Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yamunotrii 2011, Austin, Samskrita Bharati Residential Camp

One seed is all that is required for a tree. One spark is all that is required for a raging wild fire. One thought is all that is required for success. Yeah, plus ofcourse that thing called passion.

Almost an year ago, Apr 2010, when Vasuvaj-ji mentioned about holding a Samskrita residential camp at Austin during summer that year, I was very skeptical. We do not have a big group here, we have so far been conducting only beginners classes and we do not have a solid presence compared to other Samskrita Bharati centers like Dallas, Houston, East coast or West coast. Personal life improvements and other commitments took over and the July camp did not happen. The yet-to-be-fire remained a pilot.

Around January 2011, the spark came again and this time, time was ready. The Yamunotrii team was formed with the kartyakarta-s of Austin, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and College Station. The place was decided to be Austin. There wasn't much choice except Barsana Dham, a picturesque setting in the Hill Country of Central Texas. We decided to check that place out. One unknown question among the Austinites was what to expect in a camp? Despite his extremely busy schedule, Dr. Venkat Raju from College Station came over and helped us set the expectations of rooms, classes, food etc. We were able to now somewhat visualize how the camp could be conducted there.

I had not been to any camps before and I just did not know what to expect. The Yamunotrii registration page was setup soon with several hours of work from Sri Madhu Pillai and his team of Sreyo. Yamunotrii was the first camp on the new version of Jhoomla. After several rounds of testing, the page went live on March 8th. I wasn't even the first to register, but it was Ajay from Raleigh. The registration started ticking on with a very slow progress.

Sleepless nights started with that. What if there are less than 50 people? What if there are 150+ people and there is no place for some to stay? What if we could not get enough teacher-to-student ratio? What if not many people from Austin itself come to the camp? What if it rains on that weekend? What if it is too hot? What if food is not enough? I had only questions and no answers.

One of the practical points that Hariharan brought up was even if people don't come to "learn" Sanskrita, they should atleast go back home saying that the food was good. Reminds me of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa's saying - education is not for empty stomach. There were several rules: Food should be from a vegetarian-only restaurant, no onion, no garlic (mainly sattvic), tasty, a lot of variety and most important of all - not expensive. Curry n Hurry was the only restaurant that met all the requirements and its owner Jinesh Gandhi did everything what we wanted. Though we could not get a sumptuous South Indian food -- I would have wished for a finger-licking rasam -- but we compensated with Uppma for Sunday morning breakfast. We set a few rules ourselves - alternate with appetizers and sweets, ensure coffee was available always, juice, cookies and ice-cream for kids. Thus came dhokla, spring rolls, gulab jamoons, mixtures and jahangirs. Vasudha bhaginI helped with Sanskrit-izing some of the food names to be displayed next to each food item.

We were lucky to have the best teachers visit the camp even though it was for only two days. Starting with Smt Shaaradaa Varadaraajan, Sowmya bhaginI, Vidya bhagini and then Govinda, Avinash and Murali mahodayaa: - we had an impressive list of teachers. And finally we roped in Naresh too (vaak.wordpress.com). When I mentioned this to Srikanth, he was like "Get outta here! I don't believe we are getting all those for the camp..."

The checkins went fine, most people arrived on time with Sudhee guiding them to rooms. After the dinner (everything starts after some food in the camp), the camp commenced with a prayer by Sowmya bhaginI. Govinda mahodaya gave the initial speech and later I welcomed everyone to Austin on behalf of Samskrita Bharati.

And then the first trouble started. Someone spotted a snake near the rooms. It was a bit of a flutter, but later it turned out to be a non-poisonous rat snake, but a snake is still a snake, whether you are going to call it sarpaH, nAgaH or even snake-mahodaya, it still scares you. But where there are peacocks, there are snakes. Such is life. And then we saw a huge lizard in the dining room. Later Srikanth killed 3 scorpions near the rooms. I did spot a few colorful lizards and birds. This place is wild!

On Saturday morning, students were up at 5:45 am, greeted by a very pleasant weather and a cool breeze. Morning Yoga with some recitation of Yoga sutras of Patanjali followed. After the bath, the smell of fresh coffee and a continental breakfast was awaiting in the dining room. And then it was just frenzy. Classes, breaks, vargaaH, katham asti bhavaan, bhojanam, classes, viraamaH, bhavaan kutra vasati, mixture, kakshyaa, jaangiri, aham kushalinI asmi, tea, more classes and finally at the end of the evening I could hear someone ask - "mama naama kim?". Whew.. what a crazy day it was!

The MVP (most-valued-person) of the camp, Anmol brought both the lunch and dinner for Saturday and Narendra helped with the arrangements. Meanwhile the bookstall was setup. Sarma became the official bookstore owner and with Sruti taking care of toddlers, I was finally able to sneak into one of the classes. Avinash mahodaya was teaching about chandas and gaNa. Binominal stuff, I mean, phenomenal stuff.

The evening manoranjana kaaryakramaM was presented by both kids and adults with several creative skits. Kids mimicking animals, a skit about which finger is the best finger, another called Dosa Dham, a dumb-charade in Sanskritam and finally an almost extempore skit adapting the Brahmin and The Tiger hitopadesha story to modern setting of Austin to Dallas, Rest Area, Google stocks, Chronicles of Narnia and Nigerian scam. That was total fun.

The next day began with a similar note, morning yoga followed by Uppma with chutney and sambar. The Barsana Dham lunch was sponsored by Samskrita Bharati for Sunday and quite a few volunteers came out and helped prepare the food. A couple of more classes and finally the closing ceremony honoring Smt Shaaradaa Varadaraajan for her years of service. She gave a wonderful speech ending with Samskritam rakShitam rakshati. It was already 12:45 and I could see the long queue for the lunch and I hurried a bit thanking every one. One final group photo, lunch and the camp was already over.

Just a few minutes before everyone were leaving, 8 year old Manisha came and asked me "When is the next camp? I would love to come again". And that I define as the success of the camp. Everything had went fine, well, except one thing. I spent yet another sleepless night after the camp, but this time it was due to a tune that was ringing in the background of my mind all night long --

avanitalam punaravatIrNa syaat samskrita gangaa-dhaaraa | dheera bhagIratha vamshosmaakam vayam tu kRuta nirdhaaraaH | vayam tu kRuta nirdhaaraaH |

Samskritam needs us, as much as we need her to know ourselves.
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