27 June 2018

Swimming and Kerala

I cannot pinpoint the exact year when we visited Kerala. It was surely 1971 to 1973. It was most likely 1972. One of my father's friends was getting married in his village in Kerala. Alas, I don't remember the name of the village either. It was close to Cochin as far as I remember.

I remember taking a train through Kerala. I have not ever seen such a verdant landscape. It was lush and green. More treats were coming our way.  We walked at the edge of a valley which was again, so full of foliage that all I saw was a carpet of green. If I had slipped and fallen into the deep valley, I doubt if I would have hit the ground. I would have landed on a leafy tree.

At night the fireflies came out. I was amazed at the numbers and the size of them. They seemed more numerous and more brilliant than the stars. It was an unforgettable image that has stayed with me. Whenever I think of Kerala, I think of Lush greenery and the brilliant fireflies.

There is another image that has remained with me, the sea. No, the valley had no sea close by. While returning, we stayed one night in Cochin, maybe waiting for a connecting train back to Bangalore. The hotel was Bolgatty Palace. I realize now it was a heritage hotel. In those days it seemed simpler. Just a hotel slap on the seashore. We reached there late and went to bed immediately.

Next day morning, I went around the grounds and was mesmerised by the sight of the sea. I stood at the edge of the lawn staring into the deep green water. I declared I wanted to learn swimming. My mother promised to teach me as soon as I returned to Bangalore.

We lived close to High Grounds in Bangalore and my mother chose the swimming pool of Hotel Ashok (then plain old Ashok, now the swanky Lalit Ashok) which was 10 minutes walk away. They had a nominal fee for a day use of the pool and had nice changing rooms. To begin with, my mother taught me how to swim in the kiddie pool. Once I learned, I graduated to the big pool.  It was a clean pool with water filters and well scrubbed tiles. I fell absolutely in love with swimming and went quite often to the pool. Sometimes, I even took my friends along to show off my swimming skills. I wasn't very skilled, all I can do is the breast stroke, but I showed off nevertheless.

Till date, swimming remains my favorite activity. I have just abandoned my aerobics class as I was too hot and took up swimming for the season. I was full of prickly heat because of the soaring temperatures. After a couple of days of being immersed in water for 50 minutes, I am cured and cool once more. The sight of the pool always brings back the memory (by association) of the deep green water of the Arabian Sea which inspired me to take up swimming.

04 October 2017

On Reading the Narnia Series

During the 1970's my family reunited for a few years.  My father returned from the USA bringing along his wife.  My older brother and I were sent from Jamnagar to join him.

It was not wholly pleasant for me to be uprooted from my comfortable existence in Jamnagar among my dear cousins, school and friends.  What made me thaw was the books I got to read in Bangalore.

My stepmother had brought along some books dear to her from the USA. I cannot claim to remember them all, as I was just eleven years old then. There was Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Chronicles of Narnia, Beowulf, and a dog eared anthology of poetry. 

Out of these I fell in love, like Bella Swann, unconditionally and irrevocably in love with the Narnia series and Lord of the Rings.

The Narnia books, I remember, were laid out in our dining room cupboard, in chronological order, The Magician's Nephew, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and his Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Last Battle. Hence, I read about the wonderful land of Narnia where flora and fauna were respected and spoke. Humans were rare and mostly imported by the will of  Aslan, their real king.

I must have read and re-read these books time and time again. They opened up a magical world to be me where I could wander for hours together.

When the movie based on The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was released in 2005, I heard about it but was not able to see it on screen. I saw it in parts when it appeared on television. Seeing the movie in bits and pieces was not the best introduction to it, and I was a little underwhelmed.  I did not get the high I had experienced while reading the book all those years ago.

Three years later, I watched Prince Caspian in the theater and was suitably impressed. However, I did not recall the story as it was in the book much.  So I embarked upon reading the books once again. This time there were no neatly lined books in the dining room cupboard for me. Nearly forty years had passed, and times had changed.  I found ebooks of the series and read them once again. 

Nothing can replicate the joy of coming across a wonderful book that you want to read and re-read again.

The books are full of platitudes and homilies for children who must resist temptation and not fall prey to any of the seven deadly sins.  Aslan is said to be Jesus, or his father. Narnia is perhaps a sort of utopia. It has been criticized for this.

I did not heed the moral angle overmuch when I read it. All those years ago, when I read the books, I was captivated only by the world of Narnia where animals talked, trees had life and all was beautiful. It was where the Pevensie children were at their happiest and so was I.

Today I will curl up in my sofa and read The Magician's Nephew once again, admittedly the book I like best in the series. I will discover the beautiful yellow and green rings in Uncle Andrew's laboratory once again and vanish into worlds beyond our ken.

11 December 2015

5 Essentials

Just finished reading this excellent post by Richa Singh.  We are all creatures of habit and cannot do without things that are essential to us.  I won't go near food, clothes and shelter; just mention the other essentials that you want on you all the time.  Again, I won't mention house keys and money, these are rather mundane.  I choose to mention the essentials that define me.

My Phone:

This is going to pretty much on everyone's list.  Ever since the advent of mobile phones everyone pats their pockets to feel the familiar bulge before stepping out of house.  There are times when I have blanked out and reached office without mine.  It hasn't killed me so far but I do feel like I have left my baby at the railway station.  As soon as I get home, I pounce on my phone to find out what has been happening in my little world while I was away.


I have mentioned this separately.  Phone is one thing, internet another.  It is hard to breathe in a non-wifi world.  At home, internet downtime on my laptop makes me feel like Robinson Crusoe watching the ship sail away without him.  Luckily, my son feels worse. He is on the phone with the provider before you can say Jack Robinson and giving them a dressing down for letting the internet drop.

I use a prepaid pack on my phone and the notification about its limits being reached throws me into a tizzy.  I am on to Paytm in no time for my recharge.  I could easily get into a rehab for internet addicts.

Pens and paper:

I must have, in my bag or on my person, a set of pens.  One just does not cut it.  I have to have at least four pens at a time.  I am a real pen-junkie.  Let me inside a stationary shop and I start fiddling with pens and buying a batch whether I need them or not.  They don't have to be expensive, just different.  I like using pens of colors other than the boring ink-blue.  I like keeping tiny notepads or a sheet of paper. Sometimes I fold a plain sheet of paper, cut it, and staple it to make a makeshift notepad.

Lip Balm and Hand Cream:

I am not big on make-up.  A bit of a cream for the face is enough for me.  I try to be regular on kajal but forget often.  BUT. Lip balm is another story.  I have four or five tubes of every hue of lip balm at various nooks and crannies of my house.  Near the television seat, my bed, in the drawer of my workstation, in my bag, on my dresser.  The very nanosecond my lips feel a little dry, I need a coat.  Similarly for hand cream, I need a bottle handy to slather on my hands whenever they feel even a little dry.


Water is my manna, my nectar.  It keeps me hydrated and well.  If I don't drink my requisite volumes, I fall ill.  I really do.  I have to have a bottle handy whenever I step out of the house.  If someone reports an illness, I always ask if they drink enough water.  Try it.

Because of my water-mania, shared by son, I have a number of fancy water bottles around the house.  I try to avoid plastic and drink off a steel bottle.  I would prefer glass but as they are breakable I avoid them.

10 October 2015

Board Games - Snakes and Ladders, Ludo

In the 70s, we had board games like Snakes and Ladder and Ludo. I have played Chinese Checkers too at times.  I was introduced to Monopoly much later when my kids were small.  Other games like Scrabble, a big favorite of mine later, were not much in vogue during my childhood. Chess was never my cup of tea.

It was with great amusement that I downloaded Snakes and Ladders and Ludo in a mobile game format.  In Snakes and Ladders, if I play against the computer, all I have to do is to click the dice when my turn comes.  The game progresses on its own.  The dice moves on the board, goes up the ladders if it encounters one, slides down the snake if it happens to land on the mouth.  So I am just an idle watcher and clicker.  When I win or lose, I get a notification.  I feel quite useless really.

In the actual game, we got a large board which had these games printed on them.  We also got a tacky little box of dice and buttons to use while playing.  When we got bored of playing the right way, we invented other games.  

For instance, we would play with two buttons instead of one.  It had an advantage to it.  If the turn of dice could land our button on a snake, we could move the other button and save ourselves the ignominy of sliding down the snake.  The game was slower this way, but it gave us more options.

Another invention was to play it with snakes becoming the 'good guys'.  If we reached the tail of a snake, we would climb up to its mouth.  Similarly, if we encountered the top of a ladder we would groan because the new rule was to climb down the ladder.  It was fun when played like this.

Yet another invention was to start the game from 100 and make it a win if we reached 1 first.  When we encountered the tail of the snake we would slide up.  Similarly on encountering the top of ladder we would happily climb down.  Because you see, the 'down' was the new 'up.  All these inventions relieved the tedium of playing the same few games over and over again;

The mobile game app of Ludo is pretty good.  If I play against the computer, I still get to choose which button to move, which to stall and when to kill the buttons of my opposers.  I am pretty sure there is an app for scrabble game as well.  I must try that out.

26 September 2015

Lesson in acceptance.

Jamnagar in the 1960's up to the 1980's when I left was mainly a vegetarian town.  It is a dry state, that we all know, thanks to Gandhiji.   Non-vegetarian food is not openly available.  Bread shops do not sport rows of eggs for sale.  Chicken is not available at any corner shop with a freezer.

Tandoori murgas on spits, hung out to marinade, is such a common sight in Delhi.  They amazed me when I looked at them when I started living in Delhi.

An acquaintance, a fellow Punjabi, ran a poultry farm.  Once in a while, on a Sunday, he would kill a tender goat and the meat would be distributed amongst the Punjabis in Jamnagar.  There was one restaurant, run by a Sikh, that served mutton on its menu.

I liked the mutton prepared by my aunt.  It was perfectly flavored and not too heavy with spices.  Where we lived, the aroma of cooking mutton spread and announced itself to our vegetarian neighbors.

I played with a couple of girls in our neighborhood that were close to my age.  We would get together every evening and play something, hide and seek, Stapu, play with a ball just run around.

I remember the day one of my playing companions asked me, distaste writ large over her face, "You eat meat, don't you?"  I quailed as I nodded.  The girl made noises of disgust.  At that moment, my other friend,  Malvika, said to her, "Don't do that.  It is food for her. Don't disrespect food."

That, right then, was the biggest example I got in acceptance.  I know what it is to be sidelined.  I grew up in a Hindu-majority State.  

In Jamnagar, Sikhs were mostly admired.  But there were some who felt weirded out by the turbans and long hair men sported.
There were people who hissed at me because I looked like a foreigner with my light skin and brown hair.
I know how important it is to be accepted for what you are.  I thank you Malvika for standing up to me then.  It was a lesson I have treasured all my life.

11 August 2015

In the line of Duty

This happened in the early 90s.

I was working in what was then so fancifully known as the EDP Department.  EDP stood for Electronic Data Processing.

An 8088 processor PC was the hot killer hardware in the market.  We worked on stand-alone PCs.  Our work was compiled by copying files on 5.1/4 floppy disks.  I do not remember if 3.5 inch ones had made an appearance or not.

Yes, it was more than 20 years ago.  Not really all that old, if you think about it. These days even 50-year-old people call themselves young.  I do.

A new module was required by my office to ensure distribution of our product.  The launch was hours away and reports were required.

It was late evening and I was busy working on a programme that would generate the reports required.  My programme was done and I was about to save it.  Simultaneously, I stretched my foot in relief. My toe hit the switch that was powering my PC.

Click.  All went dark in my eyes.

My work of the past hour went down the drain.  However, there was nothing else I could do.  I powered the PC on and started work again.  This time, keeping my feet in control.

I managed to submit the reports in time for the dispatch.

03 May 2015

Just Books, JP Nagar, Bangalore

There are some places that you fall in love with instantly.  It is all about ambience. Maybe it is what happens in a place like this.  Maybe it is a combination of everything.

I happened to be in Just Books, J.P. Nagar, Bangalore on 28th April, 2015.  I was there with a friend who was on a book tour.  She had to be there to record an interview.  While she was on her business, I took a look around the place.  Just Books is a chain of library stores across the country, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, among others.  The J.P. Nagar branch is just one of many across Bangalore.

I forgot to take a picture of the place, so I will try to describe it the best I can.  It is a small shop with a glass front.  There are neat shelves filled with all sorts of books that subscribers can take out.  They have tiny stools on which people can sit as they flip through a book.

I picked a book out of the shelves, Anais Nin's Delta of Venus, and dragged the little stool near the big glass french window.  The view outside was nothing to speak of.  It looked out on a street with houses lining it.  With a book in my hand and a quiet library behind me, even this plain view looked restful.

This is the first time I dipped into a book by Anais Nin.  She writes a lyrical prose that wills you to read on and on.  Alas, I had just a few minutes to enjoy this and soon had to put the book back on the shelf and leave.

I spent half an hour beside that window; it was an oasis of peace in the otherwise hectic time I had in Bangalore, rushing here and there.

05 April 2015

My Scrapbook - Features Digest - 1

I often post articles and features that I like on Twitter and Facebook.  But these places are so overcrowded that it is sometimes difficult to extract and even remember what I posted a while back.  Hence, I have decided to create a blog post with tags that will make it easy to refer to a good article that I read.

My father read extensively and wrote extensively as well.  In his heyday he ordered a number of newspapers and periodicals.  In his bid to categorize his readings, and also for easy recall, he had built up a system of saving newspaper cuttings of the articles he read. He would then put them in file folders meticulously.

It was quite common for us to open a newspaper and find windows cut into it.  Magazines met the same fate.  There was a time when my father would cut out the advertisements from the magazines because he felt they were unnecessary.  Visitors to our house would stop short when they saw the entire house covered with books, magazines and newspapers.  The floors were laid out with newspaper cuttings that awaited being categorized and put away.

When we were young, my father sent us a scrapbook with pictures and captions.  They were clippings of pictures from various magazines that were stuck in a scrapbook.  Thinking back, I am not sure that my father made those himself.  Maybe he got help from some student of his. I remember being charmed by them.  Once of twice, I made similar picture scrapbooks and gifted them to friends.

Now, I realize the importance of those saved articles, when I rack my brains to remember something I had read but cannot recall the specifics.  With all these tools on internet available to us, it is easy to store stuff electronically.  So here goes my first digest.

Today's Literary Review by The Hindu had some good articles.  I loved the few books of Krishna Sobti that I read recently.  There was a nice article on her in this pullout. Here is a link to article, "A strong voice".  I liked this review of Geeta Hariharan's book, "Almost Home", in the same magazine.

In today's Indian Express, I came across this profile of a man who is in charge of the meteorological department of J&K, and found it quite interesting. "The Rainspotter", a day in the life of Sonum Lotus. The article was laudatory to him. When I checked him out on twitter, he was being flooded with bad press, accused of making false predictions.  It is so hard to know what is correct and what is not correct, in these days of information overload.

Finally, a humorous piece in Eye Magazine of Indian Express from my favorite author, Ranjit Lal.  It is titled "The Indian Driver's Handbook" and is accompanied by a delightful, Mario-esque illustration.

17 December 2014

#FixOurRoads: Opp. Comfort Banquet, Zirakpur

The Old Kalka-Ambala Road, that led from Zirakpur to Ambala used to be an abandoned road for a long time.  It had agricultural land on both sides and lay green but forlorn. Now the place is humming with activity.  All thanks to the various housing societies that have sprung up adjacent to this road. An overbridge that leads to Kalka from Zirakpur light point cuts free access to this road from the Chandigarh end.  People commuting to Dhakoli or Peer Muchhala from Panchkula have to take this road.  Their numbers grow day by day.  Comfort Banquet is a well known landmark right at the Panchkula end of the road.  It is a busy hub.  You see, there are two daaru ka thekha (alcohol shops) here. There are some small joints selling food here, a few shops and a shanty market selling vegetables.

I have to commute along this road everyday as I live in Dhakoli and work in Panchkula.  I drive a scooter and leave office by 6 PM in the evening. It is dark and bitterly cold by that time.  The drinking population rejoices at the early darkness as it means they can ‘party’ early.  The atmosphere is of happiness for a few and fears for some.  If everything was good, one could pass by this little stretch of barely 5 or 10 meters in the matter of a second or two.  But things are not good here.

The bit of road in front of Comfort Banquet always sags.  It has been filled with pebbles and built over at times, but within a few weeks it is back to its pockmarked self.  There are huge cavern sized pot holes on the road.  Two wheeler drivers have to slow down and find a good patch to drive on that will not upset the scooter.  On dry days it is still possible, as the cavern is visible and one can slowly pass it by.  But on rainy days everything gets waterlogged and it is harder to spot a good bit of road to use.  By the way, whatever light we have in this spot is thanks to the shops and the Banquet.  Move up the road and you are left in total darkness.

I have no idea who I should contact for this.  But I am putting these pictures here and in social media, hoping that someone wakes up to the difficulty the population of Dhakoli face on a daily basis.