Saturday, May 30, 2009

the gods of signboards have a sense of humour..

considering what I wrote about Malsi Deer Park when I visited, this name change seems rather appropriate, does it not?

Friday, May 29, 2009

When in Pune, I commuted by scooter. In the course of riding a two-wheeler for a decade, I have had my share of accidents. The worst of those had me skidding down a hill when entangled with my scooter. Today I still have minor scars on my left arm and a left knee that is so badly scarred that doctors think those marks are acid burns. It also aches like crazy for the silliest reasons- when it feels a draft, when I am tense about work/life, or just because. And you know what? I am lucky. I was wearing a helmet at the time, and I still have what is left of it. The left jaw of that helmet has been shaved away till the inner foamy lining. That could have been my face.

Why am I telling you these gory details? Because I went to see my mum off at the Delhi airport and a man died in front of me.

He was riding his bike on the highway, with his helmet on his head but unstrapped. A car knocked him down, and his helmet rolled away. I called 100 to report the accident, and the response did not reassure me in the least. He was young, and I don't think his family and friends deserved this.

A few kilometers later, I saw another young man getting on his bike. He leaped onto it, slammed his helmet onto his head, and zoomed off- buckle straps flapping. The utter idiot. I was so angry, I wanted to go up to him and HIT him.

So please, people. Don't wear the helmets just because the traffic chaps will pull you over..The safe-sex campaign has hopefully taught us that it's cool to be responsible. Extend this to other areas too (no, that was not a pun!). Wear a helmet, buckle a seat belt. Please.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


my bedroom windows in the morning sun. dust, rust and all..
art is where you find it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ram Rai Darbar

Information about the Darbar and its history can easily be obtained online. However, in keeping with the Dehradun Urban Art Project, I will talk about the murals here, will do?

Firstly then, go there with plenty of time on your hands. To do the paintings justice, we need to give them plenty of unhurried time. Also, most of the paintings are way above eye level, so it will also help to have enough time to rest ones neck every now and then. The Darbar is in the form of an exterior wall with an imposing gate that encloses a large courtyard with a number of buildings inside. The gate, fa├žade and the building that provides accommodation for all visitors are covered in a wealth of exquisite murals. The paintings cover a number of decades, styles, and subjects. At first glance, my paranoid mind was disturbed by the many Hindu gods in a Sikh place of worship. However, I then noticed that the paintings cover Sikh and Hindu parables, as well as a great many secular scenes. Donors, prominent citizens, scenes from daily life, and stylized mughal style floral decorations all co-exist happily here.

Here are some snaps, of the paintings that most struck my fancy- but I do need to go there again and drink it all in.

This photo gives one an impression of what the paintings look like. Please notice the happy juxtaposition of Sikh gurus, scenes from the Ramayana, a Rajput (?) woman poet, the mutton-chop whiskered person negotiating/chatting with a person who from his turban looks like a king from Peninsular India, and most intriguing of them all, the figures who look like twenties BYTs in their flapper dresses, multi-strand pearl necklaces and cloche hats..

Another general shot, with more secular scenes than the earlier one had. Here one sees, I think, Mughal courtiers, some people from Maharashtra and is the man in the centre left hand panel a Parsi? Apologies for the tilt, by the way. I should load me a program with a tilt-corrector, but it is a lot less trouble to just incline my head to the left. Try it, it works!

I like this panel a lot. The wealth of detail is attractive, the trompe l'eoil effect with the two men (krishna and mysterious handsome guy) peering coyly out is even more so. The Darbar is reputed to have the only mural showing Noor Jehan and I wonder if the top centre panel is the one showing her. The head gear looks like it- any guesses?

On the right is just a close up of the floral detail..

And this surprised me quite a lot. The Dwarapaals at the front gate are British soldiers! Never have I seen that before. I am used to demons, well-endowed women, and deities with comfortably androgynous features. A britisher in full uniform with a sola topee is new to me. His uniform has three red chevrons. Can anyone tell me what rank that signifies? And what is meant by the NA on his topee? His is standing to the right of the door. The one on the left has NN on his cap.

The last picture. A most beautiful image of a woman playing the Veena. This is most Raja Ravi Verma-ish isn't it? I am not talking of the style, I do not know of that. I am talking of the woman. Her beauty, self-possession, and the feeling that she is not playing for anyone, but just playing music seems very typical of Verma's women..

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

For G...

who apparently is eating enough mangoes to warrant worrying if there is such a thing as mango overdose. Here are a couple of fun, messy things to do with mangoes. Quit grinning people, I am talking curry recipes here. These are from my childhood, and speak to me of cool red cement floors, 'home' mangoes, and lovely summer holidays.

Huli Mensu: Take one mango for each person. The mangoes chosen should be slightly tart. Wash them really well, and peel them, but keep them whole. Don't throw away the peels. Rub over the peeled mangoes salt, chili powder and jaggery/brown sugar. The amount of these varies with the sort of mango you have- the more flavourful the mango ,the less the dressing required. While they are soaking that all in, and the sugar is mixing with the mango juice and the chilli powder and becoming this luscious sticky sauce, get to work. Mash the peels with some tamarind pulp (again, depends on how tart the mango is- start with a ½" diameter sphere and work from there) and water(1/2 cup for each mango). Strain and keep aside. Take a karahi and heat maybe a tsp of oil. Throw in 3-4 crushed, unpeeled garlic cloves, half a tsp of mustard seeds, and 6-10 curry leaves- in that order. When they get all sputter and aromatic, add the mango-tamarind water. When that boils, slide in the mangoes and simmer for a minute or two. Season to taste. Wear something skimpy and old. Eat messily with lots of rice.

Sasam: And here you need slightly sweet mangoes, again one for each person (at least). Peel the mangoes, rub with salt, sugar and chilli powder as before, and keep aside. Discard the peels after extracting every last bit of juice out of them. If liked, add the pulp of an extra mango to this. Bear together curds and coconut milk (about ½ cup each per person). Add the mango juice, mix well. Add the whole mangoes. Just before serving, add a paste of crushed mustard seed and garlic (around ½ tsp per person). Eat with rice. Lots of it.

Either one of these can be made presentable for company simply chopping up the mangoes into neat cubes instead of using the whole fruit. The taste is unchanged, the fun and summerishness is vastly reduced.

Monday, May 18, 2009


How did we become so disconnected with our world, I wonder. When did it begin? For the past week, I have been coming across several examples of the way we expect the earth to continue providing. Actually, that statement is not absolutely true. We don't really think of how are needs are being met.

Sadly, this attitude does not even change when there is a crisis. 'somebody' is supposed to 'do something'. My sister was telling me of the garbage crisis in Pune. Pune's garbage landfill is now full, and the villagers are protesting against a health hazard in the vicinity of their homes. And who can blame them? Matters have reached crisis-stage now with some of the dumps of uncleared garbage self-combusting. This constitutes a major fire hazard, as most of the public trash collection points are near the slum areas. Summer showers are due too, and that might lead to an epidemic.

The solution is not to look for another dumping ground, but to lessen the amount of garbage in the first place. But how many people are willing to consider that? despite the considerable awareness about the harmful effects of plastic bags, people ask for them, fight for an extra bag with the vegetable vendors. Pune has in place a household segregation drive. It did not even work in the area where I live- an area where the affluent, educated, presumably-aware people live. Segregation is still done by the rag-pickers, mostly women and children, who climb into trash buckets with no protective gear whatsoever and pick through our waste for a few rupees. The rationale for not segregating one's waste at home seems to be, 'they will do it.'
This does not make sense. The knowledge that a human being will soon be touching your garbage should be incentive to segregate, to infuse some dignity into the process, rather than the other way around. As it is, people like my family who do segregate the garbage are considered to be wacky and naive at best.

I see this in unexpected areas too. from my wacky and naive point of view, a professional gardener should be intensively in tune with the earth. I expect that he or she has a keen awareness of what the earth needs, and a desire to nurture all that forms part of the garden. however, that seems not to be the case. My landlady has employed a gardener whose main concern is to keep it looking 'tidy'. This, for him, takes the form of obsessively removing the plants as soon as their flowers are past the peak, leaving the soil between the plants bare, and pruning in straight lines. This goes against the grain of all that I believe. You see, the garden is not a flower vase to display the best roses and dispose of them once they wilt. A patch of land is an organism, and everything has a function. Plants produce flowers by borrowing nutrients from the soil. Once they die, they give back those nutrients- with interest. Even as they decompose, the leaves and stalks shade the soil, prevent water loss, and provide shelter to small animals. If plants are pulled up after the flowering season, the soil is cheated of its nutrients, the animals are killed, and the garden becomes sterile. As every organic farmer knows, the essence of gardening is making sure to give back more than one takes..

This is a very hippie post, isn't it? but no, I have not been smoking pot. I did have a cannabis plant in my backyard, but last week the gardener pulled it up.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Urban Art: Clement Town

It is a mercy that I did not insist on secular art for the Urban Art Project. Most of what I find in Dehradun is linked to some place of worship or the other- like the Stupa at Clement Town.

Said to be the largest stupa in the world, it is linked to the Mindroling Monastery. Its size means that it does not have the exquisite jewel-box feel of the monasteries I visited in Sikkim. However it suits our purpose well, as now the rooms have the feel of an art gallery with the space and people walking by the murals on the walls. The paintings are beautiful and I wish I had photos to show, but photography is not allowed within the stupa, and quite right too. I did wish that there was some information about the murals and the stories they told. As it is, I looked at them with a kind of morbid fascination- some of the scenes are pretty gruesome.

I lost my objectivity when I came across the Yab-Yum images. These show the deities copulating with their spouses. When I first saw the paintings, I thought there was a sad disconnect between the individuals in each couple. In most images, the women are straddling the men, who are sitting in a padmasana or standing. Passion and yearning is visible is every line of the female deities. Each woman embraces her man, back arched, eyes closed, lips pursed, straining towards him till my own back tensed in sympathy. The men, on the other hand, are calm. Seated erect, they stare straight at the observer. They are serene, detached, seeming not to notice the love that is being offered to them.

I saw this and felt a rush of pure rage against this mindless seeking of perfection for the self. What use is enlightenment, I thought, if it does not enable us to recognise the joy that could be ours. But then I noticed that each of the male deities had a hand curled around his spouse’s waist. I blinked, and the picture changed.

What I had earlier read as aloofness now seemed to me a quiet strength. This strength seemed be what made it possible for the women to be consumed with passion the way they were. The erect, yet reposeful, posture of each male deity seemed now to support his lover through her orgasm. I was comforted by this, and moved on, only to stop at the next mural.

This was also a yab-yum image, but of the wrathful deities. I stared for a long time at Mahakala and his consort. The wrathful deities- both male and female- are demonic in form. Mahakala’s lover was depicted warts and all, but still exhibited uninhibited passion in every twisted line of her deformed body. She is angry, bristling (literally!), pot bellied, fang toothed, and clawed; even so, Mahakala’s arm is wrapped protectively around her. This image made me feel a surge of real love and admiration for Tantric Buddhism.

Mary, Victor, and all the rest of you, look at this and learn. It is a beautiful world when even the ugly are permitted to love and be loved.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I mentioned my quest for urban art. A couple of days ago, I went to Rajpur with my colleagues, and we came across a temple near a lychee grove. The grove itself was beautiful, and made me immediately switch into planning mode for when The One gets here..the temple erased all thoughts of anything other than the structure from my mind . It is very small and brightly painted. So when inside, I felt as if I was inside a jewel box. and standing there, one looks out over the tops of lychee trees to the Himalayan foothills. Beautiful.

here are the pics

Does this qualify? well, the temple is in a village, so not quite urban. But Rajpur is pretty much like an arty suburb of Dehradun. And this is true public art. So yes, it stays.

The Urban Art Project

I am now pretty well settled in Dehradun. I have a library membership, phone-with-internet, and a shopkeeper who starts measuring out a quarter-kilo of coffee beans the instant I walk into his shop. I know where to find momos, bread, cheese. I know cafe-cum-bookstores, and some of them recognize me. I have arrived.
If there is something I still miss here, it is art. Who needs Art when they are surrounded by Nature, you ask? erm, I do. I need to know that while I may be nasty, brutish and short, the Human Life is not..

Museums, plays, music shows, I want. currently, I listen to music on the net, and read a lot. I miss the other stuff.I want paintings and sculpture. in a museum is nice, but better still is when it is unexpected. I like it when paintings and sculpture are a part of the city. And that I have just not found in Dehradun.
So I am now on a mission. I plan to actively go out seeking public art in Dehradun and Rajpur. And I will be needing help..if you know of anything in d'dun, drop me a line. Now here, the definition will necessarily be flexible, but not much. So basically, anything that was created for its own sake counts, utility does not.

murals / art galleries / sculpture gardens/ museums : yes
architecture / pretty streets / landscapes: no ('tis not that they do not count, I am looking for something specific)

let's see kya milta hain..