Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Madras Musings

A terribly cliched, title, I realise! Over the years, visiting Chennai, time to time, I have grown used to the oscillating emotional scales; The roads, smells and the sound of Tamizh being spoken - Once all these used to evoke a sense of deep melancholy within me but I now seem to have made peace with them. I now no longer gush at the flyovers and the electric trains which were strong reminders of the yellow past. I have not completely lost the sense of nostalgia as I step down from Indigo into the bustling city. I still allow myself to be moved, turn misty-minded (not eye, mind you) and gasp at how different Meenambakkam used to be and smell. Today, I was a tad apprehensive when a good friend asked me to board the Metro and meet him. I have never boarded ANY metro in my life, I quipped. "It's nothing," replied he. How would he know the trepidation. I, of course have moved past the initial moments of apprehension and have decided to be brave enough to get into the metro and experience the joy that I have often seen on Facebook posts of people who have put up pictures of their 'First Metro-ride.' As I get older, experiencing something for the first time does create a small flutter in the pit of the stomach. I try to remember when I first took the electric train - I honestly don't remember that - It was after all a long time ago, say somewhere in 1990 or was it 1992. Let that be!



I think after a point, years blur, memories fade, though not entirely gone. I guess that I have been out of Chennai for a long time now that old memories are being replaced by new ones. It is not a conscious process but something that happens but not without leaving tiny remnants in the back of the mind. On a normal (read relatively younger) day, the sight of jasmine flowers would send me into a dizzy ride which begins with, "Malli poo reminds me of . . ." but now, I just stare at the flowers - blank in the mind devoid of stars in the eyes. I still love their fragrance and texture but don't have the urge to grab them and store their presence in my hand for eternity.

I still think whether I should return and search for a job in Chennai. And then, I think of the traffic, the hard water, the irritation of the heat and stop my thoughts. I know that I cannot return. Returning seems like a sweet respite that is tinged with nostalgia, only beautiful in the crevices of the mind. I am content with dwelling in the tiny state of Goa with all its warts and minus the malli poo and khusboo idlis. Whenever in Chennai, the affection wanes after three days when I begin to get restless with insipid days. The intoxication remains only for a time after which the land of Feni beckons.

Sometimes, I wonder which is the home - where is my heart and what does it mean to be traversing to places which are considered  homes. I guess I should thankful that I have not relocated out of the country, otherwise I would constantly be in a restive state of doubt about home(s).

Image: Internet

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


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