One winter to another

IMG_20171005_062025.jpgIt has been a while since the last post, since then the summer has come by and gone, and with it, the last of the clear days. These days in Delhi, the fog becomes smog without warning and even the clear air is heavy with invisible particulate pollution. With the swift descent of cold winds from the north, life itself has become lazy. The prompt 7:00 am calls of street vendors are not heard until 11 in the morning, the grocery shops do not open till 10, e  ven the chaiwala around the corner does not set up shop till 9 am, when most of the office going crowd has already trudged in to work. On the other hand, the sun in always in a hurry to wind up. Last week we had only about 68 hours of sunlight in the whole week compared to the solid 80+ hours we get in the summer. The sun gets busier, we get lazier and are driven indoors to escape the cold and the pollution.

Before I moved to Delhi, Winter used to be a pleasant time. Winter is when mumbaikars venture into the western ghats and call all the parking spots, mini-hill stations. Though there are very few share auto routes in Mumbai, when you are in one, you can be guaranteed that at no point there would be more than 4 passengers in the auto – three in the back and 2 on either side of the driver. This is not so in Delhi, where it is normal to carry 5 people – often 6 and sometimes even 7 passengers plus driver – in a normal bajaj auto. In summer Share autos are sweat pits rivaling a packed local train. In the rains, you are subjected to the sprays of water from all directions, from actual rain or passing vehicles, to the extent that you have to have an open umbrella (or better, a HAZMAT suit) inside the auto. The 15-30 days of (not) really low temperatures at night is undoubtedly the best time in Mumbai. The wind hitting you in the share auto is pleasantly chilly. The atmosphere is just right for an open air concert or a night of long rides on borrowed bikes. The people wearing shorts and half-shirts get looks of surprise and wonder from sweater and muffler clad vegetable cart vendors, school children and their parents. “This is nothing, in my hometown it snows in december” climbs to the top ten of “common phrases of mumbai list”. Winter is to Mumbai what summer is to Europe – a time when the people can step out without worrying about occasionally natural calamity level of seasonal precipitation – and that makes it beautiful.

Of course, the winter collection is out on all hoardings, google ADs and shopfront windows at malls but that is the same everywhere, not just in Mumbai or Delhi. Geography and demography have no role to play in a sales strategy. So during Halloween, Oktoberfest and St. Patricks day – festivals only a few Indians (by percentage, of course) know about – gaudy decorations come up at malls to sell more products to people who don’t need it – young people with a relationship to maintain and married people with each other plus one or more to maintain. The strategy works best in countries with a 2 or even 3 month long festive season but in India it is highly lucrative for sales teams, mall decorators and chanda collectors because the festive season in India starts in late september and NEVER ends. From Holi in Spring to Diwali/Eid in Autumn to Christmas in Winter, not counting the unbroken chain of major and minor festivals celebrating incarnations, harvests, relationships, ancient rulers, new rulers and more, we have few gaps in the year, which we have now filled with imported festivals with ready made stereotypes.

But I digress. Basically, winters of mumbai were passive aggressive compared to a stereotypical Delhi winter. Mumbai winter is to Delhi winter what Elsa’s Winter from FROZEN is to GRRM’s Winter from Game of Thrones. Delhi winter is here, serious and accompanied by dust, smog and long cold nights. There are winter collections not just in malls, but also on every street corner on carts because lack of winter wear on the streets can be fatal at night. Even street dogs and cows are provided winter wear by NGOs because if you are loyal and/or with a herd mentality, you are assured of protection by local authorities. Even with normal protection from the elements, dry winds slapping your face leave any unprotected area parched, numb and cracking, especially when travelling in a two wheeler or auto. This is the one time that the overpacking of share autos – sometimes carrying 8 people in a three seater auto – is life saving. Like male penguins braving the dark antarctic winter, 7 co-passengers silently trying to hang on and huddle together for warmth. Sometimes I think, the driver takes in the 7th person so he can huddle with someone on the drivers seat. Even then, every year, “Yaar, this year wasn’t that cold” climbs to the top ten of “common phrases of Delhi” list.

But this is a fact, that this year has been the most polluted Delhi winter on record. Caused by human apathy and amplified by a lot of factors like crop burning, wind conditions, lack of late showers of rain. If we do not set about this uphill task to clean our act now, the road will be all downhill now, for all cities, in all seasons. As a nation, we have developed the habit of selective sweeping of problems under the rug, because we have so many to keep track of and get about solving and the problems are kind of locked in vicious circles. The seasons are not one of them because we have been wondrously blessed in that aspect so far. But the way we are irreverently causing irrevocable harm to the environment and ourselves, we might have to surrender our choice to venture outside to breath fresh air. We will need concerted action from authorities, businesses, farmers and common people if we are to address this issue. I wish and hope we can have, at least in the next decade, a year in which the phrase, “yaar, this year wasn’t that polluted” climbs to the top ten of “common phrases of Delhi” list.

 

 

 

 

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Caring for Surviving

 

The seemingly infinite and still expanding universe, carrying this singular germ of fragile yet industrious life on a tiny blue-green planet revolving around a yellow star, there has evolved such a species which prides itself as intelligent, parades in imagined happiness, blinding affluence and worthless praises, living short lives borrowed from the Goldilocks zone while playing with the future of their sole cosmic blue-green lifeboat.

In the Grandest scheme of things, there is no scheme at all.

It exists, because and therefore, it does. We are not destined to survive our own apathy for our planet. It is astounding how blind we are to our corruption of the planet, considering we are supposed to be excellent among apes, at pattern recognition. We are excellent at making up patterns and rules and customs and traditions and believe the World runs because of everyone’s obedience of one or many of the other. We live, obsessing over death. Surrendering thought in favour of dogma in search of peace was flawed to begin with because the death of new ideas would have been the death of humans long before today. Ideas have survived the onslaught of dogma and today, for through that exploration of new ideas, Scientific and Romantic truths are both Poetic.

The world is not made up of human emotions, desires and actions. The world would outlive us but it is dying from us. The world is made up of an intertwining play of choice-dependent processes; Things wont work out to save us in the end, like we have been shown in every apocalyptic movie.

Everything within has a counterpart without and all science is inherent and all pervading. The laws hold up to only themselves and they all exist in sublime harmony. 

Into the truths of such a world only those of us can venture, who can see into and beyond what the senses can rationalise and experience what is incomprehensible; from there the yet to invented words and symbols sing a melody, a rhythm of extraordinary scope and symmetry.

Having returned, what they share and we develop upon, will keep us going. Together in freedom, forever onwards, towards society that is a fractal counterpart of the harmony, fractured yet manifest, in the fabric of our universe. To survive man-made strife, we have to embody human spirit. Only when we solve our social problems will we ever become an interplanetary species, until then we have Matt Damon and Matthew McConaughey to act like it.

If we care to survive, we will take care to survive

To listen and behold! and be afloat in the sensation; to open your eyes, smiling and speak with concepts of rationale and scientific understanding – that, so far known and the truths beyond. That is the scheme for survival we have to recognise from the patterns. If , as we have always thought we were, we are survivers, i.e.

Healthy Dessert – Odia Kanika

Odisha is a land of voracious rice eaters – it is known. Many states claim to be the rice bowl of India, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha being the foremost among them. Since I hail from Balasore district of Odisha, where rice constitutes a staple ingredient in all the courses of all the meals in a day, I am partial to Odisha’s claim. If you visit Odisha, right from breakfast made from rice paste called chakuli (flattened rice cake), to main course of pakhala (rice with curd and masala water), to dessert made of sweetened rice called Kanika(sweetened rice), you will find breads are overrated – I promise.

Today I will share with you all my own Odia recipe for healthy dessert – Kanika with a twist. Traditionally, Kanika is made from sweetened rice cooked with cashew nuts, raisins and cinnamon. My recipe is healthy because it uses sprouts and grams instead of raisins and Sugarfree Natura instead of sugar. You will never feel guilty eating this dessert.

In order to serve four hungry people, You will need –

Rice – 1 cup
Whole white mustard seeds – 1 teaspoon
Black gram – 1 handful
Sprouts – 1 handful
Peanuts – 1 handful
Sugarfree Natura – 4 heaped teaspoons
Ghee (clarified butter)- 1 tablespoon
Green beans (optional) – cut into 2cm lengths, 1 handful
Turmeric – one generous pinch for colour
Salt – one teaspoon or according to taste

Soak the grams and peanuts in a solution of water and 2 heaped teaspoons of sugarfree natura overnight.

When you are ready to cook, put a pressure cooker on high heat and add Ghee.

Put in the mustard and washed rice and fry for a few minutes. 

Add the grams and peanuts along with the water. Adjust the water quantity so that the rice and water are in 1:2 proportions.

Add the remaining 2 heaped teaspoons of Sugarfree Natura.

Put in the sprouts and Green beans, cut into 2cm lengths and stir for a minute.

Add the turmeric for colour and salt according to taste and stir before closing the lid of the pressure cooker and turning the heat to medium.

5 MINUTES LATER

The cooker should have given off one whistle(maximum two). Switch off the heat and wait for the lid to pop open.

Now you are ready to serve your tasty and healthy kanika (my style) as a dessert.

Take a look. Looks tasty, No?

Kanika

 

Next time someone says Rice is unhealthy and dessert made of rice is even more unhealthy, just make them taste this delicious kanika made using sprouts, grams, beans and peanuts. They will find “Healthy Dessert” is no Oxymoron.

For more healthy sweetness, visit http://sugarfree-india.com/  .

 

 

Death by Polarisation

Bing!

“Would you shut it already?”

Bing! Bing! 
Sniggers escape from under the blanket on the sofa.

“Don’t tell me you are still following that garbage hashtag”

“You know nothing, Bihari Babu. This is priceless”. Peals of laughter ring out.

“Is it still #RahulStumped ?”

“No no. This is #Rahulhumped. Different story entirely. Listen to this”

“Rahul, your dimpled stubble enhances your OH SHIT expression. It’s a fact.
I Don’t think so. #Rahulhumped”

“Here’s another one – Rahul, your British passport says Rahul, right? Yes or No? #Rahulhumped”

“You disgust me, Bangali Babu. You laugh at a politician making a speech at a college. You flare up at an actor for making a comment on television. Are you sure you have your priorities right?”

Groans come from the sofa as the blanket is thrown and a fighter emerges. “Don’t start again, mister”

Continue reading

Paperboats after it Rains

A flame burns bright in every fire,
that draws a moth to its bane.
With a flutter and a spark, a death march,
if in vain, what remains turns insane.

Why is it so that moths must die?
So more may come and be gone.
Why is it that the flame did lie?
Does it matter? When needed, it shone.

In the dark, the glowering sphere,
flickers at darkness- a losing game.
A gust of wind may kill the flame.
A drop of rain can do the same.
It lives on borrowed time here.
____

Hours after the heavens opened first,
with a tattoo of drips from leaf tips,
comes a patter of small feet and chirps.
Rustle of paper, lighting of herbs,
a prayer, before the shrine and shrubs.

A marriage of kings, a child’s game,
plays out to merry nonsense refrain.
By the tree over the clear running stream,
wed royal dolls, with incense and flame.
Happy eyes, in fantasy, gleam.
Solemn hands fold, other are joined,
Without words, enough is said.
Thin candles lit, fixed up straight,
In the paperboats, they had made.

While the paperboats float away in the stream,
the fire, with no moths around, is aflame.
The children part, those of the after-it-rained,
witnesses to a suburbian momentary eden.
Year later they met, the childhood friends.
By the street where once the stream ran.
But it was not the same.

One couldn’t for example,
make Paperboats after it rains.
And no moths were dying
from the electric flame.
No bird to be found downtown.
Not eyes, cameras lifted at the rain.
Some turns good, some rots bad:
Nothing, ever, stays same.

Happy or Comfortably Numb

Grover looked at the lab door with hope. He did not know what he would be asked to do, but this was a reputed laboratory in the national capital, not some underground mad-scientist setup. The receptionist had been clear that the task would not take more than an hour. After all, he had donated sweat, blood and sperm over the last six months, trying to make rent for the house he shared with his good-for-nothing cousins. At least this job would pay for the next six months. If he was hesitant at all, it was because he thought that any job that paid this much could not be simple – could you blame him?

The Room

He walked into the room with crossed fingers. It was a small room, hardly bigger than the inside of a bus, with a similar headroom. With his 5 foot 10 inch figure, he only had a few inches of clearance.

“Please sit”, said the man dressed in blue, sitting behind a desk with a round aquarium on it. “Have some water if you will”, he added, without looking up. Continue reading

Rafting the Rapids of Rishikesh Ganga

“The Ganga is our Mother” said the autorickshaw driver to me, while weaving through a dense crowd of tourists, locals and cows on the way to Triveni Ghat in Rishikesh. Every morning and evening, locals and pilgrims gather to worship the Ganga, with Holy aarti.

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The Ganga Aarti at Triveni Ghat


Priests holding towering sculptured Golden Lamps venerate Mother Ganga with accompaniment of ritual chants, drumbeat and slogans. Some devotees place lamps in baskets made of leaves, along with incense, flowers and food offerings and let them float away, bobbing into the currents of the river. For an hour, the riverbank is transformed from a Ghat into a Temple and the Ganga is worshipped.
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Rishikesh is about 25 kms from Haridwar, the famous Hindu Pilgrimage centre in Uttarakhand, India. Over the years, especially since the arrival of The Beatles, the World outside has known of Rishikesh as the Yoga capital of the World. Hrishikesh was the original sanskrit name of the ancient Holy City that lay at the spot where Ganga left the foothills of the Shivalik Himalayas to enter the plains of Northern India (then the state of Kedarkhand). Hrishikesh means “Lord of the Senses” meaning Shiva, and not Sage Hair, as a google translation of the name Rishikesh would try to make me you  believe.

The city is filled with Yoga ashrams and adventure sports companies, a unique combination that is clearly visible on the ghats every morning, as the inflatable rafts carrying paddlers wearing bash helmets roll into the steps shared by meditating babas. For a low fee of INR 300 ($40), experienced guides will take you 15-20 kms upstream and steer you through some of the most awe inspiring views of the pristine Ganga, and upto level 6 rapids, making for a most thrilling and memorable ride. It is safe too, just as much as the rappelling and ziplining across the Ganga is.

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I do not know how to swim and when I came to know that the river was upto 90 metres deep and the current as fast and strong as a galloping horse, I gulped several times as my Guide explained the techniques of rowing, tucking and ducking and maybe even jumping into the rapid. As we rafted past the towering cliffs, disturbing hundreds of birds into flight, I forgot to be afraid.

We rode the smashing whirlpools and braved into the eddies, almost too close to the jagged rocks, we turned tail and circled about and even stood on the raft as it tumbled over one rapid. We went through one Level IV and several Level III rapids, some with common names like Golf Course, Club House, Roller Coaster etc. and others with fancy names like Double Trouble, Three Blind Mice and Return to Sender.

In the end I leapt into the Ganga like everyone else, trusting in Her Grace and my lifejacket, smiling rather than terrified, as the rushing waters carried me under the famous Laxman Jhula Bridge. It was a one of a kind experience filled with literally breathtaking moments.

This holy city is where mule drivers from isolated villages ply exotic flowers on the same streets where dreadlocked Europeans search for inner peace, where Cows have the right of way in traffic and non-vegetarian food is banned by Law, where one can book Life coaching sessions as easily as river rafting trips. Here both the cow and the Ganga is The Mother and anyone can seek the Light within – as it has been for (at least) 2000 years.

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I pray to you Mother Ganga, that those who read till here do not forget to like and share what they liked. Comments are welcome too! 🙂