I sat in a crowded and noisy food court in an airport. I’d just found that my flight was delayed by over an hour, making it certain that I would miss my connection and therefore reach home only in the early hours of the morning. I didn’t feel like working, so I got myself a large beer. The last time I passed through this airport, almost a year ago, the whole clan was here, and our chatter must have added to the white noise which I now noticed around me. I’d spent the clan holiday taking group portraits posed as action movie posters. But I’ll not bore you with reminiscences. If you bear with me, I propose to bore you with a rant.
I sat and stared at a large TV screen. For some reason it was playing a non-Bollywood Hindi karaoke. The lyrics scrolled across the screen as some half-familiar female model appeared in beautiful locations: “I was sent from heaven for you.” The horrible story which had dominated headlines for the last week was in my mind: a young doctor abducted from a road, gang raped and burnt to death.
This song was a reflection of an entitled male mindset: you are the apple of heaven’s eyes; women are sent for you. Consent is heaven’s prerogative. Many ancient Bollywood songs were love songs and duets, couples singing about their eternal love for each other. Those songs were set in the same unrealistic locations, but they implied mutual attraction and consent. How did they morph into this sexist song? The past was a foreign country, they did things differently there. But the future can also be a different country. I look forward to the pop culture of a more consensual future. Some of it is already being made. Will others please come forward to make it?
After three weeks of traveling on work and sitting in day-long meetings, it was nice to take a long weekend off to sit in the sun and watch grass flowers fluttering and dancing in the breeze. These are no daffodils, but in the cool breeze of interior Karnataka’s winter, they managed to fill my heart with pleasure.
When The Family decided to plan a break in Hampi, combining history, art, and architecture with nature and bird watching, I thought it might get a little overwhelming. But the weather turned out to be wonderful, if you were in the shade. Hampi is a small town near a nature sanctuary. A five minute drive takes you into a countryside full of scrub forests. The bird life you see here is not as rich as that in the coastal rainforests, but there are scrubland species which are hard to see elsewhere. I will post about that later.
For the moment, I just show you a simple video of house sparrows (Passer domesticus), Indian silverbills (Euodice malabarica, white throated munia), and scaly breasted munia (Lonchura punctulata) feeding together. I liked the commotion as they peck at grains. The sound is mainly due to the silverbills, which like to flock together and chirp to make sure that they are in contact. All three species are seed eaters, and therefore able to survive across a range of ecologies, including the dry scrublands of the interior of India.
Yesterday The Family and I had wonderful and innovative food at a restaurant which looked like it was right out of the bad old 60s: very bright and uniform lighting, tables too close together, and with 1970s tunes managing not quite to stay in the background. The food was terrific, but the celebrity chef had succeeded in clearing the restaurant of almost anyone born in the last forty years. The Family conceded that presentation and ambience was a thing that had crept up on us over the decades. You can walk into any hole in the wall now, order a caramel custard, and be presented with the work of art that you see in the featured photo. The Family does not agree with my argument that this happened during the decade of Masterchef Australia, but I see no other driving force for this wonderful innovation. I love this, as long as the food is as good as it looks.
Many years ago we decided to move out of south Mumbai at some point in our lives. As that, still indefinite, point comes closer, we walk around the city with fresh eyes. Walking down a side street off the causeway, we saw this lovely sight of the dome of the Taj hotel lit up, recalled the terrible night when we saw it going up in flames, while simultaneously having a pang of remorse at the thought that there will be a time when I won’t see this while out on a walk. As I took this photo, Niece Mbili told us the old urban myth of the mixed up maps which made the architect place turn the frontage around. No amount of protest by the hotel will stop this story. Colaba moves between seedy and grand every decade. Around now the seediness is disappearing again.
I was back from China, and The Family was missing all the Chinese food she hadn’t eaten. So we decided to compensate with a visit to a new pan-Asian restaurant in one of the by-lanes of Colaba. Pan-Asian is a silly name because it is based on a “race” classification in the US which seems to lump together Malays and Koreans, among others. To be more accurate this restaurant served modern food influences by countries to the east of India.
The shrimp roll to start was a choice that we were very happy with. The steamed rolls with shrimps and fresh veggies rolled in a thin chapati made with rice flour came with a peanut and soya sauce options, and shavings of deep fried onions and garlic on the plate. The peanut sauce was an interesting combination, heavy, without hiding the freshness of the roll.
The cocktails were really exciting. The Family made the most interesting choice: a margarita infused with rice kanji. We had a sea bass for the mains. The little dab of green that you see on it turned out to be a very flavourful coriander based sauce. This was light and perfect as the major protein. The dessert was the amazing dish you see in the featured photo: a lemon tart topped with black sesame ice cream, black and white sesame wafers and little shavings of almonds. The food will bring us back to this small, quiet, and intimate place.
I have two favourite weeks of the year in Mumbai. One is the week called winter, when the temperature drops below 20 Celsius, and we start thinking of bringing out our sweaters. The other is the first week of the monsoon. This year I almost let the beginning of the monsoon pass by without saying anything about it. A taxi driver was kind enough to travel below the speed limit on the sea link, letting me take a photo of the skyline of the mill area and its stalled rebuilding, as the monsoon clouds finally blew in at the end of June.
Decades ago you could almost set the calendar by the arrival of the monsoon. It would arrive on 6th June, perhaps three days before or after. Over the years the gradual warming of the sea has delayed the monsoon. Warm seas also give rise to storms and hurricanes. This year a storm formed over the sea off the coast of Mumbai, brought a little rain, but blocked the monsoon winds for a substantial number of days. I took the photo above during the first monsoon shower. In the last four days or so of June we got all the rain that we usually expect over the month. Is this the shape of a warmer earth?
If you are reading this post it is because of a miscalculation. I thought I would reach home in the morning, after a two-week-long trip to Turkey, but I haven’t. And I still haven’t finished talking about my trip to the Garhwal Sivalik’s, or The Family’s solo trip to the Garhwal Himalayas. So there will be a lot to talk about when I get back to a normal schedule tomorrow. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy my parting shot of the lower Himalayas taken a while back.
Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos) spotted undisturbed in Jharipani near Mussoorie in Uttarakhand.
Some Mondays one doesn’t feel like talking. These pheasants are shy, and any talking is likely to disturb them.
Sometimes spelling-Nazis take a break and enjoy the taste of Shrewsbury biscuits instead. I’m not a great fan of this Shropshire delicacy, but the ones that are made here are pretty good. They could be the best in Mumbai. But the apple pies are wonderful. This Irani bakery produces a dozen of them every day. They are taken out of the oven at about 3 in the evening, and if you are the thirteenth person to come in to buy one, then you are out of luck.
We climbed a little more than a 1000 meters from the Tehri Dam to the tpwn of New Tehri. The old town, now drowned in the waters of the dam, is supposed to have been founded by Sudarshan Shah, one of the rulers of the erstwhile Tehri kingdom. The new town was built by the Tehri Hydro Development Corportation when the dam was under construction in the late 1990s. The old town had a population of more than 250,000 people at the beginning of the 20th century. Ten years ago the population of New Tehri was not even a tenth of that.
The town looked pleasant enough as we drove up to it. The winter sun is pretty strong at this altitude of 1.7 Kilometers above sea level. In the sunlight the houses ranged along the slope above the road looked bright and cheerful, with apple trees in full bloom in little patches of garden.
Later when we stood on the road above the town and looked down on it, I realized that the houses look like they were stamped out of a mould. They were, actually, with the THDC forced to build houses in a hurry in order to rehabilitate some of the people who were displaced by the rising waters behind the dam. The town looked better planned and more orderly than the typical hill town here. However the central bazaar, through which we’d passed on our way up, was just as crowded and chaotic.
There was a nice viewpoint here. We looked down at the clock tower of New Tehri. Nitin told us that it was a replica of the famous clock tower of Tehri. The old tower was built by Kirti Shah, the fourth king of Tehri, in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. Contemporary reports of the submergence of the old clock tower sound emotional. There was a ghost of the same emotion in Nitin’s voice. He is perhaps too young to remember the drowning of the tower in 2006 very clearly though.
On the lower edge of the town we’d passed a bright white coloured temple. I asked Nitin about it, but he wasn’t very sure which temple it was. “Local,” was his laconic reply. It was an interesting layout, with four outer structures with peaked roofs marking out a rectangle, and the central temple being the tallest part of the structure. I couldn’t remember temples built in this shape. I wonder whether this was also a copy of a structure from drowned Old Tehri.
It was just past lunch, and only walking about and taking photos was keeping me awake. I peered into a little roadside kiosk and found the owner was taking a little siesta. It was a tight fit, but he didn’t look uncomfortable. The sun kept the place reasonably warm. As we drove out of New Tehri and took the road back to our hotel, I succumbed to the winter’s warmth and dozed off for a while.