Christmas in Hyderabad

After spending a few Christmases away from home I thought this year I might not miss it much. I was wrong. I pined for carols and you tube versions didn't hold a flame to the laughing giggling carolers who came by each year. Nor did it lessen my longing for choir practice where we struggled to stay faithful to what we were taught and experiment with twists during the breaks. I now understand a little better why mum and so many others break their backs baking cakes and goodies. I did my share this year. Cakes cookies etc more than what the three of us could do justice to and then baked more for colleagues! 

While Christmas mass had long lost its charm ( I think the loss of charm coincided with my irritations for a certain parish priest) , I still wanted to step inside a church soak in the feel. 
A colleagues suggestions on the churches in  Secunderabad piqued my curiosity.

Nimesh and I hopped to a couple - St Mary's , Good News Baptist, CSI Diocese of Medak  and finally the Spanish Mosque. 

St Mary's was overflowing with people and the Mass was in progress. We sat for a bit and were leaving when the homily/sermon started. I stopped dead in my track when I heard the the pretty much atonal priest sing " Its only words and words are all I have ....." aieeeeee! He went on to address the puzzled congregation and draw links between the beaten to death Boyzone number and Jesus as  " word becoming flesh"!

As much as the attempt seemed desperate and populist , I had to give it to him, he got my attention. This being in marked difference from the time I found my distance  from church . I remember series of messages from the parish priests and the likes urging/demanding that we sing only "acceptable carols" and "conventional versions". What was puzzling was that as a choir we weren't even moderately experimental to start with. Wonder what got their knickers in knots?  Another lot emphasized that the congregation should not even hum the final parts of the Eucharistic prayer let alone sing it along with the priest! There were frowns (only from the priests and the purists) when we sang "When a child is born" as it was too close to the Boney M version. 

This experience at St Mary's left me puzzled in puzzled smiles.

Next stop was the CSI , Diocese of Medak  and definitely it was the highlight of the day. The church was deserted when we got there and sunlight streamed in through the large windows. Minimally adorned with Christmas finery, simple huge benches reminding me of some old sofa I've seen in Kerala. We spent a good half hour soaking in the place and moved on to the Spanish Mosque. Here I was not allowed to enter (being female) and resented it every bit. 

But nonetheless , a little bit of Christmas cheer left its mark on me and I went back to happy baking in the evening. Yes , its not the same without familiar faces , family and the choir , but we all reinvent traditions as we move along and carry a feel of what was best in our past. Sometimes it takes a day like yesterday to revisit the memories , hold them closer and send up a thanks for having them in your life. 

Merry Christmas everyone!

Rockathon- Hyderabad University

I found myself at Hyderabad University last Sunday at an event called the Rockathon. Amidst an eclectic mix of people I found that the day offered some interesting opportunities. A rock walk , photography contest , poetry writing , sketching , rappling etc etc. Being my first time , I figured a rock walk should be what I should head for and I was thrilled to pieces with the experience. Sharing some images

Mobor , Goa

We were just getting to know each other - early 2010. I was frustrated with work and the path often picked by me in such situations was simply getting off the path. Dropping off the radar so to speak. Nimesh echoed a similar desire, albeit not coming from similar reasons. By the end of our discussion we seemed to be planning a trip together much to my amusement. A week passed and the only suggestion that was consistently rearing its head was Goa. Having been there twice and having an inkling of how diverse our agenda’s for Goa would have been I remember wondering…is this a good idea? That trip didn’t take off and a few years since we finally made it there. Surprisingly, or not so much (thankfully), we found ourselves on common footing for planning out the agenda (do nothing). We narrowed in on Bamboo House in Mobor, and it has been one of the most blessed decisions we could have made. 

The location has some crazy advantages and I’m unable to decide which of these tops the list. It is right where the river Sal meets the sea. The nearest shacks were far enough to be just  a clutter of lights and lanterns and the only part of the music that reached us were some muted beats. This meant that we had beautiful evenings and peaceful sleep broken occasionally with a huge wave crashing on the beach.

One of the days saw us going to Anjuna. We had headed there in the hope of taking a dekho at the flea market. It was worth it. Massive as it was, it housed 100s of little stalls with all kind of stuff. Woollens, tea , masala, bags , jewellery and your regular typical Goan fare of sarongs . What really got our attention were middle aged Gujarati women at the masala stalls and of course the exchange of thick wads of money every 20 steps or so. Handling that kind of money with such almost dismissive ease…..! ?!

The drive to and from Anjuna had us pass through many villages and being the pillion rider I had the opportunity to gawk at the homes. This being my favourite activity in a new place, I made the most of it.   For now I seem to be able to see the drive without the ability of putting it to words, Maybe sometime later.

While returning from a lazy lunch we found the beach dotted with kites- facing the sea… their sight fixed on the horizon. Proud and very textbook General-like.  Sand plovers (?) bobbed around just about touching the water, as we walked. Some mornings, we’d go where the river meets the sea. We watched boats come and go, the kites, crows, egrets and dogs competing for the left overs. I suspect the competition was just for fun, there seemed to enough for everyone.

Back at Bamboo House we had delightful conversations with the owners. Amandeep and his father. From Tito’s to Ankleshwar (Gujarat) and from Russian mafia to the crafts persons from Tripura who built the cottages, the conversation was warm , enthusiastic and easy flowing. The stay at bamboo house was lovely. They have comfortable uncluttered cottages/huts without the frills of room service (the restaurant is next door). I watched each morning as Aman’s father switched off the lights in the verandas and on looking around one can feel the simple warmth with which the place is run.  We hope to return to it next year.

Moving outside hyderabad - Vikarabad

Post Saiha, our walks together have been restricted to city limits. Nimesh of course gets his share of walks during his work and while I’m happy to listen to his experiences, we decided it was high time to resume our explorations together. Thanks, to the reference from a colleague , we found Grass Walk close to Vikarabad, a comfortable distance (below 100km)from our place in Secunderabad.

After multiple calls and an emails, we managed a booking last weekend. While inquiring with a colleague on how to get there, close to 1/3rd of the office flew in with suggestions. Though a little disconcerted by all the excited help, I do occasionally love the fact that folks here are such willing guides. 

So our trip begins one morning, with 2 tickets for the Vikarabad passenger train in our wallets and ears straining for the announcement of the platform. We found ourselves an hour before time with no one around with a clue about which platform this elusive train would grace its presence with. We found it in time and found ourselves on our favourite side births. At no point in the two hour ride was the compartment more than half full! We caught the same train back and found ourselves and one other gentleman to be the only ones in it. – Rs 48 – that’s what it took for us to and fro the two stations! My love for the railways and Nimesh’s patience with the IRCTC website- grows!

At Vikarabad, an auto organised by grass walk picked us up and we set out on the pleasantly bumpy 10 km ride to Udupally, where the camp is located. An error/oversight (?) on part of the manager saw us planted in the deluxe tent. And to use a cliché it was pretty much love at first sight. The tent had a thatched roof keeping us well shielded from the sun, it was covered on three sides and the fourth had a net leading into a machan type balcony overlooking an expanse of fields leading into the hills and forest. The error seems to have worked in favour of Grass Walk and we decided to continue in the room  for one day and shift into the regular tent the next.

On one of our walks, Nimesh pointed out how the grassland appeared post the fields and then gave way to bushes/shrubs and the forest lay ahead. The walk was to end at a temple and we were a good kilometer or so away from it, when we heard shouts , grunts and the sounds of sticks. A little alarmed, I asked the young sullen boy who accompanied us where this was from. No response for a while, and then he figured it out and shared , Dussera preparations at the temple. I was not convinced. What kind of preparations could call for such violent sounding activity?

We reached the pond adjacent to the temple and found out. Over 50 cows and were being forced in all possible ways to enter the pond. They had to be scrubbed clean for the next day and they definitely didn't seem happy with the idea. So, loud mooing, lots of beating from the young boys high on testosterone, chases in and around the pond ensued.

Huge banyans covered an adjacent compound, the roots just about fondling your head, Nimesh’s attempt at swinging on one alarmed our companion to a great extent. We were quickly ushered towards a small cave and a shiv temple. We returned soon after.

We also had a great time watching birds. A little one flew across the path and picked up a worm from a bush. It let us watch as it persistently whacked and squashed the worm on a branch till it was dead. A very pretty and rather cute creature I‘d be tempted to say. I’m sure the worm would disagree.

But the highlight of my trip was definitely getting a glimpse of a paradise flycatcher and snooping around till I got a good dekho at the Blue faced Malkoha in a bush!
While I think of how my excitement with birds has grown, I can’t help but be amused. Our first trip with binoculars and field guides for some birding was in Saiha, on a road called 10km. All I could see were some raptors high up and then some little ones in the bushes. Was bored as all of them seemed to flee the moment they sensed our presence. I was sour and irritated with Nimesh for barely having a conversation with me during the walk. It has been a long journey since and I have looked forward to sunrise walks and being witness to all their activity since.

What remains a constant is how I describe a bird to Nimesh. I find myself performing a subtle dumb-charades of sorts. “Black crown” has me trailing my head while I say “black”, a white band on the wings and I’m drawing imaginary bands on my arm , yellow belly and I’m pointing to my own, brows and gesture to my eyebrows. I realised that even when I am describing a bird on the phone these are the gestures accompanying it. I’m happy doing this dance and repeatedly forgetting labelling of their anatomy. 

I’m thrilled that I know only little and am able to enjoy most birds I see around on a trip like this. A little like my niece who squatted on the holy family campus herbarium boundary wall - transfixed when she watched for the first time a robin taking its bath. She just squatted there in absolute fascination.

 When I grow up, I want to be her !

PS- The management and coordination of activities at Grass Walk is in a pitiable condition. Great place/infrastructure with minimal responsiveness and lost personnel.   

Port Blair and Havelock - Soaked to the bones and loving it

Work keeps me rooted in Hyderabad (with an occasional exception) and it has taken the better part of a year to get used to it. It has its pluses but I do miss venturing out and being refreshed by interactions with people outside of work.

A team meet at port blair, was a welcome idea but one that I didn’t have much time to dwell on. Before  I could think of preparing for the trip I found myself on Chennai bound flight!  However, finally Andamans it was and I went sans expectations, aware that it would pour through the days and prepared to break loose, despite it.

I didn’t know what to make of Port Blair. I asked our cab driver what language is used and pat came the response “Hindi”! That was my first googly, being so far of south I seemed to have sub consciously expected something different. Then I heard snatches of what sounded like Oriya and Bengali and also met a boy called Puia - I assumed he was Mizo by his name and looks but was surprisingly told that he was from Port Blair. Another baffling moment  was finding more spotted deer than people on Ross Island (!?), stumped for a bit and I then recalled some discussions with Nimesh on this.

Havelock was beautiful, and it reminded me a lot of Kerela. On reaching the beach, I found myself stuffing my camera and wallet into the bag. Leaving it on the shore and heading off to the water. My usual paranoid self was nowhere on the scene and nether was my resolve to try and re connect with the camera on this trip. One sighting of the waves and all other thoughts were washed away!  Watched colleagues dive into the waves joyously, in an absolute celebratory mode and wondered about what dotted lines connected our lot. I didn't find any answers. But the questions, the waves and the company kept me in an upward spiralling high.

Scuba diving, snorkelling, was all talked about prior to the trip but again in all the happy chaos in my mind it failed to register. It is not something I thought about much. One eve, a team meet was interrupted by our trip coordinator – he wanted a show of hands for scuba – both arms shot up before I could straighten out the thoughts in my head. My  query was whether they had suits in all sizes and if we could go under twice?

Next afternoon 7 of us split from the rest of the group and headed to Ocean Tribe for some scuba . We were given some forms to fill up and sign; handed over suits and eventually led to the boat.  Once in the water, our instructors took us through hand gestures and some solutions to minor problems we may face . Our first practice dip had me signalling to him wildly - wanting to rush up for air – he responded in a nano second and won me over for the rest of the hour. Didn't need to come up again till it was time to do so.

As we moved deeper and watched the fish, the occasional coral ,I realised that I could barely see the instructor.  He was behind me all the time and  his hand signals every couple of minutes were very reassuring. At one point of time I fancied that water got into my glasses and  tried to get it out while messing up something in the process – some idiotic suicidal impulse had me yank the mouth piece off. I saw terror in the instructor's goggle encased eyes as I tried to chew on the mouth piece! Few seconds of  panic and all was well - we moved along smoothly.

The sea - just 10 metres below the surface seems like a fictional space. Something life as I know it seems to have no similarity with. There are fish the colour of peacocks. Watching over a hundred of them swim past my head felt surreal. Right in front of me but so distant.
What unlearning that one hour called for is crazy.  Your nostrils are closed and you breathe through the mouth, drawing air from a pipe. Can't talk - can't move of your own accord. Its probably like the first hour of vipassana - only more other worldly.  Was so powerless. Yet ……tranquil and glad. 

In all of this my mind kept wandering to the instructor whose name I had no idea of, he probably accompanies many first time divers (something about his demeanour inspires faith) , but for each first time diver it must be such a unique and intimate relationship they share with him for that hour…..
Back on the surface something like asking him for his name felt superfluous and I resisted.

Early next morn at the ungodly hour of 4 and amidst a downpour I was up for a last dip in the beach. A colleague texted his worry because of the rains but not going didn’t seem like an option for me. A handful of fishermen were the only ones around as we walked across the beach to the rocks. Spent a while watching them throw their nets and bring in what I thought were sardines. We moved on to sit in a waist deep pool of water between the rocks.  Soon the waves had us clinging onto the rocks for our dear lives, and we hurriedly tried to come up with an exit strategy. The struggle to get away from the rocks as the tide rose has printed itself on my memory. One of the local’s gave us some directions, a helping hand and a watchful eye and we were soon ashore, but not without our share of cuts and bruises. While walking back we realised that the beach we had walked on while getting to the  rocks had \ disappeared. We had to take the road with the waves crashing against it.

 The nights and days were full of torrential rain which carried on through the morning. Between team meetings we’d snatch a dip and I felt like I was forever getting into or out of some clothes. But the luxury of getting soaked to the bones in the unrelenting rain, walking around having happy conversations with myself,   listening to the frogs as we all sat around talking - spelt a great time to me. 

I seem to have reconnected with the impulsive and sprightly part of me which was slowly moving into a coma behind a desk. It has been a revival and I'm thankful for the unending rains. Another monsoon trip to the island is more than welcome. Is Nimesh listening?!! :) 

Thanks Govind for the panoramic shots of the the jail and the beach and for being braver with your camera than I was with mine!  

Reflections during a a Heritage Walk - Charminar to Chowmahalla

Bright red on a grey morn 
We just decided to go for the Heritage Walk (Charminar to Chowmahalla) and didn’t much dwell on what to expect.  Raes our interpreter for the walk came in casually and right on time. Till the second before she started addressing the group one wouldn’t be able to figure out that she was going to lead us through the day. 

She started by giving us a brief history to the city, its rulers and how the different settlements came up. I’m not a history buff, but am a fairly enthusiastic audience to a good story teller. Raes was good with that, telling stories and telling them without assuming a stature that would become greater than the story itself.She started from the Kakatiya rulers and came upto the last Nizam in a fairly lucid narrative in which, one could see the Golconda grow from a mud fortress to the giant it is currently. Feel the growth of the walled city area and much more.
Aflutter on the clock tower
At the clock tower while Raes explained the architecture a fellow whose high was wearing off urged us all to visit Charminar. “Charminar ka neechu main ek surang hai aur usmein khazanna, jao le jao”. “ There is a tunnel under the charminar and treasure within it, go take it away!” Very filmy and yes it frightened me. Raes didn’t bat an eyelid and we continued to move ahead.

A little after the clock tower we came across a large poultry market and we turned a corner and found ourselves confronted by a bird bazaar of a different kind. Pigeons , drongos , common crows and jungle crows were a few I recall. Of course I was blinded by the psychedelic colours that some chicks were dyed in. As each person turned the corner we heard muttered exclamations or expletives in a few cases. There was not much to be said and thankfully no one attempted to either. We moved on with uneasy minds.
One of the views from Charminar

Its history and while we ignore its debris and half standing structures,  it does occasionally assert itself. While I walked down a few lanes between Charminar and Chowmahalla, Raes kept stopping at non-descript points to speak with the group I’d throw a casual look around and wonder what she was going talk about. In one spot she pointed out to the crescent moon and star on a building which was left as is and a symbol of Vishnu close to it. The Vishnu symbol had been put up later by new inhabitants without destroying what existed. She says the hoopla absout the tense atmosphere was created politically and day to day lives of the two communities in the region was peaceful.

I was reminded of Sushilama a lady who comes to help us in the house. Last August she told us that her companion needed a couple of days off as it was “Rakhi ki Eid” and later in the year that she would need time off as it was “Christmas ki Eid”. It was priceless. Then again I’m nagged by reminders of uncles in shorts and a vests telling me that the house would be let out to Brahmins only or rude enquiries from others on our food habits (veg or never mind).

I enjoyed the walk and the overall quite reflective feel that washed over me. Wondered how the years, rulers and influences have layered this city and so many others. The wooden balconies, arches, domes and different motifs which to me are just ignorantly “historical” but hold in themselves such insights into times that shaped us. I look forward to many more walks, accompanied and otherwise and pray that the summer sun shows some mercy to this restless soul.

The 2 tourism police personnel who accompanied us during the walk were very warm and pleasant. Overall a big thumbs up to APTDC.

Charbagh - from inside out

A colleague through a discussion reminded me of the creative writing classes I took ...seemingly eons ago. I thought of putting up some of the old stuff. We were taken to the backyard of BCL - (Charbagh) and  asked to observe the place and describe it using any of the  5 senses. This is wat I did. Thanks Praveen for reminding of days I so enjoyed and Preeti for the pretty feet picture from Calcutta! 
Charbagh- from inside out

I watched, and it failed to enchant. The murky watered pool, red and grey stoned walls feel strangely sterile, the life or its ebbing out - lies outside.  I saw myself lying on my back on the columned and paved path. Gazing at the late evening sky, hoping to spot another wishful twinkle, which could have been a star. Fluorescent office lives dimming one after the other. Flick, there goes one switch, a patch of black amidst the overworked whites. Flick, another and soon the floor would be dark.  I lie with a high rise clouding my vision and ceilings of smoke where clouds should have been.

I heard, sounds akin to the 1st day of practice of an exceptionally atonal choir.  Can the individually gifted be so giftless as a collective?  The seasoned bass of a rumbling Ambassador, unable to mute the aggressively drilling descant brakes of the pre pubescent Green DTC. The tinkling bells of cycling sopranos, laughing at madness of the days tottering edge. I long to catch strains of the altos - those that bring me such grounded peace. The altos i.e. the sound of feet.  



After what seems like an eternity of planning we finally made it to Golconda last weekend. All in all we had a great time  and our only grouse is that the blessed fort  opens only 9 a.m.    Early mornings would really have been ideal for the walk and the views. 

Golconda- opportunities missed

Find myself increasingly at a loss for words. Maybe most of them get packed up into a days work. The occasional moment has me in its grasp and aching for a scrap of paper or my laptop. Like this one in Golconda. But too little too late. So its just a couple of half baked images for now.

August is for Mizoram - Mara Weaves on display in the Diary of the Ministry of Overseas India Affairs

Thrilled to share pages from a recently released diary of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. Images of Mara weaves from Chakhang and our times in Saiha were used in this diary for the month of August 2012.  Thanks Vivek Ratnakar, IANS for selecting these images to represent the crafts in Mizoram. 

Thanks also to the women from Chakhang who wove the fabrics and frowned at my machine loomed Mara bag (thanks it was education for me). Happy weaving!  

Jeniffer Chozah a shelf from your beautiful home is part of the pictures as well  and so is your  farewell gift on the main page (remember?).