December 10, 2015

Everyone knows someone who saw a ghost!

Going to an old palace that is in ruins during the day was one thing, but going there when it got dark was quite another. I took a stroll through the rooms to take a picture of the sunset through one of the windows, and the ambience definitely made me uncomfortable! By the time we explored the place and came out, the full moon was up, and in the darkness, I casually asked the watchman whether there were ghosts there. 

The watchman was surprised at my question and the first thing he said was no, and then he mumbled that only some people had the ability to see ghosts. Then he pointed at another watchman and said, "Ask him...he is on night duty and said he saw a ghost the other night". So some of us gathered around him and heard his story. It was around 3 am and since he couldn't sleep, he was taking a walk. Then suddenly he saw a 7-8 ft outline of something in white, near the scooter parking a little distance away. At first he thought it was the other watchman with a shawl draped around him, but what he saw was quite tall. He was looking at and beginning to feel uncomfortable when the other watchman came out from inside the building! Then, he said, poof...this apparition just disappeared! We were smiling now, and asked him whether he took a photo. He said, no, he was a bit scared and didn't think of taking a photo. We told him that next time he saw a ghost, he should remember to take a photo, and he said he would. "But perhaps, ghosts don't show up in photos?" I wondered aloud, and he seemed to agree.

So that was the first time I met someone who said he actually saw a ghost. I have only known people who knew someone who saw a ghost, and who told me stories in great detail, as though they themselves saw it. Like they told me when I was 8 or 9 that there was a ghost on the tamarind tree in the galli from our house, which led to the main road. So every time we had to go past that tamarind tree at twilight or after dark, we closed our eyes and ran as fast as we could! If there had been a ghost waving at us from the top of the tree, well, we didn't see it! 

When we first moved into our home Ratnakara, we began hearing periodic 'ghal....ghal' sounds like those made by ankle bells (gajjelu, or ghungroo associated with ghosts) every night. People at home were puzzled and began asking one another about it...and one uncle said it - maybe there is a ghost. My father said nonsense, it is a cycle rickshaw with bells on its wheels going past the house every night. I was a nervous wreck as I had to go upstairs all by myself to study. Every shadow scared me; every little sound made me jump out of my skin! Sometimes, when the fear overtook me, I simply ran downstairs. Finally it turned out to be a small insect, maybe a cricket, that made the sound. So that ghost was only a figment of imagination!  

And then another story gave me nightmares - we began hearing of the 'dancing legs ghost' spotted in one of the towers at a school in my town. Yes, it was supposed to have only legs! Creepy! The next story that used to scare me was when suddenly people began talking about bangles that rolled away on their own...I wonder who made up that story! Movies like Madhumati, Mehbooba and several others only whetted people's appetites for more ghost stories, and they were willing to believe anything. My maternal uncle, when asked for directions to his house, used to tell us that we should take a right turn after we passed by a graveyard where we would see a team of ghosts playing cricket! I love this one. :)

I have stated many a time that ghosts do not exist because no one I know has seen one. Of late somehow, after a long time we have suddenly been hearing and re-telling ghost stories. It all started with a link on FB, listing the haunted places in Calcutta. Then there was a list of haunted places in Hyderabad, which included Babukhan Estate in Basheerbagh, Golconda Fort and even Shamshabad airport! And so since the children are older (and braver?) now, I recounted the above stories, which I hadn't told them earlier because they would be scared! Our dinnertime conversations turned creepy and scary, and but we ended up laughing our heads off! 

So are ghosts only in the mind? Are they only created by imaginative minds? By story tellers? If there are ghosts and only some people can see them, I am happy that I have not been blessed by that ability. Roald Dahl said, "Those who don't believe in magic will never find it". Maybe, as the watchman had pointed out, this applies to ghosts also! 

November 19, 2015

Rabbit hole for the soul

Greens
Dark greens, light greens
Curly greens of coffee
Climbing greens of pepper
Straight greens of paddy
Shiny grey-greens of silver oaks
Bright greens of designer ferns
Misty greens of the hills
Shadowy greens far away
Fresh greens of happy shrubs


Red, green, yellow coffee berries
Dots of cheerful yellow flowers
Thick-set lavender bougainvilleas
Tender reds of new leaves 
Bright crimson and cream poinsettias
Bursts of multi-hued wild flowers
Bashful purples of touch-me-nots
Smiling violets of morning glories
Greys of a sky that's friends with the hills
Orange glows when the sun braves its way out


Pitter patter of rain
Bird song, bird song!
Far away, the bark of a dog
The cawing of the ubiquitous crow
The cooing of the mountain imperial pigeon
Faint sounds of dropping leaves
The gentle s-s-s-swaying of areca nut palms
And the delightful quiet of human absence...
Even on Deepavali!

True that, when they say that Coorg is a rabbit hole for the soul.


_________

12 February 2016

Adding to the charms of Coorg...I kept a menu from a small restaurant called, The taste of Coorg because this was written on it, by the person who started it: 
"Growing up in Madikeri was one of the best things that happened to me. Catching butterflies, hunting for crabs, running kites, sailing paper boats in puddles, endless fights with my little sisterand of course, Amma's amazing food (my granny). Here's an endeavor to bring you the flavors of this beautiful place that is so close to my heart. It is the taste of childhood. I hope you enjoy it."   



November 07, 2015

Blog birthday: Being king, queen, jester for 9 years!

It was in 2006 that I started blogging. In my first post I said, "This is my kingdom and I am the king, queen, jester, everything. :)" And so I have been, these 9 years, and the thing I have enjoyed most is having the freedom to write whatever I want.

I realise that one thing about my writing is certain - I write only when I feel like writing, and so I hope I am right when I say that my writing has been mostly spontaneous.

I also like to share my thoughts and my life with people. Sometimes I wonder whether my writing would be considered attention-seeking or boastful. Especially when I write travel posts. I like to experience new places and try to travel as much as my busy life allows me to, and writing about travel gives me as much pleasure as the travel itself, and it is also a record of moments. So the intention is definitely not to shout from the rooftop.

I discovered new interfaces that my children's generation uses for their writing such as Medium, and thought I'd shift from Blogspot to one of those, but somehow this seems like home. And in that respect, I am conservative...I tend to go with the familiar and love my comfort zones! So as of today, I think I'll stick to Lens and Sensibility having the same look and feel, but I might change my mind...let's see.

Looking back on the last one year, I think my blogposts have been very meaningful but quite heavy! So I should probably lighten up a bit...still didn't get down to writing humour!

So a promise to myself to write some humour in the coming year...I will begin with a post titled, "Living with a DIY guy". You think you know what to expect?...NO, you don't!

Love to you dear reader...keep coming back. 

November 03, 2015

These bold, wonderful women...

In the last two months, I either met or heard of smart, sensitive, savvy girls and women who are adventurous, bold and passionate about what they do.

During our Hampi trip in September, while we ourselves were a group of four women travelling together, there were two solo travellers staying at the resort where we stayed - both young professionals who just got away from their hectic lifestyles and personal pressures. While one of them was there for a whole week, relaxing, waking up late and going to see various places at her own pace, the other was there only for the weekend, and they seemed to be very happy being on their own. They had dreams of many more travels within and outside India. They seemed to love the idea of solo travel - something I have never been able to get myself to do...perhaps it is a generation thing.

The other all-women group was from Coorg, and these women were between the ages of 60-75, maybe. They had clearly slowed down, but they were super enthusiastic, and not only did they do most of the things we did, including the 1-hr coracle ride, they also hit the road to go to Badami and Bijapur, about a 4 hour drive away, which I would do on an altogether different trip!

And so, dinner times were full of conversations across the tables, with the solo travellers joining us once in a while for a chat and loads of laughs. Cheeky and full of fun, they told us stories of people's reactions to seeing women travelling alone - the old uncle on the train giving well-meaning advice about marriage, flirting men - from auto drivers to resort managers - and how these girls handled them, and so on. Our resort reverberated with laughter as we exchanged funny stories...it felt good to live in a women-only world for a few days, and we too opened up and spoke about various things - travels, random encounters with wildlife, and the khatarnak topic of all - journey through life, including falling in love and stories of how we met our husbands! This is something one does with total strangers only on a vacation! But we learnt from them and perhaps, they from us. And for the four days we were there, all of us took complete breaks from our lives!

Kudos to all these people we met in Hampi. It reminded me of the television serial I used to watch when my daughter was a baby - it was called 'Thoda sa asmaan' and dealt with three generations of women and their lives - a young girl coming to terms with love, a young mother dealing with her changed life, and an old woman having issues with what's left of hers. I used to identify with Deepti Naval who was the young mother, and used to shed bucketfuls of tears watching it!

Now about another level of courage...

On two wheels: 4000 km towards women's safety

My daughter's classmate Anahita Sriprasad, a graduate in Visual Communication Design, is right now making a trip across India (Leh to Kanyakumari) on her cycle, "to promote women's safety in India as well as to encourage more women to travel if they wish to, but are afraid to travel solo!" Having specialized in film making, she will film the entire journey on a mounted camera and plans to make a documentary. Hats off, Anahita, and best wishes for your incredible courage. I have no doubt you will have amazing experiences. 




Six months on the hills in a room with no door
I went for the launch of a book on edible weeds - "Edible weeds and naturally growing plants in Auroville" by Dr Nina Sengupta. Nina was introduced to us as "the ecologist who stayed all by herself for 6 months in the western ghats in Kerala in a room without a door"! She went there for her research on the gaur or the Indian bison. Apart from talking about the interesting book, she spoke about these 6 months when, except for a village woman supplying her with groceries (the woman would turn back if she encountered any wild life), Nina was all alone. A villager usually accompanied her into the jungle and once, she came face to face with a bison. It came charging towards her and luckily for her, it banged into a tree that stood between them, looked confused, took a U-turn and ran back! P-lucky woman - Nina!  

Women as IAF fighter pilots
I read the other day, that the Indian Ministry of Defence has approved induction of women into fighter stream. Selected candidates would begin to train as fighter pilots by May-June 2016, and the first Indian women combat pilots would be in the cockpits in June 2017. The glass ceiling that existed for decades has now been broken!


Even as I write this comes news from Australia that Michelle Payne has become the first female jockey to win Australia's most prestigious horse race - the Melbourne Cup!

Great going girls! May you march ahead without fear and may you find happiness in pursuits you are passionate about, and not in those dictated by a father-brother-husband-son.

September 29, 2015

Don't worry, be Hampi!

The title of this piece is the creative genius of touristy T-shirts sold in Hampi!

Hampi is vast and can be many things to many people. For the historically inclined, it is a treasure house of innumerable monuments, for which the place is best known; for the devout, there are temples galore; for mythology lovers, there is the birth place of Hanuman and there is Kishkinda, where Vali and Sugreeva were supposed to have lived. For the sporty, there are activities such as bouldering and rapelling; for the nature lover, birding, trekking, and spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

***

As we drove from the railway station to Anegundi where Urama cottage is located, we were awestruck by the rockscapes. It was as though the gods had dumped these boulders from the sky! They are everywhere, with random sculptures surfacing here and there.

They look as though it rained boulders!
Nandi on a boulder while crossing the river


Daroji bear sanctuary
Daroji bear sanctuary - view from watch tower
Some detail about the bear sanctuary, because not many people go there. It is about an hour and a half drive from Anegundi. It has an area of 5,587 hectares. You buy a parking ticket for your car for a steep Rs 500, and Rs 50 per head, and drive in (they will ask for additional huge amount for camera but protest loudly and they will not charge!), after which you climb up a small hillock to get to a watch tower that overlooks the sanctuary. Green and brown were the predominant colours, and while it was lovely hearing the several varieties of birds, and while we spotted a couple of peacocks, it was not until almost twilight that we saw a family of four bears come out from among the rocks. Also saw some others coming down from the top, but they looked like small specks. It was exciting alright, to see them in the wild.

Some temples and monuments of the Vijayanagara empire  
A temple near Anegundi, where we went mainly to see the sunset
Same place...the leaning temple tree is large and interesting

The chariot about 5 minutes from Urama, where we stayed
Stables for festive elephants
At the 'zanana enclosure', the guide told us an interesting story of the magnitude of
Shakespearean tragedies about this monument. 
This has special significance to me because I worked on Vamsee's book 'Rearming Hinduism'.
This Narasimha was on the cover.

Near the Narasimha complex

Rockscapes and sunsets
I stood and stared in wonder at these awesome  colours 
One of the many beautiful sunsets
This was at the Sanapur lake. 


Hampi was also about insects and snakes
Yellow chameleon?!
On the first day, I entered our bathroom and was greeted by a humongous spotted lizard! He was scared and I was scared; he scurried about, I scurried about, and then, luckily he realised he must now share his space with us and eventually disappeared. Then there were millipedes - the small (1.5 inches - we shared the room with one) and large (5 inches) varieties. Then there were frogs, toads and chameleons, moths and butterflies. I had all kinds of bites, and then remembered I had carried Odomos. We spotted snakes twice, one was a small green one on the hedge near one of the monuments, and the other crossed us as we came down the hillock on which Hanuman was supposed to have been born. Kobita immediately recognised this snake species and lectured some boys who were running from it, telling them not to be scared and that perhaps the snake was more scared than they were!
_________________________________

Memories we'll always cherish

- Coffee at a small Udipi brahmin place in Kamalapuram. They also had mirchi bajjis and the yummiest looking upma! 

- Watching fireflies! Our driver caught one in his hand and left it in the car...he said they used to fill their pockets with fireflies when they were children.

- Spotting a glow worm on the walk back from Laughing Buddha restaurant.

- Coracle ride in moonlight. This was the most adventurous thing we did. A 45-minute coracle ride in the dark with only the moon for company. Before that, a half hour trek to get to this place. We even sailed under the jutting rocks into a small cave, crouching down to enable our boat-woman to do this! Much excitement!

- Going up the hillock to see Hanuman's birthplace was special for me. The idol was very cute...round face, round eyes. And the place was full of monkeys! 

- Chats with other women travellers who stayed at Urama cottage. But about this, hopefully there will be another post. 

_______________________________


Girls truly rock!
Team F5 relaxing after bird watching. Left to right: Kobita, me, Arati and Bhagya.
Our trip was organised by Bangalore-based  F5 Escapes, an all-women enterprise started by Malini Gowrishankar and Akanksha Bumb. They had planned my trip to Kutch in March, and I had been most impressed by their efficiency. On this trip, Kobita and I went from Hyderabad, Bhagya Srinivas came from Chennai, and Arati Shyamsunder was the F5 representative from Bangalore. It was nice meeting new people and all four of us got along well. Enthusiasm levels were high, and everyone was ever ready to run, walk, climb...whatever the time of day or night!

Girls rock...and they also talk (non-stop), which is why my refrain through the trip was, "Okay, now 10 minutes of silence!"

August 27, 2015

Two people and two milestones

High above the sky stands Swarga, paradise, abode of the gods. 
Still above is Vaikuntha, heaven, abode of God. 
The doorkeepers of Vaikuntha are the twins, Jaya and Vijaya, 
both whose names mean, 'victory'. 
One keeps you in Swarga; the other raises you into Vaikuntha. 
In Vaikuntha there is bliss forever, in Swarga there is pleasure 
for only as long as you deserve. 
What is the difference between Jaya and Vijaya? 
Solve this puzzle and you will solve the mystery of Mahabharata.

Devdutt Pattanaik in "'Jaya': An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata"

***

 My mother is Jaya and my husband is Vijay. My mother has always fiercely protected me, especially during my growing up years when I was not exactly in the best of health. Her positivity was almost forceful and sometimes unrealistic. But someone, somewhere listened, and I crossed the speed breakers one after another and came this far. She still stands by my side and protects my family and me with the same faith and positivity. I have imbibed these qualities from her, but I feel many a time, that I am not as brave as she is.

Vijay has been by my side for 27 years, although I have known him for 30. Steady, patient, kind, mature...he gives me the emotional security I need, to handle the various roles I have chosen to play. I have learnt much from him, and the journey has been interesting and enlightening - with many a spicy fight thrown in - for better or worse.

Another thing common between the two of them, apart from their names, is that they are both karma yogis. Being there for everyone around them, not desiring anything for themselves. Both brilliant, yet unambitious.

And this is a milestone year for both. My mother is 80, and Vijay is 60. 

I am not flattering myself, but when I read Pattanaik's description, I felt really special, fortunate and protected!

After all, how many people have a mom called Jaya and a husband called Vijay? How cool is that!

And how many people have a mom like Jaya and a companion like Vijay?!

Thank you, ma.
Thank you, Vijay...
for being who you are. 

I confess, I would be just a paper tiger without your support.

Many more birthdays to you...wish both of you everything you desire (read: more people to help), and (in the process) plenty of joy and happiness. 


August 22, 2015

Angst

Today I want to pour out my angst here. I feel terrible discrimination and I am very hurt and angry about it. I am tired of ignoring it, I am tired of being above these human emotions and feelings. I want to complain like a child in a school.

I grew a garden in my apartment complex all on my own. It was disputed land and no one wanted to touch it. When Big House was there, there was  an Alphonso tree and two chikoo trees in that spot These were there even after we moved in...we used to see large bats hanging from them. Then the buyer of that bit of land decided to cut these trees...he couldn't build up so he cut down the trees simply because he could. After that, over some years, it turned into a garbage dump.

I was scared of taking the initiative but I got together with some of the children of this building, and with the help of Narasimha who helped us unquestioningly, we planted trees, flowering plants, etc. I bought each of the trees myself, I spent my money on soil, manure, etc. - not just during the making of the garden, but ever since then. I also maintain that space with my money. Every plant and tree there therefore belongs to me.

Nagesh, the gardener from the Public Gardens helps me every other month - whether it is too dig up around the trees, or re-potting, or to trim the trees that are now all grown up. I pay him Rs 600 per visit. I pay him from my pocket.

I have never received any help from the committee of our building. They always ignored me. They never once ventured into the garden even when I told them excitedly to go and see the passion flowers or the marvellous blooms of the clock vine. The garden never existed for many of them.

Slowly, things became very difficult for me to handle on my own and I decided to just let the big trees grow and not bother to plant anything else. There was no one to water the plants and everything was difficult. And no one cared.

Until now...

An important person in the committee is suddenly interested in growing organic vegetables.  I am supporting this, of course, because I love gardening and I am stupid. I called Nagesh and he helped us sow seeds of five vegetables, and we also appointed a gardener. Suddenly the committee allocated funds for the garden. This evening the important person told me that they had ordered for a fence with two doors all along the garden, and there will be a tap to make watering easy, and they were also exploring drip irrigation.

Why this discrimination? Why are some people more important than others? Why am I ignored all the time? They could've helped me with the garden. They could have helped to keep the table tennis table and make an attractive place for children to play, as I always dreamed of doing. Now my children are grown up and don't need a place to play. Why are other people's children more important than mine?

I feel really tired of all this nonsense.  I want to move to Bhutan.




July 29, 2015

Symbiosis again!

And so Malini has joined college! Symbiosis University once again - and our love affair with Pune continues! I am handling it better this time since several of the earlier anxieties are behind us, with regard to the hostel and the college. She joined the Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts (SSLA), a course based on the US-model, that is new to us in India. Her subjects in the first semester are: Legal awareness, Computer fundamentals - theory and practical, Environmental awareness: Only one Earth, and the two electives - Introduction to Linguistics and Literature and gender.

The course sounds exciting!...she will study a range of core and elective subjects over the next four years, the major to be chosen in the third semester.

Choosing educational institutions is not easy these days. Unlike during our time, there is a lot of choice now - of courses and colleges - and it is quite confusing. Peer pressure adds to the confusion with several parents opting to send their children abroad for undergrad studies. Malini has had to answer questions such as, "If you want to do Liberal Arts, you should go to the US...the best colleges are there". However, we firmly believe that it is important to study in your own country and know your own country before venturing out to discover another. Finally it is important to do what you love, and to be concerned and conscientious citizens of one's country and the world. We have always gone by the rule of choosing either old and good institutions in India or the new generation ones with great facilities that are known to be trying hard to do well. SSLA falls into the latter category. It has a team of highly inspired and motivated teachers - headed by the dynamic and articulate  Director - Prof Anita Patankar - and we were very impressed by them, indeed. The team reminded me of dear Shantamma and the Vidyaranya teachers...what can be better than this?!

When Maloo came into our lives, she brought great joy to everyone around. As is common with second children, she was the bolder and the naughtier one, and everything seemed easier this time around! She made friends easily and conversed with people with confidence. The ease with which she grew up made me wonder, "why can't one have the second child first?!" Of course there were and are moments of worry and frustration...

In Montessori, much as she liked to sing, she refused to go to music class for months because, as it turned out later, she didn't like the music teacher's pepe hair cut! Maloo's antics inspired me to write the book of funny poems about children and childhood - "Autorickshaws blues...", which Ragini illustrated.

And then began her explorations into the world of music, and like Ragini, she chose to learn Hindustani music even while I was trying to get her to do something different! And even as she began to get noticed for her ability to sing, she suddenly chose to stop, and picked up the guitar and began to sing western music in her amazing voice, and our home reverberated with melody of a different kind!

I'll miss having this bundle of joy around at home in Hyderabad, but I know she'll come back empowered and confident-er than ever before!

When Ragini left home for college, I went through a huge emotional upheaval and this song constantly buzzed in my head.

Abhi na jaayo chhodh kar / ke dil abhi bhara nahi
abhi abhi to aayi ho / bahaar ban ke chaayi ho 

Four years have passed and a confident graduate in Visual Communication Design returned home, to stay awhile to freelance from Hyderabad. We are overjoyed!

This is a happy swap, with the children taking turns to go to Pune for college! 

July 05, 2015

Weather watch: Monsoon 2015

Photo of a beautifully lit up Saidanuma's Tomb 
taken from the car during the big rain.
There were rains in the first week of March and April. Summer wasn't really very hot until May. End May, it became very intense...on 28 May, I wrote on FB: "Bahar nikle toh dhoop thappadaan maarri baap!" (not my words...borrowed from Twitter). 

On 28 May again, I wrote, "Lagaan dance moment". So it was very hot and then it rained! 

And then it rained on 4 June, when I wrote, 
"Raindrops are falling on my head...
😊...and there is BIG rain. Take the heat away, rain!" 

We drove to Necklace Road and all along, saw the elaborate and grand lighting to celebrate Telangana formation week.  

20 June, when we went to Warangal, it was raining continuously. Really, nonstop...it became a little boring after a point. Apparently it was raining in Hyderabad also. Yes, and one day in the last week on June, it rained quite heavily and then Maloo and I reached the pool early and swam in the rain! It was awesome!

5 July: No rains for the past one week, and it is becoming hot and humid, like last year. Not yet as unbearable as it was in 2014. Predictions are that it will be like this for the next two weeks. 

29 July:There were two spells of rain on 27 July, the second quite heavy for about 45 minutes. Apart from that nothing. Not much humidity, though. 

It had better rain in August.

7 August: No major rains as yet. There have been random cloudbursts, though. Rains for 5-10 minutes and stops. Raining in other parts of India, though. Floods in West Bengal. Continuous rain in Maharashtra. 

10 August:  It is cloudy, and sultry at times. However, weather is mostly comfortable and some mornings you need a blanket. But the rain gods are still angry with Telangana and AP. 

16 August: I wrote on FB: "Just happy. The rain gods smiled down on us this morning." 

17-31 August: There were just two big rains, both at night - during one, there was such loud thunder that Ragini said she thought the world was ending! I slept through both these rains, though (whaaaaat?)! 

6 September: Beginning September, there were two showers, both for about 15 minutes each. 3 September was 36 degrees - the hottest in 88 years, apparently. This surely is climate change. 

Someone wrote this on FB today:  ...rains in june, then one in mid july and then rains in last week of august...most lands are dry and parched and most farmers lost crops....climate change...but the positive sign - the lands with organic matter and chemical free soils, have managed to retain the crops - as organic soils have greater capacity to store moisture for longer time...and so folks, finally my neighbours are noticing that it pays to stay natural and chemical free...



June 28, 2015

My teacher - Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir (Part 1)

Last month I heard that my teacher is missing.

Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir. The name warms the heart, brings a feeling of respect and reverence, and a feeling of gratitude that he had been my teacher for almost 4 years, during classes 9 through 12. How fortunate we had been - a few generations of us, to have been taught by him, and to have had his influence in our lives.

Clad always in white shirt and white pant, his hair combed back neatly, Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir was our class teacher in Class 9, teaching us Math, Physical Sciences and English. He was an amazing teacher and a highly principled person. As a batch we were extremely fortunate to have had him as our class teacher. He did not need to shout or scream to 'discipline' children. He was soft spoken, and commanded respect. Students spontaneously listened to him. Mathematics seemed easier, and Physics and Chemistry came alive as he demonstrated concepts with simple experiments that he put together himself. We were the happiest students in school, and everything seemed perfect.

It was too good to last. We moved to Class 10 and a month into the year, we heard that he was going to leave. We were upset and emotional as only school children can be, and asked him why he was leaving. He simply said, "It is a matter of principle. I have had a disagreement with the management of this school. Nothing can make me stay". We were devastated, and trooped into the principal's office with a plea to have him stay on because he had been the best teacher we had ever had. Besides, we were in Class10! It did not help. He left, to be replaced by a caricature we never accepted and gave a hard time to.

The next year, we heard that Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir had begun offering private classes. We all made a beeline to his house. It was called Saraswati Cottage, and it was here that we discovered this Gandhian who influenced and inspired generations of students with his simple living and high thinking. On the first day he told us,  "Rain or shine, thunder or hailstorm, there will be class. Don't have any doubts about this".

Our classroom was a small, neat room with simple wooden benches, white washed walls with framed portraits of great scientists from all over the world. Then there were portraits of Gandhi and Tagore. The periodic table also found a place on one of the walls. There was sincerity and earnestness as lessons were taught in his unique style. There were some deviations once in a while as he spoke about life and living, about integrity and honesty. Each of us had to have a four-ruled handwriting book (even though we were doing science), and every class started with a page of handwriting. It was always Tagore's poem, "Where the mind is without fear". We wrote this poem over and over, and it is quite clearly etched in my mind and heart. This, and his stories about Gandhi, instilled a sense of patriotism in us.

For all his seriousness, sometimes he told us funny stuff, and he laughed till tears streamed down his eyes. Then he would pull himself together and his face went back to its default serious expression.

Even as I write this, my heart feels warm and fuzzy...

***

Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir has been missing since May 2014. More than a year now. He was 88 when he walked out one evening, and would be 89 now. He had been living alone in his Saraswati Cottage in Waddpalli in Warangal. His wife had passed away some years back and his children (a daughter and a son) lived in Hyderabad - he insisted on living by himself, I was told.

I went looking for his house last weekend. Asked around and finally found it. His caretaker was there and told me a number of his students had been helping in the search. One of the posters announced a Rs 5-lakh reward. I asked to see the classroom, and as I stood there looking at the few remaining portraits on the wall, a great sadness enveloped me, and I came back misty eyed, feeling angry and helpless.

My eyes have been searching for my teacher ever since - in the railway station, on the roads. I came back and told a few friends about it. An online search threw up a Facebook page, and words such as these:


A friend posted, "I am blessed that I had him as my teacher. You are in my prayers Sir, please find your way home..." Another said, "I hope he is ok and living with dignity and if anything did happen to him - I hope he did not suffer". I would like to add, "Sir, wherever you are, we would like you to know how much you mean to your students and that life would have been much poorer had you not been in it". 

With reluctance, but with hope that this blogpost just might help trace him, I post the image on the right. There is great restlessness when a person dear to you is missing. I am very concerned, and I, like my friends, would like to hear that there has been a peaceful end to this story. We would all be overjoyed if he is found soon, and in good shape.

***
But then, I think, Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir is the kind of person who lived life totally on his terms, and certainly would want to write his own destiny.

Perhaps that's what he did.

***



May 15, 2015

Bits of my home that I love


I took these pictures during the summer of 2015. Perhaps this is a nostalgia trip. Perhaps it is to share these views with those who love Ratnakara - our childhood home - as much as I do. Please view the photos full screen. You'll really feel you are there!

Ratnakara has three varieties of mangoes - cheruku rasalu, suvarnarekha (seen here) and pickle mangoes. They are the best in the world...and I don't say this because I grew up here!
View from the terrace overlooking the front of the house 
 One part of the facade...I always loved the sun-dappled effect.

The garlic vine comes on to the terrace from these slits
The office has become something of an antique...do lawyers' offices still have this look? 
The Waiting Room...my children used to love this room...
...maybe because of the typewriter which fascinated them! 
The verandah...where we earlier had the most comfortable cane chairs,
on which I sat and read books and ate popcorn!
The pebble dash is an intrinsic part of Ratnakara's facade...
and it was very characteristic of the decade in which it was built (1968).
The cycas, which came as a sapling from Big House in Hyderabad.
If our house wasn't called Ratnakara, it would definitely have been called Bougain-villa!
We have plenty of dazzling bougainvilleas.
These attractive pillars add an element of colour, and are also much loved.
I still remember the time my parents decided on the name of our house, and planned to have two plaques - one in Sanskrit and one in Telugu. The house is named after my grandfather Ratnakar Rao,
and the credit for its design goes to my mother's brother Seetharam Koda.  

The Telugu lettering...and my parents' name plate
A coucal - usually a shy bird - walks in front of the gate towards the bushes on the right.
As children we used to swing on this gate, as did my children, and as many children do! 

March 25, 2015

Kutch nahi dekha toh kuch nahin dekha!

As we drive towards the Great Rann of Kutch, we see miles and miles of flat land, light brown, with either no plants or with a few acacia plants. 

The colours are essentially brown, dull green and the grey of the road, interrupted by mirages. 

Sitting here at the edge of the Rann, I am amazed at yet another wonder of nature. Vast and blazing white, it gives me an other-planetary feeling. The ground is hard salt. Waves and waves of it. I tasted it out of curiosity and yes, it is salt alright! 

We walk about just for the experience. Ragini and I could be the only two people in the whole world!

It is only when tourists come that there is noise. Otherwise it is as quiet as quiet itself. 
Surely at the other end, one will just drop off the earth? To think that this extends up to Pakistan! 7000 sq km odd. 

I need to find out why and how the Rann happened. 

Absorbed in our thoughts, we wait for the sunset... 

The ground is tough and hard salt. I looked around for a twig so I could dig and
see what's beneath! But there is nothing there.
A walk or a camel cart takes people on the 1.5 km road that marks the end of colour.
After that it is just a white stretch.
Sunset and full moon rise are what tourists wait to see.
The land is so flat that the sun seems to suddenly dip, and disappears.
Kutch is not like any other place I have seen before. It is vast - bigger than the state of Kerala and a little smaller than the state of Punjab. Yet, Kutch is only a district in Gujarat. We were told that they could not ask for statehood because of the low population. 

We saw only two major crops on our many drives from one village to another the three days we were there - cotton and castor. There were mango orchards that grow the kesar variety of mango. Flat open stretches of nothingness, sometimes dotted with acacia bushes. The land is extremely dry. It does not rain much, the villages are far from one another, and there is no such thing as outskirts with industries and engineering colleges as we see in other places. 

On our drive from Devpur to Mandvi, a seaside town, we suddenly came upon two huge herds of camels! And they were eating thorny acacias. Camel milk is in demand, said our driver Satu Bha. Camel tail braids are in fashion, said Ragini! 
And I wanted to bring back this cute little 5-day old.
Among the other fauna we saw were painted flamingoes, pelicans and cranes.
The flamingoes were lovely, but seemed shy and kept moving away if we went closer for a better shot. 
This was at Mandvi which is also known for its ship building yard. These ships are build by hand, and are apparently bought by Arab merchants.   


I simply loved the sight and sound of migratory cranes that fly home noisily at dusk, 
making interesting patterns in the sky, making the city dweller think it is smoke!
(Please view full size) 
Mandvi also has the Vijay Vilas Palace, which to me seemed like a smaller version of the Baroda palace that I visited some years back. I liked the acres of greenery all around it. Very unlike the normal landscape of those parts. 
Here you see one of the terraces with finely carved arches.


This palace has the typical Kutchi architecture, but lies in ruins. Perhaps after the 2001 earthquake.  This is opposite the Prag Mahal palace in Bhuj, which strangely, has Italian architecture, and you momentarily wonder if you are in Europe! 
As much as Kutch is not about colour, it is also about the brightest hues created by the artists who are there in every village. This is an intricate tie and dye from Bhadali. 
We also saw, for the first time, a tie and die called Shibori and 
another made using a process called Clamp dye.

 

A craftsman doing Ajrakh (block printing)
Kutch is also about skilled and beautiful tribal women.
If only they knew how special they were!
A rude but very real reminder of the 2001 earthquake. 
There were hundreds of sparrows everywhere we went (= happiness!). This family lived opposite the room we stayed in and kept flying in and out of our room, much to my delight, reminding me of my childhood! 
And finally, the haveli we stayed in - a home stay run by the gracious Jadeja royal family,
who also run The White Eagles School in their compound. 
What's more, one can also volunteer to work there on short term assignments.
A dream begins there...!

Kutch is also Lagaan land, and we could recognise the landscape and the palace scenes we saw in the movie! There were also many temples on hills with stairs leading up to them. On one drive we also saw three teams seriously playing cricket in blazing hot sun...after all, it is World Cup time!  

We spent just three days in Kutch and I now know how much more there is to see and experience. Somehow Kutch escaped all 'development' as defined by the 21st century, yet, or maybe because of this, there are plenty of friendly smiles, calm, acceptance and resilience.  

*All photos copyright Sadhana Ramchander