Thursday, 1 September 2016

The lane that leads to school

It was a pilgrimage. It was a homecoming. It was a memory lane. It was yesterday once more. It was a bunch of yapping fifty plus menopausal women who rediscovered their giggles and howls of laughter. Laughed like they had they had forgotten what it was to shriek and laugh. And inside they cried for the years gone by. They cried for the school which was still the same and yet had changed. They looked into each corner trying to remember the way it had been.Trying hard not to hide the disappointment at seeing the changes,taking it in their stride and yet in their heart of hearts missing the ways that were. 36 years on,things have to change.The old order changeth to give place to the new.
We closed our eyes to recapture what was ours. The uninhibited running to meet each 'girl' as she entered the gate was the hi of every morning as we cycled ,came on rickshaws ,dropped by parents or walked down to school. The embraces had a warmth which comes from a flame which has been kept burning in some subterranean region waiting for this very moment to come out. There was the basketball court ,the baskets difficult to uproot I suppose. The familiar blue  checks led many  a hand to unconsciously touch their collars resulting in  some silent,some loud sighs. The discipline of the years were lost. Teachers, Principals, officers, mothers all became an unruly bunch. So good it was a Saturday and school was having some Saturday activity. We had young curious onlookers who were in turns aghast, amused and puzzled by our very rowdy, very excited  behaviour. We crowded in to the assembly hall tempted to fall into lines according to our houses. We climbed on to the beloved stage.That at least was still the same except for a lone table tennis table in one corner. We never did have table tennis in school. The piano,to whose cords we had marched out of the hall after morning assembly  was missing,discovered later in the adjacent room. Nothing could discipline us now.We posed,we touched the walls with affection, we peeped into rooms and moaned the rooms we could not find. We literally ran from one end of the school to the other, commenting on the changes, the was and the is. We could not believe that so many of us ,fifteen almost could have met after decades in the school.We could not believe that we had managed to plan a trip to the school together.Our class 10th was todays class 9.Our chemistry lab was now class 10.Oh, and our teachers were all gone. Many have passed on to the other world, many have retired. None from our days remain. It made us feel so old.Our age hit us. School was not the same without seeing those much loved,much admired, much feared faces.They who have given us values ,our education, our moral strengths ....she came to met us at just one request from us. And then the school came alive for us.This is what we have imbibed in school, the large heartedness, the connect ,the bond of being a family. The 'miss' who took us under her wings when as  five year olds many of us left  our parents fingers and held on to our teachers' or the 'miss' who was a terror yet opened the world of Shakespeare ,the poetry of Keats , the stories of Premchand and even the sound of music to us came alive then. Each breath we took was of memories and names and faces; of incidents, of friends, of activities, of clubs and the ice cream and chiclet  man.It was as if the present was no more, just the past gloriously golden in memories. The rough edges  smoothened by that very heady drug  called nostalgia!I thought I saw the swish of a crisp cotton sari behind that desk, someone else heard the beat of march past  drums. A 'present miss' echoed in the classrooms and the charts on the softboard behind bore our mark. So many moments to relive,so many years and days tumbling over one another.So much just pouring out from our hearts.Nothing can keep pace. And then it was time to go.
I won't say I've had enough. But enough to make hearts smile for many a while. Enough to put the skip back in the steps and the head a spin. Enough to be fifteen and less .Enough to be grateful.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Love is a four-legged word!

   When does a family of four have five members?  When does one pair of eyes drown all the shouting and shrieking tantrums of kids? When do you love to take a walk even if it is two at night?  It happens only when there is a dog as a pet in the house. Life changes and how!  So it happened when Simba entered our lives as a lively two month old. He walked into our house all hairy coat and tail, white with black spots, huge for a pup with eyes that could melt the Arctic ice and paws that took him straight in our laps and onward to our hearts. He resides there ever since.
  Simba is our majestic St Bernard, now of course the elder of the family at his dog year age of nine and a half years. Sadly the years show. We reminisce of the time when he would climb over us after having had his meal or when he was feeling particularly affectionate. He is huge and so his expression of love would be a knock down 55 kg hug with his paws on our shoulders and nose nuzzling our necks. We had to firmly plant our feet on the ground to steady ourselves. Simba is a part of our family and has a different relationship with everyone. He is friends with Akanksha, after all both are children. He fights with her, plays with her but is a little scared of her too like all younger siblings. Harsh is not a keen dog lover so Simba keeps a distance from him, a very working relationship with the son whom he meets very infrequently. Harsh comes home only on vacation so Simba goes to him for a bit of scratching under his chin or a little petting and that’s that. With me he knows who rules the kitchen and where he should go when he is hungry. But his best is reserved for Amit, the man of the House and the Master of Simba’s heart. He is the one Simba idolises. There is no one else for him when Amit is around. Amit back from office is the highpoint of Simba’s day. “First pet me” says his bark and frisky impatient body language, “then do anything else”. When Amit comes back from TD one should see Simba’s tail. It wags violently in happiness on seeing anyone of us after a few days absence but with the master it goes round and round in joy and bliss. It is a moment of unalloyed happiness to see Simba like this. His favourite place is laps either Amit’s or Akanksha’s and sometimes mine too. He thinks he is small enough to fit in there! There is a lot of difference in the young Simba and the old. Earlier he would be all too eager to sit in the lap, now he just puts his head there and is at peace. Simba’s affection is overwhelming and over powering. But he is protective too. He is wary of strangers and will continue to bark and make life miserable for a person who is scared of him or whom he does not trust.
  But if you were to ask me about what Simba likes best then I’d say it is travelling. We go on long trips in our Qualis with Simba at the back. He simply adores it. He has enough space at the back to move around or sit on one of the seats and look out of the window. If he gets bored with the window view he will stand up and look out of the rear door or just face the front with his head resting on someone’s shoulders. I remember a time when we had driven up to Kasauli. Simba refused to come out of the car wanting to go further! We were dog-tired but our dog was fresh as a daisy! If he finds any car door open, he will swiftly get into the car ready to go.
  I could go on and on about him. He is a gentle giant, big body ,bigger heart!And in his heart resides boundless love for us, our extended family members, our friends,puppies and would you believe it , for corncobs and Shrewsbury biscuits. He can smell if we are having hot ‘bhuttas’ or Shrewsbury biscuits a mile away and will come running, drooling and tongue ‘a lapping’. He will stand there waiting for his share and a short sharp bark if we ignore him.
  As I write this he is sleeping near my feet, stretched out on the floor. Occasionally I feel a paw urging me to scratch him, or a head coming stealthily nearer to rest on my foot. I move my leg and he will raise his head cocked to one side as if to say “Hey,Can’t you sit still” and then he is off to sleep again or if I scratch him he turns over and lies on his back all his four feet in the air, his most ecstatic position. Difficult to judge from his face but I can imagine he is grinning. As am I. Smiling fondly and thinking,
“A dog doesn’t care whether you are rich or poor,
Smart or dumb
Give him your heart and he will give you his!”

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Lets start at the very beginning.......First day in Leh

        Acclimatisation was  the buzzword when   we announced   our  plans to travel  to Leh and the rest of Ladakh. The oxygen levels at 10000 ft are much lower than in the plains  and we were forewarned of breathlessness, headaches and in case we over exerted ourselves on the first day even   damage to our very limited stock of grey cells! So when the Air India flight landed  at about 8.30 in the morning we were whisked away to the excellently located Indus cottage and  the first thing was the medical by the good doctor. Once we were declared fit and fine, given a list of dos and don’ts  and medicines to gulp down  before breakfast and dinner to avoid HA aka high altitude sickness and told to beware of any headaches or sleepiness  we looked around to the place of mystique , of Buddhists , of army posts ,of prayers wheels and Gonpas and huge  intimidating mountains encircling us.
           The first day  advisably is to be taken at a leisurely place to give the body time to adjust to the decreased oxygen levels. So we  set out to sit beside the gurgling clear waters of the Indus River.The eponymous  Officers mess where we stayed  was right on the banks of Indus and we enjoyed the absolutely beautiful view of the mountains in the distance and the not so very wide river meandering around the curves and passing us by on its onward journey to Pakistan. We dared to dip our hands in the water and were punished for our impunity by a chill that almost froze them. Even in mid May the water is still cold coming as it is from way high up somewhere in China and fed by glaciers. The pilot had announced a temperature of 13 deg centigrade but the wind made it colder.
     The mountains surrounding Leh are not the green ones that one sees in the Himalayas. They are barren and rocky and from a distance a very foreboding brown .But more about them when we see them up close. The valley has few trees ,apricots and apples ,some poplars but not much more .The army is a major presence here and our first stop was  the Hall of Fame both as a mark of respect to the indomitable spirit of our soldiers and to be acquainted with Ladakh ,the land ,the people ,the culture,flora and fauna and also with work and the sacrifices of our armed forces. A model of the map of Ladakh gives us a fair idea of the geography with the mountain ranges, the river systems  , the borders with China and Pakistan  and the passes marked very creatively .
Inside The Shanti Stupa 
Equipped with this knowledge , we felt we knew Ladakh …”the land of passes” a bit better . Our next stop was the Shanti Stupa , a stupa built by the Japanese. As we stood at the railings of the imposing  structure we had a  lovely birds’ eye  view of the city of Leh below.  Photographs done we came down and made our way back to have some lunch and “to take it easy” on the first day . Evening  was spent in the Main market , the “Connaught place” equivalent of Leh and the Tibetan market down the slope selling mostly Made in China stuff . Pashmina, Kashmir embroidered jackets and trinkets were aplenty .
Leh from atop the Shanti Stupa 
   The next day we woke  without a headache and any visible signs of restlessness or fatigue except for the cold .So we were all geared for exploring Leh and then some more. Our first stop was driving along the Indus  to the Alchi monastery , established sometime in 1020 AD by the Rinpoche Zangpo.
Prayer wheel at Alchi
It is part of the bigger Likir monastery headed by the Dalai Lama’s brother. A fee of 20 Rs per head and the treasures of the monastery were opened to us.The Sumtsek temple with imposing statues of the Avalokeetesvara Buddha,the Maitreya Buddha or the future Buddha  and Manjushree , the Buddha of knowledge is the most important ones . The more than 1000 year old wooden temple had hand  paintings of Buddha avatars and miniature Buddha on the wall and a quaint wooden ladder leading to the first floor which is closed now. The structure looked fragile ,not surprising, considering that Alchi is the oldest monastery in Ladakh. There were three other smaller temples to each of these Buddhas with mandalas and Bodhisatvas painted on the walls.The lama in charge of Alchi is deputed from Likir and in his gentle way took us around this ancient place of Buddhist learning.
If the monastery took us back centuries , the next stop took us forward to the wonders of science and engineering.   We were headed towards Alchi dam or the Nimmo Bazgo Hydel Project
A view of the dam
the highest hydro-electric power station in the world .Highest is a common  adjective here given the place’s elevation. Enroute we had passed the highest filling station of Indane , not to forget the highest airfield,the highest HP Petrol pump etc etc . The construction of this hydro station and its operation is a remarkable engineering feat since the river freezes in winters ,temperatures drop to something like -30deg c ,the landslides and the Indus water treaty with Pakistan. The Chief Engineer’s tales of how the  Zanskaar river was blocked by a part of a mountain , which toppled in a  landslide and stopped  its flow and then as the summer came and waters melted it caved in to let out a rush of water which submerged some villages and would certainly have submerged the power station if not for their engineering foresight not to forget the havoc further downstream , were riveting. Sadly the full   potential of this generation is not being used fully for lack of transmission facilities. But the   city of Leh and surrounding villages , the Army and Air Force now have electricity 24×7 . I had never seen a hydro project at such close quarters .
The Magnetic Hill
   A destination very famous is the magnetic hill and our driver took the vehicle to a spot and left the gear in neutral.  The car rolled back despite the upslope of the road. Some say it is an optical illusion and that there is not an upslope there. Be as it may , the words “MAGNETIC HILL “ is painted on a hill near the road and there is certainly  an attraction in the place(pun intended) .The magnetic power of the road tested we move on to the view the confluence of Zanskaar and Indus. The clear waters of the Indus and the muddy of the Zanskaar form a distinct line at their meeting point from where the river continues on its downstream journey as Indus. There is some river rafting here , but the snow had just started to melt so there wasn’t enough water for a good rafting experience. Of course an operator did try to tempt us with an offer of Rs 600 per person , but we did not take him because of the shallow waters and the strong winds. It was two pm by now and there was a strong wind blowing .  A tourist centre is now being built at the confluence with some facilities.
The Sangam of Zanskaar and Indus 
There is a fair amount of greenery along this road and we stop to admire a lovely view of the Valley . On our way back  we stop 25 kms before Leh at Gurudwara Patthar Sahib .The Gurudwara is managed by the Army and we were fortunate to have prasad at the langar there . The Gurudwara has a rock inside said to be thrown at Guru Nanak by a demon when the Guru was meditating here .The rock turned to wax .The rock is kept in the Gurudwara . We were advised to visit a hill across the road from where the demon threw the stone.Its a long climb of some 300 steps and we gave it a skip for fear of exhaustion.But the view ,they say, of the Valley and the surroundings from there is  incredible.

The Indus in the evening 
This was enough for the second day and it was time to relax , so as not to over exert ourselves . Next day was going to be hectic ,interesting and very exceptional .
The Shanti Stupa

Roadside stalls but most stuff is from Delhi

The Main Bazaar .Beautification is on 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Goa the beach hub of india

Sunrise Arlem Goa
British rule in India gave us an inheritance that has been difficult to shrug off. So if names like Connaught place, Dalhousie, Elgin road, Chelmsford Road and the likes are common in most of India,the Portuguese gave Goa a culture distinct from the rest of India. So when the D’Costas, the Braganzas ,the Farias and the Carvalhos  greet you as you land in this very delightful state ,you know there is a wonderfully different experience in store for you.
The small Goa airport seems distinctly incapable of handling the number of tourists that must be visiting this place, so high on the must visit place on every tourists list. Come out of the Dabolim airport and take in a deep breath to inhale the very pure air of nature. I have a three day stay in Goa but only a one day and a little more of  touring itinerary. As we move away from  crowds at the airport , we pass the Verna Industrial area and I spot a graffiti on the wall which is a sign of the times I will spend here. It reads “Goa where you can hang out all day”. But I hope the busy manufacturing units of this area, I can spot Siemens and IFB ,do not follow this dictum ! The Sumo driver drives at a pace which belies the laidback attitude of the Goan people. I think he is not from Goa whispers Harsh . We head south to Arlem, Margaon reaching Arlem circle, in 30 minutes, crossing “many thank you for visiting …” boards. The smallest state of India has to have small handkerchief sized towns.
It was the second day of my trip which had been slotted for a Goa darshan,by which time I had got a glimpse of the relaxed pace of life of this beautiful city.The shops open late ,close for siesta at one in the afternoon and then reopen at four in the evening .No brisk commercial oversell here, atleast not where I was staying. In one day we decided to pack in old Goa,Panaji and a beach ! A cross-section of Goa I thought. So come morning and Harsh and I  set off for Old Goa or Velha Goa.The roads are two laned in most parts and traffic is comfortable. Our driver was an enthusiastic young fellow, Shiva,who drives such that the wind catches in my hair and my breath almost stops a few times.Though the roads are not so wide yet there is something so expansive about the place, with its swaying palms, its red laterite soil covered ground, its fields of lotus and the general atmosphere of peace fills me with such a pleasant feeling of relaxation that I do not reprimand him ,but let him continue with his mad driving.
We pass through the old Goa and I want him to slow  down to get a  look at the lovely houses which are the architectural inheritance of this place. The gated villas with  rundown gardens  and,  I fantasise, a piano kept in the sitting room, a grandfather chair, pink and violet flowers in vase , a picture of Mother Mary with  the Baby Jesus and strains of jazz wafting in the air. I wish I had the time to walk through the lanes and admire the charm of these villas . But time was scarce and we drove past a group of young girls coming back from school all with hair done in almost identical two plaits and a group of old women chatting in a veranda wearing pretty flower patterned dresses.

We reach the main square of old Goa, the part of Goa where the Portuguese had their capital and built their magnificent churches and cathedrals, convents and e.We had decided to see the most famous church of them all the Basilica of Bom Jesus and
Acts of Faith at Basilica of BOM JESUS
 then the Se Cathedral . The Basilica is the oldest cathedral in India  and we  go inside to see the very elaborately gilded altar  and the glass casket where the body of St Francis has been  lying for centuries. The vestry is closed for the public but we also see the original casket made of silver. A wooden staircase leads up to an
old world wooden floored room which houses an  exhibition of  statues of saints and other  assorted revered ones and photographs of the church and Goa by the famous photographer Benoy Behl. Though we clicked photographs in the church below, posing for photographs was not permitted and I saw someone being chided for standing in front of the altar and getting clicked. No photography is allowed in this photo gallery but the displays are breathtaking and capture the spirit and history of this place. We come out and look back at the huge exposed brick 16th century church again and then cross the road to the new cathedral .The new is always relative and this new cathedral is actually  the Se Cathedral ,also dating  back to the 16th century. This is the largest church in Asia ,with a building that  is all white and renovations are going on. It’s an imposing church and I saw a belfry with a large bell, called the Golden bell because of its rich sound . The main church has the altar of St Catherine of Alexandria to whom this church is dedicated .And on the sides are small  chapels and altars like the “Cross of Miracles” ,Our lady of Doloures Chapel of Blessed sacraments . We spotted near the altar of St Joseph a slab which could be lifted and we made up stories of the secret tunnel that led all the way to the sea and then on to Lisbon   ,if you please ! Nothing like an overactive imagination to make a trip exciting! However the  slab actually covers the bones of Dom Gaspar de Leao Pereira, First Archbishop of Goa Next door was the convent which has  now been converted to a museum. The museum has exhibits from the past when Goa was also predominantly Hindu and took us through history ending with life-size portraits of the Portuguese Governor Generals till 1961. A lovely lesson in history. A quick visit to the adjoining church which was undergoing massive renovations and then it was lunch time.

We decided to go to Panaji where we could have found a vegetarian restaurant in this fish crazy place. The road to Panaji ran parallel to the Mandovi river on our right and we enjoyed the sight of several casinos at one point on the way. Did not stop to try my luck, I was lucky enough to be cruising along in a relaxed sleepy pleasant place. Panaji, of course is a little more crowded but has its very own character. In the main market, we reached the Church square and on the road which ended at the church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception made famous by the Aishwarya- Shahrukh film Josh ! The  white church flanked by flights of stairs on both sides was splendid. But we went instead to search for our eating place and found Kamats. Neat and clean we were served a huge dosa enough for both lunch and dinner I thought. And then we walked along the streets enjoying the market and its shops. I was particularly fascinated by the hats and caps and the lovely bags. Even though it was afternoon and warm, we loved walking and doing some window shopping .I am not much of a shopper, it was fun to see the lovely cotton  dresses, the strappy sandals and the bright umbrella so correct for a day at the beach.

Our next stop was decided by Shiva who wanted us to see the Vasco da Gama beach . We let him have his way because Harsh had never been there .We drove past the airport, to Mormugao and its dockyards, lots of iron and metal and unfinished ships being worked upon there. Ahead was a coast guard and a naval establishment  and next to the Mormugao Port trust residential flats was our beach . The Vasco beach was beneath a small hill and a garden called the Japanese garden  and we had to wind our way down to the sea shore.Interestingly the beach is also called the Grandmothers hole beach or even the Japanese beach . The place was isolated with hardly a soul to be seen. While descending there was a Durga Shiv  temple. We just saw  two groups of five or six people in the garden up on the hill where we were descending. But the beach had nobody except for a family which stayed near the temple and their women were busy in making some yarns .We did not linger much there, I am not given to a lot of bravado and instead of regretting later, I thought it prudent to go back .Anyways it was too hot and the sand fairly scorched our feet . We ascended the narrow path and were off to our home for some rest.

As a reward for having given Harsh and his flatmates  homemade breakfast, hot tea, dinner and lots of motherly affection, the boys  took me  to a dinner on the beach . So in the evening we went to Benaulim beach some 5 kms away from his house . Motorbike is the way to travel in Goa and so I pillion rode. It was cool, the not so distant sea breeze fanning, the roads narrow but vehicular traffic was minimal and the joy of riding a motorcycle very invigorating and “being young once more”! On the way we saw some low mist crossing the road and I learnt that a ghost had been sighted in this stretch .  It was already dark when we reached the beach but the lighted shacks, the food and the music was so much fun.  

Goa is a fun  place and the the gentleness of the place infectious. I promise myself a longer trip soon .


Thursday, 6 March 2014

I must have flowers, always, and always.(Claude Monet)

When I lost my way in my spring garden last year ,I hoped I would not find a way  out of it and the romance with flowers would spill over to the next spring too. But come October and the unseasonal rain dampened (pun intended) my spirits, the nurseries,the seeds and the dream of another brilliant flowering season . All the seeds I had so carefully preserved from last years bloom would not germinate and even if they did the saplings would  be destroyed by excess water. I was miserable .I visited the nurseries in the city .The private small nurseries charge exorbitantly and are undependable .The Goverment nursery is a paradise and very economical selling a hundred saplings of lovely flowers in not more than 60 rupees . .But this year their seeds had also met the same fate and they had only a few plants on offer .In fact the demand was so high that the gardener there had rationed his supply to all garden lovers .We bought seed packets and continued to plant them in sheltered spots and  in pots. So we had a late flower planting and then the rains again in January .Yet persistence has paid off and here is my spring 2014 garden with many flowers and some new ones too.
Petunias ,Cineraria,Salvia
The Cineraria  with its purple mauve flowers is lavish ,though it has been planted in a place which gets too much sun .I must remember to plant it in a more shady corner. But its flowers continue to burst forth .I learnt that each petal is in fact a flower. So what we call a flower is actually a collection of flowers !The irony of my garden was that initially we had very few saplings and I had to fill my garden  beds accordingly, though later we did manage to have quite a few but by then my flowery mural  had already been made. Anyways candy tuft was in abundance and so I planted them next to the Cineraria and also along with Salvia to get a red and white form. But Salvias were very few so I did not get the desired effect .But candy tuft the small white flowers have flowered profusely and though I was not very fond of them ,I fell in love with these delicate white blooms this year. I can imagine how good they will look if I can plant them in a rockery ,whites peeping from behind boulders.An idea I must use sometime . Next to them also in a reddish hue are the sweet Williams ,but the January rains has delayed their flowering . Their other cousins, the Dianthus , on the other hand has been a pink delight.It has a dark pink centre and the edges are of a lighter shade.  They started flowering early with their zigzag petals and are still a row of lovely daintiness. The other flowers in shades of pink is the Ice plant ,which is one of my favourites. I have made a ground cover of the ice plant and also planted them in a now defunct circular fountain . So with the sun shining bright, these small flowers open up  and are such a breathtaking sight. The new flowers this year are the antirrhinums ,the lupin the godetia ,the sweet sultans . All of these are upright flowers and have given pink blooms this time. Alongside the pink flowers are the shades of purple ,mauve and violet .The larkspur or the delphinium is a new entrant in my garden and I have planted it around my garden lamps. They look wispy and delicate their stalks bending an waving in the wind. And then their is the cornflower,also called the bahelors'  button......... the only blue flower amidst a bewildering variety of pinks and purples ,yellow and oranges.Yet it holds its own and as if to say I am one of you too ,gives pink blooms too. But the blue are really my favourite ,reminding me of glass beads .Its florets spread like a ray and interestingly I found out that if it is worn in a button by young men in love.If it faded quickly it was a sign that the man's love was not returned . I Guess that is why it is also known as the Bachelors buttons!Can one imagine it can be used to cure conjunctivitis !These are more than two feet and I have used them along the walls .
I had planned to plant Hollyhocks ,another one of my favourites nearest the wall and keep the shorter flowers progressively near the garden .But I miscalculated the height of cornflower and now I have a row of larkspur hidden between the hollyhocks and the cornflowers . Blunder in designing. Holly hocks grow tall ,even taller than us and give a column of flowers ,lasting well in to summers .I have them against the wall ,against a window ,anyplace where a tall vertical appeal is required. And the best thing about these plants are that the seeds fall and they sprout up again next year . These are yet to flower fully but I don't mind that because they will be the last flowers to be uprooted. I have them in pinks till now. I am hoping for some reds and yellows too !
When I think of long lasting flowers there is the petunia too. They are in full bloom now, prolific ,in shades of pink,white, purple  and growing larger and denser as the sun becomes stronger . Also flowering more with the sun is the marigold ,again forming a border of my garden . Alongwith the yellow marigold are my other yellow golden herblike  the calendula .They were the first plants to flower. I had a row of marguerite daisy  ,tall about 6 feet high ,followed by cosmos and then lower still the calendula . yellows and oranges ,they gave a bright sunshine look to my garden .The bright deep orange of the nasturtiums ,I call them the free spirit flowers, brings a richness to the spring .And they grow with no restraint,no holding back ,climbimg ,spreading and their deep orange is fiery . 
Poppy,Dahlia,Nasturtium ,marigold in heavenly paradise
If I have the exuberant nasturtiums ,I also have the tall merry dahlias .This time I planted the single flower  ones ,because of the pastel colours which gives a very very soft look ,so gentle nodding their heads in a very joyous  yet graceful manner . If the dahlias are very elegantly merry ,the pansies seem like small elves smiling naughtily as if winking with their velvet petals and monkey faces .
But the garden merriment is full of some other fillers too like the stock which has just started to lower, a couple of geraniums ,gazania which have not flowered as yet ,the dogflowers ,the aster ,the carpet of phlox ,verbena and the climbing sweet peas ,making a pretty  curtain on my mesh .
Oh well despite the October  rains ,the November rains, the January Rains and the freaky weather my garden has come out tops .......a paradise  for my feasting eyes, a riot of colours for the soul , a palette of incomparable exquisiteness for my mind !

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Yeh hai Mumbai meri Jaan !

“What can you possibly see of Mumbai in a day and a half ?”
     “I can spare just that much of my time ,” says I ,as I land at the Santa Cruz airport from Goa at around 7.30 in the evening and am being whisked away by my sister’s husband to their house in Kandivili . He gives me a rundown of the city while we  get stuck in some heavy traffic. Mumbai is all longitudinal , unlike Delhi which is expansive in all directions ,someone had once told me a few years ago. Yes travelling in Mumbai does not give one a big city feel . The roads aren’t really wide,the houses all look dumped together  and yet its vibrancy and modernity is visible, palpable. There are just three major roads all north- south ,he tells me, the Western Express highway,the Central express Highway and the Harbour line and we are on the Western  as we speed past the  Oracle office ,metro overbridge and  Oberoi Mall, Goregaon .The cab is a rundown Padmini and shudders when the driver applies the brakes ,but he takes us to our destination safely .
    But cabs are an expensive means of travel  and  if you haven’t travelled in its notorious yet superbly efficient  local trains ,you haven’t seen Mumbai .And so the next day I boarded the 9.25 am local from Borivili ,much safer to catch it from a terminal station rather than the closer Kandivili because by that time ,there would be no  space left to even stand comfortably . And my sister who was accompanying me had taken care of the sensibilities and ineptitude of a non Mumbaikar and had wisely decided to go to Borivili ,despite it being a second Saturday and most offices closed.  On normal days she tells me she does not wait for the passengers to disembark and the train reverse for its return trip. She has learnt the agile art of getting on to the slowing train if she wants a seat to sit down for her one and a half hour journey to Churchgate everyday. The local train is a whole world of its own , and travelling in Mumbai would have been near impossible without it. Efficient,timely and so much time saving, it chugs on.Crowds flow in  and out  at Borivili,Kandivili,Jogeshwari,Goregaon,Andheri and others and finally Vile Parle.  That’s where I have to  go  and I stand close to  a number of ladies standing at the gate , asking everyone where they want to get off,to ensure that I am in the crowd with the same destination . I get smoothly pushed along to the platform , no effort required except to ensure that the incoming travellers don’t push me back inside ! 
   Now I meet my brother who stays at Vile Parle . And then the Mumbai Darshan . Since we are near Juhu ,I choose  the most iconic of experiences for this day's visit .Those that define Mumbai . The Juhu beach in the evening and the street foods of Mumbai. On the way,   a motley crowd of onlookers catches my attention and I am told it is Jalsa, home of the one and only  Amitabh Bachchan and his equally illustrious family members . Its dusk when we reach the beach . Joggers, cosying couples,children , the monkey man ,the chaiwaala ,and so much more  all give the beach a life and colour .But we find our own space there and play  with the waves of the Arabian Sea ,almost tamed by urbanisation yet forbidding . Its pleasant and the children get busy  racing each other to the sea and then building sand castles. The sea is dirty ,occasionally a polythene packet gets washed up to the shore ,but there are also waste collectors with their gunny sack collecting rubbish thrown by uncaring revellers. Fun,frolic makes us tired and we head back to the stalls of pav bhaji , chat,vada paav,ragda patis ,sandwiches . But we decide to give these ones a miss ,and have chaat at Sharma chaat near Kala Niketan on SV Road . I love paani puri and this  pani was spicy and makes my mouth water as I still savour the tanginess even as I write. I save the golgappe ,(another name for pani puri which goes by several names for the last always) having delicious chatpati aloo tikkis before that . But there is more street food in Mumbai and I reluctantly  control my gastronomic impulses and very bravely forgo the temptation to have more of the chaat ,leaving place in my hungry stomach for other tastes.
    We move towards Vile Parle station , and stop at a corner under the flyover ,a stone’s throw from McDonalds." Lucky sandwich and Pizza Corner" has a recommendation  hanging on his corner shop from the Times of India for a best street food award and we queue up too .There is everyone there from an Aston Martin to a young couple on a bike,from 10 year olds to grandparents . And there is a sandwich for everyone there too . You want grilled with veggies inside, cheese inside, a Frankie or just a plain one with only boiled potato pieces and yummy sour green chutney  .This is the one my niece raves about. We have the grilled vegetable one, delicious and so filling . It is a small meal in itself and I agree the recommendation by TOI is not unwarranted. Next to him stands a kulfi chap ,no crowd here .Is it because the weather is slightly cool today ? We have one kulfi with paan flavour and we know why there is no crowd. But a dosa walla nearby does brisk business . 
       It’s about 10 at night ,but Mumbai comes into its own .We get an auto to take us back the 2 km distance.Autos are easy to get , though earlier  it hadn’t been  so easy getting an auto to this place  from Juhu beach where we asked almost 8 fellows before one of them agreed and not before we had also walked some 500 metres away from the beach by then. The long distance travellers lure the auto drivers and makes them refuse a short haul passenger. Delhi at night is only cars and road traffic. Mumbai at night, is about girls, women, boys,everyone on the streets ,animated ,happy ,enjoying, comfortable ,brisk ,laughing and joyousness. There is a comfort in the air, of being able  to stand outside street shops and eat, of no pretentions , of shops open till late evening , of being able to catch a bus or an auto easily ,of just enjoying life.
    Our plan to see the beach on a Sunday morning ,in its peaceful avatar were thwarted by the laterisers  and the working couples need to finish their pending weekly jobs . So we started the   day late and were out of the house only by noon . In the spirit of seeing things defining Mumbai we planned to got to Gateway of India and the places thereabouts .This time another local and being Sunday it was a comfortable ride ,getting off at Churchgate and then a cab .The Kandivili folks also decided to join us later and so instead of a family get together at somebodys’ house we had one later at the museum. The Gateway ,was seen by yours truly some 30 years earlier , more crowded now and with another landmark the Taj being pointed to all visitors. Too many Sunday visitors each one of them being followed by photographers with promises of instant photographs ,the most popular demand apparently of the one where you hold the Taj or the Gateway between your forefinger and thumb. The Gateway itself appears to stand immune to everyone crowding around below it,straddling the entrance to Bombay ,welcoming and yet unfeeling. You are welcome here but find your own way , it seems to say .
    On the way we had seen billboards of the Hindustan Times Kala Ghodha Visual Aarts festival and so we walked back to the erstwhile Prince of Wales museum,now renamed  Chhatrapti Shivaji museum .  And so we saw an exhibition of the paintings of the Flemish masters ! Landscapes, still life, black and white  and from the most famous of them all ,Rubens. There is nothing so frustrating than to see a masterpiece and realise your own inadequacies of not having the eye or the knowledge to really appreciate the finer points of a masterpiece. Must join an Art appreciation course ASAP ! But time was short and we criminally skipped the other parts of the museum to go to the festival next door . The museum was there to see anytime ,the Kala Ghodha comes once a year.  The crowd there was enormous and most of the visual delights were lost in the pushing ,jostling mass. The artists who had created some pieces were shunted to the background by people more keen on posing for photographs rather than enjoying the beauty of a horse made of gears ,a monumental structure of empty water bottles,some triangular mirror structure, and many such creative ad absolutely stunning works of art . A childrens workshop warmed our hearts .
And then the pride of Mumbai ,the Marine drive ,the Queens necklace ,the Fort Area. Walking by this very crème de la crème of Mumbai city , with its imposing buildings,its cobbled pavements ,its very historical antecedents . The Gaylord restaurant where Raj Kapoor would drop by for a meal . Areas familiar to us by movie scenes, where across the road we spotted a film shooting was going on . The evening at Marine drive where we sat on the embankments like so many others watching the sea below ,waves breaking on the rocks and the promenade with its breeze  and history ,Nariman point a short distance away ,Shanti Kuteer,Oceana and other residences of the rich ,wealthy, royals etc etc.   But the Marine Drive is egalitarian ,the sea is for all to see,the sea breeze fans every face and in each Mumbaikar’s heart is a piece of this beautiful view of the setting sun a ,reddish blush in the sky and then sinking in the sea far on  the horizon .
   Time  to go back . We missed the 7.05 ,which started moving just as we reached the platform on Churchgate station ,but the 7.11 was ready on another . The ladies compartment was empty when we sat down and I felt a little apprehensive .We thought of moving to the general but another passenger boarded just when the train was about to move and slowly at other stations ,it started to fill .  A group of three hawkers selling cheap jewellery boarded, trustingly handed there baskets in willing customers laps for them to go through and take them back a couple of stations later .A group of chattering Gujarati women livened up the compartment and got down at Dadar . 
   In a day and a half window Mumbai had been well covered ,I thought.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Lost in my spring garden

 January , February and March are the months of the flowers in India. We have a small garden but enough to have all the flowers that spring has to offer . I step out of my house ,onto the grass and  lose my way among the beds and the trees. I kneel down to say hello to one of my  favourites , the marigold, the non fussy,cheerful friendly ,generous  soul. .It has been  planted to form a border for the lawn and it so enthusiastically does its picket duties with smiling joyousness. The smaller ones lie low in their yellow-orange  and golden-brass  As I circle the garden , I look down and return their smiles and nod in agreement when they seem to tell me that planting the nasturtiums in corners was a good idea. The orange nasturtiums , so close to my heart , creep merrily and spill over  on the grass  . They have even climbed up the lampposts in the corners. I planted them around the mango and peepal  ,daring them to encircle the huge trees. They took up the challenge and not only do I have an anklet of nasturtiums around the trunks,they have also managed to climb up ,winking at me to say if the money plant can climb up and grow so can we. The nasturtiums and marigold with their intermingling yellow and orange hues will last long. As cheerful as they are,they are also hardy ,revelling in the yellow sunshine. 
I tear myself away from these generous flowers ,only to stumble on the calendulas. Yellow again, but then yellow is the colour of this season for me. Bright sunshine and so very Indian . Slightly taller than my "gendi ' or the marigold edging ,they have flowered in profusion .As I bend down, to caress them,I spot several varieties ,the simple to the double petalled. Suddenly I find a tickle on my nose and look upto see the Margarit,another yellow , laughing and beckoning me. Its tall ,thin stem bends down to reach to the other ones ,all the time its shapely pale yellow petals spread cheer. The flowers are similar to the calendula but the leaves are smaller and fine . Its difficult to come out of these yellow  beds ,catching the sunshine and being one with the sun. 
I manage to find my way out of this ,only to be stopped in my tracks by the very waiflike yellow poppy.Light and sheer they appear like butterflies flitting in one place .I planted the red poppies too .In one of the beds these are just behind the yellow ones and the two look gorgeous together .But in another corner,there are only red ones,some with a cluster of petals and some single petaled. But before the red can consume me ,I see  white poppy ,with a delicate blushing tinge of red .And the pink one next to it creating a lovely sequence of a red ,pink and white poppy with tinges of red. What a happy feeling it is to see the red too. And there there were the Salvias. Almost the same height as poppy but with denser leaves and a column of flowers.The red seems to have a matte finish. Salvias form a backdrop bed for the garden .They are solid flowers,whereas the yellow iris in the adjoining bed seems to be there and not there .Small yellow they were the first to flower and the first to have seeds.So its time to let the pods ripen and save the seeds for the next season.
These are the flowers in profusion . I find my way out of this Golden delight to gaze upon the flamboyant Gazanias . They are showing off their bright colours . Bright yellow,creamish yellow,pink ,mauve,lilac all vying for attention and forcing me to look their way .They are some of the most beautiful and striking flowers,bold and brash , needing Good light for them to open out to the world. Evenings I can see them , petals folded fast asleep! Next to them is the Cineraria,no less eye catching. The larger ,ones this time are mostly purple but the smaller or the button sized ones are in many different hues.White,pink, purple ,they are just like a big cluster of small buttons ,near the ground ,looking up at me with a baby innocent look. After the unicoloured marigold,calendula and margarit,the other flowers are all in various hues bunched together.The multihued cover on the ground is breathtaking. I love the dog flower ,the colours not as bright as the Gazania or Cineraria,but the bell shape  shape so unique ,each stalk having several small flowers on it. Lower down is the Dianthus,again in  myriad colours mostly a deep pink with white zigzag edges ,some in a deep shade of red ,some lavender too ,but all with ends shaded a lighter colour .The dianthus looks dainty,lacelike ,and very fragile.A similar looking flower but on close observation very different is the iceplant. A hardy succulent,,in pink  and white , this opens up in the sun and nods happily at the world ,short stalked barely lifting above the ground.
Phlox and the guava tree 
The purple ,violet, fuchsia,magenta riot continues as the monkey faced pansies join in the fun. The hybrids are bigger with their fan shaped petals but the local variety is impish with its simian smiles.the velvety texture of the petals makes me want to caress them .But the Pansies are a little restrained ,unlike the petunias which flower with such exuberance  the whites,the pink and the purple and a crimson or two, abound ,growing with wild abandon everywhere. No sophisticated elegance for them.I have them wherever I want a large area to be covered.The flowerbed under the window sill,in planters ,in hanging baskets and where have you.Non demanding and long lasting,they are the hardiest of the winter flowers and will continue to flower till late April.The sturdiness of the Petunias is offset by the tiny Candytuft ,the dainty looking white blanket that grows swiftly and has covered the ground. It will grow again next year even if I dont plant more seeds.So undemanding and giving . I move around ad reach by Guava tree in the garden.Its so well placed and gives some shade so I can place a chair and sit down under it ,with not too much sun and not too much shade. The foot of the guava tree has the Phlox ,the star shaped flowers hugging  it and nodding their heads happily.They look like a bunch of children playing in the park ,in shades of pink,purple,red and white .There are two flowers which I have not been able to identify ,one is a bigger starshaped too,in colors of red and pink .the other is white ,cream and orangish-red . The chrysanthemums were the first to flower and wither,the heralders of all things beautiful. The white snowball had grown well,and so had the small
     How impossible it is to get out of this luxury .I lie on the grass ,looking hungrily all around,trying to save these images before the heat withers them and before the rites of passage make the flowers dry or become fruits. I am going to save the seeds for the next year . But there is more to come from this treasure spot.Near the walls are the Hollyhocks and the Dahlias.The hollyhocks blossom a little late,but I know they will continue till May .White ,soft pink and darker ones ,they form a lovely backdrop to the craziness of the smaller flowers.The Dahlias ,of course with their huge flowers ,the plants bending under their weight seem to look down on everything else in the garden.While the hollyhocks are ready to play with all others,the Dahlias maintain a stately, statesque stance,proud but charming.
While the trees are shedding their leaves in the spring,the flowers are all in bloom .Is it a wonder that I have stopped going inside my house ,but roam around in my garden like a lost wanderer,weaving in and out of the happy flowers, a caress here, a sigh there, a fragrance calling me from a corner , a nod from another. But I have company.Its the butterflies which I see ,delighted ,flitting from flower to flower.And the birds chirping ,singing,picking at seeds and having a party. The squirrels running on the grass trying to remember where they hid their nuts and I presume playing hide and seek .
Oh how the earth laughs in flowers.(Emerson)
I hope some day to meet God, because I want to thank Him for the flowers. ~Robert Brault