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.