Thursday, March 31, 2011

Staying home

There are only two stories in the world, I have heard. One is of the stranger who rides into town (and eventually leaves), and one is of the person who has a stranger visit his or her town.

I have always been the one who gets up and goes. It seems to me now that a large part of my time at home was spent packing for trips while my mum sat on the bed and watched me. I know how it feels to be be sad to be leaving, but to also be excited about the upcoming trip. I have had times when my mind was already at my destination even as my hands were packing my bag. I would talk excitedly about wherever it is that I was going to. I remember feeling defensive when my mum expressed regret that I am leaving. Be happy for me, I would say. Why aren't you happy for me? And all the time, she would sit there and try to summon up excitement about my plans. In an effort to cheer her up, I would emphasize how happy I was wherever I was going to. It would make her feel better,I would think, to know I was happy. And I would suppress my regret and tell her over and over how wonderful my destination was.

I feel sad now.

I feel sad that I rubbed in my excitement to be leaving. Did Mum feel that I was happy to leave her? Back then I didn't really have the empathy to understand the desolation of the one who is left behind. I couldn't see that while the one left behind IS happy for the traveller, she is also faced with the reality of an empty home. I didn't realise how difficult it is to bite back tears and join in the packing. I was also too dense and self-absorbed to understand insecurity, to understand the doubts that rise despite one's logical mind.

Back then, I say. Because now I know. As the fates would have it, my situation is now reversed. The one I love is more of a traveller than I am. And I am the one who thinks despite herself, "he just got here, and he is planning to leave." I know its not like that. I know exactly what it feels like to leave home. I try to always remember that.

I thought I do a good job of it. But today I realised that Mian senses my unhappiness. And worse, thinks it is directed at him. It's not. As I said, I do know both sides of the story. I can, and do, feel excitement about his travels. I am damn proud of his work and the life he has crafted for himself. But this is the man who selects the most intact chips in a crushed bag of Lays and keeps them aside for me. He left an hour ago, and I am already lonesome. How can I not be filled with dread at the thought of his being away for a week?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Art at the Metro: INA station, Delhi

You thought I had forgotten my quest for urban art in Dehradun, had you? No, I haven't. I adore unexpectedly coming across art in cities and am still looking out for some examples in Dun. But right now, I have run out of options. And that is why I was thrilled when I visited the INA market metro station (yellow line).
The station has a crafts gallery with exquisite works from various states. These are truly high-quality and obviously done with some attention to detail. I can't really describe art very well, but here is a good description of the station.  I always love some prettiness in urban transport and would perhaps have liked this more if it was spread out across the metro system rather than in a gallery-style exhibit. But hey, first steps..

Nothing is perfect and a look at the list of exhibits indicates that not all the states are represented. First steps, and hopefully this is just the beginning. For now though, this is pretty good. I loved all of them and would gladly go down there just to wander from one exhibit to the other. In fact, that is what I plan to do the next time I go down to Delhi.

Incidentally, apologies for the shoddy picture. Taking photographs is not allowed in the Metro system, and this was done by stealth. The things I do for this blog..

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mian and Chicu explore Vanxim

It looks mysterious and exciting on the map. It is an island only accessible from another island (Divar), Therefore it followed that it must be twice as remote and logically, twice as romantic as your run-of-the-mill, humdrum pacific atoll. On the map, more than half of it was a deep green and labelled 'mangrove forest'. The other bit was mostly blank with three symbols on it: a church, a temple, and the alluring little martini that Google uses to indicate local bars. A map of Heaven, no doubt, would look very like the image on the left.

We would go there, we decided. We would wander among the mangroves and have a beer in an impossibly quaint little restaurant.

The first indicator that maps might be misleading came when we tried to board the ferry to Vanxim. For starters, we were among less than half-a-dozen people on board. And the others looked like they'd rather be going in the other direction.

'Why are you going there?' the ferry crew asked us.
'To look around!'
'There is nothing there for you.'
'Oh, we'll be happy just looking around the village'
'There. Is. Nothing. There.'

Despite this, we carry on. The ferry makes a trip every hour. On the remote chance that there is no lovely little restaurant, we can always leave in an hour, we decide, knowing all the time that there is no way we can be done with this island in an hour.We might even have smiled smugly at each other- after all, we knew of a bar that even the locals hadn't heard of.

The trip across is short and pleasant, as is the landing. A small group of men watches the ferry come in. We roll off the boat and decide to turn right- towards the martini glass. It is hot, and the mangroves are too short and too far away from the road to offer some shade. We stop at a culvert and look for mudskippers, but it is too hot for them too. We drive for a minute more and then the road becomes a dirt track. Another 30 seconds and we find ourselves in someone's front yard. Uh-oh. A hasty U-turn, and 1.5 minutes later we pass the same grinning group. The ferry is still there. We pay it no attention. Ahead of us will be the dense and wonderful mangroves just waiting for Tarzan and Jane.

Or maybe not. The road ends.

We turn back. Now it is a matter of honour to spend an hour there. We pass the ferry crew and the ferry watchers for the third time in as many minutes. This time, I wave. We re-enter the village, but quickly accept that unless we break into a house, our only option is sitting on the culvert.

We go back to the ferry. They have been waiting for us. We get on. It starts off. The ferry crew manage not to say, 'we told you so.'

We maintain a dignified silence on the trip back.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Island hopping

On all two islands, that is.
With a desire to reclaim some of my childhood happiness,  Mian and I set off to visit the islands inland of Panjim.
Divar is a fairly large place, with its own ferry and bus service (each of which obligingly waits for the other). And it is beautiful. There are signs that this bustling, vibrant community is growing, and within a few years the old colonial bungalows with the breadfruit trees will give way to apartment blocks. But for now, it is a green and forested area with well-set out houses and family-run businesses. The gardens are full of busy chickens, lazy dogs, and food set out to dry in the sun.
The area close to the ferry is where this leafy little village is. Go further inland, and the scenery changes. The trees rapidly disappear and till the mangroves reappear, there is a vast stretch of grassland. I am not sure why this is so. Evidence of past farming? pasture land? This grass had been set fire to and while it did nothing to reduce the heat, it attracted birds from miles around. We stopped and watched them as they indulged in a feeding orgy. Drongos, swifts and bee-eaters, kites and eagles. Mian of course, managed to click several snaps.
That's the black shouldered kite on the left and the right is one of those brown anonymous birds that I can never identify.
We zoomed up and down looking for a place to eat before asking the local bus driver.

Me: hello, do you know of a place where we might get lunch?
He (looking first at me, and then at Mian): nothing for the likes of you..
Me: huh?
He: you'll probably want vegetarian.
Me: actually, we were looking for fish.
He: those places also have beer
 (Mian and I visibly brighten.)
He: hehe..ok..follows with extremely detailed description of where to find Mayur's.
And its a good thing that the description was so detailed, because otherwise we would never have found it. The restaurant was run by a mother and son in their living room and had the most excellent food. When we indicated that we wanted to pay for our meal, the son disappeared. We waited. and waited. and waited. When I finally went off to investigate, I discovered that he had broken out his bill book and was trying to figure out how to write in it. 'We don't need a bill', I said, 'just tell us what it is.' When he did come and tell us, the amount had us asking him hesitantly, 'did you account for both of us?' 
And it was after lunch that we decided to explore Vanxim..

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fiddling, skipping life

Maybe a couple of decades ago, my sis, my mum and I had gone to Goa for the day. Not an unusual holiday for us- a day of lounging on a beach, a little shopping at the Mapusa Market, and some excellent seafood. At that time, as it still is in several areas, the only way to cross the various creeks that section Goa was by ferry.
It was when our car was waiting for a ferry that I wandered off to investigate some trees growing by the shore. Remember that this was when I fancied myself a naturalist and went on ALL trips wearing khaki shorts and brown tee-shirts- because all naturalists are always dressed in camouflage, aren't they?

The tide was just going out and the trees stood ankle-deep in water, with their green saris hitched up out of the way as it were. There were pointy sticks looming out of the soil, and as I looked on, the whole place came alive.
There were darting bits of shiny brown that I could not quite make out. 'lizards' I called them.
When I saw the first crab that scurried out, I felt sorry for him- he seemed to have been in a terrible accident that left him with only one claw. When the others came out though, I saw that it seemed to be a universal trait in that little community.
They were funny, as they busily fed themselves with that onee bright orange hand- very much the way I ate too. The crabs, the glistening little 'lizards' and my search for other animals kept me so happily engaged that I was sorry when the ferry came in.

It was later that month when I received my copy of Target (which I still consider the most excellent children/tween magazine to ever have been published) that I could put a name to those creatures- fiddler crabs and mudskippers they were, residents of mangrove forests breathe through those 'pointy sticks' and which are possibly the most biodiverse ecosystem type in the world. That full-page spread with cheeky illustrations by the inimitable Ajit Ninan enthralled me, and made me a mangrove fan. That experience, of watching these fantastic creatures on a sunlit shore with the people I love, of hearing the "splot! snap! Chitter-chitter" that is the background score of a mangrove forest, of wonder, is one of my most cherished memories.

And one that I wanted to relive with Mian by my side.

And so it is that in January, Mian and I hired a scooter and putt-putt-puttered off to Divar Island.

(All photos in this and the next post? Mian, who has the eye to see wonderful photos and the presence of mind to take them)

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Padaria

When we first went there, at maybe 11am, the bakery was shut and the only occupant was a man fast asleep in a chair placed in the alle. Our walking in, pushing open the door and looking inside, taking pictures of the alley did not waken him. 'He's tired, he has just finished the morning bake' whispered my mian with the empathy of one who also wakes up at 4am because his dough won't wait.

We returned the same day in time for the afternoon bake and were rewarded by a bustling place. The bakery was a thriving little business run by the same family for the last one hundred and fifty years. Like Theseus's ship, the oven had had little patch up jobs every now and then, but for all intents and purposes it had been at work throughout that period. Despite that family's shaky hinglish and this family's utter lack of konkani we managed to exchange necessary bits of information. The present owner was a woman who told us of the bakery's history while the son told us of the baking itself. Once he learnt that Mian had baked on a commercial scale too, the two of them rapidly bonded over the merits of dough mixers and the satisfaction of a perfect batch of bread.

In the meantime, the younger son and the daughter (in-law?) had corralled me in a corner and were getting the details of our love story. Never bashful, I was happy enough to tell them about how we met, how the stars conspired to make us meet over and over again, and how he wooed me with his baking. As we stood giggling in that corner, the object of my affections was happily observing a working bakery and getting information about how it worked.

Very conscious of our learnings from various surveys we had undertaken, we were careful not to ask for personal details- names, ages, money earned and so on. There is a difference though, between a suspicious and defensive 'project-beneficiary', and a craftsman who is brimming over with pride and pleasure in his work. As we said our goodbyes and thanks, we were stopped by a confidently outstretched hand. 'Hello' the little boy said in English,' my name is Vishal. What is your name?'

Friday, March 4, 2011

An Ineffectual move

I am tired of the conversations around me, and the righteous satisfaction that people exude about the Godhra verdict.
For those who are unfamilar with what I am talking of, The Times of India reported the verdict in this article which generated 912 comments, most of which make me want to either cry or throw up.

Its totally pointless of me to post this, because Tehelka has 18,412 followers, I have 20.
But I want more people to read the Tehelka article.

Sometimes, we just do what we can

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In search of the perfect Pao

While our honeymoon in Goa last year was idyllic, it was not perfect. We spent the last year with the nagging thought that we had Unfinished Business in Panjim.

I need to backtrack, however. Mian and I are lovers of food; Mian is a consummate baker. These two things meant that we fell in love with the bread sold by the paowallahs in Panjim. Possibly due to its Portuguese history, Goa has a rich assortment of leavened breads. We sampled all these and revelled in the fact that unlike Dun or Delhi where truly good bread is only available if one has the good fortune to be or to have married a baker or bread, it is ubiquitous in Goa. Every morning and late afternoon, we would hear the distinctive two-tone beep of the horns attached to the bread sellers' cycles. We timed our walks to synchronise with the bread schedules. Every day then, we would flag down  a cycle and excitedly uncover the blue tarp covering the cane basket on the carrier seat. Inside would be still-warm heaps of lusciousness.

The pao- a basic roll of white bread with a glossy top.
The brun- a roll, with a chewier crust and an indented top
The roti- a fluffy flattish pocket bread, like a pita but more substantial, and with bran on the top.

We bought them all, smuggled them into our room with wine and butter, and had midnight picnics on the bed. And I was supremely content.

Mian, however, wanted to see where and how it was made. We chatted up a pao-wallah and got the address of his bakery from him. In a fashion, atleast. We looked for 'The Gomez bakery, on the road up the hill' for an entire day, but had to concede defeat. And this rankled for an entire year. My wonderful Mian surprised me by recreating the bread from memory in Dun, but we still wanted to see the actual bakery.

No wonder then, that high on our list of priorities this year was the finding of a maker of bread. It wasn’t easy this time either, and required much chatting up of people, drinking of chai, and wandering up little alleyways. We didn’t need to do all that, because in the end we found it by following our twitchy little noses.

The Padaria Santimano, Fontainhas.

And what did we find there? ah, later..

And by the by, the photos in this post and the ones to follow are all taken by Mian. He managed to stay collected enough to take snaps (with permission, of course) while my thoughts ran along the lines of 'are we intruding? will they mind? oh bread! can we buy some from here? will they know if i grab a bite?'