Monday, 31 March 2014

Lessons I had forgotten

Once upon a time when we were all children and we used to read children’s books, we used to always look for the morals at the end of the story –morals that crystallized the learnings for us, that taught us right from wrong, good from evil.

Today, far removed from the black and white angelic world of childhood, as we sit surrounded by the quagmire of grey and the wall of cynicism that surrounds us, children’s stories might seem to be an alien concept to us-only fit for reading at bedtime to our children, at best.

But reading them again today, with my daughter, I find new meaning in the old tales, new power in the words that the much-loved characters used to say, new lessons for life today.

We may not want to read the morals again, but some of the simplest dialogues in our best-loved childhood books hold some powerful lessons for the struggles we go through in life. A few are mentioned below:

From Alice in Wonderland

A wonderfully clear message when we are fighting confusion in life and looking for the right road to turn to
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.

On change and what that means
“I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

From Winnie the Pooh

When you lose faith and need to believe in yourself all over again
“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you believe and smarter than you think”

On friendship, in a cynical adult world when we start believing more in Facebook likes than real friendships
 “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”

From the Little Prince
On the power of the heart when the mind is all you can hear
“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.” 

On loneliness and being alone
“Where are the people?” resumed the little prince at last. “It’s a little lonely in the desert…” “It is lonely when you’re among people, too,” said the snake.”

From Matilda

A quote for the dark times when we are tempted to take short-cuts in life
“If you are good life is good.” 

On the power of dreams, when all we can worry about is survival
“Matilda said, "Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable...

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Summertime dreams

“It’s summertime, Mummy”,
She strums the guitar.
Strikes a pose, and declares herself,
The latest rocking Rockstar.
Next day, she ponders thoughtfully 
In the kitchen; oblivious of the mess,
Chocolate chicken in the making,
"Papa, can’t you guess?"
The remote is no longer under any control,
Sounds of Chotta Bheem blare.
"I am just planning a new TV invention,
Science research you see, shh..secret, can’t share".
Then again in her shiny, new, roller skates,
She balances delicately; you run to break her fall.
"Watch me fly" she laughs; you cry -
“Baby, be careful, keep your eye on the ball”.

But when the ball drops,
When the guitar string breaks,
When we forget the lyrics of the song,
That once lulled us to blissful sleep,
When each new recipe tastes of
Broken dreams and lost hopes,
Aren’t we still entitled
To that one crazy, forgotten, dream?
Can't summertime dreams last
an entire lifetime? Don't we all remember
that summer, when the world was our dream?

Monday, 17 March 2014

You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles

You see the same streets again through the eyes of your child. You lug your suitcases and your child, step down from the creaking black and yellow taxi and enter the lane where you spent hours chasing cricket balls and years chasing dreams - that same corner tea stall brewing milky hot tea in the small earthen cups, the same guy balancing the water cans on his frail shoulders, the cycle rickshaw driver ferrying the school children home, the sweet shop packing sweets for a child that couldn’t wait till he reached home for his snack, the road-side stall evoking unforgettable memories of rain-soaked phuckas and oil-drenched chicken rolls. You see them all. All that has not changed.

You scarcely notice the new houses that now dot or is blot the landscape - the dust from the construction sites barely hiding the faded walls that need another coat of paint.

And then the gates open. You enter your old home. And you rush up the old stairs to your old room.

You dust the forgotten moments from the covers of your old books; a picture falls out - you and your school best friend, arms linked, identical grins on your faces. “Best friends forever.” You blink.

You stand still even as loud voices and familiar smells announce that the welcome meal is ready. A meal that would have been discussed for hours, planned for days. The old, lace curtains would have fluttered in the evening breeze even as they sat on the old cane sofa with its faded cushions, gazed fondly at the ever-increasing photo frames on the mantelpiece and planned the menu.

You step out of your room, you run your hands over the faded cushions you had bought at a furniture fair and then, only then, you finally you notice – notice all that has changed, all that you had not noticed.

Their hands, a little bit more wrinkled; their gait, a little bit more uncertain; their eyes, a little bit more weak; their smiles, a little bit more sad. Two souls in a large house of memories - changing nothing in the house yet changing everyday themselves; changing in small, imperceptible, unspoken ways that had escaped notice, which needed care.

The old fan moves at the same slow pace and you sweat; the rancid odor of pain and old-age sticks to your shirt. When was the last time you told them that you cared? Sat and just listened?

Your mind blanks out. Everything seems dark; yet is it the same darkness from your childhood evenings - when power cuts were as predictable as the weekly Chitrahaar, when you used to sit around in the balcony, all of you, and sing songs and share stories?

The strains of the piano and the smell of the hot luchi bring the light back in your eyes.

She has discovered it. Sitting on the bench, flanked on both sides by her grandparents, your child is squealing in delight and hitting all the wrong notes on your old piano. She sings the very song that was on your mind “If you miss the train I am on, you will know that I am gone. You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.”

The silence is over. Steaming hot cups of tea merge the present and the past.

You are home. She is home.

Monday, 3 March 2014

On the music trail in Jodhpur

Why would you go to Jodhpur? Options could vary:
  • You are enroute to Jaisalmer to visit the Sonar Kella (immortalized  by Satyajit Ray in the movie by the same name) and are stopping by in Jodhpur on the way
  • You love history and want to spend hours at the historic and majestic Mehranghgar Fort
  • You want to have dinner at the Umaid Bhavan Palace, never mind the exorbitant cover charges
  • You are out of "jutis" (leather shoes) and Jodhpur stocks them in all shapes and colors in affordable prices
  • Music..and this is a new reason. Music tourism is still quite new in India and not as widespread as some countries in Europe.But with current Maharaja’s patronage, Jodhpur has transformed itself into a city that lives and breathes music and welcomes people who do the same.
I was lucky enough the attend the World Sufi Spirit Festival hosted at the Fort in February 2014.
Sufi music, at its best, has the power to transport one to a world of oneness with the Almighty where earthly cares cease to exit. Sufi music against the backdrop of the majestically lit Mehrangarh Fort, promised to be just that. Of course, Sufi music of late has been much used and abused in Bollywood with many a movie cashing in on its recent popularity and belting out songs that range from a few divine ones to some plain bizzare ones.And though the organizers did get the usual Bollywood quotient by inviting Kavitha Seth and lesser known, Chintu Singh, they did manage to go much further than that.

The beauty of the festival lay in the other voices it managed to attract - Voices from the Pamir Highlands, voices from Morocco, classical Sufi strains, Sufi music and dance from the Middle Eastern countries.

Music that broke the barriers of language, music accompanied by unknown instruments and powerful voices that reached across the sturdy walls of the ancient fort to reach the hearts of all the listeners.
The listeners too represented a wide spectrum of people – travellers across ages and cultural boundaries from different parts of India, foreign tourists who have seen Sufi music in other parts of the world and came to experience it in India, even some celebrities and some wannabe celebrities. They were all there, united by a common bond of music, the strains of the soulful notes stretching into the starlit night; the shadows of the past merging into a musical journey across the corridors of time.

And when the three official festival days were over, the music still continued. Folk musicians from Rajasthan sat at the corners of the forts, playing the ravanhatta (folk instrument) and singing old folk songs in their raw, powerful voices. The crowds had thinned by then, but the folk singers were oblivious, their voices blending perfectly with the stone walls of the fort, keeping tune with the secrets that the fort would not share with the casual visitors who came to visit just for a few days. The festival was over, the music will continue, forever.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Christmas in Munnar

What's so different about Munnar, you might ask. It is just another hill-station, just another group of tea gardens, just another set of winding roads that lead up to overflowing hotels, just another place to buy a few more spices and tea packets and eucalyptus oil, just a  few more viewpoints where busy travellers click pictures and spend their money and time recovering from the madness of their daily lives.

This Christmas in Munnar, even as travellers did all the above, I walked, oblivious of the crowd, in the search for something new.

The lilting strains of the carols beckoned me towards the tall and imposing structure that sat proudly above high, winding, steps. As I climbed up the steps and reached the church gate, the crowd mingled with me - tourists along with the local people, impossible to distinguish one group from the other, all united in the search for peace and silence.

The Church, which dates back to 1898, was the first Roman Catholic Church in the high-ranges and its gates are wide-open even today as people filter in for a moment of quiet worship.

The high ceiling of the Church echoed the beautiful strains of the oft-repeated carols, some unknown tunes in Malayalam adding to the magic of the moment.

The Christmas service over, the crowd started walking back, the tourists looking for the next attraction, the local people back to their own lives.

I sat on the wooden bench, alone, the carols still ringing in my ears-the child that had learnt to sing the carols in the chapels of childhood now teaching the true meaning of the blessings amidst the calm they showered on the restless mind.

Picturesque Poovar

Legend has it that many years ago King Raja Marthanda Varma was ousted from his throne and sought refuge in a tiny island called Poovar. He was so captivated by its beauty that he named it Poovar - the river of the flowers.

Today, as our boat navigates the silence of the backwaters and takes us deeper and deeper into the forest of ripples and shimmers, we are greeted by tall coconut trees bending over the shore as if protecting its secret from indifferent travellers, a lone crane that nods a gentle hello and glides gracefully forward, the orange Sun that takes a quiet dip in the pristine sea beyond the golden sand beach, the black lines of the fishing boats where the fishermen measure their catch of the day, the floating cottages that jut out on the green waters and rock gently in rythm.

Poovar still offers a refuge for those seeking silence and beauty, away from the bustling madness of the city and the hustling tourist traps. Poovar offers nothing else but a hint of mysteries untold, stories unheard, ripples unseen and beauty untouched.

The pictures can say it better. An hour away from Trivandrum, accessible only by boat, Poovar offers a rare combination of land locked by sea and the backwaters and silence broken only by the sound of the waves and the flight of the birds.

The orange glow spreading its warmth
The golden sand separating the quiet backwaters on one side and the restless sea on the other
Footprints that will get washed away in the ocean's fury

The boat inches closer, the silence grows

The trees bend over, hugging the water
The cottages that float on the bed of the water
The Sun peeks through the wall of trees

Friday, 29 November 2013

How green was my tea?

A few years back, when I used to be slightly heavier than I am now, (read 20 kgs heavier, give or take a few kgs), I used to go green with envy on seeing the elegant and slim ladies in their designer sheaths tastefully sipping tea from their cups and holding forth on weighty topics such as global warming and India's emerging future.

What's the secret of your glorious fitness? I wanted to ask them.

As if divining my unspoken question, they all declared, in various poses and gestures, all the while daintily holding on to their cups, "Green Tea, the panacea for all woes." If that sounds quite like a bad weight loss advertisement, well it wasn't, except in my mind, maybe.

Now, I have to confess I am quite the tea person. Since tasting the first sip at a young and impressionable age of perhaps 5, I was hooked for life and had no option but to become quite the incorrigible tea addict.

Tea before breakfast to summon up courage to speak to the tomato-hearted, stone-faced cook who is sure to ask, "Where is the tomato, madam, I cannot cook without tomato."
Tea for dipping Marie biscuits and betting on when they would melt.
Memories of 1 small cup of tea over shared dreams and bunked classes.
Tea for meeting friends in office and finding new targets for our word game pot-shots.
Tea for the latest crime novel guess-the-murderer stage.
Tea for the evening rain-soaked hug.
Tea for the mad run in the playground with kids.
Tea for post-dinner soul searching with friends.

Tea, anytime, anywhere. Tea for friendships, tea for love. Tea for being alone. Tea for me.

Strong milky tea, lemon tea, ginger tea, masala chai, women's health tea (yes, that's available at our office, if you don't believe me), tried them all.

These days, I am personally inclined towards Darjeeling tea. The flavors, the aroma, the richness. Not a drop of milk to spoil the originality. 2 sips and I can tell you good tea from bad.

But then, am stumped by the elusive green tea.

My quest for the perfect green tea seems to be the most difficult tea-trek of all.

Tata, Lipton, Kerala Ayurveda, Chinese, Japanese. Tried all brands. All flavors.

That they all taste like varying versions of mildly flavored boiling water, uninspiring to say the least, nauseating to say the truth, is quite shameful to even write about.

And of course, I am loath to admit that, even to myself.

After all what sort of tea person am I if I can't like green tea? And so the quest will continue.

How long can green tea flee?

Green tea and me,
Best friends, we tried to be,
But, alas, the lack of flavor and taste,
2 sips and ugh...I ran away in haste,
Pray, show me the perfect cup of green tea:)