Monday, November 8, 2010

CHAPTER-23 (1996 – 1998) VISIT TO CHAR DHAM

                                         Chapter 23
                                         1996 – 1998
STINT AT KURLON BANGALORE
In 1996 Mr. Rao was Chairman of Kurlon Limited the market leader in the manufacture and sale of mattresses in India.   Kurlon had a computerised system of accounting, developed in-house. Mr. Rao felt that the system was not generating the reports required by the Management for decision making.  I was asked to help in the design and implementation of a Management Information System for the Company as a part_time consultant.   I had to attend the office 3 days a week and the timing was flexible. I was offered a monthly fee of Rs. 7500 and conveyance allowance of Rs. 100  a day on the days I attended office. 
The Finance Manager of the Company was earlier with Steelco Gujarat Limited and so we were acquaintances.  We decided to install a good accounting and inventory management package with good report generation facilities. After evaluating a few off-the-shelf accounting packages we zeroed in on Pro-fit, a software package developed by Blue-chip Solutions of Bangalore, for accounting and inventory applications. The package could be customised by the user to meet his requirements.  Customisation and implementation of the package took almost six months. I was involved in the creation of a common Accounts Tree, templates for data entry, numbering schemes for  vouchers,  additional fields in master and transaction files and formats for transaction documents like invoices, goods inward notes, receipt and payment vouchers etc. I wrote a manual explaining the basic accounting entries to be made at the Branches for different types of transactions. Another manual was written  to explain the basic operations and options available in the software package.  The personnel  involved in  data entry at the branches  were given hands-on training in the use of the software package. 
Kurlon had more than 60 branch offices spread all over India and it was quite a task to implement the package and train the staff in all the locations. The software package was introduced, after the customisation process, in the financial year 1997-1998 replacing the manual or partly computerised system at the branches and the Head Office.  The first year was full of teething problems which had to be solved.  It took one full year before the operators at the branch offices became familiar with the software and could enter data free from  errors or omissions.
Every month the branches copied the complete database ( set of files used by the system to store data) at their location and sent it to the Head Office at Bangalore where they were copied to the hard disks of the computer which functioned as the server of a network of computers.  The set of data from each branch was copied to a separate directory (folder) reserved for that branch on the hard disks of  the server.
The data from all the branches had to be consolidated to generate company level reports.  This process was painfully slow in the software package.  The data from each branch had to be processed separately.  Then the individual outputs had to be merged to produce company-level reports. We could overcome these problems by writing programs in FoxPro or dBase IV to   process the data contained in the data files created and maintained by the software package.  Programs were written to access data  relating to each branch from its folder (directory),  one by one,  and simultaneously aggregate the relevant figures,  thus drastically reducing the time for production of  company level reports.  Since there were no good programmers with experience I myself wrote a few hundred programs, both regular and ad-hoc,  for generating corporate level reports during my tenure with Kurlon from June 1996 to December 2006
I used to commute the distance of 8 KM to the office on a motorbike. This distance went up by another 4 kilometres when I shifted to the new house built by my second son in September 2001.   I had developed the habit of mentally reciting Vishnusahasranama (the thousand names of Vishnu) while riding to the office.  I believe that on a few occasions I had escaped fatal accidents by the breadth of a hair because of the protective power of the names of the Lord.
WORLD VISION, CHILD SPONSORSHIP AND CRY
During 1996-97 I  sponsored a  child under the Child Sponsorship scheme of World Vision of India.  The sponsorship amount was  Rs. 3600 annually or Rs. 300 monthly.  I made annual payments.  As a sponsor I was given a special partner number  982262.  My sponsored child was Adilaxmi born on 27/06/89 and was in the Hyderabad Urban Area Development Project  of World Vision India.  She lived with her parents. Her father was employed in a low wage job.  It was hardly enough to provide for his family.  Adilaxmi’s mother stayed at home caring for her family.  The sponsorship assisted the child and the family through education and self-help projects, so that children would have a healthy environment to grow up in.  It was also a way of sharing hope, health and most of all love with a needy child.  
After a few years the sponsorship was transferred to Dhanalakshmi another child in one of the areas taken up for development by World Vision India.  I had also been donating for the education of children through CRY (Child Relief and You).  CRY was not directly involved in child relief but it was financially supporting NGOs working for child welfare out of donations collected.
I firmly believed that
“Little drops of water and little grains of sand
Make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land”

If every one contributed whatever little they could to organisations working for the welfare of children it could change the lives of many children.  It is a sad commentary on our system of governance that,  even after sixty years,  forty percent of our people are not able to enjoy two square meals a day  and those in this economic stratum,  especially women and children, are grossly under- nourished.  The skewed distribution of the resources have brought about  a situation where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.     
At the time of his father’s death in 1988, my nephew had enrolled for the Institution of Engineers  Section A  examination.  But he had varied interests, language and literature, philosophy and psychology and the performing arts.  After his father’s death he  had pursued his studies by Correspondence from the Annamalai University and got himself a Masters in Psychology.  He used to write the script and direct socially relevant plays in Tamil.  He had trained as a Yoga teacher and had conducted short term courses for groups of foreigners. He had also done a course in counselling.  
Initially, in 1990,  my nephew had joined the Indian Railways in a white-collar job  at the Integral Coach Factory, Perambur.  Subsequently he had cleared the examination conducted for the selection of assistants in the Central Secretariat and had been posted to the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi in 1993.  His mother did not have a congenial atmosphere in Delhi and had intermittent  bouts of depression.  Language was a major problem for her.  She had to undergo surgery for a fractured tibia (shinbone) in November 1996 at a Delhi hospital  and my wife had been there to lend a helping hand.  My nephew took good care of his mother.  By March 1997 he got himself posted to the Staff Selection Board of the Ministry of Home Affairs at Chennai. 
VISIT TO MUSCAT
My wife and I flew to Muscat in the first week of July 1998 to accompany our daughter-in-law and her new-born baby.  She had come to India for her delivery and was going back to Muscat to join her husband.  We had to collect our Visas at the Airport before we went through the immigration formalities at Muscat.  Muscat is one of the best places to stay in the Middle East.  It is not crowded like Dubai.  There are lots of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.  Everywhere you go you can speak in Hindi. Even among Indians the common language is Hindi or English.  You do not feel you are in an alien land.  The Sultan is interested in the welfare of his subjects and he pays  lot of attention to education and employment of the locals.  The country has made big strides in infrastructure.   Hindus can practise their religion in the confines of their homes or in public places like temples.  There is the Krishna temple run by the Gujarati community which is a place not only for praying to the Lord but also for social and cultural meets.  There is also an ancient Siva temple.  Hindus can freely gather in one of their homes for bhajans or religious discourses.  There is tension-free atmosphere.  Fanaticism is conspicuous by its absence.  Fridays are holidays in Oman.  Thursday evenings and Fridays were occasions for meeting and outing in groups.   There were beaches, hills and other places where you could spend the weekly off from work. Evenings we used to go shopping. Because of the heat the house was air-conditioned and the car had also A/C.  Only from the car to the supermarket you are exposed to the heat of the summer. 
We travelled by bus(coach) to Salala in the south from Muscat.  This place gets rains and is called Mini Kerala because of the banana and coconut trees. We covered the distance of 1000KM in a night’s journey.  We got plantain leaves and other items from Salala for the annaprasana  ceremony of our newly-born grandson.  The ceremony itself  was performed at the Krishna temple under the guidance of one of the priests there. I returned to Bangalore by the first week of August.  My wife completed three months allowed by the visa and came back only  in October 1998
 In August  1998 my eldest cousin passed away at the age of 83.  Only two years back my wife and I had attended his Sataabhishekam. The  end came without warning.   He had finished his morning chores and was relaxing on a chair.  He told his wife to bring him coffee  and also to the seven guests who had come.   In fact no guests had come and his wife understood that it was only a visualisation by her husband.   She perhaps had a premonition of what was to happen.  By the time she came with a cup of coffee he had breathed his last  and  his face reflected supreme peace.  My sister-in-law could not control herself.  She was beside herself with grief.  It took some time for her to become her normal self. Then she became nostalgic and talked about the days when as a newly married bride she had lived with us and how my cousin used to visit her at week-ends.  I was pleasantly surprised when she showed me a notebook in which,  as a boy of nine years, I had written a few hymns in Malayalam script for her to read.  She had been keeping that notebook safely for sixty years.  After my cousin’s death they found a diary in which he had written details of what happened each day and  about his feelings which he rarely shared with any one during his lifetime.  The after-death rituals were, as usual, spread over 12 days followed by the auspicious rituals and the feast of the 13th  day.
VISIT TO CHARDHAM
In September 1998 my son-in-law had arranged a pilgrimage to the Chardham , the four holy places consisting of Kedarnath,Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri.   His wife, two daughters aged seven and three years respectively, his mother and one of his widowed aunts ( his eldest uncle’s wife) past sixty were to accompany him.  I joined them at Trichur at the request of my son-in-law.  We travelled by train up to Dehi.  One day we stayed at a relative’s house.  Early morning next day we started on our journey by a van in which all of us were packed in addition to one cook, one helper and two as tour operators.   We passed through Haridwar and Rishikesh and started climbing the mountains. The driver of the van had to be very alert since the path was narrow and with sharp bends at many places.  The scenery was breathtaking with the mountain slopes on one side and the Bhagirathi,  with her     crystal clear,  sparkling  waters flowing deep down the valley on the other side.  The feel of fresh unpolluted air on one’s  face was an exhilarating experience.  We passed through Deva Prayag where Bhagirathi is joined by Alaknanda.  Still ahead was Rudra Prayag which is the confluence of Alaknanda coming from Badrinath and Mandakini  from Kedarnath.  We spent some time here savouring the natural beauty of the confluence of these two rivers.  From here we passed through Gaurikund on the way to Kedarnath.  The last  14 kilometres to the shrine had to be traversed by trekking. 
A three to four  feet  wide path for  trekking,  with the mountain on one side and the deep valley on the other side,  is not something for the faint-hearted. We hired two dolies carried by four persons each for my son-in-law’s mother and his aunt.  We also hired three ponies one for me, one for my son-in-law and his seven-year-old daughter and the third one for my daughter and my three- year-old grand daughter.  My daughter was struggling to keep her balance on the pony,  holding her daughter in the front.  I takes about three hours to traverse the 14 KM stretch by pony.  By doly it takes about 4 hours.  Trekking will take about 6 hours.    All along the way the pilgrims were chanting the name of Lord Siva. After reaching the summit we offered worship at the shrine of Kedarnath. We enjoyed the natural scenery at the place with the lofty mountains appearing to touch the sky.   My son-in-law was in a hurry to move on.  The older women were already feeling tired.  The descent from the shrine on the pony was more difficult as regards balancing oneself.  In one place I fell from the pony but it was on the side of the mountain. If I had fallen in the valley side only my bones could have been picked.  My daughter holding her little daughter was desperately struggling to keep her balance.  The guide holding the reins of the pony  was trying to put her at ease.  After 4 hours we reached the bottom where our van was waiting to pick us up.  We heaved a sigh of relief and  started on our journey towards Badrinath which we reached in the evening. 
The temple at Badrinath is dedicated to Narayana an aspect of Vishnu the Sustainer of the Universe.  In days of yore Nar and Narayan did severe penance at Badarikasram.  By turns they were doing tapas  and fighting the asura sahasrakavacha.   While one did tapas the other fought and vice versa.  Indra wanted to distract them from their tapas and sent his most beautiful apsaras. By the power of his tapas  Narayana created Urvasi who was much more beautiful than the damsels sent by Indra.  Thus Indra was beaten at his own game.
 At Badrinath is the Mutt established by Sankara and the system of worship in the shrine is laid down by him.   Traditionally the Chief Priest  is  a Namboodiri from Kerala. Sankara himself must have made this arrangement.   The Chief Priest performs  archana chanting the one hundred and eight names of Krishna. While we were there he answered a few questions from the people visiting the shrine.  One question was whether women can chant the Vedic mantras, especially Omkar.   He answered in the negative.  But in ancient times  there used to be vedic scholars like Gargi and Maitreyi.  The bar against the chanting  of Vedic mantras by women must have come long after the Vedic period. Next morning my son-in-law and I performed rituals to propitiate our ancestors at the banks of the Alaknanda.  We had darshan again of Badri Narayan.  After breakfast we set out towards Gangotri and reached there by evening.  We stayed there for the night and had ritualistic bathing in the Ganga.  My son-in-law and one of the tour operators went to Gomukh which is considered as the starting point of Ganga.  By the time they came back it was late in the evening.  Next morning we travelled towards Yamunotri believed to be the starting point of the river Yamuna.  Here also we had to hire ponies and dolies as at Kedarnath but the distance to be covered was only about 7 KM.  There was a hot spring at the top of the hill.  The water was so hot that if you dipped some rice tied in a piece of cloth it got cooked  in minutes.  We worshipped at the shrine and started our return journey towards Dehi.  We spent a day at Haridwar,  bathed in the Ganga and offered prayers at the different temples.  From Delhi we visited Agra and Fatehpur Sikri and returned to Trichur having completed the pilgrimage to the four holy places known as chardham.  In fact it was a whirlwind tour.  My son-in-law was driving us all never allowing us to take our own time to enjoy the natural beauty of each place we visited.
INTERNATIONAL BIOGRAPHIC CENTRE AND AMERICAN BIOGRAPHICAL INSTITUTE
In September 1998 I received a letter from the International Biographic Centre  (IBC) Cambridge inviting me to take my place amongst the pages of ‘ INTERNATIONAL WHO’S WHO OF INTELLECTUALS’ being published by them.  There was another letter from IBC in December 1998 which stated as follows:
“I am happy to enclose, for your exclusive use, details of THE TWENTIETH CENTURY AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT which I am honoured to offer you.  Your qualifications have been approved by our senior editors making you a candidate to receive this prestigious award”
A letter from American Biographical Institute, Inc. (ABI)   dated 13-11-1998  said  “ I am delighted to announce your nomination for the prestigious title MAN OF THE YEAR -  1998.  The Institute’s International Board of Research decided on your nomination due to your overall accomplishments and contributions to society”
Now I do not know how my name was selected  or who recommended it.   I did not  respond to these invitations for two reasons.  One, I could not afford the hefty sum I had to pay to get my name included. Two,   I  somehow had the feeling that all this was only a  money-making business.  To this day I am in the dark about who recommended my name.  In fact in the ABI letter they had stated ‘ You may recommend your colleagues for recognition in an ABI Who’s Who by completing the form overleaf’

MY BROTHER'S DAUGHTER GETS MARRIED
After joining his post in Chennai,  my nephew was seriously scouting for  a suitable match for his younger sister.  After graduation she had studied at NIIT and had held  successive positions in her alma mater as  faculty, group leader and research associate.  Until recently she had been working in Delhi and had returned to Chennai when her brother got a transfer to that city.  After extensive search and interviewing and probing into the antecedents of prospective grooms my nephew zeroed in on a boy who had a Master’s degree in Physics and was working as a marketing executive for a US company manufacturing and marketing  sophisticated instruments used  mainly in R & D labs.  Some of the public sector companies like HAL and BEML as well as Defence Establishments of the Government of India were customers.  At my nephew’s request my wife and I visited  the parents of the boy  at a place near Ernakulam some time in June 1998.  The groom had a well-paid job with a multinational company and the parents were decent people. We put our seal of approval on the marriage proposal.  The engagement ceremony was held in Chennai and  15th of November 1998 was fixed  as the date for solemnising the marriage.  My nephew was very particular that the absence of the father should not make any difference in the matter of getting a suitable match for his sister.  He had made meticulous arrangements for the marriage right from the marriage hall with comfortable accommodation for the groom’s party and other near relatives, decorations, catering, transport, invitations et al.  My wife and I performed the vedic rituals related to the marriage which  was well attended both for the main ceremony and lunch and for the party arranged in the evening.  All in all, it was a great success and the credit was entirely to my nephew,  though other relatives might have chipped in here and there.
******
C

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