Apr 14, 2014

Salty Tea in Sundebans

The Sunderbans trip was a memorable one for me even though we couldn’t spot a single tiger. This often becomes a major disappointment to many tourists and they feel the entire trip is wasted, both in terms of time and money. It depends on the tourists, what exactly they want to do and see there. Chances of sighting a tiger are very less!

The resort we stayed was a well organized one, with good trips arranged to the villages and to the several islands scattered all around. The food spread was excellent, with tiger prawns and crabs. And there was refill till we were full. That is one advantage of going during the lean season. With not much crowd around and just two families we were taken care of well!

Something unique that I tasted there was salty tea! Yes, Salty tea! No, they didn’t add salt to it but the water there is salty so the taste changes. They usually don’t add milk to this kind of tea and it is served when you are being cruised around the several islands through the mangrove forests. May be you can add sugar to sweeten it, but I just let it be and enjoyed the unusual local drink of Sunderbans.

Our World Tuesday

Apr 12, 2014

Faces of India - 157

A localite of Chandigarh, he was visiting the Rock Gardens, the day I was there. While I was trying to get into conversation with another tourist there for a photograph, this young guy requested me to take his photograph too. He stood in style, hands in pockets, a slight tilt in head, a faint smile; it is he who chose this backdrop for himself. I very happily didn’t let the opportunity slip.

Faces of India, a series through which I intend to portray the various characters of my country whom I met during my travels. See more here.


Apr 11, 2014

Nek Chand's Rock Garden, Chandigarh

Chandigarh’s Rock garden is a must visit if you are ever there. Spread over twenty five acres of several thousand sculptures set in large mosaic courtyards linked by walled paths and deep gorges, Nek Chand's creations combine huge buildings with a series of interlinking waterfalls. It can easily take 3 to 4 hours to cover the entire area. Luckily the day I visited the sky was clear and I got good back ground for my pictures.

SkyWatch Friday

Apr 10, 2014

Lolita Learns A Lesson Of Life

This is a very personal post. 

Usually I do the travel or photography related posts, but "Close Encounters of the Smelly Kind": when I saw this topic from Indiblogger I was reminded of the encounter I had years back. That time the problem looked so enormous that I was on the verge of leaving my job. Never thought I would be blogging on it someday. The name is fictitious, but the story isn't.

I was a young mother then, trying desperately to balance life between my career and child. Leaving my toddler, who was just completing the first year of her life, was becoming a painful experience. The search was on for a maid who would look after my child 9 to 5. After talking to many baby sitters, nannies, maids, I settled for a woman who was in her early twenties, a mother herself. Lolita! She left behind her toddler with her mother to come for work. 

What won me over completely was the ease with which my daughter slipped into her arms! The woman's eyes were kind and she exuded a kind of warmth. 

Thus a new routine started in my life! By 8.30am Lolita would come; a slow ‘handing over – taking over’ session would follow and then giving her instructions for the day I would leave for office. The first few days were spent worrying how my daughter would adjust to my absence, but she seemed fine. 

Something else started bothering me. Every morning I noticed that as she entered a strange smell would fill the house. As if a garbage bin walked in. It took no time to realize the smell was from her. I returned home to a suffocating atmosphere of strange odor. The thought of my child in this environ broke me down. The first reflexive action was to open the windows to let fresh breeze in. 

I was confused and thoroughly disappointed. Getting rid of her and searching would mean another week’s leave from office and where was the guarantee the next maid would be different? 

Finally I picked up courage and told very gently to Lolita to have a bath before coming for work. I feared for some dramatic repercussion, but to my surprise she nodded and left quietly. 

Next day she came all neat and clean, with a long string of jasmine flowers on her hair. Now the smell was even weirder. She would wear the same sari for two to three days in a stretch. The sharp stink assailed our nostrils! To remedy that I gave her soaps and some saris and told her to have bath, change clothes and come for work. Her downcast eyes made me feel guilty, but for me my daughter was priority. 

Next few days seemed fine; she would come with well combed hair and different saris. But soon the smell returned. One day the stench was unbearable and I decided to take leave for the day. I simply had to discuss the issue with her. 

There is an odd smell from you Lolita, I have given you soaps for washing clothes and for yourself, yet you come unwashed.” 

She remained silent, hesitating to look at my eyes. 

If you keep yourself like this you may pick up some skin ailments and I am worried my daughter too would be affected.” 

“I keep myself clean Didi (sister)”, she replied softly. 

I then decided to ask her the direct question: “Do you have bath everyday?” 

“No.” she said. 

I was shocked now, “But why?” 

“Pani nahin hai didi.” (We don’t have enough water ma’am.) 

She then rattled out about her daily problem of shortage of water. Water supply in public pipes was just for a couple of hours, within that time the whole locality would have to collect water. They barely got two to three pots per family, which was used for cooking, drinking, washing utensils and basic sanitation needs. 

I was shaken! My own problem of leaving my toddler behind had taken such a huge form that I had become blind to the everyday problem this strata of society face. Water tankers sell water at exorbitant price, bathing thus becomes a luxury to be done once in three days or may be once a week. So here was a problem I had to view in two different ways. I had two roles: one that of mother and other that of citizen of the society. 

I had to work out a win-win situation for both of us. 

That day I decided to broaden my thinking a bit, broaden my concept of sharing and caring. We didn’t live in any mansion then. There was no servant’s room. I had to let her use my bathroom, a room which I spruced up very lovingly. Breaking the barriers of my mind, I asked her to have bath in my bathroom! Lolita couldn’t believe her ears! She looked wide eyed at me. I assured her she had heard right and I also told her to wash her clothes at the end of the day so that she will have a fresh set the next day.

Next day she came earlier than usual. 
I guided her to use the complex pipe fittings. 
I taught her the setting for proper mix of hot and cold water from the shower, 
I made her realize the importance of hot bath. 
I taught her how cleanliness is equally important for good health as is good food. 

After a good hot shower, she was ready for work. She looked a lot refreshed, in fact happier. 

She may have cleansed her body but I knew I cleansed my mind of several mind blocks. 

This routine continued for a long time. I paid her a few hundreds more so that she gets water to bathe her child and family too. We were moving out after a year. Like any parting this too was difficult, I saw the pain in her eyes, her affection for my daughter. The usual dialogues told, but the one sentence Lolita said made me happy. “Didi, you taught me to live cleanly. I am not going to forget that, because now, even I can’t tolerate the bad smell of un-cleanliness.” 

As I am writing this I am smiling thinking of those days. I am reminded of Lolita's inhibition and under confidence before I permitted her to have bath in my bathroom. How she had changed later! Wonder, where is Lolita today!

Wherever she is today, hope she is following the lessons of cleanliness, teaching her near and dear ones the values of bathing with hot water!

This post is written as an entry for the contest ” Close Encounters of the Smelly Kind ” in association with Indiblogger and Racold Thermo Ltd. their Facebook Page and enjoy this hilarious video.


Apr 8, 2014

Bringing Nature To Our Balcony

The Rainbow Episode
This happened years back. My elder daughter was a pre-schooler then. One evening she came back all excited. In her baby accent she announced proudly that she had seen a rainbow. Those eyes filled with wonder explained everything, yet I let her go on explain it with her thrill. It had amazed her beyond words. Her eyes were so full of disbelief and joy! The sky spreading different colors, it was like magic to her.

That night when I was tucking her to bed she said,  
“Ma. I want to sleep under the rainbow!”  
I tackled the situation then saying “Sweet Dreams!” 
That was her first brush with nature’s wonder.

The question and her desire haunted my mind for long time afterwards. Living in a concrete jungle, where you look through the window to see the sun rising between your neighbors’ apartments or setting through a mobile tower, sleeping under a rainbow is a DISTANT dream. I did remedy the situation not in a 100% real manner but in a very artificial manner.

The Kissanpur I created for my daughters
Both my daughters feel happy sleeping under that rainbow 
and that comforts my mind.

While my elder daughter settled soon with realities of life, my younger daughter, Arundhati, continued to be in her dream world for long. She would see a wriggling homeless earthworm after rains, she would bring it home. During our trip to Wayanad, she packed her bag with many empty matchboxes, besides other stuffs like magnifying lens, binoculars, strings, bread crumbs for birds and what not. Those empty matchboxes perplexed me; to which she said she wanted to get back some snails and worms home. A snail with its home on its back had to be re-sheltered again?

A scary encounter with leech there did not deter her from stepping into 
leech infested stream again. Her curiosity of natural world is wild; 
 she has her unique exploratory way of learning 
rather than the traditional didactic approach.
snail: pic by Arundhati Ghose
I sit back and recollect 
One of the most joyous and wild experiences I had in my childhood was that of our gang climbing up a cashew nut tree and sitting on one of its extra long branches. We used to take turns to shake it vigorously. Twice or thrice, may be more, we have fallen from that branch to the ground 3 to 4 feet below. We would get up laughing our stomachs out and climb back again and again for the same experience!

Mothers of my generation will agree that we stayed outdoors more than our children have. Played with a sense of gay abandon. Some of us may have played outside for 3 to 4 hours in a stretch; can we imagine that for our children?

Today, trees are replaced by jungle gym structures! 
The physical boundaries have shrunk, there is always the ‘stranger danger’ 
and with both parents working, today we have a whole new generation of ‘latchkey children’.

Anxious that we are for our children may fail to bond with nature, we hit nature resorts and wild life destinations on our holidays. During one such outing to a butterfly park, a tiny butterfly landed on my daughter’s hand. Oh! You should have seen her! She stood there like a statue, afraid to even breathe lest the butterfly flies away! It kept walking on her tiny fingers and after some time flew away. A close brush with nature, she was around 8years old then!

She kept looking at it longingly as it flew around,
hoping it would sit on her hands again. That day she very 
unwillingly returned home.

Bringing Nature A Little Closer
Finally, when Arundhati realized she couldn’t stay outdoors to experience nature, she decided to get nature indoors. And I was her partner in crime! 

She googled on ‘how to get butterflies and birds home’. She found her love and friend for life: NATURE! Together we explored the internet; I must admit here that I discovered a whole new world through her. I could see her add life and color to it little by little. Under her instructions I set about collecting pots and her choice plants. Of course all her wild imaginations couldn’t be converted to reality! But I managed to have two terracotta lily pools and plenty of potted flowering plants and some bird feeders. The empty space soon got converted to a 'cool little green oasis'.

Busy days followed, watering plants before leaving for school, checking mama’s photographs taken during her absence, watching saplings grow as if by magic. We went a step further. We created an artificial lawn in one of the balconies with a grass mat that is used for lawn tennis courts.

pic. Arundhati Ghose
This was an instant hit! A squirrel soon took procession of the 6by10 ft. area. This little fellow was our regular visitor and it was christened Rorrel (Rodent + Squirrel) It would sprawl, roll, scavenge the grass lawn for wheat grains scattered on it; in short have a good time. My daughter would lay flat on her tummy, locking eye contact with the squirrel. It surprised me how she could be still for so long. The above picture was taken by her one of those days.

Rorrel in a few months gave birth to two babies and there was another round of excitement.

My daughter brought her friends home to proudly display the squirrel 
nest and babies. She raved about how her friends mentioned that 
she is so lucky.

Yellow! Yellow flowers attract butterflies, she read. And tiny water pools attract birds. The main components for Kissanpur were yellow flowering plants, water lilies and fish for the pools all set among pebbles and stones collected from mountains and beaches. She wanted to add frogs too. Eww.. who does that, I protested. We tried many varities; yellow dahlias to yellow hibiscus to yellow lantanas. Finally the experiment with yellow lantanas paid off and we had butterflies visiting us. 

The water pools of course had steady visitors, from crows to pigeons to coucals to falcons. The pools get direct sunlight for short period, so the water remains cool. One of the favorite pastime of my daughter is to watch the birds bathing in the pool splashing water all around. The lilies I planted in them flourished and fish too multiplied there fast. This was indeed the best part of our Kissanpur!

My job was to photograph the events during the day, 
so that she could come back from school
and see the happenings of the day.

The visiting monkey who often paused for a drink from the pools was always rewarded with a fruit or two. In return it expressed its gratitude by giving good poses holding the bamboo plants’ branches. This particular picture was taken on a weekend when my daughter was home.

When I saw her jumping with excitement.
I was confused which was the actual monkey! 

Over the years we have had a series of wonderful experiences; a praying mantis laying eggs, pests creating havoc among tender shoots, marigold flower plants completely conquered by spiders, suspended pupae and last but not the least honey bees building a huge beehive in our balcony. This happened about 3 years back. She was 11 then. No amount of cajoling my daughter to see the danger of having a honey bees’ nest within 6ft. helped. She was not letting anyone bring down the nest. In fact she almost came out with a white paper stressing we have to save honey bees to save our world. 

Finally we gave in. The balcony was out of bounds for all for 4 months, except for me to water the plants. Then one day, when the bees’ nest was full of honey, the honey collectors came, shooed away the bees with smoke and collected a huge amount of honey.

We, of course got many bottles filled with pure honey. It was sheer 
happiness for me seeing them relish this 'home made' honey.

Latest update from Arundhati’s Kissanpur: 6th April 2014; A pigeon has laid 2 eggs in one corner. What surprised her most was that the pigeon laid eggs without building a nest.(Below is a 1 minute long video taken by her.)

video by Arundhati Ghose

Her googling provided her with info and she made these notes:
  • Pigeons are one of those few birds which sometimes lay eggs without building its own nest. 
  • They lay eggs near to sources of food and water. 
  • The mother pigeon keeps rolling the eggs with her beak, probably to warm it from all sides. 
  • It takes approx 18 days to hatch 
  • If the mother pigeon leaves the eggs for too long it would mean the eggs are dead. 
  • It will take another 3 to 4 weeks for the chicks to fly away. 

That means before her vacations are over she will see them fly away.
Arundhati takes care to leave some grains for the mother pigeon in its vicinity.
I see her taking photographs regularly desperately hoping 
the eggs would hatch when she is around with her camera, so that she can record it.

Arundhati's friendship with NATURE is still on and I hope I have provided her with enough so that it continues her whole lifetime!

This post is written for Indiblogger contest for Kissan on #NaturesFriend.