Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Death rites

Krishna Mutt, Mahendra Hills, Secunderabad

It is my mother's thithi today. But the arrangements have gone awry: the purohit who was to have conducted the ceremony has gone to Saroor Nagar instead and there is no one here to do the shraadha. The alternative was to come back on amavasya and do it, and we were almost resigned to it but an alternative had been arranged quite fortuitously. I'm glad.
The pains we take to set the dead to rest, across cultures... Energy, resources and propulsion for the journey forward, good vibes and a plea to let go of us as we let go of them.
My mother's funeral was the first time I looked at death rites with any attention. Since then I have become better informed about what happens to the body and spirit as they part, why these rituals are done, what they mean. The ceremony today is bound to be a cursory one, truncated perhaps, a 'sankshipta' affair in keeping with our modern tendency to have done. I don't know enough to judge, but let's see if we can compensate the haste of the ritual with intention.
It turned out ok in the end. The replacement acharya was conscientious and my father did what was needed with as much devotion as he could manage - he doesn't really have much patience with this sort of thing, although his sense of responsibility is bolstered a bit by the earnestness with which my sister and I approach it. The mutt's kitchen managed, at short notice, to feed us as well.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Gadbad, Gadbad!

I mentioned recently my travel to the coast of Karnataka? It was for this story, published in Outlook Traveller, December 2012.

Incidentally I was supposed to go to the other coast but Cyclone Nilam had her say and suddenly altered plans saw me doing this wonderful jaunt. All good.

All Pretty On The Western Front

Apart from the wonderful Udupi food and the marvellous array of seafood that the western coast of India is known for, there is another kind of culinary offering – one that had escaped my notice till I actually landed there. It mystified me at first. If an ice cream proclaimed itself to be ‘Gadbad’ Ice Cream, what might it do to my insides? With a six-day trip ahead of me, I let it go in Mangalore (regret!), eyed it again on Kaup Beach and then gave in to sample it in Karwar.

This is a vertical sundae, a concoction invented in Mangalore. In a tall glass, they lay a bed of fruit salad, pile up three scoops of ice cream in any flavours you fancy, sprinkle it with dry fruits and tutti-frutti and, to finish up, pour some honey and vividly coloured syrup all around. A bit of everything. It occurred as I was eating it that it wasn’t a half-bad description of my own jaunt up the coast of Karnataka. With Mangalore at the base, a dollop each of Udupi, Murudeshwara and Gokarna, garnished with beaches and temples, flavoured everywhere with the salt of sea breeze. It was very gadbad.

Mangalore was full of contrasts. Wearing the look of a blasé city but a scratch or two reveals the town – and its history. First we decided to be obeisance to Goddess Mangala Devi, who gives the city its name. An old temple (some say 9th, some say 10th century) still half-wearing its Dussehra finery – festivities this temple is famous for. Then a visit to Lord Kadri Manjunatha was called for. This is an 11th century temple built over in several layers. On the side, through the slats in the window, I peeped at a truly magnificent bronze idol of Trilokeshwara. Should it be in a museum, lit and well displayed, or better thus, viewed through a narrow aperture, preserving a quaint mystery and installed in a consecrated space?

The sun dipped and we headed to the shores at Panambur beach, where the Mangalore Port is located. Children squealed in delight, young men thundered up and down the sand on hired ponies, and gaggles of girls dunked each other in the water. I bought myself a cone of bhel puri and saw the sun off.

The next day was devoted to the temple town of Udupi, the history and lore of which are steeped with references to Madhvacharya, the 13th century philosopher-saint who propounded the Dvaita school of Indian philosophy. This was hallowed turf for me; a veritable Mecca for the community I hail from, and I’d never been. So basking under what I hoped was the benign approval of now-deceased grandparents, I went.

Car Street Road is where it’s all at. In a close cluster – amidst a bustling market selling everything from flowers to cool drinks, puja essentials to curios – the temples. The ancient Chandramoulishwara temple and the Ananteshwara temples are traditionally understood to have first dibs on your attention – you must visit these before you visit the main Krishna temple. There are stories and legends told about everything, and there is the curious case of the west-facing idol. The story goes that the poet-saint Kanakadasa was not allowed entry into the shrine by the upper-class priests and so stood outside singing songs of praise. Pleased with his devotion, Krishna turned west to face him even as the wall developed a crack. So darshan here is sought through a small window called Kanakana kindi. A rather splendid view it is too: a small idol adorned with a ‘vajra kavacha’, armour studded with diamonds.  Around the temples stand the eight muttas – temple administrative systems, if you will – that take care of the Krishna temple in turn. The whole street is redolent with a culture that is now shrinking.

Free lunch is offered at the temple and I found my way to the large dining room at lunch time. Long rows of people seated on the floor for a lovely meal of rice, chutney, sambhar, saaru and buttermilk. A massive container of rice came pushed in a trolley, huge vats of liquid carried up and down the line by two men, efficiently dispensing the broth. “Yellinda ma neevu?” I got asked again and again, “where are you from?” The curiosity deepened to friendliness every time I responded in Kannada. My neighbours guided me through the meal, assuring me there was saaru to come when I wondered how to allocate my rice, and graciously took their leave as I still lingered over my plate.

The temples visited, we headed to the sea at Malpe Beach. At the entrance, a large statue of Mahatma Gandhi loomed on the horizon. In the afternoon light, the Mahatma looked forlorn – but no doubt I was letting my own pessimism about the state of the nation carry me away. Sufficient numbers of enthusiastic locals gambolled in the water but we left them to take a ferry 6km across to St Mary’s Island, one of four small uninhabited islands that are geologically very significant. Huge columns of basaltic lava are strewn across the island and are stunning indeed. Vasco da Gama is supposed to have stopped here on his way from Portugal to Kozhikode and given it its name.

Back at Malpe, I called for a chai and a fortifying sandwich, and we also made time for one other stop – the extremely beautiful Kaup beach. I don’t know if the beach coloured the mood or if it was the mood that enriched the beach – but it seems now to be painted in my memories with hues of gold, blue and purple. There is a noble lighthouse here that was built in 1901 and it carries layers of memory. On the rocks, young people sat quietly appreciative, talking in low tones and walked down the rough stairs before it became too dark to see.

We were doing a longish haul the following day and heading all the way to Murudeshwara, 165km from Mangalore. The erstwhile NH 17 is now called NH 66 – not quite the legend its American counterpart is but an interesting enough road. The highway goes from Kochi to Mumbai and serves the entire coast of Karnataka. Scenic mostly… dotted by a series of bridges over canals formed by the backwaters, lined with coconut trees, paddy fields and broad leaved sal. The road does not, for the most part, hug the coast – although the tang of the sea is never far away.

But a little beyond halfway, suddenly the blue comes into view and you know you’re in the very beautiful Maravanthe stretch. We stopped for lunch at a resort here, which gave us the advantages of open views of the water along as well as a thatched roof over our heads. A little further, fisherfolk busied themselves with their nets, their colourful boats lined up high on the sand. I was squinting in the hot afternoon sun, feeling a little sorry that we should not have come upon this peaceful spot when it was a bit cooler. But that was only till I hitched up my trousers and let the waves come to me, caressing as they retreated. The sea has that quality, I find, of altering your perspective. It was no longer too hot, and with thousands of crabs milling about their hidey holes and sandpipers roosting in the rocks, it was absolutely the perfect time to be in Maravanthe.

Along the road, we came upon a dramatic picture frame – the waves crashed to the left and to the right, winding her way in languorous bends, the Souparnika river. An auspicious river that supposedly absorbs the goodness of 64 medicinal plants and herbs as it flows – a dip in these waters, therefore, is believed to be marvellously curative. I remember my mother insisting that her skin turned a beautiful golden when she bathed in the Souparnika… but there was no easy access to the water at this point and I regretfully gave up the idea of bringing home one bottle of its magic.

Soon we were at the bustling temple town of Murudeshwara. Dozens of buses at the local bus stop, taxi stands in the narrow main street, shops, tourists, eateries, lodges. The beach isn’t the cleanest by any means – the tourists keep to one side and the fisherfolk occupy the other. However, there are two features that tower over the town – one, the 20-storied raja gopuram to the Murudeshwara temple, about 237ft tall that needs you to crane your neck all the way if you’re standing at the entrance; and two, a 123ft sculpture of Shiva that dominates the landscape from miles away. The Murudeshwara shrine itself is old, linked to the convoluted legend of Ravana and the atma linga, but the temple has been constructed over the past decades through the efforts of local businessman and philanthropist R.N. Shetty; the sculpture, one of the tallest in India, is his vision as well.

There is a wonderful opportunity for underwater adventure at Murudeshwara. The lovely dive site of Netrani is 20km off the coast from here – and the lure was irresistible. The next morning saw us chugging along in the motor boat listening to a basic primer on scuba diving. The coral island of Netrani is a beautiful spot with a visibility of 15-20m and I was excited. Soon I was kitted out with the cylinder fastened to my back and I learned to my dismay that I was expected to fall into the water with a back flip – oddly enough, the aspect that scared me the most. Still, that was accomplished without a hiccup, and my instructor and I descended slowly. It didn’t seem so drastically different from snorkelling at first but the pressure started building in my ears and I knew I was definitely under water. We went down to about 12m. Vast schools of fish, fascinatingly coloured, marine life along the floor, corals, anemone… I saw other divers, hand-signalled ok for the underwater cameras and looked about avidly. A mere half-hour in a completely different element. I loved it but it did make me appreciate air and the fact that I was designed for it.

We moved up north to Gokarna next – which seemed to be the point where, culturally,  Karnataka melded into Goa. The beach shacks were more geared to the European palate, the beach shops had an eye firmly on the foreign tourist market. We stayed at an interesting little place called Namasta Yoga Farm, which is run by German Oliver Miguel. My cottage had a gorgeous yoga deck framed by orange curtains and I succumbed at once to the temptation of twelve rounds of Surya Namaskars.

The beaches here are beautiful: Om, with its undulating shape, and Kudle, so popular with the foreign tourists. Perhaps the name bestows a certain quietude to people who visit Om, because towards evening even the gambollers sauntered over to the rocks and fell to quiet meditation. Journey’s end but I fear it’s given me a taste for the sea that my land-locked city will struggle to assuage.
The story, with additional information, is also up here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mahiya ve...

Last year, when Coke Studio Season 5 ended, I was so keen to blog about it, discuss the songs I loved. But it would have been an elaborate post and I put it off and it never happened. This is not THAT post but this song, which I’ve heard a few times today, would have been part of it.

Farhad Humayun (of Overload) singing Mahi. He puts a lot of feeling into it and the orchestration – Coke Studio meeting Shankar Tucker, to my mind – is outstanding.

Mahi! Mahi! Mahi! kookaan…


And since I brought it up and this is a rains-y song as well, Shankar Tucker's Night Monsoon:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Kal ki baat

I came across this years ago:

"Procrastination," she said, "is the root of all your sorrow."
I don't know what that big word means; I'll look it up tomorrow.

And we are still where we were. Sigh.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


I was on assignment on the Karnataka Coast last month and had a double mishap. My old enemy - wet rock. I knew I shouldn't step on it. Indeed, it was only a very testing grope but a huge wave knocked me over and down I went -- my poor knees were bruised and sore for days. And alas, my camera got a wetting too. And now it opens but it is clearly not its old self.

What I should have done, according the all-knowing ones on the internet is: remove the battery, remove the card and RINSE THE CAMERA IN FRESH WATER! Then let it dry out till infinity, and then tried it out. Now I see the logical sense of this, but even had I known, I doubt I could have carried out something as counter-intuitive as this. I dried everything as best as I could, put the battery back and gave it a go. Now I may have ruined it forever. Salt water, they all agree, is DEATH.

I didn't mind so much then but am feeling awfully nostalgic now.
Well, at least my knees recovered nicely.

Bulla, ki jaana main kaun?

Certain words have come into my life since I found my Guru. 'Perception' is one of them. I cannot claim to understand it - after all, what I make of it is only in keeping with my present level of perception. But it changes as I change, takes on deeper meaning, layers and layers as I go.

It's been a lifetime of second hand knowledge - the science text book says this, this poet says that. This philosopher believes this, this genius claims that, the mystic poet says this is so... looking this way and that, cocking my ears at this idea, that thought... listening to those who seem to know... but, at the end of the day, hearsay, hearsay. What do I know? Not very much. I'm just taking other people's word for everything.

I tend to believe some people more than others. About our spiritual nature, across centuries, across lands, across scores of mytics, the same refrain. I tend to believe them. But I do not know.

In his latest blog post, Sadhguru says:

The whole process of what we are referring to as ‘Adiyogi’, what we are referring to as ‘Shiva’, is just this – perception, perception. The hooded cobra is just the symbol of the highest level of insight because traditionally and symbolically, it was always believed that a snake knows more about everything that is happening than any other creature, including the human being. Because he has no ears, he doesn’t listen to other people’s gossip, it is all direct perception. The whole system of yoga is just this. It does not matter who said it — Veda said this, Gita said this, Krishna said this, Buddha said that – Great! We will bow down to you, but we do not believe you. We want to know it. And this is the nature of the snake. He has no access to local gossip.
Local gossip! Hah, that's a fine put-down for every single voice in my head.  

Monday, November 26, 2012


kaShTadallirali utkruShTadallirali eShTadaru matigeTTu irali
krushNa kruShNa endu shishTaru pELuva ashTAkshara mahAmantrada nAmada
nArAyaNa ninna nAmada smaraNeya sArAmrutavu enna nAligege barali...
-Purandara Dasa

Whether I be in trouble, or in a perfect state, be my mind ever so disordered,
Let me utter 'Krishna, Krishna', the eight-syllabled mahamantra that the learned chant
Narayana, let my tongue taste the nectar that the remembrance of your name brings

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Creature Comforts

Another deadline stares me in the face and since I cannot yet meet its eyes, my attention darts here and there. Let me put up this story of a river (and continent) I loved very much.


Creature Comforts

There is something about great rivers, and there is something particularly special about the Zambezi. Wide, life-giving, embracing but also ferocious, and imperious in that manner of sweeping all before it. It is impossible to know – or love – a river such as this too well. And certainly not on the basis of a two-day acquaintance. But then, as lovers everywhere know, it depends on the two days.

Oddly, what I found most impressive was the fact that Zambezi, which traverses a distance of 3,540 km, and crosses seven countries to empty into the Indian Ocean, is only the fourth-longest river in Africa. It duly takes its place after Nile, Zaire and Niger – a little comparative study that brought home to me, firsthand, the magnitude of this land. I had read of colonial travellers’ term for the vast swathes of this continent. MMBA, they had called it, in part awe, part rueful frustration – Miles and Miles of Bloody Africa. I could see it now.

Our headquarters in Livingstone, Zambia, was the Royal Livingstone, a hotel located at a particularly well appointed spot on the banks, with a view of the Zambezi just before it hurtles down a chasm to form the magnificent Victoria Falls. The hotel’s lobby is designed to make most of this vantage: you walk in and gaze not upon the room (which is tasteful) but through the other archway which frames the blue-grey expanse of the water. Everywhere, in the dining areas, the charming rooms with their open verandas, the architecture employs an intelligent, pitch-perfect permeability between indoor and outdoor spaces.

Our very first item on the sightseeing list was, naturally, the Victoria Falls, ‘the largest sheet of falling water’ on the planet. Actually we’d been seeing it for miles. On the flight in, the flight attendant’s plummy tones had directed us to look out of our windows to the mist rising off ‘Vic Falls.’ Then as we drove from the airport with the river a constant presence on our right, we pulled up to see a soaring froth in the distance and a brilliant rainbow caught in its snare. From the hotel’s deck, again, in the distance, the spray. It was, without question, the centrepiece.

We moved closer now and the sound of cascading water deafened us. Mosi-oa-tunya, the Makololo people call it: ‘the smoke that thunders’. It does indeed. As we approached the eastern cataract, Francis, our guide, pointed into the water. A black rotund sleekness surfaced slowly - a young hippo marooned by the swirling currents, not strong enough to wade to the other side, clinging to the less turbulent shallows by the reeds. He could be there for days, we were told.

We donned raingear, protected our cameras and lenses in plastic covers and started walking to the other side of the fissure. And around a corner, our first frontal view of the waterfall. Through shrubbery at first and then, as we picked our way along the edge of the gorge, getting wetter and wetter from the needle spray, the whole amazing expanse of it. It is a breathtaking sight, one neither our cameras nor our exclamations could do justice to. Let’s put it this way: it’s bigger than us.

We went the next morning on a quintessential African activity – a game drive. The Mosi-o-tunya National Park is a small one (66sq km) but it gave us a full morning’s sightings. How astonishing it is to set out to see fauna in Africa – there is no lurking, hiding; no strained glimpses through shaded shrubbery… there’re all out there, in the open, crossing your path with impunity. So we saw herds of Impala, Bushback antelope, Wildebeest, Zebra posing this way and that. A Southern Red-billed Hornbill honoured us with multiple sightings, a warthog ambled our way and we encountered a large troop of baboons. I brought my binoculars out to get a good look at a Saddle-billed stork and the strange Hamerkop bird. We came then to a completely denuded tree on which perched an appropriately sinister gathering: a venue of White-backed vultures. We pulled up again at another point – majestic elephants, a small herd of five, would have right of way. Of course.

We didn’t see any big cats but I was delighted enough with my first sighting of a giraffe. What a strange looking animal it is. Put together like an assortment of other creatures and that bizarre neck with a touch of fur all the way down! Our specimen nibbled placidly at the upper leaves, his marbled skin pattern catching the light beautifully. Just like they said in the nature documentaries.
Next, I had a choice of activities. The first, to go by boat to Livingstone Island, to the spot where the explorer David Livingstone first discovered the falls in 1855. I was tempted but I opted for the other item on offer: to jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge.

After the falls, the Zambezi gushes into this narrow scenic gorge which has this historic bridge across it – a no-man’s land that connects Zambia with Zimbabwe. I was excited about this bungee jump. My very first, and so pleasing to do such a celebrated one!  As we drew to the bridge, however, the anticipation turned into dry-mouthed dread. I looked down and saw… way, way down… the teal blue waters swirl and churn. Around me jumpers were getting into harness and taking off to plummet 111m towards the river. My turn came. I was having my feet bound with padding and the bungee cord, and was asked to move, hopping, to the edge… the very edge of the platform. I twitched nervously but with the jump master blocking my passage backwards, there was no way but forward – into thin air.

I didn’t… couldn’t… soar outwards like I was advised to. Instead I fell with a scream like dead weight. I went first, the body followed, the stomach joined us several minutes later. It was truly beautiful… suspended upside down, being tossed up and down in the ravine, twirling around to see a fully circular rainbow from the spray.

Yet another view of the falls was afforded me the next day, when I went up in a micro light. It’s a vehicle too flimsy to be taken seriously but miraculously, it worked. There I was, insulated like an astronaut against the morning chill, looking down this way and that. What seemed like grey boulders were strewn about abundantly – elephants! A vein of silver-blue picked out the Zambezi’s course and soon we were motoring –inevitably –towards the falls. The small plane tilted into the spray, which rises on average to about half a kilometre in the air. The cataracts sprawled across 1.7 km, thundering down over 100m. I saw the bridge I had leaped off the previous day and marvelled anew at my own daring.

It was a good way to say goodbye, and now South Africa beckoned. Rather, more specifically, Sun City. A three-hour, cramping drive from Johannesburg deposited us at the entrance of the Palace of the Lost City – which is an experience that is at once dazzling and bemusing. Opulence meets quirkiness in this wild Xanadu-like hotel – sweeping halls, tiled mosaic on the floor, ceiling… everywhere. Spires, domes, columns, sculptures, tapestries, genuine animal skin upholstery… everything at once.

Sun City is a huge hit with Indian travellers who have made their presence felt, one way or the other. And we very nearly added to it. Bart, a gametracker at the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, was scheduled to meet us at 3.00 that afternoon. But we’d had a rough day, worsened by a small accident on the Segway and consequently, it was an hour later that we trooped to the game vehicle. Our guide was furious. After informing us that punctuality was a trait much prized in South Africa, he laid down the Indian-tourist-specific rules: “This vehicle stops when I want it to, moves when I decide. So don’t ‘chalo, chalo’ me. There is no ‘chalo, chalo.’” Oops!

But the afternoon improved. Sighting a lioness in the distance as we had only just entered the park set the seal: it was going to be a good day. The Pilanesberg reserve is set in the crater of a long extinct volcano: plains fringed by mountains. The habitat is a transition between the Kalahari and the Lowveld, and so benefits from an overlap of species. To the eye, it was a vivid, dramatic panorama that changed moods every twenty minutes as the afternoon went by.

In the distance, we spied a bulky grey figure snoozing. White rhinoceros. Two impressive horns, small flappy ears and over 3,500 kg of mostly muscle. Antelopes we saw an abundance of: the smallish Steenbok and the handsome Kudu. Bart thawed towards us – clearly, tourists as lucky as we appeared to be couldn’t be that bad.

The light had started to slant when suddenly he stepped on the brakes with an excited yelp and pointed.  A leopard high up in a tree, resting delicately and yet, quite comfortably on a mass of foliage. We found the spot with the best view and settled, willing to wait as long as the leopard did. The lone tree and the panther silhouetted against the gathering dusk – it was a moment of unbelievable rightness. A few minutes later, the cat tired of his perch and clambered down, carefully negotiating his way down, clasping the trunk as he backed onto the ground. And then with a last look at us, he leapt across a small stream and melted away into the tall grass.

Elated with our encounter, we headed back to the gates. And stopped again. A brown hyena minced along the side of the road, glassy eyes staring back at our searchlights. It crossed the road and we saw it gone before we set off again. A little further, a traffic jam. Game vehicles had stopped in the middle of the road and a hushed silence – one that indicates a sighting of no ordinary significance – prevailed. Soon the object of their attention became apparent to us. Quite by the road, three lionesses at play. Caught in a pool of cross-lighting from the various game vehicles, the sisters ambled, swiped, nuzzled and gambolled. After five minutes, or perhaps ten, they walked slowly away till the darkness enveloped them. Now it seemed indeed that a visit to Africa was complete.

This was published in Outlook Traveller, October 2012. The link is here

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Diya jalao, jagmag jagmag...

Happy Deepavali, all!

Just back from a 6-day assignment. I wish I'd had a day to prepare for the festival, but I landed late last night and haven't enough go to make a celebration of it.

The morning meal was regular, the sweets are bought not homemade, the puja was delayed - I feel the festival but I cannot make it all-festive for my home. This bothers me. Some unnamed obligation to do the right thing, sadness that I don't make too much of an effort, that the old ways fall away to the modern insistence of not being hassled, of doing the easy thing all the time. The evening's session will be better, I promise myself.

But I have something to console myself with. As I made my way back home yesterday, my hopping flight stopped in Chennai. And what a wonderful sight it was! The city was lit with festoons of light and as the plane lingered in the low skies, pyrotechnics in various colours and types, one after the other. Street after street went up in celebration and for once, the birds' eye view wasn't of a metropolis peopled with anonymous denizens, probably grimly going about their business of living - these were fellow human beings, kin of sorts, joyously marking the onset of winter. Each of those rockets had someone below -- a man, woman or child -- who had enthusiastically let it into the sky, and was now looking up in expectation, his or her face lit by the colourful sparks they had unleashed. It was lovely. What luck to be in the air on the eve of Diwali.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Mere hanjroon de toofan*

I dusted off an old, much-loved music album today with songs by Anup Jalota. And re-found this sher with a very short behr:

baithe baithe rone ki,
rut hai paagal hone ki

बैठे बैठे रोने की
रुत है पागल होने की 

And it seemed to fit my mood (and so goes on the header). You see, somehow this November (1, 2) is here again. It has always been a vivid month for me. Everything darkens... you begin to prize what light there is. This year, the month has begun with a piercing drizzle as well. Everything inexplicably turns a little more profound, more meaningful -- also a little melancholy. I cannot say why.

Fittingly, this ghazal has another sher that I like:

marne wala mitti ka
arthi chaandi-sone ki

मरने वाला मिट्ठी का
अर्थी चांदी सोने की

That's it! How did the shayar manage to pack so much comment into eight words? These poets, I tell you...

*The blog title is from Farid's Meda ishq vi toon, in which he says, among other things, 'Mere hanjroon de toofan vi tu...': you are (also) my stormy tears.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Third post for the day.

I've said before, the moon has never been as significant to me as it has been of late. Rather, I now realise that it has always been significant but I had not noticed. 

Isn't it curious how some things never come your way and when they do, they tend to come in bunches of three - a new word, or a concept or a piece of trivia? I had never heard about the Sahasra Chandra Darsanam – it had never been done in my family – but a friend told me last year that her family was going to have a pooja and a gathering to mark her father-in-law’s turning 83 and a few months. It was to celebrate a point where he had experienced a thousand cycles of the moon in his lifetime. Then another colleague of my father's turned a 1000 moons and then my Guru mentioned it. Not that you need to have seen a thousand full moons with your eyes, he specified, knowing perhaps that many of the fools that he looks after stay hunched over their petty lives, instead of looking up at something profoundly amazing simply because it happens every month. The body apparently has its own way of experiencing the ebbs and flows of the world around it. Once it has known a thousand lunar cycles, the human system alters in a few ways, making it easier to shed your karma – or that's how I understood it.

But it is no hardship to look at the moon. And when a full moon coincides with your travels, well, sona on top of suhaaga. It happened in Zambia. (Where I was not able to take the Rainbow Walk, which takes you to the Victoria Falls by moonlight and, if you're lucky, gives you a glimpse of the Moonbow - a rainbow refracted by moonlight.) But I was happy enough to be in a lovely cabin by the expansive River Zambezi under a full moon. It was light when I sat to meditate in the lounger outside; when I came to, it had darkened to deep purply ink, the moonlight glistened off the choppy waters and it was so beautiful. I have no picture of that sadly, and I doubt any lens of mine could’ve done justice.

A month later, my incredible luck saw me in Srinagar. As the moon waxed, we saw it every day – rising from behind craggy mountain frames, as we stood about this Mughal garden and then the next as darkness fell… 

From Chashm-e-Shahi Gardens, Day 1

From Nishat Bagh, Day 2

On our third day there, we were in Gulmarg, making our way back (rather late) to the parking lot where our anxious driver awaited the posse of women he was in charge of. As we walked back, there were these views.
Strolling down the lanes of Gulmarg, Day 3

As we drove back to Srinagar, the world had turned monochrome. Only blue-black and silver seemed to exist; we turned bend after bend to a new view as the dappled woods stood bathed in moonlight. I had not seen trees throw shadows that sharp at night.

On the fourth day, we had a party on top of a houseboat. The full moon was on time, voices carried this way and that over the water, sounds of paddles sloshing, and in the distance, traffic on the road.
Full moon over Srinagar from HB Hilton on the Dal, Day 4. Pic: Nishat Fatima

You can’t hold moonbeams, of course, but now and then, you come close enough.

Andananta etha?

We were talking about Kshana kshanam yesterday - what a classic it is, how refreshing the music, the way the songs were 'taken' as they say in Tollywood-speak. And of course, Sridevi. Gamine charm, mobile face, now innocent, now sexy, now crafty, now ditzy. She carried the movie. Venkatesh rocked too, but Sridevi!
So as I'm feeling somewhat excessive:

...and, why the heck not!

Whachoo doin', Ramu? Kuch cheezein apne aap se bhi seekhni chahiye.

The in-between times

I had a haiku for the rains, I really did. A hauntingly beautiful one. But I procrastinated, and now the season is past. A new one advances but we are not yet in its grip. So the change of header demands not a remark on the seasons but something else.

So just like that, this funny haiku that's a study in plotting, on how to tell a story... and the importance of the villain.

shiny red apples
the painter introduces
a caterpillar

~Greg Piko

Thursday, October 04, 2012


Dust lies on the shelves of this blog. The haiku hasn't been changed since the summer, the air is musty, and everywhere, cobwebs of abandoned posts.
But soon - a post on Kashmir, which I visited last month, my story on Zambia, where I travelled in July, a header change, some thoughts on the moon... much!
In the meantime, I post now because I'm running very very fast from a deadline that is upon my heels and will slay me if I don't wrestle it to the ground. Wish me luck.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A gala time

It has been a crazy month. I was swamped by deadlines of varying levels of clinginess – it was just one thing after the other. In the middle of all this though, there was something I was determined to do – attend the Park Hyatt’s Masters of Food & Wine event. This is a series of sophisticated culinary and beverage experiences hosted at Park Hyatts across the world. Award-winning chefs, sommeliers and experts are invited – it is a celebration of food and drink.

The Park Hyatt in Hyderabad is fairly new and they were holding their first Masters of Food & Wine between 19th and 22nd September.  The Masters in this case being Spanish 2 star Michelin chef Koldo Royo, Thai chef Maitree Polboon and French cheese affineur Eric Mickael.

The whole programme sounded fascinating but work! But I managed one night off – donned a dress and took off to a five course gala dinner at the Tre-forni where Chef Koldo Royo’s offerings would be paired with wine from the house of Torres. It was a lovely experience.

Some lip smacking Sangria and fritters whet the appetite, strawberry gazpacho followed and then buttered and herbed mushroom on a bed of mashed peas. Two desserts – a convent-style coffee custard and a rice pudding flavoured with Spanish anise. The wines were fabulous too and I was taken with the dessert wine Floralis - Moscatel Oro – a sweet mouthful with tints of rose, geranium and lemon verbena.

The Spanish Ambassador, Gustavo De Aristegui, honoured the evening with his presence, and he came by to talk of wines, India, culture, Japan and Bollywood movies. Has Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara made a difference to tourism, I asked. Emphatically yes, he said, in fact the filmmakers and cast may be meeting the King of Spain to receive his appreciation.

I wish I had attended the Thai event as well. Another time.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What I did

There were so many things I meant to blog about but there wasn’t enough time when the mood came upon me, some posts needed an elaborate gathering of thoughts and links, some needed notes to be collated.

Still, I have a few updates. I spent the first fortnight of this month in the most unusual fashion: I was at the Isha Yoga Center to volunteer. They somehow had three programs lined up with a day’s gap between each and it seemed a good idea – at the time. Had I known how demanding the stint would be, I may have had second thoughts. I had attended all these programs last year and had been struck by the wholehearted devotion of the volunteers who had served the programs. It seemed very appropriate for me to do this as well. A part of it was a desire to ‘pay it forward’, and partly, having heard so much about the experience of volunteering, to taste for myself what such giving can do to the giver.

So I landed there on pournami, offered my services, my body, mind and presence in any manner they thought fit, and came away on amavasya – a poetically arranged period. It was quite a unique experience, something that broke quite a few notions of myself that I had lived comfortably with. I no longer know for sure. An advancement, of sorts.

Woh bhi kya din the, ke har veham yakin hota tha
Ab haqeeqat nazar aaye to use kya samjhoon?

-Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi

वो भी क्या दिन थे के हर वेहम यकीं होता था
अब हक़ीक़त नज़र आये तो उसे क्या समझूं ?
-अहमद नदीम क़ासमी

Now the prospect of other interesting travel faces me – excited, happy-excited. There are things beyond our imaginings, our wildest hopes… what a good thing we don’t always get only what we thought to ask for.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Barsan laagi...

...kari kari baadariya...
umad umad ghir kaare badal, nanhi nanhi boondariyan aayi

After a long time today, I have arranged it so I listen to a monsoon raga as it rains. Nazakat and Salamat Ali Khan with Megh Malhar. I remember doing this once many many years ago. Favourite music lay in tapes in those days and I had a second generation recording of Shiv Kumar Sharma playing Megh. Side B was, if memory serves me well, Jasraj singing Dhulia Malhar.
Inspired by tales of the elements pouring down when Tansen sang his own Malhar and diyas catching flame when he sang Raag Deepak, I tried it myself. Played the recordings a couple of times back to back, sent up the rain yearnings with as much intensity as I could manage. And it rained. For hours. All day. And the next. I had no doubt at all I had caused it. There is something to be said for faith and innocence.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Phool khile hain...

The rains are here again, everything is beautiful and our jasmines are flowering. We have four plants around the house and mercy be, they’re all putting out buds.

One of these is a particularly insane giver. Once spring arrives, it kicks gears all the way up. No holding back, no spacing out… just whooooosh. For a week or ten days, the whole creeper turns white with abundance. My mother – grateful and dismayed at this bounty – would need several pairs of helping hands to haul them in. Then she would sit and laboriously try to string as many as humanly possible into garlands.

I’ve always enjoyed gathering these flowers, which I found a bit surprising. I used to have a very low boredom threshold and surely this is boring, repetitive work? But I think now there is a meditative quality about the activity. Giving, taking, loving, thanking… a sweet transaction.

I was so pleased yesterday to have samples from all four shrubs, I took the trouble to document it. For whiteness and fragrance, I do believe our big ones could rival the mallis of Madurai.

And here, simply because the malli is the recipient of the hero’s confidences, being asked to bear witness to the woes that beset his life, this song. Also because I love Ghantasala’s extra long caress of the phrase “mounamuga unnaaaa…ra?” The song actually begins at 4.28 so jump ahead please – this was only video I found.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

King Jack

I have been told once or twice that it is impossible to be ambivalent about jackfruit. I’ve come across people who shudder and blanch at the smell, but I unequivocally love it. I have even tried on a couple of occasions to use the seed – peeled, boiled, peeled, chopped and put into sambhar. What an amazing fruit it is! Such perfect packaging, its smell the very embodiment of tropical lushness… I wonder at its audacity in growing so high up on a tree. Surely something this enormous should grow along the ground?

I’ve confessed here and there that I’m a city girl with deep country love. Then you will understand how much it galls me to eat halasina hannu out of a packet thus. Five measly pieces sold for Rs 10. 

There are whole fruits available but it is impossible to convince my father to buy one. He baulks at carrying it home from the local market, for which he has my sympathies. Besides he jibs at the possible waste, which is nonsense. I would eat it, cook it, pickle it, worship it. Also he suspects (with good reason) that he’ll be lumped with the job of disembowelling it. Which, as anyone who has experience in these matters knows, is a very difficult business. The hands must be oiled; considerable muscle, skill and patience is needed.
What I need is a Man Friday. To cut up jackfruit, peel coconuts that have fallen in the garden and disappear conveniently the rest of the time.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Do you find that it tugs you just there?
The cavity below the ribs, a throbbing hole
Every evening as dusk falls and then, a few minutes after,
The azaan goes up.

Plaintive, my neighbourhood muezzin!
His voice soars and dips, and I soar and fall in sympathy.
A grief grips me sometimes, a sadness, a trembling –
Call it existential angst.

A few brief minutes and he trails away,
And I return, blindly, to my computer screen.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dhuan dhukhay mere murshid wala…

….jaan pholaan taan laal ni*

My heart was cleansed anew two or three days ago. It had gathered debris, a film of dust perhaps, or to borrow and stretch a metaphor: like a lit cigarette that has a thickness of ash still clinging. A small flick and the ash has fallen – the flame breathes and smoulders red again.

Earlier this week, I attended a lecture on Daag Dehlvi and the speaker quoted this evocative sher by Sauda, which appealed very much.

Aadam ka jism jab ki anaasir se mil banaa
Kuchh aag bach rahi thi so aashiq ka dil bana

आदम का जिस्म जब भी अनासिर से मिल बना
कुछ आग बच रही थी सो आशिक का दिल बना

When the five elements blended to form Adam’s body
A leftover flame went to making the lover’s heart.


*From Farid's Mae ni mai kinnu aakhan
[Trans. My Master’s fire spits and smoulders
Red hot, everywhere I blow]

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cleaning Day

Have I told you about Oome, ever? That's not his name - but he's this deaf and mute man who comes around, has come around to do odd jobs for decades now.

His name is Mohd Something, but if he ever managed to communicate it to any of our households we have forgotten it. Oome is Tamil for mute and somehow (without the least intention to diminish, I assure you), that is what he has stayed. Or, if you prefer (as my maid seems to), Umesh - either  Sunita's attempt to civilise a name that appears insensitive to her or she likes to finish the word off properly.

Oome is a character - quirky, whimsical, self-willed... a fakir-like man. Silent for the most part - I don't mean that he can't speak because he's chatty enough when the mood seizes him - but keeps hisself to hisself. He has got the most amazing work ethic. Such a solid worker that his services are in demand across several colonies. He knows precisely what needs to be done, goes about hunting for the tools he needs (and knows which household can be tapped for large shears or that extra large hammer) and so enormously effective at any, but any task you put him to.

Once Oome's on a job, you can retreat to making him tea and snacks, coming back occasionally only for the joy of seeing him work - which he does with intelligence, economy of movement and quality. You know, the feeling that THIS is the best way to do this. He's a great beloved of Shweta's. She had a workshop for a while a few years ago and he helped her set it up with an amazingly intuitive understanding of what she required.

We have been asking for an afternoon of his time for a long time now. But the man has been ducking out of sight, crossing the road when he sees us approach and, when actually pinned down, has made several false promises. We are very sympathetic. He has been this way ever since my mother died. He really liked her, and so, inarticulate as he is, we can see that he can't bear to come to our house. But there is this ominous growth of peepal protruding out of our water tank - and we need it removed quickly. It's also a job requiring intelligence because we don't want to damage the wall or we will have no water tank. Oome's the man to do it.

He came today and it appears that he has decided to allot the day to us. We had four smallish jobs but he looked around and set his own agenda. Our yard and garden tends to be a little unkempt - mostly on purpose, because wild, leaf strewn surfaces have more interest value for the birds and creatures about here. But Oome didn't see it quite like that - he wrinkled his nose and set to work. So we have been engaged in supplying gampas, screw drivers etc and been called forth to decide on a dozen matters. Excuse me, while I deliver him some Roohafza.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Hyderabad is crazy sometimes. It is something like 42 degrees outside and we wondered, a little boldly, if we could catch the 2.45pm show of Vicky Donor. The movie has been on for four weeks now, it is a weekday and plus this heat wave business on... all things considered, we might get four tickets, you know?

What do you think? SOLD OUT. And people still streaming in, haranguing the man at the counter to try a little harder (this is our local stand-alone cinema hall where pressure or blandishments actually stand a chance), and when all their efforts failed, settling for Jannat 2.


I just caught the promos for the second episode of Coke Studio Pakistan. Looks good. Again. The first episode was excellent too - they haven't lost their touch.

Atif Aslam is going to be singing a version of Ghulam Farid's Mera ishq vi tu... and this wonderful troupe called the Chakwal group with Meesha Shafi.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Because I can't hear myself think

The children at the playschool next door are getting an enthusiastic education... a live band is right now playing 'Summer of '69' and other nostalgic numbers that must make a lot of sense. Too bad most of them will be deafened before they pass out into kindergarten.

I wonder at them, the people who're doing the educating, I mean. They ruthlessly cleared every shrub and tree from the place, laid down plastic turf, covered the play area with plastic corrugated sheets and greenhouse nets. Having gotten rid of the teeming birdlife that lived here, they have paper birds hanging all along one wall in the hope that their charges may be charmed and inspired. And to create an illusion of the green outdoors, they now have a large photograph of a rainforest forming a backdrop to their newly renovated swimming pool.

I'm not suggesting the children aren't happy - they are, they are! But I notice they're happiest when they're left alone, not being harangued to come inside and dance to Justin Bieber's Baby every day of the week, or plagued to put up drill displays (it's a pre-school playschool!) or indeed, being subjected to horrendous concerts like today's.

A tangent. About this cartoonist who knows a bit about kids, and dispatches regular reports on her own with warmth, lots of funny and insight.

My neighbours should take this leaf out of Oormila's book, but on second thoughts, it's probably too subtle for them.

Cartoon copyright: Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad.
Her page, Adventures of the Renaissance Mom is on Facebook. Take a look, she's hilarious!

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Youngsters won't remember but a few years ago, when blogging was the thing to do, we played many jolly games, one of which was to tag each other. My cousin Gayathri had a lovely 'master-list of lists' tag for me that I thoroughly enjoyed doing - though I can't remember if I finished it. The first item was "Nine songs I would pick if those were the only pieces I could listen to for the rest of my life".

In my response, at #9, I picked two ghazals: तुम नहीं, ग़म नहीं (Tum nahin, gham nahin), and कौन आएगा यहाँ (Kaun aayega yahaan). This was seven years ago (!) and the list would read differently now but I am intrigued to see that I am still very fond of these songs by Jagjit Singh.

I've always loved his voice - it's gorgeous - but have been less happy with his lack of versatility, even vivacity. Like many singers, Jagjit Singh wasn't a great composer and I thought he'd have better albums if he outsourced that particular skill instead of doing it himself. I don't remember now who set these two songs to music but the arrangements are lovely.

Tum nahin from youtube, where some enthusiastic, kindly soul has strung a series of images to assist the imagination.

वो करम उँगलियों पे गिनते हैं
ज़ुल्म का जिनके कुछ हिसाब नहीं

woh karam ungliyon pe ginte hain
zulm ka jinke kuch hisaab nahin

And Kaun aayega yahaan, from my own repository.

गुल से लिपटी हुई तितली को गिराकर देखो
आँधियों तुमने दरखतों को गिराया होगा

gul se lipti hui titli ko giraakar dekho
aandhiyon tumne darakhton ko giraya hoga

Play the song


Monday, March 12, 2012

Mai zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya

Moving from winter to warmer times, now that the planet positions herself this way. A change of header:

thumbing a coat
      over my shoulder
cloudless sky

This haiku by Christopher Herold draws an evocative picture of the carefree man, unburdened by baggage, stepping out into the world with very little. Even the coat he set out with is not needed any more although he holds onto it; there is a spring in his step, as few pesky thoughts in his head as there are clouds in the sky he looks upon. There is nothing holding him back, the world lies ahead... a faint air of adventure pervades the mood but his joy is not dependent on exciting happenings - this moment is enough.

The mood suits me very well indeed. It is a state that I aspire to but, needless to say, it is nowhere near accomplished. But we try, here and there, now and again, to drop our chains.

Also,  this haiku reminds me so much of our film heroes of the 60s. Graduation complete (first class, Ma!) and voila, there's an appointment letter to hand, giving him a plush sinecure as the manager of a well appointed tea estate. A bag in hand, and brandishing a guitar perhaps, our hero would set off, striding up the hill roads with pleasant dreams of a world waiting to be conquered. Love will come his way, he hopes, a love with red lips, thick black tresses that will shade and shield him from the harshness that life will bring.

There are many examples but at this time it would have to be Joy Mukherjee from Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hun. Not the tea estates but the gardens of Srinagar. RIP, Joy.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Back! and minutiae

This last month has been hectic. Shweta and I were away at Isha Yoga Center to attend a series of events - the opulent Mahabharat, the magnificent all-night Mahashivaratri party (which is attended by lakhs of people) and another rather austere program to round it off. An eventful, whirlwind of a month.

Now we are back with several bags of unwashed clothes, a rather daunting water shortage situation and the summer stretched out in front of us. And once more, the familiar problem of bursting cupboards and not having a thing to wear. As the washed clothes come off the clothesline and are folded, I am having to thrust them into the shelves and bang the door shut... and put off the problem of tumbling clothes till the next time I open it. It is quite dreadful. I need to cull and I don't know where to start.

Hyderabad is nice and hot. And dry, thank heavens. It still feels a bit odd because it was cool, even cold, when I left here and now that I return to distinct summerness, my sweatshirts are still handily located, whereas the shorts and singlets are still packed away. Tomorrow, it will ALL be done. ALL of it.
Today, we blog.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Tech niggles

Blogging is, for me, mostly an impulse. I remember that I own a blog, visit it with distant but burgeoning affection, and then, if I have something to say, I click on the button for a new post. At least,  I used to, but now even that is denied me because I have an ad blocker that puts these blogger buttons under that category and leaves my page bare of such easy conveniences. I must now take the trouble to go to the dashboard and formally apply to make a post which is akin to touching my nose like so:

As I tried to upload this doodle, I discovered yet another problem - my Ad Blocker blocked the upload window and, like a overzealous terrier, wouldn't let go till I disabled it.

But an ad blocker I must, must have. Because I'm being haunted by a particular website that I happened to spend substantial periods of time on when I was required to review it. And I committed what the site owners no doubt consider a heinous sin - I lingered at the 'sign up' page and eventually didn't. Now I am being bombarded, harassed by advertisements of this site every direction I turn. The Ad Blocker recognises this site most thoroughly and I am most pleased with it. But in the meantime, what am I to do with its inimical attitude to blogger?