Of birds, pinks, and full circles

My parents came over to visit us for a week and a little more. During my occasional walks with them, I remembered I’d been wanting to take pictures of the numerous birds that inhabit our neighbourhood and show them to you. The desire is like that of a child saying, “Look, I can see that! Can you?”

A few days back, I did take the camera, but was able to manage only a few pictures that are postable here. Perhaps I’ll ‘win’ some more in the subsequent days and post them, too.

A family living close to us has placed these earthen vessels on their wall for the birds to feed and drink water from. Mornings and evenings, a huge flock of parrots comes and satiates itself. This picture is only of one of their kind, but you get the picture!

Right next to this parrot haunt, there’s a silver oak tree (it looks horrifically chopped because people chop off the tops in winter — it helps the tree, and provides firewood for homes). This big guy was looking down right at us, we thought. My mother told me to take a picture of him, too. I had my doubts that it’d come. Backlit setting and all. But she insisted, I took the picture and lo, we can even see his eyes!

Ready to move on, I saw this dried vine with its gourd-fruits. We use the dried up innards as loofah. Do you? I thought it’d be interesting to show you. My current loofah is about to say adieu, but then I have a spare one, otherwise I’d have been aching to climb up the electricity pole and get a couple of them. Climbing is such fun, I’d have done it without any fruit at the top. But then, sensible people would stop me. For all of these reasons, I took a picture instead.

Talk of sensible. This one had his back to us and didn’t show any intention of turning around, but then my father said something and he turned!

And gave us and eyeful, too! Sensible indeed.

This bird has been intriguing me for two years now. My internet search tells me it’s a magpie robin, but his call doesn’t match the recorded calls I downloaded. Whatever the bird, this one is elusive.

I had to walk around the tree to get more than his butt for you.

Here’s another, sitting on one of their favourite perches. I wonder why, when there are so many beautiful ones to choose from.

Isn’t it amazing how the most incongruous of things can flourish together? This never ceases to amaze me. Of course they don’t always succeed in coexisting, but whenever they do, it is nothing short of a miracle of effort, I feel.

I itch to know names of things. Animals, birds, people, flowers, plants, even microbes. I look at these blossoms and remember I don’t know what they will turn into. Pears? Plums? Peaches? Apricots? And then I remind myself that it doesn’t really matter.

As long as I can continue to look at their glory, and enjoy it, it probably doesn’t matter.

Especially when I go closer to the tree to take a close-up, and the family’s dog fails to feel welcoming.

As we walked on, my parents kept showing me this and that. Things I know I’d have overlooked. Birds I’d have ignored. Like these pinks without double petals.

Or these beautiful finches. They’re finches, I think. But then, what’s in a name? My father kept whispering “look at these pink ones here! Look! No here, on the hibiscus bush.” They were so far away and so difficult to see, I’d have missed them. 

Or missed this raven, whom my mother pointed out and said, “Why ignore him?” Why indeed?

Some associations remain for life. Like this woodpecker. We’ve learnt to call him Woody Woodpecker because of the story my father used to tell us when we were children. Whenever we see this bird, it’s always, “Woody!”

We were nearing home after a longish circuit of the residential colony, when we spotted parrots again.

Not just parrots, but a whole colony of them. Chattering, preening, jibing. These are a different variety. They have rosy heads. But they talk the same language. At least I think they do.

The sun was getting ready to set. But it would take at least an hour before it did. Thankfully, its light lit up the tree and the parrots just right to give us a beautiful picture.

Now that they have left, and I look back on those ‘walks’ I’ve walked with them, I feel grateful for all of those sights they’ve shown me. It is uncanny how parents have the power to show in the most tacit of ways. As I prepare for a little one of my own soon, I realise the baton is getting passed on. Or duplicated. For parents never really stop giving, do they?


Of living, eating, and forgetting

It is raining as I write this. And it was raining when I took the pictures below. And it will continue to rain indefinitely until the monsoon season decides to leave this country. A land at once sated, and harassed. Patience is a virtue you might wish to keep a good stock of while you visit this blog in the coming days, for it will have more of rain. And of the places I visit. Today, feast your eyes on life, as the world lives it. The levels of struggle, the extent of including the unnecessary, may differ from communities to communities, species to species, but the world does live on these — struggle for comfort, struggle for food, and the occasional indulgences.

Adat bazaar at Nainital -- the place we will see today. Adat means a wholesale market for vegetables and fruits, and sometimes grains.

Sitting on a high perch, I looked at the intense interest people have in the one thing that is arguably the basis for all life -- food.

Wholesale vendors look for bulk sales, retail vendors look for the best bargain.

Like these mangoes, most vegetables come to Nainital from the outside. The terrain of the town is such that not much can be grown here.

This lady is oblivious to the sounds of haggling, rain, triumph at a good bargain, despair at the grumbling stomach. She reads her newspaper among her ivy and geraniums.

This man under the umbrella has deft fingers.

To fill this carton with carrots....

... he chops off the unnecessary with a knife. Sometimes two, or three carrots at once. Where do the scraps go? We'll see.

This porter is one of the many, who make life in a hill station like this livable. They carry anything from grocery bags to fridges to homes that are right up on the mountains where no vehicle goes. Where these young boys in their Adidas shoes will not dream of going in slippers.

These women were probably devastated. Outsiders, they did not know it could rain; and the steep climb didn't add to the comfort. But there's always a shoulder to lean on when you're with friends, no?

Though I love the normal fuschia, I am beginning to like these with a white bottom. They display the contrasts so well.

Forgive me for adding the unnecessary. I just love the look of wood. If only we planted more trees to make up for the ones we fell.

This police woman was careful to not let wet splashes ruin her kurta. Holding the umbrella with one hand, she grabbed the flailing cloth with the other. What would she do, if she had a handbag, I wonder.

This young lady was enjoying the drizzle, for it had become a drizzle by this time. Showing off her ponytail (or was it happiness radiating through the ponytail?), she looked around with great interest.

These people don't look too happy, now, do they?

Ah, a lawyer. Walking to the High Court nearby. I love his pinstriped trousers. Don't you?

Jalebis and pakoras. And copious amounts of oil in the middle kadahi. 🙂

These school kids were wondering if they could leave the tiffin boxes their mothers had packed for them somewhere around here, and, when they needed to eat during the school recess, they could sneak into the canteen outside of their school. Tiffin boxes a cumbersome to carry.

Another unnecessary picture. It is here because I love letter boxes. Much more than the email inboxes. And I love the canisters for milk in the background, too.

The clouds were closing in again, the wind vane surprisingly silent.

This fruit section of the market attracts few people. It is expensive.

Our sparrow friend hopped on this electricity line, obviously pleased at the short-term respite from the falling water.

It never ceases to amaze me -- the incredible amount of wires and cables and lines we have to depend on. So many connections, such ugly ones. And so necessary.

Sometimes ugliness has a virtue -- of being quaint, and most of all, of being useful. Someone has tied wires around this tired gutter. It is almost as good as it needs to be!

This monkey stole a roti (chapati) from a shop nearby. By the time I could divert my attention from the drain, he had already tried his loot. And got bored with it, for some reason.

Moving on to the rooftop, he did something more exciting -- got himself de-liced.

And then, returned the favour. The pleasure was doubled, for as he discovered subsequently, lice are tastier than rotis.

Potatoes. The one vegetable that everyone HAS to like. Oh? You don't? Think of all the wow-energy it gives you! For cheap, too. Hill people in India love this vegetable, for it is one of the few things they can grow, it is tastier than the ones found in the plains, and it is comfortably priced.

Grain sacks, brooms, shoppers and wealth. Of sorts.

A local mithai shop. Sweetmeats. The brown thing is chocolate barfi. A favourite among the tourists.

Back to what drove me to sit on this perch in the first place. The sheer energy of this place!

And all for this.

A porter carrying apple cartons to I do not know where. I wonder what they do to their drenched clothes once their day is done. Once it is time to settle in wherever they settle in for the night. Do they have spares?

This caller was calling for gourd takers. He has a humungous task. People usually do not like gourds.

And look at this, this feat of mankind. Standing here for at least a century, defiant. Though it might seem like it is neglected by the successors of the ones who made it, it is simply a matter of choosing aging over botox. Oh, chuckle all you wish. It is indeed so. The day you become as wise as I am today, you'll know.

Laugh at my foolishness. I'll laugh with you. Things are meant to be maintained, of course -- so that they don't leak, look good. But if things are functioning well the way they are, beauty can be found anywhere -- so that the resources can be saved.

Speaking of which, I wish we had not discovered the virtues of a CFL. It is inelegant, and gives off the worst light possible. What resources are we saving?

For whom?

I wonder if these tomatoes will go all pulpy by the time this person takes the sack to his small roadside shop somewhere in the other end of the town. Do you know?

These are more patient witnesses of this bazaar. They might.

This person kept coming up to adjust the plastic roof above his shop.

And here comes my favourite part of the outing!

His master directed him carefully through the veggies.

But not carefully enough! Ha! What a catch! He got one big potato, all for himself!

After he unloaded the wares, the master didn't forget to cover our potato-lover with a sheet of plastic. It helps against the rain.

And now, he's found a tomato!

But this man could use some chai. And an umbrella. Shivering like he could shake off the cold, he kept looking for mangoes.

And here's our scrap user. Remember the scraps from de-greened carrots? This man's companion was collecting edible waste from all the stalls, dumping them here. But the man couldn't wait for her to come back to sit with him and eat. He began his feast without her.

She's got her week's requirement. And is now looking for some fruits. Eventually, she just went away. Perhaps they were not to her taste.

There is such a difference between use and misuse, wouldn't you say? A few years back, this bazaar scene would have made me furious. Why is there so much disorganisation? Why can't they make proper shops? What about the ones who see food in front of them, but have to eat the waste? There are so many questions that probably need no answering. Or perhaps they are answered without words.

Like everything else, everything that is not else, lives. And life is about survival.

But what about reaching for the sky?

What about achieving that one extra inch of height, so that you are higher than the others? Better, efficient, creative, beautiful.

I do not know. But I do know that with time, and harsh drops of rain, only the one who focuses on the necessary will win. In their own right.

I leave you with the images of these birds, who wouldn't say "I lose", no matter the intensity of the rain.



Each dealing with the rain in their own way,

Some patient, some otherwise,

Some wishing I'd stop analysing.

This is for you, Rosie.

Only wonder

It is only wonder.

Oh, really? Tell it to the girl who can’t stop looking at this yellow butterfly fluttering by to one flower at a time. Or to the boy who’d give his next bar of chocolate to know where that stroke of lightning vanished to. Tell it to me, who firmly believes only simply cannot be used as a modifier for this emotion.

Or can it?

Have you ever experienced the wonder of waking up in the arms of the one you love? Or the depth of  joy at being told the sun is finally shining after weeks of seemingly endless rain? Or have you got wet under that refreshing, pervasive rain after just having said you’d personally go and bomb down the sun god if he didn’t move away? No, wonderment is not an emotion that can go very well with only.

Consider this, though — what if you were to realise that to fully comprehend wonder, you need to acknowledge that wonder is not wonder, but only a means of entertainment or relaxation, unless it makes you reach a newer plane, a newer sense of understanding? How would your experience of that feeling change? What new insight would you sense in the arms of the loved one, under the sun, or between the raindrops? What newer plane will a now-cool, now-warm drop of rain on your forearm take you to? Will this bit of rain on your toenail open up a new dimension of understanding? Or the one on your nose, and the one on your head? And oh look! now they’re everywhere! What newer plane have you reached? Did you travel from point A to point B during those few minutes the sun god panicked at your nuclear threat, and allowed water to quench your thirst?

Wonderment is an interest that at once brings joy, admiration and an urge to know more. Without this urge, wonder would be either joy, or admiration.

It adds more charm to the entire process of opening your senses and acknowledging all that they experience, wouldn’t you say? All of a sudden, this feeling isn’t simply a feeling of marvelling at the depth of it all. The curiosity makes room for an important activity — that of understanding the value of this depth, and, in some cases, its mechanics and processes. Some people are able to make use of this understanding to build bridges, dam rivers, design Tetra Pak and invent post-its. Sometimes, all some people can do it just grin with this knowledge, and then grin more. And learn to know and understand; the learning deepening with each experience.

I am not a scientist discovering path-breaking facts or inventing equally terrific concepts to revolutionise, and bring further wonderment. I am a wonderer, I allow these little wonders to fill me up until every cell within me can say that it has experienced the knowledge of understanding that all is all right, even though it may not seem so — that there is wonderment in everything. In a tortoise struggling to climb up and drag its weary feet over and beyond a stone (which, by the way,  is just a stone for you, but a mountain for it). Or in that clever aluminium-and-cork bottle stopper that keeps even wine as good as old. Or, agree or not, in that beggar’s shiny white teeth.

I travel from point A to point B, each time reaching a newer plane of belief that as long as there are eyes to see and mind to fathom, wonders never cease.

Some scientists believe that the ability to wonder, to be curious about, interested in something or someone — to feel the joy of admiration — is what separates humans from animals. Wonder separates science from religion, some believe. Religion sprouts from awe, while science from wonderment. These aren’t my original thoughts. I read about them on Wikipedia. I urge you to visit it here. It is wonderful how this marvellous emotion defines our innermost being. When I first thought of writing about it yesterday, I thought of the wonder of the beautiful, now experienced, now forgotten things like rain after a hot day, sunshine after a dull one — of the feeling of wonder towards the miraculous, the pleasing. But today, I know that it impresses me as probably the most influential of all the emotions, for it encourages thoughtful action, pulls towards improvement.

Note: If you came here to look for a post called 2020 yesterday or the day before, let me tell you, it wasn’t me that bungled it up. It was Flag Counter, the swanky new thing on my blog that tells me just how many of you are secretly clicking to my blog and from just how many places. Cool, eh? Let’s all forgive Flag Counter for not making Apps for Dummies, then.

A Saturday trip to the Eternal Land of the Yogis

Lakshman jhula -- the bridge joining the eastern and western banks

Well, not just the yogis, but pretty much everyone.

Neha, my friend of a number of years, is in Rishikesh for almost two months to learn yoga from a visiting teacher from France. Since it is just an hour’s drive from Dehradun (where I live) I decided to pay her a visit and see the historical town. Finally.

Rishikesha, meaning Lord of the Senses, is one of the thousand names of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity. The town today justifies the name in many ways; it preserves several kinds of sensory experiences, and propagates them. If you are a seeker of divine presence; a practitioner of yogic forms for a more fulfilled life; an enthused wader of the waters of the sacred Ganga at a place where she leaves the laps of the Himalayas to embrace the hot plains; a lover of cheap hallucinogens; or an intrepid traveller interested in trekking, mountaineering, river rafting, Rishikesh has it all for you. And more.

The town — its air, its dust, and indeed its waters — has the ability to make you see divinity, if you let it. At least that is what many people believe.

The Hindus come here to see their beloved Ganga in its final mountainous avatar, to pray at the famous Triveni Ghat, and visit the numerous temples. As most Hindu pilgrim sites are wont to, however, the river bank, the temples, the ghats, all nurse suppurating wounds on propriety and respect. This might be one of the biggest mysteries in this land. We uphold propriety and respect for others as the supreme virtues, and yet have precious little to show for it. Waste lies all around, people defaecate and urinate at the most inappropriate of places and allow the animals to do the same, shop-keepers throw their discards on to the road sides. No nook, no cranny is spared. Not even the ever-loving, ever-patient Mother Ganga.

Curious People from the Worlds Afar come to seek a kind of peace they feel only India can provide: by way of its ancient, mysterious wisdom, or through its sometimes happily lax policies for weed. Some pick a wave from the veritable tsunami of ashrams and schools offering courses in yoga, meditation, ayurveda, and many more concepts most of these schoolists know zilch about, and ride it. (The ones knowing something worthwhile normally don’t accept pupils just like that. And most don’t make inflated promises on signboards in front of their dilapidated huts.) Still others take their yoga mats along the banks of Ganga and sit and try to meditate. Its enormously normal-looking waters promise a quietude they don’t seem to find at any other place. And then, there are those people that mostly inhabit the Tapovan part of the town, who are living an extended rush of the 60s.

Rishikesh is a heady mixture of everything you’d want from a quickie vacation. Or, more accurately, a mixture of things you might seek and things you are bound to hate. My time there was spent catching up with an old friend, who is sure she has found what she was looking for most of her life — yoga. It challenges her, fulfills her, settles her. She is happy. As are the many I couldn’t help noticing even as I drifted in and out between conversations with Neha and with Rishikesh. There are people running booming businesses by milking spirituality; some are seeking their long-elusive dreams. All find some connection with whatever they wish to get connected to.

When I was driving back to my home, to my reluctant-to-let-me-go husband, and to our ever-welcoming dogs, I thought it might be a good idea to tell you about this ʻstrange placeʼ I had heard about, and have now seen. A few hours is of course nothing to gauge a place, but people and places radiate vibes; they either feel good, or bad. Rishikesh, despite its strangeness, felt good. Give it a try some day. It is one of those cliched things — you can hate it, or love it; but it never allows itself to sink unnoticed.

This is the only place around the Lakshman jhula, Ram jhula area where Ganga warbles a little. Everywhere else, it is calm and quiet, like it is for the rest of its journey through the plains.

Another view of the river, Lakshman jhula, inhabitants of its banks and aspiring rafters

An unsure woman, taking a dip in the water sacred to a billion and more

This man was standing with his arms spread wide over the water for a long time. By the time I could decide to take a picture, he'd begun wringing a piece of his clothing

For a long time, I kept looking at these rocks and thought they were elephants taking a welcome bath. I need new glasses. And while you are looking at the faux elephants, try not to see the waste on the hill-side.

One of the big ashrams with a lot of promises

Just about to hit the partially 'white' waters.

Lakshman jhula -- the bridge we took to go for 'the best meal in all of Rishikesh'

Neha, taking a picture of me as I took one of her

Two of the many places for seekers of wisdom of all kinds

Mother monkey, keeping an eye on the people, for the good ones throw goodies

So that they can then pick them up from the bridge floor

But their best performance is as rope-sitters. Windy weather doesn't threaten their perch one bit.

I don't know why he was rubbing these bamboos clean, but he was.

I heard this sadhu saying "Thanks" as we walked past.

The first thing across the bridge is this. A very 'India' place. Every corner has a bit of its very unique identity. The sign on the round-about under the statue of Lord Shiva says "Please take off your shoes before you climb."

This modern dude didn't flinch when I "shoved the camera at his face", as Neha put it.

One of the many fascinating shops, selling Indian-ness

This beautiful building is reminiscent of the ideal architecture for this heat. Most houses are now a silly mixture of confusion. Sad.

Finally, The Little Buddha Cafe aka Buddha German Bakery. We had awesome Tomato and Garlic Bruschetta and Watermelon juice. Rishikesh is a strictly vegetarian, alcohol-free zone. But such places do offer tuna and Ganga-trout, and eggs, too. And pot, should you be brave enough to ask for it.

A glimpse of the ghat, the place where people gather to pray, to bathe.

Seekers of something, all.

But these boys know what they want, now, don't they?

He looked like the sadhu who thanked me for taking his picture. But then, all sadhus look the same.

This photographer stands underneath a lemonade stall umbrella. No takers for either. The signs warn of many things,including photographers like him: "Please check the photographer's credentials before allowing him to take your picture." Another sign reads "Please only give food materials to the monkeys at one side of the bridge. Do not harass the monkeys. Put the food only at the stipulated places."

A man posing as 'monkey-god' Hanuman. He tricks passers-by into putting a tilak (vermillion on the forehead) and then demands money.

My favourite thing in the whole trip. These bright orange Hanuman car-ornaments. They promise all that is good (and beautiful, I think)

But this young man looks completely unimpressed...

Only love

Generations in a family love and hate. Usually, it is the love that makes it to photo galleries.

It is only love. Or is it? I would never say ‘love’ and ‘only’ in the same sentence. Or allow ‘only’ to come any closer than two paragraphs. Never. Because — it is an emotion that punches you at a point (still unknown to science, philosophy, religion, and whatever else likes to blow its trumpet)  with such heart-numbing, heart-stupidifying precision that you see stars, feel winded enough to wonder whether you had ever in your life breathed at all, smell heaven from wherever you are, cry bitter tears, and sweet too, see hell everywhere else, or right here — all at once. An emotion like no other. Only? I am not off my rocker.

Why in the world am I writing about it, then? Something that can’t be quantified, judged or in most cases, expressed in words? No, not because it is Valentine’s Week, as the retail market is wont to call it. (Today is Promise Day, by the way.) Perhaps it is because I feel obligated to continue the sequence of emotions I have promised myself to cover in this category. And probably because I love. And so do you. Same pinch. (Or punch).

But I confess there is no purpose, no message to give, no angst to release, no thoughts to share. At the end of this post, you will be right where you started. Some things still have to be done, however. So, for all these reasons, and my love for sparring with the undoable, I am going ahead.

Our dogs' love for killing the grass takes precedence over our love for a breathtakingly green patch. Such is life.

The beauty and horror of love could spin us around a million times over, and back. In fact, it has! Heartaches float invisibly, acting like catalysts to give birth to music, paintings, photos, sculptures. The Wheel, even. And there are even more healed hearts to revolutionise art and science and sports and religion. And the retail market, as we all know. Haven’t you noticed how they fuel all of our planet’s existence, demise and rebirth?  Isn’t it justified, then, to think that it is so, so very empty to try to express it through a card, send in chocolates or big diamond rings? And yet – surprise of all surprises! – it is so meaningful to express it through a card, send in chocolates or big diamond rings. Whatever the choice.

The horror begins when things come to choice, actually.

You simply love biking. And you love your spouse and children, who’d rather sit in the garden and count the bushes. You love counting the bushes and you love them, too, of course. But you have to choose. Bike or Bush. (The latter with your family thrown in as a bonus). Choose both? Choose one? Choose none and run away with a tattoo-maker? Like everything else in the 21st century, there are options galore! (In fact, I suspect it must be for the love of things and misery that we’ve decided to inundate our closets with options. And throw the skeletons out. We have evolved, Darwin.)

So, back to love options. They do cause hyperventilation of all kinds, don’t they, now? And yet we go on. It is a many-splendoured thing, after all.

A tacit understanding of trials and past glories could be love, too. My brother's fascination for sharks must have come from his belief that he was on the Titanic in his last birth and was eaten by a shark on his way down. I believed the same, except I thought I had drowned. We discovered our common belief much later, when we were adults and found it all right to share our hitherto hidden nightmares. After we'd talked about it, the words 'shark' and 'drown' never had the same meaning for us again. And though there is no glory in being eaten by a shark or in drowning, there was love in the understanding.

It is the phenomenon that makes people understand without having to use language. It is the energy that can make a person rise up and say, “I am alive, because I love. And am loved.” It is the lovesome succor for the soul that makes people get up in the morning to make bed tea for their loved one. Or do something else that is their cup of tea. Love, not surprisingly, needs no words to understand. And yet, surprisingly again, words make so much difference. Or gestures. Perhaps love cannot survive without a carrier, regardless of what it is.

The splendours of love. Who’s to count them? And how? And more importantly, why? As long as love for one is there, floating through the mists of life, at once illuminating and relaxing, never tugging at a love for another, there is hope.

Loving, and how.


I discovered Etheree at Dan’s blog a few days back. It is a concept so beautiful, I am still in raptures. And the name? Etheree. Wow. To make matters more delightful, Dan’s poem added such calm, petal-like softness to its already simple beauty. Perhaps this is what encouraged me to write an etheree myself and see if I have it in me to make it a regular in this blog’s Poesie category.



the cup

and come here

closer to us,

me and the fire bright.

Walls are warm, my heart too.

Close that door behind you, do!

Look, the fire’s ablaze with the wind

the door’s let in oh-so shamelessly.

Come now, the cup overflows so, my love.

An etheree comprises of 10 lines. It begins with a one syllable line, increasing one syllable per line until the last line of ten syllables. The syllable count of the entire poem is 55. The syllabic structure, therefore, is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, and is unmetered and unrhymed.

A total recall

I have been thinking quite a lot about the land of the Bhils and Gonds – the tribals of the region of India I have my roots in. A long time ago, it seems, B and I visited a section of it, and fell in love with the greens and the browns and the blacks of the place. I’d love to, someday, write about it. But today, I am so full of the memories, that all I can do is post some pictures and reload the page over and over again through the day to keep looking at them. Why post them and not see in my personal gallery? Well, posting it in the blog has an added advantage of pretending I am storing it in a diary. And I was a religious diary-writer as a kid.

Besides, I always love to share what I think the world deserves to know. So, here goes a collection of memories from a land that has not seen ‘civilisation.’

The creek that gushes close to where we stayed.

A reservoir close to Bhoramdeo, the place where we stayed for the night. The red soil turns all waters into remarkably dirty-coloured entities. But all is beautiful, still. The fisherman promised to keep a fish for us to take home. We couldn't go back to him after our little jaunt at the hills. Our loss. The cow bells came with me, though. In the mind. I can still hear the sweet sound.

The dragonflies, blurred in the foreground were the stars of the season. It was summertime, the worst time to go there. If the worst time offers such beauty, the best should be just that, no?

This kite flew down to perch on the distant guard rail. As if to pose, it stayed there only as long as we clicked pictures. Quite a celeb, eh?


Moti of the Baiga tribe. The man we went to meet because people from the world over come to meet him, to seek cures to their ailments. He claims to walk the darkest of forests with tigers and elephants for company, make medicines to cure anything ranging from constipation to multiple scleroris. He claims to have eaten a herb for the duration he didn't want children. Natural contraceptive. 🙂 Pointing at my spectacles, he said, "I can get these off in one day". I'll tell you the outrageous cure, someday. Suffice it to say, I am chicken-hearted. And they make stylish spectacle-frames these days. All the tongues-in-cheeks aside, he has remarkable eyes. I couldn't meet them for long. He kept looking into mine, deep and deeper. It was unnerving.

Child-mothers, all. The local weekly market is quite a draw. People come in throngs from distant villages to buy several things. My favourite among them? The circlet around the girl's (on the left) neck. It's called a sarota. Pure silver, awesome weight. I got myself one. 🙂

Leopard kitten (a leopard cat is a wild cat, but not a leopard). A domesticated devil at a local village. I'd have taken him if the people weren't so attached to him. Such fire in his eyes.

A lotus pond at the Shiva temple at Bhoramdeo. The temple itself is so mind-numbing, I was slightly scared to click its picture, so I took its companion's instead.

This classy lady is off with her bargain of the week - the mahua. A local wine made of mahua flowers. The blossoms fill the forests during the summer season with their heady fragrance. Lotus-eaters would find these a much bigger challenge. People have been known to have fallen asleep the moment they came too close to a tree in full bloom. Or have been attacked by bears who wish to claim their share. Mahua. A heady, fruity, sweet brew.

Not a great picture. Doesn't quite capture the beauty of the fall, but it is important to post it here because a couple of ten minutes after this, as we trekked along the dirt track, we were to have a memorable experience. Since the track was a narrow one, we were walking in a straight line. The leader was a spirited dog we'd found close to the creek posted above. It wanted to come with us, or lead us rather. He was followed by our guide, then B and then finally, me. After a few minutes of walking along, we heard a rough grunt that reverberated not only through the hills, but within our heads and hearts as well. A growl followed. And then a yelp. By the time we'd trundled to the place, all had already happened. The dog was cowering, the leopard was gone. Yes, there had been a leopard ahead in the path, probably sleeping. Our leader was the only one to sight the cat. A rare example of a dog cowering in front of a cat, perhaps. At any rate, the leopard was gone before we could say Dog. All we had left of his presence was the memory of the inimitable growl (showing disgust, probably at the intruders) and the unmistakable big-cat smell. I can still feel the adrenalin. Our leader deserted us immediately thereafter. We never saw him again.

This outing, just a weekend, was an important one. I grew up very far from all these visions and smells and experiences. Despite the lack of familiarity, I somehow felt a part of it all, as I walked these roads. A feeling akin to home. B; a child of lands much beyond these, lands of tall mountains and great lakes, with people so different yet not quite; also, for some strange reason, felt one with the land. I know no better pleasure. Bhoramdeo is the place that brought me closer. To what? To life itself, I daresay.

Dreaming of a White Christmas, and Green Eyes

As an Army child, I had the good fortune of celebrating the festivals of many prominent religions and cultures as long as my father was a part of a large regiment. The entire cantonment got together for the celebration. The mood was festive all around, since the entire community was involved. It not only made us aware of the sensibilities of other religions and cultures, we also got to have a lot of fun doing things we wouldn’t have otherwise done. Being a Hindu, I would never have known to bow down at a Gurudwara or hang the Christmas stockings. Christmas. It is somehow a very special festival. We got wrapped gifts. I got to do what I loved best in household work at that age — bake. And Santa was a dear friend’s father, usually (at every different posting, each new station).

My first memory of Christmas is looking under the community Christmas tree for a gift that had the brightest gift wrapping paper on it. If I remember right, I loved the ones with blue and silver diagonal stripes, or the ones with candy canes printed on them. The gifts weren’t named, of course, because there were so many children. There was no way for giving customised gifts unless the organisers were resourceful enough to employ elves, which, I am certain, they weren’t. But they were generous in their choice of gift wrappers, and I wasn’t complaining. Cotton was the customary substitute for snow. It was strewn on any tree of choice that served as The Tree of the Evening, fairy lights glittered on it and around. And  the manger scene on the side was never forgotten. Thoughtful people added a lot of toy cows and calves on the straw. I loved the eyes of these animal dolls (many had pink cheeks, somehow). I loved the smell of straw. I loved Christmas. And before I forget,  I loved the confetti. It was a mixture of straw and confetti on the floor, usually.

My first memory of caroling is of a much older me. The second school at which I taught had a British heritage. Besides many other things, they caroled on Christmas Eve. This is by far the winner in my list of Thank-Someone-I-Worked-In-This-School. The old tradition  (the school was founded in 1837) was to walk around the campus and come into the School Chapel to sing more. By the time they got around to employing me, the carols were just sung inside the Chapel. Another tradition that remained intact was that  it was the teachers who sang. We were green carolers, most of us. But Val did a good job in training us.  And she included some songs as well. We sang. And swayed. And loved it. We shone those nights. This is where I first got introduced to White Christmas. To aid us in understanding  the ‘feel’ of it (as a musician friend put it), she made us listen to Frank Sinatra’s rendition (or could’ve been someone else. But not Bing Crosby). This song transported me to new worlds. Of white blankets of snow. Most of all, for some strange reason, eyelashes full of snow flakes. The voice haunted me with the dream of a childhood that had seen snow, but never snow fall.  I remember un-snowing strawberries at a place we were visiting. Snow had visited just the previous night. We  were left with the reminders. It was many years later that I could reach the town (another one) in time for her arrival.

White Christmas is probably so important because when I imagine white snow with green, and red things and yellow lights, I can, in a way, live those fairy tales I read as a child. It is such a magical feeling. Unlike many people whom I’ve subsequently heard talking of waking up to a white day on Christmas, I imagined myself standing next to a Christmas tree, wearing a green scarf, seeping it all in. And lo! There’s snow. Falling down on everything, everything holding on to it like a sheath of happiness. Everything including my eyelashes. Soon, there’s White Christmas like no other. The vision is just a thought now, but it is a dreamy, magical one.

Snow obliged me at my husband’s home town, never fear. It wasn’t Christmas, but I can boast a new-found joy. Of having seen the flakes glide down, so carefree, so sure they’ll find just the right spot to rest. Beautiful.

I will wait for the day it snows on Christmas day at the place I live in. Wherever I am at the time. For I will not travel for the experience. It will have to come to me. Like the joy of seeing calf dolls with pink cheeks.

Like the Green Eyes, too. As lil’ Priya, I was sure I would wake up one day, look at the mirror, and see that my eyes had turned green.  Every morning, I’d go and stand in front of the mirror with my eyes closed and open them with the hope that the eyes had turned green. They never did, of course. But I never stopped hoping for it either. Not wishing, but hoping. I enjoyed my daily morning ritual for a number of years. Until I forgot to look in the mirror for them.

There are angels, after all

The grand-whistler

A little while back, a beautiful black and white bird came unannounced. And stayed, much to my delight. We notice it everyday in the mornings and afternoons, flying to various corners of our garden and calling out in its sweet, oh so sweet voice. I don’t know its name. But I do know I wait for it everyday.

Among the chorus of several other birds, this one lets out a honey-coated whistle that permeates deep within. It is like a reminder of goodness in despair, path-finder in celebration. Simply put, I am in absolute love with this bird.

It first came at my home office window when I was struggling with a particularly dull piece of text for translation. Uncannily, it looked at me (or so I like to think) and whistled. As if telling me to get a move on already. I did manage to finish my work, drudgery forgotten. You could call me a silly fairy-chaser. Or an impractical fool because I look for symbols, preferably natural ones. This bird has come as a blessing. For I  like to think of serendipity and angelic messages in the same breath as doing dishes.

The window where it all began

Sure enough, the little whistler was there just a few minutes back, when I, for the umpteenth time, considered sacking my extremely unhelpful house help. (Unfortunately, this time I am not sure whether it is encouraging this decision or sending signs of warning that I am going over-the-board with my disapproval. More about that in another post).

So, regardless of dubious advice, I am quite fond of this little honey-stirrer. It livens up my daily life, giving it that extra bit of sweetness that is always appreciated.

The lake for Naina Devi. And everyone else, really

A quick weekend trip to Nainital, and I am all recharged with its stupendous beauty.

When I first entered Nainital as a not-so-young bride 4 years back, the famous lake did less than take my breath away. B, my excited husband, wanted to see me go all giddy with oohs and aahs, I suppose. But at that time I was rather overwhelmed with my newly baked marriage. I can be excused, surely..

Not since then, no. I’ve never ceased to feel (and express) appreciation for the beauty of this limpid emerald. (No the oohs and aahs of marriage have not lost their lustre yet, but there’s room for more!)

Nainital is a portmanteau with Naini for Naina devi, the Goddess of extreme importance for the locals, and Tal for lake. So the town takes its name from the lake itself*. And rightly so. Because the lake overwhelms you with its serene, very royal presence.

Before you begin assuming, don’t think I am saying the town doesn’t have anything else. Try trekking the hills or climbing the China Peak. This post, however, is actually about the one, primary aspect of this town rightly named after its lifeline. The Naini Lake. So.

The Naini Tal. A bean-shaped green well-pool fed by the well-springs, the relentless gifts of nature. Yes. That’s what I like  best about the Lake, its resilience against the onslaught of human population. Like a lone soldier, it continues to provide for lakhs of people, and sometimes more, when the tourist season is at its busiest (and rowdiest).

A part of the Nainital town, Mallital

I also appreciate the fact that the residents of this town woke up well in time! Before the natural springs stopped feeding the lake, they actually woke up! They ensured that plans to clean, desilt, aerate the waters got implemented. And that these measures continue to be employed. The lake looks safe.

One of the several aerators for the benefit of the water and its creatures


Thandi Sarak. Several residents resist getting it tarmac-coated. Good people.

So, what I like doing best on a quick weekend trip to Nainital, besides meeting relatives, is taking a walk along the lake’s periphery. My usual routine is to begin the walk from the Thandi Sarak, which is just that, a track cooler than the other side, because it is sheltered from the sun. The chill in the air is at its mightiest here in any weather. Since the road circumcircles the lake, you can keep close to the green waters, even when the Thandi Sarak converges with The Mall, which is everything you expect from a pleasant hill station; old hotels, charming library, sturdy church, wrought iron lamp posts, shopping arcades… But.

The lower part of the town, or some of it. Tallital.

I would rather enjoy the lake, thank you very much. It’s quite rewarding, too. The morning sun reflecting off the healthy, post-monsoon bulge is like that reassuring hug. All is really well, you know.

The gentleman who works.

And if it isn’t, there are people, thoughtful souls, who relentlessly pursue well-being.

You can’t stop the stupidity around you. Tourists and residents alike throw waste into the water and consider it forgotten.  Measures need to be  taken to make stupid people think twice before ruining limpid green pools. So, to battle this never-ending menace, another (small) set of people like this 60-something gentleman kayak and canoe along the perimeter of the lake, collecting plastic waste people so heartlessly throw after a moment’s gratification. When I asked him if I could click a picture of him, he said, “Why not! As long as it comes out well, and you publicise it. We need to publicise the work we are doing here.”

So. I promised him the picture would come out as well as it could in my small mobile phone camera, and I am publicising it in this  blog that’s never read.

Boats waiting for tourists who can take a ride, cackle like uncouth devils, and throw waste. And pay.

These images capture but only a little of what this emerald town looks like if you take a walk at 7 am on a pleasant October morning.

Can't caption 'em all!

Another thing I really like doing is stopping. Just looking the water now rippling, now not.

This boat was still there, just this way, when I came back the next day.

The sun and the water make for a combination to let all thoughts fade away and just sit/stand there and look. Or if  you are the kind that needs to be on the move, keep walking. But notice how each being, phenomenon of life, the tiniest drop, the newly formed leaf, the swimming fish, all magically become one, somehow. And they have large hearts, too. They include you in this oneness. Even if you are on the move.

One of the many locals, who enjoy their bit of water sports.

Even lone boat-men, rowing on to fight the force of water for recreation, exercise, glory. They all seem to meld in, somehow. And so very perfectly, too.

Oh the emeralds..

As I walk on, I remember an old lady, who gave me a knowing smile once, and said, almost informed me, “You are new here.” (Some part of me must have told her I wasn’t a tourist, but something, some strange thing I must’ve done also told her I hadn’t spent my entire life there)

“Yes I am. How do you know?”

“You keep stopping. To look at the lake.”

“Yes, I do. Don’t you?”

“I’ve been living here all my life.”

Just another image..

It’s like looking at the smiling, wrinkling face of your parent enjoying his/her favourite ice cream and looking away.  It’s nothing, really. You’ve seen it your whole life, after all.

And another.

Or watching your son coming back from a tough, tough play field after a glorious victory, his face aglow under sweat. And looking away, feelingless. He’s 36, for heaven’s sake. It’s happened a thousand times already! What’s new?

And another.

I remember an instance and the feelings it evoked very clearly in my head as if it happened just 2 minutes back. But it happened, much, much before 2 minutes ago. Countless minutes ago, forming into years I can’t remember, I was sitting pillion on a scooter in Delhi. Weaving through the hopeless traffic, and looking up at the dirty grey sky and golden sun and the passing trees that kept flitting past my vision of the dirty grey sky and the golden sun. Then all of a sudden, in a moment of time, I felt a certain sense of being. Of bliss, if you accept the word. Of knowing life is beautiful, despite hopeless traffic, dirty grey skies, no money and dying trees. Don’t ask me why. I can’t explain. It’s something ineffable. But understandable, I dare say.

And one more.

Much like walking around a lake for the thousandth time and stopping to look at the bent branch. Or the insistent fish. Or the shades of green and blue and gold.

*If you want a little more information on the lake’s name, check out the Historical Background section here.