Sunday, December 09, 2012
Houseboats on Dal Lake,Srinagar
The Lidder River,Pahalgam
Since childhood I had dreamt of beautiful Kashmir--"Paradise on Earth"--the place on Earth at seeing which the Mughal Emperor Jahangir is said to have uttered this Couplet in awe "Gar Firdaus bar rue Zameen ast--Hameen asto,Hameen asto,Hameen ast" which when translated means if there is Paradise on Earth it is here,it is here,it is here.Having read about the beauty of Kashmir in Books--historical or otherwise--it was one of the top priority places I just HAD to visit---atleast once in this lifetime.In 1983 we came here after Nainital---but though Nainital was beautiful Kashmir was--astounding!!
As we drove through the beautiful Banihal Pass into Kashmir Valley the very Air changed!!There is no way to describe that heavenly perfumed Air that wafted in through the Bus windows---it was mesmerising, intoxicating and so very fragrant that even today Kashmir to me brings back the memory of it--before everything else!!Truly it is very difficult to describe the abundance of the Natural Beauty that abounds there.No words or Pictures can ever capture Kashmir or it's Beauty entirely.Having been there I find these a very poor comparison to the original--Kashmir and it's Beauty truly stirs the heart and soul---there is an ethereal,mystical and dreamlike quality to Kashmir.Driving to our Hotel we passed by the Dal Lake and on it's rippling surface were those beautiful,carved Houseboats as well as the Shikaras propelled by leaf shaped Oars.Everything about Kashmir in the Summer is fragrant----the Crocuses which supply precious Saffron,the beautiful Mughal Gardens filled with a variety of beautiful Flowers,Fountains and Canals---Coniferous Forests and lush Green Meadows,rushing and gurgling Rivers--deep velvety Cornflower Blue Skies and high Snow capped Mountains---there is so much to see, to drink in with one's eyes---that frankly a single trip just cannot capture it all in it's entirety!!
We visited all the Tourist Spots and on our visit to the famous Ski slopes of Gulmarg found that there was still Snow there.We trudged up a steep slope to the very to of the Ski Run--guided there by Kashmiri men dragging Toboggans for our descent---the only way down was to use the Sleds---but on realising that I had to hold onto one of the men on my descent I refused to sit behind him.As a result he finally gave up and sped away--leaving me with Ming,Tina and my huge Leather Purse stranded on the Mountain top.Never one to give up easily,I tucked my Silk sari securely around my ankles,hung my Purse round my neck and clutching a wriggling little body under each armpit pushed off--my well rounded backside helping me sail down the Slope!!!It was pretty exhiliarating and set my Adrenaline pumping--my hair streaming out behind me,the Dogs squealing in anxious excitement ,the Wind rushing against my face----but I was actually heading the wrong way--straight into a deep Ravine!!By now my poor husband had realised what had happened and instead of wasting time berating that poor Kashmiri man--he started climbing up the Slope towards me.Imagine the sight--a 90+kg.s woman hurtling down the slope at full speed and a 67kg.s husband desperately trying to change her dangerous path--stuff for a Hindi Film climax!!Luckily I chanced upon a Rock that gave a push in the right direction--and I skid to a stop at Sudhir's feet.Poor Sudhir was speechless--tears streaming from his eyes, he caught hold of my shoulders and shook me really hard--till my teeth rattled in my head!!However later we could all laugh together at the sight I must have looked hurtling down the Slope from the bottom of it!!My beautiful Silk sari wasn't ruined but was sodden and pretty uncomfortable to keep wearing.Luckily it was straight back to the Hotel from there--so after an hour's discomfort I changed it when it was almost half dried!!
Friday, December 07, 2012
Aerial View Of Nainital Lake
The Nainital Lake--another View
The Bhimakali Temple at Sarahan
Sudhir and I along with our children travelled extensively--specially in North India.Those days we had a pair of miniature Lhasa Apsos whom thanks to the lack of Kennels in Bombay we couldn't leave behind and had to carry with us wherever we went.The first trip we did with the Dogs was to Nainital and Kashmir in May 1983.After that it became a regular feature to carry them around with us and there are some really hilarious incidents that took place due to this.
This first trip of ours carrying Ming (the male) and Tina (the female) began with a Flight to Delhi. Sudhir had a Brief in the Supreme Court just before the start of the Vacation and we decided that Delhi would be the starting point of our Summer vacation.Since this was the beginning of keeping Pets in our home, we had no Knowledge of what carrying Dogs on board involved.Luckily the Pilot had a pair of similar Lhasa Apsos and he very generously allowed us to carry them on board.That both of them were petrified and clinging to me for dear life made things easier for 1 hour 45 minutes Flight to Palam. Once there we faced another hurdle--getting permission to keep them with us in the Hotel Suite we were booked into!!Luckily here too Dogs were welcome so that was another hurdle cleared.Those days it was me who looked after both Ming and Tina--and much to our daughters' and Sudhir's chagrin Mummy was the focal point of their life!!Specially Tina---she felt that sharing me with the rest of the family was being very magnanimous---if she felt that I was too absorbed in something that didn't include her--she'd push her cuddly,fat little body into mine--and pant away---sighing occasionally--into my poor ear!!Imagine the heat of sultry Bombay weather and a furry little body pressed hard into one side!!!
A Suite that had been booked for us was on the Ground Floor of the Hotel and had an enclosed Balcony.There was a Marble Trellis that acted as the enclosure and the filigreed pattern in the Marble let the cool morning Air in from the adjoining Gardens--carrying with it a whiff of Nature.We removed Ming and Tina's leashes and they began exploring their new environments--and I began unpacking for the week we'd be spending here.suddenly Sayali let out a yell--and dived towards the Marble Enclosure---our fat little Tina had managed to wriggle through an aperture in the filigree pattern !!With our hearts in our mouths we rushed towards the main door and on opening it found roly poly Tina all in one piece sitting there--thumping her thick bushy blonde tail and grinning all over her face with excitement and delight!!Relieved to see her back I never the less had to lay down the groundrules--so a few firm "Nos' and 2-3 hard spanks on her plump little butt did the trick--she'd look longingly at those tiny apertures but wouldn't dare to venture out again!!
We were joined in Delhi a week later by our family friends--Narayanda and Pushpaben----along with their two children Samir and Sonal. Our original plan was to proceed to Kashmir but it seems someone told Narayanda that Kashmir would be boring???? for an entire month's stay--so we decided to spend the earlier two weeks at another gem of a Hill Station named Nainital. Getting there involved a long Bus ride lasting 13 hours--leaving at Dawn in the morning and reaching there at Sunset---to a beautiful Sunset over the Emerald Green waters of the Naini Lake--a sight that is still fresh in my mind!!Nain means Eye and Tal means Lake--according to legend Shiva's Consort Sati's eye had fallen here--hence the name Nainital!!The bustling Mall Road is choc a bloc with many beautiful Lake facing Hotels and in one of these Sudhir managed to get us aSuite on the ground floor once more.We moved into this and once more Ming and Tina got aquainted with their new surroundings.
At Nainital the beautiful Emerald waters of the Lake are a sight to marvel at when these reflect the Sunrays at both Sunrise and Sunset.The deep velvet Indigo of the Sky gradually pales into a delicate Pink blush,deepening into a rosy Gold hue as the Sun rises behind the tall Mountains surrounding the Lake.The water begins to dance and sparkle like Diamonds on the surface as the Rays reach it and reflect off it.The cool surroundings like the Bridle path around the edges of the Lake is shadowed by the Mountains---but surprisingly the Lake catches the Sun!!Living as we did opposite the Lake it was one of Sudhir's and my favourite pastime--drinking our early morning Tea in the Verandah overlooking the Lake.After our baths and Breakfast the day would be spent leisurely strolling down the Mall Road and eating at the lovely little Eateries lining it--the favourite one being a place called Nanak's further down the Mall Road.Perennial favourites like the "Chholey-Bhaturey" "Stuffed Vegetable/Paneer Parathas","Samosas" and "Kachories" would be served piping hot off the Stove--if one was not careful one could burn one's tongue---why one--in my hurry to dig in I've most often been there--and done that!!
Boat rides on the Lake were another favourite pastime---as also was playing Scrabble each afternoon and night.This beautiful Lake is very deep--they say that if somebody drowns in the Lake the bodies rarely float to the surface---the Vegetation at the bottom is what the body gets caught in.Like all other Hill Stations Nainital too has it's fair share of Temples dedicated to the Goddess called either Sati or Durga and Legends regarding Her.It is also a favourite destination for Honeymooners from all over India.We were lucky to catch the beautiful Sunsets here too---the rays of the setting Sun turning from Gold to a fiery Orange,then Crimson and finally a golden Rose as Violet fingers of Darkness would begin to steal in when Twilight fell.For me however the most fascinating sight was a Full Moon night that we were lucky enough to experience.The full Moon rose slowly in the Sky--looking like a Gold and Cream ball of Cheese and then suddenly everything was bathed in the incandescent glow of Moonlight.The trees bordering the Lake were sharp shadows--unmoving,quiet and still and the sharp silhouttes of the Mountains etched out as dark shadowy Sentinels overlooking the Lake.The Silvery gleams of Moonlight bounced off the Water on the rippling surface--the entire Picture bathed in clear,cool,White Light---only the lapping sound of the waves against the Shore breaking the stillness of the night. Sudhir and I are have been very lucky--both of us enjoyed Nature and for us these Vacations were a time to unwind completely and relax.Today our daughters look back fondly on those days and treasure the Memories of the Time we spent together as a family.
Thursday, December 06, 2012
I grew up in a beautiful little Town--one that is as old as I am--Chandigarh.It is a very beautiful place--flat fertile Farmland over which the City was built is surrounded partly by the Himalayan Foothills called the Shivaliks.Memories of my childhood are filled with the misty blue of the distant Hills, wide open Spaces,beautifully scented Gardens and Sandstorms---a huge Canvas of Nature---each aspect of it fascinating to say the very least!!Life in the 1950s and early 1960s was easy paced and uncomplicated and The Almighty granted me a very beautiful and enriching childhood.I was lucky to have spent it in an uncomplicated and wholesome environment.
The Hills were what I loved--still do-- and they had the mystic allure that have held me in thrall from my earliest memories till today.As a very young child I'd visualise the Fairy Kingdom in those far away Hills--for each evening and night the lights of both Kasauli and Shimla would twinkle like Stars carpeting the Slopes---their edges softened by the darkness.On Winter nights these gleamed Silver in the Moonlight--covered by a thick blanket of Snow.My Nanny--Amma-- was a Hill woman and lying next to her at night I'd hear the old Legends and stories of the Hills--deepening their allure for me.There would be legends of the Gods,Fairy tales as well as Ghost stories--an inexhaustible store of this would open up each night--and I'd insist on her continuing an unfinished tale the next night--remembering the exact spot at which I fell asleep!!This turned me into a girl with an extremely vivid imagination who had her head in the Clouds--and spent time day dreaming of so many things.Treks in the same Hills with Daddy and Jeanneret Uncle also taught me to appreciate Nature---both these Men would take pains to point out the perfect shape of a Wildflower or the intoxicating scent of another--in fact they have gone so far as to show me how perfectly a dried Cow pat we found on one these Treks had been formed!!
Trekking in the Hills gave a new insight into so many things--I began to love the various scents of the open Air--the smell of new mown Hay and Hay drying in the Sun,the beautiful elusive perfume rising from the Wildflowers we crushed underfoot on the Trails,the sound of the Indian Flute called "Bansuri" plaintive and hauntingly lingering in the atmosphere as the Shepherds herding their Sheep played different Folk melodies to pass the time.I also developed a taste for food cooked over fires fuelled by Cow pats--even today the wonderful taste of the simple Meals provided to us by Villagers of the different Villages on the way still lingers in my mouth.In the Winters we'd trek in the Mustard fields of the Punjab--most of these combined with Sugar Cane.The fresh foaming tall glasses filled to the brim with Fresh Sugarcane Juice and the preparation of Mustard Leaves served with Corn Bread that they'd share with us for Lunch had an aroma and flavour I have not found since--anywhere at all!!This would be accompanied by huge balls of freshly churned White Butter and tall glasses of Lassi---and Heaven would be just right there!!
After I married Sudhir, we continued our visits to my beloved Mountains--each Summer.On our way there we'd stop at tiny roadside "Dhabas" to eat.Most of these were run by the farmers whose lands ran alongside the Highway.Fresh Vegetables cooked in either Butter or Mustard Oil and Dals along with thick Whole Wheat Rotis gave us the needed nourishment and a little Siesta would beckon invitingly in the form of the string cots laid out invitingly under the thick foliage of a Neem/Margosa or Mango Tree next to the Dhaba.The sights and sounds of rural India are truly fascinating for me--and my heart swells with emotion each time I remember those times.
The Mountains are mystifyingly beautiful--the clear deep Blue Skies with fluffy White Clouds scudding across them,the gentle Gold gilding of the Evergreens by Sunlight,the Air redolent with elusively scented Wild Flowers and fragrant Pine Needles carpeting the Slopes,the Summer Fruits luscious and juicy---a perfect Paradise to be sure!!Walking in the cool,scented shade of the thick Woods of Pine,Spruce and Fir along the steep winding roads in the late afternoons was another favourite pastime.The cool whispering Breeze would gently pass by--- caressing our hair and ruffling it and the Sunrises and Sunsets would be spectacular--the rays of both the rising or setting Sun turning a violet Sky a blushing,delicate Rose and then Gold each Dawn and the deep Rose gently merging into Violet and then a velvety Grey each evening.Each time it rained in the Summer the beautiful scent of the Earth coupled with wet Foliage would linger for a while before the chilly white fingers of Mist rolled in---perfect Weather for bowls of steaming hearty Broths and Soups!!Those who have visited the Indian "Hill stations" as these are called will vouch for the excellent Colonial Cuisine available in these places---coupled with hearty Indian Fare.To me the Mountains are magical in the Summer and make for an extremely enjoyable and unforgettable experience!!!
Monday, December 03, 2012
Mumbai is a huge Metropolis---and it is a City that needs to be experienced--cannot ever be fully encapsulated in words!!This City thrums with Vibrance and Life and as the Legend goes--anyone can make it in Mumbai---for Mumbai keeps everyone--from a Zillionaire to the Ragpicker---afloat!!I live in this thrumming,vibrant City and I'll not lie---this City has just recently begun to have a positive impact on me!!I grew up in a small Town and though I embraced the best that this Megapolis had to offer--for most of my married life I craved the laid back easy pace of the small Town--and hence constant forays into the North as well as my roots in Kolhapur to touch base with my inner self. Sudhir's death has changed all that completely.Today after Sudhir's death, this City has become a cocoon for me--a refuge which I'm now reluctant to leave--at least for now!!Maybe I'll feel differently in Future--I don't know.
Despite living here for so many years I could never really get in sync with this City.This shows in the home I picked--buying a Flat in one of the quiet by lanes of a bustling Suburb--surrounded by lots of Greenery and Nature--definitely an unique oddity in this bustling City!!Today some 37 years after we shifted here, very little has changed.Though many large Companies have opened their Offices here, the sleepy ambience continues--and I can still imagine that I'm living in a small Town even today!!Frankly it is like living in a small Town with all the plus points of a huge Megapolis--with the least of it's drawbacks!!While Sudhir was alive my entire day revolved around him and my mornings---specially before he left would be super busy--rushing to and fro between the Kitchen,the Telephone and the Doorbell for the best part of the early morning!!Things would settle down once he left for Court around 10.30 a.m.----and then I'd settle down to read the News Papers and the Computer---mainly SP.My domestic Staff would arrive by 11 a.m. and then my day would begin in earnest once more.Cooking took up most of my time--for Sudhir loved good Food.Though not a very large eater he was very particular and critical about the manner in which his meals were cooked.He needed a variety but was not interested in the richer variations in my recipes--preferring simple but well cooked meals instead.Thanks to this I liked cooking for his friends--he'd carry Food for them on Wednesdays and Fridays sometimes--for the rest of the days were mainly vegetarian--each one observing one or the other day of the Week as a Fast.It was on these occasions that I went all out--cooking the Party Food like Biryanis, Pulaos,Curries, Kababs, and Thai Curries to keep my hand in practice!!So often he has sent our driver, Pradeep along with his Court Clerk Babu back home at 12.30 p.m. just to carry the Food to Court--freshly cooked and hot off the Stove!!
This used to keep me busy and I loved cooking----mainly because our daily Food had minimum Oil/Ghee in it thanks to my heart condition.It worked for both of us--for I felt it kept Sudhir healthy too--but he'd pile on the calories with after Dinner sweets--Dark Chocolates, diamond/square shaped rich evaporated Milk solids called Khoya Barfis in 3-4 varieties of flavour,deep Brown Gulab 'Jamuns in Sugar Syrup, "Jalebis" crisp and Saffron coated, dripping Sugar Syrup,Ghee and Sugar saturated Motichoor Laddus made with Ghee deep fried tiny beads of Chick Pea Flour to mention just a few of his perennial favourites!!It used to be so funny the way the exchange of dialogue between Vanita and him used to take place after he finished dinner.He'd ask her about the Dessert choices he had--and Vanita would reel off the list of Varieties packed in Tupperware in the 'Fridge--mentioning the variety as well as the number of pieces available!!The number was mentioned daily because he always had a sneaking suspicion that I used to eat Sweets on the sly--specially whenever my Sugar dropped!!As he used to worry himself sick over my health, I rarely told him how often this happened.So he'd try to keep tabs on me this way!!Little did he know that I had no need to touch his Stuff--for I had my own stash of my favourite Bengali Milk Sweets stowed away in the depths of the 'Fridge---to gorge on each time I needed the Sugar!!!We were a pair of Idiots--trying to protect each other from the worries of daily living.And today just the Memories remain---though painful at times, these are still a great comfort to me as well--for these are an integral part of my life with him--a span of 41 years together.
That is why when the youngsters working at the local branch of my Bank requested me to consider cooking and supplying Tiffins to them I accepted.The reason behind this was that firstly I enjoyed Cooking and secondly I was just whiling away my days--- I had Time hanging on my hands--for with Sudhir's exit a huge vacuum had been created in my life--and just cooking for myself held no incentive and no appeal at all!!This gave me an opportunity to cook healthy,wholesome Meals for these youngsters and the polished off Tiffins coming back each evening held a testimony to the fact that whatever I cooked was tasty as well as appreciated by them!!Unfortunately there was only one snag--my poor Maths!!As usual I miscalculated and when at the end of 3 weeks I took stock of my stint in Catering--I found that I'd barely recovered a third of my cost!!!Sayali and Ritu literally sat me down and explained to me exactly where I went wrong--while I had calculated the cost of the Vegetables,Seasonings and the Oil/Ghee I had forgotten to incorporate the cost of the Cooking Gas,Rice,Whole Wheat Flour and Pulses that were used regularly each and every day!!Since the quality used was excellent they told me--the cost was bound to be equally expensive and since I had used these liberally and supplied generous amounts I was operating at a loss!!Also I had not calculated the cost of the extra Salaries i was paying to Vanita,Chhayabai as well as Ramesh-- the boy I'd kept for making the "Phulkas" and Dilip--the fellow who delivered the Tiffins!!Above all my biggest crime was that I had not taken into account my on labour--so the entire cost was revamped!!Each Tiffin climbed to double the original cost and the supply came down from 20 Tiffins a day to just 3--taken by three young girls who decided that the Food i cooked was helping them stay fit!!
But then when one door closes another opens--the latest is that I'm catering to Parties--and getting orders for supplying Food for 20-30 people.The cost of each Item has been meticulously calculated by Sayali on an Excel Sheet---so hopefully, I just cannot go wrong this time!!
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