Category Archives: India Travel

Musafir : Darwaze

Gateway to the Taj Mahal

A corridor in Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

Balcony, Humayun’s Tomb,Delhi

Smiles

 

Darwaze, khidkiyaan, jharokhe, verandey

Kitni khoobsurat 

Hain ye imaartein

Inhe dekho

Suno

Samjho

Socho

Jano

Kuch keh rahi hain ye

Tumse

Rough translation: (Doors, windows, details, so beautiful, are these buildings, look at them, listen, understand, think, learn, they are speaking to you)

What can I say, but I’m fascinated and inspired by buildings, and people around buildings. That’s why I’m a musafir. Kindly excuse me for my very poor Urdu and Hindi poetry skills.

Glossary:

Darwaza: Urdu for door; Khidki: Hindi for window; Jharokha: An overhanging enclosed balcony used in Rajasthani architecture; Khoobsurat: Urdu for beautiful; Imaarat: Urdu for building; Dekho: Hindi for look; Suno: Hindi for listen; Socho: Hindi for think; Jano: Hindi for learn

 

The Story of Holika

Prahlad, Holika, 13 the century Keshava temple

On the very auspicious occasion of Holi- the ‘festival of colors’ where we welcome Spring and smear each other with color while saying “Bura na mano, holi hai” (Don’t mind, its holi) I’d like to share the story behind the festival.

There are some wonderful stories in the Puranas and one of them is about Holika. 

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Hiranyakashipu,was the king of the daityas, a clan of the asuras (danavas or divine beings with an evil quality who are always at war with the suras or benevolent devas). His brother Hiranyaksha, had been killed by Lord Vishnu, in his Varaha (boar) avatar.  Thus angered, he wanted to with gain immortality. He performed years of penance and obtained a boon from Lord Brahma that he couldn’t be killed by human or animal; indoors or outdoors; during day or night; and no weapon could bring him harm. Hence he became arrogant and believed himself to be the mightiest, more than all the devas and even Vishnu, the Supreme Being himself. He commanded everyone to pray to him and regard him as their supreme lord. But his son Prahlad, did not. Right from when he was born, Prahlad remained a devout follower of Vishnu and wouldn’t be convinced otherwise. This irked Hiranyakashipu so much that he decided to kill his own son. But all his attempts were thwarted by the mystical powers of Vishnu. One of these is the story behind Holi.

Holika was Hiranyakashipu’s sister, who had been given the boon that fire couldn’t harm her. Thus, she sat in a burning pyre with Prahlad on her lap but Vishnu intervened. A strong breeze removed her protective cloth and draped Prahlad instead; protecting him while Holika was charred. A few other theories exist– one states that Holika was actually good and sacrificed herself to save Prahlad while another says that the boon was granted on condition Holika wouldn’t use it to harm anyone. Regardless, the story symbolizes the victory of good over evil as does the festival. On the first day, Holika dahan (Choti (small) Holi) is performed and people gather and burn bonfires at crossroads. The ash from the pyre is then smeared on the forehead.

Holika Dahan

The following day is the more well known colorful or Rangwali Holi, when everyone forgetting all differences smear each other with colored powder. ENJOY! HAPPY HOLI!

Calcutta for the Soul

howrah bridge

It’s said that memories fade with time, which is probably a good thing, because some of us would find it impossible to go on. But there are certain reminiscences that cannot afford to be forgotten. They are like precious keepsakes that need to be extracted from the dusty realms of time. They have to be caressed and fondled with affection, reinforced and perhaps refurbished, before being tucked away securely again.

One such memory that I’ve guarded fiercely is that of my trip to Calcutta. Over the years it has been revisited a million times and imbued with subtle nuances so to add color and character.

I was perhaps ten or twelve (my mother stresses on the latter and she is probably right as I’m pathetically poor with specifics). The trip would never have come about hadn’t it been for my father, who after one of his numerous travels brought back an exquisite Bengal handloom sari of olive green and cream. It became my favorite. My mother looked lovely in it. He also spoke of a land rich in culture that had produced the likes of Rabindranath Tagore, Vivekananda, Satyajit Ray and of course the indomitable Kishore Da. Armed with a miniscule amount of information and barely suppressed curiosity, I embarked on my sole journey to the east, with my tiny family in tow.

bengal saree

We boarded the Coromandel Express which I believe covered the distance from Chennai to Howrah in little more than a day. My very first recollection of the place that endeared it to me forever is the memory of delicious, melt-in-your-mouth, spongy roshogollas in clay handis (pots) that I relished with gusto right on the railway platform. I swear, I haven’t had anything more delectable in my life!

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We stayed in a cosy guest house favored by the bank my father worked for. It was winter time; I know because I could see my breath in front of my face and the owners’ little white Pomeranian had a sweater on. There were pleasant smiles everywhere and though I didn’t have a clue about what was being spoken, I didn’t mind listening because the words floated in the air like the melodious strains of Lord Krishna’s flute.

On our first day out, I recall seeing trams loaded with commuters, coursing on tracks right in the middle of the street. Having never come across anything similar before, either in Delhi or Chennai, I of course wanted a ride.

We did the usual touristy things. I remember gawking awestruck at the magnificent Dakshineshwar temple glistening in the morning light on the banks of the Hooghly; then trying to battle through the mad melee at Kalighat which had my mother utterly riled up and me dumbfounded and overwhelmed.

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The Victoria Memorial came as a welcome respite; more so the calm serenity of the Botanical Gardens that also touts the world’s largest Banyan tree.

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I remember the distinct tang of mustard oil in the air and spending a lazy afternoon strolling the lanes of New Market absorbing the banter of many tongues, the fragrance of fresh flowers, resisting the lure of jewelry and garments, and the calls of hawkers and shopkeepers selling anything and everything from furniture to fish.

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The city pulsed with life, from am to night- an eclectic and intoxicating blend of culture, beauty, intellect, relationships and raw emotions. I left feeling thoroughly confused but lastingly intrigued.
So here are my experiences; trivial they may seem but to me they are dearly cherished because they are what I remember my father by– simple, adventurous and carefree.

The Beautiful Art of Kolam

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Kolam is an age old tradition in Southern India. These are temporary geometric designs consisting of curved loops drawn around a grid of dots employing rice flour/chalk/chalk flour or oher types of white or colored powders. Female members of Hindu families draw Kolams in the front of their houses. These are also known as Rangolee in Maharastra, Hase in Karnataka, Muggulu in Andhra Pradesh and Golam in Kerala.

While living in Chennai, I have watched with fascination my mother along with several other women on our street, drawing a fresh new Kolam every morning. This would be done after cleaning the floor with a broom and then with water. They would draw what appeared to be very complex designs in a jiffy, sometimes without lifting their hands off the floor. During the day the Kolams would get eroded by people’s feet, and the wind. But not to worry. A new one replaced it the following morning.

As always these Kolums are not just decorative. They have a cultural sginificance. They are meant to bring prosperity to the house and are symbols of welcome as well. There are many other purposes, but the following is what I found particularly endearing and is probably also true. In days of yore rice flour Kolams were drawn so the ants did not have to travel too far for food. They also attracted small birds and likewise other small creatures, hence welcoming other forms of life into the home and everyday life symbolizing harmony and peaceful coexistance with nature.

Below are a few Kolam designs drawn by my cousin and her friends 🙂

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kolam 4

kolam 5

kolam 7

 

‘Indian Elephants and an Excerpt from ‘The Accidental Wife’

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“A king who always cares for the elephants like his own sons is always victorious & will enjoy the friendship of the celestial world after death.” Kautiliya, scholar of Buddhism in India.

Whether it is a colorful figurine, a carved miniature, or a real live titan of an animal, the elephant is revered by many in the Indian culture. Said to be a gentle giant (the largest land mammal on earth), the elephant possesses attributes that humans strive to cultivate in themselves: intelligence, sensitivity, empathy, and self-awareness.

Indian mythology states that the devas (gods) and the asuras (demons) churned the oceans in a search for the elixir of life—amrit (nectar)—in hopes of becoming immortal. Through the churning of the ocean, navratnas (the nine jewels) surfaced, one of which was the elephant.

Reverence for the elephant has also been born from stories of the elephant being chosen as the carriage for Indra (the god of all gods) and visions of white elephants foretelling the birth of Gautam Buddha, in his mother’s dreams before his birth. Ganesha the elephant faced deity and son of Lord Shiva, is the god of wisdom and learning and the remover of obstacles. He is perhaps the most well known symbols of Hindu divinity all across the world.

The Asian elephant, the species that resides in India, has seen its numbers dwindle drastically in the past 15 years. At the turn of the century, nearly 200,000 animals roamed wild; now only 35,000 to 40,000 remain. Elephants are herbivores and eat up to 300 pounds of food a day. Preservation of habitat and eliminating ivory trade are vital aspects to keeping the elephant from extinction.

Elephant mothers are the ultimate example of a nurturing parent: carrying their babies for a gestation period of 22 months, giving birth to 200-pound baby, nursing for two years, then caring for and protecting the young elephant for the next sixteen years.

With so many endearing qualities and a history of cultural significance, the elephant is well deserving of its place of honor in the hearts of many Indians.

http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/elephants/asian_elephants/indian_elephant/

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/asian-elephant/?source=A-to-Z

 Accidental Wife Book Cover

Excerpt from The Accidental Wife:

Inside it, she found some clothes just like the oversized ones hanging in the closet. They were of no interest to her. What caught her eye was a beautiful silk sari, tie-dyed in a rainbow of colors with decorated elephants marching along the borders and tiny shiny mirrors that caught the light and sparkled like diamonds. She flung it around her neck like a shawl and felt deeply comforted by the strong fragrance of sandalwood.

Underneath was a finely inlaid wooden box, inside which on a bed of tissue, lay several glass bangles in red, green and orange tied together with a string. Slipping them over her hands, she wondered if they were a gift from Rihaan. Instinct told her they were, thus filling her with a warm glow.

Trembling with excitement she dug deeper, and at the very bottom, found a large album. She flipped the pages over, only to find random black and white shots, of people and children on the streets. Nothing else. No blissful wedding pictures, in particular no family portraits, as if she’d severed all ties before coming here.

Feeling utterly wretched and frustrated, she tore the bangles from her hands and sank sobbing to the floor.

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Spicy Snacks Beside the Sea- Juhu Beach, Mumbai

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On a pleasant December afternoon (Yes, December!) take a break from hectic metro life and wander onto the famed Juhu Beach in Mumbai, India. And there, enjoy the sight of the locals drinking  Kala Khatta (Indian blackberry juice, spiced with black salt, lemon juice and pepper and eat spicy Bhel (puffed rice, vegges spiced with tangy tamarind juice) or if you are brave enough sample it yourself. 🙂