Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Into the Past - Amritsar Heritage Walk

The Punjab Tourism website is like any other government website.  Rather boring. However, something did catch my attention .  It was the mention of the Amritsar Heritage Walk and a contact phone number.  A call to the number got me an immediate response and a text message with names of two guides.  So, there we were, early morning, going through small lanes of Amritsar city, with our young guide, Ms Gurvinder

The lanes were narrow, and you had to be on constant alert. Making sure you did not step into garbage, avoiding the speeding scooter, the stray dog, clicking sounds and occasional yells from the rickshaw driver and the motorcyclist. Photography comes with risks.  However, I did manage a few pictures but not quite the capture I would have liked.

The walk was around 1.5 km.  It takes you past some of the old monuments that were built by the British.  Old houses that  might soon sadly vanish. Through crossroads and lanes that were witness to unity marches and ghastly actions of British.

Our guide was knowledgeable and the walk into the past despite the chaos around was unbelievable.

Town Hall

The walk began at the Town Hall built by the British in 1866 as the centre for administration. The Central Tower houses a bell that was used when messages had to be conveyed.

Mosque and Bank

Nearby is the Jaan Mohammad Mosque built in 1872 by the businessman Mian Jaan. And the building that now houses the Punjab National Bank which was known as the Lal Haveli, and housed an oil and perfume manufacturing factory.  These had an international market as well !

Gurudwara Saragarhi

Onward to the Gurudwara Saragarhi, dedicated to the 21 soldiers of the Sikh Batallion who refused to surrender and fought a six hour long battle with 10000 Pathan tribesman. . This place was dedicated to the 21 soldiers of the 36 Sikh Batallion who were sent to protect the Fort Lokhart.  They were ambushed by ten thousand Pathan tribesman. They refused to surrender and lost their lives in a six hour battle. This is one of the three gurudwaras built to commemorate their bravery,

Qila Ahluwalia (Illustration on the left - from brochure of Punjab Tourism) The fort belonged to Alhluwalia Misl. 

Wooden Jharokas.

Painting on the underside of arches, and a hand that is pointing downwards
A little sculpture, almost went unnoticed

Jalebiwala Chowk.  Right under the blue windows is the famous jalebi shop
On April 9,1919, to defy the divide and rule of the British, the Hindu and Muslims came together to celebrate Ram Navami here.  And it is still home to Gurudas Ram de Jalebi Wala.  

Chitta Akhara

Baba Bohar in Bartan Bazaar, you find rows and rows of shops that sell utensils.  In the middle of the road is a huge Banyan ( Bohar) tree. It hasn't been axed or touched for centuries, houses have been built around it and the branches go into various windows
We then went past the Chowrasti Atari. Chowrasti ( crossroads) and Atari (terrace). It had four passages and 32 shops.

Then onward to the Taksal, or the Mint, where Maharaja Ranjit Singh minted coins (1803) dedicated to his queen Moran. Moran was a dancing girl. This did not go down too well with the priests of the Golden Temple who ordered the production to be stopped.   Right opposite is the Shahni Mandir.  

Shahni Mandir with images of Garuda and Hanuman

The walk ended at the Golden Temple.  After which  we proceeded to have a hot, crisp jalebi at the Jalebiwala chowk.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

Subbu Travels - A trip to Rameshwaram

I have so frequently watched vehicles like this and wondered at the people in it.  Wondered why they would get into something that looked a little precariously balanced, almost as if a wheel was off the ground.
And so, what was I doing in that kind of a bus?  Well, for one, it was recommended by the Tourism Department.  And secondly, there was not much of a choice in Madurai.  Either you had to take a cab and we could not find anyone else who wanted to make the same journey, and this was the only other option.  The guy at the travel desk tried his best to dissuade us. Not for you folks, he seemed to say.  But this was another impulsive trip - to Rameshwaram-  and there we were....

The bus arrived half hour before schedule at 6.45 am.  We hurriedly had our breakfast and boarded.  It went around to a couple of other hotels and picked up more people and there we were, a total of 22 people in that contraption. A father and son.  A group of young boys.  And another family with a little baby.  We had a couple and their two children behind us.  The woman was incessantly complaining at the top of her voice.  The husband egged her on when she stopped.  We wondered what we had let ourselves in for. Maybe, the travel desk guy was right after all.  This was not for us.   After half hour of a rickety ride the bus pulled into a wayside hotel and we were all told that it was a breakfast stop and we had to leave in 10 minutes.  We tumbled out a little tired, looking warily at fellow passengers and them at us.

We boarded a good 25 minutes later.  As soon as we all settled, the driver walked in to the front of the bus.  He spoke in Hindi.  Except for four of the passengers, I think the rest were all from the South.  But that did not deter him. He was matter of fact.  Look, I am your guide.  We have to rush.  We should reach Rameshwaram by 12 noon.  The temple closes at 1 pm.  You can have a priest to help you find your way quickly and finish the darshan.  It will cost you Rs 100.  If you do not wish to use their services you are welcome not to, but then remember you will not be able to do anything without them.  And we have a lot of other things to do.  And as a guide my charge is Rs 20/- per person.   ( Now, that was not mentioned anywhere in the ticket) .  You will have to pay me right now. In minutes he was richer by about Rs 400/- plus the commission from the tea stall owner.

With his wallet full, we were ready to leave once again.  I was glad I did not have the view of the road.  Because the one time I craned my neck to look at why the driver was creating a racket with the horn, I realised he was overtaking a truck and that frightened the wits out of me.   The mini bus was not air conditioned, but the roof was padded and there we were driving at a good speed and there was overall circulation of air through the windows.  I also noticed there was no door. And so another gust from there kept us all reasonably cool.

Fortunately, after the breakfast, the couple behind us had also quietened down.  About two hours later, the breeze seemed cooler and we could see the sea alongside.

Our 'guide' informed us this was the confluence of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.  It was a very pretty sight.  And he told us we would shortly arrive at our destination and that we should be prepared for a half kilometer walk.  

As we neared the temple, perhaps that is why there was no door, we had four hefty priests who jumped into the bus.  It reminded me of how railway porters got into the train as it pulled on to a platform.  As the bus stopped, the driver came in with a bag and collected all our mobile phones and cameras and then told us to pay the priest.  Of course, he once again told us it was optional, but it was for our good and we had hardly anytime before the temple closed for the afternoon.  So, really we had no choice.  We rushed through what seemed a maze, tiny lanes that finally led us to the entrance to the temple, and an enclosure where we kept our footwear and got in.  

We were led by our priestly guides to enclosures where there were people who poured water over our heads from different wells.  I couldn't go through a total dousing but watched with awe while the others had no qualms including the little baby passenger who took it in good stride.  Not a whimper out of him ! The floor was wet and slippery and  I was so scared I might slip that I had my eyes down watching my step and rarely looked upward to appreciate the beauty of the temple.  Finally we made it to the sanctum sanctorum.  It was time for the temple to close.  And the priests then tried to extract a little more from our small group.  Rameshwaram, was for most people the last stop in their pilgrimage and many had run out of funds.  So it was a rather disappointing day for the four priests.

By then, we all were tired.  The humid heat was finally getting us down.  And we went and had a nice simple hot lunch at a small restaurant.  A so called north indian lunch which tasted quite south indian.  It was hot, not greasy and quite like home cooked food.  

We were given a little time to wander as the driver had his lunch.  We went to the sea front where most of the religious ceremonies are conducted.  It saddened me to see the filth.  And absolutely no effort to clean up.  All it would take is a little effort ! And some civic sense.                                            

 We stopped by at a few other places before we got on to the Pamban bridge.  The beautiful cantilever bridge over the Palk Strait.  We also had a train that just came by and this made it all the more worthwhile.  It is ironical that there are boards all along the bridge that state  No Parking, but every vehicle made a stop to let the passengers troop out to pose and take pictures.  


And finally we were on our way back to Madurai.  By then we had made friends with the father and son, and the young men who I suspect had played hooky from work and had no confirmed tickets to get back and were beginning to look worried.  The noisy couple resumed a bit of their banter from morning, but we were more accommodating by then and it did not bother us any more.  It seemed like one big family with one common goal.  And we had not allowed the driver or the priests take us totally for a ride.  
We had another mini stop again at a hotel for tea.  And some nice hot plantain bajjis that were just off the pan.  There was this guy outside the hotel who had a little whistle and would wave about his arms  to get people to stop by 

We reached at about 7 in the night.  A good twelve hours since we started out.  The travel guy looked anxiously at us as we walked into the hotel with a I told you this was not for you kind of look.  He looked surprised to see us quite happy and relaxed.  Our mission accomplished.  Within a reasonable budget.  With less discomfort than anticipated and a thoroughly enjoyable trip with strange company.  


I was puzzled by what was on the windscreen of another bus.  It said 'Our life in once make. Our generation to live '  There didn't seem to be any words missing. I am still figuring it out.  And once I do , I will step into another mini bus for another ride.  Till then, this will remain in my memory as a totally entertaining experience with Subbu Travels. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Nostalgia - travel by train

It started more as a lark.  Friends mentioned that the Indian Railways was extra kind to women.  At 58, they could avail the senior citizen concession and that too a very generous 50% .  This was peak season with school holidays and the only tickets available were the 1 AC. And so our adventure began.

As the train rolled in, it really looked as if the coaches were ancient.  They deserved a heritage listing I thought.  The AC coach of the Hyderabad Chennai express was quite pathetic.  The curtains were torn, the switches were dirty.  But the berth was comfortable.  We got a coupĂ© and and the journey was not too  long and so we decided not to be critical.  It was nice to hear the vendors go by selling Chai, Coffee and Mosa....  We wondered what mosa was till he continued Mosa, Mosa, Samosa....  Did we try them?  No.  At one time no vendor would have gone by without a purchase being made, but this time we carried homemade food and bottled water.

I wish they would clean up not just the trains but the areas around the tracks closer to the stations. Even an increase of the fare by a rupee, considering the numbers that use the trains, could provide livelihood to people who would willingly clean up the place. It just requires a will to do it. 

The journey was otherwise comfortable and I had the best sleep in years !  

I would have thought that was the first and last train journey of this leg. There was much to be desired in way of cleanliness at the station and on the train.  But we had an unplanned trip to Madurai and the air tickets were way too expensive and the location of the bus station was not convenient.  So we looked at the Indian Railways again.  And with our concession it made sense for another train journey.  And by now, we knew what to expect !

We chose to travel by 2AC to Madurai by the Duronto Epxress.  This was a recent route that was introduced , bi-weekly, and to our surprise considering this was holiday season, the train was empty.  Traveling as senior citizens has its  benefits especially if the Ticket Inspector is not young either. There was immediate empathy.  We had the side berths that we wanted to change and he gave us two lower berths in a four berth cubicle, with the two upper berths vacant, and it was like having a big room to ourselves.

Our last journey was by the Pandiyan Express.  Once again by 1 AC and what a pleasant change this was.  The compartment was sparkling.  So clean, you could walk barefoot.  The linen was spotless.  This ride restored my faith in the Railways.  If they could do it on one train, they could repeat it with others. At least I hope so. 

I did notice a few plus points.  There was better seating at the stations.  More facilities.  The railways website IRCTC is quite user-friendly for booking and cancellations.  And all the three trains departed and arrived on the dot.  In some cases a few minutes early.  That was indeed a pleasant surprise. 

A piece of advice, do not travel First AC unless you can avail the concession.  It is not worth it at the full fare which can work out more than the fare on a low cost airline. 

And well, will this be my last train ride.... I don't think so. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A trip to Udupi

As always, my brother, on his trips to India, makes it a point to meet as many people as he possibly can, however short his visit may be.  He had Mangalore and Udupi on his agenda.  Since I was in charge of his itinerary, I booked his ticket.  A fortnight later, I decided to accompany him. I had not been to Udupi for over 35 years and there was that longing to connect to the past.  Earlier visits were with my parents and siblings driving 500 km in the old Prefect Ford over the Shimoga ghats. Stopping at travelers bungalows along the way.  Quenching thirst with 'goli' soda.  It seemed a long time ago.  Memories were fading.

The driver of the cab we hired from the Mangalore airport was elderly and I settled down to what I assumed would be a relaxed ride.  But he took off from the airport like a rocket and brought us to our destination in the shortest time.  I normally would have been scared out of my wits, but instead the two of us were looking out excitedly for familiar landmarks as we whizzed past at full speed.

The start of the road  that led to the house had high rise apartments.  Oh no, I thought, had the place changed that much !  That was so disappointing..... but just till we reached our destination.  There it stood, the house, as we remembered it.

It felt as if the hands of the clock were pushed back in time.  And we were so grateful to our uncle and aunt who lived there.  It must be a mammoth task to maintain a house of this size. But they had taken care to see that the house remained unchanged.  A few modern conveniences to make life easier.

                    The housewarming in 1917.The portico had not been constructed at that time.

Each room had a story to tell.  The front portico that used to be open earlier was where my father, as a child, had a very bad head injury when he fell off the parapet.  As years passed by, security issues cropped up and it had to be enclosed.

              The cool red oxide flooring, high sloping roof with Mangalore tiles on the outside and the wooden                  rafters inside. 

We were squealing with delight as we walked from room to room. It did not matter that we were not kids anymore.  Taking pictures.  Looking for objects that we could remember having seen. Memories came rushing back.  Where was the ship in the bottle?  The ship remained, and I suspect the bottle must have been broken.

The grand uncle's study had been out of bounds for us. Or was it that as kids we were scared to venture in.  He used to looked stern.  Even now, I stepped in hesitantly. My great grandmother's room was converted to a puja place.  The kitchen retained the old charm.  Of course, a gas stove and a refrigerator had moved in. I thought the lights had not been switched off only to realise that abundant sunlight was streaming in through the skylights in the roof.

The house stood on an acre of land.  There were tall trees of coconut, teak, jack fruit, bread fruit, sapota, mango, bay leaf, pepper vines, curry leaves, and the bilimbi .  They must have seen generations play under its shade.

There was a little raised platform in the compound where the adults would gather and chat in the evening. It also served as the centre stage for weddings.

The town has changed.  There is no doubt about that.  Tall residential buildings and malls. The small by lanes existed, that we as city bred kids thought , barely sufficient for humans and the occasional bullock cart. But now there were Audis, BMWs and Mercs that drove by.

The Malpe beach with its golden sands was as beautiful.  We chose a day and time when the crowds were thin.  There were people para gliding, and in speed boats.  Different sights. But same delight .

The Ajarkad playground where we would walk in the evenings and make little sand castles was still there.  Adjoining it was a huge stadium and a park.  The old radio tower still remained.  It looked a little sad and forlorn, but there were signs of some repair and I am hoping it will be restored to its old glory.

We mananged the Udupi Krishna temple visit choosing once again the time when there was no rush of devotees.

We were in Udupi for too short a time. As children, we had wanted to rush back to the city sounds.  But now we enjoyed the quiet.  I have to make the trip back there very soon.  To spend more time with my uncle and aunt.  To listen to anecdotes they have to share.  To walk through the rooms again.  And oh yes, the Gadbad Special Ice cream.  We were so well fed, that we just did not have room for the Udupi specialty.   There is always another time.  And I hope it will be very soon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Door Darshan - the old faithful

I guess Door Darshan should have a new slogan.  In Indian English -  Take no tension, watch Door Darshan.

No screaming anchors, no disturbing visuals... news read in the same monotone.  In the 55th year of its existence, I have begun watching the channel again.  You can let it go on in the background and read a book peacefully.  Off and on, glancing up to take in the news.  It indeed is tranquil.  And there is no sarcasm here. Years ago, I was criticising it for just the very reasons !

They do not even give you the schedule of programmes.  And one is sometimes pleasantly surprised when there is a telecast of a good debate, good music, a good film. Which, believe me is quite often.  Door Darshan has the best archives of music, film, new reels and features.  And just as you get immersed in it, there is an abrupt halt and time for the next show.  Perhaps, if they really had a well thought of schedule, they would let the public know !

Door Darshan brings back memories of the family getting together in the TV room.  It was bonding time. From my old grandmother to the family help, and the dog.  Children on the mat.  The swirling logo and music that Hritik Roshan made fun of in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara - which my daughter would call the Dumtaka music - would bring all other activities in the house to a standstill.  Right from the agriculture programmes that began at 6 pm to the end with the news at night.  After which everyone dispersed to bed. Nothing was 24/7 those days.  The term did not exist.

Which brings me to the present.  The ongoing 2014 Asian Games at South Korea.  Door Darshan is indeed telecasting the Asian Games.  The 2011 edition.

What is the medal tally ?  Ignorance is bliss. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Back to Blogging...I hope

This blog has been dormant too long... I may not have any readers left.  But then, what better to way to record your thoughts and get down to writing.

I was away from home for six months.  When I got back we had a new government at the centre, a new one at the state... which was fine.  I even got back to a new state, which was rather sad.  I have no idea if it will have any impact on the development of the region.  But it seems a part of me has been snatched away.  This place is no longer home.

Which brings me back to the book I am reading , Prison and Chocolate Cake by Nayantara Sahgal, the introductory chapter made so much sense to me.  Especially since all these changes in the past few months upset me.  No one else seems duly concerned, so why me, I wonder ?  At least the author echoes similar sentiments.  The book was initially published in 1954.  And later on in the reprinted version, she elected to keep the footnotes and not unnecessarily update it, which would have meant erasing the signs of the past.   She rightly mentions that updaters have done it with history.  Road names, town names are changed so very frequently. Statues are demolished and replaced.  For what she asks, to say that history began today ? That every generation has only a updated version of events not knowing what one went through to arrive at the present ? To wipe out traces would be to pretend they never existed.

Every time I am away even if it is for a month, I come back to find a building brought down, landmarks vanishing.  And I can find nothing in the city that I can associate with my youth.

Which is why, perhaps, I like to see anything that looks like it has been around a long long time. In London, I saw this milestone that was on one of our regular walking routes .

 So I looked up for it and came across this site - English Heritage - It says - Milestone - Cast Iron with an arched head. Retains the founders mark RU & J Barret 1834.

They even have a Milestone Society that has a record of all of them.

What I like best is, that it is there on the street.  No one has defaced it. No XX loves YY.  No pamphlets pasted over it. It might go unnoticed by many... but  it has been there since 1834 !

I even read that some of the earliest milestones are those erected by the Mughals and they were close to Agra.  Some have tried going in search for it, but the tourist guides have no clue of their location.  I can very well believe that.  Another relic disappeared like so many others.

I will sit and contemplate.  Go back to reading the book.  Like my blog posts, I had put aside books for more light and easy reading.  My success with both will be recorded here. Another post.. another milestone.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Home. I have lived in my city for over 50 years. A long long time. So, I should not have any hesitation in calling it my home. But off late I have been asking myself where exactly is home? Where do I want to be?

Eight years ago, our two daughters left home within a span of a week . Both got into courses away from home and that was the first time the house seemed empty !( yes the home suddenly seemed just four walls ) It took us a while to get used to the emptiness but there were times to look forward to. Weekends, festivals, term holidays. Then the elder one got married and after a while their careers took them abroad, the younger one took a job in another city. 

But she often flew down. That lasted three years, till she went to the US for her masters last year. 

Now the two of us are like gypsies. While we closed our small office that we had for about 20 years, we have nothing to hold us down. We are content as of now, doing something at our pace so that we can pack our bags whenever the kids need us. We spent time with the elder one in London, when she had a baby last year. While I did miss the familiar faces and places, I felt quite at home. That surprised me !

The younger one graduates in a couple of months. After completion of the course she will return to India for a short period again, till she goes back to take on her new assignment. And this morning, her tickets were booked, and she called to say – Yay ! I am coming home soon.

That was the answer. I know even though the children have their separate lives, they need to return to their roots time and again, even though the visits are not that frequent and for shorter stays. It is after all their home. And ours.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Out of Order

Out of Order is a sculpture by artist David Mach that is on the Old London Road in Kingston upon Thames. It is a series of tumbling telephone boxes that has over the years become an iconic landmark of the place.

Those little red phone booths in the UK are still around, maybe in fewer numbers but still being used.  Just like the red postboxes.  I was pleased to see people posting letters, postmen going on their shifts as early as 8 in the morning.  Little sights that are missing back home.

Kingston upon Thames is a quaint place.  And at their Ancient Market Place one can spend some time browsing, sitting on the stone benches looking at the old buildings and taking in the architecture.

I did a post for Indian Bazaars here about the Market Place.  Do go and explore Kiran's blog for insights about the market places in India and elsewhere. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lasting first times....

There is always a first time.  Just too many to recall and relate. And as you grow older, the first times and the other times that follow, make these the experiences one falls back on. 

The first time I started teaching, I was very nervous.  I asked my father, who had begun his career as a lecturer, for some tips.  He said  “Remember, you definitely know more than the student sitting in front of you, but that does not mean you can fool them”.  “Go prepared and if you are unable to answer any of the questions, do not try to dodge the query or even pull a fast one”.  “There is no harm admitting that you do not know.  But go back the next day, with the answer.  A student will respect you for that”.   That advice held me in good stead in both teaching and non-teaching life

Getting on in years, some tasks are no longer done with ease.  Can be more trying than the first time. I was rather pleased the other day,  when I threaded a slender silk thread through a very fine eye of the needle in dim light.

  Perhaps it was the new pair of glasses!  But to me it did feel like an achievement of sorts.   Like a first time without depending on others.

There will continue to be some firsts.  Like the first time I made a snowman with my daughter a couple of months ago.  

So very enjoyable.  All those Enid Blyton books, the Dennis the Menace and Archie comics that we read as kids conjuring different images all took life on a cold bleak wintry day.  And then coming back to a hot cup of tea with some cupcakes.  I was a ten year old all over again.

There will be other firsts… until there is a last.  Amen. 

PS - This was for the SRA group - the subject being - The First Time

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Trying my hand at verse...

As I was blog hopping I happily landed at SRA's blog.  SRA and friends have started a group on facebook that has a common objective of writing on a particular theme each week.  That was just what I needed to get back to blogging.  I was also exposed to different styles of thinking and writing.  It got me trying my hand at a bit of poetry.  Something I had not done for a very long time.  An edited version ....

What Nonsense !

I cannot do with all this fuss
I went to meet  the Octopus
Extra arms I need to borrow
To multi-task from ‘morrow

And so I return with four more pairs
Slowly climbing up the stairs

This will make my work so easy
The kitchen top will ne’er be greasy
Cut, braid and pack  in one go
The arms will glide in graceful flow

Alas, co-ordination was such a strain
The cheese sandwich went down the drain
The wiping mop went into the box
And lass’ braids were tied with socks

The Creator watched this with disdain
To think I equipped them with better brain !

So much thought in their design
Yet,  all they do is cry and whine
 And, what a waste of the effort  I took
For them to while away time on facebook ?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Back to regular blogging... hopefully in 2013

The last posting here was seven months ago.   But then that was 2012.  The new year is upon us.  I have not made new year resolutions for a very long time.  I remember as a kid ( and now I am a new grand-mother, so that seems ages ago ) I would get a diary at the beginning of the year and resolve to write each day.  I think it hardly lasted a week.  Either it was just an ordinary day, or something too personal to write about.  And I think that is exactly what happened to my blog.  Too much happened last year !  Too much to share.

It is not that I stayed away from the virtual world.  Far from it.  And funnily I was more active on my food blog.  Strange.. since I am not really fond of cooking !  But finding so many food blogs and like-minded people sharing recipes made what might otherwise have been another boring chore a lot more interesting.

There were many decisions we had to make in 2012  the impact of which, we will know in 2013.  We shut our small sized enterprise, our younger one went abroad to do her LLM, and the elder one had a baby !  Right now away from home, we return to India in March and move to our own apartment.  It is not the dream home I always wanted, but I am wiser and understand I can make it make it my own little space.

As of now,  I cannot think too far ahead.  Our lives are focused now around this little being who came into our lives 10 weeks ago.  And I am content.

More resolutions (apart from regular blogging ) I shall make as the year progresses.  I find the mid-year ones are more realistic.  And achievable.

Cheers ! 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The dying art of conversation... huh?

This is what many are 'talking about' - the death of conversation.  In a world that is increasingly turning to texting, tweeting and chatting online.  Well connected, but in silence. Who would have thought it possible?  People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening. 


At home, time and again, we have stopped the elder one in her conversation, to tell her to get to the point, and to skip the details (sorry S!) . She is a great one for that.  Thankfully it has not stopped her, ever.  But now, if we are to go by the words of the  renowned psychologist and professor at MIT - Sherry Turkle - it is important to listen to each other, even if it is in the most boring bits  because it is often in unedited moments, that we reveal ourselves to one another.

Professor Turkle says students have mastered the art of eye contact while they are busy texting! Nothing new.  How many times have our children ( I am without doubt speaking for all parents) nodded their heads at appropriate moments, blinked, changed facial expressions to give you the impression that they are hanging on to every word  said, while their fingers dexterously typed out long messages.  To think that we spent hours trying to get them to hold a pencil and learn to write!  This particular fine skill of texting came naturally to them!

Turkle has also coined a new term - the Goldilocks effectnot too close, not too far, just right , keeping in touch with so many people yet to keep them at bay - at a distance they can control - .  For most youngsters, human relationships are messy,and they move from conversation to connection.  And over a period of time stop caring.  They forget the art of conversation, and skills associated with it.  Of being patient and empathising. Always in the company of 'friends' - if we cannot be alone even for a while it will only make us more lonely.  And that is a scary thought.

I guess it is due to the numbers in India, our world has not fallen silent.  And we are a nation of noisy people.  But surprisingly, when I took a journey by train some time ago it was so different.  I remember how much fun it used to be earlier. The noise, the hawkers, the conversations, sharing of meals.  But this time, I found it strangely silent.  Only the hum of the airconditioning.  Almost all were busy with their smart devices (I think I was the only one with an 'antique' piece). Playing games, on facebook, or tweeting. And being constantly warned not to accept food from strangers, we all settled down to the boring railway catered food and ate in silence.

Another time, I was awaiting my turn at the billing section of a hospital.  A lady barged in before me.  I thought I should protest, but she looked distraught.  She was hunched over the counter and I thought she must be having a tough time and after all it only meant a delay of a few minutes.  But it took longer and curiosity finally got the better of me and I peered over to see the cause of her despair.  But lo! I found her face inches away from her phone and she was playing a game.  I guess the pained expression shifted to my face.

It is nice to think most of those of my generation still pick up a phone or drop by to have a conversation.  Not just someone who 'likes' or 'pokes'.  And thank god once again for S and her incessant banter. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's Not Important to Touch Your Toes

(Pic -

All these years I have pushed myself to touch my toes.  Till a fortnight ago.  I was lying down on my new green yoga mat.  I always feel it is necessary to have these little pretty accessories that serve as an impetus to get going on an exercise routine . Well anyway, to get back to the supine position on the yoga mat...  I got up and bent forward to touch my toes.  And I found that my hand did not proceed beyond my calves.  I mean I could touch the toes the day before. So what was wrong today? As I was trying to push myself to make the phalanges meet, I realised it was absolutely unnecessary. Why pull a hamstring on a day the body does not want to make the extra effort?  And after that believe me, exercising is a lot more fun.  And no stress.  And just being consistent with the routine is the secret of a successful workout.

So remember, It's not Important to Touch your Toes...unless of course you are a fitness trainer.

I have even gone as far as to think this would make a good title for a book.  And I am sure it will atleast attract a few eyeballs at a store. But for someone who has not been too regular posting here, I know  the book will never see the light of day.  But that has not stopped me from thinking about the sequels.  For instance..

It is not important to be size zero ( unless you are Kareena Kapoor)

It is not important to be a perfect wife ( it will only make your husband lazy)

It is not important to be a perfect mother ( your kids will be brats anyway and yet grow up fine)

And so on... It could be a hit.. remember the Dummies series?

Ponder over it.. perfection is fine, but is really necessary if the end result can be achieved without the strain?

What do you think?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Of books and thoughts...

I am not one of those who follows the political scene very closely.  Domestic or international.  Not that I am totally ignorant either.  I usually skim through political commentaries and get by with the headlines and news reports and occasionally the odd programme on the television.

But it is slowly changing.  I realise we have a lot to be thankful for.  Despite the scams, the corruption, and our politicians.

The book that first brought this change in my thinking and perception was The Kite Runner  by Khaled Hosseni .  I remember my brother was excited when he heard the news on the radio about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This was so long ago in 1979.  He did try to explain what it meant to the rest of the world, but it was lost on me.This book, now, brought back those moments.  The story itself is very moving, and though the characters hold center-stage, the disruption of what was once a peaceful life in Kabul stands out.  His description of the country does not match the scenes we now see on TV.  I can only think of the dusty roads, the bombed buildings, the tanks, the guns, soldiers, masked men .. like a ghost town.  Could Afghanistan have really been the peaceful, beautiful place that Hosseni describes in the early chapters of his book?

Coincidentally the next book I picked up was Benazir Bhutto's autobiography - Daughter of the East. I had no real intention of reading the book. It was more than 400 pages and the print was tiny.  And the Bhutto family did not hold interest. However, the first few pages were enough to ensure that I read the book from cover to cover.  While the account would definitely be biased.. I mean which autobiography wouldn't? I found myself totally immersed in the book.  It is evident that she had enjoyed a good life till her father was imprisoned.  He was her hero.  She dwells upon the achievements in his reign. And how all that changes after the military coup.  The family could have fled and lived a comfortable life in exile. But I guess once you have a taste of power it can be difficult to live without it. That she endured innumerable detentions and remained sane is admirable.  Here again there is mention of Afghanistan and the role of the US in arming the Afghan guerillas to fight the Soviets, and then abandoning the region altogether when they retreated.  And the subsequent rise of terrorism in the area.   However one sided the writing may be, there is no doubt that Ms Bhutto was indeed a great storyteller just as much as her famed oratorical skills.  We never will know whether another term of her as the Prime Minister would have brought development and peace once again to a strife-torn country.  Or would it have been a continuation of the military regime in a new garb?

These two books have made me aware of our neighbouring countries. Of  petty politics of the super powers.  Of senseless wars that are being fought.  Of the children in the Palestine, Syria, Iraq..  How long will they live with the sound of gun shots and bombs ringing in their ears?

Friday, February 3, 2012

In Rewind Mode

The day the music died….(To those from my time, it would be a song by Don McLean and for the younger generation maybe the lines would still be a familiar Madonna song)  

But that is how we felt for a long time after WorldSpace closed their operations in India.  It used to be a routine.  Early morning devotional music – Carnatic and Hindustani that slowly progressed to a faster beat for the exercise hour and then to Farishta for old Hindi songs. The day went by. 

And then there was no music at all.  We put away the satellite receiver.  Our 15 year old Sony music system was in a bad shape.  From disuse. For a while we managed with the music channels on TV and we were only listening to the latest Bollywood music.  An occasional good song, but constant Sheila and Munni can get so tiring.  V thought we had enough of it all and lugged the music system to the service center.  

It came back a fortnight ago with the FM radio, CD and audio-casette player in working condition. We found ourselves removing the carton that had not seen the light of day for almost three years. A box filled with memories.  Of age old audio-cassettes!! The thought of donating the tapes had occurred to me , but I had found no takers.  All had moved on to newer technology. The younger one asked me to check on Amazon.  You might just get lucky, she said.  Some ancient articles can bring in good money. But no such luck.  Everyone seemed to think they just had to be junked.  And so the carton remained.  Thank god for that!

After spending a whole day sorting them out, we have boxes (and more boxes) of songs - in all languages - English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu.  Classical music - western and Indian. Vocal and instrumental. And the tapes in good condition too.  With music to last a life time.

What was even better was the discovery of the tapes of my children reciting nursery rhymes, slokas and a whole lot of baby talk that their grandfather had recorded.  

And yet another surprise.  We had met MS Subbalakshmi when she was no longer giving public performances. No mobile phone cameras, no digital cameras to capture the moment.  But for this ...

And now I get up to the sound of music...and a cup of tea (yes, I am not the first one to awaken) . What could be better than that?
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