Monday, 29 July 2013

Of Roots And Wings

                                   " We are men by anguish taught
                                      to distinguish false from true;
                                      Higher wisdom we have not
                                      But a joy within guides you."

 And it is this joy and wonder that gives wings to  a child's imagination letting him create all that is in his mind.


Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012. Watching the videos, I was intrigued by Rohini Nilekani's dream and found myself completely agreeing with her. And I thought that the above verse from  G W Russell's "Childhood" is way off the mark, not just in India but in most developing nations. There is no joy or dreams for those born in squalor who are still trying to figure out the different worlds they see around them. One, where the children in smart uniforms are chaperoned to schools and various classes for their 'development'. Two, where children work in putrefied environment so they can put together their share of income towards the house hold expenses.

  Is this how they should continue? With no hopes, of ever seeing colours or stories for them to fall back upon? Things can change if Tedx and Franklin Templeton see the long term and multi-faceted benefits in Rohini Nilekani's dream of seeing a book in every child's hand.
We have a chance to make our country a better place for all and not just for a select few. No amount of subsidized programmes will bring about desirable changes if the core issue itself is not addressed. Tedx and Franklin Templeton have a chance to carry forward this step that can bring about long term benefits for all.

                                                      ( Courtesy

When we put a book in a child's hand, we not only introduce him to a beautiful world of imagination where it is possible for a boy to climb up a Giant bean stalk; realise the follies of impersonating as a blue jackal; or chuckle at Tenali's wits; we also give him a chance to dream of a better world for himself. We give him a chance to see the goodness of values that he was perhaps, never exposed to.

For any person to develop, exposure to the right environment is very important. So can we blame a juvenile delinquent if all that he has ever witnessed is an abusive father and brawls in his environment? Lotuses do bloom in muddy waters but not in murky waters. Books are the best way to initiate them into a realm where good values will always win the race - both moral and social. Let the stories be  resourced from the vast reservoir of folk tales panning the different regions of the country and also the world. The values of honesty, community living; acceptance of plurality; tolerance and respect for others views, will show him a civilized world. That he too can be part of it. After all, most riots and social depravity are rooted in denial of differences, deprived childhood and lack of an ability to think for oneself.

When you let a child imagine, you also give him the ability to think. If man never imagined of flying, you and I wouldn't be booking flight tickets today or enjoying the other fruits of many creative minds. A child with a book is empowered to change things not just for himself but also for you and me.

While the corporate houses are doing their bit of Corporate Social Responsibility by sponsoring campaigns; the NGOs are crusading ahead with bringing wonders to a child; let us also make our contributions, however small, by giving the Rs2 Pratham story cards or brighly illustrated old story books to a child at a traffic signal. Wordsworth said "The child is the father of Man"...So fill up a childhood with colours and stories and let him be a man of strength and character tomorrow.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

It Starts With A Smile

If worded sermons were enough, all the world would have been a better place to live. If reading about values and then following them to the T was the most natural progression, then there would be no strife on this earth.
A child  never learns from what you tell them but only from how you act or react in real time situations. Sadly we live in times of distrust, arrogance and indifference. But I learnt that a simple smile with no strings attached can lift your spirit and create positive vibes.

In our recent trip to Germany, we were seated in front of an old German couple on the train. They had no reason to acknowledge our presence. But seeing that my tired younger daughter was sitting away from us they made space so she could sit with her mother. They smiled at us. The old gentleman tried to talk to us and we realised that we had no common language to communicate. He tried hard in German and we did our best in English. Then we all gave it up and just smiled at each other. The journey that would have otherwise been spent admiring the landscape, turned meaningful. We gradually learnt that they had grandchildren about my daughters' age through sign language. The lady showed me their pictures that she carried around in her bag. 

Long after they got off, the feel good warmth remained. My daughter said," Ma, it started with a smile."

Yes, so it did. I learnt that we may not be able to bring in great changes in a day. But we could make our environment healthy with just a smile. This could lead to tolerance, respect and acceptance of diversity. And from here, all the other values can be extended and emphasised. It leads to willingness to help each other, to follow civilized way of day to day living like waiting for your turn,  and not being rude. 

I do hope my daughters also learnt what I did from the old couple on the train. 

I am sharing what 'I Saw and I Learnt' at in association with

Sunday, 21 July 2013

From Western Ghats to the Nilgiris - The Perfect Road Trip

"Where are the water bottles?"
"Behind the seats. Did you check the room?"
"Hm... nothing left behind."
" Oh! Wait! What about the potty, bucket and the mug?"
" Safe in the boot...your potty and your bucket!"

     With the map on the dashboard, we drove off from Pune one early June morning. Our good old Maruti 800 was going to take us through the Western Ghats, along the Western Coast to Coonoor in the Nilgiris. Having started from Nasik two days back, we were leaving behind our first halt Pune and moving to  Belgaum, our next halt.

   This was a dream trip for many reasons. Husband was back after six months of keeping vigil on the border. It was a kind of family reunion after a couple of years of staying apart prior to this stint at the border. My daughter hardly knew him. And if she could talk, she would have probably addressed him as 'uncle'. Our final destination was Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, Coonoor, a milestone for any fauji worth his boots.
 Apart from being my husband he also happened to be an excellent driver knowing when to go easy on the accelerator, how to take the bends or drive up a hill. This was very important since although I love travelling, ironically I have this bouts of motion sickness. And there has been an instance when I've actually asked the driver of a cab taking us to Guwahati, to swap places with hubby since he was getting too fond of the clutch and the brake.
   But the most important part of this trip was our route, a dream stretch of the ghats, beaches and the hills. I had always thought of this trip in my dreams. Friends, if you ever plan a trip to the Western Ghats, Monsoon is the time. What lushness, what abundance! The dripping foliage, swayed throwing different shades of green! The dark, rain sloshed roads gleamed ahead.
    We rolled across Kolhapur with its undulating fields and dark clouds threatening to come down. With the kind of weather, pav-bhaji and batata vadas seemed perfect for the road. The best part of moving across different places is the variety of food the tummy is appeased with. So if it was pav bhaji here, it would be  fresh fish at the beach side shacks in Goa, the dosais in Udupi and soft fluffy appams and idiappams with ishtew in Kannur. I firmly believe that if you have had good satisfying food on a trip, it becomes all the more etched in your memory.

 After a night halt at Belgaum we moved on to Goa. As we climbed the last of the Ghats, suddenly  a wall of thick mist stoically greeted us...with a board beside it that hazily said "Welcome to Amboli". Visibility was barely one metre! We slowly rolled into the  mist, awed by its beauty. Objects on the roadside were  blurred outlines. There was a thunderous roar of a waterfall that kept getting closer. It was extremely tempting to stop but we had a schedule to adhere to.  Amboli is the last hill station as the Ghats meet the coastal plains.  We extricated ourselves reluctantly from its soft embrace and moved on with one last look. As we reached the plains the sun sparkled unveiling stretches of green fields. Amboli has remained an enigma for me to this day.

   Goa, needless to say, lived upto its name and let us revel in it. The beaches, cruise on the Mandovi river, the churches and its people left a warm fuzzy feeling. We moved on after a couple of days along the coastal Highway. There were stretches where the waves lapped against the boulders along the Highway. What a sight! The sea on one side and the fields on the other! From Goa it was to be one long drive to Kannur with Udupi in between for a lunch stop- over. We were geared for this marathon with food supplies (sandwiches and chips actually) in the car.

  When we reached Kannur, dusk had already set in. The home-going traffic jostled aorund with groceries to be carried home. We made our way into a hotel solely because it promised a hot breakfast of appams and ishtew. Making our way into the room we looked up at the hills nearby that beckoned us with twinkling lights. That was to be our last stretch to destination Coonoor.

  Early next morning saw us excited and all ready for the home-run. With a warm feeling of fulfillment mainly derived from the promised breakfast, we climbed the Nilgiris at a steady pace. We found ourselves in the middle of sloping tea gardens at times. Then there were times when we discovered coffee plantations, having never seen a coffee bean in our life. The only coffee I knew then, was the one in the Nescafe bottle. We crossed cashew and pepper plantations that left us in awe to see them in their native existence. "Oh! This is how they look actually!"

   Having made our little discoveries and rendezvous with realisations, the Highway took us into the intimidating Mudumalai  forest. Twelve years back it was advisable to cross this part during daylight and in convoys  since it was rumoured to be  the dreaded sandalwood smuggler Veerappan's territory. The forest lived upto its reputation by turning dark and foreboding when we went deep in, even as the sun was at its zenith. The only sounds were those of the birds and some monkeys. I kept my eyes peeled at the faraway dark bushes and branches waiting for someone to drop by la Tarzan style. Thankfully, we finally made our way out of its dark depths.

   I never realised at which juncture did this trip turn into a journey of discovery. The wonder at the changing landscapes, the surprises sprung around the corners or the languid motion leaving a sense of content...The 800 gradually wound down the slopes of Ooty to take us to Wellington, tucked away in the folds of Coonoor. There was a slight drizzle and the clouds kept crossing our path teasing us with views of our final destination.

   But that was not the end.  Hubby had to report his arrival where he was handed over the keys to our apartment that was to be our home for the next ten months. Along with the keys came the paraphernalia of two LPG cylinders, a packet of rice, dals, vegetables, six electric bulbs, a dozen eggs, butter, packets of milk and so on. We looked at each other and got down to work. The Maruti accommodated the  two LPG cylinders, a packet of rice, dals, vegetables, six electric bulbs, a dozen eggs, butter, packets of milk and so on in addition to two suitcases, a bag of footwear plus the odds and ends that appear just before leaving a place, the potty, the bucket, the mug and the makeshift bed, a child and two adults. It was literally an uphill task winding up Gorkha Hill that was to be our address.

  This journey ended in a typical dream like sequence when I opened the windows of the apartment to let in fresh air...little mists of wayward clouds wafted in as if to welcome us after a long drive...

This post was written for the Ambipure "The perfect road trip" contest.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Living In Leh


In this blistering Delhi heat, when the mind flounders to find an oasis in the white fury, I indulge in some nostalgia – of a stay in Leh where the temperature plummeted to twenty degrees below zero. Over the years I’ve felt that a tourist’s perspective is transient, a sweet memory till the next trip. However, living in different places changes the way one looks at life – humbling, enlightening and teaching tolerance in many ways.
As the winter stealthily swept in freezing everything in its path, I realized what it was like to live in barren and cold lands – stoic and dignified in their acceptance of the elements and yet unrelenting in submission. The green patches of summers with traipsing streams and gurgling waters of the Indus and Zanskar turned silent, quietly biding their time. Even this silence threw up some beauties like the quaint tinkling music of the Indus as the many ice pieces clinked against each other. The fading prayer flags over the narrow bridge brought in some colour relief. This was a great place to sit down with a book or simply with your thoughts.
The many Ladakhi homes that edged the road were layered with hay on the roof to insulate against the cold. Smoke twirled over as the women got busy cooking hot meals with sun-dried vegetables stocked for the winters. I learnt the thriftiness of “thukpa”when vegetables became scarce. A simple wholesome meal in a dish with some vegetables, pieces of meat and strands of noodles served with a fiery chilly garlic chutney that kept the stomach full and the body warm. For someone like me used to the abundance of assorted greens and vegetables of winters like lai xaak, spinach, carrots, green peas, babori  from Beltola bazaar, it was quite a revelation and a new found reverence for the produce of the earth. I now considered myself blessed if I could find a frozen cabbage from the corner shop. I learnt to respect the dehydrated onions and bitter gourds that we got as a part of our ration and coax some flavor out of them.
In the darkness before day-break, I often heard the porters talking and stamping their feet as they broke the ice in the Syntex outside our tin sheds,  to melt into water for our needs. Doing the laundry was in stages. Sitting near the bukhari , a kerosene contraption, with buckets of water fetched in by the Tashi, as the porters were called, clothes were scrubbed and rinsed from one bucket to the other. I’d seen many Ladakhi women washing their household clothes, utensils, vehicles down to their carpets by the river. Water from the taps was a luxury for most of us whether civilian or in uniform . Although the sun was out, the drippings from the washed clothes froze into icicles at the hem. These then were snapped off and the clothes brought in and dried around the bukhari . I realized the importance of the stove and how the lives of a family revolved around it. It brought to mind the many Russian tales I read as a child and how the stove was a permanent fixture in them. Even curd was set near it by my North Indian friends with the utensil snugly wrapped in a muffler! 
But what took the cake was managing the loo at night. We may wrinkle up our nose at such unmentionable bodily functions but it was a routine that ensured a smooth function for morning ablutions. However tired we were, late night parties or whatever, one chore none of us ever forgot was to pour some kerosene into the pot at night to prevent the water in it from freezing. Amnesia in this case would result in grim faces of the shed occupants in the morning. The only remedy was firing up the respective crude sewer pits behind our sheds to melt away the ice inside. So that’s one chore none of us forgot. Ever.


As  I learnt to adapt myself to this exotic land the more I fell in love with its nuances and its people. They were warm and friendly, wrinkling up the corners of their eyes when they smiled with a cheery “Juley”. The sky over Leh was the bluest I’d ever seen. The mountains changed colours as the sun travelled across the day. Climbing up the hill to nearby Spituk Gompa, on one of my long walks mandatory for acclimatization, I found some interesting offerings to Lord Buddha. A “half” bottle of Old Monk, a packet of Maggi, some glucose biscuits and assorted dry fruits. In a land that does not yield much especially in the winters, even the Gods are not demanding. It reminded me of the myth of Shiva devotee Kannapan who offered meat and water from his mouth in his innocence.


Serene Gompas abound in the Ladakh region, each with its own aura and veil of mysticism. But the one that intrigued me was the Hemis Gompa which according to local belief, was never plundered by looters from across the mountains. While all the other Gompas lost their riches, Hemis was spared the ignominy since it was well hidden within a mountain. I actually never realized it till we literally reached its doorstep. One of the oldest in the region, it is famed for its architectural uniqueness of the monastic complex. The colourful murals and the courtyard where the mask dance during the Hemis festival takes place, only added to the charm of this shrine.

Walking down the road I heard at a distance the lilting notes of some melody. On the far side of a field was a group of men and women, singing the notes of their land as they went about their work in the benumbing cold. Strangely it reminded me of the ice tinkling on the Indus river and the poignancy of Wordsworth’s “Solitary Reaper”…     

Please Note :- This write-up was published in the Melange supplement of The Sentinel dated 16th         June 2013.