Tag Archives: India

Of more birds, flight and nothing much besides

I couldn’t possibly have rested until I posted some more pictures of some more birds. Since we’re not going to be in this neighbourhood for long, I must carry as many memories of it with me as I can. Will you join me for another walk?  Continue reading Of more birds, flight and nothing much besides

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Tell me, please.

Like all humans, I have a curious mind. The questions never cease. Sometimes they nudge the metaphysical, sometimes the real deal. Most of the times, I satiate myself with answers which suit my sensibility and rejoice in the knowledge tweaked. Sometimes, however, the questions keep coming back. I take that as an indication to become a seeker. Here are but a few I like to dwell on over my tea-at-random-times.

Do try to answer these questions for me, won’t you? Some of them are fact-based, some person-based. Some are directed only at women* (the ones in pink. If you don’t like the shade, join the club. Apparently WordPress won’t). All are excruciatingly wow, though.

* Men, never fear, your penny’s worth is welcome, too. As long as you succeed in retaining the feminine elegance in it.

Do you get your clothes tailored?

We Indian women spend half our lives purchasing fabric, finding the right design to go with it, finding the tailor who we think will magically reproduce the design just the way we want it to look, and finally (and most importantly) argue with the tailor for not quite being a magician. Kurtas, kameezes, blouses for sarees, salwars, churidars. You name it, we get it tailored.

I’ve always wondered if other women of the world have a similarly scintillating occupation. Do you?

Are redheads really the butt of jokes? Why?!

Ginger hair, freckles.. I find them really cute. Sometimes sexy. But I’ve often heard in movies or read in books about their owners being teased because of them. Why is that? Is it because the normal rule of thumb in the human society — “scorn all that is different from you” — is so overwhelming we forget we are potential candidates for the same treatment by a different perspective?

Years ago, I read The Inscrutable Americans by Anurag Mathur. I don’t remember anything from this very entertaining book, though. Except the protagonist’s fascination for red hair he sees on a woman’s head. It is impossible to forget his very innocent question asked with wide-eyed wonder — “Does she have red hair… at all the umm places?” (Well, it’s not quoted verbatim, but I hope the sentence communicates his excitement.)

Do different countries have different air?

If you’ve been to a country other than yours, did you notice the air there? Does it feel different? Is there an unfamiliar — pleasant or unpleasant — feel to it? I’ve noticed that cities display this phenomenon. Jabalpur has a sort of confident, fresh air to it, while Delhi has a haughty, heavy one. Except when it’s really hot. That’s when everything unpleasant gets burned out with the sheer heat and all that remains is glowing tenacity. Mumbai’s air feels zippy and energetic. Balmy, somehow, in spite of the incredible humidity. Do countries show a similar personality? I’ve never been outside of India and this is one of the reasons why I’d like to. To know if the airs have airs.

  Are men fools?

I’ve spent a remarkable amount of time pondering this question. Most of the times the answer comes an affirmative. There are instances, however, when I have to admit it seems they’re just a tad confused. That can be misleading. Take for instance a situation I suspect is an epidemic — if you ask for those pair of scissors with bright yellow handles lying there on the counter-top, it is only a man who can look everywhere but there, and then say, “Why can’t you keep things where I can see them?”

Do you think your college degree has really helped you become a responsible adult? (Assuming you are one.)

It isn’t just about a college degree, actually. This belief that education makes people more responsible, sensitive and whats-that-word-for-being-someone-who-uses-their-brain has never failed to confuse me. I see people who are graduates, post-graduates, and even beyond but continue to make laughable choices. Like trusting the advertisement that offers “revolutionary” things – like, say, a wristwatch the size of a golf ball – help them revolutionise their lives.

Or getting a girl child aborted because a family must have at least one boy to carry on the name. I know of at least two instances where expectant mothers were emotionally traumatised by either the mother-in-law or the mother. One had to abort a girl child (two, actually), while the other was threatened by her mother of being disowned if she discovered during an illegal sex determination that the foetus was a girl and was still going to go ahead with the pregnancy. The first friend had twin sons after the two abortions. The latter has a son. The women who made them abort, or threatened them are both “educated” women. Post graduates. One of them owns a play school.

 Why must people feel better in a dire situation if they come to know others have or have had a similar plight?

I’ve often heard of someone else’s misery becoming an inspirational story for many. Is it because it feels good to know you’re not alone? Why? Or is it because it makes you believe it is possible to overcome the odds, after all?

It’s a strange thing, this. Finding comfort in the knowledge you’re not alone. I’ve tried to understand it, but questions still remain.

Have you ever tried the divine joy of bargaining?

We’re shifting. The packers and movers have been a pain in the arse. Have been. Because, incidentally, a friend who’s a police officer knows the guy who owns the company and has put in a word. We’ve got unimaginable discount! Which goes to show that the company was taking a whopping profit to begin with. I am sure that even after the discount, it’s not doing any charity. The trouble with us, B and I, is that we can’t haggle. B very beatifically uttered the truth this morning, “since we suck at bargaining, we have only one option — have a lot of money.” 

The only place I can and do bargain successfully is in the street-side shops of Janpath, Delhi. One knows the maths. Bring down the quote price to half, haggle until you only have to pay about 60-65%. Cool. It’s been years that I’ve felt that powerful adrenalin invade my bloodstream after a shopping binge in Janpath, but I never forget the pleasure of the kill!

Is it only me who’s impatient with the trendy word usages?


“We gel well.” “No issues.” “Get a room.” “I echo you.” “OMG!” “This vid has gone viral.”

There must be numerous such words, sentences, phrases that began as perfectly brilliant coinages, but have been reduced to, uhm excuse the cliche – overkill, by unimaginative parrots. Do you agree, or should I just cough with embarrassment and go look for another champagne flute?

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All the images in this post have been taken from somewhere in the internet, except the one of the birds. My cousin took the picture on her recent trip to Gujarat and I stole it from her Facebook album. Heh Heh.

The Time Has Come

The fingers are drumming out Alanis Morrissette’s Ironic on the steering wheel. No, she isn’t singing or humming with the singer. The morning’s smile is gone. Her mouth is pursed in concentration. She will tell me soon what she is thinking of. I like her without the concentrating mouth. I like her little-girl features. I just mean her eyes here, mind you. They’re giving her away. If you take your attention from her concentrating mouth to her eyes, you’ll know that the mouth is only pretending. Her clear eyes are honest, and they betray excitement.

The world’s been running away from us. Trees, side-walks, houses and offices, cows on the side-walks, beggars and policemen. Farms. We could’ve been running away from them, but we aren’t. We are just in her new car. We entered Agra a half hour back, and could now almost touch the Taj Mahal if we stretched our arms out. If we wanted to. If I could stretch my arms out and walk, I’d want to walk to an ice cream parlour on my own, and point my finger at the huge vat of Cookies’n’Chocolates, and ask for two scoops. Or three. And then pick up the spoon with my fingers, and eat one delicious spoonful at a time. Myself. But I can’t. And I never will.

Don’t jump to conclusions. I can think. And talk a lot. And that is important. Speaking of which, she is important right now. Let’s look at her. Alisha. My kid sister. My fun world.

All is not fun in her own world. That is what she told me this morning. She came to get me at six. Amma let me wear my bow tie. Appa wheeled me out, and squeezed my shoulders just the way he squeezes the lemons for our morning lemon tea. I like it like that. Our parents are my care world. But I am still talking about myself. I do that sometimes. Alisha says I do that all the time. I just show her my tongue and ask about her day at the office. If we’re talking on the phone, I tell her I am showing my tongue. She should know.

Her office walls are red. I went there once. That is the only good thing about there. I don’t like advertising. It is like this road. It will take us to the coffee shop, but it will ask for too much of too many things. Being lifted from the wheelchair, getting adjusted on the car seat, the strangeness of the AC, the staleness outside. You know what I mean. Advertising is just like that. Alisha agrees with me. But she is the senior copywriter there. She told me.

She’s replaying Ironic.

We’ll reach Barista soon. We come here every last Sunday of the month. Just Alisha and me. Delhi to Agra. Just for coffee. People used to laugh at us, but Alisha said she didn’t care. I never care about pleasing people. Unless they are nice.

She’s not spoken a lot since we left home. That was three hours back. It must be because of the thing she is concentrating on.

“Vic?”

I say, “Yeah?”

“Did I tell you I like that pink-roofed house over there?”

“Who likes pink roofs?”

“I do!” She couldn’t look defensive even when she tried. If I could put my arms around her, I’d hug her until she told me to stop, she was driving.

“Is it your paintings? Is that why your world is not fun these days?”

“My exhibition.” The drumming stopped.

“Do the people at the gallery not like them?”

“They do. But that’s not the point.”

I don’t understand. If the gallery people like the paintings, then there can be an exhibition. What is the point? “What is the point?”

“I don’t like them anymore.”

“But you painted them!”

“So what?” She pouted.

I think. I think I understand her less and less these days. I think I must try harder.

I say, “But the exhibition begins next Friday!” But I am thinking — can she repaint all of them before then?

Alisha decides to bite off her thumb’s nail. Just at this moment. She knows I hate, hate, hate it.

“Don’t do that!”

“What?”

“Don’t chew off the nails.”

She looks away. The moment is gone. She could have told me. But the moment is gone.

There’s Barista. We first came here 12 years back. And fell in love with it. That is when Alisha and I decided that this would be our Barista. There must be at least 200 Baristas in Delhi. But there’s none like this.

All is not fun today, though.

Alisha’s been running circuits and doing weights for years. Just because she doesn’t want to huff and puff when she lifts me off the car seat to put me on the wheelchair. And the other way around. She says it’ll spoil her nonchalance. I don’t like the word.

When she wheels me in, she says, “Our seat’s taken. Choose another. Quick. Look at those crows over there, they’ll take a seat before we get in.”

I can see through the glass. Why does she have to give a speech?

“Let’s sit next to the girl with the cream moustache.” We hate the poster. First, it is too huge. Second, she could’ve wiped off the moustache before getting her picture taken. But that’s advertising for you.

“Why don’t you like the paintings?”

“Vic. I couldn’t explain even if I wanted to.”

“You don’t want to?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“You talk too much.”

I sometimes feel like getting up and banging my fists on the wall. I’d prefer if it is a red wall.

“The gallery walls are cream.”

“Jess.” We took to pronouncing yes this way a month back because we liked it this way. So there.

“Your paintings are all purple-y.”

“Jess.”

“So what’s the problem? Cream goes with purple.”

“They, somehow, don’t go with me.” My sister takes pauses between words only when she’s really, really, really confused. This does not look well.

“How?”

“I thought I was painting my soul out, Vic. Is my soul purple-y? The eyes of the girls look wistful. I am not wistful. The, the, background’s all yucky.”

“Yucky? Why did you continue painting, then?”

“I didn’t think it was yucky then.”

“What’s changed?”

“I don’t know.”

“I am tired.”

This happens to me. But I don’t chew my fingernails. Raja, our favourite waiter, has got us our favourites. Mine is Devil’s Own. Alisha’s is Brrrrista.

I like it when she opens her mouth while putting spoons of cream in my mouth. It’s like she’s letting me have what she wants. I love her for that.

“The strokes. Do you like the strokes this time?”

“Jess. I think I did good.”

“Al, you can’t paint all of your soul. It is too, well,  a lot.”

“So I just paint a tiny part of it? Everytime?”

“Jess. Every single time.”

I can lift up my hand and pat on hers. So I do that. I have a feeling the fun’s coming.

Do you have what I have?

Do you? Well, we’ll find out soon, won’t we?

I’ve known most of you for a year now, and there is so much I do not know about you. Things that can change the world in ground-breaking ways, if only we were to know about them. Take, for instance, your tongue cleaner. You do clean your tongue don’t you? If you were to imagine a tongue cleaner, would you think of something like this?  

The image that came to my mind was something like this

Come now, if you did not get any image in your head, that’s okay, too. We just won’t talk about it, all right?

But still, do you see? We read each other, but do not know the essential parts of each other’s lives yet!

It will please me immensely to know that despite the location of your neighbourhood, and the distance between me and you in this village with an absurd name, we might have some things in common, after all. We might use different tools to keep bacteria off our tongues, but we do keep our mouths clean.

Well, I do not expect you to have everything I do, but it’ll be worth my while to probe a little and find out that things that ail my day ail yours too. There is strength in empathy. And yes, there is joy in sharing.

I dream of a fairytale life. My favourite stories were the ones in which fairies or elves or some tiny, invisible fairyland beings came and cleaned up the house at night, before the heroine woke up. You sleep at night, without a thought about the spiders weaving webs with a ferocity to shame the growing smart phone industry,  and wake up to a spiffy house in the morning. Only because you have fairy godcleaners. Sigh.

But it was not to be. I do not have a fairytale life. I clean up, or sleep at night with the dream that I do deserve godcleaners, dammit. That takes away most of the heart wrench at the sight of another mucky corner in another room the next morning. I did attempt to rope in B to help me clean. Or, being the man of the house, to assume the entire burden. But no, that wasn’t destined either. I hope you have what I have. Some shared pain would be good right about here.

Plus, it’d please me to know that your books, if you read them, do not fly back to their orderly places on their own. And that your attempts to help them get there are as sporadic as mine are. Also, please tell me that the CDs you’ll probably never look at except to throw them in a bin 10 years later go into the shelf along with the books. And the wrappers of candies you must not be seen devouring. If the CDs are wrapped in horribly rustling polythene bags from your last shopping at the grocery store, then it is even better.

Dust and I are good friends. The friendship grew because of my irresistibility, I think. Dust comes wherever I am. If I do wipe out the last trace of it in a fit of an occasional need to be alone, it drifts in at the next opportunity, and stays. Please do not tell me you have not befriended my faithful buddy, too! Well yes, that’s one of the cabinets from my house you see on the left. And no, it does not have any dust on it, because I just got rid of it for the picture. (If you spot any, hurry and take a quick look around yourself; it just might have decided to jump in through the screen to help me avenge the insult.) I could have allowed you a peek inside my wardrobes and linen cabinets, too. But I do not like shocking people too much.

Speaking of which, I’d be shocked if you do not know what dalia means. And that it is the tastiest breakfast ingredient ever. You do not? Oh dear reader, you disappoint me so.

It is broken wheat. People usually make dalia porridge, but we prefer making a savoury thing with it, B and I. It has vegetables like peas, cauliflower, carrots; or at least just onions and tomatoes. Not aubergine, though. The ones featured in this picture are here with an intention to add some colour, and for all vegetable haters reading this post. I ask you, how can you not like vegetables? I also ask you if you have noticed that the supermarkets offer all sorts of vegetables and fruits in all seasons? Does it happen where you live? I think it is a shame. It takes the joy out of the wait, not to mention the taste out of the fibre.

I’ve noticed that many people in my country have begun using tacky tiles in their living rooms and sometimes bedrooms as well. I am told it is to simplify maintenance; but I say, if you assassinate a home, what is left to maintain anyway? Tastes are subjective, of course. If you live in a house that has ceramic, glossy wall tiles, and wish to invite me over for muffins and lemonade, please be kind and cover the tiles with something tasteful, like a blanket, while I’m there.

You did notice the plastic chair in this picture, didn’t you? That’s also become an epidemic. I hope it is there, too. I can’t survive it alone. Easy to clean, easy to lift and move, and generally tubs-of-flab-friendly. All of that, plus abominably ugly. I have seen some really smart ones, I agree. But this one time, I choose cumbersome maintenance over ugliness. What do you think? And do tell me this is a common sight where you live as well.

All right. That was the last time I requested you to find a common pain. All I am going to do is shoot facts at you, and challenge you to deny any knowledge of their existence in your surroundings. If you really do not encounter some of the things below in your surroundings, please tell me what an equivalent would look like, won’t you?

The faces in the frames would not be so merry and gay if they knew about the wires that coil in their proximity. Is there no escape? Why don't electrical goods come without wires? Do you love them? If not, where do you hide them?
I bet you don't know what this ugly contraption is. It is an essential in an Indian home, though. It's called a water purifier. I was tempted to buy the beautiful one with blue, serene exteriors and no ugly tubework because of all of its aesthetics and the fact that a classic Bollywood beauty, also called The Dreamgirl, comes often on our television to sell it. Our real-life salesman, however, gave us a choice -- buy the one that works, or the one that she asks you to buy, just because it is she. That was then, and this is now. The ugliest part of my kitchen. I suppose you get usable water in your taps. No?
No self-respecting Indian kitchen is without a pressure cooker. If you are an Indian, and you do not have this, please provide justification for your traitorship. It cooks evenly and quickly, retains nutrition -- best for pulses, mutton, shelled beans, boiling potatoes. And a lot more. Ask me, I shall tell.
Inverters. To convert DC into AC. The inverter is featherweight. Its battery -- hidden behind that swanky, dusty cabinet -- is Goliath-weight.
Tube light, one of the Ugh-est things. Do you have to put up with these naked pieces of ugly white light? I am waiting for freedom from them. Husband dear is a great fan, you see. No, no. I'm not dreaming about getting rid of him; I am just dreaming of putting some sense into his deluded sensibility.
I've always wondered, what do the curtains and the curtain rods and the pelmets (or the lack of them) usually look like in your homes? Would you help me?
Ah now, this is something you won't see. It's called Dispatching the Undispatchable in my dictionary. There are some things you cannot throw in the garbage bin, because they are either too close to heart, or too close to God. So, they get thrown into a water body (yeah, yeah I know) or, if it is a small, biodegradable thing, then it is put under a basil plant to go straight to the Gods from there.
This is one of my favourite parts about living in India -- use adversity to have a bit of fun. The canal overflowed this monsoon; the water covered the road. What did the boys-who-never-bathe do? They turned it into a water park. Some boys jumped and let the gushing water take them with it up to a few meters. No need to swim, year's bathing accomplished. The ones on the extreme right -- the ones who almost got cut out of the picture, because my father wasn't holding the umbrella over my head and the camera properly -- found ample fish to take home. A makeshift fishing net made from mosquito net, and a lot of patience was all they needed.
How are your registration numbers made? Ours are made of two letters of the state where the vehicle is registered, number assigned to the city where it is registered, and the vehicle registration number. I've seen car plates like KOOL KAT on your cars in Hollywood movies. Is there no registration authority?
Oh, and do birds drop droppings on your cars? Do you clean them, or wait for the next monsoon shower like we do?
Please, please, please tell me you are as dirty as we are. All right. This was the last plea.
Do the citizens of your country keep cows and buffaloes at home? This pair is tethered in the middle of a posh colony. Is it even possible where you live? Will you be arrested? Are the buffaloes allowed to have attitude like this one on the right? Do you drink buffalo milk? It is yum.
They said clothes lines and drying laundered clothes is a style sin. I feel the cables on and above the horizon are more sinful. Is this a common sight where you live? You can of course disregard the salwars and kurtas. And the style of hanging the clothes? Is it the same?
The municipal corporation decided to dig channels to put in sewage lines. They've been digging and mucking the entire colony. Does this ever happen to you? For once, I hope it does not. Oh, and you're wondering what happens to the sewage stuff if there are no sewage lines? The residents have been using septic tanks. All houses have at least two.
🙂 This is the only channel I've seen, where the presenters cough, sneeze, clear their throats. Do you have such shows and channels in which humans do not act like mannequins, or employ the other extreme -- become evil-witted dimwits?
Tell me, though. How do you receive the signal from your satellite TV? Do you get a set-top box like this to enable dimwit-watching?
We have respite ready, never fear. There's nothing better to quench out dimwits from memory than sugarcane juice. Ganne ka ras. It is divine. Oh, but if just the sight of the machine, and that of the juicing guy's hands (I've spared you and cut it out), will give you the infamous Indian tummy, then you might never know this heaven. Have you ever tasted it? With lemon and ginger, it is heavenlier.

There were many other things on my mind, but I am a gentle, caring person. The word count has reached 1986, and you’ve read enough. (That is if you’ve reached this far.)

Have fun today, then. And think of all the things you have in your life, even if it isn’t a fairytale.

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...

Live, Die, Repeat.

From: http://www.seemslegit.com

A Brief Discussion of Reincarnation and the World Cup of Cricket. And Heaven and Baseball, too.

My blogging friend Charles of Mostly Bright Ideas and I have been regularly sparring over the vast differences in thoughts and choices between our worlds. However, there are some moments of clarity and acceptance. During one such moment, we decided to co-author a post attempting to highlight the dissimilar sensibilities and the futility of trying to bridge the gap instead of taking a boat once in a while to admire the other side of the shore.

Large-hearted and brave that he is, Charles decided to watch the Cricket World Cup Final on April 2; a game which, I suspect, would be confusing for a baseball appreciator. Unfortunately for him, there were no live telecasts. The video stream was a torture, what with the tremendous traffic. The confusion and the exasperating streaming must have caused the nervous twitch that he immediately complained about.

PV: That’s what you get if you watch it through a medium that can get clogged with millions of visitors who couldn’t make it to the stadium or see a live broadcast. People here jostle everywhere, even in morgues, to watch their heroes play.

MBI: India really is a different place, isn’t it? Where I come from, people in morgues hardly move at all. They certainly don’t jostle.

PV: Really? Ours sometimes get a new lease on life to watch cricket before they’re re-born and come back. Do morgues there have no living people, by the way?

MBI: To be honest, I’ve never really been to a morgue. For all I know they may have Super Bowl parties and Sunday brunch. But this idea of reincarnation is intriguing. Do you think people in the West understand it?

PV: I’m not sure. You tell me.

MBI: I don’t know what anyone else thinks, but my concept is that reincarnation is a process that allows individuals to eventually close the gap between their true selves and the lives they’ve been living. It’s a kind of course correction. Our actions and attitudes either pull us closer or push us farther away from our destination. And because we’re slow learners, it may take many lives on Earth to get it right. Is that even close?

I should have listened to him when he said I’d sooner or later regret firing him.

PV: Yes, very. You must have been paying attention in your past life. When you say our actions and attitudes decide our course, you are spot on. The crux, however, is the destination. What is it that you’d want? Take birth again as a sultan with a formidable harem, or perhaps a rock star with a steely voice? Or would you rather leave all that behind and renounce this blow-hot blow-cold world?

Whatever you want, make a decision and live it. You will find yourself enjoying it in the next birth. If you have been good, the Moksha (or Liberation) will be yours. Okay, if not the next, then the one after that.

MBI: You say I’m spot on, but that answer surprised me. I thought the destination had already been decided — by the Universe, or something — and that we’re born with some mission to accomplish, but we have no idea what it is. So we spend our lives flailing around in the dark, hoping to find a path that at least takes us in the right direction. And to make matters worse, we can’t remember the lessons we learned, or were supposed to learn, in previous lives. That last part really had me confused.

PV: I knew I’d rejoiced too soon at your suspiciously quick comprehension. If you want to understand reincarnation, you will first have to understand the terms. Then it should be self-explanatory. I hope.

You previously said reincarnation is like a course correction, and that our actions determine whether we find our destination. According to the belief we are discussing, a soul, which is as old as the Universe (or something) and just a tiny part of it, sheds a body after it dies, much like changing worn-out clothes. It keeps on doing so, seeking the next mountain to climb or the next election to win, until it realises that desires are actually a means for eternal discontent. In this journey, it keeps correcting its course, or at least it’s supposed to. And it is believed that this will eventually lead the soul to its final destination, Moksha.

Oh? They're finally here, then. It's better to be born a bison than a pink Cadillac-driving struggling wannabe.

MBI: Do you find the idea of Liberation a little unsettling? Does it seem like one long boring transparent Nothingness? Similar to an eternal Heaven, only without the angels and ice cream?

PV: About the boring, transparent Nothingness minus the angels and ice cream: again, I wouldn’t know. I am still in this world with sinfully pink Cadillacs and brilliant diamonds that could blind even the brightest of glow worms.

MBI: Here’s something else I’ve been wondering. Are these beliefs about reincarnation necessarily tied to what is traditionally thought of as religious doctrine? Or are they embedded in the secular culture?

PV: No, they’re not tied to religious doctrines at all. That would undermine their validity, I’d say. These are concepts that have been derived from, believe it or not, a rare scientific and spiritual collaboration over centuries. They are a part of the culture in which people here grow up. Most, of course, do not waste their time in counting the previous births or the remaining ones before attaining Moksha, but almost all are aware that every action has a reaction — Karma. You keep adding to your kitty of actions, good or bad. And see if it gets you Nothingness or A Glorious Muddle. It’s entirely your choice.

MBI: But who would prefer Nothingness? I’d take the Glorious Muddle, just because something is almost always better than nothing. Or have I missed it again?

Blast this Karma. They're gaining in on me in this birth.

PV: Maybe. But I can see why you would think that way. Why pursue something you don’t know about; something that’s going to turn out to be Nothing anyway? What would Heaven be like, I wonder. It does seem to be Glorious, without the Muddle. Or not?

MBI: I can only repeat what I was taught. Or how I interpreted what I was taught. My image of Heaven was a place where the soul goes after it leaves the physical body. A place of eternal joy. All of the negative experiences and emotions linked to mortal life are gone. But consciousness remains. When in Heaven, I would know that I was there. That seems to be a strong difference. When the soul reaches Moksha, where is it? Does it even make sense to ask where?

PV: The where would be everywhere. But even that isn’t accurate. Our languages are too limited to express some of these ideas. Where is Heaven? Everywhere, somewhere, or nowhere?

MBI: As kids, we all pictured it as up, in the sky. And Hell was down.

PV: Inside the Earth?

MBI: That’s hard to say. Down, but not necessarily under the ground.

PV: It’s a different way of thinking. Completely different.

MBI: When I took Spanish in high school, the teacher told us that we would be on our way to learning the language when we stopped translating in our heads and began thinking in Spanish. I’ve always remembered that advice, yet as I read about and watch the cricket match, I can’t help trying to make sense of it by translating every play into the language of baseball. Even when I consciously tell myself not to, I do it anyway. I have a feeling that, as nations and societies struggle to understand and relate to each other, there’s a similar tendency that gets in their way. We keep looking at other people and filtering what we see through our own familiar lenses.

PV: And different religious groups do the same. I don’t think there’s a solution to that. If your concept of the afterlife is some kind of eternal reward, you may struggle to find the same thing in our notion of Liberation. If you watch a cricket match and keep waiting for someone to hit a “home run,” you will be frustrated. But I want to ask you: when the batsman hits the ball in baseball, why does he throw his bat?

MBI: I noticed that in cricket, the hitter runs with the bat. That seems awkward. In baseball, once the batter hits the ball, he’s no longer a batter; he becomes a runner, and running with the bat makes no sense. But again, we’re both looking at the other’s sport from a biased point of view.

PV: That’s true.

MBI: In baseball, a team plays a full season of games. And with each one, the players, managers, and coaches work to make improvements, fill gaps, let go of weaknesses, and build on strengths. The team hopes to eventually make its way though the playoffs and into the World Series. Would you say life, death, and reincarnation are similar to that process?

PV: No. I wouldn’t. You’ve oversimplified again. Reincarnation has nothing at all to do with baseball. However, it’s very much like what a cricket team goes through in order to get to the World Cup finals. You win the final match, and that may be as close to Liberation as you can get without leaving this Earth.

The last I remember, we'd won the Super Bowl. Is this Heaven?

Sensibility in Nonsense

Holi (pronounced like holy) is a festival without any clear origins. Some like to call it the invocation of spring, some relate it to a mythological tale of a demonaic father thwarted by his devout son’s faith; still others believe it has something to do with the much-believed-in god Krishna’s complaints to his mother about his companion, Radha, being much fairer than him (causing the mother to colour Radha with numerous powdered colours to cover her fair skin). Whatever the origin, the festival of Holi is the one fun thing an average Indian looks forward to. And the law-keepers dread. Wait, I’ll explain both by and by.

I typed about a hundred words, trying to give you some details about the festival — the days it is divided into, the traditional rituals practiced, the detailed hows. But it doesn’t really matter, does it? So I deleted the Inconsequential Ones, for they were just mere words, trying to provide encyclopaedia-esque information which has no use for you, really. Let me tell you why I love Holi. (Forgive me if you would rather find out more. Please feel free to visit Wikipedia. It does quite some justice to the topic.)

Gulal. The garland in the centre is made of solidified sugar syrup. Children wear it and keep eating one bead at a time.

So, the not-so-important reason for my love for Holi is because it is celebrated around this time. Since the Hindu calendar is different, the date is different every year. But it is always in spring. Just when the flowers have reached the peak of bloom, the winter chill has given way to the infamous heat, the breeze has a whiff of everything mature and abundant. It is a beautiful time. And what better season to choose to get up in the morning, oil your limbs and hair, wear old clothes, pick up powdered colours called gulal and abir (these days permanent colours dissoluble in water have become more popular among the excitable lot — they have no interesting name, the permanent colours), and start grabbing hold of people and colouring them? Just like that. Some run, some stand, some giggle and scream, some shout. Everyone, without fail, gets coloured. Yes, even those people who suffer from modern-age allergies or those who have to walk in to plush offices the next day with traces of colour on their faces and hands and arms, rendering them less multinational.The idea is to have fun with colours. And the motto is “Bura na mano, Holi hai.” The closest translation is “Relax, don’t fret. It’s Holi.”

The people living in the slums close by. There is enough water this year to indulge.

We celebrated this Festival of Colours yesterday. The day begins with interesting deviations from routine. No bath. Well, some sticklers like me insist on taking one, but most know that the day will be full of water, so they just change into old clothes. Why old? Because you are going to be immersed in colour, red, pink, green, blue, black, silver, orange. In powder, in water — water, powder, powder, water. It is an endless chain of all the things your mother told you to stay away from. Get wet, make people plead you to spare them, throw bucketsful of water — coloured or otherwise, smear with gulal, aim water-filled balloons and send projectiles, run after the not-so-agile ones, corner the agile ones, pick up a device best called a hand-held spray and spray water. And laugh. At yourself, at the next person, at that grumpy aunt, or with that timid kid next door. If you visit most parts in India on this day, you will hear more laughter and feel more gaiety than you would in Nero’s court. And nothing’s burning this time, even though the streets do look like something could be amiss. Most shops are closed, stray, coloured people loiter around, young boys zoom past you on their bikes occasionally. But nothing of the usual, maddening crowd. Why? Because most people are in some house or some ground somewhere, singing to drum beats, eating the traditional sweet and savoury dishes, sharing old jokes and stories. And yes, colouring each other.

It is said to be a day when all animosities are forgotten. Just one day, but it is good enough, we like to think. The neighbour you’d like to throw your rotten fish at comes at your doorstep and hugs you, colours you to suit your preference. Just a small dot on the forehead? Or a few streaks on the cheeks? Or, if you are like me, trigger a deluge of colours. No mercy. It is Holi, after all. The rotten fish can wait until tomorrow.

Such fun. Unbridled and honest.

Perhaps he is in some better world, dreaming of places long forgotten. Bhaang or alcohol, whatever his tool, he wouldn't be bothered, I suspect.
The very cooperative policemen. Their day to play Holi (Holi is played, by the way. Not celebrated) is the day after we play.

Humans, like they are meant to, make things a little less human, a little less honest and palatable. Especially when things are unbridled. Holi is no exception. The traditional concoction of bhaang (cannabis (which is legal, by the way)) is one of the causes of unbridled ecstasy. Modern times necessitate modern means to satiate the senses, so the local and imported alcohol adds to the range of tools for bacchanalian pleasures. Alcohol shops, if I tell you, are closed on the day of Holi, you will be relieved some. But the seekers of pleasures know better ways. Shopkeepers brace up for mouth-watering business the day before Holi. All their stocks get sold out, and are secreted by the Holi-makers in their homes, cars, wherever the bottles fit in. One day prior to The Day. Alcohol is said to make people lose sight of sense. Add bhaang to that. And look at the festival. Since it, the festival, is in many ways nonsensical, the combination of intoxicants and Holi is scary even for the devil-may-cares. The keepers of this society decided we needed policing on this day. So, the policemen are deployed at every major crossing. They are on duty throughout the day to ensure the people can be nonsensical without losing sensibility. Just as well. The rush of being coloured with all the colours of the rainbow, and more, is such a heady feeling even for the ones who don’t consume intoxicants, it can be disastrous for those around the ones who do.

But if you ask people to narrate stories of bhaang intoxication, most will tell you about the kinds that deserve being carried over generations. One such story, of which I am a proud witness, took place when I was probably six. The victim might have been in her thirties. Vinod aunty. The bhaang had been mixed with the pakoras (vegetable fritters). When its effect began, aunty began to see tremendous merit in climbing up the drain pipe on to the terrace. She was pretty sure she and my mother could reach the moon from there. My mother, who doesn’t quite care for pakoras, wasn’t too sure. Her brilliant idea thwarted, Vinod aunty moved towards the host’s bathroom. Brilliance has its way of returning. She realised she had to, simply had to, do all the laundry. Picking up linen from wherever she could, she reached the bathroom, and began washing the clothes. It may have been a little easy on her if there was a washing machine. We, the children, crowded around the bathroom and listened to her enlightening talks on Shakespeare, who, she told us, if born in the 20th century, couldn’t hold water to our Vinod aunty. She was taken home. Her house had more clothes, I am sure. She had three young children, one my age. The effect lasted a week; enough time to wash everything thrice over.

I began by telling you the not-so-important reason for loving Holi. The important reason still remains undiscussed. Or does it?

On our way to wish my aunt, we encountered this bucket-happy boy. All the windows were closed, thankfully. He looks happy with his shot, don't you think?
This is how I began the day. The branch in my hand is from a tree called palash. The flowers were used to make colour. In these times of instant gratification (and chemicals) all that home-made colour bunkum is traditional bullock cart.
These kids from our neighbourhood came to show their hand-held sprays called pichkaris. Ours used to be made of brass or bamboo and looked like giant icing guns. Theirs look like guns, too.
Two gulal and colour vendors with their shoppers. The one at the back is my favourite -- with his no-nonsense expression, and the skeleton-men earrings in his ears.
Invasion. My cousins were sure they'd catch me soon enough.
Cousins. Holi players.

Of muddled webs and letting in the light

I joined a professional gym recently. When all the sweets and cheeses and fried goodies showed no sign of leaving my languishing-under-the-strain body, I had to. There were many reasons for having done this instead of trundling along on my own regimen. The most predominant one is — I simply cannot have a self-imposed regimen. If I could, I wouldn’t need to look at discarding the security of my own home and wobbling my hitherto hidden bagsful of jellied anatomy in front of people. It does have its advantages, though. For one, you have someone else imposing the regimen on you. The second is a little trickier to explain — it puts you in a blissful cocoon.

Yesterday, as I thomped on the treadmill, the boom-boom blast of the skilfully remixed songs egging me on, I noticed that the deep staccato drove out everything from my thought-mist. At home, on my elliptical trainer and with a modest music system, the effect isn’t half as effective. Here, the mind wanders towards that cobweb next to this wine-bottle plant, or the dish-washing detergent on sale, or those cute boots I simply must have. There, inside that sprawling gym room with struggling ex-indulgents and ambitious muscle-developers, everything gets squished down under the boom-boom. It is almost like a divine hand, blotting out distraction. Yes, everything gets drummed thin. Even those cute boots.

That must explain the blissfully blanked minds of the youth listening to boom-boom. It’s as if nothing else matters. For me, the focus gets beaten in for the remaining 23 minutes of atrociously horrid stationary biking. For the boom-boomed youth, it must be the this-second gossip on Justin Bieber. Whatever it is, the drums succeed.

For weeks now, my thought-mist has been playing muddle-you with me. I read blog posts reminding how worlds are crumbling, the Human is now struggling, now succeeding; of the Devastating, Terrifying, Seemingly Commonplace, and the God-please-don’t-make-me-open-my-eyes. It is too much to handle. Especially if you have to retain the strength of your mind to remind yourself that the two dollops of sinfully chocolatey ice-cream are not for you. Not fair, wouldn’t you say?

I read on. And keep feeling like that tiny speck of floating seaweed, now waved there, now sinking, now waved here. And now on the top of my swinging world. If someone explores this possibility to somehow aid calorie-burn, they will make history.

But discovering ideas and people and being overwhelmed with the depth of a number of emotional journeys is not restricted to reading-a-blog habit. At least that’s what I think. There is a smooth muddling of our lives in general.

Since it is a muddle anyway, let me introduce a tiny Light without any preamble.

Years back, in 2006, a movie called Rang de Basanti (Let there be Yellow (the colour of spring, revolution)) took the Hindi-speaking world by storm. People, in swanky cars, smelly buses, the literate and the illiterate alike, thronged the theatres to watch it. Regardless of the tremendous profit it made, it brought in a much needed sense of doability among people; the youth especially.

Sue McKinley, a struggling British filmmaker comes across the diary of her grandfather. He was a jailer with the Imperial Police during the Indian independence movement. Going through this diary, Sue learns about  five freedom fighters. She can’t resist the intensity of the passion these men must have felt and generated, and decides to make a film on them in India. Her friend Sonia helps her cast four young men, DJ, Karan, Aslam and Sukhi to portray the revolutionaries. These four typify the typical disgruntled youth, who has no belief in the system; seemingly no direction whatsoever.

They are not enthusiastic about a film on a drab topic like the independence movement, but Sue eventually manages to convince them. Laxman Pandey, a political party activist, joins the cast later. He is unpopular among the team members due to his anti-Muslim beliefs and contempt for Aslam, a Muslim. During the filming, these young men begin to warily appreciate the revolutionary heroes they are portraying. They gradually begin to realize that their own lives are quite similar to the characters they portray in Sue’s film and that the state of affairs that once plagued the revolutionaries continues to torment their generation.

Meanwhile, Ajay, a flight lieutenant in the Indian Air Force, Sonia’s fiancé, is killed when his plane crashes. The government claims that the crash was caused by pilot error and closes the investigation. Knowing that Ajay was an ace pilot, Sonia and her friends do not accept the official explanation. They know that he went down with the plane to avoid ejecting and letting the plane crash over a heavily populated town. Restless, and looking for some justice, they begin to ask questions. Soon, they come to know that a corrupt defence minister had signed a contract in exchange for cheap and illegal MiG-21 aircraft spare parts for a personal favour, thus making the plane that used these parts unreliable. When they also learn that the person who got the deal through was Karan’s father, they are enraged. And Karan is heartbroken.

Peaceful rallies and seething anger does not seem to help this bunch. (Does it ever?) DJ, Karan, Aslam, Sukhi, and Laxman decide to take a leaf from those very freedom fighters they had enacted, and resort to violence to get justice.

They kill the defence minister. Karan, in the meantime, shoots his father, realising he can’t be reasoned with.

The media says that minister was killed by terrorists. He gets a martyr status. Not outdone, the five friends decide to announce the real story to the public through a radio station. They forcibly take over the station premises after having evacuated its employees. Karan goes on air and reveals the truth about the defence minister and his wrongdoings. Still on air, they are all killed by the police and military commandos.

When they are at the radio station, this song plays in the background:

Here’s a video of the song.

The conversation between the little kid and his father in the video:

“Come, Bhagat Singh.”

“What are you doing, father?”

“I am planting a mango tree. Plant one, reap a thousand.”

—————————————————————–

This morning, when I reached the gym and told my trainer, Rahul, that I simply didn’t have the strength to lift any weights, he said, “We’ll see.”

And then quoted a famous cricketer, “If your day’s bad, make it good. If it is good, make it great.”

I ended up exercising more than I usually do.

———————————————

Note: I pasted the movie’s story from Wikipedia, and modified it a little to suit my convenience. Is that plagiarism? Sorry.

India: Walking into the Jet Age

According to geologists, the landmass that is now India moved northward for tens of millions of years, eventually slamming into the southern part of Asia. It may look like a puzzle piece that’s right where it’s supposed to be, but the truth is, India and its people have always struggled to fit in. Surrounded on three sides by water and walled in by the towering Himalayas, India is a world unto itself. With a long and complex history, it strains to hold onto its rich culture, even as it assumes key roles in the developing global economy.

Priya Dubey Sah and Charles Gulotta collaborated on this post. It is an effort to shine a small light on this beautiful land, home to one out of every seven people.

* * *

CG: For many in the West, India is still a place of mystery. With a population of well over a billion, it is a land of extreme poverty, ancient wisdom, polytheistic religions, spicy food, torrential rain, meditation, violence, abundance, and waste. Oh, and the Taj Mahal. But for a growing number of Westerners, those images are being largely replaced by outsourced jobs, and feelings of resentment about that recent development. Does India have a self-image that can be pinned down in words? And if so, how does it differ from the way Indians are perceived by other nations?

PDS: Some might like to add snake charmers, elephant and monkey gods, beef-less existence, sadhus and swindlers, heat, suffering, bright colours, and leery men. The list is endless, much as it is stereotypical. But regardless of the things on this list, India is a difficult subject to define. The mystique lies in all of these things as well as some deeper, less definable traits that have supported its people in rising above the overwhelming number of problems and quirks. And becoming accomplished enough to steal away jobs.

By that very premise, it may be not easy for the Indians themselves to define India and their being. We who have grown up here and inherited the terrific duality — brilliance and corruptibility — see our country as you would perhaps see yours. For us, it is a place that feeds us, nurtures our being, and sutures our wounds (sometimes after having caused them).

How do you paint an entity that has incorporated thousands of years, multiple invasions, several languages, religions, and sub-cultures in it? Especially when none of that is extinct. I suppose the key lies in understanding and accepting the entity just the way it is. It is a land where everyone and everything has a right to flourish; and, believe it or not, there is room for more. Provided you are equally willing to share it with a billion more of your kind and some multiple trillion flies and other so-called gifts of nature. And leave everyone to fend for themselves in this glorious soup.

Champa, Indian frangipani

India, and indeed Indians, is like that prodigal child, who has been told many times that it is not good enough, that there are better toys around than the ones on its lap. This child is now a confused one, who likes its home but is drawn by the lights outside. In its confusion, it makes mistakes and is further reduced in its own and others’ esteem. This leaves a strange craving for appreciation of its goodness.

CG: For a long time, Westerners thought of India as a spiritual place. Its religions were exotic and obscure, accessible, but for the most part localized. The typical symbols — Gandhi, the Taj Mahal, the Ganges — all represented something exalted and non-threatening. It was almost as though India itself offered the perfect balance to the West’s industrial, materialistic, aggressive society. Then, as you said, the child began to look around and see more attractive toys, and there were choices to be made. But don’t all nations go through the same kinds of evolution? Japan, for example, became an economic superpower without abandoning its history or its culture. Is it more difficult for India to do the same?

PDS: You are right, evolution is a part of everyday existence. Our evolution has been slow, but definite. It may seem that the defunct acceleration is because of a confusing choice between the local ethos and temptations from abroad, but that is not the case. The intrinsic preferences of an average Indian remain the same, but the way they display them may have changed with time. If, for instance, you see a Bengali girl who has been working in Dallas for a number of years, there is a possibility of her appearing ‘less’ Indian. That is probably because of her desire to be accepted in the general milieu. The same could happen to a girl moving from Hawaii to New York City.

The people living within this country are learning to respect their modern achievements, which, if studied closely, are more than just excelling in tech-support jobs. While more and more youngsters are following modern style statements, they still prefer dancing to Bollywood songs, traditional marriages are still carried out, sons and daughters still enjoy visiting parents and in-laws. More or less, that is.

Pipal leaf, Ficus religiosa

And Ganga is still the ultimate destination for washing away sins and sorrows. (Some concerted research in this area will probably help answer a common question: “With so much squalor and poverty, how do they manage to smile?”)

Could it be that the West is now choosing to see Indians only as people who are no longer limited to this region, but a community on the move? People who dress up in tuxedos and cocktail dresses, but look different? Non-violent recluses who come from the land of Mahatma Gandhi, but swamp the Silicon Valley with curry? Perhaps that is what has taken that obscure exotica out of the image. We are still the same people — with more confidence, and an ancient value system with modern masala added to it. We are much like Japan and other countries from this continent, with one difference: some of them have peaked their economic graph. We are trudging along on the bullock cart, but getting there.

CG: The United States, Canada, and India were all once ruled by Britain, and all won independence. Is there any feeling of common bond among those three nations? Do Indians feel ignored, or in some ways not treated as equals?

PDS: I do not think Indians have ever noticed the connection. Of course, I speak for the literate majority. The illiterate minority (which is probably larger than the population of Germany) is more worried about the water canal that hasn’t arrived in the village yet, or the corrupt police officer in charge of the slum they live in. There is so much going on here, so many concerns and triumphs, that there is no room for feeling ignored or seeking equality.

CG: People everywhere wish certain things were different about the country in which they live. This isn’t a sign of disloyalty, but rather of intense love and patriotism. What do Indians wish were different about India?

PDS: Many things. We wish for a clean, green country. We’d like to attain goals, make them visible, and hear the ovation. We’d like to remove the ills our society has created over generations — the dowry system, the caste system, female infanticide, raging corruption. You will notice that I have not listed poverty, even though it is, arguably, the worst ill of all. The fact is that the corruption we have at all levels is the root cause of a large part of the economic suffering. Our farmers produce the best wheat and rice in the world, enough to feed our entire population twice over. But people still die of hunger. And the grains lie wasting in warehouses, because some betel-chewing babu wants to bring home a BMW. It’s sad but true that corruption will always exist in this world. But once the corruption is minimised, we should see happier, healthier homes.

Neel Kamal, water lily

CG: How will the corruption be reduced? Are India’s people turning up the heat?

PDS: There is so much to do. Public opinion is becoming more proactive, rather than merely accusatory. Things will be done. In a frustratingly slow speed, but done nevertheless. The news exposes new scams everyday. That is not because we are an exceptionally unscrupulous people, but because money guzzling is no longer tolerated. Thankfully, television talk shows that invite officials to face the common man’s questions have designed their studios without furniture. Otherwise, the frustration of a society wronged and the resulting heated discussions would lead to a lot of chairs being broken on the heads of those officials. Such is our passion. Our democracy may well be a sterling example of what can go wrong if people have too much power!

Since we’re discussing our wish list, and you mentioned turning up the heat, let me tell you one more thing. If it’s at all possible to tweak global warming, we would like to bribe whoever is willing to listen to somehow ease up on our “kill me, God!” humidity. Hopefully, we might all breathe a little easier that way.


I am smelling something

On my first day as a receptionist with Thomas Cook, New Delhi, where I was on probation/a temporary job for three months, I met a pleasant American gentleman. I think his name was Bruce. He was quite excited about his first visit to India. I could see it on his ruddy, freckle-riddled face. He was just the right kind of person to talk to and prod about  the impressions only a visitor can have. One of the reasons I got into this industry was to see what people had to say about this land I love to love and hate in the same breath.

“Quite good, quite good, Priya. Even the beggar people at the airport were sort of all right, coz we’d been told what to expect. But I must say, the smell takes the breath out of you.”

“Smell, Bruce? Of the beggar people, you mean?”

“No. Umm. It’s in the air, you know? It’s umm like a huge blanket of mixed smells. Not all bad, of course.”

My keen senses didn’t fail to notice that his last sentence was a quick, guilty murmur.

The mixture of intolerable absurdity, guileless beauty. And heart-wrenching smells.

This was my first ever personal interaction with a tourist during a tourism career that lasted a mere 2 1/2 years. But that’s besides the point. The point is that he wasn’t the last to talk of “umm a huge blanket of mixed smells.”

I recollected this incident this morning, when I was walking through the fading winter streets of a city called Raipur. The air had the perfect nip, the sun promised another soon-to-come balmy 9 o’clock. The people, unaccustomed to this chill, were huddled around leaves they had burnt after the trees didn’t need them any longer.

Who’s racing with the rats?

From one leaf-bonfire to the other, the breeze travelled, as if it had promised to carry the ether of all of them to someone in need of something earthy. As I walked on the seemingly endless road, I tried to see things, and indeed smell them, through Bruce’s senses. An American who, before he landed at the Delhi airport for this hell-heaven visit, had probably never seen a cow walk the road his Lotus cruises on. Leave alone smell its old-grass smell.

My nose, now fully awake, smelled things that decent bloggers should not read about. Leave alone smell. The Indian Melange of Life, if you please. Rotting litter, cow dung, human faeces, soiled-discarded clothes, open sewers, frolicking pigs — all sending their  ambassadors for an unabashed riot inside the nostrils before the cilia can say “S.O.S.”. All of them — mixing with the smell of winter flowers, fresh chapatis the 18 year old bride is cooking for her fresh beau, dewdrops ripe enough to evaporate, the green, oh-so green grass that allows 14-somethings to cricket on it, the burgeoning load of fresh leafy greens the cyclist is carrying to the local market  — invade me, overwhelm me until I say “Thank you, please.” Then they stop. For just an instant. And carry on. Claiming their existence in this vast land of beauty and ugliness.

All of that claims a millimeter each, or less, inside my nose. A huge, overwhelming blanket of smells.

Xuanzang (or was it Fa-Hein?) is said to have said that India had not a beggar in sight, not a fly to annoy, not a piece of garbage any where. Between these travellers and Winston Churchill, who is known to have deeply experienced all that these Chinese men missed, something seems to have gone askew and made us the way we are today.


I live in this country. Call it my own. Love it. Hate it. Smell it. The crux, however, lies in whether I understand it.

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I feel obliged to explain the title of this post. I cannot claim ownership to this singular phrase. Here’s the story.

On a night of unspeakable mischief committed by the boarders of one of the schools I taught in, the house masters and the Principal were in a state of complete what-the-heck. Mr K, one of the house masters known for his remarkable ability to make trivia a stuff for prime time, was missing. Here’s the conversation between the Principal and Mr. K.

P: Where have you been, Mr. K?

Mr. K: You see sir, I was gone..

P: I know you were gone. Why weren’t you here?

Mr. K.: You see sir, I was smelling some..

P: How can you do this. I’ve told you to keep your indulgence to yourself until after the children are asleep!

Mr. K: But Sir! I was smelling, and I went to check!

The Principal, at this point, realised that Mr. K’s smells from an indulgent, bacchanalian evening were of tertiary importance. The witnesses, however, were focussed enough to know, that Mr. K had in fact ‘smelled something’. In boring English, his phrase can be translated as “I sensed something.”

Epilogue

All the witnesses of this incident are no longer with the school. Mr. K, however, continues to smell things there.

Inspired by my fellow-countrymen’s love for the Continuous Tense, I will try to write a post on it and enlighten the deprived population about the joys of English tenses.

———————————

And some more pictures, just because.

Interesting, the kind of colours the beggars come in these days.
The road I walk each morning.

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.