Thursday, December 31, 2009

whew..

A few days ago, I had commented grumpily to M.

"I can't wait for this year to be over" I had said.

Last night when I realised that this year IS actually going to be over, I regretted my statement. 2009 has been a wonderful adventure- and growth- filled year for me.

If this year had to have a theme, it would be The Year of the Gift. Over and over again, I was reminded that the gifts we are given surpass the ones that we want for ourselves.

I hadn't planned on spending a week in Bhagirathi, or on driving along the Ganga. I hadn't dared to hope that Seattle and Pune friendships would continue in Dun. I hadn't dared to ask for more in my relationships. I hadn't planned on having more than the absolute basics when it came to a house. And I was given so much- all that I had not dared to hope for and more than I could even imagine.

I travelled. My friends and family visited me, going far out of their way to come to my corner of the world. The One and I are now setting up home, visiting our families, exploring kayda-kanoon. Our house has plentiful counterspace, a view of the Mussoorie hills, a balcony, and a terrace where we plan to grow herbs.

It wasn't all perfect, of course. More than once, I fell with a resounding splat. Two such failures, one each at work and life, haunt me and I will have to scramble at damage control in 2010.

But enough loveliness and magic and happy adventures happened for me to confidently repeat Dag Hammersköld's assertion:
"For all that has been, thanks.
For all that will be, yes."



Incidentally, I first came across Dag-jee on the 2009 LRF calendar, and his words stayed with me all year. A saying of his that I aspire to?
"Life only demands from you the strength that you possess. 
Only one feat is possible; not to run away."

I have run away far too often. Among the many gifts I have received are several fresh starts. Those were not enough, because I took those for granted. Now, I say enough. No more running away.


My big learning this year is that the things we ask for are far less than is actually possible. So I will not take the liberty of imposing limited wishes on you this year. But tell me, what have you learnt? what do you want to learn?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!


I had major plans for this weekend. It would be the first year that The One and I have been together for Christmas, and also the first year for a long time that The One was away from his other home. So I wanted to decorate the house, and have a no-holds barred festive lunch, and put up stockings.

Like other plans, these too ganged aft agley. The One and I have both been battling colds and work deadlines. So no stockings, no Christmassy decorating, and chicken soup for lunch. And yes, I will be working over the weekend.

But, but.

There will be hot chocolate, and utilitarian gifts of woolens. There are heaps of luscious oranges. Though she didn’t know of the stockings, my mum told me yesterday that she has sent us a pair hand knitted socks with sweets inside them. We have an oven now, and I will make us biscuits even if we need to eat them later. We will call friends and family and speak with them.

And most important, a snuffly One and I will be cozy under a red-and-green quilt together . 72 hours at home, the two of us. And that is a wonderful gift.

So you know what? While we might not be having a 'proper' Christmas, we will be having a very real one.

Have a merry, merry Christmas, everyone.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

appreciation 101

Have you read this sentence:"I was sad because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet'? I have always hated it. It has seemed to me to be more about gloating about someone else having less than we do than about a true gratitude for the riches given us. And that is why I want to emphasize that this post is not in that spirit.

I was returning to Dun after a walks-, conversation-, and food-filled weekend with The One. I was travelling by sleeper class, and feeling grumpy. To be fair to myself, I am not always a snob, but goodbyes take it out of me and it had been a rough week. And so I was finding the dark side of everything.

The train was late, the platform was crowded and spattered with sputum. When the train finally arrived, it overshot the platform and everyone had to rush huffing and puffing to their carriages. The aisle was muddy, the seats were grimy. An AC seat would have been comfier, but I was financially challenged while booking. I wouldn't be able to sleep on the train, and then had to immediately rush off to work- to the same job that didn’t guarantee me the ability to buy an AC ticket. Sulk, sulk. Gripe, gripe. Smoulder.

But then I climbed up to my berth and lay down eavesdropping on the people in the next compartment. They were exulting. "So we needed to pay more for this, but isn't it worth it? It is so easy and comfortable now!" Theirs was a large group, and made even more cumbersome by being multi-generational, multi-family. To make this travel easier, they had splurged on sleeper travel for the family. Because the children outnumbered the adults, everyone was sleeping with one or more child with him or her. The counting of suitcases and children was done several times before they totalled up right. And they were still marveling at the ease and comfort. Throughout the hassle of settling everyone down, they were all excited and joyous at the luxury they found themselves in.

I looked at myself, lying in my berth all cosseted in my much-loved 16th-birthday-gift sleeping bag and doubly warm in the cardigan my mum had knitted and the shawl The One had bought. A rush of embarrassment for my previous thoughts was followed up with true gratitude for my riches. And that night I slept very well indeed.

Sometimes we need a refresher course in appreciating pleasure, na?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

ganga images

Now to be honest, I am cheating a bit here. Am upto my ears in things, and so here are some pictures of my last trip to Rishikesh instead of masaledaar writing..

puja ..



Bathers, Rishikesh

I quite like the composition of this picture, if I do say so myself. I like the colours, and the mood, and the two figures contemplating vast possibilities. Where they sit, the river is shallow and manageable. And safe. A little ahead, the water changes, it is deeper, faster, with the promise of adventure, with the certainity of risk. Will they go there? Will they continue to sit on the edge, in the river but not immersed in it?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I should stop reading the newspapers. They do nothing but depress me. Today for example, there were two articles in the Hindu (Delhi edition) that saddened me.

Firstly, there was an article titled “Birds deserting Keoladeo Park”. It is good if the dying wetlands are getting notice and concern. But what is it that concern people? According to the article, participants in a workshop expressed concern ‘over the threat of its delisting from the World Heritage Sites looming large’. So it is not the loss of biodiversity, not the thought of birds flying to a remembered home and finding nothing that worries us. It is the loss of status, the threat of being delisted. It sounds clich√©d when I say that the entire biosphere is our heritage, but it is true, no?

But it gets worse. On page 3, I came across this sentence: ‘To prevent the frequent disruptions in the services of the Metro Railway caused by passengers committing suicides, all stations..’

The article was about the increasing number of suicides in the Kolkata Metro system. 14 suicide attempts in 2009, with 9 deaths. It is good that Kolkata Metro is trying to prevent this by watching for loiterers and posting details of helplines. But the motivating issue? Frequent disruptions in service.

I know well that the words we say and write are not the ones we feel and think. Language is sadly inefficient at the best of times. When it comes to reporting what others have said, with the additional limits of a word count and a deadline, and the pressure to attract fickle readers, it is easy to misrepresent what a person says.



But I have far too often driven past the site of an accident and cribbed at the delay. I have far too often been too busy with my own life to notice that all is not well with my friends.

Which makes me think that Hobbes was right. It IS a personal compliment to not be human.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sintuk


Does this fuzzy butt look a little familar?  you have all seen it about a year ago when I was rhapsodizing about puppy love.

so M's parents couldn't resist her either, and now Sintuk (Shin-Took) is what the family's world revolves around. She's apparently a fashionista and all dressed up for Christmas already.

thanks for the snaps, M!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Birdwatching


Last Sunday I took me down to the Asan wetland conservation area near Dehradun. It is a wetland created by a barrage across the Asan river. The route I followed was vikram to Premnagar-bus to Herbertpur-bus to Asan barrage. The route is initially a little dreary- typical outskirts of a town. But later on, it is all farmland and the names give one a nice sense of the history of the place. There’s Herbertpur (Herbert’s land, dating to when swathes of land were granted to colonial settlers) and Khushalpur (land of well-being, perhaps dating to the Partition when refugees were settled here?).

When I got off the bus, I was a little disappointed. A road runs right next to the wetlands, and while there ARE a lot of birds, there is no place to sit and watch them- no place to lose oneself in the experience, as it were. I did sit down facing the lake with my back against a culvert for a while, but the experience was not great. I did see the gadwalls the place is famous for, but the horns of the vehicles passing by competed with their honking. So I gave up, and decided to try and walk the circumference of the lake. As I look back, I think that I should probably have emerged out of the culvert a little gradually. As it is, I popped out from under the road like a mushroom on a caffeine high and startled a blameless farmer cycling to work.


I walked back towards Dehradun and took a right from the chowk- towards the electricity-supply colony. A right again, and so directly towards the lake. This path becomes unpaved pretty soon, but seems to be frequently used by buffaloes, their tenders, and the occasional birdwatcher.

The surroundings are sad, in the sense that the area is overrun by exotics. There is a plantation with an undergrowth of lantana, congress grass, and ipomea. Despite that, there are many little babblers and wrens skulking in the undergrowth, and kites above. And of course the little chap to the left here.


I took another right when the road ended, and walked along a little path that ended in the most perfect little beach possible. A river flows into the lake here and the beach is right at the inlet. It can comfortable accommodate one person and her backpack, and two people if they are willing to snuggle up. Hmm..
Here, finally, was the experience I was looking for. Sitting at the water’s edge,in the gently warm winter sun, and watching a myriad birds casually doing their thing just metres away. They had all flown away when i arrived, but were back within half an hour.

The water was clear, and inviting, and I longed to swim. Sadly, swimming in unknown waters is one of the few things that the solo traveler cannot do, and so I needed to content myself with laving my face and hands. The air was full of the birds’ honking and trilling, and of the scent of lantana and a purple-flowered herb. It was warm enough to remove a layer or two, but not so hot as to induce a migraine.

In short, life was perfect.

Friday, November 27, 2009

the people of Rishikesh.

This post, as the title says, is about people I had conversations with during a day trip to Rishikesh. All travel is enriched by the people one meets, and this was no exception. It is sad then, that the two most important 'conversation fountains' on this trip are not shown in this post, or actually, anywhere on my blog. They are M- who has been mentioned before- and Gina D. They turned what could have been a tedious survey into a fun and productive learning experience. Thanks, people. I hope you enjoyed it as well.

The photographs here are all taken by Gina, and very nice they are too.


This woman was a traveller. She has been everywhere, she told us. Her sister-in-law? Not so much, she said, she’s a stay-at-home type. But when asked what she liked about Benares, the sister-in-law said with sparkling eyes, “There is so much life there! You can walk on the ghats till 11 at night. There are lights and people all night.” She is the one in profile below.


And then the Sadhu. Part of a focus group discussion. He looks fierce, but this is his normal conversational expression. That realization didn’t stop M from visibly cowering away from him, though. I love the pink lathi.


What did I learn there? In a chaotic world, one needs to strive for whatever balance is achievable. Even if it is just keeping ones ears absolutely level.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Travel and the Bhagirathi Valley: Mukhba

Mukhba is right across the valley from Dharali, and to get to it one needs to cross a suspension bridge (pedestrians and cycles only) and then climb up an easy slope. It is a pretty little village. It is south-facing and high, and so  warmer than chilly Dharali or windy Bagori. Perhaps because of this, in the autumn Mukhba is a glorious blaze of colour.

 There is no obvious treeline, and the pines reach all the way to the top of the ridge. In the more inaccessible areas there are dwarf rhododendrons that show up a dark purple against the grey of the rocks. There are also lovely old deodar groves here, and a walk in the forest along the path that leads east from Mukhba is a pleasure.

As for it's history, Mukhba is the village of the Semwal clan- traditionally the priests of the Ganga temple at Gangotri. In the October, the Goddess comes here to spend the winter and goes back in spring. She is housed in a brand new concrete and marble totally anonymous temple that the villagers are extremely proud of. If you ask nicely though, the priest will open the old temple for you, and this is a joy- all old deodar and brass.

The houses too, are beautiful, and almost entirely deodar. This being a priests village is richer and more tradition-proud than the other villages, and this means that the houses are in relatively good condition. The little houses on stilts are grain-stores, and wonderfully carved.

Mukhba is a beautiful village- richly coloured and textured. It is a photographer's joy in that there are actually very few colours in the landscape, but these are rich and glowing and coordinated. There is the silver-grey of the rocks, tin roofs, rhododendron  and the brown of deodar, soil, wood and horses. And this is gloriously punctuated with the sunny yellow of autumn, marigolds,quilts and the green of conifers, moss and mustard.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Education

For those of you who have been waiting with bated breath for my next post on the Bhagirathi valley, it will come. I am not done with the series and the next post is about Mukhba.
This is in the nature of a break from our scheduled programme. I need to tell you of a lecture I went to today. It was organized by the Latika Roy Foundation as part of their Distinguished Lecture Series on Education and Inclusion.

The lectures LRF organises are wonderfully thought-provoking. This time as well, the panel of speakers had a lot of exclamation and interrogation marks popping up in my head.

There was a space of time though, when I was also angry. This was during a discussion of the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan. The SSA (education for all) is the Government program to ensure that every child has access to education. I have already commented on their token efforts at ‘access’- ramps in district schools.

And so, when the speaker began talking of a concerted ‘micro-planning’ attempt at identifying children with special needs, I perked up and began paying attention. I shouldn’t have, because then he went on to say how ‘these children would be identified and placed in a special classroom’. Now it is possible that I did not catch all that the program entailed, and also expected that all of the plans cannot be fit into one-third of a slide. But that statement made a lot of warning bells go off in my head.

One assumes that by ‘these children’ he means all those that need to make more effort to live in this imperfectly designed world of ours. He means the visually impaired, the hearing impaired, those who have problems with mobility, those with cognitive problems, autistic children- all those who do not fit into the paper-cutout model that is so convenient for planners. So all these children, with their whole spectrum of needs are to be lumped into one class and taught together, presumably by a tired teacher on her punishment shift. And if this diverse bunch is to be grouped together, what is the common factor among them? Being ‘imperfect’? ‘Defective’? Is it only me, or does this logic have disturbing shades of that which led to an exercise of weeding out the imperfect that was carried out 65 years ago and scarred humanity forever?

Now as I said earlier, I might have heard wrong. I sincerely hope I did. I am also naturally pessimistic. Now Jo, determinedly sunny person that she is, is bound to have a different take on it. so do me a favour. Her blog, By Little and By Little,  is listed on my sidebar. Keep an eye on it for the next few days and for fairness’ sake please read her version of events.

But I am glad I stayed, because the next speakers were stellar. The chief speaker was informative, engaging and enthusiastic. The take-away from her talk was a set of three tools that you (thump!)can (thump!) do TOMORROW! The concepts that she spoke about though, had been covered in detail and with great passion by two earlier speakers who were introduced as (among other things) ‘Parents’.

Now I need to confess to bristling when I heard this. The thing is that far too often I have been the victim of benevolent panel-making. “This is the Exalted Grand Supreme Commander of XYZ, bow to him! And this is A Woman Engineer! Look at her pretty saree!’ In this case I was gloriously, gladly wrong.

These two were parents, and that lay at the heart of their expertise. They spoke with conviction, confidence, wisdom and energy of the core of inclusive education. ‘Special’ is not an euphemism, they said. Every child is special. Every child learns differently. Education is a fundamental right- for all children. The system is failing to deliver- for all children. We need to re-evaluate the goal of learning. They had learnt from life and from struggling to educate their children, and their body language showed it. I was educated, inspired, and after the SSA experience, reassured.

But the evening does not end there. While returning, I caught a Vikram. After picking me up, the driver did not continue on his route, but proceeded to lecture the other two passengers. They were students in their teens still wearing their uniforms, and were eating groundnuts. They had also thrown the shells where they sat, and that earned them the driver’s wrath. He spoke at some length about why not to litter, and ended bitterly with ‘ and you are studying at school! Why should I have to teach you these things?’ “Why not?” I thought “Educators, they are where we meet them.”

This is a much longer post than I normally write. But I returned a couple of hours ago outraged, excited, and bursting at the seams with thoughts. The LRF lectures do that to one.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Yakkety Yak

In Dharali, the visitor sees shaggy black cattle everywhere. These are yak-cow crossbreeds, which are called dzo elsewhere, and joey here. They are wonderfully well suited to the altitude and the climate, Most importantly, they are not at all picky when it comes to food and will find sustenance in twigs if need be. Sadly, this trait which allows them to survive in places where fodder is in short supply, is leading to their decline.

Several villagers are replacing the joeys with cattle because the joeys eat the apple twigs. While I understand the need of the villagers to protect the orchards, I wonder how the cattle will be fed. What effect this will have on a region where the pastures are already overgrazed? Will some sort of physical barrier to the orchards be a better alternative? Is increasing temperature (unsuitable for the joeys) also hastening their replacement with cows?

The first generation crossbreeds are already a rarity with only a couple of old bulls lumbering around. These are awe-inspiring, with their solidity, shaggy tails, massive horns, and 'nothing can stop me' attitude.

Most are 3rd /4th generation crossbreeds with very little of the yak in them. Like the little fellow here. I took a snap of him because he seems to have a map of India on his forehead. A map of India like the rest of the sub-continent draws it, anyway. I thought to flatter him by featuring him here, but he didn't seem too impressed with the idea. Sticking out a tongue to indicate disdain seems to be common among all children, irrespective of species.

Friday, November 20, 2009

travel and the Bhagirathi valley: Dharali

The place where the bus stops and the traveller finds a chai stop is not Dharali. It is the market for Dharali. The  village is some 100 mts higher up, nestled in wild apricot trees and apple orchards.

It is a pretty place with lovely houses, each of which has a little stone courtyard looking over the valley and a vegetable garden growing brassicas and greens. The village is dotted with huge boulders that have been carried down in some old avalanche and cotoneaster and fruit trees. I mention the trees because in late October, they are all in glorious shades of yellow and red.

A steep-ish path ascends from the market to the village. Follow it further to Sat Tal. Most of the Seven Lakes have been buried in an avalanche, and only two remain that are worth the name. However, the buried ones are not gradually developing a peat-bog ecosystem, and it is fun to walk on the springy ground. Do, do watch your step though. Please.

If you turn left from the Sadhu's house (more about him later) instead of continuing along to Sat Tal, the path opens out to a lovely meadow with a stream running through it down from a dome-shaped peak that crowns the watershed. It was here that I had a Maya Memsaab moment. When we got there, the stream was still frozen where it had overflowed in the night- despite the fact that the sun was blazing hot. And so, I got to sit in the sun and eat ice that I had broken off a stream. Good times.

Continue up, by the stream and then through the forest (pine, fir, and finally Bhoj), and eventually you reach the base of the dome. come down soon, because it gets dark early. Take some photographs of the hills now that you are up there.


We didn't come down soon enough, and at a point were hurrying down the path through the forest in the dark. We were all mildly scared, but I am glad we were late. The forest is beautiful and spooky at dusk.

The interesting thing about the forest of dharali, is that it is topsy turvy. A difference in the rock strata has led to the deodar forest growing at a lower altitude than the pine. It is surprising when you climb out of the deodar and come across pine trees looking smugly down their noses at the deodar.

The deodar forest here is exceptionally healthy, good density, good regeneration. The floor of the forest is clean and strewed with deodar cones and wild strawberry plants. On this carpet, in the hush, one walks looking out for birds and looking up into the trees.It is difficult to escape deodar. The villagers collect fallen branches for firewood, and so at each end of the day, the air is aromatic with it's scent.

After all the climbing around, in the deodar-scented evening it is good to walk down to the river.
To stand on the bridge and watch the colours change


To see how the wind does actually collect the prayers from flags and scatter them across the land leaving behind a bare skeleton.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Travel and the Bhagirathi valley: Dharali

Tomorrow, I will tell you all about walking about in Dharali.
Today, I will tease you with a glimpse of the place


The view from my hotel, the first morning.

Incidentally, I have posted some pictures of the different moods of the Bhagirathi  on the blog M and I share. Do take a look..

Monday, November 16, 2009

Learning from the woman at Bagori

While talking of Bagori, I mentioned that it was deserted when we visited. Now this is very picturesque for the traveller, but a little inconvenient for the researcher who wants to speak with the locals on climate change.
My colleagues and I were happy therefore, when we chanced upon a woman hurrying to the village with a five liter can of water in each hand. We stopped her with the ‘I am sorry to disturb you, but my livelihood depends on it so please don’t hit me’ air common to field researchers world-wide.

She stopped good-naturedly enough though, and told us that she is too busy to stop and talk, but if we liked, we could follow her home. Can you imagine that? Inviting three bedraggled strangers into your home so that they can ask you intrusive questions?

We obeyed, picking up our pace to keep up with her. At one point I offered to help her with her cans, but she refused. We asked her then with our minds full of women’s drudgery statistics, if there was no source of water close by. “no, no” came the reply, “ there is piped water, but I needed to go to Harshil and thought why come back empty handed, so I brought water from the Ganga. ” Another thing I, lover of traveling light and shirker of chores, cannot comprehend.

We sat there in her lovely, glowing house on a rug she had woven herself with wool from her own sheep. We asked her questions about her observations about the local flora, and her animals. When talking of high-altitude herbs, she showed me some she used for cooking. It is called lado and has a pungent smell like asafoetida. Seeing the naked greed in my eyes, she immediately pressed a handful on each of us.

Later, I bought a couple of caps from her and waited as she finished the seams. While she was making those caps up, a colleague wandered off to crack a solitary walnut he had found on the road. She looked at the two of us sitting there walnut-less. Silently digging into her pockets she pulled out a couple and tossed us a walnut each.

Someday, if I am very wise and learn all that life teaches me, I hope to be as cheerful and warm and generous as her.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

travel and the Bhagirathi Valley: Bagori and Harshil

Harshil is an easy 3km walk from Dharali, along the contours, and so absolutely flat. Harshil is a famous tourist village filled with little concrete hotels with names like Skylark, Swiss Chalet, and the unfortunately named one below:


Thankfully, they added the illustration to clarify what they meant. Harshil is famous for it's apples though and is a pretty and clean village for a day's visit. It is an army base camp as well so be prepared for restrictions on photography of the helpfully labelled arms and ammunition godown.


Less than half a kilometer from Harshil, along a concrete path and over 4 bridges that cross mountain streams is the picturesque village of Bagori. This was originally formed as a Tibetan settlement 50 years ago. Today, it is populated by both Tibetans and Pahadis
.

However, the Tibetan influence is strong and evident in it's people, architecture, and of course in the many prayer flags strung across the streams.

Bagori is predominantly a herder's community, with people owning anything from 400 to 50 sheep that they graze in the bugyals in the summer and in the forests of Uttrakashi in the winter. Also, most people here move down to Dunda and Uttarkashi in the winter, by the beginning of November. When my colleagues and I visited, the place was locked up for the winter, except for a few families who were just finishing packing up.

But it was lovely to walk in that empty village and exclaim at the lovely carvings everywhere. Most houses are traditional, with slate roofs and wooden frames. The colours are luxuriously rich, with multiple warm shades of grey stone and deodar. In the middle of that, like a bright sapphire on velvet, I saw a blue whistling thrush. I wish I had a picture to share..but well.



This is one of the houses I loved..with its incredible carvings and warm, warm wood.



and another..Can you tell I loved the houses?




Here, there is a little monastery with  a solitary caretaker. These windmills are made by him from bits of wood and metal, just for the pleasure of making the wind visible.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Travel and the Bhagirathi valley



The mountains that one can see in Kumaun- the Nanda Devi group- are very special to me. They are not only stunning in their magnificence, but they have been witnesses of some of my happiest moments.

Unlike Sitla, the Bhagirathi valley does not have a panoramic view of any major peaks. But for sheer drama, it is hard to surpass. No major peaks, but the 'minor' ones are up close and looming over the slightly terrified observer. The sheer immediacy of the mountains is awe-inspiring.

It is difficult to visit the area and not have your trip turn into a pilgrimage to Gangotri, but it can be done and here's how:

Where to stay: Dharali. This is a little village (approx. 100 households, alt 2450 m) with a market on the main road. There are several hotels there which are basic, but adequately comfy. We stayed at the Hotel Shivalik which is rather like any other, except for the startling cuteness of it's young proprietor. Think Jimmy Stewart meets Brandon Lee. Yes, I agree. That is good incentive for choosing that hotel.
When to go:
NOT during the Yatra season. Prices are high, places are crowded and you might as well have gone to Delhi. Early March is when the bugyals (the meadows above the tree line) just begin to flower, but the tourist season has not begun yet. Late October is when the apples are being harvested and the leaves are turning colour. Early November is when most people have left for their winter homes, it is quiet and the world is full of intense colours.
How to go:
The fastest way to travel using public transport is to hop Dehra-Rishikesh-Uttarkashi-Dharali. The journey takes 12 hours if you catch whatever turns up first- bus or jeep. There are some direct connections that allow you to drop one or two stops, but I am not sure of the times.
What to do:
With Dharali as a base, one can go off on short day hikes to Sat Tal ( a group of lakes at approx 2700 m), Mukhba (a pretty village with traditional houses), and Harshil/Bagori (famous for apples and wool). I'll be talking about these in detail in later posts, so stay tuned.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I saw

So now I am back, after a few days spent in the hills. And it was enchanting, every bit of it. But this happened at Bhatwari, where we stopped for tea.

I saw a little male sparrow lying on it's back and apparently dead. What interested me in a morbid way was that another sparrow was pecking it,apparently to make a meal of it. 'hm, cannibalism in sparrows!' I thought, thinking of the article I would write to the BNHS and the applause I would receive. By then the would-be diner was joined by a friend .

At this, the little 'dead' one thought that things were going a little too far and erupted upwards in a flurry of pointy beak and claw. I was watching the three of them tumble about trying to peck each other's eyes out and wondering what it was all about, when I realised that I was not the only spectator.


Apparently, that display of machismo was all for the benefit of this smug little missy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

the gifts we are given..

Let us not try to sugarcoat it..today was a rotten day. Work and life..all of it.

And so, as it had done earlier, the multi-verse gave me a gift.

First a little background. One of the offices that my organization works out of has a bay window. It is stunning. A three-sided, garden-overlooking window that begs to be used as a reading nook. and my colleagues? they pull drapes over it, and sit with their backs to the window. Due to the curtain which runs flush with the wall, I didn't know the window existed for a long time. After I discovered it, I coveted it. I must have told my colleagues a dozen times..if that window were in my house, I would make a window seat with a bookshelf below it, and sit there with a cup of chai in the late afternoon.

And today, I was there for a review meeting. As there were a series of these, and I was at the end of the queue, the meeting I was going to attend was delayed by 2 1/2 hours. Being a Sunday, I was under no pressure to work. I obtained (ok, stole) the key to the library and got me a book- the fantastic 'Valley of Flowers' by Frank Smythe. I pulled up two chairs to the bay window, set them facing each other, stretched out and read. After maybe half an hour, S who works in the office came up with chai for me. I sat with the book in my lap, sipped chai, and watched the sunlight become deep golden in the early evening. Life is good, I thought.

In another 15 minutes, S came up again holding a single biscuit he had salvaged from the plates that were being sent up to the meeting in progress. 'For you, madamjee.'

Thank you, S. Thank you, world.


and now, I am off to the mountains for the next 12 days.My colleagues and I will be surveying villages and forests and bugyals. so basically, I am getting paid to walk in the mid-Himalayas with fun and knowledgeable botanists, to identify plants, to watch wildlife and to spend evenings talking to villagers. tough job, but someone's got to do it. See you on the 16th..with photos and stories..

Friday, October 30, 2009

yet another food related post..

It is the winter, with long cold evenings. It is pleasurable to work by the stove and do things with my hands. And then there is the produce! Strangely enough, most of the things that spell 'spring' start coming around now and last throughout the winter- lotsandlotsofgreens, zucchini, baby carrots..

But what I am writing about is a truly autumnal food. I have been wanting to make sweet potato agnolotti for a long time now- after reading this post. (warning- that blog is fun, and WILL suck you in.) Last week, I found myself at home with sweet potatoes, and a desire to stay in the kitchen.

the problem? no bacon, eggs, butter, cream, sage..and as for 'squab spice' I don't even know what that is.

But I winged it..made a pretty austere pasta dough with flour, oil, salt, water and kneaded it for 20 mins- with a clock by my side. Let it rest. Instead of the bacon, looked around for other ways to add those salty, smoky, rich punctuation marks to an otherwise smooth filling..The simplest way was to chop up some garlic and onions, and fry till crunchy and dark with a generous amount of salt. Boiled the sweet potatoes instead of roasting them, and mashed till smooooooth with some nutmeg, cinnamon, and a touch of jaggery. Folded in the onion mix. Rolled out the pasta, marked out rectangles, plopped spoonfuls of filling, rolled, folded and pinched. Dropped in boiling water and let cook for a little less than 5 minutes. Had undersalted the whole, so sprinkled salt and more nutmeg on top.


How was it? so good. It was creamy, and good, and warm, and soothing without being bland. the sprinkling of salt and nutmeg was perfect, with the taste 'crunch' it gave. With the whole wheat and lack of dairy and bacon, it turned out to be a not-rich version of the original. Something I will make again, and I will try it with bacon. But what I am most happy about is making nice agnolotti on a weekday evening without a recipe/planning/reason. Somehow I think that is so cool.


And for those purists who want the original recipe, it is from the French Laundry Cookbook, and Thomas Keller has not posted it anywhere outside the book. But it has been stolen, and it is available online, and you can look for it, and I am not linking to it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

what I did yesterday


Looks good doesn't it? And it was..That is one x'mas pudding mix that shows plenty of promise. Made two puddings, and they are now resting in my kitchen, gently maturing and waiting for Christmas. Just in case you want to make it too, this is the recipe I used and you are just in time.

Here is a picture of what my kitchen looked like when all was done.


The big one is for M and her family, the littler one in the top RHS corner is for The One and I,  and the littlest one? Call it quality control or call it lagniappe for the cook. Actually, you can even call it George Clooney if you like- as long as one thing is absolutely clear. Mine!

Aaah, the Christmas spirit..

Friday, October 23, 2009

Himalayan Villages


This is where I was last weekend..
At Sonapani, near Sitla. And I could go on and on with the descriptions, or I can sum it up as Paradise.

the Gates..



the view from my cottage..



Peach trees and cropped lawns..
 
The scenery was perfect, as you can see..But there was more. There was comfortingly good food..what sort of food? the 'home-cooked by a really, really talented and generous mum' sort. and a lot of warmth and fun and cheer. And there were mornings spent watching the sunrise touch Nandakot-Nandadevi-Panchchuli. The surprise of seeing ChauKhamba unexpectedly. Walking in the pine forest. magical mornings with the mountains as witness. The incredible range of wildlife that Sonapani supports- from pollinators to predators.

go there. There is no place more breathtaking.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ka-YAM!

My first job was that of  a site engineer. While the job profile read 'project management', a more accurate description would be a site supervisor. The work gangs I was supposedly supervising saw how green I was and took me under their collective wing where I happily chirped away. Unused to a female overseer, they would all call me 'Saheb'; first indulgently and later, with fond respect.


I learnt a lot there. From learning to read eights and sixteenths of an inch (dori and suth) to more advanced construction techniques. For quite a while, unknown to my boss, I was a happy apprentice. One of the things I loved was the way they used the earth's forces to measure line and level. Gravity (with a plumb bob) to measure the vertical, and atmospheric pressure to measure the horizontal.

Not that atm.pressure was measured using a fancy instrument. A clear plastic tube would be taken and the apprentice (often me) would suck water into it. After carefully tapping out the air bubbles, one end would be handed to the master. The apprentice would then crouch with his end of the tube held against the mark that the level was to be taken from, and the master would carefully manipulate the tube at the place that the level was to be taken to. The apprentice's job was to stay steady and trust in his partner to adjust the water level till it stayed still at that mark. This happy event would be sung out with a loud 'Ka-yam!'.

Kayam. The word just means 'stable', but on the construction site it was an occasion for happiness- an indicator of successful teamwork, of perfection achieved, of future plans made possible.

As in cabinet making, so in life. Today I have this urge to clamber up rooftops and shout.

'Ka-yam!'

Friday, October 16, 2009

Family..

It is Diwali, a time for family. Last night, I was homesick and told my sis so. Actually, I whined about this being the third Diwali that I was away from home.
Her reply put things in perspective for me.
I AM home, she said.  In the home that The One and I are making together. And maybe next time, we will visit each other, or not. But we will all still celebrate Diwali at home.

And today morning, I was talking to my colleagues of weekend plans.
I was asked," So, who do you have at home?"
The automatic response of 'my mother and my sister' was followed by 'my sister's family. and my woh. and his family.'

Happy Diwali. And much peace and happiness to all those who define 'home' for you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I, Dehati

Is it that one can take the woman out of sawantwadi, but not sawantwadi out of the woman? Or is it, as i like to think, that I wear a gaia-like, Mother nature-ish aura? whatever the reason, there is something about me that makes Delhi-ites think 'village'.

And I dont mean this in a bad way. On the contrary, these interactions have left me with a warm and fuzzy glow of content.

The last time I visited Delhi, I was wandering through various government offices trying to get them to cough up data (hah!). At the Krishi Bhavan, the chaps behind the desk suggested that I visit PUSA. Well, I would be glad to, but where is it?
"Ah, you are not from here?"
"No, I have come here from Dehradun."
"are you alone? have you come with someone?"
"Yes. No."
"hmmm"
After this, they proceeded to give me detailed instructions of how to get there. And what I loved is that the instructions included tips on using the Metro.
"The station is underground, but you will see stairs and a sign. The metro is like a train and you need to buy tickets for that. Don't be scared, it is well signposted, and if you get lost, ask someone. People will be happy to help."

I did not disillusion the man, and thanked him for his help. And I was grateful- for the spirit behind the instructions, rather than the actual help they were.

This time around too, I had a similar country-bumpkin experience. I received help, was grateful for the help, the spirit that moved it, and the utter grace with which it was given.

I took the bus to Defence colony and needed to cross the Ring road to get where I wanted. And that seemed close to impossible. While I was standing by the side, being buffeted by the slip streams of the vehicles, I was joined by two construction workers, probably Bihari from the accent. Is there a pedestrian crossing, I asked them. "Nahin, behenji."

I resigned  myself to standing there for all eternity when the man I spoke with moved around me so that he was now on the traffic side. While his friend zipped across, he waited till there was an appreciable gap and then crossed. I of course, crossed with him. On the divider, he moved around so that he was again on the traffic side and waited till I could safely cross. Once we were on the other side, he smiled shyly at my 'dhanyawaad' and went his own way. I thanked him, of course, but I couldn't thank him enough.

Like the autowallah I had mentioned earlier, the utter elegance with which help was given is something worth learning, is it not?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I love my friends..

and apparently, they love me too.












 The Amazing M, on the banks of the Ganga at Kaudiyala

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

um..a compliment

I was walking along the street, and met a colleague walking the other way. We smiled and were about to pass each other when he did a double take.

HE (pointing in the general direction of my um..collarbones): Nii-iice!!
I: ?!
HE: I meant your um..um..your...um..your necklace!
HE (much relieved): Yes, yes. Your necklace. It is nice.
I (with a straight face): um..thank you

I waited for him to pass before breaking into the broadest smile ever and continuing my walk with just a little more spring in my step.

Balconette bras- nii-iice!

lemons = lemonade?

Had a 14 hour day, all of which was spent working on a project that I am not super keen on. In fact, if it was a personal decision, I would not do it.
But anyway..
On my way back I was looking forward to three things with surprising intensity:

1. A hot bath (bucket bath, but pleasurable nonetheless)
2. eating a papaya that I had left gently ripening on my table, and that should have been perfect when i reached home
3. surfing the net while eating- a little scrabble, a little keeping in touch with friends, a little reading..

well, the best-laid plans of mice and women and all that.

My boiler wasn't working. Then I discovered that it didn't matter, because there was no water. In the 14 hours that I had been away, my papaya had gone from hard and green-tinged to a pile of mould-covered mush. And yes, the net connection had crashed too.

What did I do?
well, I saved a liter or so of water from the pipes..enough to drink, and for coffee tomorrow. Quenched thirst. Had a sponge bath using one glass of that precious water. Added eucalyptus oil to the washcloth for warmth. Oiled my hair. End result? Not too bad, if you don't look at the still-grimy feet. Disconnected the modem, and took the phone to bed. Called mum and the One. And it was good.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

being politically correct- or not

A few weeks ago, I sat in on a meeting with two other people I respect. We were talking about access to services, I believe, and one of them made a comment that included the term 'disabled'. He was instantly corrected- 'ah, you mean specially-abled'.

To this, he replied that no, he meant 'disabled'. He continued to explain that it is necessary to recognize and acknowledge the fact that there are some of us who find this world a little difficult to navigate and need some help to do so. It is only then that we can seriously apply our minds to making sure this help is available at the time and in the manner that it is desired. He said a lot more on the topic, and listening to him, I realized all over again why I respect him so.

Since then though, I have been thinking. And I can see the point of both arguments. Terms used to address someone who is a little different can easily be a form of abuse. Old government records and texts abound with references to cripples, idiots, negroes and shudras. Each of these terms if uttered in public today would earn the utterer a black eye- and rightly so. But other than that, have things changed?

Does the number of 'g's with which one spells 'African' matter as long as one does not discriminate when working/socializing/loving? How about the other way round? What I see these days is that people think that the only thing that matters is to use the politically correct term. Use the cumbersome 'he or she' as a pronoun, but only employ a woman as a receptionist. Say 'specially-abled' but retain thresholds in all your doorways.

This has led to people doing two things with equal passion: hunting out increasingly obtuse terms, and insisting that there is nothing demeaning about a spade being called a spade.

Me, I am not sure. I dont know what comes first- respect or a respectful term. What do you think?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

dussehra


Every dussehra, there is a fair at Parade Ground, Dehradun.
This year, I toddled off there with a colleague, and am very glad I went.
It was fun for me- a trifle noisy, but interesting.
The gods were nice to watch, of course, but far more interesting were the people.
The gangs of little boys determined to have a good time- they would form chains and dart about blowing whistles and tooting horns. fun? well, whatever works,I suppose.
The families that came here anticipating much pleasure- with full blown picnics, with gift-buying, with street-food.
And individual people themselves:
My colleague who took so much pleasure at the shooting rinks- never mind that the target was all of 2 feet away. and the Sadhu who watched with child-like pleasure and then took his turn.

The woman who took the role of Kali with far more fierceness and dignity than a parade called for.

My colleague and I took a lot of photos, and they are posted here.
dusshera, dehradun

Monday, September 28, 2009

In which she moves again..

but only a floor up. From being a mouse in a cozy cave to being a birdie in a light-filled nest. I liked my earlier house, I like this one too..and I love, love, love the windows that fill our home with light and air.
I am still settling in, and will be nesting for the next week or so, but am home for Dussehra ,and that is good.
However.
A note to those whose opinion matters to me, especially The One: When I said I want a pink bedroom, I did not mean this pink. honest.
That shall be changed in a month or two, but I cannot do anything about the grill over the washbasin. No doubt, it is a holy symbol and will prevent vampires from entering. However, for me the whole swastika-in-a-circle-in-a-square thing is unsettling, to say the least. what do i do with it? place a fern?
Or I can simply brew me some coffee, take it and me to the balcony, and sit looking at the sky.

Ah yes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

la vida locavore

corny title..but how can one resist it?

In the year that I have been in Dun, I have eaten more local and more in tune with the seasons than I have since my childhood. I make no claims to eating truly local- my coffee comes from Mysore, the nutty-sweet parboiled rice I love was grown along the Konkan coast, and my olives, sadly, have given many a whale a migraine.

But when it comes to produce, I do tend to eat seasonal and local. It makes so much sense, I have been doing it unconsciously. I just realised it yesterday when I had a lets-dance-a-jig moment on seeing some baby radishes with their tops still attached.
and today i saw these..

They are called 'singadhe' here, and I have no idea what they are..some type of marsh/water loving plant seems to be indicated by the occasional slimy bits I find near the stems. Beyond that, I haven't a clue. I first saw them a year ago when I arrived in dun, and here they are again.

And now lots and lots of greens will flood the market, and grapefruit, and other such yummy things. this is a fun way to eat- stuff oneself with the freshest, best, (and funnily, cheapest) of produce. By the time I get tired of something, it's season is over and there is something else to look forward to.

Addenda (28 September)
  • The singhade are water caltrops, and thanks to Maals for telling me of them
  • I take back the 'corny title' comment, because since I posted this article, I found a website by that name and a fine one it is too..

whom we met..

On the trail to Mukteshwar, as we came out of the forest, we came across this little chap. Perfect setting, no? the clumps of grass, the black-and-white spunky little calf, and those skies. Barely visible in the snap are the Himalayas, which we could see a lot more clearly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Taaliyaan

today it is exactly a year since I began working here.
Last year, today was my first day at work, I had found a coffee shop the previous day ,and I was darn pleased with myself.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Petal trails

So I am back to telling stories of my weekend trip to the hills. The walk to Mukteshwar was full of wildlife..both flora and fauna. This post is not really another wildlife roll-call, because I want to tell you of the flowers.

Wild flowers there were many- ground orchids, and flowering grasses, and daisies. These were pretty enough, but did not intrigue me.

What intrigued me is that the forest path to Mukteshwar was strewn with dahlia petals. Not all of it, but enough that I would notice. There was a trail of them along the path, and every now and then, a little group of the petals. Not too many, maybe a half dozen. But definitely noticeable. I actually considered napaeae, but laughed the thought away.

The mystery was solved when I came across two women who had come there to cut fodder for their animals. We stopped and chatted for a while, and as they turned away, I saw the petals again. They were wearing dahlias in their hair, and the flowers were shedding their petals. As they walked, the women were leaving a petal trail

hm. So maybe my wood-nymph idea was not too wrong, after all.