Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Looking back on R day!

As India celebrates her 67th Republic Day today, I realized I have started to take the day for granted. It has become just a holiday and more importantly if it falls on Friday or Monday, then I end up planning a short trip. But I still watch the R day parade if I have an access to TV on that day.

But there was a time when it meant more. I grew up in an Assam where once Republic Day and Independence Day were celebrated with lot of vigor and enthusiasm and then a time came when these days were seen as days one should be extra cautious and at any cost avoid going out.

My earliest memory of R day is of my primary school in Dibrugarh. That was in mid 1980s. I remember getting up early and getting ready to go to school where Head Mistress would hoist the flag. All the children would gather and sing the national anthem and the state anthem.We would be home by 10 - 10.30 am and then father would take out the flag and put it up somewhere in our house. All the houses in the neighbourhood would have the flag flying from the window, at the terrace, on a pole near the garage! Then as the sun set, dad would pull down the flag and neatly fold it and keep it inside, again to be brought out on 15th Aug. Then in the late 1980s / early 1990s  the scene changed. The ULFA called for boycotting these "Indian days" celebrations and there would be a bandh called on those days. During those violent days of Assam, we stopped this practice of hoisting the national flag in our schools, colleges and homes. R Day and I Day were the days, pre and post which we had to be extra cautious, extra careful because there would be violence somewhere. A blast, may be few killings, a terror attack. When the nation everywhere else celebrated R day and I day, we spent those days inside our homes; strictly barred from venturing out. But everyone in the family would sit in front of TV and watch the R day parade each year. That continued for a long time and I still do that.

After many years in 2009 in our Guwahati home, we hoisted the flag on Independence day that year. In 2010 I moved to Mumbai. This practice is no longer there in our home in Assam. Not even in our home in Mumbai. Today while going for morning walk, I saw the Society next to the garden had made the arrangement for a flag hoisting ceremony and it made me look back at my childhood memories of R day. I need to get a flag before I day and hoist it. Just like that.

The Tri Colour on I day 2009 in Guwahati

Monday, January 11, 2016

A slice of the Orient in Mumbai

Second day of 2016 and a Saturday, ideally I would have preferred to be home and sleep to my hearts content.  But P had other plans and thus we were up at 6.00 am and headed to Mazgaon to explore an area of Mumbai which we were yet to explore. In P's filmy words " Let's check out the godi of Tiger and Bakhtawar!" ( For those uninitiated, he was talking about HUM, the 1991 Amitabh Bachchan, Danny Denzongpa film by Mukul Anand)

 P said that he had heard about a Chinese temple somewhere there near Dockyard Road station and wanted to go check that out. Honestly I had never heard about anything Chinese in Mumbai except for eating places and "Made in China" goods widely available everywhere. Thus we walked from the Our Lady of Rosary Church and towards the Mazgoan Dock. There in one of the quaint lanes lies a Chinese temple. To be specific, it is inside the Nawab Tank Road. It was still quite early and very few people were around. One morning walker asked us "2 curious looking tourists" what were we looking for. When we said the Chinese Temple, he pointed to a house right next to where we were standing. It's a Three storied house and on the second floor is the temple. You can't miss that bright red half door at the entrance of the house.

The Entrance
We pushed the door and entered. We faced a big door which was locked. Another door on the side opened and a man came out with a toothbrush in his mouth! When we asked about the temple, he asked us to go to second floor. We climbed the wooden staircase to the second floor and yeah, there was the temple but the door was closed. We waited for sometime confused in the company of Confucius and Fuk, Luk and Sau. Fuk, Luk and Sau are the three deities who represent Prosperity, Authority and Longevity. 
Fuk,Luk and Sau
We thought of coming back a while later hoping by then the door will be opened. While coming down we met a lady on the first floor. We asked about the temple and she gave us the keys to open and said " Sit and pray for as long as you want. But when you leave, please close the windows and lock the door again and give me the key."  Now that was a first. Opening the lock of a temple and entering with no one around! We opened the door and stepped inside. Both of us were awestruck for few seconds. Everything was bright red and there was something so pure so calm about it, that we could actually feel a sense of divinity. The fragrance of incense sticks hung in the air and that added to the whole atmosphere of the temple.
Opening the lock!

The Altar
General Kwan Tai Kwon
There is a hand written history of the temple. This temple is dedicated to General Kwan Tai Kwon a very just and fair Chinese warrior. This temple was set up by a group of Cantonese Hong Kong soldiers who worked for East India Company. Once upon a time there use to be a flourishing China town around that area. During the 19th Century, many Chinese came to work with the East India company and stayed in the Mazgaon Dock area. Most of them worked as Carpenters and many were engineers. Those people were mostly Cantonese migrants and they were called "See Yup". The building that houses the temple was named "See Yup Koon" after their native village. The 1962 Indo - China war saw many leaving the area and eventually leaving the country and now there are very few families around.

We chatted a little with the lady in the first floor, who said she was originally from Tengra , the famous China Town in Kolkata. It's been 40 years that she has been living in Mumbai. She politely declined our request for a photograph. We did not insist either.

The whole temple is in bright red because the Chinese consider red as the colour which brings fortune and joy.
Candles and Incense sticks

Joss Money
There were bunches of candles and incense sticks which one can light there. The Chinese have a tradition of burning "paper money or Joss paper" which they believe that the departed souls in the other world can use the money. The prices are mentioned against each item. The lady on the first floor had asked us to put the price ( if we bought any candle or incense sticks) in the donation box. We lit up candles and few incense sticks. P said "Let's burn some paper money too." We did that for our ancestors as a new year gift.
The wall next to the shrine is adorned with Bamboo sheets. You can know your fortune through these. Since we could not read Chinese and there was no one to read us our fortune, we had to be content with a photograph only.
Chinese Fortune Telling sheets
After about an hour we came to downstairs. The lady had showed us the keys for the temple at downstairs too. Again we opened the closed door on the ground floor. This was a temple dedicated to a princess who is considered a Bodhisattva. Here in the wall we could read the familiar Buddhist prayer " Om Mani Padme Hum". On the side of the wall, there is the hand written story of the Princess.

The temple downstairs

The Princess

Finally we came out of the house. Both I and P were silent for sometime as we both had been touched by something so surreal. Then P said that he would love to come back again and sit in the temple for sometime. It was so quiet; so serene ; as if we had found an oasis for our wearied souls.

While checking out on the internet for some information about the Chinese community in Mumbai, I came across this lovely short film "The Last of the Chinamen" by 101India .We did not meet the gentleman Mr. Liao Hung Hsing; but would surely love to meet this last of the china men in Mumbai someday soon.
Do check this film out. It's an eye opener I can guarantee.