Something about me

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review of "India Grows at Night"

Every passing year, I find I am more interested in the Whys and the Hows, the historical context of why we are the way we are. Especially when it comes to India, I am all agog to understand, why this country and its people are, as so many people in Dilli keep saying, so ajeeb-o-gareeb!
So it was a given that I would read Gurcharan Das' latest India grows at Night - a Liberal case for a strong state. It is a rivetting read though I am assured it is not the author's best work. Das starts his argument by presenting several examples of India being a land of tremendous public failure and private success. This is fundamentally true though not all of his examples to prove this point are. For me, the case of Faridabad vs Gurgaon struck close home as a classic case of how Govt mismanagement and apathy contributed to the marginalization of one and private enterprise and infrastructure contributed to the glittering (if messy) success of another. However he also mentions the case of the IT industry in India which grew without Govt intervention which is patently incorrect - if the Govt had not established STPIs, given tax breaks etc the Indian IT industry may have stayed a mere fledgeling.
The basic premise of the book is that traditionally India has always had a weak state and a strong society (several warring kingdoms in ancient times, followed by independent princely states during the Raj that morphed into linguistic divisions post-1947). However the society was always well-organized and powerful. Compare this to China which has always had a tradition of strong central empires and a very weak and non-cohesive society. 
Das points out that India is the only country in the world that embraced democracy before it embraced capitalism. Every other country has done the reverse. Therefore (this I found utterly fascinating) Indians learnt about their rights much before they learnt about their duties! If we take this argument as plausible, then it explains so much about why we are the way we are...why we keep our homes spotless and our streets filthy, why we vehemently protest against a gangrape yet will not step up to take an accident victim to the nearest hospital...
Das blames weak governments for India's massive public failures - I agree. He thinks we need to move away from a tradition of weak states to a strong central state (not dictatorial) - I agree, but is this even possible? He finally links the two and proposes a new political class, largely drawn from the middle-class and a party modelled on Rajaji's Swatantra Party.  His arguments are compelling except for one fatal flaw  - his vote of confidence in the middle class to step up to do something for this country. I personally do not share his confidence but wish I am proved wrong! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ashok Banker's Ramayana

My first introduction to the Ramayana was through Amar Chitra Katha. I presume it was ACK that brought the epic to life for most children in the 80s. Additionally, in my case, we lived in faraway North India so opportunities for hearing the story from any of my grandparents were few and far between. around  Around the time I was 10-11 years old, I picked up Rajaji's rendition of the epic and was utterly charmed by his flowery prose and narrative style. Through my school years, I read his version too many times to remember while being rather more captivated by the complex plots and infinitely more interesting characters of  the Mahabharata.
Inevitably, as I grew older and especially after watching the cloying Ramanand Sagar series on TV, I began to find the story mildly irritating and even boring, populated by bloodless characters with no life and personality, and the image of the Ideal Man and Woman patronizing and unrealistic. While I knew other versions existed, until recently I didn't have the interest to dig them up and read them. Until someone recommended Ashok Banker's Ramayana.
I ordered the first book through my library and once I started reading, it was impossible to put down!! I fretted and fumed as I realised that the second book was not available from the library. Fortunately, a friend had just finished reading the whole series and he lent me his collection. Since then, I have been furiously reading the books at every opportunity (have just started on Book 4) - in the metro, snatched moments at home and a full hour battling sleep after the kids are in bed.
What a story it is! For the first time, I am reading the Ramayana not just as the story of an avatar of Vishnu dwelling in the mortal world in order to eradicate evil; but as a rollicking adventure, a vastly entertaining tale of good vs evil, a dashing hero, a brave independent-minded heroine, a chilling villain, all meshed together in a book that's as good as the best in its genre.
I'm wondering why I never read it when it first came out a few years ago...I had so much more time! Rama and Sita are a flesh-and-blood couple with real fears, doubts, emotions and yes, a lot of love too. Banker has taken liberties with the plot. For example, Manthara is actually a minion in Ravana's service and Rama's exile is part of a larger strategy by the Asura king to gain power over the Aryan kingdoms. The first time Ravana encounters Rama is actually at Sita's swayamvara where Ravana is also a suitor; in fact he lifts and strings the bow of Siva first! Rama uses the Brahm-astra against Ravana's invading Asura hordes at Mithila and destroys most of the Asura army, leaving Ravana imprisoned within a block of stone for 13 years....Such interesting and fresh twists to an otherwise old and well-known story make the books unputdownable!
In addition, what I really liked was that Sita is not some kind of wilting wallflower. She is a warrior princess who stands shoulder to shoulder with her husband and brother-in-law, fighting the Rakshshas during their long torturous years in exile. Banker is good with action sequences in particular and manages to make the scenes come alive on paper.
I won't add any more spoilers here for people who haven't read the series. Í'm sure I'll have one more post in store once I am done with Books 5 through 7. Looking forward to yet more hours of reading pleasure!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Online shopping

I've always been a savvy online shopper. I'm not savvy anything else in the technology domain though! But right from the time it was possible to shop online, I have. Here's why I love online shopping.
1. I dislike malls and large-format retail stores. They give me a headache. I dislike salespeople hovering nearby. I've never needed a personal shopping assistant and to my knowledge have never asked salespeople for any help at all except to request for a certain size. In any case, atleast in India, my experience is that retail staff is poorly-trained and informed.
2. While I love local markets, I don't particularly like bargaining. The latter is a critical skill unless you are shopping for groceries or medicines or something like that.
3. I'm very hung-up on productivity. Getting into a car, battling traffic, parking, jostling with crowds and finally standing in line at the cash counter - it's all too much of a waste of time according to me :) I'd rather have 10 windows open on my browser and shop to my heart's content.
When we lived in the US, I shopped for clothes, shoes, air tickets and hotels, anound consumer electronics on the web. It was super-convenient, saving me the trouble of dragging one toddler (and later, two) all over the city.
But it's only after we moved to India that our online and phone transactions have sky-rocketed. Soon I won't need to step out to shop for anything other than sarees, expensive clothes, high-ticket home-appliances and a house! In short, anything that needs to be seen, felt and experienced.
Here's a sample of what gets bought over the great worldwide web:
  • Books/movies/music/DVDs - flipkart, amazon/junglee, pratham, tulika
  • Movie tickets/shows - bookmyshow, PVR, DT cinemas etc
  • Clothes and shoes - jabong/myntra
  • Home decor and accessories - shopo/mirraw. This does not even include the several small businesses that market exclusively through facebook and through whom I've ordered custom jewellery and gifts.
  • Home essentials and grocery - foodmandi in Gurgaon. The rest, I do over the phone with our friendly neighbourhood kirana store.
  • Travel bookings - makemytrip, IRCTC, various company websites
  • Payments - All utilities are on auto-debit mode through the bank. School fees, daycare fees, fees for kids' classes, cable get paid through online banking. 
  • Library - My library accepts quarterly membership fees through their website.
  • Electronics - bestbuy
My local pharmacy accepts orders through the web and home-delivers as well. My fruit and veg vendor does likewise but I don't trust him to send me the best produce, so I'm staying in the physical world for now :) When it come to shopping in the US, I have a field day trawling all the drugstores, amazon, bestbuy, oldnavy, REI, crate and barrel (who now ship internationally - woo-hoo!)......and yet I feel India is far more advanced technologically in this space.
This post was prompted by two emails that landed in my inbox today. One was from jabong, reminding me that I have a pair of kids' jeans in my shopping cart. The other one was from homeshop18, asking me when am I going to buy the pressure cooker that I selected many moons ago? :))

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pictures from the blue city

I wasn't able to upload the pictures from our visit to Jodhpur earlier; here they are. Enjoy :)

Our room - a beautiful suite furnished in traditional block-printed raw silk fabrics. The suite was coordinated with paisley and marigold motifs in red and yellow.
The front room of the suite. We were most happy because of the 2 bathrooms!
6 am sunrise time. This is the lake over which the palace-hotel is built.

Entry to Mehrangarh. The flags are those of the princely state of Marwar.

Mehrangarh Fort

The blue city

Ads drawing

The view from Jaswant Thada. This is where the kings are laid to rest.

Another view of the old city and countryside, from Jaswant Thada.

Cenotaphs built for the royals.

View of Umaid Bhawan Palace from Jaswant Thada.

View of the fort from Jaswant Thada.

Pristine lake.

Our hotel, as seen from the sunset point.

Clear still waters.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer are the cities we have visited in Rajasthan and S and I were keen to complete our tour of the state by visiting Jodhpur. Sure, there are lots of other places worth visiting in Rajasthan - we haven't done Bikaner, Ranthambore, Sekhawati, Pushkar etc. But to be very honest, I'm kind of done with the state. There's only so much royalty and architecture and heritage that one can digest and I guess I've had my fill of it. Plus keeping the various royal families, clans and dates straight in my head was not happening! I always tell friends and relatives who are planing to visit Rajasthan to try to avoid going the whole nine yards and visiting all the cities in one go. It gets extremely overwhelming and at the end of the week or 10 days, one is exhausted to say the least.
In any case, we had Jodhpur to see and a nice ITC hotels free night voucher to be used! So we went ahead and booked ourselves into one of Jodhpur's swankiest properties. The only advantage of having a travelling husband :) Jodhpur is a convenient overnight journey from Delhi. We boarded the train at 6.30 pm from Gurgaon, and reached Jodhpur at the unearthly hours of 4.45 am! It was cold...brrrr.....and the hotel pickup failed to arrive. It was not a pleasant experience haggling with the taxi-wallahs who on hearing the name of the hotel, promptly charged us at triple rates! We reached our hotel around 5.30 am and were happy to warm ourselves with some warm cocoa (for the kids) and hot chai (for the adults).
Our room was actually a suite with 2 TVs, 2 bathrooms and so on. The restaurant on the same floor had a superb view of the Balsamand lake over which the palace-hotel had been built. Hurray for private lakes that don't have boating facilities, food vendors and trash - this was my only thought. The large lake was pristine and clean, enclosed by stony hillocks and really, it could have been anywhere in the world but India; it was that clean, calm and unspoilt.
Having failed to get the kids to make up for lost sleep, we decided to set off as early as we could to see what there was to see in Jodhpur. Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada (cenotaphs of the Jodha Marwars), Umaid Bhavan palace (the part that has not been turned into a Taj Hotel) and Mandore Gardens are part of the standard itinerary. Mehrangarh Fort was quite impressive, and not just because it made for a majestic sight on a cold crisp winter's day, the golden yellow sandstone looking even warmer by sunlight and countless flags of the princely state of Marwar fluttering in the brisk breeze. It was impressive because it had good signage everywhere for visitors, clean loos, audio guides and was generally extremely well-maintained by the Trust that runs it. In addition, there was a standard guide fee to be paid at the entrance kiosk itself which was a relief as one did not have to haggle over a guide's services.
The fort also was the first place in so many years that my kids were scolded in public by someone other than family! They had been behaving in a pretty pesky manner and I am afraid both S and I have to take the blame. They were tired, sleep-deprived and then we bring them to a boring old fort! I broke several of my own cardinal rules about travelling with kids! The minimum I could have done (and in our defence, this is something we would in the normal course have done - well, we were sleep-deprived and tired as well!) was for one of us to have taken them outside the museum and entertained them while the other person walked around and listened to the guide. Since we did not do so, they were mightily scolded by another guide who said "Main tumhe choohon ke kamre mein lock kar doonga!" The white lady next to him looked shocked - probably she was wondering how to reach Child Services!
We stopped for lunch at this place which served an awesome Rajasthani thali. While the kids stuck to boring and safe paneer and naan, S and I indulged in gastronomic delights like Gatte ki sabji, Ker-sangri, Kadhi and Bajre ki roti. Bliss!
Back at the hotel, we watched the sun setting over the lake and hillocks before turning in early. It had been a long day.
We didn't do much the next day except for a fruitless trip all the way to Guda Bishnoi Lake to see migratory birds. There were more birds back at our hotel grounds! Ads was quite disappointed, as was I. But the silver lining is that we are going to Bharatpur next weekend and hopefully that will make up for lost time! Ads is super-excited at the prospect of seeing the many birds of his dreams :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Stories from the loom - Chanderi Diary

Nestled in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, is the town of Pranpur. Together with it’s better-known neighbour, the town of Chanderi,  it resounds with the strangely musical clackety—clak of looms that weave gorgeous Chanderi sarees. A region that peaked in influence between  the 12th-16th centuries as a strategic trade and military outpost, as well as an important center for Jainism, today Chanderi has been bypassed by other tourist destinations in Madhya Pradesh. 
However those curious about the indigenous weaves and craft forms of this region do make the arduous journey over terrible roads, as my entire team from work did last week. We picked up the so-called superfast Jabalpur express from New Delhi in the afternoon and had a lovely few hours playing games, giggling and generally making a nuisance of ourselves in the compartment. I haven’t had so much fun on a train journey since I left college! Almost 6 hours later, we reached a tiny station called Lalitpur in Uttar Pradesh. From Lalitpur, we jolted along over horrible roads in pitch-darkness for 15 km, until we crossed the border into Madhya Pradesh where the roads were well-paved and smooth! 20 more km later during which I dozed off, we reached our destination, a quaint retreat in Pranpur. We could do nothing more than fall exhausted into our beds that night.
We were up at 7 the next day (my roommate later confessed she could not sleep during the night because it was so quiet!) and began exploring our home for the next couple of days. The rooms were pretty basic but clean. Mine had pretty latticed windows and Chanderi curtains. There was a small reception area, a restaurant, a 'conference room' and lots and lots of mango trees! We started work at 10 am since we had a full agenda – budgets, dashboards, goals, targets had all to be discussed threadbare and argued over! Lunch-time introduced me to some simple and tasty Bundelkhandi food.
The guest house
Bundellkhandi platter
After lunch, we toodled off to our first stop of the pm. The Bunkar Samiti or Weaver’s Cooperative at Pranpur saw 8 females walking in, cameras and notepads at the ready. What a visual feast it was! Imagine 8 women let loose in a roomful of exquisite sarees and you can imagine the pandemonium :) Sarees were touched, oohed and aahed over, draped and bought. We heard from the weavers about the hard times they had been through, why the cooperative was formed and what benefits it had for the weavers and how Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor had visited them a few years ago. The latter was a recurring theme in all our conversations in Pranpur and Chanderi.  The Kareena Palla was a much cherished design and source of pride for the locals and left us wondering at the power of celebrity endorsements! Maybe more Bollywood stars should promote craft in India!

We then visited another cooperative nestled inside a heritage building near the Chanderi Fort, where we got to learn some technicalities of the loom and spoke to more weavers. Visiting the weaver’s homes in Chanderi was a wonderful experience. We had a guide who led us in pitch darkness through narrow alleys to the homes of potters and weavers. We sidestepped cow and goat dung, and stumbled over uneven dirt tracks to reach our destination. Every home has atleast one loom of not two, purchased or rented at usurious rates. Very few homes were pucca. Most were just one room shacks with a coal or wood chulha and a thatched roof. Electricity is intermittent and night-time weaving is done without the aid of cooling and with kerosene lanterns. Most kids go to school but are at work on the looms during their free time. Yet we were always invited inside for a meal or hot tea. People invited us home unreservedly to look at their work, take photos and chat. They shared their stories with no reserve and no bitterness.
Chanderi - the street lined with wevare's homes on both sides
A weaver's home - one of the few prosperous-looking ones
At the loom
The spunkiest person we met was this 90 year old woman whose husband and son were both State-level master weavers and awardees. Her husband was a few years older and hard of hearing. She dragged us inside her house, made us all sit down. When we asked her whether she could also weave as well as her husband, she scornfully said “Haan main bhi bunti hoon. Sara kaam to maine hi kiya hai!” She was confident and secure, making me wonder about my preconceived notions of empowerment. If this old poor woman sitting in a dark hut in interior MP was not empowered, who was??
The other interesting observation was that absolutely not one of these women weavers wore a Chanderi saree, instead opting for synthetic sarees. When we asked why, they shrugged. The sarees are too expensive, we can’t afford them. Isn’t that the ultimate irony, that the artisan who produces something so exquisite does not get to experience it for himself? They had a dispassionate approach to their work typified by their response to what I now feel were our typically urban, upper-middle class questions. Do you like what you do, we asked? Again, that shrug. It’s a job. It’s what we do. They feel pride in their craft, but ultimately it’s a question of economics and feeding your family.
Our spunky friend had a telling response when we asked her why she did not have any of the sarees she had woven. Can I take anything with me when I pass away, she retorted with a toothy smile. I think all of us can do with a dose of that pragmatism! This is what my husband calls the Zooming Out approach to life!
We met many more weavers over the next day and a half and had many more conversations. As we headed back to Jhansi to catch our train to Delhi, all of us were silent reflecting on the eventful days gone by. Until we were literally jolted back to reality by one of the Boleros breaking down and all 9 of us with our luggage having to squeeze into the other one!! By the time we reached Jhansi, we were hot, thirsty and I had painful knees from having had a colleague perched on me during the ride. It was good to get back to some creature comforts! So much for living the simple rustic life :)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jaisalmer - Part 2

Today was the big day - when we got to go to the desert! But first we had to explore the fort and the palace. Having been to Jaipur and Udaipur earlier, I felt that the Jaisal rajahs palace/fort was not half as impressive. Equally beautiful yes, but not as large and lavish. Here are a few snapshots from our morning tour.
The exterior of the palace, within the fort


Statues displayed inside the palace, testimony to the skill of the stonecarvers of Jaisalmer

Top-down view of the fort ramparts
At around 4 pm, we climbed into an Innova and drove 40 km out of the city to the desert. The drive was really scenic, not picture-postcard scenic but the kind of scenic that is starkly beautiful. The Border Roads Organization had done a great job of building an excellent road through land that all belonged to the military, we were told. In fact Jaisalmer being only about 150 km from the Pak border has an IAF base as well as a significant BSF and BRO presence. We covered 40 km in no time and were soon at the place where we had to pick up our camels (or was it the other way around?!) Camels are not the most comfortable beings to ride on and it took a bit of getting used to and some holding on for dear life as we trundled into the desert. Ads and I shared a camel and he rightly commented that the landscape looked a lot like the African savannah (which he has seen on TV). Rajasthan is one of the states that managed a good monsoon this year and it showed in the tufts of abundant vegetation everywhere in the sandy soil. After a good 45 minutes ride, we were nowhere close to anything that resembled a desert!
Finally the sand dunes did come into view and boy, did the kids have a blast. Climbing up and sliding down the dunes, running behind beetles, and Y even managed to lose one shoe in the sand. Try as we might, we could not find it; the treacherous sand had simply swallowed her precious pink Croc! The sand was warm and super-soft and Dad got into the swing of things by playing in the sand with his kids. The sunset was breathtaking as was the view of the full moon, and here are some of my pitiful attempts at capturing the beauty of quintessential Rajasthan.

We stayed overnight at a camp in the desert. I'd been imagining Sridevi in Lamhe. The reality was very different! Tourism on a mass scale means badly-cooked buffet dinners and Daler Mehndi plus Bollywood beats until late into the night. Whatever happened to some quiet stargazing, intimate conversations, and soaking in the peace and quiet of the desert? I was a little disappointed but have shrugged it off since. Having experienced the magic of the Thar, even from the fringes, and even for just one night, was an experience to cherish!

Jaisalmer - Part 1

We planned our trip to Jaisalmer with friends, who were thereafter going ahead and visiting Jodhpur and Udaipur as part of a larger Rajasthan itinerary. I always tell people Rajasthan is best taken in small doses as it can become overwhelming otherwise - an option we fortunately have since we live in Northern India. We packed up and left for the Old Delhi railway station well in time - or so we thought. We managed to get caught in a minor jam near the old city, which took forever to clear. Our train was at 5.30 pm and our cabbie deposited us at the station entry gate at 5.27 pm precisely!! I had given up all hope that we could catch our train. We ran at top speed through the station, thankfully encountering a minimal crowd at the luggage screening. Up a long flight of stairs, panting and with a terrible stitch in my side (it's no joke running while carrying a 13 kg bundle!), down another flight of stairs, sure until the last minute that the train was going to draw away from the platform. Ahead of me, I could see S with our two suitcases hurtling down the steps, while behind me our friend was rapidly shepherding a nervous Ads through the bustle.
Thanks to the inefficiency of Indian railways, we managed to make it just in the nick of time to our coach, as the train departed at 5.35 pm :) Definitely the slowest train in the country, it took it's own sweet time to reach Jaisalmer the next day at 11 am. We stayed in the nicest little hotel, right inside the Jaisalmer fort. It was a tad expensive for the amenities, but the rooms, loos and sheets were clean, there was unlimited free chai and bottled water available, the staff was really courteous and friendly, plus we had a really nice view of the "golden city" from our room. The city does look luminous in the sunlight as all the buildings there are made of a particular golden-yellow shade of sandstone, very beautiful indeed.

The city view from our room
The room was cool even without the AC, so we had a nice long post-lunch nap, being all tired from our long rail journey and what not. After a refreshing cup of chai to wake us up, we set off to the Gadisar lake, a man-made catchment area created in 1537.

Tilon ki Pol at Gadisar Lake

Ads got his full paisa-vasool at the lakeside because it's common there to feed the catfish. People were throwing pieces of bread into the water and the catfish (big ones, though I was assured by Ads that they can grow upto 6 feet in length) fought over the choice bits. It all looked very slimy to me but Ads and Y were thrilled to bits.


The boatride across the lake was beautiful although we had to shield ourselves against the searing late afternoon sun. We saw ducks, geese and even a distant stork.

Gadisar lake
And some of it's inhabitants

Later, we went to the Sunset point (also known as Vyas Chattri) which has amazing views of the city. The Chattris of the royals are nothing much to look at, being arresting primarily because of the yellow sandstone they are made of which lends an undeniable attractiveness especially in the light of the setting sun.

Sunset through Vyas Chhatri

Can you see the Fort in the distance?
We also had our first taste of Ker Sangri, a desert and Jaisalmer speciality. It is a delicious dish made of Ker, a round pod-like vegetable and Sangri, which is some variety of cluster beans. It is peculiarly tangy, but mildly so. A very delicate and satisfying accompaniment to rotis and needless to say, we stuffed our faces full of this new discovery at every meal! Surprisingly, Y liked it a lot (another favourite of hers was the churma), confirming my suspicion that her tastebuds are rather more refined than her brother's.
So ended our first day in Jaisalmer city. Coming up - a half-day and a night in the desert!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reading update

Lots of books have been read and digested! So, pretty good going for the last couple of months.
What have I read?
1. Schindler's List - Did not enjoy it. It was so-so, not nearly gripping enough. It was somewhat moving in parts, but I struggled to finish it.
2. Revolution 2020 by Chetan Bhagat - Enough said. Why did I even bother?
3. Several books by Jod Picoult - I started them all, gave them all up a quarter of the way through. Not my kind of storytelling. I don't care for very emotional books with characters on the cusp of major drama/life changing events or decision points. Too much hand-wringing, emotional upheavel and mental agonising is not something I like in my books! That's just me :)
4. The Immigrant by Manju Kapoor - I liked it. I've read her Difficult daughters before and enjoyed that as well.
5. The Help - Have been trying to lay my hands on this for a long time. Engaging and well-written. No sociological treatise, this one...don't expect any major revelations or insights. But a page-turner nonetheless.
6. The Shadow Princess - My fascination with Indu Sundaresan and Mughal India continues!! No disapoointments in this one, I was hooked from Page 1 right until the end as the story of ShahJahan and his daughter Jahanara unfolded.
7. Several books by Sophie Kinsella - A few pages into Confessions of a Shopoholic and I was thinking - what had I been thinking while ordering these books! I know I chortled my way through Bridget Jones but that when I was 20! The Shoopoholic series were a disaster but another book called The Undomestic Goddess was ok for my 9.30 pm reading when I just need words swimming before my eyes before I go off to la-la land :)
Any recos, people?

Monday, July 16, 2012

A walk in Mehrauli

Delhi is a walker's paradise (between July and March, that is - I wouldn't venture walking in the 45 degree heat!). There are a lot of walking trails organized by a bunch of organizations. There are atleast five or six of the latter apart from INTACH and the walks are not just ones to enjoy the greenery (of which Delhi has an abundance) but also every other aspect of life in this fantastic city. So there are food walks (very popular), Sufi walks, flower walks in addition to the regular heritage and history walks.
Over the weekend, I managed to rustle up a couple of friends to meet me at the Qutub Minar bright and early at 7 am for a heritage walk through Mehrauli, a walk was organized by Delhi By Foot. Mehrauli is probably the oldest of the seven documented cities which make up Delhi as we know it today. This does not include the Indraprastha of mythological lore, the location of which in the same site as present-day Delhi has not been conclusively proved, yet. Mehrauli was settled long before Prithviraj Chauhan expanded the city and called it Lal Kot. In the early 13th century, Qutubuddin Aibak became the first Sultan of Delhi, with his capital at Siri (where Siri Fort is today). Firozabad (or Kotla Firoz Shah), Tughlaqabad, Shahjahanabad and Lutyen's Delhi are the other cities that sprang up, flourished and decayed between the Aravallis and the Yamuna.
The group was fairly large, about 20 people, most with DSLRs hanging from their necks. Our first stop was at Metcalf''s Folly. Metcalf was one of the first Residents of Delhi and he had erected these structures. No one knows what they were meant for.

We passed through some other monuments, including the very beautiful mosque and tomb of Jamali-Kamali. In the winters, we actually love to picnic in the Mehrauli Archaelogical Park where this tomb/mosque is located (which makes Delhi one of the few cities in the world I am sure where people regularly picnic right on top of tombs).

The original inlay work at the double tomb of Jamali-Kamali. It's in superb condition inspite of not having been restored by the ASI. The tomb is kept locked to avoid a lot of visitors walking all over but the guards are obliging enough to open the gates when you ask them to.
The surprise package was the lovely stepwell which appeared out of nowhere, astonishing me who had been to the park so many times. And since I absolutely adore stepwells, this was a huge treat for moi. Rajaon ki Baoli was it's name, though we don't know which Raja built it and when. We also walked to another stepwell, which was outside the park in Mehrauli village where young boys and men were enjoying the cool waters of the well and jumping off the ledges wiith abandon.
Rajaon Ki Baoli. In the forefront are the steps leading down to the water. However water was drawn from a deep well right on top.
Cool arches to shelter from the heat and rest near the Baoli
Another view of the Baoli

Look at the stunning engraving. Each arch had a different design
The forecast for that morning was windy and blustery. But the Met department being what it is, it was sunny and humid! Fortunately welcome gusts of wind fanned us every now and then and made the walk a very pleasant one. Look at these boys cooling off!

These boys were enjoying a game of ...what

A lovely beginning to a Sunday, for sure. Next up - Tughlaqabad Fort, and hopefully it will rain that weekend!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

An award and tag

I was passed on this award and tag by one of my favourite bloggers, Uma.

To be very honest, I used to think the awards in the blogosphere were quite silly. They are passed around until everyone's got one and it just seemed a case of you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours. However, I soon realized the awards are not just some form of artificial popularity contest but just another form of the encouragement and support fellow bloggers provide each other. In any case, most of the time they come with a tag attached and it's a good opportunity to think of something different to write about instead of the same old repetitive thing (many times when I am posting, I think, hey haven't I written about this thing earlier?)
So, a big thanks to you Uma. I think I've done the random things tag earlier but don't mind doing it again :)
Here goes.
1.       I wear glasses. Most people don’t know this cos I am very indisciplined about wearing them, though I've tried to be more regular after my daughter Y started wearing them.
2.       I eat a lot – several small meals a day. While that’s really a very healthy thing to do, I do it mainly  because I have a low sugar problem so need to keep upping the glucose levels with regularity.
3.       I love getting wet in the rain.
4.       I used to not like dogs very much when I was a kid but then my 2 best friends in high school turned out to be dog-lovers! They converted me and now I’m fine with large furry dogs jumping on me, slobbering all over me and lying on their back to be scratched on their tummies
5.       My first car was a Maruti 800 (hardly see those on the roads any more)
6.       I still read Enid Blytons!
7.       I love Tex-Mex but I can’t stand authentic Mexican food.

I'm not passing this on to anybody specific but do feel free to take up the tag (and let me know if you do!).

Friday, July 6, 2012

A great learning experience in Mumbai

We thought we were holding a workshop for not more than 30 girls. But on Day 1 of our business skills course for aspiring beauticians in a small village in Navi Mumbai, more than 40 girls turned up. Our team of 3 had been asked to conduct this course even though it's not exactly the kind of thing we do. It sounded like fun, however, and the money is always welcome to a tiny non-profit, so we said yes! 
We had been working very hard over the last fortnight to create the instructor modules and student workbooks, and all the content through several iterations – Draft 1, Draft 2 and so on until the Final Draft until they were deemed to be just right! Even so, it's only when the training actually starts that you discover gaps in the modules and have to improvise as you go on.
We started our first session even as the monsoon rains started drumming on the asbestos roof of our makeshift “training centre”. Struggling to be heard over the din of the rain, as the NGO people scrambled around to organize a mike, we started with dividing the class into work teams (with each group having a leader). While the girls were a little hesitant at first, they soon loosened up and began to be absorbed in the exercises we had set out for them. The role plays which formed a significant part of the sessions were highly entertaining (most of them had both participants and audience in loud fits of laughter). But they also boosted the girls’ confidence and made them think about potential real-life situations and how they would manage those (irate customers, unhappy customers, hostile co-workers and so on).
The session I handled was all about the economics, how to cost for services and make a rate card, estimate income, calculate profit/loss and so on. A lot of number-crunching! It took a while for them to get their heads around it and we realized many could not easily do basic multiplying and dividing.
Some girls were shy and reserved and some were role models with their wit, confidence and passion. Many had troubles at home. Someone’s sister insisted she leave the workshop to attend college. Another’s husband objected to his mother having to babysit the kids while she was at the workshop. The instructors grappled with these “HR” issues while of us mentored the girls as best as we could. Even so, some of the girls who were there on Day 1 simply disappeared because of family pressures and we never saw them again.
I saw a huge difference between Day 1 and Day 5 - some girls clearly had the drive to succeed and were willing to step up and assume leadership. Some continued to be back-benchers. Many were feisty go-getters who cracked us up wth their typical Mumbai lingo and jokes. We admired the pretty girls in beautiful embellished burkhas and flawless skin and hair, who sat absorbed in class inspite of an empty stomach (they were observing a roza).
Hopefully these few days would make a difference in their careers and lives. I don't know. What I was personally kicked about was conducting a marathon 5 hour session, entirely in Hindi! I felt immensely gratified when my colleagues said "We didn't know you could speak such good Hindi!"

Monday, February 20, 2012

Those were the best days of my life

(This post is an entry for the Kissan 100% Real Blogger contest on Indiblogger)

Do you remember that Bryan Adams' song "Summer of '69". I used to love it (still do). I think of the summer of 69 when I think of the time in my life when I was completely, unequivocally, 100% happy and content. When my son was about 18 months old, we moved to the USA and I had to give up my job in India. For the first time, I had to devote myself to my son 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In addition, I had to do laundry, ironing, vaccuming, dishwashing, dusting, grocery-shopping and cooking. So many things that had been outsourced to cheap domestic help back in India, now fell on my not-so-slender shoulders.
But then, we had moved to Northern California, in the first bloom of spring. Gorgeous days, each one more beautiful than the last, stretched endlessly before us. There was just a hint of friskiness in the breeze that caressed us as we lay under our favourite walnut tree in the park. I spent hours reading books checked out from the library, while my son Advaith played with his cars and trucks on the grass. Occasionally, I raised a languid head to make sure he wasn’t getting into any mischief.
As spring stretched into summer, we made new friends, found our way around, and established a routine. The apartment was a mess, most of the time. I was too busy caring for a toddler to do much more than the most basic housekeeping. I was hopelessly in love with my son and extremely aware of the fleeting nature of his toddlerhood. I wanted to capture as many precious memories of this stage, as I could. The days got longer, and we played in the park in the mornings. I delighted in his minor achievements. Going down the slide, hanging from the monkey bars or even playing in the sand-pit, it seemed to me that there never was a cuter, better child. In the evenings, we would slowly walk down a kilometer to the train station, to receive Daddy. We would factor in a good hour to amble down the sidewalk. Every flower, every crack in the pavement, every tiny shoot had to be minutely examined by the little fella. Water hydrants, trees, cars and trucks, shop windows, each of these received the same critical attention, followed by a torrent of questions. Why? What? How? When? Leaves, pebbles, twigs were lovingly collected, washed at home and scattered in various parts of the house.
Those were months of infinite leisure, and infinite possibilities. Even as I was caught in the daily drudgery of household chores, it seemed as though I had all the time in the world to (quite literally) stop and smell the flowers. The sun always seemed to shine, the air was pure and clean, and I was the reigning goddess of my baby’s life (a position I would easily hold on to until he turned 5!). Even months and months later, when I was exhausted and depressed and surrounded by baby food and diapers (my second one having arrived by this time), I would hold on to the golden memories of that spring and summer, when I had the best, most unadulterated time of my life.
Will my son remember anything of all that? Very unlikely. But me – why -- even now, sometimes I fondly look back and think, of all the happy times in my life (and there have been plenty), this was the best.