Welcoming 2010

It’s that time again — we’re at the threshold of a whole new year filled with potential and promise…12 months stretching out ahead of us, when we can maybe rectify our mistakes from the previous year or gather the energy/initiative to achieve all that we wanted to last year but didn’t. At the stroke of 12:00 on 31 December 2009, sitting on the terrace of our hotel in Udaipur and watching the fireworks from the Lake Palace, we got around to discussing resolutions — their importance and relevance, resolutions we make and keep and those that we make and break.

At the dawn of a new year, we’re generally enthused about the “fresh” start ahead, and filled with that euphoria, list down all the things we wanted to do in the last year but didn’t, and call those our resolutions. We manage to keep them too, for a while, before discarding them on the wayside as we go about our daily grind.

So maybe instead of making resolutions, what we should make are goals — things we want to achieve in this year with definite action steps and a timeline. One resource that I find really handy when making my goals in the Goal setting workshop that I found about 5 years ago on a website called Tera’s Wish. Try it, it’s fun!

Avatar: Opening a Pandora’s box of issues

Watched James Cameron’s Avatar this weekend — it’s a brilliant movie!
The plot can essentially be summed up thus: Ex- marine Jake Sully manages to gain the trust of the indigenous Na’vi with the intent to double-cross them at the end. Along the way, though, he falls in love with cat woman Neytiri and with the philosophy and way of life of the cat people, finally leading an epic battle that will decide the fate of an entire world.

However, there is more to the movie than initially meets the eye. On one level, Avatar is a fantasy flick with stunning visual effects, but on another, it has a more shadowy subtext —a discussion about race, oppression and the annihilation of an indigenous people for access to natural resources. Cameron also draws heavily from Red Indian philosophy when characterizing the Na’vi people, be it their ritual of thanking the spirit of animals they kill for meat, their respect for nature, belief in the Ehwa (pure souls), or their gathering space under the Wisdom tree, where they can hear the voices of all the elders.

Dig a little deeper, and there’s a subtext on the length that developed countries are willing to go to secure oil or other natural resources (in the case of the movie, a rare mineral that can save the earth) —Col. Miles Quaritch giving orders to bomb the area that has the highest concentration of the mineral (right under the Na’vi’s wisdom tree). Makes you think back to the Gulf War and the battle against Iran.

Then there’s the colonizers creed — the indigenous people are always backward, even though they have a deeper understanding of nature and the environment, so give them western clothes, teach them the language, and get them to co-operate by any means possible. If that fails, use force. So what if their sacred spaces are destroyed?

Overall, Avatar scores because it caters to all kinds of viewers — those who just want to be entertained, and those who also want to think. Since there is no in-your-face preaching on the subtext of the movie, you can choose to ignore it and be amazed at the world of Pandora. Or you can have your cake and eat it too — enjoy the stunning visual effects while stimulating your mind. Either ways, you’re sure to love the movie!

Hippy times at Pushkar: Around town (part 2 of 2)

<— Read part 1: Getting to Pushkar

Bramha temple

Pushkar is a temple town. It is home to the only Bramha temple in the world, and has temples dedicated to both of his wives. The lake is surrounded by 52 interconnected ghats, which have about 500-odd temples. Of course, not all are open to tourists, and with such a profusion of temples, figuring out which ones to visit could be confusing. So it is something that is best done with the help of a guide. Our hotel, Inn Seventh Heaven, had tied up with a local priest to offer a tour of the most important temples in the city, and while checking in, I asked the front desk to arrange a meeting with the priest in the afternoon. However, the priest was out of town, and was to return on the day we were leaving, so that plan didn’t work out. We decided to walk down to the lake and figure it out from there.

Prayer at the lake

Our hotel was a couple of minutes walk from the main market, and we found our way to one of the ghats pretty easily (I think it was the Ganga ghat, but I could be wrong). There was a small shop there selling puja samagri, and the shopkeeper was a treasure trove of information. He told us the history of the lake — the mythology behind its creation, the reason why the only Bramha temple is in Pushkar, and why, despite Bramha being one of the most important Hindu gods, there are no other temples dedicated to him. Almost all of the information he gave us matched with what I had read in the Rough Guide to India, but it was interesting to hear it coming straight from a local, who colored that information with local traditions and cultural inputs as well. Contrary to what the guide books said, though, there weren’t too many people around to pressurize us to offer prayers at the lake. Although we initially thought that we would come back the next day to offer our prayers at the lake, since we were there, and as there was a priest around, we decided to do the prayer ceremony on the first day itself.

Prayers done, we headed into the market.

The bustling market

The market is a narrow road lined on both sides by small shops selling everything from music CDs to souvenirs, silver jewelry, psycadelic t-shirts, hippy clothes and Rajasthani fabrics. We also found a couple of guys there selling swords, which was something we were looking for a really long time. The idea being to pick up a samurai sword (or as close as we could get to one) and then carve a handle and scabbard for it and display it in our living room.

There were also a number of shops selling natural essential oils and incense — something not found anywhere else in Rajasthan. The reason — roses. In the desert. Honest! There are huge rose fields near Pushkar, so one thing lead to another, and in addition to rose essential oils, you get a huge variety of essential oils, the most interesting one being solid amber. It’s a slightly spongy piece of amber that has a beautiful, earthy smell, though at Rs. 350/- for a small little box, it is quite pricey. The shopkeeper assured us that the smell would last for 10 years (yes, 10) and that the tiny little box of amber was enough to perfume a medium-sized room! I picked up two boxes of that — one for me and one for mom — along with opium flower, white musk and iceberg essential oils.

Following the trail to Pink Floyd Cafe

Pushkar’s also a foodie heaven (though you get pure vegetarian fare). There are a number of street food joints, a lot of which cater to Israeli tourists, and you’ll also find a chai bar, an organic food kitchen and lots of pizza places. We also followed the trail to Pink Floyd Café.

Outside the Pink Floyd Cafe

It’s pretty cool, and definitely worth a visit, though the food isn’t much to write home about. It would be better to get yourself a cup of java or a cold drink and have a look around. The best food we had there, though, had to be our hotel food. They have a small menu, but orders are made fresh and the food is delicious. The best was their apple crumble with ice-cream — absolutely scrumptious.

Jholas and clothes galore

One walk down the market, and I bet you’d get hooked to the place! There are so many shops to explore and so much really cool stuff you can find. One of the shops that we frequented while we were at Pushkar was a clothes shop, which had tied up with a US-based designer who sent designs and samples in exchange for some free clothes and stoles to take back to the US! And if you think that means pricey stuff or haute couture, think again! There were really cool and different tops, skirts, pants, hippy-style clothes, and all of it really, really cheap.

Taking a break

We overheard a conversation between a couple of foreigners. One group had been in Pushkar for a week the other, for a month! When the newcomers asked the old-timer at Pushkar what the hell he found to do there for a whole month, his answer was: “Once you get through the first week here, you actually find yourself falling in love with the laidback pace of the city.” I’m not sure I could spent an entire month at Pushkar, but I’m pretty sure I could keep myself entertained for a week without any problems!

Dressed up for the tourists

The pace of the city is so laid-back, while still offering so much to do, that you can’t help but get totally de-stressed! We spent our entire trip roaming around the market, talking to shopkeepers and just relaxing. This was one of the most distressing holidays I have had in a really long time.

I want to say that we did visit a lot of the tourist attractions there, but honestly, apart from the lake and the Bramha temple, we didn’t go see anything else! Instead, we spent our time roaming around the market and exploring the shops (and of course shopping).

Biking to the sand dunes

One evening we also hired a bike and decided to go to the desert. However, the bike was pretty rattly, and we ended up not going all the way there after all. I also think we managed to lose our way, but it was a nice fun ride!

All-in-all, we had a wonderful time at Pushkar…and it certainly is on my list of places to visit again — this time, once the lake is full!

Hippy times at Pushkar: Getting there (part 1 of 2)

We’ve had a spate of long weekends recently, and continuing our love affair with Rajasthan, we decided to drive down to Pushkar, notwithstanding all the negatives people had to say about the place, such as it was going to be as hot as a furnace and dirty to boot. After a lot of stops and starts, we finally decided to drive down to Jaipur in the afternoon, stay there overnight and then go on to Pushkar, where we would stay for 3 nights.

Leaving Delhi at around 3:00 on a Friday afternoon, we reached Jaipur at around 8:00, thanks to a pretty nasty jam right at the entry to the city. We headed straight for our favorite hotel — Arya Niwas, where they upgraded us to deluxe room at no extra charge, and we fell in love with the place all over again! Their normal rooms are very comfortable, but quite basic.

The deluxe room at Arya Niwas


Their deluxe rooms, on the other hand, are simply amazing! The best part — a private balcony and an electric kettle!! Just what the doctor ordered! After a quick dinner, I headed out onto the balcony for some cool fresh air and a hot cup of tea. What bliss after that long and tiring drive!

We set out for Pushkar at around about 9:00 am the next day. Most of the drive is on the excellent 8-lane Ajmer highway, though once you take the turn for Pushkar, the state highway isn’t all that very great. We passed through narrow, winding, almost deserted roads…the signages were few and far between, and just as we were wondering if we had lost our way…we heard the unmistakable thump of an Enfield, and a few minutes later were greeted by the sight of two foreigners tearing along the road on the bike. That could mean just one thing — Pushkar couldn’t be too far away!

I have to admit that the first sight of the town doesn’t inspire confidence. On the way to our hotel, we drove down a rather badly pot-holed narrow road…right at the turn to the hotel we were confronted by the sight of a cow lazily ambling along the road, with narrow little open sewers, which I hadn’t seen since my childhood in Shakarpur (Delhi). The hotel, from the outside, wasn’t all that interesting either, and I could feel my heart beginning to sink towards my knees, because I generally pride myself on being able to find us good, comfortable, atmospheric, budget digs! This, though, was a big white house, with one of those huge gates that has a small opening to let pedestrians in, with the name of the hotel — Inn Seventh Heaven — stenciled on in peeling paint.

The central courtyard by night

However, someone wise once said, “Never judge a book by its cover,” and that person was bang on target. Because when you push open the door and bend low to enter the gate, you walk out of a typical small Indian town and into…fairyland!

Sitting area outside our room

The first impression you get is of tranquility, soothing greens, cool whites, and warm reds and browns…and then as your senses adjust you realize that you’re looking at a fountain in the center, a courtyard filled with trees, inviting dark wooden seating with cushions in warm reds and oranges.

Roof top dining area


The hotel has a lovely rooftop terrace, with comfortable seating, again done up in dark wood, red and orange upholstery and lots of green. They play beautiful instrumental music up there, so it’s a lovely dinining experience.

The central courtyard by day


In short, I had done it again! Our room was beautiful, the hotel was magical and the staff friendly and helpful, so strike one for me!

—> Read part 2: Around Pushkar

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichei

Set in Nigeria, the novel traces the story of Kambili and Jaja, children of a rich, fanatical and oppressive Catholic patriarch Eugene Achike, presenting a moving picture of the effect of domestic violence on children; of religious fanaticism; of the political unrest in Nigeria and the privations and trials faced by Nigerians.

Eugene is a self-made Big Man. Brought up by Christian missionaries, he is a deeply religious, fanatical Catholic, who “punishes” his family for the slightest trespass against God, for not meeting his exacting standards or for disobeying him in any way. So deep is his fanaticism that he even ignores his own father, who is a “heathen,” and tells his children to “not eat in that heathen’s house.”

It isn’t until a military coup in Nigeria forces the children to live with their Aunt Ifeoma, where the laugher and conversations flow feely, that Kambili and Jaja begin to acknowledge the silence, oppression and violence that has marred their life so far. While Jaja is quick to adapt and acknowledge the past, it takes Kambili more time to get the “bubbles in her throat” to part and allow the words to flow out. It is at her aunt’s house that she meets her grandfather for an extended period, and learns that he is not a “heathen” but a “traditionalist,” described through a beautiful passage describing his daily morning prayer to the ancestors.

At her aunt’s house in Nuskka, she meets Father Amadi, a local priest who, unlike the priest back home Father Benedict, is a more easy-going and friendly, who sees nothing wrong in breaking into Igbo songs in the middle of rosary, and who takes an easier and more relaxed view of religion. This is her first taste of kindness from a grown man, and she transfers all her repressed love onto him.

The idyll of an escape from the oppressive atmosphere in Enugu is shattered when her aunt decides to leave for America and Father Amadi is transferred to Germany…

This novel is a beautiful coming of age story of 15-year old Kambili, a commentary on the political situation in Nigeria and a treatise on religious oppression.

I particularly enjoyed it because it gave me a peek into a new culture; exposed me to words that I had never heard before, such as umu m (my children), ke kwanu (how are you/how was your day?), nwunye m )mt wife); and introduced new smells, like that of frying plantains and bleaching palm oil. Though Adichie isn’t the first African author I’ve read, hers is the first book I’ve truly enjoyed. It most certainly is a must-read.

Healing tools

I just came across this absolutely beautiful article called Gift Yourself with Healing Tools by Kay Nuyens. She says:

we all possess the inner resources needed to make changes in our lives. When we get in touch with our “Wise Mind,” the part of us that knows, we can be self-healers, Masters of our lives. Mastery means that we are no longer victims; we are no longer feeling out of control. Each of us has the capability to gather our inner strength and to select some strategies for healing that utilize positive belief and expectancy.

She shares some really wonderful tools for self-healing and meditation in this article — and the first tool, Progressive Relaxation, sounds like it could be a wonderful 5-minute stress buster at work too! The technique works by:

releasing tension through direct suggestions. Muscle groups begin to relax as we focus our breath and intention…I invite clients to imagine a healing, calming color and allow it to flow through every cell of the body, releasing all stress and tension. Breathe in peace and tranquility; breathe out stress and tension. Taking in some long, slow, deep breaths, counting from twenty-five down to one also begins to relax our body and mind.

The other interesting tool was Mindfulness — or using mental imagery to gather all the feelings and sensations being experienced at a particular moment, moving into that sensation. giving it a form and asking it for a message. It sounds easy, but I’m guessing that when you try it, it might require some practice before you’ll “get it.”

You can find the full article here.

A tale of two cities

I came across this set of really cool articles in Open magazine, a relatively new weekly news magazine, that talk about reasons why Bombay hates Delhi, which is countered by why Delhi hates Bombay, and both these articles are then countered by the rest vs. Delhi and Bombay! Pretty interesting reading this.

I especially loved the one on why Bombay hates Delhi — maybe because I myself come from that side of the country — a lot of points made me say: “Yes! That is so true!” Sample this:

Space is not compressed here. Everything is far from everything else. There are real gardens where you do not see the exit when you stand at the entrance…Homes have corridors, and they are called corridors, not half-bedrooms. Yet, Delhi has a bestial smallness of purpose.

And a narrow mind — especially Delhi men!

Those men there who drive the long phallic cars, sometimes holding a beer bottle in one hand, there is something uncontrollable about them…What is the swagger about? What is the great pride in driving your father’s BMW, what is the glory in being a sperm? And what is the great achievement in stepping on the accelerator? It is merely automobile engineering—press harder on the pedal and the car will move faster. Why do you think a girl will mate with you for that?

Probably because of their “don’t you know who my father is” mentality. Power is everything here, with almost every second person claiming to be related or acquainted with a politician or a high-ranking police officer.

Delhi as a centre of power is an inheritance, a historical habit. An unbearable consequence of this is the proximity of easy funds for various alleged intellectual pursuits which has enabled it to appropriate the status of intellectual centre.

There is much weight attached to the imagined sophistication of talk, of gas. It is a city of talkers. There is always The Discussion…[there is] a meaningless aspect of Delhi’s fiery intellectuality, and also laid bare the crucial difference between intellectuality, which is borrowed conviction, and intelligence, which is creativity, innovation and original analysis…Delhi [suffers from a] mental condition which is incurable—a fake intensity, a fraudulent concern for ‘issues’, the grand stand.

You can read the entire article here.

Of course, there has to be a counter to this rather dim view of Delhi, though I must admit that I thought it wasn’t as convincing. Starting with a debate of fame vs. power, the article then meandered to Bombay being a city of dreamers…

In this city of people looking up without looking around, dreams are what matter. It is evident. The stock market, ad industry and Bollywood—whichever way you stack them, they make for too little reality.

…and then dissed Bombay for holding candlelight vigils, which, by the way, are now de rigueur in Delhi too!

When reality does sink in, all of Bombay responds as only Bombay can. Scented candles and designer dresses make for a procession of the fifteen thousand. Affronted as they are with the politicians and politics of this country, they ‘decide’ to teach the rest of us how things should be done.

The article touched upon the casteism, which sadly, is rising in Bombay, but the reason for the rise is power — political power. It’s a brilliant strategy if you think about it, but then, that is an altogether different discussion.

You can check the article out here.

And then, there is the rest vs. Delhi and Bombay — one of the most hilarious, ironic articles I’ve read in recent times.

The article starts with a tongue-lashing on Delhi and Bomabay having to “kowtow kowtow to the fickle ways of the Bombay and Delhi weather,” and goes on to slam the efficient public transport in the two cities.

I utterly abhor the temerity of auto drivers from Bombay who, without exception, consider me unworthy of charging whatever grabs their fancy. What’s worse, they choose to take the high ground by being scrupulously honest about the whole business of taking me for a ride…Whatever happened to good old things like indecency and respecting what the customer can be ripped off for. It’s what I’ve come to expect and grown comfortably used to in Chennai. Why shock me senseless with your conscientious ways?

Delhi’s metro isn’t spared either!

For starters, what’s so great about offering an efficient and clean Metro Rail service when one can be pampered by the timeless pleasures of waiting for one to materialise and, in the meantime, making do with a service that’s considered frequent only by people who haven’t seen much better. Efficiency, I tell you—so over-rated and so unnecessary.

And then you come to the heart of the article — love.

Speaking of love, the thing about it, it’s easy to dish out in copious quantities when the recipient is a less fortunate soul, or city, worthy of pity.

And since Delhi and Bombay are not…Though,

Scratch the surface and you’ll find few people really hate Delhi, Bombay or the people from these great cities. What they are is jealous. And that’s what they hate. Happily, it’s okay to feel this way. I call it the ‘Australia syndrome’. Meaning what? Meaning this. So long as Australia were well-nigh unbeatable at cricket, it was eminently more comforting to hate them…Beatings apart, what’s not to hate about a country that’s so beautiful, so sunny, so clean, so spacious, so prosperous, so efficient, so livable (mostly) and, worst of all, possesses a cricket team so goddamn hard-to-beat? Naturally, the only option one had, since one couldn’t surpass them at anything important, was to hate them. Call them self-centered. Arrogant. Uncouth. Loud. And the like. Echoes how the rest of India feels about Bombay and Delhi, doesn’t it? Case closed.

You can read this gem of an article here.

Pepolicious

Finally got some time to upload some of Pepo’s pictures! She’s such a joker and such a big bundle of joy, that you just want to keep on shooting as she goes about her daily antics!

Like her spiderman moments, when she jumps up on the balcony door demanding to be allowed out for 5 minutes, under strict supervision, so that she doesn’t go gallavanting off to explore all of the great big outdoors!

Iz spidey fan!

Or her play time, when she stalks around the house, her prey (here, a cute lil stuffed kitten!) firmly clamped between her jaws.

Hunting time

But the cutest has to be the way she sleeps…totally blissful and at peace with the world!

Iz happy!

For some more Pepo madness, check out my Picasa album here.

Diwali dhamaal

DSC01553Mom came home this year around Diwali, and we decided to go over to her brother’s (my mama) house in Kanpur to celebrate the festival of lights. This was the first time after marriage that I wasn’t celebrating Diwali at home. I missed decorating the house, making rangoli and lighting the diyas on Diwali. BUT, I had an awesome time at Kanpur!

Since our plans were rather last minute, there was no way we were going to get train reservations. So, we did the next best thing — fly. Delhi to Lucknow (30 mins) and then by taxi to Kanpur (1 hr 15 mins approx).

I was going back to the city after about 15 years…and the area where mama stays is just the same. Those same narrow roads, which of course can’t change, a lot of the same shops, the halwais that I remember being there…it was a trip down memory lane. As we used to when we were kids, we were staying at mom’s cousin’s house (my masi), which is a 5 min walk from mama’s house.

Filkhana and Viranha Road to Kanpur are what Chandani Chowk is to Delhi. Opportunities for photography abound, but being Diwali time, and seeing as I was wearing salwar kurtas and chappals and having to manage duppatas and my purse (so, no chance that I could bolt at the first sign of an eve teaser or chain snatcher) and was constantly running between mama’s house and masi’s, I had no time to pause and capture even one single image. Crummy. Well, I guess we’ll have to keep it for next time.

DSC01561

My cousins were also there, and so every evening all of us youngsters would get together and go out on a gastronomic adventure. I had the most awesome bhelpuri this side of Pune at Bombay Bhel House, tried tikka rice, which was a HUGE disappointment, and had yummy butter chicken from Babas. And since winters had set in, we had malai makkhan every day for breakfast. For the uninitiated, this is the most heavenly, lightest, awesomest sweet dish that you can have — ever — and it is available ONLY during winters and ONLY in Kanpur. I’ve heard that it’s available in Old Delhi too, as Daulat Ki Chaat, but those who have had both say that nothing comes even close to the malai makhan you get in Kanpur — only at Filkhana.

We also managed to squeeze in a trip to Lucknow — a shopping trip for mom and masi and an overnight halt to visit relatives and friends for Abid and me. And of course, while in Lucknow, how could I not squeeze in a shopping trip too? Picked up some lovely chicken peieces — both kurtas and suit materials — from Hazratganj. All in all, a pretty action-packed, fun-filled Diwali!

No matter what

I was reading an article on the net about living on purpose and with soul. The article made you stop and think about “no matter whats” that we need in order to lead an authentic and generous life, that will empower and not imprison us.

So here are some of the influences, activities, and people that cause me to shine, that describes the environment that fosters my wisdom, and helps me to bring the best that is within me to the forefront.

  • No matter what, I need to have a space that I can call my own, where I can rest, reflect, think and play.
  • No matter what, I need a creative outlet. It helps me center myself and let go of some of my stress.
  • No matter what, I need a workplace that empowers me, where my contributions are recognized and acknowledged and where there are clear avenues for growth.
  • No matter what, I need to be surrounded by music and books — music to soothe my soul and books as they make me fee safe, somehow.
  • No matter what, I need to travel, to explore new places and cultures, as that keeps me alive and enthused.

  • Now, it’s your turn. Think about the influences, activities and people that help you to shine; and the metaphor that you would use to describe the environment that fosters your wisdom.