Lord Shiva is the All- Compassionate Hindu God, who swallowed the deadly poison ‘halahala’ to save the world from annihilation.
It is told, by munis (wise men) and sages, that when creation was complete, Lord Shiva and His Consort, Goddess Parvati went to live on the top of the Kailash Mountain in the Himalayas. Parvati Devi, one day, asked Lord Shiva- “O Lord! Which of the many rituals observed by your devotees please you most?” Lord Shiva replied- “The fourteenth night of the new moon in the dark fortnight, during the month of Phalgun, is My Favorite Day. It is called Shivratri. My devotees give me greater happiness by fasting rather than ceremonial offerings of flowers, sweets and incense. They observe strict spiritual discipline in the day and worship me in four different forms during each of the four successive three-hour periods of the night. The offering of a few bael leaves is more precious to me than the most fragrant flower and the most expensive jewel. They bathe me in milk in the first period, in curd in the second, in clarified butter in the third and in honey, in the fourth and last period. In the morning, after the prescribed ceremonies, they break the fast. No ritual can compare with this simple routine in sanctity.”
It is interesting to note that the bael leaf that we offer in the ceremonial rituals to Lord Shiva is considered sacred as the bael tree grows near the Shiva temple and the leaf has the particularity of blossoming in the shape of a trishul- three small leaves in a tiny twig, one in the middle and, one on each side. -Anita Bacha-
Once there was a little boy who lived with his poor, widowed mother in a far away village. His name was Harry. During school holidays he had no friend with whom to play. His mother was a loving woman and played with him when she was not busy with her household chores. One day, however, she fell ill and Harry became very lonely. His mother consoled him and told him to go out and play with Krishna. ‘Who is Krishna?’ Harry asked his mother. ‘Krishna is the friend of all!’ Harry rushed out eagerly calling ‘Krishna! Krishna!’ ‘Hello!’ said a cow herd boy coming from behind a tree ‘why are you calling my name?’ “Let’s play!’ Harry uttered with joy. They played together during the school holidays. Back to school, Harry told the school master about his new friend, Krishna. The school master listened to his story but did not believe a word of it. Soon it was the birthday of the school master. Harry became very sad; he had no money to buy him a birthday present. His mother then reminded him of his friend Krishna. ‘Go and talk to your friend Krishna’ she told Harry, ‘he will surely help you!’ Harry did as he was told and Krishna gave him a pot of butter milk. ‘Here! This is a birthday present for your school master!’ Unfortunately, the school master was not happy with the present. He scorned at it and asked his servant to throw the milk curd away. The servant complied but amazingly, the pot was filled with milk curd again. After several attempts to empty the pot, he ran to the school master to tell him about the incredible happening. ‘What!’ the school master exclaimed ‘it must be a magic pot!’ He immediately summoned Harry and asked him about the source of the pot. When Harry replied that his friend Krishna gave it to him, the school master asked him to take him to Krishna immediately. ‘I want to see your friend!’ he exclaimed. The school master followed Harry to the place where he met Krishna. At the top of his voice, Harry called for his friend but Krishna did not appear. Then from behind a tree, they heard another voice: ‘Why are you calling me Harry?’ Harry recognized the voice of his friend Krishna. He replied: ‘My school master wants to see you.’ ‘The school master cannot see me, Harry, because no one can see me unless he believes in me!’ said the voice gently but firmly. The school master was bowled over. He returned to the school with his tail between his legs.
After the Second World War, there was a shortage of food stuffs in the Island. In those years, Mauritius was a colony under the British rule.
Nonetheless, our family did not feel the immediate pangs or the aftermath of the war as we were quite well off. My mother, I fondly remember, splashed herself with Yardley Eau de Cologne every morning after her tub bath. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and I could follow her around the whale of a house that we had, sniffing her perfume like a little dog.
My father was a whole sale merchant and he was bringing home our share of ration rice. It was our basic food and also the basic food of the whole population of some 500,000 heads.
A hard, little, yellowish pearl, unpolished and unrefined, my mother told me that this grain of rice came in its husk during the war. In those days called ‘le temps margoze’ (the sour gourd days) by the local people, the women folk had to pound the rice in a mortar to separate the husk from the rice. They used to call it ‘du riz pousse femme’ (the rice that drive women away) because it was a real nightmare for women to pound the rice.
We were fortunate, I gather, because we did not have to pound the rice. But once in a week, in a ceremonial manner my mother sat a small wooden bench and surrounded by the maid servants, they would busy themselves at cleaning the rice. The rice was placed on large aluminum trays in small heaps. It was winnowed and then the grit was separated from the grain. In a small tin, my mother kept the small black stones to throw away and in her lap, the broken rice to feed the birds.
Close to her, on a smaller bench, I sat down to be with her. I felt like a big girl because I could pick out the stones and the broken rice from her heap.
After she had finished and filled a big iron container with the clean rice, I had the liberty to bury my head in the warm and loving lap of my mother. I breathed in the intimate scent of a woman interlaced with the perfume of eau de cologne and the smell of ration rice.
Years after, this scent still filled my whole being with the sweet memory of my mother.
The woody scent of roast chestnuts fills my whole being again, after decades and so far away from Europe; I am at One Utama shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur; memories of my student days flashed in front of my open eyes like a collage of eventful occurrences.
It was my first winter in London.
In those times,the days were extremely short and dark.Snow piled up in heaps on both sides of the roads as my friend,Baba, and I struggled to pave our way to Holborn tube station. Curbed into two,shivering under my winter coat, a whiff of browning nuts made me jerk. I turned to my friend and asked – ” What’s the scent?’ “Roasting chestnuts” he replied, as he gestured with his chin at a black silhouette in the corner of the street. I could vaguely make out,in the distance,a man or a woman, shabbily dressed, occupied in front of a stove of burning charcoals.A light smoke raised as a cloudy mist around the stove, danced playfully in the icy air. We crossed the road. The alluring scent of roast chestnuts swelled my nostrils. Baba bought a small paper bag of piping hot chestnuts and ceremoniously offered it to me. I tasted the first roast chestnut of my life and I spontaneously became fond of this soft and delightful delicacy.
Baba took up a job at Knightsbridge for end of term and Christmas vacation. Among other lovely Christmas gifts, which he offered to me,I found a luxuriously wrapped box of ‘marrons glacés’ from Harrods.
After our law studies, we parted. We did not keep in touch but I still love chestnuts,roasted,candied or steamed.
It’s amazing how the sound of music or the whiff of a scent can bring to our mind souvenirs of cherished instances that we carry inside us and which,possibly none of us actually knows is there.
One day, an old and worn-out goat was quietly crossing over a bridge under which a river was flowing. Coming in the opposite direction gallantly, was a sturdy young goat. When they reached the middle of the bridge, they realized there was not enough room for two goats to pass. They halted. The young goat said in a threatening voice, ready to come to thorns- ‘Out of the way you so and so! I am in a hurry!’ The old goat felt the looming sparks of hostility in the air. He had fought several fights in his life and this young goat, he thought, would be K.O in the first round! But wisdom dawned upon him. ‘The bridge is made of bamboo and is not solid. What if it collapses during the struggle? We will both fall into the river with dire consequences!’ He reflected. ‘Look here, young chap!’ He addressed his opponent with diplomacy. ’There is no point in fighting! I will lie down on my tummy and you can walk across on my back!’ No sooner said than done, each goat went off on his way happily! -Anita Bacha-
I embarked on a spiritual journey last spring and headed towards an ashram in search of self enquiry. My destination was India, a country known for its vast spiritual heritage. I carried in my luggage the minimal personal effects including a pair of old thongs. This search for the Truth of Oneself will, in my mind, be restrictive on personal wants and needs.
Two days after I had rambled around in my old thongs, I noticed that part of the right sole was coming off; I brought it closer to my eyes to have a microscopic view of the damage; I then perceived that there was another problem; the strap which run from between the big toe and the second toe to the right side of the sandal was threading off and thinning. I sadly told myself that the thongs had expired due to old age, wear and tear. It was essential for me to look for new thongs before the expired ones left me half-way. Opportunity knocked when the next morning I walked into a store to buy fruit juice. An array of attractive and colorful thongs was displayed on a self. I tried a few pairs until I fell on one which fitted perfectly.
I settled my bill, removed the new thongs from the box, glided my feet into them and placed the expired ones into the carton to throw away. Strangely, I could not find a dustbin and the expired thongs slept in the box under my bed almost forgotten. Time passed by. For the festival of Mahashivratri, innumerable pilgrims arrived in the ashram from all over the world. One night, I misplaced my new thongs. I immediately run for the rescue of the expired ones. I had been advised by a physician to walk barefoot which was supposedly a good exercise for different types of inflammation and beneficial for my sore knees, but accustomed to the western way of life, I found it hard to hop around like a grasshopper without footwear.
Eventually, the expired thongs silently resumed their job of transporting me. Every time I came out of a hall or canteen where footwear was not allowed, my eyes fell on them waiting for me, tattered yet so warm. They were serving submissively and devotedly like old wives. I left them here and there, under the nose of everyone but nobody touched them. They were too old to draw attention or to be stolen. Expired they were, in the eyes of all except in mine. What a startling spiritual lesson to learn! Respect and hold on to the old; in times of need, they are the most helpful.
Further, nothing ever happens accidently or mysteriously, spiritual life shows us. For every happening, there is a proper reason. Moreover we are taught that inanimate objects too have feelings and emotions. For instance, it is told in the sacred Hindu book ‘The Ramayana’ that when Lord Rama went to rescue his wife Sita from the demon King Ravana, an army of monkeys came to his help. They built a bridge by plucking mountains from the Himalayas and throwing them into the seas to allow Rama to walk from his land to the realm of Ravana. When the bridge was done, one mountain cried because it was plucked from its original place but not used. Lord Rama then promised the mountain that in his next Avatara, it will receive his blessings.
This very mountain was the Govardhana Peak which Rama as the Avatar Krishna lifted on his finger and held aloft for seven days in order to save the inhabitants of Gokul from the devastation of torrential rain. To cut a long story short, I returned home with the expired thongs, having learnt that self enquiry leads one to detach from people, mundane life and affairs by opening one’s eyes to the deficiencies in them.