Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Kashmir Diaries - II

Bonding over Kahwah and Wazwan

There is no greater equalizer than food, I believe and in Kashmir, the word kahwah is a passport to warmth and unlimited joy. Having read about the magical concoction called 'kahwah,' we were eager to experience the taste of the liquid heaven, after landing into Kashmir. For the first two days, we were unaware of what it would taste like and how the tea would feel in our mouths. The wait proved worth the time when we finally got to taste kahwah! It is not an exaggeration when I say that every cup of kahwah has a story - of how it is brewed what ingredients go into into it and how it is served after meals. I could narrate at least a dozen or more 'kahwah' stories and yes, this is what life is all about - Sipping on a cup of hot kahwah and discussing vital facts such as the brewing of the concoction! And wherever we were served kahwah, we were asked, "Do you like it?," "Has it been made in the proper manner?" "Did you enjoy the drink?" and so on. So much so, even while we were in Gulmarg, there were dozens of men selling kahwah out of a flask to the sing-song tunes of "Hot Kashmiri kahwah." 

Hilal, our lovely taxi-driver and guide

One specific incident which comes to my mind is that of Hilal, our taxi driver quipping, "Kahwah?! Who wastes time and gas preparing the drink? We don't. It's better to drink normal tea than brew kahwah which consumes a lot of time." If you read on the laborious preparation of kahwah, then you will have to agree with Hilal, the taxi-driver. But no worries, you could always buy kahwah powder which is readily available in many of the shops and a penny for your thoughts - We also bought one of those bottles and religiously drink kahwah everyday musing of the lovely Srinagar and the life there.

Now, sipping kahwah after a heavy meal is just the right thing to do and especially after a meal of wazwan. How could we leave Kashmir without letting wazwan attack our taste-buds! Wazwan is an assortment of meats over rice and served in a big thali. The thali (plate) could be shared by three to four people. The place where we were treated to wazwan was recommended by Hilal, our taxi-driver. The waiters who were serving us were quite happy to see us and repeatedly asked us about the food and its taste and of course, they smiled a lot. Smiles and hospitality is something we witnessed in every place that we visited and one frequent question was, "Do you feel safe?" "Were we rude with you?" "How do you feel visiting our state and talking to us?" - These questions and more were a constant reminder of the state of Kashmir and the undercurrents of fear that is always associated with the place. One has to visit the place to understand the ethos of the place and not go by what we see and read in the media.

One of the items of wazwan

Food was always a point of connect for us while we were in Kashmir as everyone's face lit up when they saw us eating their food and talking to them about their food. Next time, you go to any new place, bid goodbye to your staple food and venture out to try the local cuisine - and then come back and tell me the story of your experience.

A boy grating radish for the chutney/raita served with the kebabs

Images: Blogger's own

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Kashmir Diaries - I

First impressions

Kashmir is something like a sweet dream - One always thinks of visiting but never really proceeds with the idea for it seems like something forbidden. I was quite happy and honoured to be invited to go to a conference in Kashmir; I was going to finally taste the forbidden fruit. I had never ever imagined that I would visit Kashmir but yes, life takes you to places that might never be on your itinerary.

My first glimpse of Kashmir was from the skies - the snow clad mountains of the Pir Panjal range in the inner Himalayan region. Snow-clad mountains for somebody from the plains is just out of a dream! As we were gasping at the beauty of the sight, the plane lands and reality sets in. It was indeed living a dream as we we disembarked from the plane. The captain announced that the temperature outside was 9 degrees. Woah!

Our phones with pre-paid connections stopped working. We had no way to communicate to the organisers of the conference. We did not mind the lack of connectivity, after all we were in a new place and we had to take in the first impressions of the place. After about 45 minutes or so, our taxi arrived. We were glad. The onward journey was filled with something of a visual attack - we were hungry for the sights and sounds of the place that we often read about in the news every other day.

We attempted to strike a conversation with the taxi-driver and he was reciprocating quite well. We saw the Dal and the 'Save Dal' campaigns; we saw kebab shops on the streets and of course, the traffic. The drivers in Srinagar honk like no one's business - so much so, sometimes they do not take their hand off the honk. A nightmare for us!

Nothing can prepare you for Kashmir - I guess it is the same with every place! You think you understand what is Kashmir but what you see is not what you have known from websites, newspapers and television. You look for signs of what you know but you will be relaxed not having seen anything. Whatever is your impression of the place, you will definitely not disagree with me when I talk about the people, their hospitality and warmth.

I will see you next when I continue this series of posts on my visit to Kashmir.

Images: Blogger's own

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Strange weather

Have you experienced strange weather? No, this is not a metaphor for emotional lows - it is really strange weather! Like rain in the midst of scorching summer or a sudden chill when it is not winter. Get the drift?

Yesterday was so - Strange strange weather. We are well into a time with sunny skies and light sweat but yesterday was different. The day mimicked a monsoon day with the sky grey and the mood gloomy; I had imagined that I woke up in the monsoon - only to realise that we were still in February - a  month that has all my students in a strange mood (call it Valentines' mood). And yesterday was 'Rose day.' Do you know dear reader about the 'Rose Day?' It is like a curtain-raiser to Valentine's Day which is still thankfully a week later. The students wish me - "Happy Rose Day ma'am." And I who belongs to another century asks naively, "What is Rose Day?" Giggles. Smiles. Oh! she does not know Rose Day looks and I am told what the day stands for. and I, belonging to another century starts prattling  about how in my day, there was no Rose Day and all, but roses, chocolates, cards, teddies, kisses were all wrapped up in one day i. e. Valentine's Day. I hear them sigh - I guess they were reminiscing how those days there was no expenditure by the day unlike these days when marketing companies came up with newer strategies by the minute to create effective and expensive ways of expressing love. Yesterday, I learnt something new about the Rose Day.

Yesterday was a strange day - I see myself nodding and spouting, "Global warming" to which the EVS teacher quips, "But today is cool, so it's not global warming but global cooling!" I smiled and walked away. I thought of the tsunamis, the cyclone in Chennai in 2015, and the floods of 2016 - perhaps a storm was brewing and cast its spell in Goa.

It then drizzled. Light showers. Didn't I tell you that the weather was strange? No, it wasn't the mango showers. Everyone was thinking and exclaiming about the strangeness of yesterday's weather.

Today it was a bright an sunny day - as perfect as it should be but the weather has cast its mark in me - My throat is sore and my voice is husky. Yesterday remains in me, today!

Monday, 15 January 2018

Rathabole's dog

There was a time when I enjoyed these walks; I still do! I used to await the time when Rathabole got ready, put the leash around my neck (I would've liked to go without one, but still) and lead me down the stairs. Ah! The fresh air, the butterflies to chase, the lamp posts which gives me ample opportunities to raise my hind leg and the lazy waddle with Rathabole at the helm. It was heaven!

Until the smart phone became an integral part of our walks!

It was not that Rathabole spoke to me or we had deep conversations but I liked the fact that we both walked watching whatever we fancied and caught out attention. I agree that he is not an amiable man; Many times I have overheard people saying that his smile is a rarity. I think he does not smile much and even if he does, it is but a slight curve of the lips. Oh yes, let me come back to the topic at hand, uff paws! Now-a-days, he is always fiddling with the mobile - perhaps he's an important man and has a lot of things to attend to but why does he do it during the time with me. The leash and I become secondary when the phone is in his hand. The walk turns into an obligation that has to be carried out for my sake - I hate being a liability, you know. I crave for the moments of pauses when both he and I, stop by to watch an aeroplane flying above us, or stopping to say hello with a nod, or just walk lazily without a sense of time. But now, it's not he and I on our walks - it's the triune of Rathabole, I and the inanimate smart phone!

 I think the days of our free walks are numbered. I no longer look forward to the walks - but I need them, after all, otherwise I cannot raise my hind legs on the couches and dining tables!

Disclaimer: This is not entirely fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead is not perhaps, entirely coincidental. Remember to think of that person and chuckle, if you know who it is!

Image courtesy: Internet

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Urban vignettes


She waits in the car
while he has gone to pick up some kebabs
The glass is half-down,
She looks out while he places the order and glances around.
Windows up
The smell of spice and coriander fill the car
Another day of no cooking dinner!


She walks the aisles of the mega-store
She remembers foreign herbs
And fills her shopping cart.
The bottles neatly stacked on the racks
Lie forgotten.


She promises herself
"No more online shopping."
She clicks JAYPORE
Just once, let me glance.
With horror and pleasure, she reads:
Your order has been successfully placed.


She yearns for her days of childhood
She arrives at her hometown.
After half-a-day,
She yearns for the place she lives in!


She thinks in English
worries in English
swears in English
yet teaches,
"English is after all our second language!"

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Memories of a short-lived conversation

When does something become yours?
When you talk to her?
When you hold imaginary conversations with her when she is within?
When you weave future memories in absentia?
When you internalise your motherhood even before you deliver?
When you dream of holding tiny hands and walking around the block?
When you await the smell and smile and imagine them?
When you talk of grandparents and books and music ---

Alas! The memories of a short-lived conversation cuts through my being
Someone who should have been born is gone
~ Anne Sexton

P. S.:- Written for a dear friend S. 


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