17 September, 2011

The Second Storm (aka Whirlwind 2), Day 1: Prayer at Tumkur

Our journey to Tumkur combined our visit to the TVS Academy School with a family gathering at our host and coordinator of the TVS Academy’s Montessori school, Ambika Srinivasamurthy’s house. There were a few extra family members traveling with us, which turned out to be a few more than our little Hyundai could manage. So a few of us left directly in the car, leaving the others us to the services of an auto to Magic Stick, followed by a bus to Tumkur.

It was a bit funny that the bus crew got there first by a pretty good margin. Or at least, we were surprised. In the car it felt like we were making good enough time, though I suppose we did stop for Café Coffee Day, and Murali was driving, as always, ever so carefully, cautiously, and with constant awareness and fear of the unpredictable drivers and their cars that surrounded us.

And I’m sure at some point on our trip, though we didn’t realize it at the time, that one of the ridiculous bus horns we’d heard go “doodly-doodly-doodle-doo-doo!” (click here for the real sound) with added doppler-effect fashion was our cousins and mummy rollin on by.

We arrived in Tumkur late afternoon/early evening. Just before sunset, we headed over to the Sree Siddaganga Mutt to witness the evening prayer, led by the 104-year-old Dr. Sree Sree Sree Shivakumara Swamiji himself. Swamiji has been running the Mutt for the last 70 years of it’s more than 500 total years of operation. In addition to founding the Sree Siddaganga Education Society, he has expanded the reach of the Mutt to provide free education, food, and shelter from the 200 students it had when he started, to over 8,500 students today.

His story is both inspiring and epic, as he has worked tirelessly for his entire life for the benefit of the less fortunate. He has given special attention to denounce and attempt to move beyond the caste system, which appends a particular social status to individuals based on their background. In order to accomplish this, he has offered his goodwill and assistance to all those in need, regardless of caste. He has fed three meals a day to his entire student body, and additionally to any hungry souls who request it, supplied purely through food donations from nearby farmers. He started out walking door to door asking for food, and after many years his efforts have garnered the respect and support to prompt unsolicited donations from farmers and families alike. But even after all this time and work, the centenarian still toils tirelessly at a pace that would make even the most devoted CEO fall to his knees and weep, as Swamiji works 18 hour days to manage his numerous projects and provide basic needs to over 10,000 people daily. More about his origins and work can be read in this article from the Deccan Herald Spectrum.

Back to us, our experience at the prayer has been described in vivid fashion by our very own Kat O’Connor in case you need a quick refresher. There was a crowd of thousands of boys, all dressed in red cloth with three white stripes marked across their foreheads, praying in the streets of the school. We arrived somewhat in the middle of it, and proceeded to take pictures and video tape them, as white people (and Pras) do (though Pras’s pictures mostly turned out blurry and we didn’t end up using them).

Of course they became curious and proceeded to mob us as soon as the prayer ended. It was a bit funny as we failed to notice that we stood directly in the path of Swamiji and his pedestal, where he proceeds after the prayer to sit, write, and receive his admirers for thanks and blessings. So we couldn’t understand why the kids that stood around us, near this rope fence leading to an altar at the end of the suddenly formed pathway through the magically parted crowd, were being scolded and beaten to get out of the way. We, meanwhile, had no one to look out for or after us, so it was only at the last moment when Swamiji came barreling down on us that we realized it, just barely able to leap off the tracks into the safely waiting arms of our newly adoring fans.

There were seriously, literally, exaggeratedly, millions of children reaching to shake our hands all at the same time, some even multiple times. Personally, I tend to walk slowly and patiently, and I became left slightly behind the rest of our group as we went to leave. At one point, completely mobbed and nearly hopeless, I had to pull a (gentle) spin move à la american football to loose my arm and make my way towards the waiting car. Once I got inside the car I looked around, and it was literally completely surrounded by people, watching us, some tapping on the glass, smiling and waving, but all for reasons, I’m sure, no one could really explain.

The next day we would visit the TVS Academy School and then return here, but under completely different circumstances. That tale is forthcoming, if it’s not out within a week please, pleeeease feel free to send me hate email (or friendly reminders =).