Sunday, November 16, 2014

The garden in winter

We had our first frost yesterday. It's still light, just enough to make the parsley pretty but not enough to kill it.
but the frost covers went up over the lavender. A deep mulch and a hut should keep off the worst of the frost. I hope.
Yesterday G and I noticed that our  rye is being chomped. And today I caught the culprits- two flocks of maybe 20 birds. The chap who looks like he's wearing a bandit mask is the White-crested Laughing Thrush, his partner is the White-throated Laughing Thrush. Thieves, both. 
When it's this cold, we are glad for anything that looks warm. Like the persimmon tree.
And this is the time to bottle sunshine for late winter.
Jars of lemon marmalade. Lemons from our tree, the recipes here and here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

In which Madhu and Chicu try to be smooth.

It began when the normally laughing-faced Madhu bounded up with something hidden in her mouth and lay down with her back to me. She covered her mouth with her paws and silently played with whatever was in her mouth. It was clearly A Very Big Secret.

'Whatcha got there, little one?' I asked from my chair.'What did you find?'

'Oh look!' She turned around with her usual laughing mouth and showed me the disreputable bone she'd found.So much for Keeping A Secret.

Turns out, I know where she got that from. A little after the bone incident, this happened.

I melted our food processor bowl.

Don't ask how, these things happen regrettably too often in my life. Mian must be told, but I would be smooth about it, I decided. And so I sent him a chatty text message about how much we love each other, above all material things. I got a reply in a few seconds. 'I love you too, what broke?'

Smooth, Chicu. Very smooth.

Madhu and I are lucky we have such forgiving families. She got to keep her bone, and I am getting a new processor bowl.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Back home!

It takes a certain level of idiocy to begin a photo-laden post the very day I get back to the land of slow internet. But I am so excited to be home!
The pup and I are back together. She has filled out now with a dome-shaped head and shaggy neck and fluffy tail. No longer will I be able to call her 'Bandar Poonch'.

These flowers are the last to die out in the winter. I have been plotting to have their fiery beauty in my garden for a while. And now, they are here.

This does not look like much, I admit. But this rose bears ittar-scented flowers the colour of dried blood. In a few years, this  will be a seductive blanket over our dying apricot tree.

This mustard plant self-seeded into the compost bed I was preparing for my Edward rose. And now just two giant leaves give me dinner

 The cobea is taking over the house! and I could not be happier.


Why would I not be happy with so much beauty?

A field of radishes. I don't see us running out any time soon

 I have wanted this sight in my garden since we first moved in. And now it is here.The salvia is not only a visual and tactile treat,but attracts bees all day long. Am so happy.

Glorious, glorious winter peas. What more can I say?


Ripening lemons and deep blue sky. Two of my favourite things in winter.

Call it a flower tunnel, call it a pollen gauntlet. I have wanted to see this since we moved in.

And just to remind me that I have not died and gone to heaven..the reality check. Rats!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Stolen Day


This is something we have had on our walls for a while:
 
And last month, we did!

I needed to visit Lucknow, and discovered that I was there in that impossibly romantic city for one entire Sunday.
I texted Mian, 'Can I suggest a mad thing?' And he said yes, yes.

So Mian and I found ourselves sharing a berth (RAC, we were) in a non air-conditioned train and as giddily happy about it as a runaway couple. And in a sense, we were. We were both playing truant from work and had unanimously agreed on a no-computer day.
Aminabad, where we spent much of our time
And it was perfect. The hotel reception accused us of being an 'illicit  couple' which normally would have made me angry, but this time just added to the delicious 'runawayedness' of it  all.
Colour  and sparkles- matched our mood perfectly
After that, all that day there was cuddling and exploring the city, and shopping and eating and lots and lots of laughing. What a wonderful day.

Mian had a tough journey both ways. In the first, he stayed sitting up so I could lie down and sleep, and was stranded on the railway station for hours because his train was late. But he gave the best possible gift to his  wife.
Not us, but us all the same

Thank you, Mian.

* all photos by Mian. Thank you again.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Varanasi and points of view

 Varanasi. That's where Mian and I are now, and on the left is the view  from our balcony. See the splash of blue on the horizon? not the sky, the bit below that. That's the Ganga.

I should feel lucky to be here now. It is after all an old, old city on the banks of the Ganga. And even though I am not religious, atleast my traveling pulse should quicken at the thought of exploring this place. But it doesn't.

On the contrary, despite spending a decent amount of time here over the last two years, I still do not feel comfortable on my own here. I don't  go out onto the ghats, don't eat street food, and infact, rarely go out. 'Does anyone say anything?' asks Mian often. 'Did you see something?'

No. It is not that. And it is difficult to explain, especially to Mian. He sees Varanasi the way I would like to. He appreciates the architecture, bonds with the people, and is moved by the music.


I , on the other hand, feel persecuted by the trash and the feral cows and the buffaloes. To me, the trash and the cows are not just inconveniences in themselves, but a result of what I dislike about Brahminical society. The cows for example. Hindus consider themselves to be vastly superior to other folks because they do not eat beef. They respect the Gau Mata, the mother cow. But the waste collection system in the prosperous, upper middle-class area that I live in failed because the residents refused to pay the charges. Instead, they drop the trash (including vegetable and fruit peel) on the road, tied in a plastic bag. The cows that they are 'too kind' to put down are starving and eat the trash, plastic and all. The result? Intestinal obstruction and death. To me, that is far worse than raising cattle for meat. And this is just one of the instances that make me cringe.

But I am writing this not to talk about Varanasi, but about myself. There was a time when like Mian, I could see the beauty in everything. Now I feel asif I am losing that. I see the ugly side to everything rather than the beauty. And both are present, of course. It is a matter of looking. I don't like this change. The ability to extract every drop of gladness from life has been what has kept me going always, it has almost been a definition of what chicu is. And now that seems to be going.

How do I tackle this? What do I do?


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Am I too happy?

A house in Parmawala, Bijnor district


Razia's husband died a few years ago. Her father-in-law is blind, her eldest daughter still a teenager. She also has a grandmother and two young children. Razia has had to learn how to maximise her resources to keep her family going. She rents land at Rs.10,000 a year, but stays away from planting high-risk, high-investment vegetables like the rest of the village. Instead, she went to the block agricultural office and got some eucalyptus seeds for free. She has now started a nursery of these and will sell them in a year's time to the other farmers in the village. Razia applies her brains as well as her strength to her work. If the dam authorities do not release water till her saplings are sturdy enough,if the rains come in time, next year might just see them not having to borrow food. That seems to be poor reward for all her effort and ingenuity.

She was the strongest person I met last week. The others seemed utterly  beaten down by all the challenges they faced. And who can blame them? An unimaginable lack of options and resources, all their  efforts laid waste by god-like dam authorities, and the burden of generations of malnutrition and illiteracy.

I came home tired yesterday and crept into Mian's arms. There I usually find comfort, but not last night. I lay for a long time listening to his breathing, with the reassuring weight of his arm across me, and I was terrified.

Mian and I, we are truly blessed. Our home, our family, our friends, our work, each other. I come back from visits like these and am scared that this is  too much to have. Is there something like being too happy? too rich? And I know this is silly of me, but last night all the old tales of the jealousy of gods kept coming into my head.
I am scared.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Those people

I was travelling along the Ramganga for the last week. And I discovered I was walking in a lost land.
At it's simplest, this was a land of lost skills. Look at the fan I've shown here. Not a particle of the materials used in its manufacture have been purchased for the purpose. The wool and cloth are remnants from clothes-making efforts. The wood- well, that's to be picked up on the road. The base for the central panel is made of the plastic sacks used for packing grains. A wonderful use of materials that would normally have been thrown away in many households, including mine.
But this is also a land of lost people.
Immediately after that visit, I found myself shivering because of the air-conditioning in a conference room. In that room filled with bureaucrats and scientists, the topic of discussion was 'those people'. 'Those people' encroach on river banks, I was told. 'They' complain all the time about diminishing returns from agriculture, but do not have the gumption to select an alternative. 'They' protest when dams release flood water. 'Those people' should learn that development is inevitable. 'Those people' do not understand progress.
And that drove me and my colleague to alternate between anger and despair. For us, 'those' messy, uncooperative, uncool people have names.
Munni Devi is a widow, so is her daughter. They are sharecroppers on a bit of land where they grow cucumbers and gourds and scratch out a pitiful living. Very soon, that land will be submerged by Progress. They are terrified by what will happen next. I am terrified that Munni's daughter will take the only option that is left to her.
Parmawala does not have a flood warning system. Om Prakash's son died in a sudden release this year. He had gone to strip the leaves from the sugarcane field where the family has farmed for generations. The son died, the fields were destroyed. The family received no compensation. They  were after all, quite literally in the path of progress.
Agwaanpur does have a flood warning system- the masjid issues a loudspeaker warning. But one of them said, 'We can leave, but do you think our fields can get up and run away?' Seed costs 7,000 Rs a kilo. One farmer told me that he sowed seeds three times this year. And lost his harvest anyway.
Those people always complain.