October 07, 2017

Monsoon 2017 - The rains don't stop!

My city gets used to rains
October has never been like this. It is 7 October and we just had a huge rain, albeit without lightning and thunder. It has still been raining a lot - every day - it feels pretty much like the beginning of the rainy season. A lot of thunderstorms this year, the last one being on 2 October, when a 13.2 inch rainfall (in a day) broke a 100+ year record. It was in 1903 that there was 11.7 inches of rain on a single day in Hyderabad!

It has been raining almost continuously, although I did not note down the days of rain. The rainy season started on time, in June, unlike in previous years when it would start only in August.

I will now record rainfall here, at least until it stops! We are ready for winter.

8 October 2017: Huge rain 1-1.30 pm. Some loud thunder. 

September 27, 2017

Dasara across India

Happy Vijayadashami, friends!
Dasara is indeed an interesting festival, and perhaps represents best, the cultural diversity of our beautiful country. If someone is doing Durga puja in uniquely decorated pandals, someone else is doing mythological plays and making effigies of Ravana to burn on the final day. 
Some adivasis celebrate it as a harvest festival, and in rural Telangana (and now in Hyderabad), girls are picking wild flowers to make Bathkammas to sing and dance around.
In a few other parts, girls and boys dress in all finery and play dandia to loud music. Some are busy making bommala koluvus and some others get the leaves of the jammi tree to give elders and take their blessings. Elsewhere, there are illuminated palaces and elephant processions that go across the city. Most people do the ayudha puja - a beautiful gesture of thanks to the tools, implements and vehicles that people use every day. It's a happy, busy time all over the country, and I am sure there are several more variations of this festival.
In one of the pandals in Kolkata.
Bathkamma pandaga in Warangal.

Dandia in Vadodara.

Ravana effigies being made in Uttarakhand.
Whatever it is people do, it is a celebration of the victory of good over evil. The weather is getting drier and a wee bit cold, seetaphals make an appearance, and everyone eats well and makes merry!

August 19, 2017

Just what is development?

It is a question that bothers me very much.

Driving back from Warangal last week, I found myself once again grieving for the trees that had recently been cut down to make way for the 4-lane road. I thought a great deal about what this new road would do for people doing this drive. Before they made the 4-lane road from Hyderabad to Bhongir, the entire Hyderabad-Warangal stretch used to look like this:

The old road: why is this not 'development'?
 Now the road is like this:

The new road: why is this called development?
I do understand the advantages of 4-lane roads - faster transportation of goods, fewer accidents, no head-on collisions and so on. But if time is the only factor, this is what it looks like...read on.

We used to drive down from Warangal to Hyderabad innumerable times during my childhood. As a child, I always used to want to stop midway and have a picnic amidst trees and rocks, but for my father, the excitement of covering the distance in the shortest time was important. So what was the shortest time that he took, to get to Hyderabad? Two and a half hours, on lucky days when the several railway gates along the way were open. 

So how many hours do we take now, with half the distance covered on the 4-lane road? Three hours minimum or maybe the same two and a half hours as my father did, if you drive fast without stopping. How much time will people save when the second half of the road is widened? Maybe half an hour

So we displaced farmland, demolished houses, cut all those trees and spent all that money to save half an hour

July 22, 2017

Paris once again!


I just got back from Paris - a city I love. I was there 29 years back, in 1988. I was just married, and I fell in love with this artistic city. I stayed there for just three months, but it was enough time to leisurely explore a layer beneath the touristy one. Being interested in art, I was overwhelmed by the aesthetics of the place. Much as I always wanted to live in India, I was reluctant to come back. There was so much more to discover! We told ourselves we would go back...but then, life happened, and Paris remained shut in the six albums that we had painstakingly and lovingly filled with photos we had taken and postcards we bought.

Re-visiting Paris with my children filled me with great happiness. They had grown up listening to references to Paris and I introduced them to the city like I would an old friend, and this time it was their turn to fall in love with Paris.

If a foreigner visited Hyderabad 29 years back, and came back now, she would find a huge difference. She may be amazed at how much this city has developed; at the lights and the malls; she may not be able to recognise many of the new areas; she may be shocked at the traffic and the number of people; and she would of course miss the slow pace of life of the eighties.

I was somewhat apprehensive about my bubble bursting; at coming back disappointed by what I saw, especially because of recent terror-related events. So how did Paris change?

For one, like in Hyderabad, the population has swelled immensely. In addition to the metro and the buses, they have now introduced trams in some places.The number of people in The Louvre the day we went was unbelievable, as also the crazy rush to see Mona Darling!

People in public places are a lot more cosmopolitan, and I found that unlike earlier, local people were more willing to communicate in English. One huge difference of course, is the presence of security checks everywhere, even though it was to be expected. And then, it gave me a shock when I saw, at the first tourist place we visited, hefty, well built policemen - about six of them - walking around carrying some serious weapons. It was scary because I didn't immediately think they were security. We subsequently saw them everywhere. As with the rest of the world, Paris too had lost a certain innocence.

Seen from Sacr Coeur (Sacred Heart Church), Montmartre, the city seemed to have become extremely dense, as was to be expected. I later read about how a beautiful old book shop was replaced with a five star hotel, about how charming old houses had given way high-rises.

View from Sacr Coeur...a lot of building up has happened.
There is a staircase to one side of the hill to Sacr Coeur, a black and white photo-poster of which Vijay and I had bought back in 1988. We had chosen this photo taken by Rene Jacques simply because we liked it, and because we knew this place. It stays framed in my home, and we look at every day. We went searching for this place and found it, exactly as it looked in 1988, and in this photo of 1950! Somewhere, some faith was restored.

This photo was taken in 1950.
It looked the same in 1989, except that to one side, there was a funiculaire to take people up.
This is the 2017 view...it was the same, except that perhaps Rene Jacques' photo was flipped?

The heart of Paris, that is the classic Paris on the banks of River Seine, remains the same. Nothing has changed. The Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Assembl√© Nationale (Palais Bourbon), Notre Dame, The Conciergerie and several others have been preserved beautifully. Place St Michel and Latin Quarter also have the same buzz, charm and energy - more perhaps - because there are so many more people now. The variety of food places seemed more, and included an Indian restaurant and a Tunisian sweet shop selling large jilebis!



The Bouquinistes of Paris - green boxes on either side of The Seine, which sell used and antiquarian books, a tradition since the 16th century - were still there, just as we had seen them (see first photo in this post). They are on both banks of the river, and The Seine is described as the only river in the world that runs between two book shelves!

The metro remains as amazing as ever, and we enjoyed taking it to get to various places. There is now apparently one route (Line 14), which is automated and has no driver! Can't wait for Hyderabad metro to become reality! 

There are many green spaces in Paris, and two things made me very happy - one, that there is now a conscious effort to re-introduce species of plants and trees that were there in the past but which were not seen any more, and the other, that wild plants and flowers were allowed to grow freely even on main avenues where earlier they were removed for neatness. This, about a city, is the ultimate in development, I feel. Having said that, mine might still be a superficial assessment, and Parisians might have their own complaints about a changing city.

Shakespeare and Company, a classic English bookstore at Kilometre zero, was a joy to go to. It was the same as earlier except that there is an awning now, and they run a cafe next to the bookshop. Every bit of this store is quaint and interesting - the cat that shouldn't be disturbed, the typewriter that was actually being used, the wooden staircase, the writings on the walls, the beds tucked among the towering bookshelves on which people can actually sleep when they stay overnight!

 
“I created this bookstore like a man would write a novel, building each room like a chapter, and I like people to open the door the way they open a book, a book that leads into a magic world in their imaginations.” 
— George Whitman, founder 


Who says crazy new traditions happen only in places like India? The institution of  'love locks' did not exist in 1988. It started in the 2000s apparently, on one of the bridges on River Seine. Lovers put these locks and throw away the key, to signify that their love lasts forever. The practice caught on, and spread to the other bridges. They soon began to add to the weight of the bridges, and the parapet of Pont Des Arts bridge collapsed. In 2014 there was a movement 'No Love Locks', and some panels were replaced with glass to prevent being 'littered' by locks! More details here.

Can you believe this?!

Surely this is unsustainable?

Nostalgia took us to Rue d' Patay, the road we had a little flat on, and also to Cite Universitaire, where Vijay studied. It was hard to believe that so many years had gone by. 

Paris has many layers, literally and figuratively, and is a very inspiring place to explore, especially if you are interested in the arts. Charminar-loving Hyderabadis would love it :) 

This trip was indeed a rediscovery of Paris, a rediscovery of my love for this city, and a rekindling of the desire to go back yet again.  

July 19, 2017

Picture post-card pretty Chamonix

We visited a very close and dear friend in Switzerland - a trip postponed for many years - and they drove us to Chamonix-Mont Blanc for the weekend. Chamonix is a resort area in France, near the junction of France, Italy and Switzerland. You drive up into the mountains and become part of a picturesque painting. It is a skiing destination. Cable cars take tourists to various peaks with beautiful views. On a clear day, you can see Mont Blanc from Chamonix. The air is fresh and there are wild flowers everywhere. And cherries, blueberries and raspberries too, that you can pluck off and eat!

Beautiful landscapes...
...wild flowers everywhere 
Chamonix is perfectly pretty!
View of the glacier from the village, near the farmers market. 

If you look closely, you see people taking rock-climbing lessons. 
This farmer was selling a huge variety of olives at a market. When I asked if I could take a photo, he thought we wanted a photo with him, and said, "Come, come"...and then as I took the photo,
he said, "This is my harem!" Ouch!...but it resulted in bright smiles :)
Arre, 'All is well' bolo na, hojata! Itte board-an kaiku?
Just kidding...I found this cute!
There has to be a Restaurant Indian everywhere! 
Chamonix has lovely woods to walk in, and they have a lot of beautiful birch trees.
It is a great place to just be.
The weather was unpredictable and clouds and rain were a constant. Walking around with rain coats on Day 1, we met a woman on the bus and got talking. She spoke English and wanted to know where in India we were from. My friend said, "Karnataka". She immediately asked, "Bangalore?" She obviously knew India. Then we spoke about the weather, and just before we got off, she said with an air of certainty, "Tomorrow there will be no rain. It will be clear".

The next morning looked gloomy, and we joked about meeting 'god ' on the bus, referring to the woman who had made the prediction about the weather. It looked like her prediction was not coming true. However, as the day progressed, the rain stopped, and although it was not sunny, it was dry and comfortable, and we had a great walk in the woods, sans rain coats! 'God' was right, after all!


June 24, 2017

Walking where mammoths once walked...

This is a post that is a year late! We went to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Los Angeles in June last year, with Vijay's cousin Chaitan. This is one of the world's most famous fossil spots. I still feel overwhelmed each time I think of what we saw there.

Bang in the middle of the glamorous Hollywood are the tar pits (exactly that - a kind of pit filled with tar). Natural asphalt has seeped up from the ground in this area for tens of thousands of years, trapping several species of plants and animals. Digging is still ongoing in the pits, throwing up fossils of various kinds. Apparently new discoveries are made, if not every day, definitely every week!

The Tar Pits Museum houses the world's largest Ice Age fossil collection, which reveals what survived the last ice age and what did not. Ongoing research gives important clues about LA's climate change - both past and future (anybody listening?)

As soon as you enter, you see this recreation of a female mammoth going down into the tar, as the male and the baby mammoths helplessly watch. The pond contains tar and you can see it bubbling.


video

This is a mammoth that has been reconstructed from the fossils found at that spot. It has also been animated and it is so real that it is almost scary!

There are 404 skulls of the Dire Wolf (Canis dirus) here. They are only a portion of the more than 1600 wolves whose remains have been found here.  It is thought that packs of Dire Wolves attempted to feed on the animals trapped in the asphalt and became mired themselves.   


Merriam's Giant Condor (Teratornis merriami) has been reconstructed and the painting behind gives a good idea of how this bird looked. The great body size of this extinct bird is very apparent, and the hooked beak must've been used to feed on large dead animals.
To think that we were walking at the very same spot where mammoths, wolves, condors, sabre-toothed tigers and other extinct animals walked freely 20,000 to 40,000 years ago, was completely mind boggling. This was definitely one of the best things we saw during our visit to the US in June-July 2016.

[With information from plaques at the museum and from the internet] 

____________________________

Watch this short but informative video. It gives a good idea of the work at the tar pits. 



April 29, 2017

Awesome Odisha!



I got an opportunity to go to Cuttack, Odisha, to make two presentations at the National Law University of Odisha - one on new media and one on magazine design. First impressions - Bhubaneshwar, where I landed, was very green! Lots of varieties of trees - Kadambas, thick set Ashokas, crape myrtles, laburnums in bloom, tree hibiscus, banyans and peepals, cashew plantations near Konark, and many more. Most of the trees looked old and huge. 'Development' as we know it in the metros has not yet touched these parts, so it looks like the Hyderabad or Warangal of the 1970s or early 1980s. But now Bhubaneshwar has been declared as a smart city, and this makes me afraid for the flora and fauna of the city.

Cuttack is long piece of land between two rivers - Kathajodi and Mahanadi. While Kathajodi was quite dry, Mahanadi had a lot of water. We were waking up to a variety of bird calls - it was such a pleasure! I spotted some birds I had never seen before.

Two days of travelling around Odisha made Ragini and me camera-happy. Let the photos speak for themselves.   

PURI
First time I was seeing camels on a beach! There were hundreds of people on the beach, and getting this shot was not easy. I am rather pleased with it :)

It was lovely to see this grandfather playing with involvement with his grandchildren. He was quite old but played with them like a child!

Romancing on the beach! I found the bulls in Odisha different from the ones here. The hump is bigger and makes them look more like the Nandi we find in temples. 

This is the best shot I could get of the Puri temple. The architecture of the temples is incredible, but photography is not allowed. I am happy I went, but one advice about the Puri temple: don't go unless you get some help from someone. 

I can't travel and not write about trees! On the way to Konark - a cashew nut plantation.

KONARK

Konark was awe-inspiring and left us breathless! 

There are 12 pairs of intricately carved wheels.

The huge chariot is visible from this view. Some maintenance and polishing work is going on.

RAGHURAJPUR

We were on our way to Raghurajpur, and stopped to ask this beautiful tribal woman for directions.


Raghurajpur is an artists' village and contains a cluster of houses where they paint patachitra, palm leaf paintings and make many other crafts.

This cheerful artisan and his father paint patachitras. Very fine and intricate work, like the carving on Odisha's temples.

Just look at these masks and paintings!


BETWEEN BHUBANESHWAR AND CUTTACK
There are these rasagolla and other sweet shacks between Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack..
I thought they were found all over Odisha, but apparently it is typical to this region.


BHUBANESHWAR


We went for a heritage walk called Ekamra Walks, which started at the 9th Century Mukteshwar Temple, with a bansuri recital. The early morning ambience was perfect, and transformed us to another era.

Again, amazingly intricate carvings.

During the walk, chanced upon these two purohits, deeply absorbed in their newspapers.

Several small houses have such paintings on them, with a bride and groom's names written on them.
They are apparently painted when a wedding happens, and is a kind of an invite to everyone!
Since they don't have too much money, the paintings and the wedding info remains
till the next wedding in the family! 

The 11th century Lingaraj temple complex is beautiful, and represents the Kalinga architecture.
The guide told us that there were 107.5 lingas at this temple. 0.5 because it was incomplete. 

A photo I like very much! A vendor arranges her vegetables under the Lingaraj temple chariot. 
DHAULI
Near the Dhauli Buddhist stupa are the rock edicts of Ashoka. The language is Magadhi Prakrita and the script is early Brahmi. The edicts speak about the virtues of Dharma.  

CUTTACK
Another piece of history! Freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's birth place in Cuttack. It is very well maintained and has photographs, letters and objects used in this house.
One can even see the room in which he was born on 23 January 1897. It's the kind of thing that gives me goose bumps!

***

All photos: Copyright Sadhana Ramchander
Giving credit for use of photos would be appreciated

April 08, 2017

An apology to Africans

We have had a professional connect with Africa for a long time. While at ICRISAT during the eighties, we met and were friends with several scientists from Africa. One of them - Dr Kanayo Nwanze - moved to Ivory Coast after several years in Hyderabad, and gave our consultancy its first turnkey assignment, which set the ball rolling, and we will be forever grateful to him for this. We have worked and continue to work on a day-to-day basis with professionals from West and East Africa. They are honest people, dignified and committed. We consider it our good fortune to have had an opportunity to work with them. 

Africa, by the way, is not one country as many people seem to assume - it is a huge continent with 54 countries. It is the second most multi-lingual continent in the world, and their art and craft are second to none. 

I went to Africa once - to Maputo in Mozambique and Nairobi in Kenya - and was taken care of and kept safe by good, simple people in both these places. It was a wish come true when I met the accomplished Prof Monty Jones - the Sierra Leonean scientist who was responsible for a very successful hybrid variety of rice called NERICA, combining the good qualities of African rice and Asian rice. There are many more enterprising women and men I have worked with virtually, and have never met. 

However, this is not about my travels or about the people I met or worked with. It is just to state my admiration for Africans, based on my association with them. They are a gracious people, immensely talented, have a unique character and have the same kind of tehzeeb that we in Hyderabad are proud of. Treating them with disrespect or worse, attacking them because of their skin colour or wrong assumptions based on one's own ignorance is such a tragedy. 

I am not a VIP, nor am I an official in the Indian government. I am an ordinary citizen of India, and I feel compelled to write this apology for the attacks on African students in Noida. I condemn these attacks and am ashamed they happened. I offer my profound apology to the Africans to whom this treatment has been meted out. Please know that there are many of us who consider you our brothers and sisters, who respect you, and warmly welcome you to our country. Please have a safe and comfortable rest of your stay in India.