Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” 

Charles DickensA Christmas Carol

Here's wishing you
joy and laughter, 
sweet and spice, sun and ice.
A mixed bag of all things nice.

Merry Christmas, dear friends.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Place of my heart

 "There is nothing like returning to a place that has remained unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."

~ Nelson Mandela

December. That same streaming of winter sunshine through marigolds and their fragrant, dark-green leaves. The view from the portico, a blurry tracery of gold and green. The tea that hasn't changed in flavor or the doting love with which it is made and served. Aai, my ever-smiling grandmother, pairing a ceremonial saucer with the teacup despite my repeated refusals. My favourite red-and-orange marigold that is planted every winter. The constant gardener, my grandfather, fretting over the indiscipline of the dried leaves in the yard lawn. And then, there's the sea. The never-changing, ever-same sea. The grey-green waves, folding and unfolding in similar crests, humming the same restless tune for years. Their self-destructive love of coming back to the same heartless shore regardless of the continuous battering.
The place of one's heart truly remains unchanged and so does that tiny corner of the heart that houses it. It will always stay the way it once was.

PS. Also, I did not know how else to pay my tribute to a great, wise man.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


"Dance, when you're broken open.
Dance, if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you're perfectly free. "

~ Rumi

And as usual, someone great had to come and rescue my mind from the frosty grip of an increasingly grey winter. This time it was Rumi. And the remaining fire of autumn from an old, old photograph.

Monday, November 4, 2013

November light

Diwali. The festival of lights, the time I wait for, for most part of the year. A golden warmth spreads to the root of every heart. The earthy scent of the oil-drunk clay diyas. Orange-yellow marigold patterns adorning doorsteps. The crisp November air thick with an amalgamation of smells, mostly that of fried sweets and noisy firecrackers. Happy people, reunited in a bubble of joy, tucking away their differences for a day or two. A perfect world.

Happy Diwali dear friends.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Farewell October

It is winter suddenly. The indifferent autumn air has given way to colder nights and desiccated days. Roadsides are dotted with carts of bhutta (roasted corn) sellers. The thin wisps of sooty smoke rising from a makeshift fire-pit clouding the vibrant yellow and green of the corn cobs. The domestic scenery includes bottles of thick shea-butter lotion, pairs of socks, and curls of steam rising from teacups. A sudden lull drapes the evenings, which come quite early now, and time appears to freeze after a point. It is that time of the year again when food and festivals surround you for a good three months, out of which a month ends today.  

It is also the time when I enjoy my reading hours the most. Perhaps it's the quietude, perhaps it's the enveloping bubble of coziness. Once again I ended up being moved, almost driven to a state of emotional numbness by one of my most favourite authors, Jhumpa Lahiri. That there's no end to her brilliance, we all know, but her latest release, The Lowland is much more than just a novel. Interlacing history, both personal and political, and the much-explored themes of marriage and the parent-child relationship of her narratives, she builds the plot with a deftness that could only be hers. At once engaging and disturbing, it has moments that make you put down the book, sit back for a while and sometimes, suddenly burst into tears of surprise. There are lines in it which command that kind of an emotional commitment from the reader, that carve out a certain you. There are people in it who might be you or me, their defeat ours. There's a remarkable shift in Lahiri's prose - no more the lyrical, graceful style; this time she keeps it crisp and very much to-the-point, and perhaps that is why it hits you harder. 
Writing this post immediately after an hour of having finished reading the book, leaves me somewhat rattled. May be I'll attempt a coherent evaluation sometime else. Today I just want to remain lost in those windy, deserted beaches of Rhode Island and dwell upon the unintrusive, lifelong love that a father nurtures for his daughter. That and the newness that the change of season has ushered in.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Let everything happen to you

"Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final"

~ Rilke

There couldn't be a truth truer than this. How many times I've checked upon a certain feeling, rehearsing its details like school lessons, only to later realize the sheer flimsiness of it all. To have nursed its sapling only to witness its green wither away gradually. To have wasted moments, sometimes days, holding on to it. Moments of epiphany crumbling into morsels of dust and nothingness.

No feeling is final
. Rilke knows. He always did.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Phailin's Durga Puja

I was home last week. But so was Cyclone Phailin, and there started the drama of it all. What had been dreamed, hoped, and rejoiced about since the last one month, all started to fall apart like the places and people that were exposed to the wrath of the brutal storm. As if being stranded in a place without electricity for three days and not being able to make that journey for which you had planned days ahead wasn't enough, I also had to fall sick. After somehow managing to waddle through the waves and howling winds, we finally reached home only to be in the throws of a bad bacterial stomach infection. The festive season which starts with the Durga Puja had anyway become dim due to Phailin's threat, and there wasn't much that I could have missed celebrations-wise.

Still, for someone who was visiting home after more than a year, it didn't feel right. My days were robbed and the stay at home was cut short by forces beyond my control. Amid candle-lit nights and overcast days, streets strewn with uprooted trees and disheveled decorations from Durga's pandals, I felt cheated. I know, my litany of woes are mercilessly self-centred and indecorous when compared to the immeasurable grief of the cyclone-ravaged people, but that's what I feel. Other than a handful glimpses of the puja on the tenth and the final day, I have got nothing this year. And that's what I shall give to you.

Durga in all her golden glory, punishing the sinners and yet smiling through that veil of radiant calm. The idol of Ardhanarishwar, literally meaning 'the Lord who is half woman'. Shiva and his consort Parvati, another avatar of Durga, come together symbolizing the inherent androgynous nature in a human being. Having never witnessed its presence in the pandals before, it came as a pleasant surprise. Childhood revisited it was, for every corner and every turn of the town reminded me of the joys of many a Durga Puja holiday. And it was almost a decade since I had been home during the pujas. So homecoming it was, in some way at least.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Of palaces and lost times

September rushed past me like those blurry landmarks of memory, where one lives but often forgets the experience. As if someone tore off the ninth page from the calendar; as if it is still waiting, breathing quietly, like an actor in the wings to make a grand entry. So much happened and yet it feels as if this month never happened. Our families were here, I celebrated another birthday, we bought a little apartment facing nothing but open fields and straggly greens. And yes, it has balconies that can be turned into decent-sized greenhouses!
Somewhere in between all this, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, a few weeks back, we found ourselves in front of the gigantic gates of the Chowmahallah Palace. A rushed visit it was, for it had started pouring with a vengeance and someone had decided it'd be wise not to lug around the big camera. Smartphones then, had to save the day.
The silhouettes and curves of the ever-fascinating Persian architecture rising against a belligerent, overcast sky. Corridor after corridor of what seemed like eternity. The walls cracked and the yellow on them peeled to a heartbreaking perfection. Through a series of open doors emerges the heart of the palace. The sudden, on-your-face opulence of the Durbar Hall. Rows of dazzling Belgian-crystal chandeliers. Silent, glittering testimonials to the grandeur of the Hyderabad Nizams. Of times lost and days blotted out in yellowed pages of history. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I wonder...

"I always wonder why
birds stay
in the same place
when they can fly
anywhere on the earth.
Then I ask myself
The same question."

~ Harun Yahya

I wonder a lot these days. Of open skies and floating marshmallow clouds. Of a free mind and untroubled waters. Of people who are true and their hearts green. Of rippling meadows and yellow-white chamomiles. Of birds and their unhinged freedom. Of humans and how limited our horizons are. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Orange joys

With nothing much to tell and hardly any time for leisurely weekend jaunts, I have taken to capturing roadside colours and flavours. Being a lover of local sights always, and more so when one lives in a colour-chocked, prismatic country such as ours, it's hard to overlook the vibrant joys that are here, there, and everywhere. And quite interestingly, when I was trying to gather a coherent mood for this little post, these different shades of orange came together. Just like that! Like a jumbled picture gradually falling into place, it meant a lot, this little coincidence. Enough to tickle the Monday blues away, enough to remind me how fortunate I am to be surrounded by such an unassuming, permeating colour palette, and enough to bask in the joy of one of my favourite colours.

Brave gulmohars rising up against a belligerent monsoon sky. Baskets of feisty marigolds, those fluffy balls of orange wonders, thronging the weekend bazaar. Mouthwatering rows of roadside chicken tikka being grilled inside a rotisserie as we wait for our to-go, Saturday-night parcel. Two halves of an orange stare at me, trying hard to perk up my Monday-morning mood. And life, suddenly, appears to be not so bad. A little less dull. A little more orangish.   

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Monsoon, interrupted

Of late, I've been robbed of many of my favorite things - reading, blogging, watching the rain, to name a few. Thanks to work piling on heap upon heap, I've been away from my world for what seems like an eternity now. I tried, and not once, to come here and drop in a few lines, but every time the words would evade me. True, it's no fun editing academic stuff, because then all you are left with is finding flaws and correcting them. And it's supposed to stay so for a month more.
The only hints of newness that have stumbled across my way, other than one full day of sale-shopping madness, are these hues of green - the ubiquitous Hyderabadi haleem lacing the city roadsides in colourful, illuminated kiosks, and my potted palm that seems to be making most of the monsoons. At least someone's getting to enjoy the rains!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ladakh, aka 'Little Tibet'

"The land is so barren and the passes so high that only the best of friends or the fiercest of enemies would want to visit us."
~ An old Ladakhi saying

This beautiful saying, framed on our hotel-room door, got glued to my heart for a very long time. True, only a very good friend would dare to traverse through this expanse of tall mountains, high passes, and cold deserts. And, only a fierce enemy like our neighbouring country would intrude with their troops now and then, every couple of months because our borders are iffy. Then there are some who would call Ladakh a No Man's land, and to some it is a land too foreign in its culture that might tickle their touristy apprehensions. To us, it was just perfect. A sanctuary full of natural wonders and kind, ever-smiling faces that make you forget the dust and drudgery of a mad, mad city. A place that heals, listens to your worries, and sometimes even talks back to you in soothing whispers. A place where one can just be.

Bald mountains and feathery poplars, the towering guardians of the place. Leh Palace, the stoic reminder of Ladakh's royal past. Prayer flags lending a hint of colour to rusty doors. The shambled past giving way to a green present. Bleached stupas, the ruins of Shey - the erstwhile summer capital of Ladakh royalty. Sindhu Ghat or the banks of the Indus River, a culturally significant place for the locals. A bactrian camel couple relaxing on the parched sands of the Hunder desert. Sweet-smelling wild roses, one of the scant blooms found in the region. Leh market, where a myriad colours and faces come together. Tibetan refugee shops, chockablock with many a treasure. The market walls adorned with inviting handicrafts. A journey to the culinary heaven via Tibetan momos. Beautiful Ladakhi buildings thronged by poplars and stumpy hills. The Royal Enfield, aka the 'Bullet', the wheels that take you through the ups and downs of the intriguing, never-ceasing-to-fascinate terrain. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Of monks and monasteries

"Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart and out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thought towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can."

~ Dalai Lama XIV

I found these wonderful words framed on the walls of a monastery in the outskirts of  Leh. Climbing the what always seemed an unattainable height from the entrance, gasping for breath after every ten steps at a good 13,000 ft, the rewards on having finally made it to the top of the monasteries never went amiss. So etched with beauty was every nook and corner, and such awed were we by the gamut of hidden treasures that the daunting perch ceased to matter within moments. If it wasn't for the echoing serenity and the balmy silence of the monasteries alone, the dramatic panorama of the sandy mountains that one got from their top added layers to the unforgettable experience.

Fixed to the mountains like a crusty lump of gem on the rocks, the Diskit monastery stands at a formidable distance from the main road. And when you have made it to the top, a 106 ft towering statue of Maitreya Buddha awaits to wash away your breathlessness. Watchful stupas stand out from the frame of the Shyok river valley, facing the mighty Himalayas of Pakistan. Huge, colourful prayer wheels dotting the neighbourhoods. The Shanti Stupa, in its pristine glory, rising from the earth like a giant white bird fanning out its wings across the azure sky. Its circuitous walls chockablock with myriad Buddhas and the important phases of his life. Its turns giving way to breathtaking glimpses of the jagged mountains. Another round of panting through the stone stairs of the Thikse monastery, on our way to meet another Buddha. The ever-radiant face calming one's frayed nerves. The courtyard walls adorned with kaleidoscopic murals from many a Buddhist lore. Monks on their way back to their quarters. The eternal words of Dalai Lama XIV.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The bald Himalayas

"... the true smell of the Himalayas, ... if once it creeps into the blood of a man, that man will at the last, forgetting all else, return to the hills to die."

~ Rudyard Kipling

These lines couldn't have reverberated more truly in my heart, not after the last month's vacation to Ladakh. My love affair with the ever-bewitching pull of mountains was reaffirmed and how! I'm still feeding on bits and morsels of their surreal charm, those silent, ungrudging guardians of time. But the mountains of Ladakh that span the Himalayan and the Karakoram ranges have a different story to tell. Sitting at a dizzying altitude with much of it being over a good 10,000 feet at least, and robbed of even a speck of green, they guard this land of high passes with a zealous loyalty. Unlike the pine-choked, verdant peaks that one comes across in the valley of Kashmir, the mountains here are what they are in their just-born, nascent form - bald, brown, and unpretentious.

Framing the face of the region with their jagged fringes, one simply needs to turn, in order to view the innumerable breathtaking panoramas the intriguing landscape offers. To tag the mountains as 'omnipresent' would be a poor understatement indeed, for I cannot recall a single place or a scene that did not face the high mountains. And I realized, surrounded by all that raw beauty, that no other kind of nature-roving could be more humbling than to be amid these naked mountains, feeling intimidated and protected by their outright barrenness at once.

From the square of the hotel windows. Arms laced together, hugging the azure skies. Serene monasteries perched safely in their sandy cradle. Prayer flags everywhere, lending a dreamy color palette to their tanned monotony. Watching over the army settlements, who, in turn, watch over them, their green tents dotting the barren expanse of the landscape. Basking in its rusty glory by the banks of the turquoise dream, the Pangong Tso lake. A mute witness to the coming together of the Indus and the Zanskar rivers. In the backdrop of the fragrant, wild-rose blooms. Flanking roads and highways, lending some expressiveness to their otherwise tiresome meandering. Sculpting cold deserts with silver sands, the home of the peculiar two-humped, Bactrian camel. Playing hide-and-seek with the big, cottony fluffs of cloud. Beholding the only other constant of the place - the red and maroon robbed monks - descending the rocky staircase of a monastery. 

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