Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I have never stolen anything that was actually being worshipped at the time

No, this is not my defense for stealing a boat. My comrades- DV and DM- lawfully rented the boat that took us from Allahabad to Varanasi.
The sentence is perhaps the most interesting thing I heard during the Ganga trip. We were visiting a very nice and hospitable gentleman when he said that.
But he was not the only interesting person we met. There was a young girl at Dumdumma, where we spent the first night. Educated in a NTPC colony, she moved back to her village when her father retired to discover that she did not belong to it anymore. She spoke English with us, watched as we packed our tents to leave- something she so badly wanted to do too- and did not let go of DM's hand as he stepped into the boat to leave.
There was Mr.R, who managed a toll bridge at Mahewa, and had been managing one since 1969. We told him of what an important job it was, but all he could repeat was that 'he had never been capable of getting a government job.'
The boatmen, who warrant a post of their very own.
The Os, with their gracious hospitality and their colonial lifestyle.
And of course, the three of us. Three very different people, very different backgrounds, very different reasons for doing this trip, and on one little boat for 7 days. Miraculously, we not only came out of it without tossing anyone overboard, but we actually ended up being friends.
And now we are each back, in our homes.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Vintage travel

I was travelling last week, and am off tomorrow for ten days. I will be taking baby steps along the same paths where some of my heroes strode. First visiting some mountains (THE mountains, the Himalayas) and then a river (THE river, the Ganga) . A bit of work, a lot of play.

The Ganga visit is utterly fascinating. Three strangers, of whom I am one, plan to buy/hire/steal a rowboat and paddle from Allahabad to Varanasi (150 kms, 2 hours by road, 5 days by boat). Only one of these three knows his/her way around a boat. We plan to take it slow, with the journey being far more important than the destination.

We will camp on the river islands, watch the sunset turn the river to gold. We will wake in time to see the sun's rays chase away the wraith-like tendrils of fog that rise from the water. At times, the river will be blanketed by flocks of migratory birds. We will pass different time zones. Some places, the banks will lined with forts that were once impenetrable but now are crumbling into the river. The next minute, we might pass groups of children exulting in the water they live by. While I expect to learn a lot more about myself and about my companions in these six days than about the people along the river, we will be treated to an ever-changing but eternal landscape.

And I will be doing all this without a camera. A grain of sand, nothing more, that my camera happened to swallow and this will challenge me more than the bed of the Ganga herself. I was pretty upset, as you can imagine.

But not any more. Think about it. The great travellers I grew up reading- the heroes I mentioned earlier- have not only  painted impressive images of the places they visited, but also of the flavour of their experiences. Their words and descriptions are with me wherever I go, adding to the pleasure of what I see. I greet some landscapes with the joy one reserves for meeting old friends, because that is what they are- I know these areas intimately through these books. The necessity of photographs? It's all maya.

I will see you around Christmas, then. With stories and sketches.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Of kitchens and cake baking

Today a friend and I baked a cake in the Sonapani kitchen. 'Because the students are coming', I explained. S and the staff grinned- they knew as well as I did that it was Mian's return that spurred my baking, not that of his brood.

It's an easy cake recipe and one that is complicated in the memories it brings up. My mum, my sis and I have been baking this cake always. It's a Thangam Phillip recipe, out of the book that we always turned to. The book carried evidence of the love we had showered on it..it was besmeared with masala and batter, dog eared, falling apart, and stuffed with handwritten recipes. That finally fell apart, and now I have the second generation copy. It too, is fragrant with all I have cooked from it. It too, has Amma's notes, written in her voluptous kannada-inspired handwriting.

I no longer need the book to make this cake with. What I do need is something to stop me from crying with missing my childhood and the many other times we have made this cake. My mum, my sis and I have made it in our old sawantwadi house, in the circular Bajaj oven that did not have a thermostat. We have made it happily for birthdays, and sadly for Acca to take to her college with her. We made it in Pune, in our spanking new OTG, again a Bajaj. I have made it super-sweet for a little baby who did not appreciate bitter chocolate yet. I've made it for a crush who called it 'captivating chicu's chocolatey chocolate cake'. I made it for Mian when he was not my Mian yet. I made it today to welcome him back after a week away. And I always miss my mum  and my sis when I make it.

But here is the recipe.
Ingredients:
1 cup maida
1 cup cocoa
1 cup butter
1 cup (or a little less) powdered sugar
1 pinch salt
4 eggs (3 if large)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla (or rum, or coffee)

Method:
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt together. Three times, and with the sieve 10 cm above the plate, my mum would insist.
Cream the butter and sugar together till very, very light and fluffy. The more, the better, Amma says.
Then add the eggs one by one, whisking after each addition. If it curdles, add a tbs of the dry mixture, she said while she rescued the cake. 
Then gently fold in the dry mix, moving in one direction only.
Add a little milk if it seems dry. It should look like dosa batter.
Pour into a buttered and floured cake pan. Bake for 30 mins or till done. Don't check for done-ness too often, it lets the cold air in.
Never in the last 30 years have the three of us been able to let a cake cool unmolested for long enough to ice it. If you are more disciplined than we are, good for you!


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Come, eat

I was reminded of this phrase 'basaa jewayala (come, eat)' when I travelled back home yesterday.

If you come across a person eating in rural India, expect to hear this phrase. The person might be a stranger, it does not matter, you will be invited anyway. The meal might be barely enough for one person, but it will still be offered to you. In most cases, this is an instinctive invitation and the expected response is a polite, 'please continue.' But if you are hungry and accept, the food will be shared gladly and with real pleasure.

This is something I love about India. There is always enough to share. 

This point was driven home to me a few times over the last couple of weeks. I was travelling back home with some students, and we were four to a seat. 'Will we fit in?' they asked me worriedly. 'Oh yes', I said. 'There are more coming' the driver said. And yes, we all fit in. And we picked up some more on the way. We sat on each other's laps, scrunched up tight, and there was plenty of room.

The bus I took home yesterday. I was holding on to the overhead bar, but knew that I didn't need to. Propped up by the many people around me, it is very unlikely that I could have fallen..I could barely breathe. And we still stopped every time someone hailed the bus. No one complained. On the contrary, people encouraged the driver to stop and take in more people. 'Squeeze in, there are children ahead'. 'Poor things, they are office-wallahs and this is the last bus home.' There was always room. 

So the next time I see a dangerously overloaded bus, I will not think of poverty, but of richness. We might not have a seat in the bus, but we can spare some stranger a long walk. We might have a roti for lunch, but we can still take the edge off someone else's hunger. There's always enough to share.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Winter and new beginnings

I have been rushing about various villages in the area recently. The thing that strikes me most is how wrong appearances can be. Over and over again, I am reminded of my one rule: Never underestimate anyone.

The old, traditionally dressed, illiterate grandmother turns out to be the manager of a micro-finance account worth Rs.80,000/-. The mouse-like assistant at the community health centre is the only one I met who is utterly confident of the vigour of panchayati raj institutions.
And the gardener in me notices with astonishment that what she had first considered to be the season of endings is burgeoning with new life. It is winter, and we are headed into the coldest bit.

But. Every village is teeming with new life. Winter wheat eagerly shakes off the shelter of the warm soil.Baby goats and calves are taking their first wobbly steps- or soaking in some sun.

While less momentous in the grand scheme of things, I have a new beginning too.
I will be writing of our homesteading efforts in a new blog. The blog, as does our home, requires a lot of tweaking. But I am excited to share it with you, and perfection is overrated. Isn't it?



The buffalo calf? photo taken by the Mian

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Mansion

When I got off at the Pul Bangash metro station (which thanks to Kavita and Unmana I know got its name from the when the Bangash tribe settled near a bridge) that I glanced out of the station and saw this tower.

I thought it was a church and walked out to see it. Its not.

It is the Roshanara mansion, and that is all I could find out about it. I would love to know when it was built and by whom. But while I don't have any factual information about it, I know this: its residents are warm and friendly folk.

I walked in the approximate direction of the tower, and found myself in a narrow road with high walls on either side. I stood there, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of that lovely iron dome when a young policeman came along and raised an eyebrow at me.

I saw a lovely tower, I told him, and I came looking for it. Is it a church? Would he know where it is?
That was no church, he told me, and instructed me to follow him. He turned into a narrow opening in the wall and up a steep flight of stairs.

And there I was, inside Roshanara Mansion. looking at a beautiful weather vane over a set of roofs. The building is now divided up into several small apartments, of maybe one or two small rooms each. I was ooh-ing over the weather vane when a woman came out of one of these apartments. We got to chatting, and it ended with her inviting me over for tea.

I am not sure if I would do that if I found a stranger gawking at my house- I hope I would.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Walking in Roshanara Bagh ,Old Delhi

It was when I was idly looking at my Delhi map (available free at tourism offices and the airport) that I saw a green patch labelled Roshanara Bagh.

Roshanara Bagh!

Built by Shah Jahans beautiful, talented and ruthless younger daughter, this eponymous garden is where she both relaxed and carried out her schemes. It is here that she came with a procession of richly decorated elephants to while away the hot summer months. Set in the dry and dusty plains of the Yamuna, the garden must have had all the cool sparkle of an emerald.

Despite reading about it in the 'City of Djinns', I was astounded that it still existed. On a  map. With a metro stop close by.

And so it is that I and a camera hopped on the Red line to the Pul Bangash metro station. I wish I knew how the area got its name, because it sounds like there is a story behind it. All I could find is that Bangash is the name of a Pashtun tribe, but nothing about a Mr.Pul.

I got there and tugged the sleeve of the first cycle rickshaw-wallah I could find. 'Can you take me there?' and for 20Rs, he did.

The garden might be a little dusty today, but since both the garden and its surroundings have degenerated with time, it still offers respite.

Its located off a busy circle on Roshanara road, and once you get in, the traffic seems far away. There are some horrible new additions (the 'sports maidan' gate, for instance), but if you squint, the old garden is still visible.

The structure of the garden, with its symmetrical partitions reminds you of its mughal origins. The cycas trees have not grown much since Roshanara last conversed with her spies. The mulberry tree might then have been a seed dropped by a bird.

The visitors have changed. There are cricket playing boys now. Families with stainless steel tiffins relax under the trees.

The residents have not changed much. Squirrels and mynahs and mongooses and hawks. They interrupted picnics then, and do so now.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A meeting in Delhi

from which I came away confused and a little sad. It wasn't so much the results of the meeting that made me react this way. It was the composition of the attendees. You see, back in 1999- when I attended my first work meeting, I was the only woman present. And my primary role there was to take minutes and hand my boss the appropriate files. But that was the construction industry, and that was the last century.

When I joined the NGO sector, I reasoned that things could only become better. And on the face of it, they were. There were more women present, but the great majority (myself included) were there to assist their bosses. They- and I- were the ones who did the implementation, but when it came to strategy, our male bosses handled it. Still, atleast 30% of the attendees were women, and I looked forward to all of us growing up and taking a greater part in strategy and planning.

Last week, I was the only woman at the meeting. Or so I thought till I looked behind me and saw a cluster of women sitting behind- away from the table despite there being plenty of vacant seats. They were research students, and had done the work that was being presented- by someone else. And it is ok, they were students, they were learning.

But why was I the only woman at the table? Where are my colleagues? I heartily support women's decision to work from home, to opt out of the rat race altogether. Mian and I too, have made a similar decision. And that is good..I strongly believe in shaping our lives to yield the highest amount of happiness possible- atleast till someone gives me concrete proof of reincarnation.

But I wonder about the role models these women- future scientists- have. The male students were at the table..why were the women not? Is this decision- the one most women of my generation made- responsible? But is it worthwhile to sacrifice my quality of life for some nebulous role-setting?

 I don't know. I wish I did.

On a different, but maybe related note, here is a picture I clicked of a toilet in Mussoorie. Stereotyping at its finest.





Monday, October 3, 2011

The house at Chatola

This is a long story that begins with a couple of other stories.

 One of my favourite school memories is that of my mum going into the garden at dawn to pick roses so I could take them to a teacher I had a crush on. These were no ordinary roses either; the Prince Edward is my favourite rose. Its short flowering season and leggy appearance mean that it is largely used these days as a stock rose, if it is planted at all. However, for sheer rose-ish-ness, it is difficult to beat. A voluptuous shape, deep pink colour, and a concentrated ittar aroma mean it has all that defines ‘rose’. I love this, and my mum and I have tried with varying success to grow this wherever we have lived.

And persimmons. The first time I ate one was in Seattle. After I learned the hard way that they are supposed to be eaten when squishy, I fell in love with the silky honeyed flesh. A year after I moved to Dun, I found and ate them again. Then I missed the next season. So yes, I have eaten them twice. I was excited to move to the hills because we have friends here who have a persimmon tree, and I might maybe, perhaps, hopefully, be able to beg a couple off them.

And now the main story.


A couple of days back, Mian and I arranged to meet at a house that we could possibly rent. We were sold on the fact that it is a traditional-style house(!) in an apple orchard (!), but there were a lot of things to be considered before we could allow our hopes to rise. I went there then, and not knowing where the entrance was, left the path and climbed up the hill once I saw the house. 30 seconds of scrambling, and as I came on to flat land, I found myself eye to eye with a stunning Edward Rose. ‘Home’ I thought, but did not dare to voice it.

Mian came along, and with increasing excitement we checked out the internet connectivity (it works!), the bathroom (the most modern thing in the valley), and the kitchen( adequate with a wee bit of work). Then we noted the more important things: a patio which gets the sun (soon to have raised herb beds , pots of lavender, a solar cooker, and comfy seating), a fireplace in every room (calling out for a rug and scrabble and glasses of amber liquid), wooden flooring, a singing stream, a wee view of the high Himalaya, a room for the goats and mushrooms we hope to have.

And then we discovered the four heavily-laden persimmon trees.


Home.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Almost there

I hate to start a post with an apology, but sometimes that's how it is.

I haven't posted for a while, and that's because I haven't been settled enough to do it. We have been travelling, and  my internet connection has been set up anew each day( usually by my patient Mian) and held in place with thread and willpower.

But today I am sitting at my own computer, with a working (touch wood) modem. Today, I am living what I had dreamt about when I first mentioned moving- sitting in a garden, writing, looking at the mountains, and waiting for my Mian to walk home to me. Life is good.

We are not home yet..we are still looking for a place to make our own. But for the next 10 weeks, we are living in paradise with friends. And it is good.



Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In which Mian and Chicu move house

We are off..
Finally, it seems like.
Too soon, I think the next moment.
But most of the packing is done. We are planning meals on what needs to be eaten up. We finished the open bottle of vodka last night. The phone is 'put in safe custody' as the BSNL chaps call it.
Stories are there, and will come soon. But not when I see unpacked stuff patiently waiting for me.
Soon, soon.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Jageshwar

I am short of words today, so this will be a picture-heavy post. But it doesn't really matter. Because Jageshwar tends to rob one of words. When my colleagues and I visited, we quietly walked among the trees and the temples. So in a way, you are getting the authentic experience.



Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I, ?

When I was in the 11th standard, my sis had just moved to Pune as a new bride and mother. She would send me clothes from the Big City, and once mentioned feeling out of place in a store. At that age, I could not picture the child on her hip, her being tired after a full day, and with the day's stains on her clothes any more than I could imagine the effect of these on her. I knew she was still my spunky & chic sister, how could she be out of place in a department store?

And then, like other things, I learnt this too. These days, I guess that I look like..well, like what I am. A conservatively and unimaginatively dressed , sometimes frumpy, sometimes frazzled woman. I generally wear a salwar-kameez, always crumpled and generally faded. My hair is gathered in a ponytail, and the escaped bits stick straight out. I wear glasses, flat sandals and no makeup. This means that if I ever enter anything other than a grocery store, I am looked down upon. Trendy salespersons correcting my pronunciation and assuming I can't afford what I am looking at happens pretty often, and I don't mind it. I was a salesperson once, and had made the same mistake. 'Paying for my sins,' I think and move on.

The other day, I entered an 'adventure goods' store in Dun to look at camping stoves. The other (male and six feet tall) customers had clearly just come off a cliff, clad as they were in mountain gear-from the shoes to the hat. When an overweight salwar-kameez clad woman with vegetables sticking out of her bag entered and asked to look at 'um..camping stoves..something that runs on butane, perhaps?', he came to a very understandable conclusion. 'Gas stoves are down the road' he said, pointing to the household goods section of the market.

Ouch. Considering that this is my favourite photo of myself:


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Not a nice place to be

Pantnagar, Uttarakhand.

It was once a dense forest. Loved by the animals that had adapted themselves to their home, dreaded by the invaders who sought to conquer it.

Pant nagar is today dominated by an industrial estate- sterile at first glance, its toxicity is apparent when you look deeper. The people we spoke with told us of moving here during the Bangladesh war when they were given permission to move into deserted army barracks. Outside the small cleared circle that was theirs, was terror in the form of a dark forest with wild animals. Now not a tree remains. The economy runs on doing 'labour work' for the industries. The rivers are polluted beyond imagination; the water from the wells tastes of antibiotics.

Despite this, rural life still attempts to hang on by its teeth.

Take the river below. Even from the bridge we could smell it- like a belch after taking a B-complex capsule. The water was grey and sluggish. Despite that, life goes on. Tame ducks swim in those water. There is a fisherman patiently throwing his net over and over again into the opaque waters. Not in the snap for reasons of respect are a family performing a puja for their ancestors.

Further on, I came across a buffalo-shoeing. Never having seen this before, I stopped to see and take pictures. My colleague was embarrassed; the shoers were delighted. And it is not as brutal as it looks. The man holding the buffalo's head was the owner, and the animal trusted him and lay there calmly as he stroked its head. The only time I saw the buffalo jerk its foot was when the man tapped the nails into place. Here is a photo.

Monday, August 22, 2011

the Kausani-Garur trek

I think (and please correct me if I am wrong) that it was Eric Newby who said of his wife Wanda, that she firmly believed that a hill should run downhill both ways. And I agree with her.

While trekking, every step is bittersweet. If plodding uphill, its ok- your reward lies a bit further ahead. Sadly, if you are gaily waltzing downhill ,you know you will pay for it soon.

Unless you are walking from Kausani to Garur. This is that magical thing- a mountain walk that's downhill all the way. It's 9 km, or so we were told by the chap who came with my colleague and me. We were walking through the valley to inspect the springs,but there are also lots of things for the holiday-maker to enjoy.

The walk starts at the Kausani market, or if you choose, you can motor down to the tea gardens like we did. Right opposite the gate, there is a earth path that goes downhill into the valley. Follow it as it meanders through a Tolkienish Shire.

There are no grand vistas here, no awe-inspiring panoramas. Here instead is the charm of well kept fields, of neat woods, and bubbling little streams that refresh these. The walk leads through satisfying varying terrain. Initially you walk through pine forests, which lower down are replaced by a mixed broad-leaf forest. This is lush and crossed by numerous rivulets that either have a bridge, or need to be crossed over. There are farms to walk through, and rivers to walk along.  The path goes by a school and some houses, each one of which has sunflowers growing in the yard. The best part? It's all downhill!

For us spring-surveyors, the valley and the walk was the destination. However, Garur is an interesting marketplace. We had a very satisfying meal of rajma-chawal (though everything tastes good after a 9km walk). And it is also the home of the Baijnath temple, which also has a tank full of fish which you can feed.

I tried to look for a map to share with you, but couldn't get one. Its best then, if you can get someone to show you the way. And since I have a reader who is making the trip with his 8-yr old daughter, this is also a good trip for young ones, provided you have a plan B. Either be prepared to carry the child yourself, or negotiate with someone at the market to show you the road, and also pick her up once in a  while. Its a safe path, with no cliffs or scrambles involved and will give her the thrill of completing a 'real' hike. And for added incentive, there are plenty of these fruit trees.
Nashpatis. And apparently so common that even the schoolboys were ignoring them. A couple plopped down in front of us, and we did not ignore them. And I am glad we didn't.  They were the sweetest, juiciest, crispest, freshest pears I have ever eaten.



Friday, August 19, 2011

Bonding

When I first moved to Dun and found myself friendless, I had begun looking among the office-wallahs for someone to hang out with. One of these had caught my eye, but to initiate friendship would have meant negotiating office hierarchy and gender politics. Consequently, I never invited S over for coffee. Three years later, I realised that I might have missed something.

I was regaling my colleagues at lunch with tales of my last trip in the mountains. When I was describing the drive, I said, ‘The worst thing about a pine forest is..’

‘A lack of undergrowth!’ interjected a gruff voice behind me, completing my sentence perfectly.

I turned around in disbelief to see S, the twinkle in his eye mirroring the one in mine. As the office looked on, we simultaneously burst into the uproarious, thigh-slapping laughter that is born of a shared embarrassing secret.

For those who don’t know why it is a bad thing, think about the long drives, the tiny hamlets, the utter lack of toilets. Think about the poor researcher forced to go on a long-ish trek till she is over the ridge just so she can be out of her colleagues’ view. Think about her discomfiture as she squats in relief and then notices a cowherd on the slope facing her.

Undergrowth is a good thing. Shared laughter is even better.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

the rasgulla that wasn't

We were driving down from Danya all the way to Dehradun. A two-day journey, and all throughout our driver only spoke of one thing. ‘We should stop for rasgullas at Nagina’, he said ‘I know a place where they are incredible. All officers beg to stop there.'

During the drive, my colleague and I swapped tales of the rasgullas we had eaten in Calcutta and vied with each other for the most mouth-watering descriptions of those luscious paneer balls. The first thing that something might be amiss came when I looked at the menu on the wall and asked, ‘What is the difference between a rasgulla (Rs. 5) and a chenna rasgulla( Rs. 6)? Aren’t all rasgullas made of chenna?’ We shrugged and ordered what our driver recommended- two samosas and two rasgullas each.

The samosas were everything they are supposed to be. Crisp, flaky, rich pastry enclosed warm, spicy-sweet soft potatoes and made us close our eyes in bliss. The rasgullas were not anything rasgullas are supposed to be. Simply because they were gulab jamuns. I have no idea why the names are mixed up. Other than the shape, rasgullas and gulabjamuns are as different as two things can be. A rasgulla is a ball of paneer dipped in sugar syrup and served cold. A gulab jamun is a ball of flour deep fried, dipped in sugar syrup and served hot.
That said, gulab jamuns are among my favourite sweets, and these were the best I’ve ever eaten. Not too sweet and without that annoying hard centre badly made ones have. These were served piping hot and were so soft they seemed to gently quiver on my plate. I polished mine off, and seriously contemplated walking around for a half hour just so I could have two more.

The place is well worth a stop if you ever find yourself driving down to Hardiwar from the east. The name of the shop is Tularam’s, and it is just opposite the railway station.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I, weasel

There are things I do not like in myself. Perhaps the most despicable thing about me is my utter unreliability towards those I love. I had grown up thinking that I would always stay with my mum and take care of her. A few years ago, I felt shuttered in and eventually ran away, metaphorically and literally speaking.

My sis and my niece are two people I utterly love, who I want to spend more time with, but don’t. This time, I was in Pune for one precious evening during which my niece smothered me with kisses and painted my nails ‘because you have a meeting’. I was almost in tears as she painstakingly, inexpertly applied sparkly pink to my fingernails. But early the next morning, while she slept, I went away.

And now the little child I teach. We might not have made much progress in English, but we have become great friends. As I plan for the winter, I feel regret at leaving her, but that is overshadowed by excitement. And yesterday, because my travels for the last few weeks have not let us meet, she sent me this through her dad.

In a month, while she sleeps, I will go away.

Monday, August 8, 2011

of a Naula

Naulas are the little depression springs that communities in Uttarakhand use to collect drinking water.
As Naulas go, the one on the left is a pretty typical one. Its located in Bageshwar district. As you see, the spring has been enclosed using attractive stone masonry. Two little lampholders guide passing travelers. The water is cool and clear. The cleanliness is not by accident. There are various signs painted on that request the users not to use soap within the spring or otherwise pollute it in any way.

Sadly, this desire to not pollute it is used to further oppression. There is a hamlet nearby where people of the scheduled caste live. They are not allowed to use this spring, though it is close to their hamlet. Instead, they must use one a kilometre away. In the summer, their spring dries up. Then they are 'generously' given water from this spring. Provided of course, that they do not defile it by entering the premises. And so, they are not allowed to help themselves to the water. Instead a brahman must pour out the water into their pots from a height. What if there is no brahman present, you ask? well then, they are expected to wait till one such person comes along.

And that is the image that has been haunting me since I returned. People patiently waiting beside a full pool of clean water, but unable to use it. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Conversations on the road

If you haven't guessed already, I've been away. 5 districts in two states, and I haven't processed it all. The landscapes, of rural UP and the Himalayas were stunning enough to make me gasp for pleasure. This was a work tour, and my colleague and I were hosted by extremely passionate and committed people. We saw wonderful work being done, and magnificent restored forests. At the same time, there was much to distress me- xenophobia, untouchability, smugness. Great joy, great sadness, and I still need to sort through my photos, notes and memories. Till then a conversation:

Me (hunting for um, feminine products at a junction town): Hello Bhaisaab. Do you have Kotex?
He: (Blank stare)
Me (getting a little desperate because my colleagues might turn up) : Um. Kotex? Stayfree? Whisper?
He: What are those?
Me: Sanitary napkins. Do you have any?
He: What are those? Something to do with a camera?

There were many responses possible to that statement. A short sex-ed class might have been called for. I could have said,'It could be, but that's way too kinky for me'. I chose the coward's way out.

 'No. Thank you anyway.'




Thursday, July 21, 2011

Impossible fantasy

I've spoken before of the 10-year old Chicu and her fascination with the landscape Corbett walked in, of how it seemed so remarkably far away to her that she did not even yearn to see it. When she grew up a bit more, she believed that a sign of maturity is to erect a fence around one's fantasies. And so the pine forests were replaced by a farm in the western Ghats .This she did yearn for, and visualised it in great detail- the kitchen garden, the view, the chanderi sarees on the windows. Eventually, that too got filed away as an impossible thing, something to be joked about.

And now, she's doing it. All growned up, and she's learned that its not necessary to limit dreams, just to reach out for them.

Come September, I pack up our life here and move to the hills. Mian and I will find a little house in the hills, and make it home for the next few years. We'll be in the district of Nainital, where Corbett lived. The area where we are moving to has pine trees and rhododendrons, and Himalayan magpies are as common as crows. More important, it has the two of us together. For that, I'd gladly exchange any number of rhododendrons.

We hope to rent a house built in the traditional manner, with slate and mud. A little garden we'll have, where we'll grow corn and roses, cabbages and jasmine. I'll sit in the garden and write. Mian will have me to come home to every night. It'll be a good life.

There are worries. The nearest coffee-vendor is 4 hours and an overnight stay away. I've always been a salaried person, and have quite liked the calm knowledge that come the first week, i'll have cash in my account. The one thing I am bad at is project-peddling. Mian will be away for six months in a year.

But the other six months will be together. I am excited and nervous at the same time. If I had a tail, it would be going around in circles.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

13 july

The blasts in Mumbai.
Feel compelled to record it somehow in here.
Though this is an over-recorded world. The images that allow no one their dignity, these times that make a pain-dazed person a 'good shot'.
My friends are okay..I still have 'what-if's going through my head

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

coffee, books, art

It happens sometimes that you like a place despite the odds; you keep returning there while unable to explain why. 124 Bluestone Road at Dehradun, is that place for me.

When I describe it to my friends, I find myself mumbling, unable to use logic to entice them there. Normally, mind you, I'd steer clear of a place that styled itself an 'art cafe'.  I would be dismayed by their 'pay what you like' policy, knowing that I would always overpay instead of running the risk of underpaying. I would be disappointed when I went there on a hot afternoon to discover that they only sold nescafe and a small range of hot teas.

But I go there. The place is always cool and dimly lit with scattered lights. They have books for sale. The teas are nice. Its quiet and unhurried, and no one minds when you settle down to savour your drink. They showcase local artists, including our young friends from Streetsmart. It is a lovely place to go there tired after a day of chores, it is even nicer to go there with friends. One such friend introduced me to the cafe, and perhaps I like it because of the conversation we had there. They showcase local musicians, and have regular concerts (put up on their Facebook page).

The easiest thing, perhaps, is not to overanalyze the whys..I like the place, and I plan on visiting it soon.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The story of Bakasura

Mum wanted a hen, and so got this ruffly-feathered 2-month old teen from a neighbours. The ruffly feathered ones are supposed to be good luck, they reflect all malicious thoughts back onto the thinker and prevent them from ever reaching the house. And mum and I were thinking of chicken tractors, and chicken manure and other such good things for the garden.

So she came, and her desire- and ability- to eat everything all the time prompted Mum to name her Bakasura, after the giant whose only claim to fame was his appetite. So things went well the first couple of days. She was tied by a long string to get her used to the place, and she seemed content enough. The only time she got agitated was when a neighbour's rooster would crow. We decided to get some company for her by and by.

And yesterday Mum called to tell me Bakasura had eloped. Apparently, our girl's appetite extends beyond food. The first day mum let her loose, she behaved in an exemplary manner. She ate grass and worms, responded to her name, and stayed within sight of the kitchen. Till 10 AM when that rooster crowed. Bakasura than picked up her skirts and ran to him, only to return 12 hours later. This went on a couple of days, and Mum decided to tie her again.

What's a bit of an old saree between lovers? Bakasura pecked it off and ran away again. Mum gave up, and gave her off to the owners of the rooster (her in-laws?)

The next market day, she'll get a pair.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sindhudurg fort

It was built in the middle of the sea in the 17th century and has lots of interesting architectural features. And it is accessible by boats that have been built using the same techniques for centuries. And despite having lived in the vicinity of Sindhudurg Fort for 16 years, I never visited it. It was time, I decided. Buses run daily between Sawantwadi and Malvan, which is where the fort is. For impatient travellers, buses run with 15-minute frequency from Sawantwadi to Kudal, and then from Kudal to Malvan. Malvan is also where Malvani cuisine- the coconut-based seafood meals we associate with the Maharashra coast- gets its name from. So do eat a meal there.
Sadly, I forgot that the monsoon makes the fort inaccessible between June-September. Going there in the 2nd week of June was probably not a very smart idea and I had to be content with looking at it from the beach. The upside was that I got a jolly nice shot of it, if I do say so myself. I like that the photo seems black and white, but it’s an accurate rendition of what the day was like.


And here’s a photo of the bus-stand. I like the raindrops, the coconut trees and the hurrying conductor.

And finally, a note on the boats. I have read an account of the preposterous and barbaric way in which boats are built in the Konkan. I don’t remember the traveller or the period, and need to check. ‘The natives do not use nails or any iron’ the author had fumed. He went on to say that the boats were merely sewn together and therefore not sea-worthy. He decided that the boat-builders needed to learn modern methods.
And a couple of centuries later, here we are.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Market day


I love markets for their excitement and the lovely produce available. Tuesdays are market day in Sawantwadi when vendors and shoppers come from all the neighbouring villages. Mum and I visited this week; here are pictures.

The vendors on the main street were large sellers, who bought produce from several farms and created huge mountains of lusciousness on the road. In the photo from left to right: jackfruits, jackfruit in the foreground with Totapuri mangoes behind them, and pineapples.
Inside the market are the more interesting stalls. On the periphery are the permanent stalls run by farmers. Since the next day was a festival, the stalls were selling banyan twigs (a sad indicator of the decline in these majestic trees) in addition to the usual fruit and vegetables. Inside is where women come by with whatever they have harvested from home. Each has in front of her an array of items that speaks of the wonderful diversity of Konkan farms and of the hard working people. 

In the central image, the woman in the foreground (orange saree, green blouse) has one small sack each of polished and parboiled rice, three jackfruits, one bunch of bananas, one packet of kokam, a bag each of two different types of mangoes, and one of pulses. Others were also selling flowers, seeds, and saplings. And just so you know its not all homegrown, there’s a stall with the ubiquitous plastic. Reassuringly, it’s also selling brooms made of coconut fiber and leaves.
What did we buy? Assorted saplings and seeds, mangoes(Mankur: my favouritest in the world), breadfruit, tender groundnuts, Sonali bananas.  And a 10Rs bottle of nailpolish for me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

tree lore

Gardens are important here in the Konkan. The coast might not be productive in terms of adding to the Nation-state’s stores of food, but it provides its residents with plenty of varied and nutritious food for the body and flowers for the soul. The thrifty Konkani woman also loses no opportunity to earn a few extra rupees. The markets are full of garden produce- a small basket of flowers, a few seeds, a couple of pineapples ; the sales are not enough to justify a trip to the market, but a nice addition if one is going anyway.

And so, gardens are important. The monsoon rains bring with them an orgy of exchange of cuttings and a frenzy of planting. With this has grown a lore of garden plants. Seeing me work at planting a couple of headloads (Yes, I kid you not) of woody cuttings, a neighbour offered to help me dig.

‘Well, maybe the big hibiscus plants’ I told him gladly.

‘Oh, flowers? No, no..women should plant flowers. They desire flowers to adorn their hair with, and that desire makes them bloom faster’ he replied.

‘Grrnf’ I said, wielding the pick-axe again.

And the coconut tree is revered more than any other. Every atom of it is used, and traditional Konkan life would be impossible without it. When the priest delivered the tree, he also gave me a careful lesson in how to plant it. When Rajan came by to plant it (it requires a 1m deep hole, I did not volunteer), he added his advice. As the daughter of the house, I was required to actually do the planting with my hands. I noticed him silently pray to it as I did so, and realized afterwards that I had missed my cue to do the same.

For those who are interested, a coconut plant needs a hole that’s 1m by 1m and atleast the same deep- the deeper the better. On the downhill side of the planting hole, make a small horizontal tunnel sloping downwards; the roots rot quickly and drainage is essential. Place plenty of sea sand at the bottom; if not sure of where the sand is from, add a couple of handfuls of sea salt. Rotting leaves and fish heads are good too, but we didn’t have any of the latter. Cover with another layer of sand, place plant in, ensure it is vertical. Bed gently with soil till the coconut is covered, but no further. As the plant grows, the hole is filled in. This ensures a good length of root-bearing stem and consequently, a stable tree. In the photo, the hole is filled up, but that’s because we were planting out of season. In the monsoon, the hole would be filled with water and the plant would rot. Instead, we will be banking earth around the plant as it grows.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The 20’s Parisian salon

That’s what my sis and I joke that mum has created in her ‘quiet retired home’. In addition to our old friends, she has amassed a long list of people who live in the neighbourhood and care for her. I was overwhelmed on the day she had the formal opening of her house by the sheer number of people who came- especially by the number of gallant men she seems to have milling around.

Take last afternoon for an example. I had run out of dry clothes and was lounging at home in a shirt and not much else while my clothes attempted to dry in near-100% humidity. You’d think a secluded home belonging to someone who ‘does not like company’ would be private, wouldn’t you? Hah!

First came the local priest with a coconut plant he had grown from seed for her. Then came an autorickshaw driver with sweets his wife had cooked. An artist friend came to chat and presumably, to check if the painting he had given her was hung yet. A group of impossibly handsome keralite well-diggers came rushing over to tell her the well they were working on had struck water. A neighbour came to check if the leak she had complained about was still there. Seeing that it was, he repaired it.

Me? I huddled under a sheet and wondered when was the last time I needed to fend ‘em off with a stick.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Simple Life


That’s what my mum has decided to adopt here in Sawantwadi. And it is pretty much, the life of my dreams. It’s low-impact, calm and friendly. My mum wakes at 5 and sits watching the birds come to her garden and looking for any flowers that might have blossomed overnight.

A big part of this simplicity is her desire to be as self-reliant as possible. So we have a compost pit which will be just fine once the rain stops sloshing down, she’s growing some of her food, and she’s harvesting her water from the skies.

The Konkan in the monsoons is never short of water. So far, we have been managing just fine with a couple of buckets in rotation: one being used in the house, one under the downspout which gets filled every 5 minutes. This necessitates a lot of running in and out of the downpour with buckets, and is not something I want mum to do when she is alone.

And so the home-made rainwater harvesting system. Rajan (a chap who comes around every couple of days to do odd jobs in the garden) and I fixed a pipe to the downspout using willpower- it is too wet to use a solvent glue. This was steadied with a post. I then stole mum’s cleanest dish towel and used it to make a rough filter. We slipped a collapsible pipe over it, tied it on tight, let the other end into her water tank and then the real work began. This was the gentle nudging out of all kinks in the pipe so that it would carry water instead of storing it. An hour or so in the rain and now it seems to be working.

It definitely is not as pretty as a rainwater harvesting system can and should be. In some ways, I feel like I cheated it of its potential- wonderfully aesthetic and functional things can be done by playing with various downtakes. But it was done in a morning, my mum can dismantle it whenever she chooses, it filters and transports her water, and it was done for a total cost of Rs600 /- . Not too bad.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Travelling Light

One of the long running joke-arguments between my mum and me concerned the concept of traveling light. I prefer to travel with a small backpack- the same one I usually carry to work. In it are a couple of changes of clothes, a book, a pen and journal, and just enough toiletries to prevent me from being a bio-hazard. If I do carry any gifts, they are always small and foldable, and I take no souvenirs.

My mum, on the other hand, travels with the kitchen sink. I get distressed at the amount of stuff she considers it necessary to tote around, and explain to her- loudly and shrilly- that life is much easier with less stuff. 'you can buy everything everywhere. You don’t need to carry things from one end to the country, there are professionals who do it for you!' has been my constant refrain. What my sis and I find endearing and exasperating is mum's tendency to carry plants everywhere. When we go to pick her up, its always easy to see what seat Amma is in- it's the one with branches jutting out of the window. We have told her that it is an unnecessary cause of stress and discomfort. 'Look at me, I travel so well' was my unspoken message.

Until now.

I am visiting my mum this month, and I traveled here with far too much. All my gifts were bulky and perishable. And to top it all off, I was carrying a tree. I was also carrying lilies, but they were discreetly tucked away in my suitcase. The tree, on the other hand, needed to be planted in my berth, from where it benevolently spread its branches over the rest of the passengers.

I discovered three things during this trip. First, I am turning into my mum. Second, traveling light IS better. Most important, I discovered that a tree possibly trumps a dog as a conversation magnet. Just so you know.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The lush life

There's a reason I've been away from the net for so long. It's not you, it's me. I am currently in Sawantwadi, spending a month here with my mum as she moves into the new house she's built. A whole month at home- wow, and bless my boss.

It's gloriously lovely, of course. I had almost forgotten how lush and fertile the Konkan is in the monsoons. Life springs up everywhere. We have two resident frogs, with two very different personalities. One is staid and well mannered and prefers to spend all his time meditating in a corner. The other is a tree frog with clearly poor navigational skills who spends all his time leaping from bedpost to wall and agitating my mum by threatening to crash into the table fan each time.

I spent a night sitting on the stoop of the house my mum has rented watching fireflies flit about in the forest next to it. It has been so long since I've done something so simple and so magical. I have seen fireflies a time or two since my adulthood, but not in their hundreds. Here, they filled my world.

It has been exactly seventeen years since I last did 'real' gardening –in the earth and not on concrete. I am enjoying scrabbling about in the soil like the pig I would quite like to be. We have planted jasmine, mogra, roses, hibiscus, cashew, jambhul, breadfruit, pepper, turmeric, and a dozen other unidentified pretties. I've been putting my soil conservation skills to some use, and exercising muscles that had totally forgotten they have a purpose. My nails are dirty, cuticles torn, arms bitten, back sunburnt. I am clearly, enjoying myself.

This comes with a price. As I type this into a document file, I have no way of knowing I'll be able to post it. I got me a internet connection, the 15-minute connection took me 5 days. On the sixth day, I learnt that our house and the rented one are both blind spots when it comes to this network. And despite my image of myself as a low-tech person, I am dependent on the internet. My blog, my work and most of all, my communication with friends and the Mian are all at a standstill..i am clearly not enjoying this bit.

Stinkin' rich and poverty stricken at the same time.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Important Things in Life

Susha Mama, my mother's eldest brother never sat me down for a 'lessons of life' talk. The things he did teach me are the practical tips I use nearly every day.

He taught me that one tilts a glass to pour a beer without getting a fountain of bubbles. That it is important to salt an omelette after it is set. That it helps to pour the egg into a vessel with vertical sides before going at it with a fork.

The closest he came to giving me marriage advice was when I was still young. 'Someday you will be grown up and have a house of your own, beti," he began. " you will be cooking for  your husband, and sometimes you might even have friends over." He patted my head before continuing." It is possible that you will be late with cooking, or it will not be good, and your husband will be hungry. You should then remember to quickly put an entire onion on the gas. The house will smell so good, noone will notice the lack of food." He beamed at me and waited for me to file that tip away. And you know what? It works!

He let me take a puff of his cigarette when my age was still in single-digits. The resultant coughing fit kept me away from them for the next three decades.

He was visiting us in Pune once, and asked me to mix him a feni and water drink. I mistook the bottle of vodka for his bottle of water. After my mum and I helped him off the floor, I expected a scolding. He wagged a finger at me, "now you know beti, what happens when you drink too much."

He introduced me to his collection of P.G.Wodehouses, and taught me to keep them back on their shelves when I was done reading. By telling me he bought them while waiting for connections, he got me addicted to browsing at train stations.

I am the woman who sits and reads a book on a railway platform, laughing aloud and not caring who sees her. I usually know where my things are. I am an okay cook, but can create fun supper parties with willpower and caramelized onions.  I mix decent drinks and am generally aware of when's enough. I only have had soda bottles explode on me a dozen or so times. Not doing too badly, eh?

Susha mam passed away last week in Mumbai. I was in Dun.

I miss him.



Monday, May 9, 2011

Home-maker

My mother is 65 years old and she's building a house. Mian and I visited in Jan and the house is gloriously beautiful. Red laterite, warm brown wood, terracotta tiles, red coba floors- it is a little jewel.

When I was 25, my first job was building a house. Only, I did not do it alone. I was assisting a site engineer, who was assisting his boss. We had back-up in the office to work out finances and ensure that the right cheque reached the right person in time. The office staff would help us do the inevitable follow-up with suppliers and the whole army of craftsmen. As we were regular customers, these agencies had great motivation to cooperate with us above their other jobs. I never knew of the mechanism for various permissions required, someone else did that for us. Despite that, I was stressed and over-worked.

My mother is doing it all alone. No admin-backup, no big, influential boss to scold errant sub-contractors, no promise of future work to lure them in, no strange person who would come in the dark of the night  and then get the required permits for us. (btw..he was legit, he only came in after office hours because this was his moonlighting job).

Two years ago, she decided that she wants to live in our childhood town. She went there, and started work. This meant getting the land in her name, getting a promise of a water line, getting building permission, the whole works. And it meant living as a tenant in a little place after 4 decades of being a house-owner. It meant dealing with often-untrustworthy, sometimes aggressive workmen. It meant staying there, managing a thousand different things. She is still doing it, though now she is in the finishing stages (always the difficult part).


For her, it has also meant a new lease of life. The woman who could not walk around the house now routinely walks everywhere. She is having a whale of a time being the boss again- 10 years after she sold her hospital and embraced the retired life. She wakes in the morning, laces up her shoes, wears her hat, takes her packed lunch and takes the bus to 'the site'.

But I know that I would not be able to do what she is doing. I would not be able to navigate the decision-making, the management, the planning, the execution all by myself.  With no experience and very little support, she has created a lovely home for herself and for us.

She is sometimes in tears when workmen don't show up despite promises. She gets frustrated when one of them damages the work of the other. She experiences self-doubt when confronted by a bewildering array of tiles. She calls me up to describe a butterfly she saw. She feeds birds at our new house. The pineapples and roses and medicinal herbs she has planted are all thriving under her care. She sits on the verandah and watches the sunset. I am so amazingly proud of her.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

It's everyone's world, after all.

Leading the crowd of worse things that cluster accusingly around my bed at 5am is a photo I took a few years ago. When I was working in the little village of Sulibhanjan, a woman invited me into her house for chai. While she was making it, my eye was caught by a sudden movement. The door to the outhouse was weathered near the floor, and a child was peering at me through one of the holes. To do it, he must have crouched so that his chin touched the floor. I laughed at the surprise of it. "See, your son is playing hide-and-seek" I said gaily, as I took a photo of him.

"He lives there", his mother told me. "He is mad."

Stunned, I looked again, and noticed the padlock on the door. As soon as I came to my room, I deleted the photo. It has been 6 years now, and that image still haunts me. It does not matter that I did not know. This was a boy who lived locked in a loo, and I had laughed at him.

I do not blame the mother; she did not have any options. But that child was in front of me all evening today as I listened to a lecture on inclusion and the right to education act organised by the Latika Roy Foundation.  As he tried to sort out the question of 'Whose School Is It Anyway?' (the title of the talk), Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah was passionate and informed as he always is. More than that, he was compassionate. "When you are my age, these things will no longer shock you" he replied to a student who was outraged that a woman would 'choose' to have her daughter beg in the streets rather than go to school; his voice hinted that these things would always sadden him. That was reassuring. The Right to Education Act is a step in the right direction. That is also reassuring.

My afternoon was not just reassuring, it was positively uplifting. I spent it playing and eating chole-bhature with the young students and almost-as-young teacher of Street Smart, a school conducted for street children near Astley Hall. Not inclusive in the ideal of a classroom where they would rub shoulders with 'elite' children, maybe. But it works. The genuine friendship between the students and their teacher was unmistakable; they studied, and more important, they had someone who cared for them.

My friends and I sneaked out of the lecture hall a few minutes early. On our way to the car, we justified our decision 'not really our field..we don't really have an opinion..what can we say..mumblemumble'. Five minutes later, we were arguing at the tops of our voices, gesticulating wildly, and slapping each others hands out of the way. At one point, my hands were tightly pinned down so that I would stop trying to interrupt. All this for a topic that we had decided we don't have any strong opinions about. The LRF lectures do that to one..


 The photo? while I deleted the one I talked about, I do have one of most of the family- sans the men who were selling their products, and one little boy. 



Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Forest Research Institute museums.

I have lived across the road from the FRI for the last two years, and have never taken the tour. I am so ashamed. Thankfully, I had decided today to clear out my scary 'miscellaneous' drawer, and so it is that I found myself camera in hand walking towards the campus with my Rs2/ fee in my hand.

Once past the gate, the road to the main building is beautiful, shadowed as it is with trees and bordered by utterly charming bungalows. These houses are bright red, have double-height pillars, massive chimneys, large gardens( in every one of which wheat is grown for some reason), and climbable trees. The stuff of dreams..

There are six museums, all located in the main building. To view them, you need to purchase a Rs 15/-ticket, and can choose to be accompanied by a guide for Rs. 50/- more. The ticket counter is located at the rear left corner of the main building.

I assume that most people walk in from Trevor road which leads directly to the left side of the building. Wanting to take a photo of the building, I had crossed over to the old main road that leads to the front, and trudged up that endless and hot road. That route is not bad; it's hot true, but one gets to look at the building. And it is worth looking at.  Clean, clean lines, enough curves to add grace, enough brick to add warmth, it is a truly lovely place to wander.

While not crowded, there were a large number of people. The place had its fair share of children who were largely well-behaved though a cry I heard of 'hato, rakshas log! out of the way, demons!' suggested that there were exceptions.

The museums are actually a great thing to do with little ones. Only, if you are going with them, I would suggest skipping the first two (pathology and social forestry), zooming through the third (silviculture) and lingering in the rest. The timber museum is panelled with 126 different varieties of wood, has a 2.8m dia cross-section, and lovely little examples of carved wood that I lusted after. Entomology is satisfying gruesome with its displays of insects and grubs. The butterfly displays will enthrall little ones; while adults can make up stories over names like 'vicarius' and 'hypocrita'. I was astonished by the beauty of some of the wood-boring 'pests'- look for scolytidae whose colony looks like an intricate kolam. The last, non-timber forest products has essential oils and herbs for the adults, and a pair of elephant tusks for the kiddies.

There is quite a bit of walking involved; I would suggest gearing up as for an expedition. Carry a water bottle, you can refill it at the cooler near the timber museum. They are mercifully, open on weekends and public holidays, from 9:30 to 17:30 with a lunch break from 13:00 to 14:00. Carry a picnic lunch and eat it under the trees with squirrels for company.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

yesterday

She woke up at 5:45 am in her berth. The first thing she did was check if her husband was awake too. 'Sweetie?' she said, to be met with a strangers stare. He was not there; he was on a plane. She had forgotten when asleep.

The guards at the Metro terminal of the Delhi airport were bored, and did not pay much attention as the couple raced down the stairs towards them one minute to go before the last train pulled out. They were used to goodbyes, and this one was brisker than most, almost brusque. A quick almost-hug, and the woman grabbed her bag from the scanner and rushed into the lower levels of the terminal. The man waited till she was no longer visible, turned, and walked away with his bags in tow.

The taxi ride to the airport was quiet. A half hour of watching the lamp posts whizz by far too quickly. Dark skies, unearthly yellow surroundings. Vividh Bharati on the radio with its nostalgic, romantic music and chaste hindustani-speaking announcers.The couple sitting close together, his arm around hers, her head on his shoulder.

The weekend was much of the same. Two people stuck together Velcro-fast. Playing enough scrabble, eating enough mangoes, listening to enough music, making enough plans to tide them over for the next few months and then realizing that it would never be enough.

But it need not be enough. We will have more. We will play scrabble online,and chat, and read, and watch movies. And before we know it, Mian and I will be together again.




Tuesday, April 19, 2011

People at the Rajpur Mela

Perhaps the most important symbol of a fair is the giant wheel. And so I was happy to see this one at the Shahenshahi Ashram mela. The best part about this one is that it did away with the parts I do NOT like about giant wheels. Stomach turning heights? Not this one.. The photo above makes it look like it was looming over the horizon, but in reality it was quite modest. As it should be, because it also did not have one of the features I dislike about fairground entertainment, which is the use of diesel generators with the accompanying pollution, noise, and use of fossil fuels. Instead, it used some shockingly clean energy.
Clean, yes. But also a little disturbing. The two young men in the photo sit on the axle and turn it with their legs.  I was a little queasy when I saw them clamber around a moving giant wheel. I was a little tense when I saw them perch on the axle. And when I realised that they are probably around the same age as my niece, I was sadder still.
I do hope that they are part owners of this outfit. I hope that they get pleasure out of their lives. And  I do hope that they stay safe.

This wheel was one of the most popular attractions. The others are shown below.
A chaat seller who knows how to dress to impress. A balloon seller with rainbow zebras that I wanted to buy. And a gola wallah with his stunning array of gleaming bottles and his carefully insulated block of ice waiting to be shaved, drizzled with syrup and sold by the cupful.A good time was had by all..


Friday, April 15, 2011

The mela at Rajpur

 When I was told that a colleague and I would be setting up a stall at the Ram Navami mela, my reaction was 'ohnoNonono. Oh no.' Yes, you know how far that goes at work. In the end, it wasn't all that bad. Despite storms, mind-numbing boredom, and eating too many cookies to deflect that boredom we managed to have a fairly good time. Caught up with some old friends, took some photos, ate some food.

The fair is held on the occasion of Lord Ram's birthday, which is a pretty big event in North India. According to the people I spoke with at the fair, the Shahenshahi Ashram has been hosting it for the last century and a half. This year, a awareness raising component had been added and that is what I was doing there. One hundred and fifty years without a break is pretty impressive, and therefore it is sad that the first time I visited it, it was a slow affair.

It was not it's fault. It was stormy all day to the extent that the tent we were in threatened to blow down. The stall keepers had a forlorn time of it. It was sad to see them unpack their wares only to pack them again in a few minutes.
We all did soldier on, however. The ice-cream sellers and the chaat-wallahs managed to earn money. On the second day, the skies did clear and a good time was had by all. On the first day though, it was all we could do to stay dry and in reasonably good spirits. We tried, but not all of us managed to look as good being bored as this young woman. 
To follow soon? photos of the various participants