For someone not excited by expensive branded bags, perfume, jewellery and electronics, what is there in Singapore? I have been there once and transited several times. So, when an opportunity of spending one week at Singapore came-up, I dug into my memory for what had stayed about the place.

The comfort of being a woman on the streets. This is unbeatable.   The feeling of being secure, safe, un-ogled, un-groped, shutting the antenna that is ever alert for signs of ‘touching, snatching, asking, following etc etc is peace at a very different level. This was my the-most-loved thing about Singapore. I bought myself a tourist pass and went anywhere I wanted to go. Got off the MRT, walked around and came back. Not even one upsetting episode.

Walking. If you enjoy walking, this is one of the best organised cities. All the signages read easily and are aided by a picture. When they want you to use an underpass to cross certain roads, there is an arrow and a picture of the underpass. Very clear. No pushing, shoving and no vehicles honk.

The Botanic Garden. This one is my favourite. It’s a little too well maintained, true. But absolutely fantastic, free, open space to walk, to sit by the lake, to look at the many flowers, birds and animals.

The greenery in the city is noticeable. There are trees in every possible nook and corner, balconies, roadsides, houses everywhere. When you are tired from walking under the sweltering sun, the benches under the trees will come to your rescue. The buildings are experimenting with low-energy construction and design which is heartening to see.

I managed to see a batik exhibition at The Asian Civilisations Museum. Fantastic display, quiet, comfortable, you can take pictures, and there are benches to sit down and rest your legs. The traditional street ice-cream, a slice sandwiched between two crackers was the best thing when resting on the benches. I ate a Magnolia coconut and it was really good, soft, exact sweetness with pieces of coconut in it.

The most alarming thing, is the use of plastic. All shops continue to use plastic bags, even if some of them are recycled plastic. Very few people carry a bag for shopping. Food, drinks, are packed in plastic. Given that it’s a hub of vogue perfumes and clothes, the streets also radiate strong fragrances. And in that heat, most women wear stylish clothes, most of which are synthetic.  

We woke up to calls of the wild roosters’ early morning. The mynas come back to their trees at the end of the day and create a massive cacophony that won’t allow any talking on the street at that time.

Two golden orioles sang sitting on the tree opposite our balcony, mynas came and perched for the breadcrumbs. A very satisfying time.

The Mulberry

I can’t recall when exactly and why I got besotted with mulberry. I like berries, except gooseberries which I can eat as a medicine, may be once annually, or powdered or candied.

And then somehow, recently, I started noticing mulberries more, the trees became visible, the excitement to spot them, and in general, my obsession to grow any plant that I like, and that looks like, it will be possible to grow them in a garden pot.

I can still clearly remember the mulberry shrub in a friend’s neighbourhood. We must have been around 12- or 13-years old. Being outdoors to play and to also pluck and eat seasonal fruits were the most loved activity. Mulberry and few other fruits were the tricky ones, as they gave away where we had been, the stained mouth and marks on the clothes.

There are about 68 species of the genus Morus. The majority of these species occur in Asia, especially in China (24 species) and Japan (19). Continental America is also rich in its Morus species. The genus is poorly represented in Africa, Europe and the Near East, and it is not present in Australia.

In India, there are many species of Morus, of which Morus alba, M. indica. M. serrata and M. laevigata grow wild in the Himalayas. Several varieties have been introduced belonging to M. multicaulis, M. nigra, M. sinensis and M. philippinensis. Most of the Indian varieties of mulberry belong to M. indica.

Though mulberry cultivation is practised in various climates, the major area is in the tropical zone covering Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states, with about 90 percent. In the sub-tropical zone, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and the northeastern states have major areas under mulberry cultivation.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Student days, when I was once visiting a Krishi Vikas Kendra (KVK), the agriculture research and extension centres and saw rows of mulberry trees. Some had fruit and I asked if I could pluck a few. “We are only interested in the leaves” said the sericulture researcher. Sometimes in the commuters’ trains between Anand to Ahmedabad I will find them being sold, and eat unwashed with much happiness.

After almost two decades of not really thinking of this fruit or the tree, it somehow came back again. It was easy to buy them in Hyderabad. One time at a Ratandeep store, late into the night just before closing, I could not find any mulberry. The kind store manager told me lets go and check as fruits and vegetable stocks are arriving just now. Sure, they were there and I greedily bought five packets!

Mulberries are delicate, they have short shelf life and can get squishy easily. We now have ice-creams and they are great. I have often wondered why with so much silk cultivation around us, we do not find this so easily in Bangalore.

On a trip to the handloom centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a guide with whom we did not have a common language, I pointed at mulberry trees in delight, took my phone out and showed him the tiny mulberries from our garden, his face lit up “same” he said, bringing some instant connect between us, and the two countries!

With this new found obsession, I started getting a branch to see if it would grow. A friend in Hyderabad gave me a cutting and I carried it as hand baggage but it did not make it. Then a cutting came from Gudalur which continues to live and give us few berries every now and then.

For reasons unknown to me, mulberry branches quite often get used as props to other plants, mostly flower saplings. So this time at Valparai, I found the prop next to a dahlia patch was sprouting a fruit similar like a mulberry. I chased the gardener. We had very little common language again, but he understood when I said fruit and said its black and took me to the tree. We agreed that the day I leave, he will give me few branches to take back with me. Over the next few days, we developed several sign languages around trees and plants.

The mulberry branch is sprouting fruits at home.

Here is to connections and languages around plants and other beings.

The much missed travel

Travelling after eighteen months, a long and impatient wait for us as we almost travelled twice every month, on an average. The packing of a suitcase this time meant more than just a routine activity. There were apprehensions, but the excitement was way more than the concerns. Bunches of masks and bottles of sanitiser being the new additions.  

I did not know of Valparai, honest admission. It was while looking for a break after months of coping with the covid pandemic, with many additional considerations, travel restrictions, flight availability, duration of the journey, less crowd, un-touristy, my husband suggested Valparai. It ticked all boxes and is also a new destination. We started our search, emails and phone calls, and found Briar Tea Bungalows. Having stayed in tea gardens and converted British bungalows, we quite enjoy them. They have history and character and a certain coexistence to them. Usually remote, vast, expansive, rhythmic in a way that rhymes around the tea estates. So, all necessary arrangements followed and we set off.

The airports are a disappointment. How people still do not care enough about distancing and following hygienic practices.

Uncertainty, the most prevailing condition of the current times, I got a call as we landed at Coimbatore, “Coimbatore is in complete lockdown and the Collector has ordered no tourism. We will refund your reservation amount.” Valparai is about three hours drive from Coimbatore, over 100 kms and up on the hills, quite disconnected from Coimbatore in many ways than one. So I said, “I am not going back. Am going to make the drive and see what happens.” Armed with fully vaccinated certificate, negative RTPCR report, we started, not knowing whether we will get to Valparai!

Best decision ever! We were stopped at the check-post, we showed our papers and were allowed to proceed. Yay! This good news followed a tea break, nice strong tea and tasting of varied vadas.

Hungrily savouring the greenery, as we started the climb, views of the reservoirs, waterfalls, the permanence, resilience of Nature, the shining sun on rain drenched tea leaves, new and old, breathing the fresh air, the gentle cloud slowly engulfing the valley, happiness back in our veins.

Stanmore bungalows was built in 1935. The Briar group has five properties, each with a specific character, closer to forest, or river or in the middle of tea plantation. Sitting there, surrounded by tea, I brushed up my knowledge.

When did tea cultivation start in India?

In 1837, the first English tea garden was established at Chabua in Upper Assam; in 1840, the Assam Tea Company began the commercial production of tea in the region. Beginning in the 1850s, the tea industry rapidly expanded, consuming vast tracts of land for tea plantations.

Who discovered tea in India?

An intrinsic part of daily life today, tea was introduced formally to Indians by the British. The origin of tea in India is owed to the British who intended to overthrow China’s monopoly on tea, having found that Indian soil was eminently suitable to cultivate these plants.

This is a hideout, a place where you may not have a lot to do, though there are points of touristic interest, a tunnel under a waterfall which runs for four kilometers, a reservoir, few temples, what it offers is great, scenic, quiet walks which you can do without a mask. No one around for almost as far as eyes can see, except the many species of birds. The birders will have a field day!  You may not see the wild life like you do in an organised safari. But they are seen by the locals and the lucky. People talk about leopards, bears been seen in certain locations. During our stay, we saw a herd of elephants, CCTV footage of bears and leopards, fleeting glance of a white mongoose, two flying squirrels hanging upside down from the branch of a tall tree, a shy lion tailed macaque looking down at us from a canopy, two Sambar deer and two magnificent Nilgiri tahr. This was enough for us. That they are all coexisting in harmony.

Where we return to at the end of the day and how close it gets to make us feel at home is our comfort yardstick. The team at Stanmore is amazing! Very receptive to details, and small demands, like warm water to drink, an extra bedside lamp, tea at any intervals. The kitchen staff, chef and cook, with skill to not only make world class continental dishes, but also our longing for idli, dosa, puttu, kadala! Each dish brought to the table was both visual and mouth-watering treat. Everything served, from breakfast to dinner, was insta-worthy and tasteful. A team that functions in tandem brings in peace and positivity to the space which was palpable here. As we all know how badly hospitality industry has been affected, for these young people to hold themselves together and go about making the others happy is really appreciated.

Another beautiful feature of Stanmore bungalows is the old trees and the flourishing garden. Mossy, healthy, many old trees, litchi, avocado, guava, mangoes, and many more, full of vegetation and brightly coloured flowers, the gardeners constantly cleaning and nurturing the land and its living.

A trip that made me realise how much I missed travelling, and how grateful I am to be able to do so. This pandemic has given us a new perspective. It’s up to each one of us to understand that we are part of a larger system and we need to recognize and respect the parts played by all living beings. It’s the humans who make the changes, good or bad. And Nature will react, for sure.

This was a place that made us happy deep inside, no cutting of the queue, no aggression, no violence, no arguments. When we drove around one day, and went through the Valparai town, there is a temple, a mosque and a church within one kilometer radius.  Once back in the airport, and then in the flight, I cringed every time people exercised their power to prevail, being rude, treating the airhostesses like servants and several incidents, usually brushed aside as minor by many, which is not really what it is, leaving always a bad taste. I don’t need this and I hoped I have to watch less of these in our everyday lives.

​The most resplendent memory of our stay at Stanmore Bungalows, was to wake up to the singing of the Malabar whistling thrush. I had never heard, had only read, sings from dawn to dusk, a song most extraordinary.

You sing on sweethearts, “the whistling school boy”, you make your own tune, sing to say that every day is a new day, and you make it a happy day. Like a friend said, ​Sarvabhutatmabhut​​atma सर्वभूतात्मभूतात्मा,

“to consider yourself a part of the world, and the world a part of yourself”.

What would life be without Liberal Arts?

Many years ago, in a conversation with academic oriented acquaintances, someone said “what would life be without Liberal Arts”? I, an eternal student of humanities, inclined always towards Arts, wondered, do people really care? Is it the Brick, or the Wall or the Mural or the Graffiti or the Terrain or the Crafts or the Communities? Is Eiffel Tower the Lattice or the Height? Do people marvel at what’s buried under the serenity of a reservoir or at the dam? What is the footfall in a Mall as against a Museum on any given day?

The Berlin Wall

I know. It is not necessarily either or. It could be both. But if one were to pick? Where would the numbers be?

I re-visited this and many of my other notions in 2020. Pandemic induced reality check on Life’s goals, travel plans, bucket lists, assumptions.

And I concurred. “What would life be without Liberal Arts?”

George Town, Penang

Most of us have been grappling with the last ten months. No matter how often we travelled before the pandemic, where all we went, on work, on leisure or to run errands, that has changed for everyone. So, what filled that extra Time, besides the household chores?

Let’s begin with the memes. One a day, keeps the blues away. Plenty and you are forwarding the whole day! Have you noticed how creative they are? One image, few lines, two words and there, you cannot stop laughing!  Some spoons and plates, some poetry, quotes and jokes and I have to admit the air darkened with worries clears up to let some sunlight inside our heads. Not to forget the lifesaving OTT platform. Regional films, Hollywood, Bollywood, old forgotten films and serials. Films made during the world on pause. We were not just randomly flipping channels but searching, finding, watching and sending out recommendations. The complete process of savoring the investment in watching a film.

The books, unputdownable stories of history and romance and struggles. Between the lines are our current realities with the deep sighs.

To really wait for the newspaper. Not like a quick glance over breakfast or to kill time at the airport, but to really relish G Sampath and Santosh Desai, to chew every word, every idea and every conclusion slowly for its taste and aftertaste.

Did you get to read the poem by Kitty O’ Meara, “And the people stayed home…”, in the roots of a tree laden with stars, a human and animals living in peaceful coexistence? Won’t that be one of the best images to hold on to?

And the People Stayed Home

Music, the soul soothing nostalgic faraway land. When a song reminded you of a friend in college and you actually picked up the phone and called her to say “you recall that guy who went up on the stage in our college festival and dedicated this song to you?” You both rediscovered and dusted the friendship which you thought had gone redundant over the years. The old albums, or the pictures folder in your laptop, flashback to a family wedding, black and white images.  

Karaoke singing Heal the World or closing your eyelids to Andrea Bocelli’s Amazing Grace, listening to T.M Krishna or humming along Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi, while we waited for Science to deliver the vaccine, what has kept us going are these tiny little sparks of creativity that lifts the soul from despair, inch by inch.

Remember when the Titanic was sinking, and the band continued to play? (from a meme)

The water hyacinth

cropped-20200707_093324.jpgInvasive and often covers an entire water body. It’s a weed, water hyacinth(Eichhornia crassipes). Very difficult to manage or get rid of, like Lantana camara, Prosopis juliflora. One does not know how they have journeyed across the globe and found suitable areas to flourish.

If you have ever travelled by train between Ahmedabad and Anand in Gujarat, which I did very frequently, in many occasions and circumstances, when my husband and I played hide and seek between these two places in pursuit of jobs based in these two cities. We choose the jobs or the jobs choose us in such a way that we ended up living in both these cities. They seemed a comfortable commutable distance though if your work did not get over on time to catch the train, you would be looking at a much-delayed arrival at home. I did only weekend commute and a friend with a management degree was quick to point out that I was clever to get a monthly pass and I break-even with only four back and forth trips a month. So money was well invested. I got the quarterly pass as I was never sure I would be out of office with time to stand in the queue to buy a ticket.

Back to the water hyacinth. There is a station just before Anand, Kanjari Boriyavi. Even if you are sleeping, you will wake up here because of the stench from a marshy pond near this stop, full of water hyacinth as far as eyes can see.

On some days, the lake will be a sheet of purple with the blooming flowers of the water hyacinth.  And the meditating pond herons.

So when my friend Enakshi, who holds Art introduction classes with children, inspired by the artistic beauty of this flower, brought one plant with her in a take-away plastic box from a trip to Mumbai and shared pictures of the first bloom, it brought back memories.

She modelled the flower for her students in the art class and the result was fabulous.

The flower is so peaceful for an invasive species. The rose and the thorns? The cactus and its bright blooms?


I got the plants from her and they took almost exactly a month to give me the first bloom.

Enakshi says the flower lives just for one day.

Sights and smells and our memories, twined and tangled…

Oh for the love of a window seat…

20180801_183835That window seat that took me through forests
Through the fragrance of rain and moss,
Blooming mahua , deep red of silk cotton
Frightening thunder and lightening

20171005_123206Those road travels on work
To remote destinations
Driving back on full moon nights
Glowing streams and stones

IMG-20190215-WA0026The window of the boat
So close to the splashing water
Poised cormorants
Perched atop trunks of trees
Gulls hovering above

DSC05092That window which scales the hills
Turning roads and houses into tiny bits
The butterflies in the stomach when it speeds down

The window that shows an old railway building
Where the train used to halt once upon a time
But not any more
Grass growing on its roof and trees inside
How long has it been?
That window which looks at the vast expanse of the sea
Bridge over a shining sheet


The open windows of a running train
Blowing breeze through the clothes
The heat and sweat

On a bus by the open window
In lashing rain
It would not shut
Rusted iron refusing to budge
Soaked wet in a cold winter sleepless night

The side lower berth
Pull the curtain and its your moving home


Gazing at the goats and streams during the day
The passing lights of cities and houses
The window from which I waved at children
Playing near the train tracks
The cycles, buses, cars and walkers
Waiting for the train to pass
That crossroad of momentary connection

That window which holds the hope
20190919_172144To show
me the falls with milky white waterI stay awake for the show





That pagdandi, path made by people’s feet
Leading to villages with unheard names
Can I get off and walk
Into their daily chores of bricks and mortar
That window seat on a plane


The first glimpse of snow on the mountains
The clouds in flowing rows, like the smoke from cooking hung over the plains
Or fog in the early mornings
Sights of the hills below
Emerging from under layers of cloud.20191201_091053

That one time, when the window framed the sky, the clouds and the setting sun
A rainbow
With the colours from the setting sun,
It looked like ember on snow.

20170928_115521The window that is my first glimpse
Of Home
The longing same as always
The window with its view, similar but never the same20190918_062625

Oh for the love of that window seat…105

The Fragrance in a Parcel… and the image of a distant world

I love sending a parcel.

As soon as the idea strikes me, to send a parcel to someone, I could be seen leaving aside all other work, really urgent work, and would spend my time rummaging around in the store room which houses the used carton boxes, old bubble wraps, plastic bags, cloth bags and things like that to create the parcel. It’s like opening an old trunk and taking from it, the elements of surprise, the nostalgia, the memories,  place them inside the box, with love and care and send them with joy. This would be followed by keeping track of the parcel till it reaches its destination, further followed up by conversations on its contents, so on and so forth, establishing a cyclical process.

I have wondered why I like this activity so much. To receive a parcel is fun, understood, but my excitement is actually about sending. The one important reason I can trace this back to, is something that happened in childhood.

Every now and then, with certain regularity as well as unpredictability, we would receive a parcel from my paternal Uncle who lived abroad. Sometimes the parcel was delivered by the postman, tucked on top of the back seat of his bicycle or sometimes there would be a call from the postmaster as my father was known in the locality and we were privileged to have a telephone connection, telling us that we need to fetch the parcel from the post office, as it is either big and would not fit into the back of the cycle, or there may be a payment if there are some items which may have a fee levied on it.

The parcel had clothes, new or used. Some of which we wore, some we gave to other friends and relatives as either the colours suited them better or the size fitted them better. Sometimes the parcel also had books and toys.

What came with the clothes, for me, was the fragrance. It smelt different. That for me was the smell of a foreign land. I know now that it was the detergent or the fabric softener. But as a child, that smell was a language, a communication, a sentiment I could only explain through the nose. Only when another person smelt it that I could describe the childhood sense of amaze which came with it, a mixture of awe and wonder and curiosity about the land form where the parcel came.

1353, Heather Lane SE was etched in my mind as a beautiful home in a foreign land. To that unknown, unseen place, I would add images of things that I see in the pictures sent by my Uncle, the flowers, furniture, carpet, plates and glasses, people, toys…every bit of details was observed and added to that image.

He also sent us old copies of National Geographic magazine. I did not read much English then. Nonetheless, they added to that space where all these curious images were forming a beautiful world.

So now, when I prepare a parcel, I carry all that with me. I add things of need, old and new, things of surprise, things of fascination, things of curiosity, and that fragrance from the past still lingers on…

This Women’s Day…

The Grown Girl

“The world is a dangerous place for little girls. Besides, little girls are more fragile, more delicate, more brittle than little boys. ‘Watch out, be careful, watch.’ ‘Don’t climb trees, don’t dirty your dress, don’t accept lifts from strange men. Listen but don’t learn, you won’t need it.’ And so the snail’s antennae grow, watching for this, looking for that, the underneath of things. The threat. And so she wastes so much of her energy, seeking to break those circuits, to push up the millions of tiny thumbs that have tried to quelch energy and creativity and strength and self-confidence; that have so effectively caused her to build fences against possibility, daring; that have so effectively kept her imprisoned inside her notions of self-worthlessness.”

― Robyn Davidson, Tracks: One Woman’s Journey Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback.

Never have I been more aware of being a woman than when I travel alone. It begins with which train or flight to take, what time does it start and what time does it reach, which always has to be much after sunrise and much before sunset. If that’s not an option, a whole lot of logistical coordination and planning becomes necesssary.

My parents were non-discriminatory. No matter how much the world used every opportunity to point the differences between me and my brother, they never made me feel I am less because I am a girl. They didn’t tell the others off, perhaps realising the futility of it and being mild mannered, but they did not change their ways of treating their two children, and all other boys and girls, the same.

The first time I realised I was differently vulnerable was when one late evening, my mother and I took a cycle rickshaw to a wedding. There were stretches on that road which were not lit, empty and unknown. I was loving the quiet and excited to be at a wedding. At the most my fear was what if there are thieves! But as soon as we reached, I heard my mother tell someone, sighing in relief, how scared she was since she was with me, that am a grown girl now.

Since then, the grown girl concept made an appearance all the time, almost in all occasions and all decisions that required me to be on my own. Travelling to Bombay to study, unearthly hours of the trains, someone to drop and someone to pick. All the usual unsolicited advice and suggestions, someone should accompany her. How many times one heard it’s a bad world outside?

What makes the outside world bad? Who does it? And how is the inside world? Is it better or is it worse?

One time when I was abroad in a university town and truly enjoyed staying at the library till way past mid night, walking back alone in the rain and chill, listening to music, thinking how much I would miss this back home. A woman acquaintance had said “you won’t need to be in a library till 2 am back home!”

She perhaps meant well. But that certainly is not the point.

We are so overwhelmed by the possibility of assault, that we are not even able to imagine what it would be like…to be able to walk a forest alone, walk a city alone, travel the world alone…just the possibility, the option, the choice!

I have worked in the development sector all my life. It gives me many opportunities to travel to interior areas of our country. I love it. But the grown girl concept is always there. Not just at the back of our heads, but at the front, all-over actually. There are very few hotels in these remote areas so we have to take what we get. Even in cities, we are so fund crunched and so little money to cover overheads that we end up staying in cheap hotels. I have never wanted fancy, but what I have realised over the years of travel, is cheap also means cheap fixtures, the latch is of poor quality, the windows without railings or panes, bathrooms with an open square for ventilator. Unsafe unsafe scream the grown girl. So many of my women colleagues and friends have shared our notes on how we have pushed chairs and sofas and our suitcases all piled against the door and have spent sleepless nights when on our own. Taxi rides, auto rides, taking a bus in the night with a man in the next seat, tell us about it! Safety pins, red chilli powder, pepper spray or even a kitchen knife…and all kind of “real” travel tips!

This fear that we have to live with is a creation and responsibility of every one.

So this women’s day, can we even attempt to visualize a world of true freedom for women, freedom from this fear!

Not many years ago, when I lived in Bangalore, a front page picture of a man laying down with his backpack for pillow and reading a book at Lalbagh made me so wishful! The caption said something about it being beautiful weather outside.

A book and a backpack for a pillow and a grass bed, to look at trees and clouds when I look up. I want that. In this life.

Many women whether by choice, by situation, by circumstances, are single or live and travel alone. Whether we make do with it or we enjoy it, is up to us…but for us to be free of fear and pursue ourselves to the fullest, in this one life…is the real challenge for the rest of the world. Not your hand outs, not your discounts, not diamonds, not the ice-bucket challenge…we want this freedom from fear.

The fear that is created by all of you.

A walk in the rain, a walk in a beautiful dense and aged forest is all I ask.

A walk without fear.


“As a romantic ideal, turbulent, impoverished India could still weave its spell, and the key to it all – the colours, the moods, the scents, the subtle, mysterious light, the poetry, the heightened expectations, the kind of beauty that made your heart miss a beat – well, that remained the monsoon.”

Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater. One of the early books that I read on rain.

Watching a leaden sky over a cup of tea, hoping it would rain, really rain, hoping the clouds overshadow the sun, for once wishing darkness overpower the light, and hoping it’s soon. A bulbul nodding in approval perched on the balcony railings.

Waiting for the rains like the Chataka bird (as we call it in Odiya, cuckoo, Clamator jacobinus),  as she waits for rains to quench her thirst (it is said that Chataka does not drink water found on earth and instead chooses to drink only fresh rain water as it falls from the sky).

I have often thought of the associated consequences, floods and droughts and all other inconveniences, devastations, but it’s never felt as if rain is the cause. Unlike how Maugham describes rains

…It was not like our soft English rain that drops gently on the earth, it was unmerciful; and somehow terrible; you felt it in the malignancy of the primitive powers of nature. It did not pour, it flowed. It was like a deluge from heaven, and it rattled on the roof of corrugated iron with a steady persistence that was maddening. It seemed to have a fury of its own. And sometimes you felt that you must scream if it did not stop, and then suddenly you felt powerless, as though your bones had suddenly become soft; and you were miserable and hopeless. (Rain, W.S. Maugham)

We are the cause of the devastations and inconveniences.

Rains have a much larger purpose, beyond what we see and fathom.

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Those very tiny drops that stick to your hair like drops of dew on early morning grass.

One of those late night studying at Bangor, living close to the Menai Strait, on the top attic room of a lovely slate roofed house, I had the view of the street, and the calm water of the strait, and the Bangor hills. I remember it started raining, which of course was almost an everyday phenomenon in November. Watching this one I realised what’s lashing rain. I still have that image in my mind.

In Kerala, light drizzle is a rarity. You can actually hear the approaching rain, a kind of whooshing sound. As if it gives people time to get their clothes home from the clothesline. All of them would always have an umbrella when they step out.

And there was this divine journey I took to Attapady to meet a dear friend. It rained the five hours train journey, and the following two hours car drive. So indescribably beautiful.  Such contentment of means and end in synchrony with each other. Followed by a trip to the silent valley, the forest drenched in the incessant rain and the feeling of being blown away by the wind and the rain atop the watch tower.

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Forever etched in memory.

The rain washed trees, glistening leaves and flowers, the scent of wet earth.

To sit quietly in the night and watch, in the darkness, nothing but the few fireflies and shadows of the trees in the night light.

Nothing but the night and the sound of the rain.


Kalamkari @ Pedna

When I told Bapa that I went to Machilipatnam, he said, it was under the King’s of Odisha once. Every time I tell him about our travels to different places, he will tell me something of its history, his knowledge dating back to a time before google and wiki.

And most of the time, I would not know those bits from history. And so, of course, I googled.

According to a history manual complied by Gordon Mackenzie in 1883, first mention of Machilipatnam in History was in connection with the construction of a mosque under Carnatic Rajas. In 1478, the army of Muhammad Shah Bahamani II captured Machilipatnam. In 1515, Krishna Devaraya defeated the Bahamani kings and put the port under the care of the Orissa Rajas. Bingo!

King of Golconda Quli Qutb Shah captured the area from the Orissa Rajas and it became part of the Golconda kingdom for nearly half a century. The Portuguese were the earliest to establish base at Machilipatnam and the Dutch followed suit. The English entered only in 1611 and established a factory there.

Apparently, the primary product that was exported from the port was cloth woven and dyed at villages in the hinterland. There were references of saltpetre (Potassium Nitrate), turmeric, spices and miscellaneous articles like spotted deer and waterfowl being exported from the port. The imports included all sorts of goods manufactured in England. There was a lot of demand for superfine scarlet and green coloured cloth. It was through this port that the diamonds purchased at Golconda were taken to England.

In 1686, the Emperor of Delhi defeated the dynasty of Golconda. The Dutch saw an opportunity to take possession of the port. The next year the East India Company declared war against Aurangzeb. In July that year his troops advanced as far as the fort at Kondapalli. The Dutch, English and French deserted the port town thereafter. Great Distress was reported in this part. There was an epidemic in the port town in 1687 and several Europeans died. The Dutch factory was damaged extensively by a huge storm on October 13, 1779. Nearly 20,000 people living in Machilipatnam and nearby villages were killed by the storm.

Reading this, remembered Khambhat (Cambay) in Gujarat, another port town which lost its glory.

I tried to find more about Gordon Mackenzie, as one should know who has written the history to understand how its coloured (I am sure few decades from now, someone will do the same for the Time we are living in and find out what got written by whom). Just not there on the internet.

So, when I was asked, would you like to come with me to see the Kalamkari process? How does one refuse an opportunity like that? Craft, craftspeople, rural landscape and train, a big yes!

One late evening, with sudden hail storm in Hyderabad , temperature came down by almost ten degrees , becoming cold and windy,  we waited for our night train to Machilipatnam from Secunderabad railway station.  Couple of times in the night, I felt that the train was not moving, but did not realise till morning that the train was actually four hours late. A journey of seven hours, a delay of four hours.

Then lovely kindness happened. When we were trying to reach a hotel, the only other passenger in that cubicle after Vijayawada, another woman, asked us, “you are like my daughters, why don’t you come with me, freshen up and go on your work. Why do you need a hotel since you do not want to stay the night?” Then she also showed us her id card, a retired teacher, she was going home to meet her elderly parents who live with her sister’s family.

And so we went to her house, day was beginning so pleasantly.

The basics first. There are two kinds of Kalamkari. One, drawn with a pen, kalam-kari. Currently this happens only in Srikalahasti. The motifs are mostly large birds, trees, flowers and leaf. dsc03255

The second,  blocks are used to print on fabric. Both use natural dyes. Pedna, where we weDSC04874nt, is famous for the block printed Kalamkari.

First stop at the supplier to Kriti Social Initiative. ( Stacks and stacks of Kalamkari fabric, how amazing that can be, I was like a child in a candy store! DSC04873

Wanting to understand more, we requested him to explain to us the process. The fabric goes through eight steps before how we get it in the shops.DSC04872


Several leaves, barks, fruits play a role in the making of this fabric. Cow dung used for natural bleaching of the fabric, powered seeds of amla (Phyllanthus emblica , gooseberry), nutmeg (Jatika,Myristica fragrans) leaves while boiling the fabric, Harad/ Harida (Teriminalia chebula) and peels of pomegranate fruit dried and added while boiling the fabric.  DSC04883

Someone said, two most important factors in our work are the sun and water (it had poured for two hours  that very morning). He did not say forests, I assume because he buys all the above leaves and fruits, bark and seed from the market. That’s how the disconnection perhaps.

Almost with all crafts, the association with the natural world is so evident. Dyes, leaves, barks, skin has a role to play.

DSC04881The workspace was a shed in a large compound where several, mostly men are involved in the process of production which happens in several steps. Similar to what one sees of ikat weavers under a master craftsman when many of the pre loom processes are done before it goes to be woven in weaver’s houses. Sheds of course could do with lot of improvements, very little safety measure were followed, wearing gloves or any protection when dyeing, working near fire.

We still had some time so went looking around the area. It was Ambedkar Jayanti and we crossed several pendals being prepared for celebrating the same. This area is a handloom cluster.

DSC04910We were near Kapal doddi, a village famous for its sarees and saw a line of huts on the road side and stopped. These were all women weavers, who earn just about a hundred rupees a day, live in tiny huts which are just about enough to house the loom. They cook outside under a makeshift shed and sleep inside on the floor. There are active Weavers Cooperatives in the area.

We saw many children involved in the process of Kalkamkari printing. Another aspect of traditional livelihoods where children are involved. I used to think children working is alright, so long as they get some literacy/ education and are not exploited. They learn this way, but whether they should miss school for the same? Or are they cheap labour? Can these families afford to send them to school? How relevant it would be to have a Vocational Education and Training plan for our country, a balance of education and skills. Here is an article by Kailash Satyarthi explaining how child labour actually perpetuates poverty. DSC04904

A nice long auto journey, good roads, weather was kind after the rains, good conversations, a nice sunset, telling us to return home, we reached back Machlipatnam station.

A certain discomfort I returned with which I have experienced in other craft places as well. The issue of plagiarism in this space. I have often come across, once a design works, whether its block printing, weaves  or patterns of ready to wear clothes, they get copied. The creator certainly does not feel happy about it. Often times, these exquisite creations are unaffordable to most. Another reason why they are copied. How exclusive should these be? Is creative art, like these, one individual’s creation or is the result of many processes, inspirations and creative ways of seeing?

In the current trend of heavy mechanisation and synthetic, plastic products, which have hugely damaging impact on the environment, is it such a bad thing when the greener initiatives are copied?  If that helps in spreading it more?  When creativity is copied to make it more accessible?

Like drawing from a large pool of creative commons, knowledge, craft, initiatives, and ways of living.

I don’t know, am still wondering how much bad and how much good it is or it can be.