Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Sweeping Healers of the Agni Theertham in Rameshwaram!

The grimy filthiness beneath my feet bothered me.

Instinctively, my toes curled up in crankiness even as I sneaked my way through the sacred shores of one of the most prominent pilgrimage centres in India of the Hindus. I heaved a sigh of huge relief when I was instructed to ‘just sprinkle a few drops onto yourself’ (and not bathe!) as the gushing waters of the sea (Bay of Bengal) didn't look very clean and hygienic and there was a strange nauseating stench floating in the environs owing to the blatant disposal of untreated sewage from the nearby areas.

Ironically enough, I was partaking in the mandatory sacramental ritual of cleansing my body at Agni Theertham, one of the most visited Theertham (sacred holy water body) of Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu before proceeding to pay my respects at the Ramanathaswamy temple.

A Kaleidoscope of faith at Agni Teertham in Rameshwaram


Blessed were the magnificent sands on which I was walking, I was very well aware. Various references to the place could be traced back to the sacred Hindu Texts or Puranas like Skanda Purana illustrating its infinite powers of absolving all sins and purifying the heart. Countless number of believers had walked on it before, including the celestial Demi-God Agni or Fire – washing their sins away - cementing this hallowed waterfront with their faith, belief, conviction and devotion.

And yet, no matter how hard I tried to evade... this murky feeling of dirtiness that creeped within this city-bred girl’s senses as she made her way past the cacophonous edge of the beach through to the glorious temple corridors of 17th century Ramanathaswamy Temple in Rameshwaram... just refused to subside.

The grimy filthiness beneath their feet
never seemed to bother them.

Women Cleaners at the Rameshwaram Agni Teertham

I ambled aimlessly on the same hallowed seashore later that day and also towards the evening, after my coveted temple darshan earlier in the morning. That’s when they caught my attention. They kept to themselves, totally engrossed in what they were doing, unmindful of the frenzied world that guzzled around them. Unmindful of me.

On this bright, balmy and auspicious day of Diwali in the month of November, the shores of Agni Teertham at Rameshwaram wore a festive look. People, belonging to different age groups, having travelled from different parts of the world, merged and mingled in a colorful rendezvous by performing reverential acts showcasing their steadfast faith towards the divine water body. They asked for a child and they pleaded for deliverance of their ancestors... joyously, they bathed, chanted mantras, mumbled prayers, performed poojas and floated flower/leaf diyas with a conviction that their prayers shall be heard and they shall be blessed.

In this culturally nuanced kaleidoscope, my gaze was arrested by two women, clad in shirts worn over their saree. Between them, they were carrying a basketful of 'kachra' (trash).

My eyes met theirs,
and they lowered their eyes...
to the world, perhaps they didn't want to exist.

Women cleaners at job at Rameshwaram Agni Teertham

But to me, they did.
And, I continued to follow them,
I was hooked.

I continued to walk, pausing at one point this time, for a long time… albeit from a distance and zoomed my vision on the clothing, garbage and debris heaped at the edge of the shore. Standing right in the middle of this garbage heap, was an old man, in a grey shirt coupled with a lungi half-folded and tucked in to his waist, continually sweeping his digging fork to and fro, sifting and collecting the garbage at one single place. 'Wasn't it smelling awful for him?' I wondered, feeling a bit nauseous myself at the same time. The sight was awful. The same grimy filthiness slowly creeped in the senses of this city-bred girl again. But this time, not with a silent contemplation...

Hadn't I wallowed myself in pitiful misery
over the trite adversity of filth and dirtiness
as opposed to the overwhelming feeling of faith and devotion
today morning itself?

And why just today?
how many times in life had I cribbed about where I was
and what I was doing?

A man cleans the Rameshwaram Agni Teertham

The more I thought about it,
the lower I drowned in my self-built well of shame.

I also felt the pain of the sea in those moments of perceptive contemplation. I felt her wounds - how the mindless disposal of waste and litter gashed her being - she was wounded deep, bruised by the adulterations she could no longer swallow, she was not well, and she needed help. The unshed tears in her existence cut my heart too.

Like a patient in an operation theatre, she needed treatment from a doctor, willing to get his hands, literally, dirty. A doctor who had the strength not only to bear the stench once the wound is cut open but also the gift to clean it with a beatific smile.

The sweepers or the 'bhangi' for the world,
there! they were her doctors of the Teertham,
the healers of the sea.

A team of cleaners around at Rameshwaram sea, Agni Teertham

Engrossed in doing their stressful arduous work of healing the sea.

What a relief it must be for the sea! I thought and exclaimed 'Bahut Achha' in a tone audible enough to reach the ears of the old man from the group whose attention I had managed to catch during my introspective reverie. In response, the man threw me a surprised look and a string of words in Tamil which I couldn't comprehend. Disappointed at my failed attempt to successfully communicate my earnest appreciation but not losing hope just yet, I decided to try one more time, conveying the same in a different manner this time. More universal. Sign language! No sooner did I flash an excellent thumbs up sign with my fingers than the old man’s wrinkly face beamed in an ecstatic smile. I panned my camera on him suggesting that I wanted to click his picture. Excited, he motioned to one of the women of the team to see and face the camera along with him and together, they just turned, moving slightly closer, and in those moments... the world around us disappeared.

And... she blushed.

The Rameshwaram sea cleaners at Agni Teertham

No fame, hardly any money and a job that’s looked down upon
by a major chunk in the society...
So what it was that drove them - from within?

The glee sparkling in their eyes told me of the massive riches they had nurtured in their hearts, the pride and peaceful content for the highly significant job that they were doing… As Martin Luther King had once famously remarked -

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper,
sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures,
sweep streets like Beethoven composed music,
sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera.
Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.
(And if I were to add - sweep streets like Lionel Messi plays football.)

A sweeper posing at the Rameshwaram sea, Agni Teertham


Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say:
Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.

And indeed! Their reliable, self-driven work preventing the pollution of the holy Theertham ensured a greener, cleaner and more sustainable environment for me and countless more, before and after me - weren't they the pioneering leaders of Narendra Modi's 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan'?

I vowed to not just crib and get cranky about the grimy filthiness
that bothered me that day.
But, to make an active contribution towards the work,
in the best of my capacity,
as a pilgrim, as a blogger,
... and ... above all,
as a human with a heart.

Ramanathaswamy  temple and Agni Teertham in Rameshwaram during sunset

Today ... I have long left the shores of Agni Theertham but the luminous wave of immense blessedness continues to revolutionize the sullied shores of my heart. And every time that happens, I am reminded of the incredible joy and the infinite privilege that was... to have encountered, conversed and been positively touched by the sheer dedication and passion of these great men by the sacred shores of Rameshwaram - the sweeping healers of the sea!

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Top 7 highlights from BNLF 2015 | IndiBlogger, Mumbai.

One of IndiBloggers dream project, BNLF (Blog Now Live Forever), finally went LIVE last week and it was so exciting that I could be a part of it! It meant a bubbling flock of around 600 bloggers coming together to share their insights, views and opinions in a single gathering over the course of two entire days. Attending the BNLF also felt like a homecoming of sorts because of my 5 year old association with this awesome, ever-growing, ever-supportive community and coming face to face with the same people that constantly motivate and inspire you in the online world made for a brilliantly gratifying occasion offline.

Group Photo - Pictures BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

Unwrapped below are a few highlights, points that stood out for me from BNLF:

1. THE INDIHEROES: BOTH, SUNG AND THE UNSUNG.

The signature stamp of IndiBlogger was evident right from the word go! Music, warmth and humour: all three had come out in full force.

Welcome in - BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

Hahaha, so typical … IndiTeam!

The hours and days (or was it years?!) of hard work, excitement and sweat that had been injected in the project was clearly palpable by the tastefully done décor, the out-of-the-box ambiance and the high pitched energy that I caught floating all around The Lalit – the venue for the first ever and the most disruptive Blogging Conference ever, BNLF.

The ‘Blunder in the Code’ musical start to the morning was the best foreword that the extremely gifted IndiBand could have come up with. Though I couldn’t make much sense of the lyrics (not my kind of music, my bad), the entertainingly high-pitched melody was enough to get me into my elements and bind the audience together in a beautiful string of coherence that lasted all throughout the sessions.

IndiCrew were IndiBlogger members, basically bloggers doubling up as volunteers that had signed up for the event and I got my first taste of the IndiCrew’s hospitality soon after my registrations. One of the most defining moments for me, personally, was when an IndiCrew member greeted me with such élan and confidence, she could easily make for a core member of the IndiTeam itself.

IndiCrew Salute! Pictures BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

Welcome *staring long and hard at the badge dangling from my neck that had my credentials imprinted* umm… Arti. *Exhibiting an excited demeanour, smiling wide and full* Straight and then right. Please make yourself comfortable, we hope that you have a great time! See you around!

Wow. If her unfaltering welcome didn’t catch me by surprise.

Here, was I, a nervous social wreck, doing nothing but constantly worrying about things that were never actually going to happen. And here was she. Wasting no time in putting me at ease.

Wasn’t she a blogger as well? I heard myself talking. I wondered if someone had taken the time to welcome her just like the way she had welcomed me in.

Not really my kind of thing to do (very comfortably) but I just couldn’t resist returning some part of her gracious favour:

Hey, thanks for such a warm welcome! *Trying my best to take a cue from her mannerisms* and, welcome to you too and I hope you have a great time as well!

She was Pallavi from thoushaltcook.wordpress.com.

Once seated, I got more and more taste of the fabulous IndiCrew as the day went along. These were the people who were not only serving selflessly but were also attending to all of us with a lot of care. It was a real joy to feel pampered by strangers many of whom you were meeting for the first time, and perhaps also the last. IndiCrew – take a bow - really a job well done and done with a lot of affection and delight.

2. STRETCHING MY LIMITS, SAYING MY HELLOS.

It wasn't easy. For someone who is rather shy and who’d rather run away miles from attending any kind of a social event, to be put in the middle of a humongous crowd, mostly strangers or people with whom I have only had interactions online, was nothing short of a nightmare. To walk up to people and say hello and get talking is not what I’d expect of my skin. I am not that daring either, approaching people and striking conversations on a whim, and still the very essence of these meets is networking – so that didn’t make things any easier.

A young blogger, Pictures BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

But hey. I did it – I pushed the boundaries and broke a few barriers, I walked to people,
I introduced myself and made a sincere effort, to well, just be in the moment.

This, of course, was only possible because of all the lovely people I met at BNLF … friends old and young, friends via IndiVine and via the IndiForum, friends from blogs, blogchatter and twitter … if you were one of them I interacted with – well, I just want to thank you for being so kind and helping me relax and open up. Social meet-ups of any kind sets my mind spinning and can be a bit overwhelming at the beginning. But with all your generous camaraderie, it felt so good to step out of my quiet comfort zone and I can’t wait to meet all of you and more in the future.

3. WHERE EVERY NOTE IS A KEYNOTE.

IndiBlogger was so right when it said that every note was going to be a keynote here. BNLF wasn’t just about the speakers. It was SO MUCH about the bloggers themselves. That made the breakfast sessions and tea break sessions so much more fun and interesting. Getting to talk to bloggers from all over the world was nothing short of embarking on an exciting learning and fun adventure curve.

The Power of WE Bloggers - Art At the Lalit, BNLF

The discussions ranged from everything and anything under the sun that came in the range of blogging - how many posts we wrote in a day, what are the marketing strategies we followed, what is so inspiring about what we blog, why I love your blog, why don’t you put your picture, blogger vs wordpress and so on and so forth.

Whilst talking with each other, what stood out for me was that no blogger came across as a senior or a junior, from this state or that state – our passion for what we do glued us together as people belonging to one single family. Everything was shared with an open heart and listened to with a curious mind - Learnings, motivation, inspiration and encouragement were available in an immense proportion. And the best part was that I really dint have to go around looking for it, it was present just about, everywhere!

4. DO NOT GO TO THE GRAVE WITH YOUR STORY UNSUNG.

Stressed Jeff Bullas during one of his presentations. It couldn’t have been more inspiring. As I immersed myself in amazement at the depth of these seemingly simple words, all the other speakers underlined this quote by enlightening the crowd by presenting their own stories during the day. All their stories had depth, authenticity, character and perseverance coloured in their own inimitable styles, in their own unique voices. Here are a few more quotes that I found inspiring at BNLF:

Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson - Pictures BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

Homeless means no where to go, no ideas to think.
It does not mean nowhere to sleep. ~ Bruce Dickinson

Truth has many versions, write yours. ~ Arnab Ray

Try finding a unique voice. The more you detach, the better it is. ~ Anshul Tiwari

Everyone is an influencer to somebody. You too. ~ Christoph Trappe

Dont let rejection affect you. Push your limits. Work on your skill sets.
Do something you have never done before.. ~ Preeti Shenoy

I create, I publish… I exist. ~ Jeff Bullas

Reach the level where people like you as much as you like yourself. ~ Kannan Gill

I may not be famous but I have the satisfaction that many take solace from my writing.
~ Purba Ray


5. THE IMPORTANCE OF ASKING QUESTIONS.

Just a couple of minutes after I took my seat besides my friend Pooja on the second day, Christoph Trappe threw a question at the authentic story-telling interactive workshop that was already in progress.

What is your blog about? What is the need?

This was just the beginning. Right through his session, he raised the importance of constantly posing questions and answering them for yourself. The what, why and how was not just an important aesthetic that we needed to check but a basic need to measure our blog’s growth barometer.

My pencil and paper at the Lalit, BNLF MUmbai

So, when he asked us, what are you giving to the readers and what is a story that is worth sharing? My pencil couldn’t stop racing. To ask questions to yourself is to go deeper, to seek the intangible and look for connections. Participating in the exercises were worth it. All the answers that I scribbled down formed the base of the reason of why I was here and what I was doing in this blogging conference. Even though I had missed out on the initial part, the interactive session by Christoppe Trappe on authentic story telling on the second day stood out for me because of his realistic self-reliable approach in which he emphasized his points.

6. GETTING A HEADS-UP ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

Jeff Bullas at the BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

If you want your content to reach out to the masses, you have to use the social media. While this is a mere fact, what is sad is that social media is something that I know little about, so I was keen on attending this session and taking some tips for myself. Jeff Bullas offered great social media tips, especially on twitter marketing that have worked for him in his rising to the top. I was reminded to write a 20 word mission statement assigned to my blog and read it over. He also encouraged everyone to build their email lists, to test the headlines that you write and to check Tweepi (paid) and Social oomph, which have been immensely helpful to grow his prodigious twitter base. I am looking forward to learn more about them soon.

7. THE BNLF POSTSCRIPT: BLOG NOW, LIVE FOREVER.

BNLF was a conference but not just any blogging conference. BNLF was a conference where everyone – bloggers, speakers and the IndiTeam alike – united over the same theme song: We all who blog now, are honoured to live not one life … but forever. And while we were at that, WE beamed with childlike pride and innocent joys over etching our unique voices at a place, thanks to the efforts of a wonderful community, where it would never be lost, ever.

It was more of a celebration. A celebration to what we are, what we write and what we passionately live for. Of us and our voices and others and others voices as well.

Hurr, Hurr! Pictures BNLF Conference IndiBlogger Mumbai

Initially, I wasn't even going to write a post on BNLF thinking that there would be many others floating around and I dint had to put one in the mix. But the sheer joy that BNLF turned out to be just refused to be contained within my intrinsically appreciated memoirs. Even if BNLF might not have been 'the perfect' event, it definitely was THE BEST that possibly could have been. Just like our blogs should be as Jeff Bullas was quoted saying on the first day of his session. Also, just like life.

And that’s the reason why I got this post together, the BNLF I have described in this post is how my heart will always remember BNLF as… as a bundle of warm moments and memories that she gifted me with, wrapped in a ribbon of love and laughter.

I'm incredibly happy and grateful to all the speakers and bloggers for their inspiration and to IndiBlogger for providing the platform for making this possible.

* All pictures except my paper-pencil and the art picture are sourced from IndiBlogger.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My Idea of a Selfie and how YOU can capture it too!


'How do you spell 'love'? – Piglet
You don't spell it... you feel it. - Pooh'
~ A.A. Milne

The other day I was watching some videos and stumbled upon this one by ASUS Zenfone Selfie #DonateaSelfie -

A LOT can happen over a selfie!

I LOVED the video. It tickled my heart. Just to set the record straight – I am not your (typical) selfie person. I am a person who is most comfortable behind the camera not in front of it. But, I am very much a love person. I am all for everything that talks of spreading joy, happiness and cheer amongst each other.

Isn't this thought SO Zen?

After all, the source of that light that shines within all of us is to love and be loved. Everyone is working and wishing for that, because happiness is really the core, the fodder on which we thrive like an algae thriving on sunlight.

Best part, love is independent of the environment we are in. So where are you – at home, in office, on the road? Happiness just doesn't care. Happiness just does its job. Of linking people with one another. Through the heart and the soul. Through the emotions that make us laugh and sometimes, also cry. Binding us all together in a bond that goes beyond every boundary of caste, age, religion, sex, gender. Binding the world together As One. As one BIG family.

While all these thoughts raced in my head while watching the video and after, I thought to myself of all the ways in which I have learnt to share happiness while travelling with my world family, off and on the road, and bagged precious moments of happiness, love and joy in return… Here is a little 'selfie' peek-a-boo from My Yatra Diary... featuring portrait photographs of people I have met and shared my little bundle of joy with.

To think of it, these simple acts borne out of love have cost me nothing but have given me so much of content and satisfaction that these moments can never be traded for any material pleasures or luxuries. Just like those heart-warming smiles in the video. Where a seemingly simple act of donating a selfie creates such an impact. It’s a wave of emotion that cuts across all boundaries and floods the gates of the heart...

The little treasures that I never want to leave...

A little girl is ecstactic to offer a pose

Cheerful smiles that never fade away ...

A girl smiles after receiving a souvenir, Japan

The unburdened, unbridled, raw laughter that chimes in the heart of the silent deserts...

A wandering nomad, banjara woman on the road in Rajasthan

The hope that twinkles in the big round eyes...

A little boy jotous on being clicked, Hare Krishna Temple

The deep rooted simplicity that plants a seed of joy in my heart...

A tai works in the fields in a village in Maharashtra

Where are you in the selfie, Arti? you may ask.

Well... look deep, in their eyes,
and you'll see my-self(ie) is reflected there.

A LOT can happen over a selfie..
One of them is... Love.
Love... that is beautiful to express and even more beautiful to feel.

Try it.
Share a part of your self with someone today.
Share love, donate a selfie!


PS: You can check out and buy your Zenfone Selfie from flipkart here.

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