Sunday, July 24, 2011

Humility Lessons from Flashback Moments

The previous weekend involved a visit to the town of Kanchipuram - famous the world over for its temples and silk saris. It was also one of the towns I grew up in. The purpose of the trip was to see the 15 Divya Desams, but I came back with a lot more. (Note: A number of websites explain Divya Desams in detail. Briefly, they are 108 shrines of Lord Vishnu eulogized by poet-saints called Azhwars in songs.) 

I have never been a big fan of seeing your childhood home or your primary school. Folks move, landscapes change & perceptions of the past never match reality. But I realized that sometimes, going back in time humbles you with the timelessness of certain places and teaches you how the world evolves.

Take the Kanchi Varadar Temple for example. Located under water in the temple tank is the shrine of the Athigiri Varadar from where the deity is brought out for worship & public display for 48 days every 40 years. A 6 year old kid (that's me) walking so close to the tank to see the deity thinks of the experience as super cool. It is only 32 years later when he sees the tank again does he sense the perspective that mere mortals get to see the idol just once or twice in their lifetimes, but such idols last centuries under water.

I have often wondered why India has so many temples. Well, it finally dawned on me that we Indians just build them. And once built, they grow on their own. In 1980, my neighbor (who was 9 years old) proposed that we kids place an idol of Lord Ganesha by the street corner opposite his home. None of us questioned why we needed the Lord at that location when the same Lord existed in a larger temple just 50 metres away. A kitty was built for procuring the idol. My contribution - as a 7 year old - was 25 paise (that is 0.54 cents folks, and no, that is NOT a typo). We sought ZERO legal permits from local authorities. Within a few weeks, the idol was placed. Well, fast forward 31 years later. Not only does the idol remain, but Lord Ganesha lives in better environs in exactly the same place.

Some childhood homes change. But when they remain exactly the same – including the number on the door – they evoke memories of an 8 year old prince who used to hold on to those designs on the wall to climb up and preside over his imaginary subjects on the ground below.

Renovations prevented me from entering the Canara Bank on Gandhi Street. If open, I would have walked in to tell the hapless manager that I have entered the bank's cash vaults multiple times in the early 80s and walked around piles of currency notes stacked on the floor. Of course he would have considered me a lunatic, but those were the pleasures that were accorded to the 9 year old son of a bank manager in those days.

But nothing prepared me for the visit to the stainless steel vessel store. We picked 4 plates and asked for the price. The lady placed them on a weighing balance and said “Rs. 105 for the big plates and Rs. 98 for the small ones”. It turns out that in Kanchipuram, a bustling town 90 kilometres from Chennai whose (telephone) area code is the same as that of Chennai (which means that it is practically a satellite township of the larger metropolis), steel vessels are sold by UNIT WEIGHT and NOT UNIT PRICE. The steel rate on that day was Rs. 275 per kilo. What a difference from Bangalore where the same plates would have gone for Rs. 250 per unit.I ask for a discount. 'None' she says. How about accepting a credit card? 'Only cash' is her response. 

Now I know why global recessions mean nothing for rural India. Cash is virtuous and 35:1 leverages are unheard of. The managers on Wall Street may laugh at the ways of Kanchipuram, but these small Indian towns show us that frugality and common sense handed down generations do this world a lot more good than those fanciful CDO and CDS instruments that the asses from Wall Street came up with. And may this essence of India remain for generations to come....


Nagesh Addepalli said...


I like to read your blogs as they are informative and give a different perspective.

Thanks for sharing!!

Nagesh Addepalli

Arun Kumar said...

Thanks Nagesh.