Glory be to Krishna 7

During my stay in Helsinki, I went to the ISKCON temple there, on a particular weekend. I was in for a surprise (which comes later). Before reaching the temple, I got accosted by a man who told me that he was from Zambia, the immigration office was closed and he, his wife and kid (in pram) had not eaten and needed money. Had I been in India, I would have not even reacted to the story (leave alone believing it) and just walked off. But being in Helsinki, where ppl don’t even know what crime is and what theft is, I did as a Finn would. I took out all change I had (little more than 2€) and gave it to him. I got some god-bless-you’s and I considered it as my good deed for the day before going to the temple. After walking a little further, I checked to see if that guy was ‘duping’ someone else or rather asking someone else for something. I couldn’t see him, so gave him the benefit of doubt.
The ISKCON temple
Before this time, I had never been to the temple earlier. I had a rough idea of the location, but then in Helsinki, temples dont “look like” temples. It’s a regular apartment in which ppl have established an ISKCON temple. There’s nothing fancy or remotely religious about it. The architecture is not lavish as a temple’s but as normal as a typical apartments’. There is absolutely no indication whatsoever, unlike the multiple inescapable ones in India, that a house in there, houses a temple. There’re no prasad walas, no phool walas, no stalls to collect ones footwear, no street kids eyeing the prasad and of course absolutely NO crowd and NOT a sound. You look for it, the way you would look for any other apartment in Helsinki – by referring to an address and a map. You announce your arrival by ringing a door bell and talking on the intercom. I must add, while referring to a map in Helsinki or even other European countries, one needs to keep in mind the fact that odd numbers are on one side of the street and even ones are on another. A lot of ppl get confused about where the number in between disappeared. This is something many foreigners don’t realise even after having stayed there for months. Of course in India, you rarely have any numbers or addresses for a temple. They are just known by word of mouth according to the devotion of the local population.This temple has a special pooja on Sundays and a feast (langar) after that. This is enough for us desis in desperate search of Indian food. So on this particular weekend, I set out looking for the temple at Ruoholahdenkatu 24 D 3rd floor, Helsinki. I expected things to be quite different, but the only way to realise how different they are, is to actually experience them. As I entered the temple, I saw extremely fair, slim, blonde ppl dressed in orange robes. Now that is quite a contrast to a typical pundit we see at temples. If nothing else, at least the hair colour is different. Seeing blonde “bodis” around me really amused me. The next was the speech. They were of course talking in Finnish or English and whatever little Hindi was uttered, sounded like a foreign language.Lord Krishna The bhajans were accompanied by music which either made them sound like a rock band performance or christian ballads! There were lots of female devotees too. They were wearing sarees! Though, they were clad in sarees their modern outlook was evident too. Almost all of them had worn a tanktop or a t-shirt instead of a blouse. The 1 or 2 who had worn an actual saree blouse, had chosen a total mismatch in colour probably because of the understandable dearth of blouses in their wardrobe. For a lot of them the petticoat was not just peeping out from under the saree, but also raising a full eyebrow! The quality of the sarees was nothing great. They certainly looked like they had been bought from a roadside shop in Janpath. Add to it trendy makeup, pierced eyebrows and navels, tatoos on the back or arm or anywhere else, and you have an idea of what the female devotees looked like. At least we didnt have any funny coloured hair ones. Even small little girls maybe 5-6 years in age, were dressed in similar “sarees”. All the devotees had a tikka on their forehead which is pretty unlike a tikka I had ever seen earlier in India. This tikka doesnt stay on the middle of the forehead. Instead it looks like it slipped under and starts from just above the bridge of the nose and goes down till the middle of the nasal bone! But that’s probably the way ISKCON devotees put a tikka. (Nothing Finnish about it). All the Finnish devotees had adopted Indian names like “Prasad”, “Radha Swami” etc. which was again quite amusing.
The aarti started at 4pm and proceeded till 5:30pm, during which there was something similar to a “hi-tech pravachan”. The priest used a laptop, projecting some pictures of temples or holy abodes in India. He also recorded the “pravachan” through an mp3 player. In all the sessions that I attended later, it was very interesting to hear about Lord Krishna from a foreigner point of view. One thing was clear. This was no serious spiritual talk or a do’s/dont’s list. It was more of a narration of fables which were somehow extremely spChant and sway with Hare Rama Hare Krishnaicy in nature rather than holy, probably because Lord Krishna is a “fun” god. He had all the naughtiness a child could possibly have. He flirted with the gopis. He enjoyed with this friends. He even stole butter. This probably lends a certain affability to the God rather than him appearing inaccessible, with a larger than life “please-me-if-you-can” image. At the end of the “pravachan” would be a lot of song and dance. All devotees would raise their arms up towards the sky and chant “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” and sway with the rhythm. The atmosphere gets really charged up. In the end one would put in some donation in the “daan paatra”, obviously in foreign currency and get down to eating an Indian meal which tastes quite quite (this isnt a typo) different.
On Janmashtami, the temple organised a proper Pooja, with contributions from a lot of the Indian, Nepali and Finnish population. A proper “ranga rang karyakram” was arranged, where a skit with a baby Lord Krishna was enacted out. Only the baby looked a little African with that curly hair and Yashodha was blonde. After the usual pravachan, chant, dance, meal session, the devotees went out into the streets as a procession. They carried with them a couple of photos of Lord Krishna, and chanted the “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna” chant. I have never seen such a thing, even in India. Or maybe I wasn’t looking. Irrespective of whether one finds it hohum or Soham, one certainly would agree with the way the priest there chants. “Glory be to Krishna”.

Sky watch 9

When I came to Finland, the land of the midnight sun, 4 months back (yeah time sure flows by), all I could see was days and days on end, hardly ever night. The sun would be gleaming bright in our eyes beyond 10:30pm in the “night” and we would be sporting goggles. The “night” or rather a period of almost complete dimming of light (which never really resulted in a black night); in other words twilight, was barely 2 hours long from 1-3 am or so. Sleeping was a pain. Thick curtains was the only way out. Midnight in LaplandStill being the light sleeper that I am, I would wake up at 4am, 5am etc. only to discover that it was still “night”. The scientific term for this would be “white night“. It took me about a month and a half to see the nightsky at all. Civil twilight is supposed to last throughout summer in regions outside Arctic circle but above 60 degrees North. As a result, the nights are never dark and black. Whereas in India, immediately after sunset, the night takes over instantly, since the length of the twilight is heavily influenced by the lattitude. I had almost started to forget what stars in the night twinkled like. The first time I spotted a star here, which then appeared to be something bright perched on the top of a tree, it was *so* bright and twinkling, that I actually thought there was a sparking going on up there. I would regularly go out for late night walks all the time. At 12am I would set out and get a glimpse of the gradually darkening sky with its various hues. Something like that is unimaginable back home in India. Both geographically and socially. But then I had to be out. After all it was twilight.
It took me another couple of weeks, before I saw the moon out here. Again, the first time I saw it, I didn’t realise what I was looking at. It seemed to merge with the bright street lights at first. Suddenly I realised that this light had a slightly different shape and colour than the regular streetlight.By the moon and the stars and the sky Now I know why they call it a pie in the sky. The moon is BIG and with just that crescent which makes it appear as if someone has hung it out there. I could see why fairy tales depict the sun and the moon in the same frame, as if they coexist! I saw that it is exactly that way here…the sunset doesn’t exactly vanish into the black, inky darkness when the moon is already out with bright little stars. The whole sky seems to be divided into two – one having the aftereffects of a sunset, the other having a black night with a moonrise and twinkling stars.
The sun and the moon both, appear to follow slightly different paths than what we are used to (in India). The sun is never overhead. It cuts a low arc and is mostly near the horizon. Near the North pole, in fact, it is supposed to go around in a circle and never set actually (in the summers). Because of it being so close to the horizon, it’s *really* dazzling, though we are quite used to (in India), the sun being a pinkish-orange ball when it’s that close to the horizon. Again, the moon seems to oscillate up and down in the sky at least back home but not so here. It lies pretty low in the sky and never have I observed so far, the pronounced up and down oscillation (akin to a person nodding his head) in these parts of the world.
AnotherAurora Borealis phenomenon quite common around the Arctic circle is the Aurora Borealis or the Northern lights. So far, I have not been lucky enough to get a glimpse, though I have been monitoring solar activity on and off. Hopefully I shall see something when I go to the Arctic circle soon.
With time, of course the days started getting shorter (technically after the midsummer eve). About a month or so back, they reached normalcy (according to what I have been used to in India). Though, I noticed that the days were receding *quite* fast. Each day, the sunrise is about 3 minutes later and sunset, 3 minutes earlier. That would mean that on an average we are losing 6 minutes per day. That means that in a month, we would be short by 3 hours! It’s already quite weird to have a sunrise at 8:15am or so. Soon it would be as dark as night at 9am. *shudder*. I am used to seeing a bright moon in the sky at 5pm in the evening courtesy my stint in Japan, but am not used to it being dark in the mornings also. If one outstretches ones thumb and index finger to the maximum and takes them to be the length of the day and then joins them together gradually, it would depict the way the days are getting shorter and the nights are gaining in. Eventually, there would be no “day” left at the point where the thumb meets the index finger. Technically this would happen completely at the Arctic circle, not Helsinki. It seems there’re a lot of seasonal depression related ailments that happen in Scandinavian countries due to the “no light” factor. I hope to be out before the thumb meets the index finger!

A day in Gamla Stan (old town) 7

The next morning, by the time we woke up, we could see that we had already entered the archipelago of Sweden and the ship was just skirting around zillions of small little islands to reach Stockholm, the capital. After quickly freshening up, and grabbing a pizza slice yet again, we again rushed to the sun deck to catch a glimpse of the slightly different looking panorama. The buildings lookedApproaching Stockholm similar (to Finland) from a distance. As the port came closer, ppl rushed towards the exits. The cruise staff had taken pictures of everyone while entering the ship and had displayed them for ppl to make it theirs for an exhorbitant sum. Yet, we all indulged and took a copy each of the rather silly looking pictures because after all, one doesnt go to Stockholm on a cruise everyday. The large crowd did what was expected. Due to us being such a large no of ppl in the group (8), and each one being at a different location when the ship touched land, we all got separated for some time. Six of us managed to find each other outside at the Viking line terminal but two duds got so late, that we missed the bus tour which left from the terminal once a day. Eventually we took local transport (had already converted to local currency – Swedish Kronor – in Helsinki) to the city railway station. From there, we took an open top, double decker, hop on-hop off bus, the sorts that Shah Rukh Khan has crooned and kareened in, in many movies.
The open top, hop on-hop off bus
The plus point of these was that one could get off at any stop in between, visit the place and then hop on again into any of the later buses. It also had headphones for an individual audio tour in many languages, which gave a commentary about the various places being passed by. Thus, we passed by the cultural centre and Sweden house. We got down to see the famous Vasa Museum, which is a museum built around a ship. This ship was made in early 17th century and on the day of its maiden voyage, in all splendour, the ship sank, the moment it set sail (in 1628). A case of bad design it seems. The ship was salvaged in 1961 and a museum was built, after restoring the worlds only 17th century ship to what it would have looked like then. We were told that our exorbitant “hop on – hop off” bus ticket included free admission to almost all museums, but that was not the case. Thereafter the hop on – hop off bus got coined as the hop on, hop off and f**k off bus.
Eventually we checked out Vasa museum from outside. There was another museum nearby which we went to and then waited to hop on again, since we didnt have much time in Stockholm either. We passed by City hall, where the Nobel prize banquet is held every year, the opera and some theatres. We also passed by the open air museum (Skansen) and the amusement park – Grona Lund, where we were entitled to free rides (for sure this time). But since we didnt have time, we didn’t venture there. Next we got down at the Royal Palace, where we asked a rather stern looking guard when the “change of guard” would occur. Luckily we were just in time for that ceremony. We found some spots which provided a good view of the ceremony (yours truly being in front of a mob in full camerawoman style). The change of guard at the Royal PalaceThe “change of guard” was a typical formal, military affair and nice to watch. Immediately after the ceremony got over, the military band broke into ABBA’s “Dancing queen” much to our surprise! After the change of guard, the new guard at the entrance was a rather cute looking young chap, with whom yours truly got a picture clicked. Unfortunately he looked more like a stiff mannequin than a real human being. By the time we got free from this place, it was already past lunchtime and all of us wanted to grab some lunch. We again hopped on into the f**k off bus and got off at the stop no 9 (Sightseeing boats) and went to the Central station once more (stop 13), this time on foot. Everyone had something at Burger King with the exception of yours truly who had Thai food. After a sumptuous meal, we were barely left with just enough time to walk back to the Viking line terminal in time to board the ship on time. The hop bus would have taken a complete circle of the whole town and that would have been too late.
A narrow cobblestoned street
The best way to see a place is anyway peripatetic. So we gathered our maps and our bearings and walked our way to the ship. On the way back, we went by the narrow cobblestoned streets of Gamla Stan, saw the sparkling water all around and the various ships and tours available to the Viking village. I personally didn’t find much difference in Stockholm and Helsinki. The architecture seemed the same due to the Swedish influence in Finland. Only the signs were not bilingual but only in Swedish this time. The same brands and the same stores are in both places. I didn’t even feel as if I visited another country due to the seamless integration of EU. The only difference is that Sweden doesn’t use the Euro as its official currency, otherwise everything else seems the same. A few things reminded me of back home though. For some reason a lot of the crowd in the cruise consisted of Bangladeshis. Also, surprisingly there were tongas being used in Gamla Stan! One of my colleagues even distorted Gamla Stan to gamlistan and then to gulistan.

Here’s a nice bird’s eye view of Stockholm. It has overhead videos and is really like flying to that place.

After getting into the ship, once again it was some more of the sun deck The beautiful skyfollowed by some more music, dance and drinks, since it got quite cloudy instantly. There were lots of pets on board and I met a couple of them. Pendo and Jerry were two of the dogs I met. Pendo is an Alsatian, known as German Shepherd in this part of the world. The ship even had a pet’s corner. On the return trip, we had the tax free shopping to take care of. I bought loads of chocolates. We also had the karoake bar to try again. But this time again, by the time we got to the karaoke bar, the timings were already over. We went exploring the lower decks of the ship which were meant for the cars and other vehicles. Unfortunately, we were imagining them to be Taking a lift from the shipin some large yard kind of thing, but it wasnt like that. We couldn’t see anything except for endless rows of cabins. We also visited the Sauna centre and managed to take a peek in as it was closing down for the night. After partying for some part of the night, we retired slightly early as we had to get to our workplace, straight from the terminal the next day. The next morning, 8 weary travellers got off at the Viking Line terminal at Helsinki, tired, hungry and pleased.

Finally! 14

I finally got to see the event as I wanted – on the eve of the closing ceremony. After scouring the venue for 2 days we finally got the tickets of the closing ceremony (14th Aug) for D-upper section (originally 155€) in 35€. Now I can pat my back for my bargaining skills. We ultimately sat in the D-lower section (since our seats were already occupied!) which suited us even better. The calculated risk, that we took by waiting for the closing ceremony and not watching the event before that was not really needed. We expected much fanfare for the closing (like in the opening ceremony) but all that happened was ‘victory ceremonies’ – in other words, medal distribution. Had India been there somewhere, it would have made sense.The Indian flag along with others
It seems that even a country like Finland unexpectedly has its own market of ‘tickets in black’. Only these tickets are not costlier than the officially available ones (like in India), instead they are cheaper, but not very. Some agents were even selling them at the same rates as the official ticket stalls! It all depends on the date, the timing at which *you* buy it and the date/timing for which you want it, the section of the stadium (in which one wanted tickets) and then of course ones bargaining skills. These agents seemed to be foreigners too. Moroccans to be precise. That’s what I learnt when I asked a couple of them where they were from. One of them wished me ASAK and I responded back instantly as if I had been doing it all my life. Another asked me how long it took for my hair to grow ‘that’ long and labeled me as ‘the lady with the long hair’ for the next 2 days.
Watching this kind of an event was great. It was a first for me inside a stadium as I am not a sports freakThe new world record for women's javelin throw anyway (I detest cricket even more so because it’s fed so much to us Indians in our daily diet). It was also a first for even an event of that magnitude! I saw a world record happening in front of my own eyes and not on the camera for a change. Osleidys Menéndez from Cuba made this world record. It was amazing, seeing that particular javelin throw. The javelin just didn’t stop and went on and on along with the collective “ohhhh’s” of the audience and finally landed outside the last boundary line made for javelin throws. I don’t have any shots of that. But I don’t regret that. At times, one forgets to enjoy the experience in a bid to capture that moment forever. Some irony.
Even though I have seen on TV that more than one events take place at the same time, it was weird with so many happening at the same time that one had to instantly switch ones vision (as if channels) from one point of the stadium to another. At times people kept concentrating on the wrong end for eg. at the introducton being given for a men’s 4X400m final instead of where the real action was happening at that point (women’s javelin throw).
A teary eyed winner of the women's final racing event
Apart from the games, I saw just how much pressure all players face. I also saw the glistening pride on the faces of the winners. Whenever any medal awarding ceremony took place, the flag of the nation which stood first, was hoisted and the national anthem played. Many a time, tears of joy would silently be overtaken by the evident pride.
My only regret – I could not cheer for India.

IAAF World Athletics Championships in Helsinki 11


This was one of the events responsible for a lot of personal misery to me (and my colleagues) unfortunately. No, I am not a sports fanatic at all. But it’s strange to note, how such external factors do affect us still. I had to arrange for an apartment for myself within the first 3 weeks of arriving in Finland. We had been told it’s not really difficult. But when we started searching, we were just not able to get *any* apartment available in the time period that we wanted. Even though the time period was supposedly the best, since in summers, a lot of apartments get vacant as the majority of the population goes off to a summer cottage, we faced major problems in finalising an apartment. Whatever little was available was at greatly hiked prices. I remember one chap was renting out his place only for the week in which the IAAF World Championships had to take place in Helsinki and he expected 2000€ for it! Outrageous by any real estate standards! Well the woes can make up a long post in themselves maybe later.

For now, the world championships are taking place out here. Helsinki is all geared up for the event. As can be expected, there is much fanfare, tourist friendly schemes, escalation in real estate and a good business opportunity for people. Suddenly there is a major influx of ‘foreigners’ in the local transport and on the streets. It feels good to be not the only ones, who do not understand Finnish/Swedish. Initially we thought that India isn’t taking part in these events as there was just no information anywhere in the Indian media (on the net). Finally on visiting the venue, we managed to spot the Indian flag and later we learnt that Anju Bobby George was taking part in the long jump event (She had won the bronze in the same games held in Paris in 2003). She stood 5th in the event this year inspite of the bad weather. (Later she would get upgraded to Gold medalist status due to other winners being disqualified)  The weather conditions were *really* bad for the past few days and literally dampened our plans to watch this event. So far, I have not been able to watch the event. But will surely try to, in the 2 more days that the event is on. Even if India wasn’t participating we all would have loved to use this opportunity to make a first, as far as watching a sports event in a stadium is concerned.

There are a lot of other activities which go on outside the stadium, for eg. marathons, fun games for free in which one can win prizes ranging from small badges and caps to passes of a cruise! I tried my hand at these games and collected a lot of small stuff (badges, pens, caps) but no cruises passes unfortunately. I also got my face painted with the Indian tri-colour! For once I won’t face a problem of my nationality being mistaken.