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Sundar Narayanan's Travelog

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A place to be at peace

On our recent India trip, we went to visit our friend Swatantra (which incidentally means Freedom and she happens to be born on India's Independence day). She found her calling three years ago and moved to Chennai from Gurgaon to work on Srishti, a wellness retreat 90 minutes from Chennai city. 

It was an interesting drive and the kids slept on my shoulder while I held the camera for a time lapse video!

We had a hectic schedule but we were not going to miss meeting her. So off we went to her place and from there she decided to take us to the wellness retreat. I always thought this was still under construction. Turns out the place is ready for the public and we were one of the early ones to get a sneak peak. 

Srishti is set in a village. There is no noise pollution from the bustle of Chennai here. There is no light pollution either! You can see the stars even before the sun has fully set. There are cows and goats grazing around and there is an all engulfing silence in the place that is broken by the occasional sound of birds, goats or someone from the village or a helper at the Wellness retreat calling out to another person.

As soon as you walk in, you feel a sense of calm. Every little stone is set in its place with such meticulousness that there is an order that calms you down. You can see the love that has gone into every wall, every corner of this place. 

We were welcomed with garlands, and got cold water poured into the back of our necks.

That wakes you up instantly! You forget that you were in a car for the last 90 minutes navigating through OMR traffic! Then we got to see the rooms, meet the team of people who make this place work, see the lawns and got to walk around. 

You just keep going "wait.. how..it is like a secret garden!"

Given it was late evening, we got a small snack. Swantantra told us they only serve natural foods there like fruits, fresh vegetables, seeds, dates and grains. Their idea is to let the body recover itself by providing a peaceful atmosphere, natural foods, fresh air, yoga and other exercises and lots of love and care from people around you. Can totally see how that would work! Having done yoga for the last 6 plus years, have finally figured out the body is capable of repairing itself if you give it the right time, circulation and environment. You have to give it a fighting chance to recover! Srishti definitely does that!

After the snack we got to take a short nap and do a shavasana and relax. Then we went for a walk to the lawns and enjoyed the birds, butterflies (lots of them) and the cattle and monkeys in the village. After walking a mile we were back and it was time to say bye and go visit more friends. 

If you are in Chennai and want to take a break from the hustle and bustle and be transported to a place that can restore your sanity, strongly recommend a visit to Srishti! 

and if you have little girls, you can definitely get some fresh Jasmine from the plants for your hair. San was wearing Jasmine flowers. When little Reet saw it, she immediately went and found Jasmine for her hair to match. Watching her so happy with the matching flowers made my day.

did I mention tons of butterflies?!

they sat and posed for me...

If you are trying to walk towards wellness, this is a great choice! 

Here is a link, if you are interested in a visit.

I for one am glad that my friend found her calling. Someday, someday, I will also have the will power and mental strength to make such radical life changes and follow my thoughts.. Until then, like my brother reminds me, have to finish what I started! 


A taste of Mumbai

At least I have started typing Mumbai instead of Bombay after all these years.. that is a sign of accepting the changing times. 

Our day 2 in Mumbai was mostly spent shopping. There was a plan for me to go meet my college buddies that did not come through. Also I was going through some emotional pain.

There is a back story that starts on day 0 of the trip. I was on an Air Asia to get to Chennai via Malaysia. Given I booked it on Cheapo Air, it came as a surprise to me that the ticket included NO check in bags at all. I assumed that the one suitcase 23kg default is there. Apparently the base ticket they sell online has no baggage allowance and if you need that one suitcase, you have to pay 60 USD. We did pay that 60 USD last minute to reserve that weight. Usually I have a backpack and a single carry on. This time I was lugging a camera bag and a larger bag that was going to be checked in. 

The lady at the Air Asia counter was so adamant in breaking each bag to 7 kg that she insisted that my camera bag go into the big suitcase. I was explaining to her that my total allowed weight was still under what I paid for and it is all going into the same plane. What difference does it make if it is on the overhead bin or check in. She said "I am okay but if any supervisor catches you, I will lose my job". So in front of an audience of 100 or so folks in line, I had to open my suitcase, check in bag and distribute the contents of my camera bag to meet the weight standards for check in vs. carry on. She said she would put a "Fragile sticker" on the bag given the 2000 $ lens and with a heavy heart I agreed. 

On my one day in Chennai, the camera bag never came out. The first time I opened it was to take pictures of San's cousins baby. While looking at the photos, I noticed that there was light streaks on most of the pictures. Turns out the lens cap had come off on the 24-105 and it was scratched badly!  Luckily they had a long living room and the 70-200 worked.  This also meant that I had to go shop for a UV filter in Mumbai. The actual Air Asia flight was pleasant and nice. Just that they messed up my lens. Where were we? Emotional pain.. yes.

We went to a few shops in the CHembur area and they all had new cameras, but none of them carried filters. They all said we had to go to Dadar area to get accessories. 

Spent most of day 2 just shopping in the local area, visiting Siddhi Vinayak and having some yummy sweets and savories at the local Jhama store. It is now becoming a new tradition for the family to visit Jhama while in Mumbai and it is an experience that does not disappoint!

One funny thing that happened was that at Siddhi Vinayak, all the flower sellers were calling me "sethji", because I was wearing a fancy shirt with gold buttons and embroidery.

So the wife and kids kept making fun of me and called me Sethji for the rest of the day and in return I called Jr. "sethji ki beti". 

At night we tried a few more shops for the filter and found out that the only bet was JJ Mehta and sons in Dadar West and that was where the next afternoon was spent.. 

More later. . .



Transcending space and time

The first planned event on our India trip was to attend the arangetram of Kavya. I have never been to an arangetram in India, but have attended two dozen or so of these events in the bay area. 

It was a treat to watch Kavya dance. Sat there wondering when this little kid we are so used to seeing got so mature in emoting! The audience in India is more of an untamed beast. The average age of the crowd that attended was a good 20 years older than the audience in the US, which in itself is not a bad thing. They do not have bladder control though and there is a constant stream of people walking in and out of their seats to hit the restroom. 

So here is a tip if you are used to seeing arangetrams in US and you go watch one in India. Get to the front seat! 

We also got to hear a few words from the Legendary Chitra Visweshwaran on art forms that have gone to foreign lands and are kept alive and well. She talked about the challenges kids face both in India and abroad but how the parents abroad give that extra priority to keep things going to get to an arangetram or a stage performance and not give up because of "board exams". 

Thought of recording it, but then switched the camera off and just listened to her talk.

Hearing that I realized that we put our kids through a lot here in the US and they also push themselves hard because of peer pressure. 

Hoping that BB will post pictures or videos of the event in his blog. I am still getting goosebumps going back to that evening. 

Promptly after the performance ended, we ran out to find an auto! Yes, that was a real challenge as autos are not easy to find after 9PM in that area and we had to catch the first flight out in the morning to Mumbai! 

We had to transcend to another space in short time. 

After reaching Mumbai, our plan was to go straight to see San's cousin and her new baby! We had no idea that the supposed 45 minute commute will become a 2 hour plus ordeal! Lunch plan became tea plan and we were exhausted by the time we reached her cousins place. 

Then a cute baby made us forget everything! 

That was again transcending time. They say you can see god in a baby's smile! There may be some truth to it...

After another 2 hour ride in rains and traffic, we made it to the in-laws place by dinner time, and that was day 2!

Mumbai might drain faster after a quick rain but when it comes to traffic, it is a lot worse than Chennai. At least that was our experience. 

Will continue blogging after coming back. . . 


The traveling Yogi

Got back to US last Sunday. Traveling again tomorrow. It is an interesting life when airports, lounges, planes become a routine part of your life. I spent more time talking to Uber drivers sometimes than people I love and care about. All this will change soon when some accomplishments take a grander stage. 

In the meantime, one has to do what one can to cope with this "lifestyle". My recent trip to India following a business trip, albeit short and sweet has 1000's of photographs and videos, great memories, places of interest, conversations with friends and family that went from sweet to bizarre. All great blog topics, but they have to wait.

In the last 7 days, my plan was to do as much yoga as possible to make up for the last three weeks and the coming week, have only home cooked meals and resist the temptation to eat out at least for this week when I am home and catch up on everything else.

The home cooked meal part was a success. . . 

I can now make a tomato rasam and a cabbage curry with reasonable consistancy. Cooking can be cathartic and have decided that from now on, will be subjecting the family to my cooking at least once a week. There was also some Podalangai Kootu (no pictures) that turned out very well! 

Cooking part was okay. The catch up on everything else was not. I did go to the hospital to get a wart treated and that kept me in an irritated state for almost two days. No pain.. but just plain irritation. Don't know who came up with the idea of treating warts with liquid nitrogen, but we should come up with better ways. This was my first wart and first such treatment. While it was interesting and funny when they did the treatment, it was not funny after I came home. Just plain annoying, like you have an alligator clip squeezing your finger constantly and biting into it. Then caught a bug from a co-worker on Thrusday to the point where my nose was blocked completely. 

Decided to go to Yoga class anyways as usual and things opened up a bit. Today my nose and lungs feel normal again. My morning class went so swimmingly well that I decided to go back in the evening. Both the teachers knew what I was up against and both of them promptly ignored it like good teachers do and proceeded to kick my ass. 

As usual learned a lot in todays class. Sometimes I think I have fixed a mistake only to realize that nothing has been fixed. Have a rule at work for myself and people who work with me. It is okay to make mistakes, but it is not okay to make the same mistake over and over again. Somehow that rule was not followed in Yoga class today. 

It is time to videotape myself doing some poses to see how I change from aligned to crooked. I check at the start of the pose and the guy in the mirror is perfectly aligned. When coming out of the pose, something has horribly gone wrong. Where and how this happens is a mystery that will soon be resolved. There is lot of time in hotel rooms and an iPhone camera handy! 

On a side note, I finally managed to get my hands on this book that was out of print for a long time "A systematic course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya" by Swami Satyananda Saraswati of the Bihar school of Yoga. It is by far the most comprehensive book on Yoga that I have come across. It is a Ph.D. thesis on Yoga and Kriya. It reads like one for sure!

My college library has records of how many people check out a certain book. My doctoral thesis was checked out only 8 times in the 10 years since I wrote it (that was the last I checked). Doctoral thesis make for dry reading.  Maybe this book while thorough and technical and detailed is lost on folks who are not into Yoga terminology and that is why it went out of print. Nevertheless, strongly recommend this book to get a perpective on why condition the body and the mind and the purpose behind it all. 

Will start blogging about our recent adventures next week. Until then, ta ta!



Today I happened to be waiting for my classmates for lunch. Was meeting these guys after two years. I had a good 15-20 minutes to while away. So I wandered to the beach in Sivaji park at Dadar West and stood on the view point.

There were a group of crows and a solitary pidgeon who were flying in to the wave front and picking things up to eat. 

Captured the waves and crowd in time lapse.. 

and the crows in slow motion.

also took a few Panorama shots with the iPhone

Then my buddies showed up... and time lapse, slow motion, freeze frames were all put into a different context! 

When you are with friends, time doesn't mean anything!