smile.
An elderly couple in conversation during the ceremony.

R, at his drum , after his talk and before he started the Homa or havan. The buddhist ceremonies I have attended back in India, don't include a havan. Here, on the other hand they seem to be an essential part of the prayer process.

A row of scribes sitting at their low benches. I may be mistaken but they are here to transcribe the wishes or blessings for ppl , or maybe they just write the names of the ppl .

In amazingly beautiful KANJI

A lady talking to one of the scribes, Maybe telling him what to put in, on that paper

Meanwhile, in culmination of the havan, R lit up a thick bunch of incense sticks. These were then passed on , one each to a member , who could then offer it to the Buddha, and maybe make a wish and receive a blessing.

An elderly member of the congregation ready to bless the people. Reminded me of the knighting process, because of the wooden sword in his hand.

The incense sticks being handed out.

And then the blessing

This is where all the incense sticks went.

The front of the temple

And our elderly scribe taking a smoke break

These wooden kayak like things stacked against the column are musical intruments called KOTO. Two ladies played on these, and, while I again missed out on the introduction of each musical piece, the music itself was enjoyable and I wish I could have recorded that and posted it here . :(
That, in the hands of the lady in the red kimono is a Shamisen, another famous instrument of Japan .
Thats the picuture of the two of them playing. A fitting end to a beautiful wkend.

I'd be leaving a lot out if I don't mention the spa. We got to the temple, had our lunch. ( I'd packed some chapaties and aloo jeera, and R enjoyed an indian meal after a long time). R then left for some work and we proceeded to laze. Gunma was really really cold and there was no heating in the temple premises. However in the main room was a Kotatsu. Man it was comfortable. Once we got in , wild horses could not have dragged us out. We were sposed to meet R in the spa, but he got back from his errands and we were still lying there like beached whales. He finally dragged us out and took us to a spa. Not the one in the pics though. He drove to one in the next village.
I guess that is when I started with my nautanki. I did not want to get into the hot baths. The reason being that I'd have to be stark nekkid in front of all the wemmin in there. That took quite a lot of convincing and a lot of hajimete ( the first time ) was thrown around. A few ladies mimed closing their eyes. Finally, my escort , a friend of R's called "I" showed me the bath in the open. I guess that convinced me. Imagine , a clear night. All the stars are visible . A circle of rocks and a pool of hot water in their midst. One can see the steam rising of the water and wafting away into the night. While we grew up listening to "hamam me sab nange", ( every one nekkid in the bath), it took some getting used to . What I did notice however, was how comfortable every one was. No one getting worked up about body image.
At the end of it , while I was drying my hair, a small gal was admiring it and finally complemented me on them in nihongo. I knows a little hindi and taught her to say , "aap kaise hain?".
She walked up to me and asked me in breathless whisper, " aap kaise hain?". Like I was back in Delhi, I replied , " Main acchhi hoon, aap kaise hain?"
I guess it proved to be a little too much for and she walked towards I , clearly overwhelmed.
I've no idea, what was going on in my head, cus I joined them and said to the gal. " imi wa, watashi wa genki desu, anata wa?" ( the meaning of what I said was, I am good, how abt u). She replied , "Genki desu", and all the ladies around us went into bouts of awwing.
I think I now understand why the Japanese ppl are so happy when we foreigners speak nihongo, however incorrectly. At least we are making the effort.
I loved my little exchange in Hindi. But, I liked the entire interaction even more. We reached out irrespective of age, or ethnicity and connected.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Let there be light

I am sharing , the diwali greetings I received, offcourse with the permission of the friend who sent it to me.

According to the Vedic culture, the message of Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya (from darkness unto light) is given through the festival of Deepawali to all peoples of the world. During the night of Deepawali the myriads of little clay lamps (diyas) seem to silently send forth Deepawali messages: Come let us remove darkness from the face of the earth. This is not the work to be done by one diya or by one individual. It requires collective effort. In the diffusion of light the question of high and low is forgotten. This is the lesson taught by both small and big diyas.

The second message of the burning diyas is to destroy the difference between rich and poor- the destruction of discrimination based on poverty and wealth. The burning diya, whether in a palatial bungalow or in a grass hut, is a symbol of this unity. The wall of separation based on economic status cannot prevent the penetration and spread of the light of the diya.

The third message of the burning diyas of Deepawali is to kindle the extinguished lights of our neighbours. Let us find out what is needed- whether there is a shortage of wick or oil- and just by a little help the neighbour's lamps can be lit. One diya can light several others. A little charity can bring joy to countless others.

The row of lamps teach yet another lesson and that is of unity as exemplified in Satyam, Shivam Sundaram- Truth, Joy and Beauty.

The lights of Deepavali are displayed at the entrance doors, by the walls of houses, in the streets and lanes. This means that the inner spiritual light of the individual must be reflected outside. Passersby may thereby be prevented from stumbling on their way to reach their destination.

The lights of the diyas on earth beckon the lights in the firmaments to descend upon earth and establish the heavenly kingdom of God for the welfare of the human race.

Feeding empty stomachs, lighting blown-out diyas and providing cheer and joy amongst the downtrodden is to enter the true spirit of Deepavali. This is the true prayer to Lakshmi Devi.

Wish you and your family a very "Happy Deepvali"

I , offcourse have just got back from a night of partying , and while it was an attempt at forging new friendships, some old friends were definitely missed. I really wish I was with them.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Lost in translation - why it sucks

Yep, posting after a long time. It took something like today's event that brought me out of the forced blogging hiatus.
So, a few days back, I finally got to see the orthopaedist for my arm . After a lot of prodding and hitting and all that torture, he ruled out Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Instead , he went, for further diagnosis, he'd need me to take an MRI exam. He went on to ask if I was claustrophobic. I told him I wasn't but I was decidedly uncomfortable in cramped noisy places. So, that was that. It was decided that Bilbo would undergo the MRI.

On the designated time, I was on the designated spot. All changed and on the table. I got earplugs for my ears as the machine could be noisy ( talk about understatement). The MRI machine was definitely designed with a Japanese person in mind and my 5 zip but large frame was sqeezed into it . I felt like toothpaste at that point. That was the moment of reckoning. Before the techs slid me into the machine, I was handed an emergency button, to be used in a moment of emergancy , duh!!! Would I use it or not. That was to be seen.

I thought, I could keep my eyes closed and try to go to sleep. Or, recite the gayatri mantra. That usually works to calm me down. Not this time, not in this baby. It was noisy. Constant clicks that varied in length of time they played for. It felt like a headbanger's ball conducted by a bunch of tone deaf people. This was the first time in my life that I struggled to hold on to my thoughts. for each time I had a thought, a fresh set of clicks or beeps would chase it away.

I was sposed to be in the machine for 20 minutes. From my time spent on the treadmill , I know 20 minutes don't go away that quickly , especially when you want them to. Especially when you can't move. Especially when you feel like you are drowning and your mind is telling you that you are no where near water.

So yeah, my life did not flash before me, or anything so dramatic. I just felt like jumping out of my skin each time a new set of noise started and I could not do that. I had to lie still.

Finally , thankfully, without Bilbo using the emergancy button, the techs pulled me out, and this is when the fun started. One tech started asking me where it hurt and all I could say was ," get me out of this." I had to repeat atleast 3-4 times before they finally relented and let me up . Now there were three of these guys, two techs and one doc. So while one tech started apologising profusely, the doc started asking me where it hurt. At this point, I realised they 'd made some mistake and I'd need to go back in. I was a hair's breadth away from going ballistic. Getting my temper in control and barely succeeding, I managed to ask what my ortho had filled out on the form. when that got me no response, I had to tell them where it actually hurt. Thats when we started the negotiations. With the techs wanting me back in the darn thing, and me wanting no part of it. " Ten minutes", they said. No way , was my response. Finally, knowing fully well that I had no other go, I agreed to go back in for 5 minutes. I'd decided I'd count till 60, 5 times and then press the darn button. Fat chance. I lost count at 20. Restarted and then lost count again. Again , no success at keeping my thoughts together. I do think they kept me in for the 10 minutes they wanted .

This time they let me out , the apologetic tech started apologising again and did not stop till I finally left the premises. What really irked me was that the apology did not really cut it. I felt like the bad guy for resenting the apology but they should have made sure of what they were doing before they made me spend time in the MRI machine. They wasted their time, their valuable resources and definitely caused me discomfort if not outright trauma. By the end of the first session, I'd begun to sweat and I was hyperventilating. I needed a drink of water and some calm time before I went back in and this was absolutely not required , had they got it right the first time.

Not my first time, being lost in translation, but definitely the most painful.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Random musings

Haven't been posting for a while, but I guess this could wait. Had a lot on the plate and then on the mind. Am done with some of the actual work but when does the mind really take a break.

In the last wk, got diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Did not really want to tell the folks about it , but they did learn of it via bro the tattle tale. Was asked to quit and come home. Makes me wonder, if my dreams mean something only to me and nothing to any body else. They definitely merit less than my health. Am I really whole , if I am perfectly healthy but not actively striving to achieve what I dream of.

A friend left for home and some time really well spent came to an end. Wrote to another friend about it and she called at the first opportunity she got. Just words , some written some spoken and some still in the mind, yet, a connection was re-inforced. So was the feeling that all said and done, we are human and will not survive in a vacuum. Be it, material or emotional.

Was late in returning home yesterday and as it had become a habit to call a friend on nights like these, I almost picked up the phone to call, realising just in time, that in this instant, the call won't get picked up. The habits we get into and the time we spend to get out of .

And that brings me to my commute to work today. Another metro moment, another Tokyo memory or a snapshot of life, that I can cherish in my mind and smile back at. A lady, trying to and eventually succeeding in capturing a long green grasshopper in a starbucks paper bag for her little daughter. Having the grasshopper safely ensconced in the bag, she looked up to see her lil daughter clapping for her and me smiling at her. She smiled back.

And now am at work. You can get back to it too. :)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Another trip to mt fuji

I've been in Japan for two years now, and , while I 've had plenty of views of Mt fuji, or as good a view as can be had from Tokyo city, the cliched view of the icecap on the peak of Fuji san and a shinkansen running in front of it, has eluded me so far. In this quest of mine, I've been to Hakone and fuji city. So, when a few friends expressed a wish to go to Mt fuji, I jumped at the opportunity and suggested we go to Kawaguchiko.

And we're off. Or lets say we're on our way. A shot of the train that passed us by while we waited at the tracks for our connecting train .

And this shot was taken by Apy , while yours truely, tried to get some much needed 40 winks. Needless to say I could not grab those. And the whole day I tried to maintain a sunny disposition.

At Kawaguchi ko station 5. Our only view of fuji san. And we were able to enjoy it for all of approximately 3 minutes. The clouds took over , thereafter.

You can see them buggers close in here

And how? thats not the moon here. Its the sun at around 1 in the afternoon. joy! joy!

Can you believe that. Clouds and darker clouds. Wither the silver lining

But, all said and done, this cloudy day had its charms. For one, it wasn't way too hot. Second, we could see the clouds move and it felt like we were walking among them. As we said on the video we took, we were on station 5-cloud 9.

The returning trekkers. You'd think that at least on the mountain, you'd escape the crowds. No sirreee. You thought wrong. We chose the first day of the peak season to make our expedition and as a result, we got to jostle ( almost , not really) with some humanity.

The view , when we looked down.

And some more trekkers.

For all those who wondered about the lack of flowers in a post of mine, stop now! Its impossible for me to be out with a camera and not take pics of the flowers I see.

Since, I was unable to see the mountain, I was not about to miss the view of the nature around.

Even the bit of nature thats about to pick up its roots, pack up and go. I'd like to see it before it does.

And another pretty flower.

The view as we got back from our little bit of trekking. It had gotten really dark .

This old lady was playing and singing. And she was really good.

This was the view that awaited us in the souvenier shop we entered. The store actually sold icecream in the front. We'd grabbed our soft cones ( err, pun absolutely unintended) and ventured in. Right next to the postcards, was this tray filled with plastic boobs. I was like what the heck are those, and a look that said ,"she's finally lost it" was directed my way. Apparantly these are stress balls , though I must say using them would stress me out more . Oh well!

And here's another souvenier- A miracle towel.

Does one really need any more explanation on why miracle towel.

What really got to me was the fact that these were available in a store that sold icecreams and cookies. These were not in seperate corner, were displayed as any other normal thing and then the explanation for the towel was in english. I wish this kind of language support was available for more mundane things required for daily survival here in nippon.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Tum pukaar lo

Thats me crooning the number , or trying to .

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Are you a lady?

You Are 92% Lady

No doubt about it, you are a lady with impeccable etiquette

You know how to put others at ease, even if their manners aren't the greatest.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Courtesy common ?

"We often feel that we don't have the time or energy to extend ourselves to others with the small gestures that compose what we call common courtesy. It sometimes seems that this kind of social awareness belongs to the past, to smaller towns and slower times. Yet, when someone extends this kind of courtesy to us, we always feel touched. Someone who lends a helping hand when we are struggling with our groceries makes an impression because many people just walk right by. Even someone who simply makes the effort to look us in the eye, smile, and greet us properly when entering a room stands out of the crowd. It seems these people carry with them the elegance and grace of another time, and we are always thankful for our contact with them. Common courtesy is a small gesture that makes a big difference.

An essential component of common courtesy is awareness and common sense-looking outside yourself to see when someone needs help or acknowledgment. As a courteous person, you are aware that you are walking into a room full of people or that your waiter has arrived to take your order. Then, awareness leads to action. It is usually quite clear what needs to be done-open the door for the woman holding the baby, move your car up two feet so another person can park behind you, acknowledge your sister's shy boyfriend with a smile and some conversation, apologize if you bump into someone. A third component is to give courtesy freely, without expecting anything in return. People may not even take notice, much less return the kindness, but you can take heart in the fact that you are creating the kind of world you want to live in with your actions.

When you are out in the world, remember to be aware of others, lend your hand when one is needed, and give this help without an ulterior motive. Through these small actions, you make this world a better place in which to live."

Another nugget of common wisdom in my inbox courtesy daily om

I do feel that these little gestures are fast vanishing from my life. Maybe its the times I live in or the people I deal with , but when courtesy is shown, I appreciate it all the more, maybe because of its rarity. I do wish for the return of a better time. Amen

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Much too Perfect

Was in lab today and as is usual, was browsing blogs and came across an awesome read.
Am not implying my own perfection here, but quiet a lot in this post struck close to home. Do read.

Home is...

For a few days now, I've been downloading books and then reading them on my comp. on the monorail. As I've mentioned earlier, the monorail has picture windows that afford a nice view of the neighbourhood we pass by, and, the neighbourhood is beautiful, each second of the commute and each view is a Patel Shot.
But , however beautiful a thing might be , if you see it twice a day, every day for 20 minutes, you can get bored of it. Hence the reading. And that brings me to the point of this post. Sometimes during my reading, when I lift my head, it takes me a while to catch my breath- the view can still take it away. After having caught the breath, the first thought in my head is, " this is home."
And thats surprising, considering my lack of proficiency in nihongo(japanese) and the resulting frustrations. I've been abroad for most of my life , and this is the first time I find myself feeling like a foreigner. Most day to day transactions here are in nihongo and I've been conducting them with a mix of my abyssmal to absent nihongo and body language and mime. A prime example is the lady at the community store at work. I get in, say ohaiyo(good morning) and then proceed to get my bottle of gatorade. Once I bring it to the register, the lady actually tries to make conversation. Through a lot of mime, she gets her point across and I too mime my response added with a lot of hai's and smiles. Totally and absolutely back to basics. Communication at its most primitive and heartfelt. The one time, I don't mind having a face that mirrors what I feel and the ability to smile easily.
Not saying, that there aren't any rude japanese. Some have totally driven me up a wall with the pride they feel for their language and the resultant lack of will to help me out. But for the most part, the people here are the nicest I've met anywhere else.
That makes me wonder, I can be hopping mad at one japanese and be totally ready to pull rank and show him his place but curb that instinct , remembering the 10-15 that have gone out of their way to help me out. For the most part I am comfortable , but, am I home yet?