Elections were on in Kolkata. The city branded itself in Blue and White. The railings were blue and white, the LED covering itself on its quaint old world lamps was also the same colour. Some random thoughts follow.
Too much traffic. Its like Bombay , but moving in slow motion.
Too many traffic rules. Too many one way restrictions.
Fresher air than Mumbai. More trees. More birds.
Too hot and humid. Again combine Bombay and Delhi weather at its worst…or maybe its the dry spell.
Beautiful old world buildings. Same issue as Mumbai, neglected and covered with telephone wires.
Parks. Schools. A city that studies.
Stark Rich Poor Divide.
Poverty. Saw a beggar woman licking an empty bowl of curd.
Better lighting than Mumbai/Delhi for historic monuments.
Sleeps at ten.
I never knew her name. Not in the two years we have maintained eye contact. Sometimes in the early morning of the sun, she wouldn’t still be awake as I’d pass her makeshift bed on the pavement. But sometimes she would lift her head and wave to me. Some passersby thought that she was insane were ready to help me out and to “shoo” her away. But my smile and the wave back would puzzle them.
Today was different. I started in the same usual way. Stepped out from the wicket. Waited for my cab.
Then I saw her approaching my direction. With tarpaulin slung over her shoulder, I expected her to give me the same sweet smile that she had been giving for months and I was eager to smile back to her.
She soon came within an arms distance and recognized me. Instead of a smile she burst into tears.
“He stole everything” she cried, pointing at a group of men on the other side of the street.
Amazed, I looked at them in shock and they reciprocated the same. The building security guard waiting to wave her away from me. Time seemed to stand still.
“That one!”, she said pointing at the group hidden by the bushes on the other side. ” I had left everything under a tree and he stole it and put it under his. Even the ( couldn’t understand this word) that my mother had given me. Report him to the police. He is a thief! ”
A cab arrived and I stepped in while consoling her that I would. I saw her move forward with her only belonging, the tarpaulin, slung from one shoulder, brushing the ground against her petite frame. The cab sped off.
“She lost her husband a couple of years ago,” I told the cab driver. ” Stays on the street.”
He gave me sympathetic nod and asked me “Where to?”.
I told him the way to the design insights class and we proceeded on a quiet journey ahead. Discussing about technology, for people, who already have everything, was the last thing on my mind today.
Nostalgia is when you think and remember about something which has happened in the past. But what do you call the feeling of ownership over which you never experienced before and live in it.
Let me explain. I live in this building which very soon will be a hundred years old. It’s not the only one in the locality. This is the old part of Mumbai. Most buildings here are the same age. Some shops proudly display the made-in-last-century tag on their facades. There are not many people who live here now. And perhaps lesser who love the old world charm.
Recently one of the oldest departmental stores rebranded itself. Into a men’s store, trying to keep up with the changing face of the environment. I’m glad that I picked a great ice-cream scoop and umbrella before it shut shop to renovate and its shelves replaced with men’s attire instead of exotic lemon pickle. While this financial district of the past is now gradually transforming into a fashion promenade, with likes of Feragammo and other luxury shops opening up, there is a bit of pain at seeing the old shops disappear giving way to the new.
You then drive over the newly built flyovers and glance at countless facades of intricate detail given to neglect, waiting for them to crumble, so the land may be reused. You look at this beautiful entrance hidden under wires near Parsi Dairy and wonder what it must have been newly built.
Then it strikes you what is really missing in this part of the town. It’s not the lack of space; it’s the beauty and of not using it well.
Around 15 kms from Lonavala is Karla, a serene town famed for its caves said to be dated as old as 200 BC. I had promised in my last post about the Lonavala visit that I would blog about this next, but didn’t get to it till today. Editing visuals and deciding which ones to share, got a bit of an onerous task and then I finally decided that I’ll share more than a few today and make this a visual journey for you.
Karla caves are 4 kms interior into the town. After a winding drive uphill, the vehicle stops at a parking area and we proceed rest of the journey on foot, over a hundred steps up through a winding path, surrounded by souvenir shops on both sides. Some local women sell lemonade called “shikhanji” on the way and other paraphernalia for offering to the temple which is also situated there.
We didn’t stop but climbed upwards. After ten minutes climb we reached an open space with the caves and also an ancient temple next to it. You can’t take footwear inside the compound and another set of enterprising women had set up an open “shop” to deposit your footwear.
The caves were everything I had imagined to be and much more. The inner sanctum was cool and quiet, the stillness only disturbed by the occasional gasps from the tourists or excited cacophony as the stone marvel was experienced. The Wooden rafters on the ceiling were interesting shaped and I wondered the sense of architecture that prevailed.
While all pillars looked identical, close observation revealed differences in the figures and orientation of the elephant. This visit was in my to-do list for a long time. I was intrigued to visit them after seeing a beautifully intricate print in the Museum , made in 17th century. This month, that image got to life and I got to touch the stones weathered over time, but intact in their position.
After having lived in tourist destinations for some years, I had long written off the idea of visiting another tourist destination nearby but eventually made a trip. It’s called Lonavala and it is around 2 hours drive from Mumbai. It’s a much favored spot for domestic tourists seeking respite in the hills from the neighboring cities of Bombay and Pune.
Lonavala has positioned itself as a Chikki destination. The market centre (not longer than 500 meters on road) is lined with shops selling Chikki on either side. Chikki is a hard sugar candy, generally in block forms. Peanuts, dry fruits and sesame are added to make different variations. Some enterprising shops have created figs based rolls, but we preferred the chocolate and strawberry fudge.
I wouldn’t go into the accommodation aspects, because we didn’t eventually stay here, but there are many little hotels and resorts along the road. A Mc Donald and KFC have also set up shop a little further from the market predominantly for tourists.
A Samosa ( potato filled local savory, usually had at teatime) lined for frying.
The band setup and “bandwallahs” for a marriage party procession. The bride groom will be riding that horse which you can see in the background.
A sadhu crossing the city centre. We don’t get many such sights in cities.
Tourism being the chief occupation of the locals, you’ll find many tours being provided to sight see nearby places. This was off season time. The best time to visit is during the monsoons as rivulets of water run over the hillocks dotting the scene with mini waterfalls.
I’ll write next about Karla, the place nearby, where we actually decided to stay.
When you are new to Mumbai and cross into the town (south Mumbai island) from Worli, you would notice a mausoleum in middle of the bay on the left side of the road. This is Haji Ali. There would also be many pictures of Haji Ali in the guide books, a solitary building in the middle of the sea connected by a thin strip of land. The beauty of Mumbai is that the culture changes with every sub community and Haji Ali is no different. The entry to the Mausolem is next to a petrol pump, just after a picturesque police station which is built like a hut. You move forward on the kachha road (paved road) with shops on one side exhibiting and selling cloth and other offerings for the religious place. You notice the sequined chaadar (offering cloth) among the aroma of the halwa. Souvenirs dot the entire way till you reach the thin strip of walkway built in centre of the rocks. At high tide and monsoons this place would have water on both sides. Birds like the egrets and gulls would be flying around or foraging.
After 200 meters or so you will see the entrance and steps leading up the structure. After depositing the shoes with a safe keeper, you are allowed inside to pay respects to the saint. Some people buy a shiny cloth called the chaadar or a string to tie at the gate. Most crowded days are Fridays and during festivals.
Next January may be my last in Bombay. After having shocked my senses by the sharp contrast between spirited Goa, sleepy town in Himalayas to the constant humming of mechanical Mumbai, I realized than it would soon be time to pack bags. There will be no more hum from the streets of the traffic, no more distant cheer of kids playing in Xavier’s during breaktime and no more view of Azad Maidan with the Victoria terminus beyond, lit up, sometimes garishly…but lit up. And..no more getting caught in traffic snarls on the Esplanade.
I have crossed Prince of Wales museum many times while traveling to Colaba. It is situated near Gateway of India and Taj hotel. Winters are a time when you would see huge colorful butterflies which may have escaped over its stone walls to the green patch between the road dividers. Never did I feel like visiting across the walls… until today. I have had a rather high overdose of museum visits in India to every city or town I’ve been. The museum manages to fit into ever itinerary planned to the point, I started avoiding it altogether. My impression of a museum is a dusty, lonely and empty place with bored people strolling through with a sleepy guard for company. Today that changed. The guard at the counter was the sweetest employee I’ve come across in a public place. He asked whether I wanted to take the audio tour as well, which I refused for today, but decided to note that for future.
My first stop was the sculpture galley. After having seen the sculpture gallery in National museum in Delhi countless times, I wasn’t so impressed by the collection, nor were the sculptures as ornate as the ones in Madras. The “Saraswati” was the one that caught my attention. Limestone, basalt, sandstone and marble, explained a note about the collection. I moved next to the prints gallery, where “Carla Caves” drawn in meticulous perfection in perspective left me gaping for a while. Mentally I decided to give up teaching how to draw! How does one reach this perfection, ever? J Forbes. 1700s something. Just ahead a table and a placard announced a print making session. Some of us caught an artist etching on a piece of sun board with a triangular tool. Another person was applying print ink onto a mould, making a mess of the table and his hands.
“Today’s the first day.” said the boy at the counter.
I followed the crowd into the next gallery which was an assortment of a personal collection. Many family photographs were placed above the pieces. The strong silent gaze of a strikingly stunning man seemed to follow me around. Below the photograph was written “around 1940”. Before stepping out of the gallery I read the name: Karl Khandalavala.
I breezed through the coin exhibit and that of Baluchari saris. My next stop was the exhibition of Alice Boner, a Swiss sculptor who had once lived in India . Her marble sculpture of a visage of a man she admired, resembled very much herself. I felt she gave her own forehead and chin to that form. Her connection to India was evident through a series of photographs of Uday Shankar dance troupe, among them a still young Ravi Shankar. Most interesting was her journal of work on display along with her camera and notebook. In an interesting painting, she had managed to breakdown a complex Indian sculpture into its basic geometric form, a pentagon in this one and a hexagon in another.
The next floor was dedicated to china and fine porcelain. Most of the collection seemed to be donated by Dorab Tata. I drifted through admiring the pieces, a relief of a king and his soldiers in fine ivory; fine Wedgewood; the cameos and then reached the jade. One could but visualize an opulent setting amongst which these pieces would have once rested. Could it have been the Esplanade house; that forgotten carved beauty across the gym? Would visitors coming from various parts of the world have also admired these pieces? Maybe brought some? I looked at the jade collection contributed by Sir Ratan Tata. I tried to imagine why a man would want to share such objects of beauty with rest of the world, when it could give eternal pleasure in solitude. I looked at the asymmetrical intricately carved green jade at the end of the display. And then my eyes followed the amethyst still in the rough, the malachite pieces and the rock crystals…
I was lost in the reverie when I suddenly noticed the clock. This impromptu visit had to be cut short. I quickly made way out of the gates fast in steps with another tourist; he turned towards Colaba, perhaps to explore rest of the city, while I turned in the opposite direction back home.
Last week, we looked at the ruins of the fort at Nurpur, this week, the culture of Co-existence in Dharamshala.
Dharamshala, is a town adopted as a capital by the Tibetian Government in exile . The Dalai Lama’s Palace is situated on top of a hill here, in a place called McLeodGanj. Although I have visited the monastery before, this time a chance visit to nearby Kangra, made it possible, but only for a short while in the evening. By then the monastery seemed closed and only a few Lama’s were around in the tourist marketplace, which was shutting down as well. A cold wave had enveloped Himachal last few days and it was evident with the thin tourist count here. A different culture seemed to have evolved on the periphery of this famed institution. It was colourful, well lit and lively. Almost reminiscent of the Beach culture of Goa, strangely coexisting with the serene calmness of the monastery.
This Lama was all smiles for my camera and the environment was friendly and warm.
This Lama was walking opposite to the direction of a rooftop cafe on the chowk.
McLo’s fame as a cafe was a visit of Pierce Brosnan (remember James Bond?), and it boasted of the visit through its wall photographs. But yes, the food was excellent.