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

Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Screech

It was late in the night, the hostel was quiet except for a strange hum that sounded like collective chanting. To an outsider it must have sounded like some nocturnal ritual taking place in some evolved being's room. A quiet walk down the corridors with not a soul in sight, said that this hum came from all the rooms. Suddenly in the middle of the rhythmic vibrations, a screech interrupted the peace. There was silence. The screech turned to a howl petering out towards the end. It sounded like a man being strangulated to death.The sounds of chairs pushed back, of running feet and doors yanked open crowded the night. Except the door of number 107.

They opened the door to Room 107 which was not latched thankfully. All rushed in to do their bit of saving the agonised soul. And there on the bed next to the window was a Final year guy, with earphones plugged to his ears realising his dreams of a singer with his sandpaper-rubbing-on-wood voice. All the 'Saviours' teetered to a halt with jaws dropped and eyes staring in disbelief. 

The other roomies turned around from their books slowly pulling out their earplugs giving a resigned look at the 'saviours'. The singer in the room continued his screeching and squaking blissfully unaware of the changed scenario as he concentrated on Himesh's "tera tera tera suroor..." with closed eyes that bordered on ecstasy. "What!" the Final year college wrestler cum new-found singer bellowed, when he was shaken out of his trance.
Seeing so many people in his room he said with a straight face," I am destressing myself from all this cramming. Any problems?"
Shaking their heads the 'saviours' went out and Room 107 returned to their earphones. The night turned into a nightmare but there was little anyone could do. The nightmare recurred for three nights till a midget in Room 204 jumped into the fray. He consulted his roomies and came up with a prank. Every body's future was at stake with exams round the corner. 
The next day, the midget entered Room 107 with some bottle of reddish liquid. He addressed the resident Himesh, "Sir, My sister is a singer herself. The first day you sang, I was stunned beyond words! How gifted you are! I stayed awake through the nights transfixed by your scale!  Sir I remembered what my grandmother gave my sister then, to improve her voice. I hope you will take this medicine half an hour before your practice everyday."
The Himesh beamed and felt woolly with all that adulation,"Oh! How thoughtful of you! But what does it have?"
"Sir, my grandmother mixed cardamom seeds, ginger leaves..."
"Leaves? I thought roots were useful!"
"No sir, that is one of the secrets. Apart from other stuff it is ginger leaves!" the midget winked adjusting his specs.
 "Oh! I must warn you. You may feel a wee bit sleepy but that is the sure sign that it is has started working."

 From that night on, nobody used the earplugs again. The Himesh rested his voice and himself every evening after a dose of the cardamom seeds, ginger leaves laced cough syrup waiting for it to work miracles. Peace returned and so did the humming and the droning of collective chants in the corridors of the hostel.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda

Sunday, 18 August 2013

She Was A Born Fighter


                                                       Old Woman Praying Christian Wallpaper Design 1280x986 Pixel
                                                       ( Courtesy

" At the stroke of midnight..."the radio played in many homes,  as the mother laboured at child birth in a dimly lit room and chaos surged outside. When she was born, a careless midwife let her slip to the floor. And so she came into this world with a prominently bandaged head, not to speak of the other injuries on her left side and the rest of the body that would manifest later, as she grew. But grow she did, with hopes of a better future. After all she had a family who would look after her and who were proud of her. It was after many years of labour and prayers and offerings that this little life was granted.

So she grew preening at the world, teasing, and at times working hard. She learned by watching others and learning from their mistakes. She understood the values of life...of tolerance, co-operation, strength of unity, of colours in life, of richness in diversified experiences. She came out of the teething problems and the difficult growing years as a mature being. The world with its fast growing technology, fascinated her. Once she understood its hold, there was no holding her back. She knew she could deliver with an able team, if she could lay her hands on one such group. The world looked at her as a promising star in the horizon waiting for its time to debut...

But the old injuries revisited her and haunted her. They demanded her attention just when she was ready to take the giant step forward. Her team betrayed her and so did the teams after it. Yet she rallied on. After all she was born a fighter.

At 66 years of age now, she slowed down. Not for want of will but to heal her bleeding innards, the old  injury that threatened to rip her head off and her bandaged right arm. As the lady hobbled under the neon boards emblematic of "India Shining" and along the street with wall graffiti shouting "India Whining", a faint voice came to her throbbing head,

"At the stroke of mid night when the world sleeps..."

Yeah, some dream that was, she thought with a smirk. But she would fight back. After all she had a five thousand year old lineage to bank on. There must be some way out in the ancient collective wisdom of the family. She would find a way out. After all she was a born fighter.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Little Girl Who Stopped

  It was a trial for the second grade students' race in the school. There were seven of them lined up at the starting line. All of them were instructed to look forward and run when the signal was given. Some were tensed and some took it easy. After all they were kids waiting to do what they loved best - run and play. As the teacher shouted "Go!", all took off like a bunch of hare. Happy smiling faces, running with their friends. On the way one of them tripped and fell. The others sprinted on. One girl, who was in the leading two, stopped when she saw her fall. She helped her to get up and asked her if she was alright. And then both continued with the race. By then others were at the finishing line and two of them were already chosen for the next round. The  little girl who stopped to help came back home and told her mother about it. Her mother was exasperated.

"Oh! You shouldn't have looked back, Pakhi, I told you not to look back!"
"But mamma, I thought I tripped her and she was looking sad and hurt."
"Pakhi, you could have won the race! You are a good runner."

Pakhi looked sad and with large brown eyes looked at her mother and said,"But mamma, you said we should help others. You also told me the story of that poem about those nine runners."
The mother was taken aback. She stopped herself. What was she doing? Yes, she did tell the story to her younger daughter. With a lump in her throat and misty eyed she said," You are a winner for me today."

Pakhi is my younger daughter. I forgot about the poem but she remembered the story. She taught me once again not only the right things to do but also the right things to say. And most of all she showed that compassion is still alive. 

And this is the poem by David Roth, "Nine Gold Medals" which I found on the internet to share with all of you.

NINE GOLD MEDALS © 1988 David Roth

The athletes had come from all over the country
To run for the gold, for the silver and bronze
Many the weeks and the months of their training
And all coming down to these games
The spectators gathered around the old field
For cheering on all the young women and men
The final event of the day was approaching
Excitement grew high to begin
The blocks were all lined up for those who would use them
The hundred yard dash was the race to be run
There were nine resolved athletes in back of the starting line
Poised for the sound of the gun
The signal was given, the pistol exploded
And so did the runners all charging ahead
But the smallest among them, he stumbled and staggered
And fell to the asphalt instead
He gave out a cry in frustration and anguish
His dreams and his efforts all dashed in the dirt
But as sure as I’m standing here telling this story
The same goes for what next occurred
The eight other runners pulled up on their heels
The ones who had trained for so long to compete
One by one they all turned around and went back to help him
And brought the young boy to his feet
Then all the nine runners joined hands and continued
The hundred yard dash now reduced to a walk
And a banner above that said “Special Olympics”
Could not have been more on the mark
For that’s how the race ended, with nine gold medals
They came to the finish line holding hands still
And a standing ovation and nine beaming faces
Said more than these words ever will
That’s how the race ended, with nine gold medals
They came to the finish line holding hands still
And a banner above that said “Special Olympics”
Said more than these words ever will
So much more than these words ever will

This is a post for the Do It Right initiative of Blogadda

I am sharing my Do RIght Stories at in association with Tata Capital.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Switzerland Day 1 - Interlaken - Trummelbach - Lucerne


The Plan
         With three days earmarked for Switzerland, we decided to go around with Swiss Flexi Pass that can be utilised for train, bus and boat. We  split the entire Golden  Pass Panoramic line that stretches from Lucerne to Montreaux, into two days. The first day was to show us the panoramic view of the Swiss Alps with the Golden Pass Line starting at Zweisimmen and culminating at Montreaux. The second day was to take us to Lucerne with a brief stop over at Trummelbach Falls near Interlaken. So walking and chugging on trains,  were our  means of transport. Backpacks ready with packets of food, cameras, lenses, towels and bottles of water! The last one can be very expensive if you are travelling with kids. You feel the pinch when you have to keep replenishing the fast diminishing reserve especially with all that walking around!

                                                   Golden Pass Panoramic

The Goof Up
 So off we were, trying to figure out for ourselves if Yash Chopra did justice to this Alpine country, little realising that Murphy's Law was to raise its sneering head! Leaving Dietikon, our base near Zurich, on a grey morning, with dark clouds threatening to give a generous glimpse of the Swiss rains, we boarded the train for Montreaux via Berne completely trusting the Swiss perfection. It was only at Basel did we realise, that we were in the wrong direction and  on the verge of crossing over to France.

Oblivious to the German announcement at Aarau where we had to change trains for Berne, we hopped on to a train at our scheduled platform at the scheduled time, not realising that ours was delayed by a few minutes. So admiring the countryside and a Lindt factory on our way, we were redirected from Basel to Berne by a kind soul. The Supervisor on the train further helped us to plan our trip ahead since we lost out on a couple of hours. With   inclement weather forecast for the day, she suggested that we visit Trummelbach Falls since we would cross it on our way to Berne. The train ride through the Swiss Alps is best enjoyed on a sunny day. So with the routes swapped, we headed for Bernese Oberland to Interlaken where we changed trains for Lauterbrunnen. Interlaken itself is a tourist's paradise sandwiched between Lake Spiez and Lake Thun with Jungfau, Monch and Eiger looking on. But then every part of Switzerland is charming, I guess. From Lauterbrunnen bahnoff ( station), a very comfortable public bus took us to the foot of the mountain that housed the Falls.

                                                           A view of Interlaken

Trummelbach Falls
The Trummelbach is a series of ten glacial falls, that plummets down inside the mountain. These falls drain the glaciers of Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger.

                                             Path leading to Trummelbach Falls

It was a picturesque  five minutes walk from the bus stop to the base of the mountain through a flowery meadow and towering Alps on both sides. A lift took us through the mountain to the first view point. From then on, it was a climb up the illuminated tunneled stairs to the other chutes inside the mountain.


                                                                   Trummelbach Falls

A thunderous roar greeted us with volumes of water tumbling down in  twists and turns, cutting right through the mountain. What an amazing sight it was! At every point the water gushed out, churned and plunged disappearing into a crevice below. We continued on the wet steps taking in each of the falls, with  sprays of the ice cold water stinging our face.

Sometimes the steps gave way to guarded walkways around a falls. It was an awe inspiring and humbling experience. Tearing through the mountain, the water cascades, carving out its path for centuries and finally gushing out into the Lauterbrunnen valley.

Lauterbrunnen Valley

Coming out from the exit, damp with all that spray of gallons of water,the lift man regaled us with anecdotes of how he had seen lady tourists walk up to the falls well-coiffed and well- heeled only to return as wet sparrows with hair all awry and the stilettos in their hands. Shaking off the droplets from my own hair, I wondered if he was just trying to make the visit a more memorable one. No one in their right mind would venture into trekking to a mountain fall in that attire.

To Lucerne
For a trip that started with wet grey skies and a wrong turn, we looked ahead, much energised by the Trummelbach. From Interlaken we boarded a train to Lucerne through the picturesque Swiss region of lakes. This part of the country speaks predominantly in German. Practising our "Sprachen zie English bitte?" (Do you speak English please?) just in case we need some German in an emergency, we passed through Brienz, a pretty town with  lake Brienzersee on one side and pretty Swiss chalets with colourful window boxes on the other.   


 Far beyond the lake were the cliffs from where many falls dropped - first teasing us with a glimpse and then giving a regal revelation as the train took a bend. Just as we admired one, another appeared as a speck first and then a full- on show as the train moved ahead with a stream beside for company.
                A Cascade near Brienz
The train started a climb from Meirengen and from Lungern it trundled down the mountain with glimpses of pretty lakes, chalets and chapels. Between Giswild and Sarnen we went around lake Sarnensee skimming its periphery with a clear view of the reeds in the lake. At Alpnachdorf the edge of the lake was dotted with many  boathouses and homes that had  steel rungs(like in swimming pools) on the shore for the owners to take a dip in it. How lucky! 

And finally we arrived at Lucerne! Walking out of the hauptbahnoff ( main train station) with a self-guided walking tour city map, we followed the red trail marked on the road. Hmm...that was an interesting thought, for tourists who wanted to discover the city at their own pace.

Ambling along the river Reuss that straddles the city before draining into lake Lucerne, and past the Jesuit church, we found ourselves in front of the most photographed spot of Switzerland,the Chapel Bridge with the Water TowerThe Chapel Bridge with the colourful flower boxes, is the oldest covered bridge of Europe- a fourteenth century landmark that was revived after a fire broke out in 1990s. 


     Chapel Bridge

Chapel Bridge with Water Tower

The Water Tower has taken on various roles in its history - from dungeons to archives to treasury and now an exclusive club house. As a part of the the city's medieval  fortification, the Chapel Bridge with the Water tower with its beautiful paintings under the roof, is now easily one of the most picturesque spots one can hope to see in the middle of a city.  Sometime in the past, it was supposed to have directly led into St.Peter's Chapel on the North bank and hence its name.
            Travelling with kids does not give one the luxury of stopping by for a moment or stepping into a nook to discover something. But I managed to quickly step into the Franciscan church, tucked a little away from the riverside promenade and gaze at the exquisitely carved pulpit.


And  once out of the church,  this pretty fountain spout, nestled in the flowers and foliage,  greeted us. We continued our walk to the second covered bridge Spreuers Bridge. This bridge, a little younger than Chapel Bridge, was built to connect the mills with the baker's quarters on the other side of the river. The baker's quarter was separated from the medieval living quarters. This isolation was necessary to prevent  fire from breaking out since the bakers always had a fire burning through the night. Incidentally this was the lower part of the river from where medieval people could throw their spreu (chaff) into the water. Also known as the Mills Bridge, it boasted of a series of painting under the roof by chief painter Kasper Meglinger "Dance Of Death" and a  Nadelwehr, wooden water spikes, that help to control the level of the water. 

                                           Spreuer Bridge with Nadelwehr Extending Into The Water 

"Dance Of Death" is expression of fragile human life, especially in the face of epidemic plague that ravaged medieval Europe - Death embraces all whether a beauty, a peasant, a royalty or a clergy. I found this an intriguing theme that seemed to resonate in most medieval European art form. Perhaps it was a reassurance for all, cutting across all boundaries, of the ultimate truth. 

We walked across to the other side of the city through this bridge, to the old town that was pedestrian friendly with its Miller plaza, Kornmarket, Wein Market, Town Hall with their quaint squares and alleys. We huffed and puffed up the old city wall with its seven watch towers, the only part that was preserved. I preferred to sit at the base while the others climbed up the narrow and steep wooden stairs to one of the towers. For me the quietness of the stretches spread out, was a balm for the aching muscles and soothing to the eyes.

Lucerne or Luzern  is a city that entices you and charms its way into the heart. There are times when you just want to sit by the Reuss and watch the swans glide, looking for tid-bits. Then there are those moments when you gaze at the sail boats or the Alps around the city. Maybe some day, I will go back just to seep in the magic of Luzern all over again...