Monday, August 30, 2010


One of my favourite images from the trip, for the moment it held within its greens and oranges. Tea. A cool breeze. Light rain. A dog that took shelter below our legs. Great music. Great company. Conversations.

Simon Go Back or Treatment at the The Mango Tree Restaurant, Hampi

A few weeks ago, I was telling someone that Bangalore is just a happy detour these days, when I come to pick up a fresh set of clothes and drop the rest at the laundry. And I am back again, unfortunately. This time from a happy nice holiday with the TT nuts again! After a loooot of fixing dates, not sticking to it and the rest of the routine, we went to Hampi, that promised land for us flower children!! There were hardly any gadbads (how could that be? I mean, how? It was us, after all!!) except a little one before the trip. Plus of course a lot of unpredictability and much spontaneous travel elsewhere which led to be pondering over whether spontaneity could be planned.

The details of the trip will of course follow when I get a bit breather. For now, read about one bit where we were nearly thrown out of a restaurant in Hampi, where it was all we hoped for. And not.

Hampi rocks! Read that both ways. The place is not new for me, having been there several times with family, from school and on work. But for two of TT, it was and there were mighty enthu-cutlet scenes going on. The plan was to hang around there for four full days, chill below the rocks, lean against the pillars at the various ruins, read, stare out at the sky, vegetate some more, talk and have the supreme pleasure of doing nothing. There was also the famed Mango Tree Restaurant which we had heard so much about. That was also to be a major part of the plan, to sit there by the Tungabhadra river and breathe in, breathe out.

All of the above happened. DA was taken to be a Jap, JN was asked if she was Spanish (eh?!), a looooot of mosquitoes lead to a looooot of brain-numbing PJs in the middle of the night and then there was the Mango Tree Treatment.

Mango Tree is Hampi's finest; it deserves to be so, set that it is right on the banks of the Tunga with simple cane mats, granite benches and lanterns by the night. Not to mention the great food. So before we hit the ruins on day 1, we hit Mango Tree, way off the main bazaar. The walk takes more than 5 minutes that is mentioned on a tiny board near the bathing ghat. All goes fine when we sit down for breakfast. We gape at the sheer beauty of the place and decide to head back later in the evening for tea, that thing called hanging out and dinner. The staff is friendly. Our next three days are set, we have decided.

By 6 pm we are back, armed with dying iPods, enthu fingers on two great cameras and no-brainer books. Me with Anurag Mathur's The Inscrutable Americans, JN with Kurt Vonnegut. We have very tall glasses of great coffee, see tiny birds and dead wood floating by the river, some great cheese whatever-it-was and other junk. It is idyllic. Something had to go wrong, right?

ATS and me notice it first. By then, firangs (don't expect me to be politically correct on this post) have started trickling in. There is one woman, very pretty, with jasmine in her hair, harem pants, anklets and toe rings-- the 'look' to be cultivated in 'Indiyah'. The staff seem restless, the plates are cleared all too soon. We are asked, rather rudely, I must say, whether that would be all. We have been there about 35 minutes.

I nudge JN who is perched next to me with a happy smile. DA continues to take pictures. Five minutes pass. We can almost touch the vibes by then. Collectively, we look back and see the entire staff boring their eyes into our backs, willing us to get lost. We look around and see that the tall hippie we saw rolling a joint in the afternoon is still rolling a joint. All the places are taken, all are the long hair, pajama-wearing, pierced ears kinds.

Five more minutes pass and we have had enough slapping away the stinging bad vibes. By then, DA is mouthing expletives against the firangs. The old slogan 'Simon Go Back' is resurrected. I refuse to leave a tip, nor do we acknowledge the presence of the staff on our way out. (Yes, we were the ones being willed out of there; but well, we could demonstrate!!)

There is a two-minute walk through a banana plantation from the restaurant till you reach the motor-able road. We pass by more firangs fitting the above description. All along the way, we are plotting grievous acts of revenge on the Mango Tree people and grr-ing about the whole episode. All our blood pressure levels are high by then. JN suggests getting spray paint and painting 'Simon Go Back' at the entrance. Someone else suggests a simpler way: carving out the words on the mud. But DA doesn't manage to find a stick that will do the job. We seethe some more and walk the dark unlit stretch to the main bazaar, passing by what now seems like an army of Simons. The air doesn't feel very safe.

I tell them about a story I did two years ago about Virupapara Gadde, on the other side of the river, where all the hippies stay and have rave parties. Locals say that there are signs of 'Indians and dogs not allowed'. I cannot confirm this. But Mango Tree feels like the equivalent this side of the river.

I wish I could tell you all not to patronize that place. But that damn restaurant has the best ambiance in Hampi. Try the lunch bit, if you must. Only, only, if you just have to. Durga, a wannabe roof-top restaurant is much better. So we thought at 5 pm on day 2.

To the staff there at Mango Tree: You are really sick people. I will not stoop lower and call you worse here.

And yes, the name is on the title to help the search engines a little bit! ;-)

We have been, ever since, walking around terming 'them' 'Simon'. Though, for the record, the grudge isn't against them as much as it is against the damn 'Indians' who are responsible for giving them the leverage in the first place. For the record, this does not cover the rest of the foreign travellers either.

And as promised as part of the protest, I finish ranting.

For a much more cheerful post, see DA's here.

Mine is up next, with some priceless PJs.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

House of Orphans

A little girl called Ahana, in a cute red and white polka dotted dress, stole my heart a few days ago and made me all weepy. Another little one came into the crux of my arm and told me her name was Keerthana. Others began to mill around when she stretched her hand, picked up a small cloth and wiped the sore eyes of a little boy who was crying that he was hurting. I wanted to sit there and bawl my eyes out too at how unfair it all was.

It was my aunt’s death anniversary and every year, my parents and uncle go to an orphanage. This was the first time that I went. There I was in a house of orphans in Puttur near Mangalore, being ‘benevolent’ and watching the hundred-odd kids have lunch which my family had sponsored that day. I was being part of charity and was expected to feel blessed about having the opportunity to be able to ensure food on the plates of these children. But I fact, I felt outright hypocritical and utterly helpless.

There was an outbreak of sore eyes and most young kids were lying out on the floor when we went in. I walked into this large room when the above scene happened. I felt like a worm for not being able to give them the only thing they asked for: a loving touch. The little Ahana came and clung on to me, talking and touching my hair and hands, peering at my tattoo, questioning. I wanted to hug them all and not let go.

At lunch time, they all sit in rows and begin with a lot of shlokas and prayers while the piping hot food is being served. I was mighty impressed with how well mannered all of them are. Contrary to some places heard off and read about, this place is very clean and the children very well looked after. Health is not something that you can forge for the benefit of the benefactors. At least they are very well fed and properly clothed.
Ma has been going here for a few years now. She was telling me that there was a little girl last year who came and held ma’s hand and asked her, “Where is my mother? I want my mother, I want to go home.” Ma of course didn’t know what to do. Then there was this other story she told me about a kid asking for just one more chakkuli (a snack) when they were being served. He asked ma to give him just one more. She told me of how she couldn’t stop her tears when he asked. I couldn’t too, when I heard it. And I am someone who prides myself in not crying easily.

How can life be so unfair? Stupid, rhetorical question, of course. But it is heart wrenching to see children ask for one thing that they don’t get—love. We are lunch there too; the food was simple, but delicious, and extremely hot and healthy. The children are sent to schools and taught music, yoga, dance, etc. I know some of the trustees of the orphanage; they are well off, good people. All the staff is young girls in their 20s. There isn’t likely to be the horror tales that you read about in other places. Yet, love and family is so sorely missed.

I wished I could adopt a child right then and there. Fanciful thinking, I know, don’t tell me that. I wanted to do something, anything, for those children, tell a story maybe or give a hug. But their questions would still remain. What I didn’t have were answers.
I suppose I feel blessed for the super family that I have; parents so wonderful that I often feel I don’t always justify the love they give me. But during the worst days of my life, the only thing that sustained me was love. Because end of the day, all you really need is love.

Yet, now, I cannot erase the image of the wide, innocent eyes of those children. What was their mistake? Why shouldn’t they be loved too? When life is so unfair, how am I supposed to reinforce any faith in that someone called God?

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Gypsy Caravan and Other Stories

Amidst distraction the last time around, I was to write now about the column. I am telling myself it is no big deal, but what the heck, I am allowed to scream and shout here. Like I always say, in my head, this is one place where I refuse to be politically correct or pretend or be "not me."

Ladies and gental-men, the writer of this blaagh is also now a columnist! Drum roll please and loud applause too, if you will!!! :-) The magazine is EDGE, a feature-heavy weekly magazine currently circulated in the North East, very soon to come to other cities near you! The name of the column, arrived at after several several hours of debate, is The Gypsy Caravan.

For several years, I had this secret fantasy of being a columnist some day. The friend Debanish Achom then went ahead and started a magazine of his own, one that is satirical at best and with features from different states. Then he went further ahead and committed a mistake, that of telling me to write a column on any thing I wanted! Absolutely anything! I still can't get used to the fact that I can actually write anything I want! Well, so, three columns down, I continue to write anything I want! And needless to say, it has been a fun riot doing that. Another dream fulfilled, several more to go! :-)

Let me ask Achom, the editor in chief, if I can post the columns here. The website looks super cool, but is still to be up and running. Till then, maybe I could put them here.

That apart, I am busy busy. Don't ask me doing what, I just seem to be busy doing half a dozen things. I think.

I am reading Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata. I love his works. Someday, I will learn Russian and read them in the original.

Big time music is happening. I have never been much of a music listener but off late, the days of my life seem to work better with some background music on. I love Bob Dylan during some hours of some days, the rest is as random as my days. I am teaching myself to work with music on too. It is yet to happen.

On that note, the week that I was home, ma and I watched the finale of Indian Idol. I haven't watched TV regularly since six years; neither do I believe in reality shows, but Sreeram, the winner, bowled me over. I endured some three hours of nonsensical theatrics to see him win. I so loved his voice that I actually bothered watching the older shows on You-Tube and made myself a mental note to follow his music.

On that note again, I deeply regret giving up learning music. No, I am not great, but I don't bray either. In one of my future projects, I should take it up, yet again.

The Havyaka dialect came to me very late in life. Though reading it is a bit of a struggle, I am enjoying these days reading the Havyaka website for its delightful sections.

The weekend is going to be one with some very dear friends around. Have a good one yourselves, dear all!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pookala, a Little Village

Kailash Kher was singing on TV just now. I so love that man's voice! Music is quite something, isn't it? More on that some other time.

I was in pretty bad shape all of last week, down with the viral fever, for the very first time in my life. Touch wood, I almost never fall sick. But this hit like a fireball and I spent a very horrible week feeling all sorry for myself and bored. The bored part was worse than the fever. It got so bad that even I went to the doctor. For those who know me personally, you know how rare that is! Anyway, I got tired of being bored and came home to recuperate.

As happens every time, my parents and I couldn't stay put for a long time and this morning we ended up in a little non-village called Pookala, a good 100 kms from Madikeri. The Akashvani (AIR) station here airs a program where a person goes to the most remotest of the district's villages and hosts a show from there, highlighting the people and their lives there. Pookala was one such village.

There is a fairly good road that goes from Gonikoppal, a sizeable town, to this place, 45 kms away. The road ends in the village, if you can call some 5 houses that. Apparently, the place, nestled below huge mountains that look like walls to the sky, gets 200-250 inches of rain every year. That's a great lot! It was supposed to be the best place to grow cardamom, until disease destroyed most of the plants. Coffee grows poorly here. There are a few houses, very tall trees and an asphalted road that ends at the gate of the village primary school. There is not even one single shop to sell sweets or cigarettes.

Not knowing what to see or do, we followed a board to a home stay called Kadama Kolli where we met a nice friendly woman of the house. Having lived in the district most of my life, it usually takes a lot to surprise me. Pookala did because of its gorgeous hills and the prospect of trekking through forests to reach the open hills from where the view is surely fantastic. It is blissfully quiet, the only sound is that of a pretty little stream. There is supposed to be white water river rafting nearby, but as far as I know, there are no white waters there, nor are there any rapids. But there are pretty huts. It impressed me so much that I immediately made a mental note to plan the next TT trip there.

Villages are not new to me, I live in a little one myself. In Madikeri, I mean. But never have villages ceased to amaze me in the little microcosm they form, a little social setup. I could write a long list of problems in trying to live there, labour issues, lack of accessibility, a great deal of everything that can and does go wrong. But if given a chance, I don't think I would mind at all living the rest of my life in a village.

As it turns out, I am distracted today. The words don't flow out too easy today. I must stop.
I must remember to write about The Gypsy Caravan in a day or two. That's a column. And I am predictably super thrilled. More on that in a while....

Monday, August 02, 2010

Progress, Raduga and the Rest

Should you be ashamed of your beliefs? I asked myself that this evening after a sudden bout of happiness, about which I shall tell you in a moment. So, if you believe in something, should you be ashamed to air it before an audience, however unreceptive, skeptic or discouraging they may be? I do know wars have been fought on beliefs and notions of what the other man’s beliefs should be. But I have always believed that, as far as possible, without intentional hurt, you should not be afraid or ashamed of something that you might believe in. (Why am I rambling on exactly?)

The point is, my grandpa believed in Communism. Deeply. To the point that he would not let my granny keep gold at home and she had to sell it off at an undervalued price. His belief was his; I refuse to let anyone judge him for it. There are many stories there, for another day. His belief in the philosophy, I believe, is what leads to most of my family’s wavering views on religion and God. I can speak for myself and dad. We believe in God, I think. But would rather not be visiting temples and praying every day. Again, that is a story for another day. My thoughts several strange reactions, mostly shocked and scandalized. But I honestly don’t understand why I have to believe in something just because I have to.

I finally get to the point. My grandpa being a Communist and an avid reader, our house was full of Russian literature and magazines. The first book that I ever picked up when I was just a few months old was a book on Soviet Union with lots of pictures. I still have it. The first books that I read were Misha magazine and Tolstoy. I even had two Russian pen pals who, I remember, were great fans of Mithun Chakraborty and Rekha.
The Russian literature continued all through my growing years. Back then, Navakarnataka Publications used to have exhibitions in Madikeri from where I have picked up absolute gems like Tolstoy’s Childhood, Adolescence and Youth, Pushkin’s poetry, Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Dead House (a favourite) and several others, all hard bound, for as little as Rs 25. (I forget, we have a new Rupee symbol, must download). Several years on, I managed to add a commendable collection to what my grandpa had left me.

Today, on a whim, I entered a small Navakarnataka exhibition near home and nearly yelped in joy when I saw some books from the 1980s. These books are impossible to get elsewhere, at least now in the hard bound. Maxim Gorky’s entire collection of work, at just Rs 25 each! I picked up several more, some in Kannada, some political and social books on the people’s power and the state. A book from which I remember learning the Kannada alphabets; I picked up two copies of those. Raduga Publishers and Progress and Malysh Publishers and the rest made me happy happy happy!
These books are what I grew up with, learnt my alphabets from, read several fairy and folk tales, even started reading serious literature. As far as I know, all the publishers have long closed down, at least they no longer supply books to India. Navakarnataka is the only place that still sells a few of them. If you know of any branches that stock Russian literature, please please let me know.

The total bill for some 20 books did not cross Rs 250! Memories of childhood, slices of the past, that little happiness, those come nearly free of cost. At most unexpected times; actually, they come just when you have the most need for them.
Happiness today! :)

Edit: Google throws up this post when someone searches for these above mentioned publishers and several readers have been writing to me asking if I will sell my collection of these books. These books are not for sale. I also don't know where you can find them in bookstores. If you are in Kolkata, you might want to go to College Street and hunt in book stores there, some keep a few titles. That apart, I don't know where else you can buy them anymore.

Sunday, August 01, 2010


I have been having so much to write off late that I took the very easy out and didn't write at all. Now, the molehill has become a mountain and I will have to berate myself and abandon most of the stories I have been meaning to write. Taking a cue from a style we used to adopt at work for news reports, read on some randomities that have been what I call life these past few months.

* The line 'it was the best of times, it was the worst of times" is probably how I would sum up what I do. But a one liner just won't do. Yes, there have been many many bad times, but mamma taught me to see the good ones first. I have been doing things that, I am told, what most people can only dream about. I am not sure about that. But I do admit, there have been very unusual times, people and places that less than a year before, I wouldn't have imagined myself to be doing. The vagueness is done with.

* The other day, Jay and I wanted to go somewhere, anywhere. Given how the city's crowded malls and every other place puts us off, we went to the airport. We sat in a nice red bus and rode the 45-minute long way to the airport. Had coffee, did some heavy duty, soul-soothing girl talk and also promptly got depressed about not being able to fly out somewhere. For one insane moment, dinner in Goa was very very tempting, but thin wallets thankfully held us back. We rode back to a mall, did what we girls do best, some retail therapy and generally it was a happy day!

* May I recommend Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, a true girls' book. An easy read, no doubt, but I believe that any girl would find something in it for her. I promised myself I would watch the first day show of the Julia Roberts-starrer movie when it releases.

* The other book that I sort off went ga-ga about is Serious Men by the journalist Manu Joseph. It is the story of child prodigies, the likes of Tatagat Tulsi. The book started off fantastically. I have always loved his columns in Open Magazine for their satire and dry humour. So good I found the book initially that I was recommending it to everyone who would listen. I still would, but I must admit that somewhere along the way, the book no longer held me the way it did in the beginning. Somewhere, it didn't stay too interesting any longer. I was reminded of Kunal Basu's Racist which went the similar way for me. But still, it makes for a nice read.

* Hampi, dear old Hampi has been under planning for nearly three months now. We hope that the next date being decided upon stays.

* I just got back from Bagalkot, yet again. There are more stories, more beautiful Devadasis that I fell in love with. That brought to mind an old idea I have been toying with for many months now. I have a feeling you will read about it in a few more months. All kicked about that which I cannot tell you! :-)

* I am reading Margaret Atwood again, her 'Life Before Man'. A very unusual book. I think I prefer her short stories.

* The writer friend Deb has started a magazine of his own called EDGE, as of now, circulated in the North East. The first issue was out yesterday. I am supposed to be 'Writer-at-Large', after contributing an article! I like the designation! I hope the magazine lives up to be as satirical and as sarcastic as we all know him to be! Good luck!

* The other day, me, the favourite cousin and friends were sitting and talking through half the night. As with all good conversations, songs came up and the talk veered around the one favourite song in every language. Saras and I were of the opinion that favourite songs depends on the situation and mood, there can be many such. But upon insisting, I listed these as my favourites. Subject, of course, to changing without notice!
-- Kannada: 'Yaava Mohana Murali Kareyithu' in Raju Ananthaswamy's voice, from the film America America
-- Hindi: 'Honton Se Chulo Tum' from the film Prem Geeth (I think)
-- English: 'I Shall Believe' by Sheryl Crow and 'Here With Me' by Dido (for the memories I associate with it)

* For those of you who didn't know, I have been volunteering with an NGO called Tribal Health Initiative (THI) in a place called Sittilingi Valley in interior Tamil Nadu. A doctor couple works with 'Malevasi' tribals in the area. I do a bit of their writing work and get to escape to that place any time I might wish. It has been an absolute delight. The tribals speak a version of pure, sing-song like Tamil of which I don't speak a word of. My Tamil is derived from Suriya's films and old memories. But somehow we communicate. My many new friends there insist they can understand what I am trying to say, are delightfully protective and utterly sweet! It continues to be one of the best things I have taken up to doing.

* There is another something that I am dying to write about but cannot! The mystery will be out, hopefully, fingers crossed, in less than two months. Travel. That's the only clue as of now.

* All these things apart, I am still left with some time where I have been thinking and giving myself a hard time thinking some more. But for the most part, it has been incredible, this whole quitting work business. Despite everything, it has been incredible. And for all those who periodically ask me, no thank you, I do not yet intend to get back to office, any office, any time soon. And yes, I am making more money in two days than I did in an entire month at work, thank you very much again. Plus the joy of doing a million things. It has been totally worth it.