Sunday, 8 December 2013

Political Musings From An Aam Kitchen

                                                        Tangy Tuesdays

       The results have come in as Delhi Election draws to a nail-biting end. Euphoric moments interspersed with dejected feelings. As the dal bubbles in my kitchen and I get ready to temper it with the bay leaf, chillies and  ginger (having banned the onion from the kitchen till it behaves itself and comes back to its aukat), my thoughts go up like the rising steam.
       So the " mango people" party seem to have made some interesting notes to take cognizance of, for the "traditional" pedigreed political parties of free India. For the first time, there was a party that stood up for clean politics and for making many of us believe that clean politics was a possibility. Thankfully they adopted the humble 'jhadoo' and gave it a makeover and a distinct identity, which otherwise was relegated to a not-to-be-seen corner. It went on to give a literal connotation to the word 'sweep' that had been doing the rounds for the past so many electoral times, in the print media as well as the news studios. Media personnel were going ballistic with the humble 'jhadoo' and its many usages. In the previous regimes, it was used to 'sweep' the scams and scandals under the carpet and hurried into the cupboards to keep the many skeletons company.

      Secondly, the "mango people" party has given humbly the 'in your face' to all the cynics and detractors who brushed it off as a fad and prophesied it's doom much before it breathed. Call me a romantic, an idealist and what have you, but the fact remains that there is a tomorrow only if you have faith. I'm sure many of us wish for a change in the political scenario. And yet we sit and wait for someone else to make those changes. Frankly, it gets my goat when politicians unabashedly and arrogantly treat the public with condescension during the next five years when in power securing their personal future, and do the rounds with folded hands and promises when elections are just round the corner.

   The Delhi Election this time, was an indication that if you act like onions and hike up your affluence quotient and making us cry with your inaccessibility , we will do just what we do to that snooty vegetable. Refuse entry into the kitchen. After all dishes can be made without the pricey onion just as we can do without the high and mighty and the haughty in politics. 

    For the first time, a party is happy to be in the opposition and not scrambling to do the political arithmetic  leaving aside its reason for coming into existence and principles so it can have a heady taste of power. Wise decision. If you want to have a vegetable on your plate with its identity and flavour intact you might just as well have that instead of losing it's goodness in a khichdi or biryani.

    However, a word of caution to the new ebullient party. Please do not let us down. For the first time we have been made to believe that an alternative is possible in politics also just as alternative medicines and practices have made inroads into people's fancy for their well being. There have been mistakes, terrible mistakes in the past.

   I remember a similar euphoric time in Assam with the historic birth and win of the AGP in 1985. The time when our "own boys" formed the Government promising a new era in politics and an end to decades of misgoverning. Since I see a significant member of the "mango people" party with a very conspicuous Assamese 'gamusa' around his shoulders, I think he already knows those valuable lessons.What happened after AGP assumed power was a treachery of the people pining their hopes for a fresh beginning. Coteries, rampant corruption, shameful flaunting of power and arrogance not just by the chosen leaders but also by those closely associated with them. Their kith and kin also seemed to be enjoying the shares freebies that came with power. So where did that leave the aam admi of Assam? Back on the dilapidated road which they hoped to renew and rebuild. 

    Here, we as the people also need to show some  restrain and self-discipline. Yes, the Delhi Elections has made the aam admi a force not to be brushed off lightly and having successfully forayed into the political scenario, of standing up for our rights in the face of political fiefdom, muscle and money power. Some introspection will clear the way we want the future in politics.

1. Are we willing not to expect our pound of flesh from the winners? For it is this that breeds coterie and corruption.
2. Are we willing to be tolerant and gracefully accept the cultural differences abundant in this country and follow a policy of 'live and let live'? Because that is what the political parties in the past have been feeding on, picking on the differences and deepening the chasms in the name of religion, region, caste, language, ethnicity. 
3. Are we willing to be self disciplined in following the rules laid down for our well being. That would translate into not jumping queues, traffic signals, looking for privileges, evading taxes and back door entries. 4. Are we willing to accept social responsibilities especially towards the weaker sections of the society? By letting them know of various schemes and their rights and right to a dignified life. For the politicians of the traditional schools have gnawed at their wounds and left them festering  with temporary bandages to be exploited every five years. 

     If we, as the people want a matured democracy, of the people, for the people, by the people, then it is time we acted as matured and responsible individuals ourselves. Is it fair to expect miracles with just your neighbour's vote while you sit at home and watch the fun. Can we expect the food brought from outside to nourish us everyday never knowing what went into it's making? 
   Ah! The 'dal' is ready and laid on the table. Time to call the family for a wholesome and healthy meal.        

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Voting For A Change

               A few people trickled into the booths set up by the road just outside the school. By the time we finished our round of morning walk and approached the centre, the trickle turned into a steady stream. Citizens queued up to get their names verified and collect the voting slips before walking into the school to cast their ballot. The officials behind the tables, in the makeshift sheds were warming up to the task that lay ahead, the morning December chill making their fingers shiver as they leafed through sheets of voters list. An anxious voter insisted that his mother's name be struck out since she was travelling, ensuring that her vote was not misused. The old were helped in,  the young walked in with a sprite. Everyone walked towards their allotted rooms taking their place in the queue. Pleasantries were exchanged. They went out of their way to help those who looked confused and lost.
Voting had begun in a quiet suburb as in the rest of Delhi for assembly elections.

        Another place. Another time.
                So, will you go tomorrow to vote?
                Of course!
                 What if someone sees you? You know who I mean.
                It doesn't matter now. There will be many more tomorrow, just see. People have had enough of this 'struggle'. Many lives have been lost and many sacrificed for the cause. And what have we gained? The 'leaders' are snug in their safe havens with millions tucked away for their secured future.
The next morning was silent. No horns honking and no sound of vehicles plying. People stayed at home going about their daily chores as in a holiday. They looked out to see if anyone was venturing towards the polling centre. Streets were empty and the dogs were frolicking around. The ULFA had called for an Assam Bandh asking the people to boycott the election.
       An old man walked slowly. People looked at him as he walked past their houses wondering if he was out for a stroll. The old man reached the gate of the school. The officials manning the centre looked up from their doodles and idle talk. He walked towards them and asked them to check if his name was there on the list. One of them pushed his forefinger down the list looking for the name. He ticked his name and guided him towards the ballot box. The old man looked weary but determined. 
             " That was very brave of you, Sir."
He looked at the officer with sad eyes and  lips thinning into a wry smile.
              "My son was very brave. He died fighting for the cause. He was an innocent fool. He trusted everyone..." shaking his head the old man walked away. 
People streamed in slowly as the day progressed. One by one they made their way into the school. Women, men young and old, students who were first time voters.
               Father's name?
               Husband's name?
               Identity proof?
               Sign here.
And so the process continued. The officers continued shuffling papers, checking lists and guiding the people. The next they spoke to their colleagues was after 5pm. 
               Mohit Bhuyan
               But you are late ,sir.
               But it is only 4pm!
               I mean you are late, as in deceased.
               What nonsense! I am very much alive standing here before you! How can I be dead?
               Here is my identity proof.My wife and my daughter have voted. In their details my name doesn't show as 'late'.
              I am sorry sir. You will have to get this revised for the next time. Next please!

              Delhi was buzzing the last few days. And so were some other states as they went in for poll. Every action of the candidates was followed up in  great detail, scrutinized and discussed at great length. People have had enough of the scams, the scandals, political high handedness and lack of accountability. They ask for good governance now. The media worked itself up into a frenzy, scrambling to be the first in the race to predict the outcome. People were shown thronging the polling centres willing for a change.
A  footage on the television shows long shots of queues and close ups of the people. Some smiling and some  look affronted.
             "My name is not there on the voters list. I've been living here for the last 20 years."
              "My sister's name is shown as deceased. Here she is before you very much alive and kicking!"

Call it dance of democracy or people's call for a change. It is time to realise that at the end of it all, it is the grades in the report cards that will call the shots. An aberration here and there is fine. But people are not willing to be short changed, duped and assailed...

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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Music and I

                                                         Courtesy Google Images
   Having woken up later than usual this Sunday morning, I was rushing around like a headless chicken trying to do half a dozen things at the same time. Multitasking, they call it.

"Music and dance reduces stress, doesn't it, Ma?" Pahi observes quietly with The Speaking Tree supplement of TOI spread in front of her and music blasting from my mobile. For a split second I wondered if it was meant for me or was she trying to help herself given that she was on a guilt trip all of yesterday. Reason- she nearly damaged her sister's eye while playing with a flimsy  arrow that usually never went further than the bow. So after tears streaming in the house, one with pain and the other with guilt, tense moments and rushes to doctor, today seemed much calmer.

   As I sit down now with the gray matter in my cranium in some semblance of order, my thoughts drift here and there prompted by her words. Please bear with the ramblings. We have all known of music's healing powers, read about them in tomes, experienced them time and again. I have heard of students sitting down with maths while the music blared. I believe it helped them to concentrate. Having tried the stunt on a couple of occasions, I managed to get all my calculations wrong. Moral of the story, how music works for others need not be the same for me. 

  Yes, it did work in a way for me during my adolescence apart from uplifting my mood was when it drowned out my mother's 'dos' and 'don'ts'. As she continued with her unwritten script, the volume went up in notches till she gave up in exasperation.

   Now as I mature with age (I hope), I find music adding another dimension to my experiences and to the 'self'. I like the direct connect between music and me, the way it communicates to me, the way I look upon it, this beautiful and harmonious bond that we share. Delhi in the winters, has its platter full with every kind of music you want to expose yourself to, explore and discover. It may be in the confines of an auditorium, in the cool environs of an amphitheater, the schools, colleges or  relaxed chilled evenings in the parks. I especially like them in the expansive Nehru Park, Purana Quilla and other symbolic backdrops, and among them, the Music In The Park Series. In these fortunate rendezvous, I have been transported to a different realm altogether which is timeless, where everything else ceases to exist.

  Or the time when a prominent artiste is paired with another , who is no less in any way except perhaps  being in the mainstream or in finding a wider audience. The music they make, transcends all barriers and captivates the listener with fusion of different styles. The Coke Studio has provided not just the platform for such powerhouse performances but also opened a window to the music aficionados to get a glimpse of these talents , who otherwise remain as benchmarks  but confined to their regions.Well, there are the reality shows too that bring forth some astonishing amateur talents. However the purity of music in these are lost in the the alleged staged incidents, the competitive hoopla, and other such interventions. I like the music to flow, without any hitches like the thoughts, like the stream, like the swell of the waves,  the flight of the birds...
  A recent experience at the Assam Day cultural show at IITF 2013 Pragati Maidan, was one such that carried the audience with the artistes. It was an eclectic mix of bhakti and folk in the Tokari geet, the lilting  yet rhythmic Barat dance of the Tiwa people, the pulsating Jali Kekan  dance of the Karbis with criss crossing bamboo poles and of course rounding off with the ever popular Bihu. The show stealers were Khagen Gogoi, a renowned master in the traditional Bihu genre catapulted to national fame by a Coke Studio performance with Shankar Mahadevan; and Dhol Samrat Somnath Borah Oja with his award winning 'talking drums' performance. When the evening ended the bright faces of the audience, the thunderous applause,elixir for any performer, and  calls for 'encores' said it all.
   Music to me brings back memories of those Sunday afternoons many years ago when Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey, Lata Mangeshkar, Yesudas, Hemlata, crooned their way through the radio sets filling our homes with melodies as domestic warmth enveloped our days; when every artist connected with the making of the song was given due credit. Pervading the space not just within the four walls but also seeping into the consciousness and filling the spaces within. It also gives a romantic hue to those unknown artistes lost in the maze of train journeys, who have foraged for livelihood among the passengers, in their perfect soulful baul renditions rising above the din of the chugging train and the clanging iron wheels. Music also brings to mind the many evenings spent with family and cousins attempting a soiree especially during power cuts.

   On a recent trip to Brussels, music is what characterised the place for me. As we were walking towards the exit of an underground metro, we could hear a couple of strangers walking down the stairs humming, and what seemed like an impromptu jam session. And the next minute they were sitting at the base of the stairs and making some beautiful music lost in a world of notes, melody and rhythm. How different it was! No designated time, place for the music to flow and yet not intruding on others who carried on with their lives. And for that reason, I like the flash mobs. For bringing colour, spontaneity and energy to an otherwise ordinary day.

     A trip to the Scottish Highlands was heightened as the bus meandered the highway revealing some exotic panoramic views. I remember that journey vividly for the tragic saga of  the House of McDonald  of Glencoe being played in the backdrop as the bus swept past the rugged landscape.  And then there was that evening while walking down from church of St Gilles in Brussels, the street filled with people chattering, laughing with friends over drinks at the road side cafes, a familiar tune caught my ears. I turned around  desperately trying to place the instrument. And then I spotted him. The last I had seen that instrument was probably in a Raj Kapoor movie. The artiste, as they all are, was playing the accordion. And the melody was  the haunting, poignant score from  The God father. I had goose bumps and time stood still, the crowd receded into the back ground. It was the music floating all around...

  I don't know how it is with you, but watching a beautiful dance recital or listening to a music concert or witnessing any art form  of any genre is highly cathartic. Maybe the artiste with all their passion poured in through hours of hard work, reaches out to the audience at a different level, holding all the souls together in tandem with the One Soul for  just those fleeting moments...

Thank you to ballad of  Mcdonald massacre
sung by Alistair McDonald
( to André Rieu's uploaded snippet, for the haunting melody of The God father)
To Google Images and  for the lovely image.
To all the artistes known and unknown, for having enriched our lives



Friday, 15 November 2013

Delhi Duty Free Shops - Selling An Experience

     There was a time when air travellers lingered on with their friends and family till the last call for security check even if it meant awkward silences, last minute instructions or plain simple small talk. Things have changed now. And we only have to thank the Irish for introducing us to the invigorating as also the languorous like the warmth of a McGuiness, whiskies; literary masters like W B Yeats, Samuel Becket, G B Shaw, Oscar Wilde ; the submarines, tractors. Add to the list DFS- Duty Free Shops at airports and seaports.

     It was Brendan O'Regan in 1950 who ushered in the glitter of the duty free shops at Shannon airport, on the secured side of the airport arguing that since passengers  are out bound to other countries, there was no point in levying taxes on the products that were not coming into the country. What started off as a common sense business proposition trying to tap a niche market for retail soon changed the international travel scene not to speak of the multi million market it created.

                                                     ( Courtesy Google Images)

    Now air travellers while chalking out their itinerary do keep the DFS area at international airports in mind. The long empty hours between flights no longer exist. Instead they have transformed into shopping sprees and window shopping. But most importantly, they have turned into experiences. In my limited sojourns abroad, I've found our very own Delhi Duty Free Shops at T3, the single largest in India, to be swanky and well laid out. Some of the stores were selling not just products off the shelves but also heightening the experience of embarking on a trip abroad especially for those on a holiday. A few of these stores were very aesthetically done up giving a glimpse of our heritage.

 Cosmetics, electronics, fashion, alcohol, handicrafts have their retail outlets at the Delhi DFS. With the increase in Indians holidaying abroad, it is the fancy beginning to a much anticipated trip. For the foreign tourists the DFS at T3 is a boon to pick gifts and memorabilia, be it handcrafted stoles, fine cotton garments, hand painted folk wall art or indulge in a last minute spa experience.

    The DFS at Heathrow and Munich, among the few that I've transited through failed to impress me. The well publicized Dubai Duty Free has caught onto everyone's imagination with it's innumerable counters of famous brands, duty free shopping festivals and the most crowd puller - the supposedly competitively priced gold and other jewellery counters. I would caution the passengers in transit to research a bit before they embark on a shopping spree. There were hordes of passengers converging from almost every part of the world as the flights homed in offloading more of them. Some strolled from one counter to the other while the others flitted in and out looking for specifics as boarding calls were announced.

   On our way to Munich, we spent much of our time browsing the stores at the Delhi DFS. Ambling through the fragrant aisles of the perfume stores sniffing and 'breaking' the aromas with coffee beans, I felt like Alice in the Wonderland of an upscale mall just as Dubai's DFS brought back images of Ali Baba and his coveted cave. The products positioned at brightly lit niches to seduce and lure the customers into shelling out a few of those crisp notes. The alcohol and the cosmetics, especially the perfumes, do offer good bargains. These are the stores that passengers visit looking for a good bargain on some world class brands.

  An anecdote once narrated by a close friend comes to mind. A group of defence officers on their way from Tel Aviv to New Delhi  hurried through the DFS area  at Dubai. By the time they reached the designated exit the team leader realised two officers were missing from the group. As the last call for boarding was made, the duo dashed their way through with gleaming eyes and sheepish grins. They had succumbed to the lure of the free sampling at the counters. Quickly swigging the free samples on the offers, they managed to reach the departure points quite dramatically with the clanging bottles in sealed packs clutched dearly in their hands just as the gate was closing.

   There is no denying that  DFS has changed the way we travel international now. It begins with making that beeline for the security check at airports for the experience to begin as quickly as possible.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Birthday Parties

Spicy Saturday

                                                                ( Courtesy Google Images)

  Don't we all have happy memories of our childhood birthdays? The balloons swaying from the ceiling fan and streamers fanning out right above the main table. Enticing aromas wafting out of the kitchen building up anticipations  in the guests of yummy food. The birthday child beaming in his or her  special dress with eyes focused on the door and ears straining for tell tale signs of the first arriving guest. The  waiting child impatiently wearing the parents down  with "what is the time?", "why hasn't anyone come?" while the parents scurried around trying to put everything in order only to see it all coming down with the arrival of the first guest.

"Aunty, can I have a balloon?"
"Yes, you can but only after the party!"
"Aunty, can I play with the toys?"
"Next time, beta. Today we have special games for you!"

   If only things were so simple. If the above looks simple to you, that is. For me, this was the most lavish way to celebrate a child's birthday. Till I came to Delhi. We had already heard stories of  birthday extravagance,  when the posting order came in asking us to shift from Sharifabad, a good half an hour's drive away from Srinagar, to Delhi.

  Once the kids  were enrolled in a decent school (and that is another story), we dusted our hands thinking all was taken care of till the first birthday invitation came in. There was no looking back. We were caught up in  nerve racking trips weaving our way to all corners of the city, to all kinds of malls worth their stores, play zones, an ice-skating ring, bowling alley, farm houses, party gardens with stalls of tattooing, hair styling, nail art, bouncies with the sad looking keepers, with a couple of movie halls thrown in. Children running around with friends from one point to the other with a half done tattoo here or a plea for a balloon there. The only food that always managed to be shoved down their gullet was the odd slice of pizza or a forkful of noodles. The final icing on the cake, after the original birthday cake was demolished and devoured, was the the "Return Gift" time. The return gifts turned out to be more lavish than the birthday gifts.  Whew! What an ordeal for all the parents!

  Soon it was our turn, as the daughter turned a year older. My husband and I had sleepless nights trying to figure out a decent way to organise a birthday party for her. He would get nightmares of currency notes flying away burning huge deep holes in all the pockets of his trousers and shirts and all other garments that can accommodate  pockets. We were now the conjurers doing a tight rope walk for we were still reeling from the mounting and hidden expenses of living in the National Capital. Having lived in smaller towns and remote places in our married life so far, we were yet to cope with the pressures of city dwelling. With the Sixth Pay Commission playing peekaboo with the defence personnel (and that again is another story), we had our limitations.

 However, we had decided long back that keeping up with the Joneses was never going to be a thread in our life and in the family. We had made this clear to our daughter from the beginning that we do not believe in lavish affair and shall not indulge in it even if we could afford it later. We will try to be the best hosts to the best of our ability. Preparations started almost a month before, with lists drawn, struck out and redrawn. Imagination was sent knocking at every crevice of the cranium and the internet of course, got no respite! Listing down the menu catering to children's affinity, party games to be organised, decorations that can be carried out, a birthday dress, invitation cards, getting the list of parents phone numbers from the school to doubly ensure attendance, marking out days in the calender for shopping. Idea was not to outsource so as to keep the costs down. It was the "return gift" that gave us the jitters. We now had to think beyond the colourful packets of pencils, rubbers, sketch pens, other stationary, trinkets etc. A valiant trip was made to the mother of all wholesale markets, Sadar Bazaar in Old Delhi, thanks to the Metro connectivity! We came back with bags of decent gifts at affordable prices approved by the child in question and a much relieved husband.

  On the D day, the birthday girl walked to and fro, checking the gate and the clock. Balloons were swaying in the breeze and the streamers fanned out. The table was ready with the food in the kitchen awaiting their turn with the  spotlight. The return gifts neatly spelled out each child's name, snug in their bag along with the winning prizes for the games.

  At the first sound of the gate opening,
" Mamma! They have come! My friends have come!"
And she rushes forward to take the gift and deposit it in a room inside. The party has begun.
As more of them turn up, the child's beam radiates to see so many of her friends in her home for the party. The music from the humble stereo heightens the party mood. They call out for games. One after the other. Squealing, laughing, sulking, they run around the lawn hunting for the treasure, or bursting balloons tied behind each other's back, cheering their mates in the relay of activites.

" Aunty! Can we play more games, please!"
" But I've run out of prizes, beta!"
" No, we will play just like that!"

  When the parents came to pick them up, they left reluctantly like they always do from every party.
" Mamma, just five minutes more!"
" Papa, let me finish this game please!"

  Their faces shone with the return gifts.
"Look, what I got! What did you get?"
" Aunty, my sister couldn't come. Can I take one for her, please?"
" Of course, you can. And all of you must take the balloons with you!"

   The house was a mess. The lawn was littered. I finally found my limbs attached to my body and a mind that settled in its case.We sat down with a hot cup of black tea. Every child is special for it's parents. And so they go the lengths to create happy memories for special days. Do we tend to go a tad  too far in this? I wonder.
It is just fun time the kids want irrespective of the venue or the means and maybe a little surprise at the end of the day. Paucity of space and time in a fast city does have its tight corners. Or are we being caught up in the trend? If so, can we blame the child if their demands keep growing directly proportionate to the number of candles on the cake? I have seen the entire class being invited and yet some children sit in a corner because they do not belong to the "group". Maybe the number of guests also play a role in determining the success of the child's birthday party.

  Whichever way it is done, the measure for a birthday party's success is the number of balloons burst, the amount of soft drinks spilled, the packets of fryums and smileys wiped off the plate, strands of noodles on the table, snapped streamers.... and a smile on your child's face as he or she sleeps softly with gift wrappings strewn on the floor.

   So what do you think? I would love to hear your views and I am sure the others would too!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Meeting Two Brothers - Bhupen Hazarika and Jayanta Hazarika

                                                              Courtesy Wikipedia

       “A good day would be him working on a new composition filled with quietude. And a bad day would be utensils flying about and the chairs strewn with stuff as he would be looking for a composition jotted on a cigarette packet…”
       With interesting and amusing anecdotes from slivers of Bhupen Hazarika’s life, the Conversation between SanjoyHazarika and Kalpana Lajmi kept the audience regaled on the 9th September 2013   evening in the Kamla Devi Chattopadhyay Block of IIC, Lodhi Road. It was an evening to commemorate and celebrate the musical geniuses of the two brothers Bhupen Hazarika and Jayanta Hazarika:
     On receiving a mail from Sanjoy Hazarika, we decided this was not an evening to be missed in the National Capital not just for the promise of the melodies we grew up with, but also to introduce my daughters to the many facets of the man behind the legacy of Assam. Having trudged through the evening Delhi traffic like many others present there, we reached just in time for the lights focussing on the stage.  Black and white photographs of the two brothers propped on two easels looked on from one side of the stage leaving the rest for the artists of the evening to take their place.  Sunita Bhuyan , the noted violinist from Mumbai captivated the audience with her nuanced rendition of  “tumi biyar nixar xoyon pati…, snehe amar xotoshrabonor( rendered as jhooti muti mitwa awan bole from “Rudali”)  and manuhe manuhor baabe in her inimical interactive style not just with the audience but also with her accompanists. The evening had begun on the right note striking the right chord, with many in the audience in rhythm with the performance.
      Was Bhupen Hazarika a political activist, a reformist, a socialist, a humanist…? The list could go on with all the ‘-ists’ as posers  but never a term be found to straightjacket this essence of humanity and a truly South East Asian celebrity who single-handedly drew the attention of the world to the people of the region and gave voice to their angst and aspirations. His pain at the miseries of the marginalised people inflicted by political apathy and turmoil found vociferous expression in the lyrics we know so well. He belonged to a generation of artists who did not know how to ‘manage’ their art and looked for no reciprocity except the love of the people. As Kalpana Lajmi reminisced nudged by Sanjoy Hazarika,  taking us back in time, she shared an incident when Bhupen Hazarika along with Rev Michael Scott were travelling to Nagaland to act as mediators. On hearing an old peasant’s lilting melody in the fields, he stopped to ask what he was singing. The peasant said it was an old song and that he didn’t know its origin, probably a folksong. This amused Bhupen Hazarika and he turned to Rev Scott and said “I am not Bhupen Hazarika. I am folklore!” The peasant was singing “manuhe manuhor baabe”in Nagamese. In all innocent happiness of having found a place in the common man’s consciousness transcending physical boundaries, he found strength in them.
     Mayukh Hazarika along with wife Laili, took the audience through many songs of his illustrious father Jayanta Hazarika and legendary uncle Bhupen Hazarika. Mayukh’s hereditary baritone reminded many of the sepia tinted days with the old LP playing in the Assamese households, the brothers’ vast repertoire of songs in the rainy mornings, drowsy afternoons and chilled evenings – any time of the day and any time of the year. Interestingly he began the evening with “Shonar boron pakhi re tur”, a note of farewell to the departed souls leaving behind a space to celebrate all that they left behind.

      With music of the legends taking most part of the evening, the Conversation brought out the human foibles of the man. The personal anguish of Bhupen Hazarika’s political debacle, a cherished desire to represent his people, led to the first stroke and disillusion from which he never quite recovered. His friendship with tea baron, Hemen Barooah, is what legends are made of. Two boys who grew together, studied at Harvard and Columbia, poles apart in their ideologies and went on to become giants in their own right and yet retained their friendship through all these years.
       The mischievous streak in him reflected when he instigated an MLA to challenge the then Leader of the Opposition in Assam, Dulal Barua, only to stop his never ending political speech even if it amounted to citing ‘bad grammar’ as a reason. Or the time when he went to meet Bharat Shah, the diamond baron, for film financing with a piece of ordinary glass adorning his trademark Nepali cap. On being asked he nonchalantly said “You, of all people shouldn’t be asking if it’s a diamond!” Bharat Shah perhaps did acknowledge it to be one. As they came out, Kalpana asked him the reason for it. Pat came the reply “He should know that I can also afford to buy a diamond this big.”
       As someone whose contribution to the assamese language has been immense, he bridled at its distortion especially by the younger generation. He once asked Kalpana to correct a couple of young lads conversing while he sat back with closed eyes. When Kalpana countered that why he shouldn’t do it since she was in no position to do so herself, he replied that he didn’t want to be obtrusive and seem like he was throwing his weight around!
       With 3000  original compositions, a postage stamp in his honour and clueless about his date of birth all his life, Bhupen Hazarika is an institution that needs to be cherished and preserved. The evening fructified in bringing together, music lovers, artists and interesting conversation, with the initiative of C-NES in collaboration with Oil India Limited. A prolific writer whose creativity often poured out on empty cigarette cartons and loose sheets of paper, he left behind a treasure and a sense of pride not just for the people of Assam but also for the people of the entire region.
      As Mayukh took the stage to ‘complete’ the evening with his soulful bilingual rendition of “Ganga amaar ma…” strumming on the guitar, I found myself drifting to Nazira, the place of my early childhood, listening to the gramophone records of Bhupen Hazarika and Jayanta Hazarika with the ceiling fans whirring and the rain pouring outside. The magic of the two brothers continues to weave through the generations.    

This was published in the e-magazine The Thumbprint Magazine

Monday, 9 September 2013

Creating Happy Travellers in Tsol Erutan


  "Okay everyone!" declared the Big One holding up his hand for silence. 
 Everyone in the room stopped and looked around to see who had interrupted their spirited discussion. 
  "As usual, we have not reached a consensus about the destination for these holidays which is just a month away. In that case, we might as well stay back and enjoy the dust and traffic jams here."

 " But you promised me one! After an entire year of stressful house-wifery!" objected his wife first.   
"No! And I told my friends we are going on an exotic holiday!"  butt in his College Going daughter.
His niece, all of nine plump years, looked at him with doleful eyes threatening to bawl her disappointment out in high wet decibels.
"Hah! I knew this would happen!" came from his Know It All nephew lounging on the floor with his lanky limbs getting in everyone's way.

    The Chaos
      The room once again erupted into a cacophony with everyone voicing their concerns. How can a family of myriad opinionated selves ever agree on anything tangible! If one was looking for adventure, the other wanted to loaf around a beach, the third vetoed it since she didn't want to get tanned before her college reopened. The Elderlies didn't want to go abroad for gastronomic reasons. But the most abominable of all 'wants' was the one to live in a tree house! A long nurtured fantasy and vestige of "Phantom"comic days. That one came from his brother, Young One.

   The Big One looked around exasperated. His old Mother walked up to him slowly and said,"My Friend's sister's grand daughter works for a travel company called Yatri something..."

 "Yatra dot com, you mean. But they book only journey tickets and hotels, I think."
"Let me speak to her in the kirtan today, baba."
 That evening, she came back with F's S's Gd's number and gave it to Big One. Two days later Big One found himself in F's S's Gd's office at Yatra dot com  pouring out his woes. He looked at this young girl wondering whether she at least identified that there was a problem, let alone figure a way out.

 The Messiah
"Sir, you do seem to have a problem there." as though reading his mind, " and I've spoken to some of our experts and they have come up with an option. It does look like it'll suit you all!'
"It's relatively new in the travel circuit and so very few are aware of it. There is this island in the Andamans which was recently permitted to be developed as tourism property by an environmental NGO. Well, it has the usual snorkeling, deep sea diving, limestone caves, back waters. Ummm... it has few shacks on the beach itself and....a few tree houses!" she said scanning the monitor on her desk.

The Big One's heart leapt. What! They found a place for his cantankerous family! Thanking her profusely he discussed the travel details and made the arrangements before the place filled up. He already loved this place. No mobile network, no TV or internet - total electronic detoxification! Ah! They were to tank up on bird songs, lapping sea waves, rustling leaves...

Tsol Erutan


"Can we please behave like a well groomed family..."

             The Big One's voice was lost in the cacophony of excitement and grumblings of his family.He gave it up. No point behaving like a class monitor when his family decidedly turned into kindergarten kids. Their motley group of Growing Kids, Grown Up Kids and the Elderlies bundled into a waiting vehicle taking them to the Port Blair jetty from the airport, finally on their way to Tsol Erutan which was to be a three hours sailing into the sea.

   The family chattered on non-stop. Once out in the sea, they became silent. Either they were tired or the magic of the  clear sky and the open sea tied their tongues in place. Faces broke out into smiles and even the reluctant ones wiped that grumpy look off their face as the destination came into sight. The sea had many shades of blue with the clearest view of the sandy bed near the shore.

  Thick vegetation sprouted from the  tantalizing white shoreline. A few neat shacks dotted the beach. Jumping off the boat on to the pier and towing the luggage they  followed a shaded path into the island Tsol Erutan. Coconut trees, ficus trees, hibiscus shrubs flanked them as they reached a clearing. Everyone gasped!
     Surrounded by the thickets was a clearing with few ancient banyan trees with sturdy roots making many columns from the branches that spread out wide in all directions.
                                                               Ancient Banyan Tree
Tree Houses

  Wait!The best is yet to come! On these branches were gracious tree houses with thatched roofs, wooden structure and waiting to host the weary and the tired! The tree foliage screened them from a 'bare it all' view. Every one looked at Young One and who in turn looked at the Big One with a dazed look that reflected a recap of all the "Phantom"comic days. He looked liked he was going to beat his chest and do a "Me Tarzan you Jane".
Tree House

Everyone exclaimed and twittered with amazement, silencing the feathered inhabitants of the trees.This indeed was going to be an exciting holiday! Much to the relief of the Elderlies, a wooden stairs led to the tree house from behind, taking care of their tired limbs and old bones. Each house had two bedrooms, a lounge and an attached bath, thankfully with modern plumbing!

   The caretaker appeared from behind the bushes wearing a huge welcoming grin and a hat. He showed us our 'nests' and said breakfast would be served in the dining shack just beyond the Banyan Line. Happy voices filled the trees punctuated with squeals of excited discoveries. Young One was particularly beaming having discovered a pretty view from his 'nest'!
                                                                            The View

Soon hunger pangs speeded up all freshening activities and the Family found themselves tucking into a sumptuous feast of fresh fruits, tender coconut water,  cool sandwiches and steaming idlis.

  "Welcome to Tsol Erutan!" boomed a voice. Everyone jumped to look at the source of this voice, during their various phases of munching and gulping. He was Dr Borah, the head of the NGO working in the island, researching the ecosystem and preserving it. A round of introduction followed before he gave  some advice on island living.
" Do enjoy every bit of your time here in Tsol Erutan and take back lovely memories. But remember to respect every inhabitant of this island be it a plant, a snail or a monkey because they are the hosts and we are merely guests. Leave the island as you found it and that means not to take back even a shell. Do have fun but not at the cost of inflicting pain on others. Cheer up! I didn't mean to sound like a wet blanket! Raghu here will take you for your snorkeling session now and all the other activities planned for you."
  "Errr... could we come and see you sometime and your work?" asked Big One.
  "Sure! Only I hope you don't get bored" he said.

Everyone scrambled to the beach while the Elderlies sank into the hammocks nearby. And into the lapping aquamarine colours with every shingle visible, waded the others fitted with snorkeling equipment and life jackets. Colourful fishes swam around the corals with an orange, pink or a blue starfish here and there. It was a different world altogether- a world that followed its own decorum quietly.
Snorkeling With Raghu     

 Everything else seemed like an intrusion into this different cosmos altogether. Smiles brightened up
every snorkeler's  face as they came out of their session. The children ran to their Elderlies who were dozing off in the hammocks. Pulling them towards the water with excited chatter of the colourful   fishes and corals they said,
" You must snorkel!"
"But I am too old for it and besides I can't swim!"
"You don't need to swim. And you wear a life jacket and they guide you."
"Hey Ram! At this age! What if I die?"
"You won't. If you do,be happy. You would die having seen a slice of heaven. Don't be such an 'oldie'!" and so ended the argument with the Elderlies gingerly testing the waters and the apparatus.

And so the first day rolled by between lazing around, inspecting each other's 'nest', building sand castles about which the Grown Ups seemed more interested digging a moat here and adding a turret there, and walking along the beach into the sunset.

   The next morning, at the break of dawn, all were up and down at the beach waiting for the first deep sea diving lessons. Snorkeling had fuelled the desire for the daring in the reluctant ones. While the ones looking for adventure were revved up. Raghu showed the breathing techniques, the under water communicating signals and the uses of the diving suit and flippers. This was all to be for the day.

Surprise Trek

"There's a surprise trip for you after breakfast" he said.
No cajoling could make him divulge it. Soon after breakfast, all started on a trek into the island with packed lunch and a naturalist from Dr Borah's team leading the way. 
The trek progressed into a dense area with thick  green canopies and blanketed atmosphere broken by bird and insect sounds. A stream wound around with thick trees on both sides. At places these trees had roots from the trunks pointing towards the stream.
"Notice these strange roots?" asked the naturalist
" Well! They are kind of strange! Like they are trying to find each other across the stream" observed the College Girl.
"They are on their way to making natural living bridges" said the naturalist.
"Sorry, what was that?" asked Young One.
The naturalist looked around and said,"There are some indigenous people here who are said to have been inhabiting this place ever since the African continent broke up and drifted here. Don't look alarmed. They are harmless and do not mix with outsiders. And we do not have permission to be in contact with them. They are protected from modern civilization."
"Just like the Jarawa tribe" observed the Young One.
"They help to build these living bridges by pointing the roots of the rubber tree towards each other across the stream" continued the naturalist, "As they grow over the years, they are initially braided with each other and left to grow and strengthen."
"I thought these were found only in Meghalaya "  quipped Mr Know It All.

"Yes, they are. These were discovered recently. A little ahead is a full grown bridge" explained the naturalist.
   Sure enough, after a walk of ten minutes they came across this beautiful living bridge created out of
 the roots of the two rubber trees on either banks of the stream.
                                                             Living Root Bridge at Mawlynnong miniaturised
                                                    Living Root Bridge
                                               Courtesy Google Image

Cameras were pointed and mobiles were whipped out. All possible angles were tried to capture this living beauty. From the top, from the bottom, from either ends, hanging from it, perched on it, in twos, in threes and solos for status updates.
  That done, everyone closely inspected it voicing their expert comments on its nuances - philosophical, theological, biological, botanical and all the other '-cals' possible. Everyone unanimously agreed this was the ideal spot to unpack the lunch. Over aromatic biryani sitting on the bridge, some on the rocks in the middle of the stream, all declared this was the best lunch one had for a long time.
  Was it the bridge or the open environment with the green 'powerhouses' all around or the 'feel good' factor seeping in from the close proximity with nature?

Dark Clouds
"What peaceful existence! I wouldn't mind living in a shack here by the beach"  said the College Girl, lying on a branch of a tree bent  over the sea.
"Actually, I am kind of not missing my mobile network and the internet" said Mr Know It All.
"Yeah, and I am excited about the deep sea diving thing" said the Youngest Girl all of nine years.
"So, is everyone for it?"
"Nah! People with Blood Pressure problems and breathing difficulties cannot go for it. So that leaves the Elderlies and my Mother out. Look! Aren't those dark clouds there in the horizon?" asked the Youngest Girl.
"Looks like rain clouds. Let's ask Raghu if we are safe in our tree houses."

They found him near the Banyan Line.
"Where is everyone? I wanted to warn you all about the storm" said Raghu.
" I'll get Father" said the College Girl.

"It's alright" said Big One to his anxiously waiting family "Just be inside your tree houses and nothing will happen. They are storm proof houses and will not fly away or scatter" he said, the only one laughing at his poor joke.
That evening the wind picked up speed and turned into a gale. When they returned from an early dinner, the wind whipped about their clothes and hair. They just about managed to reach inside their 'nests' when the rain came rushing down in torrents. What a night it was! The wind howling through the little openings it found, the waves crashing on the beach and the trees whooshing  and bending outside.  Everyone mumbled a prayer before turning in that night hoping to see the morning all in one piece.  All night the storm raged  threatening to bring everything down.

   Birds chirped the next morning and flew around happy to see the storm pass away. Everything seemed cleaner and brighter. The family from the 'nests''  walked down later than usual, for all of them slept very less  last night. It was decided that everyone would take it easy that day. They spread themselves throughout the day between the beach, the hammocks and exploring the surroundings.
Late in the afternoon they took a trip through the back waters to see the limestone caves barely at a distance of half an hour away. Mangroves with their stilted roots lined the waters. It looked like the trees would just lurch up and start walking around to stretch their limbs.



Limestone cave   

   And so passed the remaining days in Tsol Erutan. With each passing hour, respect for every element and living thing grew. Having interacted with Dr Borah's team and seen their work only deepened the admiration for Nature, realising what perils we as humans are courting in the guise of development.

    Deep sea diving just consolidated the awareness of all things beautiful and the beauty in everything. Descending into the depths of the sea,  unraveled a cosmos alien and yet moving. The corals came alive with fish darting in and out. Ray fish glided around and shoals of  colourful fish passed by least bothered about human presence. The sunlight filtered through the waters lent an enchanting aura to the marine cosmos.Words fail to describe what human heart and mind perceive.
How smug can we be in our limited experiences and knowledge of this world!

So Long!
  Never having got enough of the place, everyone boarded the boat on the last day reluctantly. Each one hoping to come back again. Some day. The Youngest Girl threw back the shells she had collected over the week. Everyone sat quietly on the deck as the boat sped away.
"Tsol Erutan" said the Young One.
"Did any of you notice the significance?" he asked
Everyone turned to face him.
" Its an anagram of Lost Nature" he said quietly. Stripped of urban cockiness each took back a wiser self from Tsol Erutan. It was a yatra that was not just rich in memories and happiness but also wiser in the  realization of the self. Some day all will learn these valuable lessons hopefully before it's not too late...


I am grateful to wikipedia and for providing the information and lovely images.
This post was written for's  Creating Happy Travellers at Indibloggers

Monday, 26 August 2013

Smelly To Smiley - Triggerring Happy Memories

   The olfactory senses have come in very handy to sniff out smelly socks long forgotten in an old pair of shoes or cornering an errant teenage brother in the thralls of stolen puffs with a hurriedly thrown, still smoking, butt out of the window. But the most pleasurable of all outcomes of this nasal ability is when  hit by the right button, it triggers off memories dispersing a  fission of emotions in its wake.

    There I was one summer evening, admiring the hybrid periwinkles growing in my balcony when suddenly I transformed into Mungerilal of "Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne" fame and lost myself in a reverie.

  They were  'thatha' and 'paathi' on whose porch the 'rangoon creeper' flourished embracing the column and rising to the first floor laden with pink, white and maroon blossoms scenting the summer evening with a heady fragrance. To me they were 'koka' and 'aita' in remembrance of my grandparents whom I had left behind in Assam when my father was posted to then Madras.

    It was in the early eighties when TV was new for  an eight year old me. There were none where I came from and we didn't own a Dyanora set yet. Weekends were movie days with one in Tamil and one in Hindi.On these days I parked myself right at the top of the stairs leading to our first floor home.

  'He can't miss me if I stand here. And I can see him if he enters or exits his house.' I craned my neck.
 'God! It's already six! Where is he?' 
And why was I parked there with so much desperation? Simply, to force an invitation from koka.
"Aajao, picture shuru hone wala hai!"
    I rushed,  the moment he said the first word - down the stairs, out of our gate, in through theirs, sandals hurriedly slipped out careful not to disturb the 'kolam' and plonked myself  all in one piece right in front of Dyanora dear, just in time to see the revolving discs of Doordarshan logo. If I had run with as much focus in my 'lemon and spoon race' in school I would have been a champion.

MGR or NTR regaled me fighting the baddies and outwitting the sorcerer with swords and chants in torch lit caves, sneering under their clipped moustaches while the damsels in distress like Jayalalitha (Amma in distress?) pranced around. They wooed their love interest in the idyllic indoor sets with flowery trees that suspiciously looked like cherry blossoms. I still remember a song from those days.

    Come to think of it now, what a wonderful way to get an Assamese child acquainted with the Tamil language and grow into an interpreter of sorts for all the Hindi ammas residing in the building especially when it came to conversing with the maid! But why pray, was I going back to Madras of my childhood now, in  a Delhi apartment in 2013? I looked around the nearby buildings and down at the entrance gate. There nestled near the neem tree was the 'rangoon creeper'  weighed down with the pretty blossoms releasing the heady fragrance into the evening sky.

                                                      Rangoon Creeper
                                                               Rangoon Creeper

     I came into the house with a smile playing on my lips only to be assaulted with a stench near the kitchen sink. The culprit was my daughter's two days old smelly lunch box which she hurriedly fished out of her bag and kept in the sink. I rushed to get my Ambipure Lavender Vanilla & Comfort, a gift from the Ambipure Indiblogger's Meet at Hyatt Regency New Delhi.  A spray of that and my kitchen was back to normalcy but I found myself in Ooty!
Those were the days when we came here  often from Defence Services Staff College in Wellington that was barely fourteen kilometres away...

   We walked along the streets  in the quiet evening with the rustling leaves and the pee-ka-boo sun  for company. Away from the hustle-bustle of the main roads, it's a delight to discover tracks amid the trees and suddenly arrive at a clearing with a pretty view spread ahead. 
 " Let's try the other bend next week-end!"I said enthusiastically.
" Yeah, provided we are not loaded with assignments," said the better half wistfully. 
" Let's go back for today."
" Hmm... Do we have the time for the Toda Village today?"
" I guess so. In that case let's head back to the main road and to the Botanical Garden."
    We got into our car and drove down to the Ooty's famed Botanical Garden, through the city. The aroma of freshly baked vanilla cakes greeted us from the bakeries along the road. It is criminal to resist the aromas of fresh chocolate muffins and vanilla cinnamon rolls. So I got off and packed some for the road. The many vanilla plantations in the Nilgiris could be the secret behind the allure of the vanilla cakes here.
   The Garden lived up to its fame with the orchids, Italian garden and whole array of blossoms. It was the Todas who made me sit and appreciate the simplicity of life and thank Him for the little things in life. With their lovely rainbow shaped huts, striking features and intricately embroidered shawls, the Todas lived life respecting nature and nurturing buffaloes.

                                           File:Toda Hut.JPG
                                          Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
                                           Attribution Pratheep P S

Todas!  I suddenly remembered an old forgotten Toda stole I picked up on the trip. Rummaging through my wardrobe, which has a habit of hiding those clothes that I want the most, I retrieved this beautiful piece which I hope to pass on to my daughters.

                                                             Toda stole

   Feeling the stole lovingly jolted me back to the dinner menu for the night. I promised my daughters chicken schnitzels for dinner, a recipe I picked on our recent trip to Germany.

                                             File:Chicken schnitzel and chips with jaeger gravy.jpg
                                                  Schnitzel with fries
                                              Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Standing around the counter the girls helped to coat the schnitzels in the mixture of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. I heated the oil and as each piece went in the aroma of the frying schnitzels filled the air with the girls breaking out into excited chatter.

    " Remember that cafe near the river? The one in the main market or 'hauptmarket' should I say..." showed off my elder one.
" Do you mean the one where we had the first schnitzel?" the younger one quipped.
" Yes, our house seems to be smelling the same today. I love it!" she beamed eyeing the draining schnitzels.

                                                     Nuremberg on Pegnitz river

" Hmmm...the people were so nice to us. Ma, you did say that Germany did not tolerate outsiders" said the younger one.
" Well, Hitler did not. He forced Jews to leave the place or tortured them" I corrected her.
"Did you two notice that although the entire country was bombarded during the War, how it has risen today?" I pointed out.
" Yes, and so did Japan" added the elder one.
" I learnt something there. People can change their country if they work hard honestly."
" And it's nice to be nice to people and help them, like the time when we were lost. The German lady who didn't know English  tried to help us" said the younger one thoughtfully pursing up her lips.
" Everything is clean there and people follow the rules too!"
" I am glad you brought back some lessons."
" And we are glad you brought back this recipe! Can we have them now?" the girls jumped happily.

   It is strange how certain smells bring memories tumbling down in cascades. And it is a stranger unification of the intellect, senses and emotions when one feeling triggers off a whole lot of connected thoughts fluttering away into the lanes of nostalgia.

This post was written for

 This post demanded digging into memory for content. Many of the visuals would not have been possible without taking the help of
Wikimedia Commons