Storms ruled the first thousand years of life.
By the time I claimed my room, I turned into a zombie...
Suspended somewhere between the worlds within and outside...
Vaguely aware of either...
But then, existence needs more meaning, and spectacles need a windowpane...
Right here, I found mine…

Who am I? An average woman - trying to work on my share of maze through layers of haze...

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Pondicherry Journal: 2 — Frenchness in the Air

Originally published on The Creative Cafe.

Read the first part here.


Heritage building at Goubert Avenue (taken by me on Sep 9, 2013)

Oct 14, 2017 Sat 11:00 PM approx, in a hotel room in Pondy.

Whenever I announce a trip to Pondicherry to my friends and colleagues, there is this one inevitable question that escapes at least one unruly mouth – “What is there in Pondy to see!”

Come to think of it, the chief tourist attractions of the city - the Aurobindo Ashram and the Auroville - are not enough to attract repeat visitors unless the latter take genuine interest in the spiritual heart of the place, i.e. the vision and ideals of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. What is it then that keeps drawing this impatient skeptic to Pondy again and again - the enduring remnants of a bygone era that refuse to be lost in the mists of time, or the triumph of sobriety over flamboyance that her streets perpetually celebrate?

To understand the temperament of the city, dear journal, you need to have a brief background of not only her history but also her ‘physical’ character -

Pondicherry, the capital city of the union territory of Puducherry, was the chief French settlement in India during the period of European colonialism.

“The plan of the city of Pondicherry is based on the French grid pattern and features perpendicular streets. The town is divided into two sections: the French Quarter (Ville Blanche or 'White Town') and the Indian quarter (Ville Noire or 'Black Town'). Many streets retain French names, and villas in French architectural styles are a common sight. In the French quarter, the buildings are typically in French colonial style, with long compounds and stately walls. The Indian quarter consists of houses lined with verandas and with large doors and grilles. These French- and Indian-style houses are preserved from destruction by an organisation named INTACH. The French language can be seen on signs and menus, and heard in Puducherry. Puducherry has residents with French passports...” (Source: Wikipedia)

Am I particularly in love with France as a nation? No Sir. Au contraire, I’ve no clue on what truly differentiates the identity of a Frenchman from that of an Italian, a Belgian or a Swede. But to stumble across a little island of France in your own country – standing solemnly amid a thriving Tamil culture – is another thing altogether.



Pics: The French colonial style buildings lining the boulevards in the White Town (taken by me on Sep 8, 2013)

Let’s take our dinner venue of the day – Hotel Palais de Mahe, a distinguished presence in the street of Rue Bussy in the old French Quarters. As we walked back this evening from the beautiful beachfront known as the Seaside Promenade, I let my impulse walk us to this hotel’s breezy rooftop restaurant and was literally enchanted by the experience.

Now, I’ve been a resident of Bangalore for the last 7 years, and Bangalore is a synonym to chic dining options offering authentic Italian to Japanese to Thai to Continental to coastal Mangalorean and what not. What new experience could this restaurant have sold me that I’m waxing eloquent about it?

Well, hotels in Pondy like Palais de Mahe, Le Dupleix (dined here during our last visit to the city in 2013) or The Richmond (stayed here in 2013) are based out of restored heritage properties. The very experience of walking through the corridors of these French colonial style buildings with splendid architecture patterns and antique furnishings carries you to a different world. The dishes we ordered today (fennel-crusted fish, cinnamon-crusted chicken, ‘lasooni’ fish and coffee) took their own sweet time to arrive and tasted a little too bland; yet the stories whispered to us by the palatial lamps and the heavy wooden doors rendered the relationship between culinary skills and satiated heart almost inconsequential. 

Piku, visibly happy with the lovely bamboo highchair offered to him, showed great interest in the food served. While usually we don’t share restaurant food with this barely twenty-two month old human, I made an exception today on account of the classiness of the place and let him have his fill.
Is it right to associate the show of refinement with hygiene, dear journal? Is the poor guy headed towards trouble? The night will tell. As of now, he sleeps soundly beside his Kindle-reading father, and that little tummy of his looks round and cheerful.

The Seaside Promenade (taken by me on Sep 9, 2013)

I wonder if my parents have dozed off in their room too, or if Ma is busy applying warm compress to her knee to ease the pain. She had to overstretch herself to walk to the Seaside Promenade this evening, while also supporting Bu who keeps faltering in his steps of late. The barely half a kilometer walk left both of them so distressed that I realized once again that the two hard working, able-bodied individuals I grew up with were gone for good. Sometimes I so wish I had a sibling to share my sense of loss with.

Note, my journal, that Piku had his first-ever glance of the sea this evening, and was more excited about the white herons flying overhead than the frothing waves that lay below! And tell me - is a journal supposed to record its events chronologically? Am I messing with your rules?

The Seaside Promenade (taken by me on Oct 14, 2017)
Before it gets messier, let me then quickly record that we reached Hotel Treebo Grace Inn at 2 this afternoon. I had pre-booked the rooms through Expedia (a partner of the travel fare aggregator website TripAdvisor) at a discounted rate, which qualifies it as one of the economic stay options within the White Town. Our rooms here are spacious and well-lit with tasteful décor, and the staff promised us access to their kitchen so that we could get fresh food prepared for Gungun and Piku. The only other thing we could have asked for is in-house dining facilities, but then this location offers a plethora of great eateries within 10 minutes walk, and there’s also this just-okay-ish café-restaurant called ‘La Café Chaplin’ in the adjacent building. This is where we had a very late lunch today.

I’m getting a little groggy now, so bear with me if I tend to ramble, but I wonder if this trip will allow me many hours to stroll along the Promenade and the shaded boulevards of the White Town, just as we did back in 2013. I should probably rein in my hopes early, ‘coz now we have our little fellow with us who’ll have to be fed and cleaned up after several times a day. It’s okay though – part of life.

Talking of ‘hope’, I find the devil occupying my idle mind working surprisingly hard on so many threads of hope even as I write this entry.  For example -

1.       I hope to visit France someday. How will it feel like to set foot in a country whose supposed microcosm evokes such fascination in me?
2.       I hope Pondy continues to preserve her uniqueness for many more decades. Today I came across this article which talks about the lack of sensitivity of authorities towards preserving the age-old mansions of Pondy, as well as the many imminent threats to her slow life. It was only then that I understood the vague discomfort I had felt seeing her streets teeming with people and vehicles while on our way to the beach earlier today. These parts of the city were way quieter when we visited in 2013.
3.       I hope Piku continues to show curiosity towards new food, and grows up to be a person rich in taste and unrestricted in range. I hope he becomes my foodie-mate as we together explore new restaurants (so that I can leave Sourav in peace on his bed along with his Kindle and laptop). But what if Piku takes on his father? Well, Mama will just have to reach back to her solitary walker/eater hat that has been gaining dust for some time. On some days, I can probably join the father-son duo to binge watch ‘Stranger Things Season 13’ or the Miyazaki animations he is surely going to love… Will these guys turn play station addicts as well?
4.       I hope the cyclonic rains that have ravaged Bangalore today continue to spare Pondy.
5.       I hope the world turns fairer and people overcome the need to see religion as something unquestionable.
6.       I hope…

Did you say it’s my moral duty to retire for the day? Honestly?
Hmmph… Okay then, dear journal, see you soon.
Zzzzzzzz…

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Bookworm

Source: Flickr

There lives a bookworm at my home,
He reads of spaceships, gnome, genome,
Potatoes are his choicest dish,
Accompanied with steak or fish.

And when he plans a rare day-out,
To the old bookshop he heads out,
Sometimes I too tag along,
Some books smell like ancient song.

He buys me pastries and donut,
And grabs a coffee steaming hot,
At the corner of a café calm,
Books adorn his happy palm.

On weekends what does bookworm do?
He cuts all ties with his shoe,
A blanket, pillow, cozy bed,
He’d read away the whole weekend.

The bookworm loves to write as well,
His pen is like a kite in sail,
Across the threads of time and space,
His thoughts gallop to build a maze.

On birthdays he will buy you books,
Anniversaries? Why, more books!
Oceans of words, or sky maybe,
His heart is never too heavy.

My bookworm is a daddy now,
His specs shake under baby’s paw,
Books stare at him, so does the boy,
They laugh out loud and play with toy.

But baby’s growing really fast,
Soon the books will shed their dust,
We’ll curl up then, all us three,
And read and write like skylarks free!

Originally published in Lit Up.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Pondicherry Journal: 1 — The Road to Pondy

Originally published on The Creative Cafe.
Co-travelers (Taken by me on Oct 14, 2017 near Krishnagiri)
Oct 14, 2017 Sat 10:00 AM approx, on the way from Bangalore to Pondy.
In Bengali, ‘ghumiye kaada’ is an often-used phrase. It roughly translates to ‘sleeping as mud’ -which probably sounds ludicrous to uninitiated ears. But at this moment no other construct of words would better apply to Piku. Dear journal, my son turns two in a couple of months, and it’s his first road trip out of the city. Cozy in his hooded sweatshirt with stripes of red and white, grey lounge pants and a pair of striped pink socks, Piku is in a sleep so deep that he seems unconscious, somewhat like the formless mud that splatters all over unless contained in a vessel. I, his vessel, have gathered him carefully between my arms, chest and thighs.
My co-travelers in this journey are also the closest of my co-travelers in the journey of life.
Seated beside me in the back of our four-year old Hyundai i10 is my mother. Physically in her early sixties and mentally somewhere around an indomitable forty, Ma hasn’t let her recent knee pain stand in the way of the trip. Drifting between light slumber, chit-chat and munching on the light snacks I stocked up for the trip, her eyes look breezy and cheerful. She has awaited this trip for more than a year.
Sourav, my husband of six years and friend of fifteen, is driving the car. A man of great calm, he has so far resisted the temptation to exceed 80 km/hr on his very first beyond-city-limits highway drive, and is allowing every other car to overtake us with absolute chill.
The front passenger seat is occupied by my father. Seventy and rapidly slipping deeper into the mazes of vascular dementia, Bu (as I call him) had to be coaxed to join us. Fortunately, he doesn’t look too unhappy as of now as he sits taking in the splendid view of the hills and greenery scattered all along the stretch of road between Krishnagiri and Sengam.

These are the pillars of my life. It’s not that we’ve always been a close-knit family; one could rather say that in response to circumstances, we’ve learnt to cross the gaps between (and the silent voids within) us to extend hands of support to each other, so that we may all stay afloat in the elusive pursuit of meaningful existence.
Family is an amazingly resilient social construct — time has taught me.
For the sake of maintaining records, let me also introduce to you the route we’re on. According to the discussions on travel forums, the two most popular routes to drive to Pondicherry from Bangalore (without night halt) are the following –
1. Bangalore-Hosur-Krishnagiri-Sengam-Thiruvannamalai-Thindivanam-Pondicherry (320 km).
2. Bangalore-Hosur-Krishnagiri-Vellore-Arcott-Cheyur-Tindivanam-Pondicherry (377 km)
Posts dated 2015 and earlier report potholes near Thiruvannamalai on route 1 — which is also the shortest of all routes. Half-hoping that the road conditions may have improved by now, Sourav favored this one over the widely praised route 2 for our onward journey. We started amid a drizzle at 6:30 AM in the morning, halted at a restaurant near Krishnagiri around 8, started again at around 9:30 and so far the road has been excellent. Google Map expects us to reach our destination by 1:30 PM, though we don’t really mind being slowed down a little by a short stretch of bad road as long as the cyclonic rains forecasted in yesterday’s news do not hit us en route.

Our breakfast venue of the day (Taken by me on Oct 14, 2017)

At the risk of sounding promotional, I will make a special mention of this restaurant where we stopped for breakfast. It is named Hotel Saravana Bhavan Classic, is sufficiently well-maintained, serves its dishes (mostly South Indian delicacies) steaming hot, offers the tastiest chutneys and sambar I’ve tasted in a long time, has a huge parking space and most importantly, offers several washrooms for men and women which are clean and usable. The site also offers an unhindered view of many layers of rocky hillocks stretched across a wide horizon with no hoardings or high-rises to block your gaze. After freshening up and finishing with our breakfast, we spent quite a few minutes lazing around under the soft morning sun and taking snaps before we got back into the car.
Piku was alert for over an hour since he woke up halfway through our breakfast. Delighted at the sight of the hillocks, he insisted on calling them ‘flower’ instead of ‘pahar’, the Bengali word for mountains and hills. Repeated attempts to correct him resulted in long-drawn negotiations with both parties, soon frustrated, settling temporarily for the middle ground of ‘power’. The debate was also cut short by a sudden shift of attention to wheels, my son’s perennial obsession. We had by then joined the queue for light motor vehicles at a multi-lane toll booth, and the great assemblage of wheels all around him (attached to their vehicles, of course, but who cares about them!) set him absolutely berserk. It is easy to feed Piku while he is distracted. Stories of mama wheels and baby wheels on all sorts of misadventures were eagerly gulped down along with milk, banana and biscuits before the kid fell asleep once again.
You see, when you’re parent to a fussy eater, little else gives you more relief than seeing your kid eat. Our last two long trips with Piku, both to our hometown Kolkata and each involving three weeks of stay, were marked by acute stress as our son, a baby then, refused solids for days and weeks and ended up losing considerable weight by the time we returned home. The primary reason we chose Pondicherry as our holiday destination this time was to be able to relax. We’ve planned a stay of three nights at Hotel Treebo Grace Inn in the beautiful White Town (also known as the French Quarter), and that’s a span short enough for us to afford not to worry even if Piku doesn’t eat well. Besides, all of us have visited Pondy earlier — me twice, Sourav five times, Bu twice and Ma once. This takes off the pressure to cover the sightseeing points. And lastly, the city is modern and equipped enough to address medical emergencies if any were to arise during our stay there. Because Bu is prone to accidental falls, that’s a possibility we cannot rule out.
Personally, all I want to do in the next three days is to stroll along the Promenade Beach, try out French cuisines with unpronounceable names, breath in the grace and calm of this former French colony that cares to preserve its old world charm, and witness the blossoming of a bond between two tiny humans, Piku and Gungun, who’ll be meeting each other for the very first time tomorrow.
Let me save up the introduction to Gungun for one of my next few entries. And meanwhile, I will share some chocolates and munchies with Bu. His dementia makes it hard for him to keep track of time, and from his vague and yet persistent questions on distance and time I can sense his growing impatience with the long road.
No more now. Sincerely hope that Pondy will allow me a quiet little corner for the one more entry today.
So long, dear journal…

Monday, October 09, 2017

My Tryst with a Park

And why it is my entitlement, and not a privilege, to have a park in my locality

Morning fitness regime (Clicked by me, Sep 22, 2017)

My day starts slow. To escape the lure of the messy morning bed has never been easy for me; and now that two plump little hands hug me even in sleep, getting up is harder than ever. Life, however, always conspires of ways to pull me out of the bed, and this time it has placed a decent BBMP corporator (i.e. member of city council) in my ward and a great park in my vicinity.
The park, known as the BTM 4th Stage Park, is one you can’t overlook; for it sits, flaunting an excellent outdoor gym and brightly hued playground equipment, right in the heart of the locality. Visit early enough, and you’ll see this big group of grey haired citizens booting out their age with the roar of laughter and claps. Late mornings and early evenings resound with the joyous shrieks of kids of all ages. Joggers, walkers, oxygen-and-nature lovers, laptop-lovers occasionally tired of their gadget-spouse — there’s something for everybody. And the upkeep is excellent. For a person like me who is struggling to get back in touch with her battered creativity, a daily dose of this effervescent freshness is almost therapeutic. I can’t have enough of my morning walks these days; they restore in me the vitality that the last few years of multi-pronged stress had wrung away.

Outdoor gym in full use even as park is renovated (Clicked by me on Sep 22 )
Outdoor gym -a closer look (Clicked by me on Sep 15)
These walks, in a way, have also been an eye-opener for me. Allow me to explain.
I spent the first decade of life on the banks of the river Ganges, within the premises of a large, beautifully planned residential area accompanying a water treatment plant in a town called Barrackpore. My father worked in the plant in the capacity of an engineer. My mother was (and still is) an outstanding homemaker. Our first floor apartment had this balcony that offered the view of a large sky with many constellations arching over the river where dolphins could be spotted in the monsoon afternoons. It also overlooked the grass lawn where I played all evening with a bunch of other kids. Cows grazed. Sunflowers bloomed. Touch-me-nots drooped. Mangoes ripened. Red shimul flowers burst open in early May and silk-cotton floated in the air.
When we shifted to our second home in a more practical part of the town, I accepted the behind-closed-door life of our new locality as a normal inevitability. The first decade was a privilege I was fortunate to enjoy. Normal mortals had to satisfy themselves with a tinier view of the sky, potted plants, board games and constant honks on impatient roads, I told myself. It was only natural that locality ponds should get filled up by promoters and sold off as lucrative lands; that the rare open ground should be dominated by jobless no-gooders for most part of the day; that morose senior citizens should resign themselves to the idiot box churning out stale melodrama year after year.

Children's playground equipment (Clicked by me on Sep 19, 2017)

Children's playground equipment (Clicked by me on Sep 25, 2017)

It was in the third decade of life that I shifted to Bangalore, my present city of stay. This city, once recognized for its green cover and all year round pleasant weather, has been struggling under the pressure of oversaturation. Doomsayers often call it a dying city. And yet, the focus of its civic authority on restoring to the citizens their lost breathing space demands nothing short of whole-hearted appreciation and support.
My ongoing tryst with the BTM 4th Stage Park has jolted me into a keen awareness of how much humans benefit from the proximity of nature and open space, and why it is absolutely unacceptable when civic authorities fail to factor this in during city or town planning.
Yes, these are the surroundings amid which I picture my little boy growing up — playing, running, slipping in the puddle and laughing all his way into a healthy adulthood.

Squirrels

100 word story: IMWT (Idiotic Morning Walk Thoughts) - I

Source: Me! (Location: BTM 4th Stage Park, Bangalore)
Two squirrels chase each other. Idiot pauses in her track to gaze at them. Her fitness app throws a fit. It isn’t programmed to factor in human caprice.
Idiot, WALK! 55% of Bengaluru outwalked you last week!”
The reprimand goes unheard; or worse still, unheeded. The ‘to do’ maggots infesting her brain halt in their act of procreation, startled.
The squirrels, unaware of the chaos they just stirred up, jump across branches, fences and grass in an obscene show of nimbleness. They stomp over the maggot larvae in idiot’s head, mashing them into jelly.
And catastrophe ensues; the world falls apart.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Stealth, Death, Resurrection and the Garden of Eden

Source: Me!
Story 1: Stealth
It was one of those less sunny August afternoons when I escaped for a stroll. It wasn’t an item to be crossed off my to-do list. Neither was it an act of rebellion; although it was true that I had felt restless and repulsive for many days then. I hardly knew what my eyes wished to see, so I loitered along sleepy houses in narrow alleys with vehicles parked on both sides. My phone rang; a dear voice wanted to know what I was doing. I lied. Of course, I didn’t need to.
What was I stealing from him?
Time.
Story 2: Death and Resurrection
On a less sunny August afternoon, I escaped for a stroll. The world had been clanging all around me; my mind wanted to flee. I thought I wanted to go somewhere far. Far from whom? I wasn’t sure. I ambled along houses that held stories within, until braided women eyed me with suspicion. I tried to make myself smaller, inconspicuous, non-existent. My soul walked along to reach the Garden of Eden.
The garden had playful squirrels chasing each other. I sat on a bench quietly and called back my body. After ‘a hundred years of solitude’, I felt whole again.
Story 3: The Garden of Eden
It was on an August afternoon that I discovered the Garden of Eden. It was quite a chance discovery, not something meant to be. I was walking alone, partly disillusioned, partly distracted, when the broken concrete of the nameless alley gave way to scattered patches of un-manicured grass. I looked up, distinctly conscious, for the breeze here smelt different. And spread before my eyes was a solemn island of green, complete with unloved flowers, papery butterflies and playful squirrels chasing each other. Murmurs of leaves drowned distant car horns.
It was on an August afternoon that I hugged myself back.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

An Ode to Solitude

Solitude, it were the crumbling nights of free fall when you had embraced me, 
And I saw beauty in the dark. 
Solitude, it were the restless half-dreams of a trust-less world 
Through which you had lulled me to sleep, 
And I found a friend in me. 
Solitude, have you traversed the ages to visit me again? 
Come, here I open my arms!