Calcutta Festivities

Kolkata had been on my bucket list ever since I knew about bucket lists and what better way to spend your festival holidays than by ticking off something from your bucket list. The laid back metropolis, Kolkata puts its best foot forward during Durga Pujo, or Navratri to give it its North Indian name. The entire city is bustling with crowds going around visiting Pandas of Goddesses Durga. Pandal hopping is what the people call it. Words will fail to describe how truly magnificent these Pandals are. Having laboriously built over a year, they mark the biggest Bengali festival of the year and the city itself is a sea of colors during these 9 days. 

The most important thing I did during this visit was gorge on mouth watering Bengali delicacies. I think I gained some weight by way of chingri, fish, momos and sandesh. During this trip I could hardly go sightseeing but I can’t wait for another chance to visit Kolkata. Going back in a 30 hour long train journey camping on the upper berth with only Salman Rushdie’s Moor’s last sigh to keep me company, I knew I was infatuated with the city.

Here’s the itinerary of the Pandals I visited in case anyone would like to know. 

Day 1: Rajdanga Nabodaya Sangha, Talbagaan, Jodhpur Park, Babubagan, Selimpur 

Day 2: First half: Ekdalia Evergreen, Singhi Park, Tridhara, Hindustan Park, Deshapriyo Park, Suruchi Sangha, Pally Sarodiya, Khidderpore

Ballygunge Samaj Sebi Sangha

Day 2: Second half:  Ahiritola Sarbojonin, Kumartoli, Baghbazar Sarbojonin

In hindsight, this seems like a lot of places for a day and a half but thankfully I had my friend showing me around or I would have spent the entire trip either panicking or getting lost. 

(Baidehi 😉 )

(Un)lucky in Lucknow

Bad pun, I know. But you’ll find out in a minute why.

So, one chilly Valentine’s morning, decked in thick woolen clothes, I landed at the city of Nawabs for a friend’s wedding. It’s not often that I am invited to a wedding so a backless blouse was duly purchased. The wedding lasted a few days and we didn’t get the chance to go around the city. We could have stayed for one more day but out train ticket was already booked.

Now comes the fun part.

I woke up late and took my own sweet time for breakfast. I was an hour and a half away from the Lucknow Junction. Then I caught a bus and figured I would reach with half an hour to spare. That’s when the bus driver decided to take a half an hour break at a roadside restaurant. In situations like this, the chance of getting stuck in traffic increases tenfold. So we encounter about half a dozen.

We reached an empty railway station. The train had left. Alternately we booked an overnight bus to Delhi.

Now that we were in the middle of Lucknow with 8 hours to kill, we thought we might as well deposit the luggage in the railway cloak room and go around the city.

As we neared the Bada Imambara, a guide told us we could take an e-rickshaw for a guided tour of a few places around the place for Rs 50/-. The guy showed us Rumi Darwaza, Satkhanda (a four storey watch tower), Ghantaghar (Clock tower) and a store for buying Chikankari clothes. Out of these Rumi Darwaza is the one place that really stands out.

Next we went to Bada Imambara. 

Now, I don’t usually take a guide when I visit a place. I’ve worked as a guide myself and most of the time they just bombard you with information that I am never going to remember anyway. But if you’re reading this and you go to Bada Imambara in the future, do yourself a favor and take a guide. This place is a lot better if you have someone to tell you about the details you would miss otherwise. Also, there’s a labyrinth or bhool bhulaiya here. It is said that there are 1024 ways to reach the terrace but only 2 to come back so it’s going to be tough navigating your way through it without someone’s help.

Speaking of the place itself, the compound has a grand mosque, the labyrinth and an underground stepwell

Any trip to Lucknow is incomplete without visiting the iconic Tunday Kebabi. I skipped lunch so I could have a nice feast for dinner but in 3 Kebabs and 1 Sheermal, I was done. These glorious kebabs can send even the toughest food critics into a food coma. They were hands down the best thing I have ever eaten. I would like to put it on record that Galauti kebabs are the greatest invention known to mankind. It’s literally work of art.

Our visit concluded with us finally catching our bus on time.

Do you read Banned Books?

Do you read Banned Books?

We have just concluded the international celebration of annual Banned Books Week. It is a week dedicated to reading and acknowledging of banned books and spreading awareness about them.

The whole point of the campaign is to reinstate “freedom to read” and freedom of choice especially when concerned with unorthodox topics and opinions that are or were deemed politically incorrect. It is an attempt to stop “deliberate suppression of viewpoints that has a real consequence”

It is remarkable how we have come to celebrate reading and owning of books that were banned at some point of time. It is a step against sieving of literature through political, legal, religious or moral filters. Who would have thought that something as simple as reading a book could become an act of resistance? Resistance against censorship. Resistance to reclaim intellectual freedom.

This campaign “also notes individuals persecuted because of the writings they produce, read and circulate”. It reminds us why it is important to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

The campaign encourages us to agree to disagree and to recognize what we are lacking as a society. It also invites us to initiate discussions on the kind of literature we want to leave behind for the coming generations.

Into the Aravalis

This wedding season I found myself packing all my colorful traditional clothes and bright jhumkay for my cousin’s wedding in Udaipur. Amidst day-long functions and flocks of relatives I somehow managed to steal time to go around the city.First I visited Saheliyon ki Badi. It is a beautiful, picturesque garden that was built for the 48 maidens of the then queen, who brought them with her after marriage.

My next stop, Fatehsagar lake, is a must visit in Udaipur given that the city itself is “the city of lakes”. The long walk along the lake is lined with food stalls and is perfect for enjoying the cool breeze and night walks.

Next day, I went to the most famous attraction of the city: The City Palace. Built with a blend of Mediaeval, European and Chinese architecture, it is arguably one of the most beautiful and well maintained palaces in the country.

The City Palace with its beautiful jharokhas(bay windows), intricate wall designs(jali work), glass works and regal settings is worth every moment spent here. The palace, spread across many acres, has numerous stories to tell and the best way to know them is by taking an audio tool or a guide.

After this I went to a very interesting car museum which houses around 20 vintage and classic cars. Anyone with the mildest interest in cars must visit this museum ranging from Rolls Royce to Cadillac which can not ordinarily be seen on the roads.

Then I headed to Lake Pichola, the largest of Udaipur. The famous palace and hotel: Jag Mandir is situated in the middle of the lake and is accessible by boats. The James Bond movie Octopussy was also shot in the same palace. Unfortunately, it is currently open only for guests and visitors are not allowed in the hotel.

Other attractions that I missed out due to lack of time were Monsoon Palace and Udaipur Solar Observatory.

My last stop was Shilpgram which is a market known for handicrafts, jewellery and decorative items made by local artists and the best place to buy souvenirs.

Udaipur is one of the major tourist destinations in India and one is not likely to face any problem with respect to connectivity, accommodation and conveyance. The temperature too, is pleasant around the year since this city has 5 lakes and is surrounded by hills on 4 sides.

It is also close to other tourist destinations including Mt. Abu, Chittorgarh and Ranakpur and is a perfect getaway for a long break.

Snail crossing the road

This morning I saw a snail

Crossing the road.

It stood on a side

Looking left and then right

And then left again

Like a proper gentleman-

Gentle-snail, actually.

I was the only person on the road

Far too engrossed in what he had to do

So luckily, no chance of him getting trampled underfoot.

Then he crossed

Taking his time.

 

An hour later, when I returned,

On the path where I met him before,

I saw him walking on the footpath.

Or was it sliding? I could not see,

But I managed to get a selfie.

 

This was my first go at poem writing and I chose to write it in free verse almost. So, I desperately need feedback on how it was. 🙂 🙂

Disney Princesses and a much needed analysis

When I was a child, Disney Princesses were a big thing among young girls like me and I confess I found their beauty, grace and perfection extremely awe-inspiring. It was only much later that i realised how truly absurd many of these stories were. A lot of the times these stories have been so stupid, they actually gave out the wrong message. All the time when they gave glamorised docile, weak and submissive women they have actually encouraged girls against getting empowered.

Cinderella: The story of a girl who spends some 20 or so years of her life as a maid to her step-mother and step-sisters doing nothing whatsoever to resist the opression and uplift her position. One day, she meets the Prince and falls in love. In the end, they get married and thanks to the Prince she finally experiences a better life.

Snow White: (what an awful name) Snow White runs away from her house when her step mother tries to kill her and when she finally gets the chance to live a free life as an independent woman, she takes refuge in the house of 7 dwarfs where she happily takes up the duty of doing household chores for them. Later in the story, she conditionally dies after eating and apple offered to her by a stranger! Eventually saved by some Prince.

Aurora: The one thing that strikes you in the movie is how little is the protagonist’s involvement in her own story. The long and short of Aurora’s story is that she goes into a prolonged sleep of several years because of the “curse of an evil fairy” and is saved by a king in the end.

Ariel: After falling in love with a Prince, this mermaid decides to exchange her tail for legs through the use of dark magic (!) in order to get him. The worst part of the story is Ariel getting the Prince. A happy ending, for me, would be Ariel learning that love is not a good enough reason to loose your individuality.

  
Now there are some who are absolutely unworthy of being role-models for thousands of young girls who look up to them because of the fact that for whatever brilliant reason these movies were made, these ladies only epitomize weak women. However, there are some who have been the silver linings to the dark clouds of Disney’s portrayal of the ideal princess/woman. (In increasing order of inspiration)

Belle: For me, there are exactly 3 reasons why I like Belle: 1. She reads 2. When she falls for the Beast, it’s for reasons beyond looks 3. She saves the hero. Yet, why the movie could not have had a better name than ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is beyond me.

Jasmine: Hands down, this one is my favorite Disney princess. Her love for adventure and freedom is totally relatable for me. To her being a princess is more of a captivity than a privilege and she even runs away from her palace in pursuit of freedom. Cherry on the top is the fact that she has a pet tiger.

Mulan: Now, Milan may not be my favourite but she is the role model every girl deserves. She is Brave, strong, independent, stubborn, daring and also much less feminine than the others. She is the warrior who has broken all the stereotypes of a princess.

 
There could be factual inaccuracies in my post because I saw these movies years ago. And some of them are not mentioned here because I have not seen them. Do let me know what you think about this post:)

Travel Memoirs

I’ve just been to Mussourie, Dehradun and Rishikesh and it’s been such a wonderful trip that I couldn’t not tell everyone about it.
Now, I live in a place that’s deprived even of a reasonable amount of scenic or natural beauty and that has very little historical importance. A hill-person, a beach-person, a desert-person, a museum-person, a forts-and-palaces-person or even a jungle-person would feel lost in this town of mine and I have to confess I’m a bit of all; only a mall-person or a cafe-person could thrive here. So, a person from a town as commonplace as mine yearns to be in glamorous destinations every once in a while.

It was this yearning that had me drawn towards the queen of hills: Mussourie and I couldn’t help but be jealous of those who live here. There are people who walk these hillsides everyday; who have these beautiful sceneries awaiting them every time they open their windows; and who have fresh, pollution-free mountain air gushing to welcome them every time they step out of their house.

So, when at Mussourie I’d say, you should trek to Lal-tibba, eat Kalsang, visit the Cambridge Book Store at the right time but more importantly relax in this laid-back town and take in the scenic beauty this place has to offer in abundance. I came here to meet Mr. Ruskin Bond, but ended up having the times of my life.

At Dehradun, I spent only very little time but I’d suggest everyone to go to Mindrolling Buddhist Temple, Robber’s Cave and Clement Town.

And in Rishikesh, let your adrenaline take charge. It’s a very good place for trying out all the adventure sports you always wanted to and then maybe spent a quiet hour or two at the Triveni Ghat listening to self-proclaimed conspiracy theorists discussing politics.

One thing that this trip got me thinking was: do we ever completely come back from places we visit and love? I think a part of us always stays back making the memories as vivid as yesterday for years to come.

Rain, thou art a nuisance!

image

With the rains finally ( and thankfully ) over, after 3 months or so I am finally in a position to think and to write and so I decide to pour my heart out about the much loved: rain
I somehow fail to understand why people are so obsessed with the “beauty of rain”: the poets who’ve written poems on it and musicians who have found their strokes of inspiration in it; writers write better when it rains and readers find it ( and an overrated cup of coffee ) a perfect companion for their favourite books; rains are a much liked and overly fancified backdrop for Bollywood movies and their song and dance sequences.
But, despite these  exaggerated attempts to glamorise rain, the rain reality of the country remains far from fantasy as rains continue to wreck havoc in the lives of commoners year after year: it disrupts everyday life by making getting out of the house or even opening the window a battle against the odds; it makes the already-in-bad-condition roads of our country much worse ( giving the tea-stall parties an opportunity to revisit the topic of corruption ), infact some of these narrower roads become so unbearable you will find yourself fighting an urge to puke; and don’t even get me started on how badly it hits the poor: the quality of their previous years’ prayers is directly related to whether their house is able to withstand the wrath of the rain-gods or gives up under the pressure.
So, you can enjoy the rains as much as you want and dance when it pours and threatens to submerge the entire town, I will not be okay with it until I get the option to simply hibernate in the monsoon season.

The Mango Tree: Part 5 of 5

“I remember well, madam. He was a well built man who owned a lot of farms in our village. His age would’ve been 42-43 at the time when his son died after which he became addicted to alcohol so much so that his maternal brother had to come and take him to his own village so that he could be cared for. A few days later, we came to know of his death post which, his brother came in to look after his farms” he said.
“And how many years ago did he die?” I asked.
“Umm.. It must have been 30-31 years, I think” he said.

Hemaram’s story turns out to be much more sinister than I thought. And with the same thought I decide to pen this story down.

So this was the final part of the story. Hope you liked it. Do share your thoughts in comments.

The Mango Tree: Part 4 of 5

“This is all I know about the incidents” I told my cousins who’d been all listening ardently to this old local tale. Though I’d been only 10 years old at that time, I remember watching, with increasing curiosity, the entire drama unfold.

A few weeks hence, as I was sitting at a tea shop on the outskirts of the town on my way back from my evening-time stroll, I was joined by a man. His name, I discovered, was Kumar and he soon got engaged in a conversation with the tea shop owner. Just as I was making to leave the shop I overheard him say the name of his village: Shyamgunj. I froze. Shyamgunj. The word sent a chill down my spine. I immediately turned towards him and asked “Then you must know about Hemaram?”. “Hemaram?” he pondered upon the question a little “Naturally. I would have been 15 or so at the time of his death but I remembered it well” the man said.

I suppressed a desire to laugh. This man clearly knew about no Hemaram if he in his middle age was claiming that he had been 15 year old at the time of his death, which occurred only 13 years ago. But he seemed to be in full mood to narrate a tale and I was in no hurry to return home. Thus he began: