The spirit of Delhi

Delhi was struck by 5 serial bomb blasts this Saturday — all of them targeting busy, popular markets and hangouts. While these were supposed to be “low-intensity bombs,” lives were lost, and a few people I know had lucky escapes. Very luckily, everyone I know is safe.

While this is a shameful act of terrorism, and while it brought together strangers from every walk of life to help, it also brought the wierdos out onto the street. While most people were expressing their shock and outrage at the bombings, a mother-daughter duo from Safdurjung Enclave drove especially all the way to GK to see the bomb blast! They had the gall, on national television, to laughingly say that they were “very well aware that there have been 5 blasts in Delhi,” go on to list the places where the blasts happened, and say, “my daughter wanted to see the blast, so we drove down to have a look.” What gall! Is this a tourist spot, or a display, that people are specially driving in to have a look-see? Shocking!

Another thing that has me thinking is this phrase: “Sprit of Delhi.” Replace it with any Indian state that has suffered a terrorist attack in the recent past — things are back to normal the very next day. Is this really the spirit of the city, or are we becoming indifferent to the death and terrorism we see around us everyday? I don’t mean to sound callous, but it is a fact — Indians are exposed to a number of terrorist attacks, religious riots, non-issues being made into issues and what have you, that we seem to have developed an immunity to such events — as long as we are not directly affected by them. We disguise this indifference by calling it our spirit.

But terrorism is a shocking event. While the goal of a terrorist is to strike fear in the heart of citizens, we cannot just get up, brush ourselves off, and go on like nothing has happened. There needs to be accountability in the system. Culprits — the real culprits, not innocents rounded up on the basis of their relegion — need to be put behind bars. The nation should send a strong message to terrorists — that we will not take this lying down. We will hunt you down and bring justice to our citizens.

The police, though, do nothing. The UP police is being partially blamed for the terrorist strike. They apparently had intelligence about the planned strike, and a tip-off on where the terroists were hiding, but were lax in pursuing it. Let’s see how the Delhi police react — they apparently have an eye-witness. How this will play out will be relvealed over the next few days.

Girlfriends rock!

Ever since I decided to take on a couple of new projects, in addition to the work I alredy do. I’ve had a busy couple of really weeks at work. So much so I’ve had no time for hubby dearest, let alone friends.

So it wasn’t surprising when Mridu, a dear friend and an ex-colleague, sent me an email saying don’t just work hard and ignore the rest of your life, take some time time out to just drop a couple of lines and let the people that love you know that you still exist.

I wrote back to her immediately, and decided that I just had to finish up work on time, even if it ment putting a few not so significant things off for the next day, and going to meet her. So, with Swapnil, another common friend, in tow, I landed up to meet her on Thursday — and it was such a blast! I was at her place for about 3 hrs, but it still didn’t feel like we’d managed to catch up! So, we plan to meet again one of these weekends, put our husbands together in one room, and spend some girl time together. That plan will hopefully materialize soon.

Then, on Friday, Swapnil and I made an impromptu plan to go malling @ Central – a mall devoted almost exclusively to clothes, bags, sandals and groceries. What fun that was! We wandered around the mall, checking out clothes, commenting on bags, trying on shoes, and finally ending up with two pairs of pants for her and a pair of cool sandals for me. I had some discount coupons for the grocery sectio of the mall, so we went and stocked up on some home essentials and exotic foodstuffs, before heading over to the foodcourt for a bite of dinner.

The last two days of the week (which also happened to straddle the last day of the previous month and the first day of this one) have been a high-note of an otherwise dreary month of July.

Girlfriends truly rock!

you make me smile, please stay for a while…

What a week this has been! Thanks to the freakish rain, Abid’s been home most evenings this week, and joy or joys, I’ve been able to reach home by 7:00, which means evenings out! We celebrated our “proposal anniversary” on Monday by going out for dinner. It was a low-key affair at a small restaurant that we often order in from. Since this anniversary marks the day on which he proposed to me, it’s his time to wine me, dine me, and woo me—which also means that he’s the only one doing the gifting! We went to the mall close by, from where he bought me this absolutely beautiful penguin mother and child.

While it is supposed to be a mama penguin protecting and looking over baby penguin, it’s exactly the way I feel with Abid…absolutely safe and protected in his love. What a warm and fuzzy feeling that is. (Or maybe it’s all the Love Is…cartoons I’ve been browsing through lately.)

There’s been a dearth of movies since quite some time, and I’ve been getting “popcorn withdrawal syndrome.” To remedy that, we decided to catch The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian on Tuesday night. It’s a pretty interesting movie. I think the first one was much better, but that doesn’t really take away from this movie, either. It explores the importance of retaining your innocence and acting on your faith, knowing your limitations and respecting them, the futility of deceit, and the importance of believing in a little “magic.” The cutest part of the movie had to be the fighting mouse! And how can I leave out Prince Caspian—I absolutely adore Ben Barnes!

Wednesday saw us at the MGF mall. As if I don’t have more than enough books already, I had to go and check out the sale at Om Book Store, knowing full well that a trip into any book store means I come out with my wallet lighter! This time was no different—my groaning bookshelf is now also home to Hari Kunzru’s The Impressionist and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road.

We have a charity donation box in office until next week; apart from clothes and utensils, we can also donate books. I’ve made up a pitifully small list of books to give away—all of 10 books, from a stash of close to 200 books (I think)!—that I plan to drop into the box on Monday. In the meanwhile, I’ve added on still more books to my ever-expanding library—The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, Meditations for Busy People by Osho and a really interesting looking book that explains solar eclipses, traces the history of tracking them, and myths and legends associated with them, called Moonshadow: Story of the Total Eclipse by Terry Manners—during a weekend trip to The Great India Mall in Noida.

Weather update: After a rainy and pleasant week, the weekend was….terribly hot! Sunny and humid, it was totally unbearable to be out during the day, though the evenings did cool down—marginally. Ironically, on Monday morning, it was all cloudy and stormy, and it rained again! No fair!

Rains in May!


It rained all night yesterday, and through most of the morning today — in the middle of May — which is supposed to be summer, when we are supposed to be sweltering, with temperatures ranging between 45 degrees centigrade and 48 degrees centigrade! Instead, it was 28 degrees centigrade yesterday, we slept without airconditioning, and I needed hot water in the morning! What is the world coming to?!

Love is…

Remember those cute black and white love is cartoons?

I found them on the Internet!!
http://www.loveisfan.com/ (updated website)
It’s my favorite place to hang out these days to beat the stress @ work!

Break free

That special pleasure she had felt in watching him eat the food she had prepared—she thought, lying still, her eyes closed, her mind moving, like time, through some realm of veiled slowness—it had been the pleasure of knowing that she had provided him with a sensual enjoyment, that one form of his body’s satisfaction had come from her.
. . . There is reason, she thought, why a woman would wish to cook for a man . . . oh, not as a duty, not as a chronic career, only as a rare and special rite in symbol of . . . but what have they made of it, the preachers of woman’s duty? . . . The castrated performance of a sickening drudgery was held to be a woman’s proper virtue—while that which gave it meaning and sanction was held as a shameful sin . . .

The above paragraph from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged holds powerful meaning and a strange resonance for me. I have always viewed cooking as something I do when I feel like doing it—something special and sacred for the one I love. It has always been a pleasure to cook—on special occasions, when I’m feeling particularly in tune with my significant other, as a gesture of my love. And that is just what I would have preferred to keep it. But thanks to something that someone said to him when he was depressed, we ended up having a huge fight about a year back, and now, it has become drudgery for me. So much so, after treating the whole thing as a challenge, I have now reached the stage when I prefer staying out of the house until late, so I can go home and say I’m too tired to even bear the thought of cooking. The very thought of having to cook as a “have-to-do-thing” fills me with dread….makes me want to bolt. Food has never been a big issue for me. I’m happy eating almost anything. I can get by just fine on soup and toast, as I can on a full Indian meal. But Abid is the opposite. And striking a balance between our different needs is becoming increasingly challenging.

Seems like it’s the season for pets this January! We got ourselves some pretty fish this weekend, and my best friend adopted a dog!
My Fishbowl
I’ve been doing a lot of research on the Internet to figure out how to take care of them, since I’ve killed fish twice before. Aquariumfish.net had some of the best information on looking after fishbowls, though some of the things don’t quite apply here, or are unavailable here. Till now, though, they’re doing just fine! Fingers crossed!

Fairy tale city – Jaisalmer

The Living Fort - Jaisalmer

The Living Fort – Jaisalmer

I had heard a lot about Jaisalmer and how beautiful it is, but nothing can quite prepare you for the city. The fort in Jaisalmer is the only living fort in the world, and we stayed at a hotel inside the fort itself, which is the best thing to do.

The whole place looks magical, like a scene out of Arabian Nights. It looks like someone has put up a historical set, and opened it up for the public, and that the next time you come, it might disappear! There are lots and lots and lots of shops inside the fort – the city, after all, is a tourist city. Its entire economy depends on tourism. Once you’ve been there, it works such magic on you that you would want to visit it again and again.

Jain Temple, Dancers on the Roof, Jaisalmer

Architecture in temple – dancers on the roof

I think I spent most of my time walking while looking up, because almost all the houses have beautifully carved jharokas and balconies. I kept poking the husband in the ribs and pointing out almost every second house! The guide was also amused, said this is so normal for them that they don’t even see it! Apparently, the government has passed an order that all houses built in Jaisalmer have to have a sandstone front and have to have some carving on the doors and window, since the carving and the sandstone is all that attracts tourists to the city.

There are a lot of Jain temples, built in between and 12th and 15th century, inside the fort, and again, all I can say is that the carving is awesome! The biggest temple has got 11 dancers carved on the roof, with musicians below them, and one figure of Indira. The Jains believe that once the temple is closed, the dancers descend from the roof and dance for the Gods. How quaint! The statue looks like it is made of marble, but is actually made of desert sand! Every year it is polished with diamond dust, milk, sandalwood, and turmeric, which gives it the look of marble!

Patwon ki Haveli

Patwon ki Haveli

The entire temple is built on the basis of interlocking columns, since there was no water for limestone joining at that time, and cement was not invented yet. One of the other temples had different form of Ganeshji carved on the roof. Seeing it just takes your breath away! Especially when you think of when they were built and what kind of ability and skill it would have taken then, to make something that is so timeless in its beauty, without the technology that we have access to today.

The museum in the fort had some interesting things on display – line the entire family tree of the rulers, right down to the present king. There was also the king’s bedroom, and one of the king’s nightgown on display. It’s so huge that both the husband and me could fit into it, and still have some space left over!

One of the most elaborate and magnificent of all the havelis (bungalows) in Jaisalmer is Patwon ki Haveli, which was built between 1800 and 1860 by five Jain brothers who made their fortunes by trading jewelry and fine brocades. The entire façade of the haveli is made of sandstone, which has through-and-through, intricate carving. I went crazy photographing close-ups of different sections of the haveli! And the most amazing thing is that there is a similar house, which was made in 1993! It belongs to someone who is based in Surat, and would have cost him Rs. 1 crore to build! The sandstone is cheap, but the carving is really expensive, about Rs. 500 per square foot!

Tazia Tower

Tazia Tower

Following the trend of converting palaces into hotels and leaving a section open for visitors is Badal Mahal, which is topped by the Tazia Tower. Each story of this five-tiered tower has a beautifully carved balcony. Muslim craftsmen built it in the shape of a Tazia and gifted to the king. Tazias are ornately decorated bamboo, paper, and tinsel replicas of a bier carried in procession during Muharram. Visitors can’t go into the tower, because the king has his residence in that section of the palace.

Surprisingly, this desert city also has a lake! A man-made lake, but a lake nevertheless – the Gadisar lake. At one time it was the town’s main water supply, but is currently a big tourist attraction. Who wouldn’t want to go boating in the desert?

And of course, how can I neglect to mention the desert itself?

Riding Into the Sunset, Jaisalmer

Riding Into the Sunset

We went to Sam Sand Dunes for New Year. It is a one hour drive on a lonely road, there are hardly one or two small villages along the way. Sam is not really just sand dunes, though, there are a lot of shrubs too, which I wasn’t expecting. It just didn’t fit into my mental image of what a desert should look like, but it did give me a sense of serenity and timelessness, despite all the crowds that were there for New Year. We plan to return here again, and spend a couple of days in the desert.

Rajasthani dancers

Rajasthani dancers

New Year celebrations were organized by the hotel, and were held at one of the many desert camps. There was traditional Rajasthani folk music and dances organized at the venue, along with dinner and drinks. While we had originally planned on staying till 12:30 am at least, it was too cold to even think about it. While we were sitting in front of the fire it was fine, but our backs were bearing the brunt of the cold air blowing in, despite all the layers of clothes we were wearing!

The New Year program was an interesting experience, though it wasn’t really what I was expecting. I had a completely different image in my mind, fueled by all the things we had heard from people when we mentioned we were planning to spend New Year at Jaisalmer! It was a little disappointing, but an experience worth remembering nonetheless.

(All images copyright Modern Gypsy)

The Blue City – Jodhpur

Traveling is one of the best ways to expand your horizons and learn about different cultures. It has been such a long time since I’ve taken a long holiday with no obligations attached that I had almost forgotten what a wondrous experience it is!

Cenotaph at Madore Garden

Cenotaph at Madore Garden

We were to travel to Jodhpur and Jaisalmer during Christmas and New Year, and the excitement was building up since almost a month. I spent quite a bit of time after work looking for places to stay and researching the two cities and all that we could do, that I was dreaming of all the places we would visit and what they would be like weeks before we even left!

Our first stop was Jodhpur. We were staying a bit out of the city, at Madore, which was the original capital of the Marwar region. It had to be shifted, though, as it was difficult to defend, and once the fort was built at Jodhpur (in the 15th century), it became the capital of the region.

Mandore is famous for the Mandore Gardens, a beautiful, sprawling garden that houses the chhatries (cenotaphs) of the Rathode rulers. One of the most imposing is the Cenotaph of King Ajit Singh, which sports carved elephants, amalake (disk-shaped flourishes with fluted edges), and a pillared fore chamber with fine sculpture. The 17th century centograph of King Jaswant Singh is a huge octagonal pavilion with a vast dome and huge pillars. A lot of the centographs are dome-shaped structures supported on about 7 pillars.

Mehrangarh Fort

Mehrangarh Fort

The main attraction at Jodhpur is the imposing Mehrangarh fort, which has now been converted into a museum, with only a few of the palaces open to the public. The fort museum is one of the best, making most other museums we visited later pale in comparison. The fort appears to rise from bluff-colored sandstone hill itself, so well built into the base that it is difficult to tell where the hill ends and the walls begin. It is approached by a series of seven gateways, past which is the fort-palace.

You are steeped in history the moment you walk into the fort. One of the walls still bears the marks on canon fire, on another, there are a number of handprints, which are carvings of the hand of all the queens who committed sati, and there are some huge copper pots – so huge a man could fit into them – that were used for cooking.

Interiors at Mehrangarh Fort

Interiors at Mehrangarh Fort

A short, steep walk brings you to the main fort area that is open to visitors. Most of the fort has been converted into a sprawling museum, and there are some amazing sights to see! There are a lot of elephant seats made of wood with gold and silver carvings, plakis to carry queens and princesses, including the queen’s wedding palki, which is carved in gold. One entire room is filled with cradles of princes, and what amazing cradles they are! Huge wooden cradles with lovely statues and birds forming arches around it, painted with vegetable dyes and gold, and some of them were even made of silver!

There were huge displays of swords, cutting knives, battle axes, spears, and rifles, as well as tapestries, jharokas (windows), the vedas, and the queen’s cosmetic box and exercise poles. The most stunning, though, was a palki made of pure silver, intricately and finely wrought, with such workmanship as cannot be surpassed today. It was part of the spoils of war that the rulers won from the Mughals.

The palaces that were open to the public are breathtakingly beautiful. The pierced screen windows of Moti Mahal overlook the coronation seat where Rathore rulers have been traditionally been anointed to rule; Jhanki Mahal is the apartment from where the women would watch ceremonial events; and the royal throne room with its octagonal throne and seating for ministers.

Jodhpur - The Blue City

Jodhpur – The Blue City

The Moti Mahal has lovely Belgian glass stained windows, and the afternoon light filtering in gave it a look of mystery. All four walls have niches carved from floor to ceiling, which were filled with oil lamps and lit in the evenings, throwing the whole room in a glow of color reflected from the windows.

From the top of the fort you can see the entire city spread below you, and the famous blue houses, that give Jodhpur the name of The Blue City. Originally the color blue denoted higher caste houses, but now, most people color their houses blue to give the illusion of coolness, as Jodhpur gets searingly hot in summers, with temperatures reaching between 48 and 50 degrees.

 

Unmaid Bhavan

Unmaid Bhavan

The other big attraction of Jodhpur is the Unmaid Bhavan Palace. Constructed of marble and pink sandstone, this is the world’s largest residential palace. Begun in 1929, it was designed by the president of the British Royal Institute of Architects for King Umaid Singh, and took 15 years to complete. Ironically, Umaid Singh died in 1947/8, four years after the palace was completed; the current King Gaj Singh II still lives in part of the building, the rest has been converted into a hotel – an extremely expensive hotel!

Although the palace museum pales in comparison to Mehrangarh fort, it does have a lovely collection of antique clocks and china. As it was designed by a British designer, it doesn’t have the intricacy that I have come to love in Rajasthani architecture, though it does cut an elegant and imposing figure. The part I enjoyed there most was the walk up to the palace, and eating a scoop of ice cream at the garden café, under an umbrella with the sun beating down on us and a cool wind blowing through my hair.

Blackbucks

Blackbucks

An interesting experience at Jodhpur is to go for a Village Safari. It’s a trip to a Bishnoi community village that was arranged by our hotel. The owners do a lot of community work there, as was evident by the way in which the owner’s son, who accompanied us, was stopped along the way as the villagers told him of their complaints and gave them a list of medicines they wanted! Most of the villagers were very friendly, and loved getting their photographs clicked, especially the children, who got really demanding and pestered me until I took all of their snaps, individually and in groups! We also got to see a lot of blackbucks there, which the Bishnois protect, and we saw the place where Salman Khan was caught hunting blackbuck, that led to the court case that he is currently embroiled in.

Bishnoi Village Children

Bishnoi Village Children

The Safari apparently is very popular, judging by the fact that they had kept intact a 70-year old traditional hut made of cowdung with a thatched roof and an enclosure for cattle to show to tourists. Most of the villagers now live in brick houses. We also met a weaver there, who is the only man left in the village who still weaves with actual sheep thread. Some of the shawls and blankets he had made were very pretty – simple and rough, but pretty. The other highlight there is the sunset point, which overlooks the watering hole. As dusk approached, a lot of animals, including blackbucks, camels, and a number of birds, came there to slake their thirst. Though it was quite cloudy, the sunset was beautiful, as the orange rays of the setting sun hit the water, turning it into a pool of liquid silver.

Maha Mandir - Arches

Maha Mandir – Arches

We also stumbled upon the sleepy, almost forgotten Maha Mandir temple. I had read about it during my research on the Internet, and was very keen to visit it. The temple is an architectural splendor, supported by 84 pillars and ornamented with detailed designs and figures depicting various Yoga postures. The temple was built by one of the Marwar kings for his priest, who was a disciple of Shivji and a yoga guru.

A man who lives opposite the temple told us the history of the temple.

Apparently, the king who built it had lost the kingdom when a Mughal army invaded Jodhpur. He consulted his priest and asked him how he could win back his kingdom. Following the advice given by the priest, the king won, and built Maha Mandir (a palace), within which he built the temple.

Yoga Postures

Mahamandir – Yoga Postures

The temple was a kingdom in itself – once the king was inside the temple, anything he said was law, and could not be refuted, no matter what happened outside the temple walls. Finding the temple was a task in itself, as hardly anyone ever comes here, and we had to walk quite a distance to find it. Although the temple complex has been converted into a government school, the temple is still open to the few visitors who do trickle in.

And of course, we couldn’t leave Jodhpur without having lassi at Ghanta Garh! It was the most deliciously thick lassi I have ever had. So thick that you couldn’t drink it, you had to eat it with a spoon, and so filling and refreshing that that was all we had for lunch! Ghanta Garh is a nice, crowded market. Tiny shops line both sides of the narrow lanes, and you can find handicrafts, aromatic spices, vegetables, and lovely bedcovers in these shops.

Our next stop – Jaisalmer!

Jaded Consumerism

I was discussing the changing face of consumerism in India with a friend a few days back. There was a time, even until about 4 years ago, when almost any purchase could give you a high for at least a few days. Nowadays, we seem to be so jaded, that even when we buy something we’ve been hankering for, the joy is missing. Like 6 years back, when I was staying alone in Bombay, I spent a “princely” sum of Rs. 2,000 on books, and I was kicked about it for weeks! I could never have imagined spending that much on books before, not for lack of money, but for remonstrations from my mother. Now, about a month back, I spent Rs. 8,500 on a woolen rug for the hall, again something I had been wanting for a long, long time, but when we came home and laid it down, I just looked at it, said yeah it looks nice, and that was it! Even when I bought my first car a few months back (ok, I know, I learnt driving really late!) it should have been a monumentally happy occasion—but it was not! I just felt like yeah, ok, I got my car. Why?? Where’s the joy gone? It’s not like these purchases were “unnecessary” and neither is it that I have truck loads of money and shelling out about 9k is no big deal—9k still is a lot of money for me! But there’s just no joy!

shop.png

Maybe it’s just that it has become easier to buy things, what with banks falling over themselves to give you loans and credit cards. Or that we are earning increasing amounts of money with lesser time to enjoy it; so, when we do buy something, its generally taken such a long time to manage to get the time out and buy it, that we just don’t get that kick anymore. Or could it be that we are so spoiled for choice, that we’ve become jaded about our purchases? Whatever it is, it isn’t a very pretty place in which to be.