Saturday, October 31, 2009

Just Another Day in Paradise

No, there wasn’t anything she had to do or say or think that day. The grass was, sure, growing a bit higher that she would have liked. The flowers though were still in pretty shades of orange and pink and yellow. Her little stream was looking a little dry that morning but then the sun too had been out for a few days now, she supposed that with summer coming, she could expect to see some bit of dip in the water level. The pebbles had changed their tune too, the rhythm seemed a little more pronounced, on a higher note, slightly faster. Or maybe it was just her mood that day, upbeat.

Once the sun was up, she walked out of the quaint little cottage she lived in, a home she had made out to look like the postcards she collected in her childhood. A dull white picket fence was at a distance from the house in the clouds. The blue walls, parts of which entangled with ivy, a stark green and the wooden windows and doors let in the purest breeze. She liked opening the doors in the late evening, lighting up the fire and snuggling under her favourite red blanket with a book to write, or to read, or just with her thoughts. Some days, the chill was all the more heavy in the winds, but pahadi that she was, she knew she could take it.

The path that led down from her house was tiny, just enough for one person to walk by. Deodar trees grew at a distance, and through their branches she could hear the giggles of beautiful girls with cheeks the colour of plums, laughing shyly at the silly jokes a hapless boy was trying to make. A dog passed by, suddenly afraid of her, barking, suspicious. She walked past, hurrying to get back to her favourite spot.

That place. She must have spent a lifetime there, dreamt dreams for thousands of lifetimes. Past the deodar trees, down her little slope, the path turned and suddenly she saw them. Her beloved mountains. And the corners of her mouth smiled again, just like the first time she had seen them, just like that moment when she knew this is where she belonged.

White clouds had settled down on the mountains, she knew that they would lift soon. Her view of the
mountains were never obstructed for long. She knew that some of their tips would still be snow capped, some would have allowed the sun to rest a few of his rays on them, delighting themselves in the magical play of yellow gold and a shadow here and a black rock face there.

Her walk would take her along the route. But all she wanted was to sit today. Sit and look at them. Wasn’t it the thousandth time she was doing that? She could have done it for a thousand more. It was not often that she thought much there. The mountains left her blank, for some reason. Beauty of that scale had that effect on her. She could just sit and watch the mountains, day in and day out.

Watch the first rays kiss the tops of the snow and welcome in a new day. Watch as the sun got higher and force her to retreat a little back under a tree. Watch as it got hotter and the clouds lifted. Watch the sun go down and leave behind a warm glow of pink and purple hues to frame the peaks. Watch the space even when she couldn’t see the faint outlines in the dead dark of the moonless night. And watch she did.

The mountains were there. Tall and silent. Beautiful. Almost profound. Overwhelming her with their bearing and the scent of the breeze they sent by. They were just there, always.

And it was just another day in paradise for the girl of the mountains.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Frames of Days Gone By

So, my phone camera is not too great. But that has not stopped me from taking shots of things that strike my fancy, inspire, touch and remain somewhere in my mind as a pleasant frame, scented with flowers and blue borders (since I can't stand the colour pink).

Some frames here, of days gone by, some deep memories.


Colour along the streets of Hampi

A rose by any other name, a rose of any kind, even clay...I love, I love!

This ring I love, this picture, an experiment.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dear Readers,

The other day, to search for a story of mine, I Googled my name (there is even a name for the condition which leads you to search for your name online.) and the results threw up several links for my blogs. That Live Feed thingie along the side bar of my blog also led to me a few blogs. What I noticed was that many of you, my dear readers, have put up a link to my blog on your blog rolls. Thanks you for that, it is always good to know my ranting is read by more people.

But what I appeal to you all is that when you do link my blog or add me to your reading list, please do let me know, Drop in a comment and I will be able to read your blogs too.

Thank you for all the support.

And keep reading. :-)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Best Breakfasts, the Best Meals

The other day, or was it yesterday, I was trying again an experiment with food at home. No, that is not the story here. I got thinking about food and what came to mind were some of the most memorable meals I have had. Those memory, I realise, are not entirely about the great food alone. Sometimes, the food was ok-ok; it was more about the moment, the company sometimes. Here they are, some of my most memorable eating experiences, in no particular order at all. These don't include meals at home or at homes of friends and family.

* CAFE COFFEE DAY: The coffee is perpetually bad. But the only reason I include this is because I have spent a lot of the last three years in these cafes, most particularly at two of their outlets in Vijaynagar, Bangalore. And those were some of my best evenings. The coffee, the company and the conversations. A lot does truly happen over coffee.
Recently, during my defence course, fed on greasy paranthas and northie-type dishes everyday, BK and I saw an outlet somewhere in Pathankot. We didn't go but the joy of seeing 'namura-hotlu' (!) had some smiling for a while.
Though I don't go in often, some familiar CCDs never cease to rake up several memories.

* MAAKUTTA, somewhere along the KODAGU-KERALA BORDER: In the last year of college, we B.Com students went on this trip to Kochi. As all college trips go, it was fun, with all its trappings. On the way back, it so happened that there was a day long strike in Kodagu and our bus was not allowed to enter the district. Some 45 of us spent the day in a little non-place called Maakutta where there was one police outpost (without any police), a tiny run-down hotel, a school building and a stream. We washed by the stream, some slept the whole day, some of us laid down on the grass in front of the school and starred up at the sky, some fished with shawls. We also shocked the hotel owner saying we wanted food to feed 45 hungry youngsters. But the poor man did rise to occasion and we were fed. Everyone had fresh fish, I and the only other veggie classmate had some vague curry. But I do remember that it was one of my best meals, further consolidating my opinion that little places make the best food.

* PAANCH PULA, DALHOUSIE, HIMACHAL PRADESH: A bunch of us DCC 2009 classmates set off on our own course early in the morning. I will not write again how I get when presented with the package of mountains, crystal pure mountain air, a bit of cold and the rest. We walked about without any particular direction in mind, stopping by for cups of sweet, milky tea. On a map painted on a wall somewhere, we saw Paanch Pula; the only reason we chose it above the others being that it was the closest. Down amazing paths, framed by deep ravines and green valleys, we reached this place.
A huff and some catching our breath later, we also walked up to the cutest water fall. Hunger struck soon and the one option was the Cafe Snow Bell, really just a little room with shaky tables with plastic flowers and once-white plastic chairs. But the mooli-paranthas (radish) there were the bestest I have ever had. The radish was fresh from the neighbouring village and the pickle too, the yummiest. Between mouthfuls of the large paranthas, we heard an old man talk of how he jogs everyday and about not getting enough people to talk to. Between that, we exchanged stories too, of our treks, planned trips and accumulated experiences.
The cafe was all about the food and the mountain air.

* CHICHA BANDI, POONCH SECTOR, RAJOURI SECTOR, JAMMU AND KASHMIR: The food was the Army staple, dal and some curry and rotis. But sitting so close to the Line of Control around a camp fire, singing soulful songs and listening to the soldiers will remain a melancholic memory. This one was all about that moment.

* AUROVILLE, PONDICHERRY: I think the name of that place is Indus Valley, between the Indian and Tibetan Pavilions at Auroville. Red rice, some vegetables, curry and some drink, with Kalsang from Tibet, her daughter, some other hippie-types was fun. This one was all about the concept of the place. Here, the food is essentially free and you are asked to pay only what you think you can afford. The idea is that you pay for the next person to eat. A 1960s remnant of an idea I suppose, but I loved the concept.

* CHICAGO, USA: For the sole reason that I practically starved there with the bad food, suspicious looking vegetables and horrible mash potatoes. I swore off bread for a while after that. And no, I did not have the time to hunt around for good places to eat decent edible food.

* OTHERS: There are of course the many others. In Bangalore itself, there are dozens of lovely places we chanced upon, several others during my many travels....

The list will be added to.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Its a Tea Thing!

At the time I began this blog, I was a heavy coffee drinker, a self confessed addict, no thanks to those years and situations at uni. Four years later, I write to you about being fully off that addiction, so much that days go by without me drinking a cup of coffee. This, I must say, is also thanks to better situations, fuller days and mostly, the fact that I don't get good coffee in office.

Ah well, the urge to hold on to a habit has now shifted to a healthier one, that of green herbal tea and morning walks and yoga. And I happily confess to being an addict of all three.

The problem with herbal tea is with the herbs, I am yet to find a place in Bangalore where I can get some fresh herbs. As for now, here's my twice a day ritual:

Water set to boil with bits of cinnamon, sprinkles of parsley, generous amounts of rosemary and then green tulsi tea leaves with a dash of honey. Healthy and great with a book and music in the background. Trust me, health shows on the face.

Like ma has taken to saying these days, it took the efforts of India's armed forces to whip some discipline into the days of my life! :-)

Of Little Girls and Anecdotes

Something weird has been happening....I have started to enjoy cooking and several things girlie! Like I was telling my cousin Sara, I hope whatever it is goes away soon!

That apart, even as I am typing this, I realise how much I was missing writing here. I have managed to ignore my blog quite a lot, but just as always, the addiction to write seems to be gripping again. Good!

That apart, too many things have been happening and I have been telling myself that I don't have the time to write about them. For one, I have been spending beautiful moments with family, the extended kinds, with the most adorable nieces (we seem to have an abundance of beautiful girls in our family! Wink wink!), cousins who have become sisters (you all know who you are!) and friends who have become family. There have been many episodes of bonding and friendship and goodness in life, all of which I so needed, still need.

I must say, thank you all for all that you continue to be, each of you precious people in my life. Hmmm I almost feel like picturing sunflowers and sunshine and pretty dresses and smiles and perfume and good food and music and conversations... (whatever is happening!?)

That apart again, I know that I am not going to write about my pan-India trip in detail, it will spoil the joy of discovery and moments of experience that made up that one month. Instead, read anecdotes from that trip, little incidents and stories, bit by bit.

As for now, the days ahead await me living them, day by day, bit by bit.

Monday, October 12, 2009

When Alice Went to Toyland

There is a belief among the media, an informal one, that once you work at Indian Express, there is this strange attachment that you develop, something that only a person who has worked there will ever understand. A while ago now, I was flipping through something and came across this old article of mine that I had written for Sunday Express. I remember that trip so well, the one to Channapatna.
The toys from there that I grew up playing with, so the place was especially moving for me. I just had to paste it here.

Read the story here, originally published in the Sunday Express on Jan 13, 2008.

And here is the story, in case the link does not work:

Alice in Toyland:

Does the survival of art mean art in its original form, I wonder. To a puritan, the digression of the artisans at Channapatna could mean the shameful fading out of an institution that staggered on for almost a dozen decades. But can that evolving tradition be seen as one last desperate attempt before the final blow of modernity, of Barbie dolls and GI Joes, strikes? That is the question I want to seek answers to at the lazy little town of Channapatna, 60 kms from Bangalore, home to the world renowned, very colorful wooden toys.

We travel to Kalanagar, just off the state highway. It is the main production hub for the toys, we are told and even before we can stop to ask for directions, we spot the Lacquerware Craft Complex, a common facility owned by the Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation Limited. Predictably, the officer in charge reels off a list of statistics: 6.5 acres of land around the facility, 254 houses leased to artisans, 1,000 registered workers, 6,000 who know how to make the famed toys, 3,000 of whom are currently working, about 150 exporters, between Rs 20-25 for one kg of ‘Aale-wood’, which is used to make the toys. The officer points out that wood is supplied not by the Forest Department but by private parties. He is quick to assert that almost all of the artisans are “comfortable” and earn well, with the generous help of the government, of course. It is one fact that we are soon able to refute, after some digging around.

The common facility is a blessing for several artisans though. It houses several power driven machines that saw the wood and help shape it to the required design. About 15-20 skilled artisans each pay Rs 90 per month for one machine, and share the electricity bill. They also buy their own wood and their own colours. And therein begins their tale of woe.

Siddappa looks very old, the deep lines on his face filled to the brim with saw dust from wood shavings. His father was a potter but government training got him inducted in the toy making industry. Misty-eyed, he rues the fact that he can now earn only Rs 250-300 per week, while the younger workers could earn that amount in one day itself. The pinks and oranges and yellows are made from lac and colours that cost up to Rs 200, he says. Contrary to my assumption that it is a dying industry, Siddappa says that the demand for Channapatna products is growing, more so in the international market, but what is crippling is the raising costs of production.

The craftsmen shape the wood at the factory and colour it. The final product is made at their homes, where, most often, several other members of the family are also involved. The finished artifacts are then either sold to the government units or to private parties and exporters. Several households in Kalanagar engage in ‘‘patri-work’, shaping and making the toys using hand driven devices quite similar to a lathe.

On any given day, the woman of a household would be juggling her cooking, minding her children and using the Patri to make colorful key chains and toys, her hands working the Patri at the blink of the eye. Most, like Rukkamma, try to maintain strict “office hours” and work before the “kids come home”. Though she happily demonstrates for us, Rukkamma finishes her work earlier than usual because work went on till midnight the previous night, she says. For all of this, her family would take home up to Rs 150 per day. “It is a very profitable field if we market our produce but we choose to sell it at low rates in the wholesale market rather than get into the hassle of marketing,” says her husband Papanna. I spot a tinge of pride in his voice when he says his daughter Ramya learnt the art by observing, just like he did from his father. She goes to school though.

The art of making Channapatna toys has been around since 1924 when one ‘Iskul Babasmia’ (called so because he started a school to train artisans) learnt the art in Japan and brought it to the then Mysore state. It is another story that the patriotic Mia committed suicide because he did not want to serves in the British army.

In the late 1980s, the government leased out houses to the artisans under various schemes. Most continue to sit for work under weather-beaten, framed copies of the lease document that occupies center stage amongst collages of local film stars and other entertainment paraphernalia. Nearly half have repaid the lease amounts but the houses have not yet been registered in their names. Amanulla Khan of Shahid Handicrafts, a largely export oriented unit, initially feigns indifference at having to give yet another interview. But soon he begins to list out a set of problems that he says are ruining livelihoods.

Contrary to the peachy view the government officer was trying to feed us with, Khan tells us that it is a wonderful and very profitable field to be in, but he would not encourage people to get into it because of the obvious lack of facilities from the government. His lament includes a mention of the lack of wood, unscheduled power cuts, subsequent delay in supply to exporters and the ensuing problems. He is also setting up a union of artisans to regulate prices and fight for their rights. Md Sayeed, another artisan, talks of the strict export requirements that he has to adhere to when he sends his painted bracelet pieces to Delhi for assembling and exporting.

If there was a cataloguing of hues, the products of Channapatna would cause a riot of colours. From Russian dolls to bullock carts to rocking horses to intricately designed vintage cars and spinning tops to whistles, pipes, slices of life depicted in wood, baby rattles, curtain rings and mantle pieces to fashion accessories, the stores of Channapatna present a invasion of every conceivable colour to the senses. The kind of toys that I played with when I was little now occupy a much smaller shelf space. What sells is stuff that fashion sensitive households want to keep in a discreet corner to add a dash of ethnic colour. The lacquering technique is being passed on, though the original products are no longer wanted in the market. At least the technique survives, I keep telling myself. Near blinded by the fantastic vortex of hues, colours that are drawn from lives in India, I cannot make up my mind if this manner of survival is good for the art form in itself or not.