The jasmine blooms

 In one of the streets of Mysore, just before dusk when the soft glowing light from the sky spreads twilight all around, a dark, sturdy woman appears carrying a basket placed precariously on her head. The sweet fragrance from the basket tells, from yards

Mahadevamma-on her duty

before you reach her, that the basket she is carrying has flowers in it. Minutes later she can be seen going to almost every doorstep of that locality, giving out a shout to announce her arrival. Her voice pulls out the house owner who obediently comes and takes the flowers.

The scene may appear to be just run-of-the-mill, something that can be seen on any street of a city; but, there is something remarkable about this woman who has been selling flowers in the J.P.Nagar area
of Mysore for the past past 6-7 years. Mahadevamma is no ordinary florist. She is a woman with lot of gumption, courage, and honesty.

We have innumerable examples of women burning in the cauldron of poverty, stewing in life’s disappointments and frustrations, nevertheless displaying the courage and guts to ward off all the bitterness and build a life that can serve as chapters in textbooks. One need not have to be highly educated or excelled in academics to do this. Mahadevamma is one such lady, who earns her daily bread by selling flowers. Well, you may ask what is so special about her business; enough florists are there in almost every city. The answer is the approach she has adopted in selling. While other florists sell flowers sitting whole day in the corner of a city center or in front of temples, she makes more money than them by investing just half a day in business. Entering flower business was not a fortunate stroke of serendipity to Mahadevamma, nor was it her family business. The difficult circumstances in life and the hardships she had go through in raising her children made her a florist with a streak of entrepreneurship.

Mahadevamma is a 38-year-old lady residing in a remote village of Nanjangud (taluq) , 30 kms from Mysore city. She was married to a mason when she was as young as 14 years. The starry- eyed girl entered her new phase of life with numerous dreams. But by the time she found out that her husband was a drunkard, irresponsible and insensitive person, she already had 2 daughters and was pregnant with third kid. Drunkard husbands battering their wives is rife in her societal class the class of society she belongs. So she did not bother much about it. But the real trouble came when her husband started shirking from work and squandering away all the money Mahadevamma had saved on gambling and alcohol. He would thrash her inhumanely whenever she pleaded him to stop. With no one from her family, including her parents, to provide any financial help, it was imperative for her to go out and work. It was no time to sit and sob. To quench the hunger of the growing kids, to provide them with a frugal meal everyday, she had to earn. She decided to work in a nearby hotel. She joined there as a cook. It was a small, thatched hut made into a hotel. Though small, the hotel always bustled with customers, as it was located in a prime location of the village. She had to start her work before dawn and prepare tea, coffee, and the breakfast had to be ready before people arrived to the bus stand next to the hotel to catch early morning bus to Mysore and other cities. She did not have the luxury of mixers, grinders and other modern equipment in that hotel. All the grinding, kneading, cleaning, rolling work had to be done manually. The hotel owner being cunning, miserly crook did not want any other helpers in the hotel. She had to cook non-stop sitting in front of a kerosene stove from dawn to dusk, only to be paid peanuts. Years of ceaseless work took a toll on her health. She had searing pain in her knees and joints, which doctors diagnosed as arthritis. Unable to move even an inch from where she laid, she spent awful days and nights looking at the naked, diseased tree that was so symbolic of her from the window of her home. Her mind was brimming with questions about her future, her two daughters’ future, and the ways of earning livelihood. Because she grew up in a milieu where unquestioning acceptance of one’s destiny was the norm, because there was no real alternative, Mahadevamma bore all this pain with stoic resignation. However, she could not afford to lavishly take rest sleeping all the day. All the savings were already spent on the medicines and lying on the bed only made the condition worse. When she came up with this idea of selling flowers, she mustered all her strength and got out of the house. It was not long before she found out that the traditional way of selling flowers would not be sufficient for her family. So, she adopted this new approach. Here is a quick summary of her daily routine.

Mahadevamma wakes up early in the morning to buy fresh jasmine, kanakaambara, marle, kaakada, sampige, and other flowers from the market in Nanjangud. Later she distributes them to 8 different ladies in her neighbourhood who start tying them into beautiful garlands.

Mahadevamma has outsourced this job to others to whom she pays a part of her profit. Meanwhile, she comes back home to finish other household chores. Neither her drunkard husband nor her lazy son has ever helped her in her flower business or in the kitchen. After finishing all the cleaning, cooking, and washing work at home, she collects the tied flowers from the ladies and brings them to Mysore city by evening train. She has more than 70 regular customers in Mysore. She goes to each of these homes and delivers their favourite flowers to their doorstep. As a shrewd florist, she makes considerable business by selling in front of wedding halls and temples on festivals and other special days. If it gets dark by the time she finishes distributing the flowers she sleeps in one of her customers’ houses, who has been generous enough to provide her with a warm place to sleep. She wakes up early to catch the train back to her village to fetch flowers for her next day business and she is back into her brisk schedule.

Mahadevamma has come a long way. She has been in this business for a little less than 7 years now. She is not only feeding her own family but has also been a source of income for eight other families. With
a turnover of 25-30 thousand Rs, she pays 600-700 Rs every month
to each of those eight ladies who tie garlands for her and makes a consistent profit of 7-8 thousand Rs per month. The flower business
has given her enough money to get her 2 daughters married. She is
no university-graduate feminist who talks of women empowerment and domestic violence; nonetheless, has empowered eight families in her neighbourhood by providing them means to earn money by utilizing their spare time. The payment she makes them may be small, but it is by no means negligible.

All by herself she has built a life worth living, a self-propelled journey that has taught her to be diligent and honest. She has an inner compass to tell her what is right and what is wrong. Her daughters are leading a good life and she is happy about it. She is content with whatever she has got. She never forgets to go to Chamundeshwari temple where she offers a garland everyday to the goddess as a token of her love and gratitude. She is so committed and energetic that she cheerfully says “ I want to work till the last day of my life”.

Women like Mahadevamma have time and again proved the enormous potential women have in them. Mahadevamma is just one example. There are more such examples around us, where in women from different walks of life have shown their true mettle and exhibited entrepreneurial spirit, setting examples to many others who are in similar distress.

Originally published in Yojanapage5image9296
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Paki Paki…

In the days when India’s global image is getting tarnished by widespread corruption and red-tapism, I, as an Indian residing in the UK, had a small moment of pride a few days back.

I usually spend my late afternoons in the health club close to my home. One day, as I stepped inside the Jacuzzi to relax a bit after a tiring swimming session, a middle-aged English lady greeted me with a smile, a thing that is so typically English. While a nice smile does a lot to break the ice, more often than not the Brits limit themselves to exchanging pleasantries.

However, to my surprise, the lady next to me was more than friendly and opened up a conversation, “Hi, are you a member of the fitness club or are you put up in the hotel?” “I am a member of this health club and I often come here in the evening”, I replied.

The warm water bubbling all over seemed to have a soothing effect on the body and mind and I stretched my hands and legs some more to ease off the pain in my joints. I closed my eyes to relax for a few minutes and when I opened my eyes the English lady quickly threw another question at me as though she was waiting for me to open my eyes, “Hey, I am Becky, may I know your name?” Immersing my body some more into the puddle of warm water, I flashed her a grin,“Hi Becky, I am Lasya, and I am from India. Hope you know India”. “Of course, many of my colleagues are from India”, she retorted.

Having spent 2 years in the UK and aware of the detestation that creeps in due to my brown skin, whenever anyone asks me about my nationality, I have always answered it with a sense of pride, and if the person in a mood to chit-chat I puff up a bit with conceit singing praises about India as a country, its sublime monuments, its diversity, stressing upon how the Indian IT industry has gained a brand identity in the world. But that day I tried to elicit her impression of India instead of blowing my own bugle.

After a bit of friendly banter she said, “It must be really hard for you to stay away from your homeland, particularly as the cultural difference is huge. Don’t you feel very lonely here?” “I do miss my country a lot, and yes I had a bit of culture shock initially, but I stay in an apartment where all my neighbours are from India. Also thanks to the Brits, they have always been very friendly and helpful to me”, I replied beaming with joy. “That sounds good. You know you are from India and that precisely is the reason for the warm and cordial treatment you received. Not every national gets the same kind of treatment”, she said frostily.

It didn’t take me too long to understand what she was insinuating at, particularly when I was familiar with how ‘Paki’ is used as a term of derision in the UK. It was clear to me that she despised Pakistanis. The conversation seemed to ring a bell with me.

It was an appalling incident. It was only a couple of days after I had moved to the UK and I had just settled in, trying to beat the loneliness with the company of my Indian neighbours. The bright and sunny weather encouraged me to come out of the house. I decided to go out for a stroll and as I passed the playground behind my house, I heard a loud scream,“Hey, Paki, Paki” from a bunch of teenage boys. I craned forward to look more clearly and they shouted at me some more. I stared at those boys, anger and disappointment churning through me but somehow kept my cool. I went near them and with a deliberate smile on my face said, “Listen boys, I am not a Paki. Kindly keep your hostility and prejudice to yourself. Lets have a friendly neighbourhood here”, trying to strike a friendly note. “Pakis bombed my country, I hate them”, one of the boys replied.

“Alright, but you don’t have to be so rude and pass nasty comments to every Asian who passes by”, I quickly retorted. Before I could say anymore they fled from the place and I came back home agitated. Such incidents of flagrant racial hatred didn’t stop after that and I am not one to believe that those teenagers mended their ways listening to my words; however, I felt happy for raising my voice against racism.

It has been close to 2 years since I moved to the UK and it would be disingenuous if I don’t mention the attempts made by voluntary groups and the council to eradicate feelings of contempt and hatred from these young minds. Aware of the fact that racial hatred and its manifestations can be dangerous for a heterogeneous neighbourhood like ours to co-exist, the council authorities and several voluntary groups organise events and workshops from time to time to build love and harmony among communities. The question is, how long would it take to sink in?

(Originally published in Women’s web E-magazine)

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The Car Boot Sale

Among the many things that Indians like about the UK, car boot sale is undoubtedly one on the top of the list. The sale starts when the dull, foggy winter gives way to the warm and cozy spring.  A few words about this amazing season of the year.  As the sun starts shining brightly, daffodils, marigolds, lilies and tulips with their enticing colors start emerging from seemingly lifeless stalks, the harbingers of spring.  I was astonished to see the amazing metamorphosis in the weather from dull and depressed to cheerful and vibrant. Little birds, hitherto on a long hiatus, start chirping in sweet voice, squirrels scurry here and there, trees that stood stark naked are now resplendent in shimmering shades of green.  Everything seems to be teeming with life.

A well-organized event

The Car boot sale takes place every Sunday morning at the onset of spring till winter in all the major cities of the UK. The local council authorities make all the necessary arrangements for the sale to take place hassle free. Britain’s love for wide-open spaces is very much evident, for every small city has vast empty spaces with lush green, manicured lawns. One doesn’t have to go very far to find a calm, open space even in the middle of crowded cities like London, Manchester, etc. These open fields serve as the ideal place for car boot sale to take place.  Ample parking space is provided for both buyers and sellers. Approximately half of the open field is reserved for car park. Clear demarcation is made between motor vehicles of sellers and buyers. A volunteer wearing black and green fluorescent shirt beckons visitors to the parking lot and assists in parking. Sellers assemble in the field early in the morning at about 6 o’ clock and set everything ready before buyers arrive there. Now, these sellers are not businessmen from companies; they are just ordinary people who want to get rid of unwanted stuff. It could be a person wanting to clear the closet of all the bric-a-brac. Or it could be a person whose kids have outgrown their toys and to make way for new toys the old heap has to be cleared. It could also be that a person has decided to sort out all the tools he seems to have been hoarding in his storeroom from a long time.

Sellers set up their stalls in rows all along the field. Their car boot serves as the temporary stall where they arrange the items (and hence the name ‘car-boot sale’) they are going to sell neatly with price tags attached. Many such rows of makeshift stalls line up.  With so many stalls and hundreds of articles on sale, buyers often end up spending 2-3 hours shopping for the items they want.  For the convenience of those who come with children refreshment stalls that sell hot dogs, sausage rolls, and sandwiches are set up.  A number of mobile toilets are also provided.

What you can buy

The list of articles you find in a car boot sale is perhaps endless. Books, clothes, watches, wall clocks, footwear, shoes, DVDs, fishing tackle, foot spa, sports accessories, car accessories, kitchen articles, wall hangings, photo frames, gift articles, cosmetics, perfumes, fitness equipment, toys, furniture, jewellery, home appliances, cameras, lenses, DIY kits…you name it and it is there.

The sellers fix the price of the articles and buyers are free to bargain if they feel something is overpriced, but generally articles are sold at throwaway prices. If one is good at bargaining, then this is the only place in the UK to exhibit the art. The first time I went for a car boot sale in Bristol, there was this old, smiley gentleman selling beautiful photo frames for just 5 pence!!! When I heard the price, all my thrifty Indian genes woke up and I decided to give a shot. Some sellers sold brand new, unopened items which they received as gifts for Christmas, new year or birthday and they don’t intend to keep it for themselves. Such articles were being sold at marked price but Indians, who make the vast majority of buyers, were seen bargaining for these articles. Surely we Indians want more for less.

Learning space for kids

The sellers sometimes bring their kids along to the sale. It is an ideal place for the kids to gain first-hand knowledge of running a business. It gives them the required exposure to trade and finance, a lesson in economics and resource management, an opportunity to understand consumer behavior. Kids can be seen independently handling the customers and making roaring business, often dealing customers with knack by offering them discounts when they buy in bulk or bundling the articles and offering a price that appeals to the buyers and in turn helps them to clear off the stuff.

Boon for Indian students and immigrants

The car-boot sale is a boon for students from India. Given the trend of studying in foreign universities, more often than not Indian students who enroll themselves in the universities of UK take up huge study loans, which will put them under financial obligation. Unless they are given decent fellowships it becomes hard for them to bear the living expenses. Usually they take up part time work in KFC, McDonalds, Subway and other such fast food restaurants.  Invariably, they start living on a tight budget. It’s not just students who face financial constraints but also immigrant families. Being a new immigrant in an opulent country like the UK that thrives on consumerism is not easy. More so, when immigrants have to deal with economic slowdown. The car boot sale is a blessing for such students and immigrants. For example, the cost of a brand new study desk from Ikea costs anywhere between 40 and 70 pounds, whereas one can pick up a moderately good study desk for just 8-10 pounds in a car boot sale. The sale has been catering to the needs of Indian students and immigrants for many years now. The sale goes on till late afternoon. Most come there looking for toys and books for children or household articles. In case something is broken or damaged, sellers offer unsolicited discounts.

The car boot sale is a mutually benefitting one where no one gets cheated. While sellers offload their superfluous belongings, buyers pick and choose from the lot, without having to spend much. Neither there is any compulsion to buy nor there is any attempt to hoodwink the customers by selling them inferior goods. It is a place to experience the joy of a cheap buy. When you come to the UK, just drop in to the sale to know yourself.

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The gold chain

Life never ceases to amaze me with its strange occurrence of events. Here is one such incident, which is so much hard to believe that people often think I am lying when I narrate this.

It was during my high school vacation, I had been to my aunt’s place in B’lore to attend her new house’s warming ceremony.  Much like all special occasions in Indian families, it was a boisterous event and the house was brimming with relatives and friends. Pooja had started in the wee hours of the morning and elders were busy arranging the necessary items for pooja and assisting my aunt. I was sleeping blissfully with my cousins in one of the rooms, when my mother woke me up and asked me to take a quick bath and get ready. I got out of the bed reluctantly. I was morose and the idea of taking shower so early didn’t interest me. So I went to the kitchen instead. I saw my aunt washing her gold jewellery with something that resembled tamarind. I went and stood next to her to get a closer view. There was small porcelain bowl in her hand filled with a brown-colored liquid. There were some pieces of nut and gold jewellery soaked in the liquid. With a few wipes of that special nut, the greasy ornaments suddenly got their luster back and started glittering as if they were brand new. It was nothing less than magic for me. I was intrigued and asked my aunt what it was. She said it was a nut used to polish gold ornaments. Before I could throw some more questions, she wore the jewellery and left the kitchen in hurry asking me to throw the remaining liquid in the bowl. Wanting to try the magic on my own, I took out the gold chain that I wore since I was a little girl and soaked it in that liquid. I had just started wiping my chain with the nut when all of a sudden my mother barged in.  She gave me a stern look, seeing me wasting time in the kitchen instead of taking bath. l silently left the place and went to have shower.  After shower as I started wearing my new lehenga, I remembered the gold chain which I had kept in the kitchen. I hurried into the kitchen only to see the bowl in which I had soaked my chain lying empty. I was frightened. As I started searching frantically for my chain all over the kitchen, tears welled down my eyes. I was clearly distraught and started sobbing slowly. I had worn that chain from as long as I could remember. Apparently, it was given by my granny when I was a toddler. It meant so much to me.  It would calm me down during those essay and painting competitions, when bouts of jitter gushed through me. The chain gave me a strange sense of comfort whenever I grew edgy. I was not ready to lose it. In a state of utter distress I stood in the corner of the kitchen when my mother who had come to fetch something from the kitchen saw me.  Seeing me so upset, she came near me and asked what the matter was. Sobbingly I explained her everything. She would have scolded me for my negligence, had I not been weeping so badly. Trying to console me as much as possible, she went out and enquired my aunt about the chain, who in turn asked few of my other relatives. Minutes later one of them came to me and told that sometime back she threw out of the kitchen window some liquid in the bowl, assuming it to be used up tamarind water.

I darted out of the house to search. Outside the kitchen window was an empty site that was replete with garbage. With a small twig I started hunting for my chain but all my attempts were in vain. I came home with a sullen face. Back home everyone consoled me, advising me to be careful with gold ornaments in future.

Ten years later my aunt happened to buy the adjacent site. A JCB was hired to clear off all the garbage. My cousin was in charge of this work in my uncle’s absence. Half way through it, he found an object that looked like a chain. With layers of mud and dirt deposited on it, he had no inkling what it was, but it evoked some interest in him and he brought it home. He showed it to my aunt who took up the tedious task of cleaning it and when she had finished she couldn’t believe her eyes. It was the same gold chain that I had lost 10 years ago!!!!!!! Unable to control her excitement she called me up and narrated this incredible incident. My joy knew no bounds that day.

Call it a fortunate stroke of serendipity or a miracle or blessings of my granny or sheer coincidence, but the incident made me believe that life is but a beautiful tapestry.

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Grandpa turns mute

Grandpa and grandma in happier times

Among the myriad memories of my childhood, there is a special space occupied by my grandpa. I could not conceal my distress when my brother told me yesterday that he has had brain atrophy and doctors have told that he is likely to lose his speech forever. My grandpa to remain mute for the rest of his life, unimaginable…..The minute I remember him, his picture of speaking incessantly on social, political, religious, historical issues flashes in my mind…

He is 95 years now, a very lengthy lifespan, which is a distinguishing feature of his family tree. Both his elder brother and sister have made it up to 98. Whenever anyone heard of my grandpa’s age they used to gaze him in awe and I felt proud of him.. He had an amazing memory or should I say he had an 80 GB memory disk in his head??? He could speak on almost every topic of the newspaper with great accuracy relating and comparing them  with yesteryears’ events. He would get nostalgic many times looking at the pitiful state of Indian politics, he would not only criticise the politicians but would also explain the poignant scenes of India’s fight for freedom. He wasn’t a freedom fighter but his elder brother was. He was so fed up of the present-day politicians that he would say British rule was far better than this, much to our dismay. He was a progressive thinker of his times. He always welcomed new thoughts and ideas, unlike other people of his age who are quite rigid. He encouraged widow remarriage. He just didn’t speak of it but implemented it by making his cousin sister, who was a child widow, marry a friend of him with a lot of opposition from the society and family members. He married off all his 7 children without bothering to match their horoscopes, a conscious effort to break unscientific customs and practices, and each one of it has been a successful one, I am amazed at his judgemental abilities..He didn’t confront much when my aunt married a french…Such was his contemporary approach to changes.He was an avid reader and could fluently speak 7 languages…He could ride bicycle till the age of 60 years..Like a college-goer he used to sit in front of TV whenever there was a cricket match. There are many such incredible things about him, which I am unable to write because of the sudden overflow of thoughts….
Today my grandpa is bereft of speech, he is to remain mum forever, I somehow cannot digest the fact. This cannot happen to him. God, this is not done. He had loads and loads of things to speak about, many things that could probably ignite sparks of patriotism and revolution in the minds of listeners. My grandpa minus speech is like a jasmine without fragrance, a body without soul…I wish God comes in some disguise with a magic wand and gives back his speech..I know this is just a wishful thinking but for some reason that stretches beyond the logic of mind, I feel my grandpa will be back to normalcy.I still have faith in his will power and his fetish for talking to people. Only time can say what is going to happen, but I sometimes tend to believe in miracles when I turn melancholy…
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Autumn in UK

Colourful autumn foliage: Lovely hue of the maple

I had a date with nature last weekend. What made it so special was the season. Autumn, the third season of the year, has set in and the people here, as always, have started welcoming it gleefully. Irrespective of the age group people start going places to watch the colours splashed by the nature on the trees. We were on a visit to Westonbirt, a wonderful botanical garden spanning an area of 600 acres with nearly 18,000 trees in it. You can see trees planted from the year 1829 till the present day. Autumn – with all its vibrant colours- adds an incisive beauty to it. Especially, the maple leaves (sorry I can’t remember its botanical name) change their colour to lovely yellow and orange.We took a lazy walk in the garden admiring the landscape.

Autumn has always had its own distinct charm. The vivid garden evoked several thoughts in me…
Although autumn signifies ageing and it is the season when leaves start withering and eventually drop off, there is still a sort of dignity, nobility and  glory attached to it. In God’s creation every stage and form of life is eventful and exuberant, death is not an exception to it. Looking at these trees drenched in flaming colors of orange and yellow, you’ll agree that death too has grandeur in it. I was spellbound looking at the incessant creativity of God.I think the yardstick to measure this is by keenly watching the nature. Autumn in UK is vivacious and so are the old people here who are in the autumn of their age, just as colourful and lively as the trees. They seem to enjoy every moment, keep visiting places, merry around and live life to the fullest. This is in stark contrast to what we see in India, where people live in some sort of solitary confinement, punishing themselves, in their old age. Perhaps the trees in India are so symbolic of this fact, and this is the reason the trees in India don’t change their colours in autumn…
I had to cut down all these thoughts, as the place was vast and there was a long distance to be covered walking in a temperature as low as 3 degree centigrade. With my legs shivering more and more and body quivering to the icy gusts of winds, I came out of the garden for a cup of hot Indian coffee.
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Visit to Skandavale

Aesthetic ponds and gardens in Skandavale

Last sunday was a day filled with long  drive in the car and walk amidst the woods climbing up the hill with cool breeze brushing through us and the sun playing hide-n-seek, thereby keeping the weather pleasant and the visit very delightful. The 3 hrs drive from Bristol wasn’t tiresome at all, as we drove past many beautiful cottages, picturesque valleys, hills, coniferous jungle. We were heading to Skandavale, an Indian Temple  run by German and British monks, caretakers and priests, yes you read it right!!!!

However, devotees from all parts of the world visit here. One thing that is very appealing about the place is that you get to hear Sanskrit shlokas and Bhajans sung in English accent, the dialect seems to have streaks of carols in it. Nevertheless, the crowd in the prayer hall is completely submerged in the pooja being offered. One can see devotees swaying heads and singing bhajans in complete devotion. The foreign priests wearing Rudrakshi and saffron dhoti seemed to have saintly look on their face. Now, this is though an anomaly, it looks splendid, for as children we grew up listening to stories of how Britishers ill-treated Hindus and the humiliation meted out to them ultimately led to ‘Quit India’ and all that. The monks have nonetheless made up the temple their permanent homes and they together give a picture of pious hindu family.
It is an absolute feast to your eyes to see Hinduism being respected and followed with so much devotion, faith and dedication. My view of seeing Hinduism as not just a religion, but as a civilization was strengthened looking at how Hinduism has managed to attract these monks . They have a well-organised dining hall where steaming hot prasadam is served after 2-hour-long pooja. The pooja has in it all the essentials (and probably more) of the pooja that is performed at renowned Hindu temples of India. The sanctity is seen not just in the way they perform pooja but also in the way they have kept the ashram, which is impeccably clean. Without giving any tweaks to the serene beauty of the land, the ashram management has maintained few birds and animals brought from different parts of the world in their natural habitat. We strolled through the woods with tall huge trees in it and their leaves that had turned orange with tinge of yellow as a mark of the onset of autumn. To add to the beauty there were tiny water streams flowing making a feeble but aesthetic sound. Having seen the temple, the ashram and its inhabitants, a sense of gratification filled in me for being born as a Hindu….
I can undoubtedly say that the visit was one of the most rewarding experiences in life..
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