Sunday, August 25, 2013

Missing her Mian

Not me. Well, of course me. But this post is about his little puplet.
It started when I ran out of coffee, pulled out the bag in stock, and discovered that it was full of beans instead of grounds.
Now I do know that beans are better freshly ground and all that, but I do not like the process of grinding. At all. I do not like the whirr in the morning, I don't like balancing the grinder, and I always cut my knuckles while grinding. And so, Mian does it for us. When he is not here, I use grounds.
Today however, I didn't have a choice. I dusted off the grinder, measured in the beans and started cranking.
There was an almighty THUMP! from the bedroom and Shona ran out, her tail wagging furiously. The poor, darling pup- she thought Mian was here. Looked for him, and contented herself with licking the coffee grinder.
Those two turn me into a puddle.He returns in a week. Happy times.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bhaloo Badmash and the Martens

Shona Bhaloo gets to play with her best-friend-in-all-the-world on three occasions. When her human family decides to visit Jhumroo's human family, when her humans decide to go out of town and offload her onto Jhumroo's humans, and when Shona decides that she misses Jhumroo.
Sho and Jhum, legs intertwined and giddy with joy

Most days she is my faithful shadow as I go about my day. Sometimes though, a sudden urge to meet Jhumroo enters that adorable head and she's gone. If I don't catch sight of her for 10 mins, I call G at Chatola. 'Oh yes', he says 'she was here. She met me and now has gone to Sonapani.

And then I grumble, put on my shoes, and trudge off to bring her back. I won't grumble now; the last time I went to collect my little runaway, something magical happened.

I was on the last stretch- a concrete road. I crested a small slope and in front of me were two yellow-throated martens. They were maybe about 20 feet away, and in the middle of the road. I froze of course, but one of them immediately dropped off the road into the forest. The other stayed where it was.For nearly a minute we stayed that way. Then incredibly, the marten began to walk towards me. Hesitatingly, slowly, with many stops, it came till it had cut the distance between us by more than half. I was not carrying my camera. But even if I was, I could not have taken a snap- I could barely remember to breathe.

Soon, I saw what it was approaching me for. A few feet away was a dead snake. The marten reached it, picked up the snake so that it wouldn't drag and walked off- not into the forest, but along the road. I gave it a couple of minutes head start and walked on myself.

Incredibly, that was not the end of my marten experience. A little further on, a stonewall runs past the road. For nearly 50 metres, the marten walked on the top of the wall while I walked along the road. Every now and then, we would stop and look at each other, then walk on.I can't explain this behaviour. It wasn't defensive, wasn't scared- just curious.

Magic. That's what it was.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Of young men

My last post spoke about the difficulty of being the guest of people whose philosophy I don't agree with. Since then, I have been on an extended trip with this group. And yes, it was as hard as I expected to walk the balance between being a good enough host to be invited again, and not condoning hate speech by my silence.

The thing that kept me sane and civil was the fact that the hate was not directed. If it was against a particular group, I would have found the paranoia unbearable. As it is, my host was deeply suspicious and resentful towards the British, the Americans, urban people, Marwaris, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, women, multi-national corporations, young women in love, non-vegetarians, English speakers, Buddhists, researchers who use quantitative methods, environmentalists, hydro-geologists, and researchers with external funding. I discovered that I can live comfortably with such democratic xenophobia.

A little soul-searching revealed that I am not that different either. I have my own bigotry towards people who claim their god is better than everyone else's. And I cannot, absolutely cannot, stand gutkha eaters (This incidentally means ALL young men in North India, which might explain why Mian is so blissfully jealousy-free when I go gallivanting about the Himalayas). But even there, the djinns that look after such things do not allow me to be relaxed and righteously affronted.

Yesterday, for example, I wanted to neutralise the Brahman 'holiness' of the last three days and so took myself up to the old Chowk area of Lucknow. In a six-seater. There were 4 young Hindu men, of varying levels of obnoxiousness. There was a young Muslim woman sitting opposite me, and there was I- antsy about the whole setup. The young men made my hackles rise in every possible way, one more than the others. This one ate several packs of gutkha and threw the wrappers on the vehicle floor. He sat with his legs splayed and  slowly, thoughtfully, adjusted his crotch. Leaning against the backrest, he surveyed me up and down. The air was full of the sickly-sweet, nauseating smell of gutkha.

And then it began to rain. The young woman was next to the door on the windward side, and began to get drenched. Quietly, she tried to make herself even smaller and continued to sit pressed against the door rather than move into the men's space.

 Mr.Obnoxious got up and offered his seat to the young woman, and sat in the rain instead.

I am ashamed of myself.

But going back to my trip. My host- a chap around my age- was the type of person whose response to searching questions or to dissent was to raise his voice louder and louder. I am proud to report that after two days of travelling with me, he needed to request herbal tea at the houses we halted at for the night- his throat was hoarse.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Saffron and Green

So I am shamelessly stealing the title of this post from Mukul Sharma's book. Well yes. But it is very nearly on the same topic. And I am planning to read the  book! so this is almost a review! So I am entitled to steal the name.

I have clearly been hanging around with the sort of people who believe in entitlement.

The problem is that Mr.Sharma has analysed the manner in which hindu nationalism has permeated (and practically hijacked) the environmental movement in India. But he has not provided us with an users' guide to the phenomenon and that is what I sorely  need.

I am currently with, and will be spending the next week with, a group of most warm and friendly people. On hearing of my interest in the River Gomti, they have happily shifted around their already busy schedules and accommodated me and my questions.

All of yesterday, we spent touring the Gomti, her 26 tributaries within the city, and Lucknow's two sewage treatment plants. We also visited several ghats. The photo at the top of this post is from one such ghat- the only private bathing space on the Gomti. It  is a Hindu dharamsala- a place to stay for poor pilgrims. It was built by Lalla Bhagwandas in the memory of his father about a  hundred years ago, and the family still manages it. The structure, especially the colours in the first photo, was the most beautiful thing I saw all day. I would not have dreamed of the existence of this place if it were not for my hosts. With them, I got entry into a world I had not know existed.

I ate pakoras made by a sadhu, and the conversation I was privy to helped me understand how these kindly men become pawns for land grabbers. I watched squirrels run across a brick-paved courtyard and tried to hide my disbelief when I was told stories of yogis who can perform miracles. 'It's all documented' I was told. I nodded politely.

I could not however 'nod politely' when the conversation veered off into the sickeningly inevitable direction of nationalism. The 'persecution of hindus' was spoken of. 'We are ignoring our culture' was a lamented topic. I commented about how different life is in the south..I mentioned that in places beyond the Gangetic belt, people do not speak hindi (gasp!). I hinted that while Ayurveda is excellent, Unani medicine is not to be sneered at either. I suggested that eating of meat may be more of an ecological choice rather than a moral one. I reminisced of my childhood along the coast where for 4 months of the year, the monsoons flood fields and roughen seas. The only food available then is rice and dried fish- both carefully stocked in the summer. I spoke about the high himalaya, where meat is an essential-and ecologically sound- source of protein and fat in the winter. I spoke and spoke..and never got heard.

Today I am off for a week with this group. A trip I would not be able to make without their hospitality. A trip that will be all the richer for the people they will introduce me to, for the places that they will show me.

And yet, and yet..I will also lose out on some things..I am fairly sure that this is going to be a saffron trip. It will be churlish of me to push the comfort zone of my hosts. This pushing will not help either..they are much respected leaders, firmly convinced of the rightness of their philosophy.

Mr. Sharma, I need a workbook.