Thursday, April 30, 2009

absolute besharam trumpet-blowing

but I am absolutely happy with this.
A travel article I wrote has been published in an online magazine- MuseIndia. you can read it here, I am extremely thrilled, and I would never have sent it if my sis had not made sure I did..
thanks, Acs!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I made a new friend today

He doesn't talk much, but he looks awful good..
Please meet Girgit.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

of craftspersons

a couple of days back my computer's power cable died in a mini-explosion of sparks and smoke. i went to my friendly neighbourhood electrical goods shop, but he did not have the cable i was looking for. so he picked up half a topaz shaving blade, a bit of duct tape, and a one-inch long piece of insulating sleeve and spliced the thing together for me. And you know what? not only does it work ,but i know it will work for longer than it did originally. That is because he taped it in such a way that the weak point-where i would always twist the cable- is now protected. I also feel safe with this because he took a lot of pains to make sure the insulation was ok.

and this brings me to the story of my cobbler. He has a little concrete platform, an umbrella and a locked wooden box of tools and materials. I have been to him a couple of times, and each time, I was amazed by the amount of care he took over his work. He would go on reinforcing tears long after i would have thought 'Done!' and then paint the thread over, and then polish it all up.

You will notice that the paragraph above is a horror of mixed tenses. I do tend to do that, but in this case I am confused too. A few weeks ago, we had a massive storm. The next day, the cobbler was not at his stall, and he hasn't been there since. First M and I joked about his flying away, Mary Poppins- like, to a place where he was needed more.

but i am worrying now. he was an old man. he worked painstakingly to scratch out a meagre living, and still took pride in his craft.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

carnival's here!

well, a blog carnival, anyway. I am participating in this month's issue of Carnival of Cities, hosted this time by eyeflare.
there are a lot of interesting posts, so do go visit..and yes, my name is spelled as Chico. Don't snigger, I quite like it. Chicu Uttarakhandi meets Mexican bandit!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

a poem

friends and family, please do not worry about the loneliness theme. It is pure coincidence, but I came across a most lovely poem by Stephen Dunn on Tara's blog, and want to share it with you. Here it is.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

the single life and loneliness

have a verra compleeecated relationship. Things were just fine when ALL my relationships were long-distance. Recently though, I have been having Visitors. And guess what? I'm lonesome.
It is the incompleteness of it all that gets to me.
My mum is here. My sister isn't. the eating of mango curry is a sad thing without her.
Two much-loved and waited-for friends visited me last week. the Wonderful One they has introduced me to won't be here for a long while yet.

Haridwar: the coin collectors

so this one does not do it for a living, but she takes pains over it. The lady is my mum, and she was standing bent over the coins for 15 minutes in the sun- which is a LOT. the coin seller looks bemused..

Monday, April 20, 2009

Har-ki-Pauri: the private life of sadhus

Most Sadhus, I've heard stay at dharamshalas or with friends for the night. Those on the road sleep in caves or in temples. During this visit to Haridwar, I came across a group who had settled down in a nice little home. There were three of them, who I instantly slotted into a family unit- mother, father and daughter. I might be wrong-I usually am- and this might be more of a working unit. In addition, there were some visitors/friends who were lunching there.

The house was nice- it was on a quiet stretch of the Ganga, overlooking the water, and shaded by a Peepal tree. It was built of wood, bamboo and tarpaulin and had a sturdy look to it. It was also quite spacious and the interior was divided into three rooms, which were furnished in the manner of most tribal houses in the plains- a charpoy, extra mattresses, trunks, a shrine, and a neat kitchen.

And they had a kitchen garden too. It is interesting how kitchen gardens speak of their tenders. This was neat, and had the following plants: one little peepal tree that seemed to be worshipped, a tiny banana plant (this was grown less for the fruit than for the leaves which are so necessary in rituals, I suspect), some coriander, some spinach, and a large amount of cannabis. and there we are- the body and the soul catered to by 1.5 sqm of land

Friday, April 17, 2009

I have mentioned before how my mum is fiercely holding on to her mobility. Well, we are planning on a day trip to Rishikesh this Sunday. Now it is possible to minimize walking there, but not eliminate it entirely.

And so, mum and I had a conversation that went something like this.

I (brightly): you know, lots of shops sell canes in Rishikesh. Why don’t you buy one?
She (puzzled): what?
I(miming holding a walking stick): a cane! To walk with!
She(expressing concern): for you? Your knee is paining?
I get message and shut up.

Am worried about her, but proud of her too.

Har-ki-Pauri: Coin Collectors

I have described the coin collectors of Gadmukteshwar before. Here, I saw some adaptation in the drag-a-magnet technique. At Har-ki-Pauri, in the bathing channel, the waters are turbulent. This means that one cannot drag a magnet attached to a string, and needs to attach it to a stick instead. The turbulence and refraction make it difficult to spear a coin properly. And this is where ingenuity comes in. The coin-collectors use a pane of glass to overcome both these challenges. In the photo ,one can see the man use peer through the glass and raise his stick to 'spear' the coin.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Har-ki-Pauri: people

Not entirely sure of the story behind this..but there were a few people dressed like this. They would place a teeka on pilgrim's foreheads in exchange for a few coins. Perhaps they are supposed to be the reincarnation of a god. If you know more, please let me know. Incidentally, this photo was taken by M.. good, no?

Har-ki-Pauri: mundans galore

One thing about the whole baisakhi-on-the-ghats-phenomenon, the part that kept the Amazing M and I engrossed, is that there were a lot of sub-plots in the script..

one of those was the Mundan ceremony. the first time a child's hair is cut is auspicious, and a time for celebration. It is normally shaved right off, and like all family celebrations, everyone other than the chief player has a whale of a time. What better time than the festive occasion of Baisakhi to shave your child's locks off?

and so it was that on the banks of Har-ki-Pauri, there were a lot of groups of a barber, a child, and it's parents intent on a haricut. And there was also a priest who supervised all the groups and after the shaving, painted a swastika with kumkum on the child's forehead.

M and I watched one such group. Incidentally, the photo here, and some of those that will follow are hers- she tends to take portraits of strangers with far more flair and gumption than I can muster.

Anyway, about the child being shaved. While the process was going on, the child was quiet and engrossed in the floor. We could imagine it thinking," there is something scraping across my head, and it seems that something is going on around me. But all that can wait. Right now, this floor is really interesting."

Anyway after the process was over, the parents, priest and barber were all standing and congratulating each other. The child was standing and rubbing its head with a puzzled air."it feels different..something is definitely different.."

The last part of the process is rubbing dahi on the child's head. I think this relieves the itching and acts as a conditioner. But it had a most interesting effect on this child. It put springs on its feet. The shock of the cold was a little too much, and boingboingboingggg it went about the ghats.
Finally, it sat down and began wailing.. All the adults, us nalaayak ones, were laughing their heads off.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


April 14th was Baisakhi, the harvest festival. Though this was originally a family-based celebration to celebrate the end of work and uncertainty for the current year, these days it has take a more spiritual role. The result being that several people bathe in the Ganga on this day. Presumably, this washes away the sin of using chemical fertilizers- perhaps.
anyway, a colleague and I toddled off to test a survey instrument on the unsuspecting, drenched, shivering, half-naked pilgrims. For the first hour or so, all we could do is look around with shining eyes and open mouths at all that was going on around us.
I have stories to tell ,and will be telling them, no fear.
till then, here are the pics

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Accessibility in India

I was thinking about the whole issue of making places accessible to those who are not very mobile. Maybe it is not perfect in any country, but India needs to pay more than lipservice to the whole accessibility issue. There are some steps being taken by the government, and there was a time when I was happy with it- thinking that it is a start, and can only get better. Now, I think of these measures as more of an insult than anything else.

A couple of years ago, there was a government decree that Panchayat schools be made accessible. On the ground, this was interpreted as building a ramp. The thresholds to the classrooms were not removed, the width of the verandah did not accommodate a turning radius, but a ramp was provided, and the conscience of the government was at rest. Technicalities aside, how many villagers in India can afford a wheelchair?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Delhi with my Mum: an accessibility primer

This weekend, I was in Delhi with my mum, and realised how difficult it is to be even moderately infirm in India. My mum is a senior citizen and not in the best of health. She is not confined to a wheelchair or to her home (thank all concerned gods/other paranormal entities/genes/pharmaceutical companies), and is holding on to that mobility with a fiercely proud grip. It is increasingly difficult for her to do it. I was travelling with her after a very long time, and realised how accessibility can be an issue in most cities in India.
Let us look at the positive aspects of it first, shall we?
  1. A lot of public spaces being designed today (metro stations, Delhi Haat) have wheelchair access. These are well designed, with adequate turning space, and toilets.
  2. The Metro has signs in Braille, and lifts in some stations.
  3. India has a warm informal support system, where shopkeepers and strangers are willing to help people in need. This takes many forms, from giving up a seat in a train for an old lady, to allowing her to sit in one’s shop for a few minutes.

But now for the negative aspects.
  1. It was difficult to find a quiet hotel with a room on the ground floor. In the end, I had to settle for a bed and breakfast with lift access, which was not ideal.We had to walk long distances for an auto-rickshaw, and very often we had to tailor our itinerary to transport constraints- auto rickshaws do not agree to travel short distances.
  2. There are no safe and clean places to sit down and breathe in the middle of a stroll in a shopping area. You either need to grit your teeth and go on till you collapse, or settle down on the steps. This is not ideal either- apart from the cleanliness issues, it is difficult to get up from a low seat.
  3. Indian Rail is perhaps the most inaccessible public amenity ever designed. I was there with my mum and three bags. This is not excessive luggage, and all we needed to do was get onto a train. But between climbing the overhead stairs, looking for the compartment, and negotiating the narrow passages, it was hell. You know I am biased towards Indian Rail, but its accessibility needs work. Wheelchairs are available, but what do I do with them on the stairs?

What would have helped?
  1. Provide benches in market areas. I cannot emphasize enough how crucial this is. Being able to break the journey will make it possible. Providing a bench can also make the difference from ‘sitting down for a break’ and ‘collapsing of exhaustion’ for a senior citizen on a solitary jaunt. I have heard the strangest reasons for not providing these, one of them being that they will attract ‘anti-social elements’. I might be wrong, but i do believe that ASEs do not consider accessibility as one of the criteria when looking for places to haunt. And I will deal with them, thank you; I have a whole arsenal of looks-that-beseech and glares-that-intimidate at my disposal.
  2. It should be mandatory to provide lifts at public transport hubs. The Metro does have them, but not at every point of exit, and they do not go to the ground level. I agree that there are volume issues with providing lifts at railway stations. They have the potential to be a bottleneck or in worst cases, a stampede catalyst. So limit access. Make it pay-per-use. I don’t care- I need an option that saves a senior citizen the necessity of climbing the overhead bridge.
  3. Make pavements hassle-free. Delhi is trying. But we seem to have adopted the European custom of walking path- cyclist’s path- vehicles- buses. It does not work in India. Motorcyclists take over the cyclist’s path and the cyclists go onto the pedestrian area which is already occupied by hawkers, and the pedestrians give up and hail an auto-rickshaw. Cycle paths need to stay and be protected; far too many cyclists are killed. But this system needs to make space for street hawkers. There is nothing wrong with them- peddling things on the street is an important part of the economy and needs to be recognised as such. Create alcoves that are free to use for hawkers; make it impossible for scooterists to use the cycle paths. Walking should be a pleasure, not an extreme sport.

And surprisingly, I think that is all that is needed. Even the first two will be enough. But I think that the problem is not the lack of benches or lifts. The problem seems to be urban planning for automobiles and not for people. And how do we change that?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Rather Nice Stew

I had dinner at the amazing M's place last week, and her mum cooked us a most amazing Lepcha pork curry. Tender it was, and luscious and the smell had me forgetting my 'guest' manners and hovering over the pressure cooker.
since then, I have tried the recipe with pork, and chicken, and lotus root. It is scrumptious each time, but my curries dont mesh together the way they are supposed to. They are good, but the ingredients can still be separated out.. dont know how to tackle that.
But here is how to do it.
Take a pressure cooker. put in a lot of chopped onions, a slightly smaller quantity of chopped tomatoes, as much chopped ginger and garlic as you like, and a little more chopped chilies than you think you can handle (the toms and onions add sweetness). sprinkle some salt over all this, and add the meat. Pressure cook till tender.
Eat with rice/dosas/appams/bread. Or just throw some potatoes with the meat and eat those.
This is simple, extremely tasty, and extremely good for you ( all that ginger, garlic, onion and tomato cannot help but boost immunity).
Try it, and let me know how it goes. And yes, I will thank M for you.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

how my garden grows

the kawati chapha


I have had an obscenely happy childhood. And even in that, there were high pockets- times of absolute bliss. I was happiest during the summer holidays. I would then take a book and self down to the garden, find a nice place either under or on a tree, and settle down for the rest of the day. That was absolute bliss..
 Summer afternoons awaken all the senses. They smell of plants and fruit blossom and gently ripening fruit. The birds are silent then, but one can hear bees, and perhaps, a solitary bird every now and then. It is bright, and hot, but pleasant where one is sitting, and occasionally a cool breeze blows. The book is perfect- interesting enough to engage ones attention ,and light enough to allow a little gentle appreciation of the wildlife around.
Because that was the high point of these afternoons.
 When lying down on the ground or sitting on a branch, one’s nose is inches away from where all the action is. Ants collecting food, interesting beetles, mites, camouflage wearing moths- one suddenly is part of that world. But I haven’t been part of it for a long time now. I haven’t had a garden for the longest time, and I have not had the empty afternoons either.
 And that is the reason I am so happy about how I spent my Sunday. I took myself accompanied by a rug and a book to the garden. I spread the rug on the lawn and strategically placed myself so that my head was in the shade and feet in the sun, and read all afternoon through. And I am an idiot for not doing that sooner. Because I discovered a whole army of ants, and fed them crumbs. And I watched a babbler collect material for her nest. I discovered that the seeds of the flowers in my garden are fragrant in their sunny beds. And oh, best of all, I discovered that a kawati chapha grows in my garden.
 This is another part of my childhood that I considered irretrievably lost. The kawati chapha (egg-like flower) is a wonderfully fragrant shrub that used to grow in my garden at Sawantwadi. After I left, I never came across it again. On Sunday, when I was reading, I could smell this wonderful sweet-but-not-cloying fragrance but could not place it. But it felt so much like my childhood! It is only when identifying the smell became really important and i raised my head to search for the source that i discovered the ‘ornamental ficus’ in my garden was flowering. Ficus my foot! It was a kawati chapha!
 I think I will be spending a lot of summer afternoons like that.
 And for those who are wondering, I was reading a good old-fashioned detective story. Wilkie Collins’ ‘ The Moonstone’. Interesting, entertaining, exotic and not too challenging. Perfect.