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


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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The little one

After all, there is only so much observing of temple complexes one can do from across a boundary wall. I oohed appropriately, clicked some photos, and walked on.
Not for very long, though. A few metres on, close to the bus stop, a small gate intrigued me. On the other side was lush, exuberant green. The gate seemed to be locked, but when I went closer, I realised that it was just fastened with a cycle chain. there was a man tending to the plants.
'Is it okay if I come in?'
'Oh yes! of course you may.'

And so it is that I found myself being shown around the Kali temple by the caretaker. It is now an ASI site, but he still keeps a lamp lit inside. He took me around- after admonishing me when i began walking around the temple in the wrong direction. He pointed out the various carvings and waited expectantly for me to take photos of his favourites. Unusual for a temple caretaker, he did not ask for 'dakshina' and seemed amazed when I pressed some money into his hand.

Friday, April 8, 2011

An unbeliever in a temple town

It turns out that if the visitor to Bhubaneshwar is unable to go off for a day trip, her only option is to visit one of the many temples that dot the city. And they are beautiful. Constructed nearly a thousand years ago, they have pure lines and are covered with intricate carvings.

They are also the stronghold of some of the most aggressive and grasping priests I've ever heard of. My sister and my colleague D both had experiences that left them scarred . Their first reaction when I told them of my planned trip was 'Beware of the Pandas!'. Not the sneezing bears, the priests.

I wanted to see the temples though, and off I went to the Lingaraj Temple with camera in hand. Only to be told that I was not allowed to take my camera or cellphone into the temple. 'Oh, then I don't need to enter', I said gaily and turned around looking for a vantage point.

The good news is, that there IS a specially constructed vantage point for untouchables, unbelievers, and Prime ministers- the temple is famous for not letting Indira Gandhi in. So if you turn left from the main gate (with your back to it) and follow the boundary wall, and pass the big Pipal tree, you come across a flight of steep stairs that allow you to peek over the compound wall. These photos were taken from there. And the sky was not that colour..I coloured it in so that you could see the spire properly.

The better news is that the surroundings are atleast as interesting as the temple itself. Hairy AC you've probably booked appointments with. There is also interesting work going on. I stubbed my toe against this scary thing:

Which turned out to be part of a wheel being constructed for a chariot for the gods.
 Huge chunks of sweet-smelling wood, a solitary chariot-builder, and children playing with woodchips. Not a bad place to stand for a while.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Speeding through Bhubaneshwar

I was in Bhubaneshwar for a couple of days last week.  This was one of those residential workshops where the participants are confined in a campus in the middle of nowhere. And that left me profoundly dissatisfied, because I had never been to Orissa before and I wanted to experience more than the inside of a sterile conference room.

Orissa is in my admittedly stereotyping mind, a land of stories. This is where Ashoka fought, killed and had his epiphany. He tended to use the land as a sort of personal journal, and this is where we can read his diary entries. Flying into Orissa, there is a long stretch of utter blackness. This, I realised, is where the last vestiges of the Dandakaranya, the great forest mentioned in many epics, still hold on.This land is which straddles several incomprehensible worlds. There are laidback tribal communities that launch highly visible and successful international campaigns when mining companies threaten them. There are bustling markets selling cane, plastic, and everything in between. There is sambalpuri fabric, architecture, and exquisite art.

And so I sneaked out. Once during the lunch hour, and once during the window after the main session but before the working group meeting.

Now these narrow time  frames meant that I could not follow the 'soak in atmosphere' strategy. I needed to be ruthless and 'sightsee'. Very humdrum, but better than nothing.

Actually, not quite 'humdrum' as you can see from the photo .
I came across it near the temple complex. How could I resist? Actually, if Mian was with me, I would have gotten him a haircut. After all, it is the only gent's parlour we can trust!