Living on the banks of a Legendary River

 

“It’s a Nullah (Indian for a traditional canal ).” People would warn us as we shortlisted a place to stay in Calcutta, about the tiny water body running alongside the house.

“Terrible smell from it on certain days”, we were told.

Considering it a temporary arrangement, we went ahead to begin unpacking.

Disregarding the stench, sometimes overpowering enough to close the doors, gradually the place grew on us. The Pipal tree would give refreshing air night and day. The mango tree would be abuzz with butterflies and birds. A hot favourite was the Red Silk Cotton tree (bombax malabaricum) which was conveniently located right behind the house and viewed from all back rooms. The squirrels would scamper on it all day. Spring would bring red flowers and birds of all colours; the yellow canary, flaming orange woodpeckers, Black Asian cuckoo bird and many more. There was one incident where we even spotted a family of Civets, confirmed by the fact when one of their members, smelling food on the table, made way right into our home and was chased by the cat.

In the afternoons, the loud drilling of a boat at the boat factory across the shore (if I can call it that.)  The late evenings, sometimes one can hear the horn of a patrol boat.

I was told this was the Tolly’s Nullah. During the British colonization of India, a gentleman called Tolly got the area cleared up of silt at his own expense  in the late 1700s. He has the nullah and a prominent colony to his name.

I might have forgotten about this back area, had it not been while reading Swami Vivekanand’s  memoirs (year 1899) that I chanced upon the mention of Tolley nullah again. He spoke about how the Holy Ganges was divided into “Hooghly” and “Padma” river before they deposited into the mouth of the bay of Bengal. He mentioned that “…the present “Tolley’s Nullah” represents the ancient course of the Ganges, and is known as the Adi ganga.” He also mentioned that foreign trade was carried out through a port called Triveni ( modern day Tribeni ) near the port city of “Saptagram”, on the river Saraswati. Triveni was the diverging point of three rivers during that ancient time, the Ganges, the Saraswati and the Yamuna.  It’s also known as Muktaveni to distinguish it from Allahabad Triveni.  Over time, the mouth of the rivers got silted. He further described how the gradual silting of the river course, led conquest forces to shift the port further and further. He also described how ships sank in a matter of minutes without a trace while trying to navigate these silted rivers. This is all estimated to have occurred over a time period of 400 -500 years from now.

At this point I mused how scholars are essential to our understanding of history and ourselves as a human race. Scholars such as Vivekananda provide a bridge between the present and the ancient times. So different from today’s scholars who selectively search and are given strict assignments. Swami Vivekanand mentions living in “modern times”, which of course from the future point of view, is history.

Coming back to the present times, Adi Ganga today is a forgotten mess. After it breaks away from the main Hooghly river, settlements over its banks, encroaching its soil with concrete homes of a few million plus. It traverses the side of Taj Bengal, but before that it accumulates all the waste and filth from Kidderpore market, and human and animal excreta from the poor living on its sides in Orphangunj. When we will stop mistreating the natural resources our country has been so abundantly endowed with? Wonder whether this silk cotton tree and its birds would remain part of the ecosystem in another 100 years or be gulped down by the insatiable human greed of land and forces of politics.

It also connects the city into two parts, one the side with Victoria memorial and the ultra rich Alipore, where once Warren Hastings had a sprawling estate, which is now a national library. The two were connected by the Zeerut bridge sometime in the British era.

There is another historical fact associated with this area. Less than an hour away from Tribeni and right on top of these ancient fertile banks, is the village of Singur. If you are wondering where you have heard about it, it is the place where the Tatas in connivance of the state government and under aegis of an archaic 1894 act, planned to set up a car factory for the world’s cheapest car called Nano, in 2007. An activist then stood up for the river, the fertile land and the people it supported and didn’t allow the plan to succeed. The rich man lost and was forced to shift the factory to the west part of the country. This activist is today the chief minister of West Bengal. Her name is Mamta Banerjee.

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The fresh and green of it!

I don’t know exactly when it happened that I started gardening herbs. Maybe it was triggered by an impulsive buy of Lady Evleyn’s recipe book that opened a whole new world of vegetables for me and her description of vegetables fresh from the country garden and game fresh from the hunt. However it started, it is now beginning to be fun.

When you are traveling to a new city every three years, there is not much you can do with the garden. At one time, I had a backyard big enough to plant crops to last the year, but scant appreciation or time for it. Going to work and getting back prompted me to do the cost analysis that it is cheaper to buy vegetables from the market than the effort needed to grow. As a result, my three lemon trees also withered and died. After failed attempts in the next three postings, I finally decided that it was time to let go. My flowers and plants from Bombay had thrived, but couldn’t make it till the destination. I finally let go of the thought of a green balcony and flowers dotting my dinner table.

Then somewhere last year, Marie Kondo and Konmari happened. I had de-cluttered my kitchen much to my satisfaction and elation of my maid, who received most of my hand-me-down pots. In a bid to put some fresh energy into the kitchen, the window area was cleared and put to use. After getting saplings of green chilli, I also tried coriander , fenugreek and baby spinach, through seeds. Its been a few months, but so rewarding. wonder why I couldn’t do this before!

Cozy Things

Warm furry creature, curled up at my feet.

A well tailored Indian skirt with a scarf (why did I not pick it from remote Lahaul Spiti valley.

Hot cocoa with mint.

Dark chocolate with brandy filling.

Colourful slipons made of grass and silken thread.

An orange sunset on the beach.

Cozy Things.

The receding beach of Chandipur

When we reached Chandipur; a beach spot on the coastal state of Odisha; at lunch, our first expectation was to see and touch the warm waters. We walked down the steps to the beach, ready to wet our feet…

But where was the water?

We walked ahead towards the sea, a km, ….still no water…strange! The beach was wet and scattered with a million tiny shells glistening on the surface and a unique crisscross pattern impressed on the muddy surface.

Soon the mystery was solved. Chandipur, the guard informed us, has a miraculous tide. Twice in a day the water recedes upto 4 kilometers, leaving behind a muddy residue of its offerings from the sea. So every twelve hours you can walk kilometers on the beach bed, towards the sea, and back. To experience the water, we went to the watch tower at 10:30 pm, yes we would hear the waves splash furiously on the walls. Next morning around ten, in a very foggy mist, we braved to touch the silvery water.

You, nature, are miraculous.

My Five memorable moments of 2017

I know its pretty early to be writing about year ending, but I believe that once the date crosses December 15th, we are left with a countdown till the next year starts. I actually wrote my top  and favourite ten moments on Pursuit of Imagination, but thought let me share those moments here too, being guilty of not being able to blog for majority of the year! So the Top Five of my top ten moments is selected and presented here.

STAR GAZED

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The year’s hyped astronomical event was the total solar eclipse seen after a gap of a century in America. In Calcutta we had an episode of a partial lunar eclipse on a full moon night. I waited till 1 am to see the complete phenomena and tried to record it.

SOME MORE STAR GAZING

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Then another star caught my eye one evening. Dusk had just descended on the quiet hazy evening. It blinked red, then green and appeared to give out flashes of light. Sirius is its name, the brightest star in our constellation. While my hand did shake to capture on manual mode, the colors it gives out are ethereal and almost unreal as if belonging to another dimension.

LOOKED INTO THE EYE OF A ROYAL BENGAL TIGER

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The Royal Bengal tiger looked directly towards me. He was half hidden behind the leaves camouflaging his stripes. They are known to be man eaters. But I saw him from the safety of a partition wall, in the zoo. Alipore Zoo was built in the late 1800’s. He also shares the zoo with a white tiger. A lion and a leopard are the new occupants. Can sometimes hear them roaring at night. (I stay close to the zoo.)

TRIED DIFFERENT CUISINES

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Whether it is the bakers, the Mughlai cuisine or the seafood, in abundance you find it all in Calcutta. If I wasn’t online much of the time this year, I was probably eating some Biryani, the Victoria Vada or savouring an English Tea with thin sandwiches.

RODE A HORSE

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(This picture is from Australian Stock horse society, but mine was rather similar.)

How difficult can it be reaching the race course at 5:15 every morning in early spring? Not very. The air is fresh, it’s peaceful and add to that a like minded riding group and you are all set. The breeches were bought, so were the strong leather shoes and a stiff round riding cap. The trotting was not painful and a horse with a very human name, “ Mr Vijay Kumar” was allocated to me. It was a fine majestic horse with a shiny dark brown body and a tall countenance. After a week of getting accustomed to the horse, I decided to call it quits. The reason? The pain. Not to me, but to the horse? Each horse is held with a harness attached on their mouth, all the way to their teeth and to make the horse “obey” you need to pull the muzzle tight or loose as required. I don’t know whether the poor creature felt the pain, but I felt it every time I wanted to make it “obey” me. One day my instructor told me to whip the poor thing. I decided that it was the last day for me.

I write this last line and then wish for God to make the next ones better. The Next year smoother. Wishing you and your loved ones well during the holidays! Peace on Earth.

 

 

 

Lunar eclipse

This post is late, but in time for the forthcoming total solar eclipse on 21st August. In India, the eclipse may not be viewed, but here are the pictures of the lunar eclipse viewed from Calcutta on 07th August. I tried to time it with gap of around 15 minutes each.

What prompted me to post these now is the fact I just learned. In a Mooc that I’m mentoring, in a video the professor mentions that the moon is much older compared to the Earth. The earth young dynamic and in motion. The moon, though is older.

Encounter with the wild kind.

The house where we have been staying, is next to the banks of a tributary of Ganges. Trees grow on either banks with the ecosystem which something similar to the Sundarbans a bit further off. Pipal. Mango, banana trees guard our compound wall with their strong presence. Birds like the green headed barbet, tree pie, mynah, magpie and many others visit these trees. Bird watching from my kitchen window or the dining room is a favourite hobby for both me and the cat.

A gentle breeze blows at night through the lush greenery. Caramel, the cat, usually curls herself on the pillow and dozes off like the family.

A few day back, while the house was asleep, she sprang from the bed and scampered around the room in a mad haste.

A black and white furry creature, somewhat longer and bigger than her, with patches of black around the glowing eyes, was the object of her chase. The creature ran around the room in circles with its unusually long tail upright, and then proceeded to be chased out of the room and maybe out of the door and veranda of its entry. By now the lights were on and we were wondering where it was, what it was and where it had come from.

It had led some traces of an odd smell in some of the rooms. A quick google search introduced us to the “Civet”.

The Indian civet is a creature which looks somewhere between a mongoose and a cat. It may have been led indoors by the smell of food. Apparently Channel No 5 uses some civet essence in their fragrance mix as well.

That was hardly impressive.

To wake up at 2 am and see an unknown wild animal running around your bedroom is not the ideal memory for urban dwellers.

Two thoughts crossed my mind.

The first was that we talk so much about sustainability, but do we really know how to live with other animals? We fear them. We may even not know about some of them.

Second was a bit more on the abstract. The creature was a creature of the night. It had perhaps spotted our dwelling, just like we had been watching the birds. We were till this incident unaware of its existence. But was it unaware of us? Would it again attempt to enter?

We so often take what we see and experience everyday as the beautiful truth, while there maybe something or someone lurking somewhere that we know the existence not of.

Someone watching us. The same feeling you get of someone watching over your shoulder when you are doing something, no matter how mundane it is. The freedom of making your mistakes in private. The security of the predictable future. The security of sleeping comfortably in a room you can call your own without any intruder.

Actually, isn’t it a lot like the right to privacy?

(Cat did not sleep at night for the last few days. This encounter made her feel threatened of her space. She undertakes guard dog duties for the night, leaving the comfort of her pillow.)