a cosmic current

can a pilgrimage really grant prayers?

video still by Anand Ramayya

excerpted from the print magazine…

My brother Raj, my filmmaking partner Tom and I traverse a staircase that winds its way up seven hills, nine miles and thousands of steps to the Tirupati Hill Shrine in Andhra Pradesh, southern India.

The air thins and cools as we get higher and higher into the mountains.The stairs are lined with small tea stalls and soda vendors, spiced nuts at mile three. A sadhu is standing in the shade, steely-eyed, staring at us as we pass. His markings tell us his day began with prayer and the stillness of his eyes tells me I have a lot to learn.

We keep climbing.

The mid-morning heat is beating down, sweat pours and the stairs continue to unfold around every corner. With every step, I reflect on the past six weeks, the past year and indeed the past thirty years of my life. My mother was diagnosed with cancer last year and since then my family’s world has changed. For the first time in twenty-five years we find ourselves in India together. As a family. And I find myself somewhere I've never dreamed of, doing something I've never imagined.

* * *

In the northern reaches of Saskatchewan in the boreal forest, the land of lakes, there exists a species indigenous to the deep south of India. Traditionally a non-smoking, non-drinking herbivore, upon migration the species has adopted North American feeding patterns and a potentially lethal obsession with filmmaking. This species is my father.

My name is Anand Ramayya, I am 100 percent South Indian–blooded, but I know absolutely nothing about what it means to be Indian. I was born and raised in Canada and grew up in the rugged but beautiful little town of La Ronge, Saskatchewan.

Penumaka Dasarutha Ramayya and Jayalakshmi Presuna are my parents, descendants of a long line of orthodox Hindus with roots in southern India. My dad was a schoolteacher and my mom was a small-town girl when they married in 1965. Soon after, my brother Raj was born. The sixties was a time of opportunity for the educated immigrant, so my father and mother moved to Canada and re-invented themselves as Ray and Jaya Ramayya.

Ray has a Ph.D. in educational psychology and Jaya works at a daycare centre and sells Avon on the weekends. My father is obsessed with making films and my mother is equally determined to maintain some sense of normalcy in the household. She's stuck it out with him through three re-mortgages of the house and many other high-risk film financing stunts. While my dad has a knack for making things epic and complex, her strength is making things simple.

Like a lot of families these days, we’ve grown apart. My brother lives in Japan, I am constantly working and it seems none of us has had the time to get to know each other as adults.

Life has a way of taking us so far from ourselves that everything gets blurry. This brush with mortality has focused us back in on the things that should matter. Things change when people get sick. I had originally planned to make a documentary about my father going to India to make his next film, but in the midst of it all my mother asked us to make a pilgrimage, as a family, to a place called Tirupati.

She’s never asked us for anything. Ever.

With this one request, she has become a new person to me. A person with her own needs, with a past and a faith. None of which, I’m realizing, I know anything about.

Anand Ramayya grew up in a film family and has been working in the “business” since the age of 15. As a producer, his credits include feature films, animation and documentaries. His latest film and directorial debut Cosmic Current (on which this article is based) premiered on CBC Newsworld's 10th anniversary celebration Cinema Real. Based in Saskatoon, Anand is a past president of the Saskatchewan Motion Picture Industry Association and volunteers regularly.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life