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 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”.

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.

Sleeping on Jupiter : Anuradha Roy


I had picked up The Folded Earth quite by chance in an Oxford book store while waiting for a friend at the Cha Bar. It was such a lovely engrossing read that I quickly read The Atlas of Impossible Longing. Both books exceled in its narrative of the place of the story. Vivid description of the roads and alleys, the routine and mundane, people, relationships, trees, animals, flowers, food…they made me imagine the whole landscape. I recall how she writes about a girl bringing a hot potato for her teacher in The Folded Earth. That detailing of when you are holding something too hot, you need to keep moving it from one hand to the other, so that before its unbearably hot for one palm, it moves to the other and doing that cools the potato. And a man who relates to birds and animals in a different way like he understand their language, which of course the world cannot fathom and he is labelled loony. There was a description of chopping vegetables in The Atlas of impossible Longing, and a walk to the ruins, coming to Calcutta from the outskirts and being overwhelmed…the narrative is so good that you see it, actually, etched some-place in the memory.

I was hesitant to start Sleeping on Jupiter. The introduction to the book was about a child who sees her father’s brutal killing. I did not really want to read another gut wrenching story.

But there was curiosity, and that won.

The story begins with a train journey, instantly reminded me of The Ladies Coupe (Anita Nair). I have a thing for train journeys and sunsets.

Beautiful description of a temple town near the sea, the conch shells, the sea, with its salt in the air and sound, what people do to earn a living, around the temple and pilgrims and tourists, entwining their lives. What’s remarkable about the story is how the paths of so many different people cross, seemingly unknown to each other, but walking into each other’s lives and playing a role.

So often I think that there are these unseen strings and we are all puppets.

Expressions from the book in italics, interspersed with what these felt to me while reading.

Bare toe-ringed feet on the berth, chin resting on knees that she hugged close to herself, she occupied no more space than a curled up dog might, and appeared to be just as self-contained. (Toffee boy, he could be self content with just some petting 🙂 how simple, how easy.)

I got stuck trying to explain what a jamun was: was it sour, sweet or bitter? How to explain its strange taste, and the way our tongues went purple and fat after eating them? And wondering how to explain jamuns, I would be distracted remembering how all day we did our lessons or chores as if we boat girls were like other girls, but at night I would hear one girl grind her teeth fiercely enough to set mine on edge and another girl sob. Only when I felt my pillow wet with tears and spit would I know I had been listening to myself crying.

…cold earth planting bulbs for the spring…a bulb was a secret between the soil and me until the green tips of leaves poked out months later and gave it away…

What is memory, what triggers a thought from the past, a reminder, certain something…like when she ducks to find her fallen crayon and remembers when she ducked in the fateful van in which she was taken away, looking for her fallen baby tooth, and now in the classroom she finds Piku when she ducks. Or the shell necklace, reminding of what transpires between her and her foster mother, or the wooden toy boat reminding her that she is a boat girl, someone who had no land to her claim, attached to nothing.

No strings. The whole idea was to let it go – we made it as perfect and seaworthy as we could. But after that it was on its own.

A kite skimmed the sky, knife-sharp. It flew higher and higher. Her eyes followed it into the limitless emptiness of unblemished blue, not a wisp of cloud. The kite climbed further. It was a speck of sunlit red in the blue air.

Blue air, how lovely!

Some things are forbidden, you know that, don’t you? We need rules when we live together.

Don’t you wish it could happen? Your mind wiped clean, like a hard drive? Start again without memories?

I have never felt this kind of straight forward happiness…

“Do you usually talk so much with people you’ve just met? I don’t. I haven’t told anyone else that stuff about staying back at a random railway station.” ….every woman he’d ever known melted away when you said this kind of rubbish. They felt they had some special quality that made men confide in them. (Watch out women!)

…sidestepped tiny, translucent crabs which dug themselves out of sand and skittered towards the water, disappearing again. Any of us who have walked on a beach, bare feet,  looking down, so that not to step on a piece of glass or garbage, looking for shells, would have seen these crabs. I used to be wonder-struck at times when the tiny crabs swarm around your feet to get away and hide again.

…the musky smell of rain-wet earth in tea served in clay cups came back to her. She could not remember when she had last had tea smelling of rain.

Someone is forgetting and someone wants to forget…

There was something perverse about Gouri’s amnesia, it had an unfailing way of making her blab about the wrong things.

…the scent of those flowers still brings back that day.

Everyone has looked after plants sometime or the other.

It was a voice from long ago, a voice that contained grains of sand, winds from the sea. Why hadn’t she heard it as clearly before? run away from life – as if life were something that you had to grit your teeth against and endure. She said he was an escape artist – when all he wanted was the freedom to just be, to come and go without hundred accusatory questions..

Can’t you sing a happy song? Why are all your songs so gloomy? They are not sad for me. They’re all I have left of my world. I have no cameras like these tourists – clicking all the time. Smile, smile. Click! He had tapped his forehead. I keep it all here, it makes me happy to remember.

When she chanced upon a spellbinding place she kept it a secret, as if it existed only for her.

I wish I did not have to read the nauseating details of the ashram and guruji. But like I was asked once about The God of Small Things and about the child abused in it, “does it really happen?” So I guess the abuse still needs to be written, still needs to be told, still needs to tell who the culprits are.

Shabari was a simple-minded woman who thought of God as someone very like herself, as a friend of hers. “She has tasted each one because she could not bear to feed me a sour or poisonous berry. How can I do otherwise but bless her with heaven?” The moral is that true, simple devotion is worth a hundred such displays.


He dreamed of living on Jupiter and sleeping under its many moons. When his teacher had told their class it had sixteen moons he had wanted to ask her if this meant that there was full moon on Jupiter every night? Or were there crescent moons and half moons all at once in that other sky?

At day’s end, like the hush of dew comes evening

The kite wipes the scent of sunlight from its wings

All birds come home, all rivers, all of life’s task finished, only darkness remains

“Banalata Sen”(Jibananada Das, 1942)

Badal, Jugnu, Piku and the guilt of surviving.

That I guess is a difficult closure to get.

I could not have not read this book, long-list, short-list, who cares?


Stands for People Living with Human Immuno-deficiency.

Human Immuno-deficiency Virus is the most deadly infected virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is a condition of complete failure of human immune system.

Travelling on work, I recently met a group of PLHIV (People Living with HIV) through an Organisation working on providing Care and Support.

We met Minu (name changed) originally from Haryana. She came to this city with her husband after marriage. During her fourth pregnancy, she tested positive for HIV. In the next three years, her husband died. Two of her children have tested positive. She breaks down before she could finish what she is trying to say.

Purnima (name changed) was confirmed positive during her pregnancy. By the time she was in her seventh month, her husband died. She has one daughter. When she is talking, and I needed a translator, there was sudden unexpected laughter. Apparently, when she lived closer to the hill in a rented house, once when she was alone with her baby, a tiger entered her house. Fortunately her reflex worked and she quickly went to the other room and bolted it from inside. For two hours, they both stayed put, no ways to communicate to anyone, and then the tiger decided to leave. After that brief spell of laughter, she tells, I was not destined to die, with tears swelled eyes, she wants her daughter to study, and live. She irons clothes for a living.

Almost all of them contacted HIV from the husband. When they got married, the infection was likely in the asymptomatic phase when there are no symptoms of HIV infection. Most women were detected positive when they went for check-up during pregnancy.

Most of them paid dowry in their marriage. Their in-laws believe that it’s the woman who gave the disease to the son. There is no way to get back the money and valuables of the dowry. Most of them did now know what HIV is. Most of them were not earning.

And suddenly they find themselves affected with a disease without a cure (one can live with medication), husband, children and the entire family requiring medical attention, the man who is likely to have contacted the disease first, deteriorates fast and dies. And they are left to face an extremely hostile world.

The hospitals refuse to take up even minor surgeries for HIV infected patients and send them away in some pretext or the other, the easiest being we do not have free beds. Nobody would rent them a place to live. Nobody would give them a job. So, they hide the disease.

Like it happens, typically, when you need to use a concept quite often, you find an acronym.  You find few words to explain something which would otherwise need a whole paragraph or a long conversation. Single orphan (one parent is alive), double orphan (both parents are dead), de facto orphan (one parent is alive, but is so ill, that is unable to take care of the child). These may soon become SO, DO etc, kind of neutralising the emotions to get on with the work.

Few times in life, one comes across a human institution. Completely dedicated to something that’s close to their heart and soul, so much so, that their work defines them. That institution here is a doctor. For a person infected with HIV, health is one major overwhelming concern. They need regular check-ups. Their medicines, nutrition needs to be constantly monitored.

According to the doctor (must be in his late sixties), when the patients first come to him, after being diagnosed, they ask him to give something so that they could all die. The doctor has turned his house into a centre that provides care and support for people living with HIV. His consultation room is his late father’s bedroom (that father is blessing him to no end). The neighbours grumble about the centre, he says. Imagine getting a place to do this work?  Imagine a HIV patient to get a place on rent. If any of us have tried to rent a place as a single woman, or as a minority community, or as mixed marriages, or in certain cities, you would be asked if you eat non vegetarian food as a pre-condition to renting a place to live. We understand the rigmarole.

Most of the women know about the doctor and the organisation through other women with HIV and there is camaraderie that keeps them going. Some of the women have recently formed a cooperative whereby they could get a bank loan to start a home based work for a living. Ironing, stitching are some of the work they have picked up. Things that they can do individually and has less contact with the outside others.

They stand by each other rock solid. Once in a while, they go on a picnic, where they play, all of them, run, jump, laugh. And when a colleague prompts the kids to promise to her that they will study, they will play, they will be naughty and they will do whatever they want to, a spell of loud cheer resonates.

I ask the doctor, with more drugs available, how long would the children live? He says “earlier they did not survive to see the first birthday, now it is possible they live till they are 28 to 30 years old.”

A couple in the USA, both HIV infected found out about the Organisation and about a boy whose grandmother, a fish seller , after losing both her son and daughter-in-law to AIDS, made every possible effort to save the child. This couple send the boy 4000 INR every month and have made a will that when they die, the boy will inherit an amount which will see him through his medical expenses and other necessities.

The work needs money. Often times, these are projects and are supported for a period of three years (that is if one has a sympathetic funder, most often the funding tends to be for a year or two). And one is asked, “How long could you go on providing support?”

It is not a mathematical problem with a solution, the doctor says. True.

The concept of “social work” includes a very broad spectrum. It varies from charity, generosity, kindness to working on recognising Rights. The Right to live a dignified life and to die a dignified death. When one compares, it is possible that being generous is sometimes easier, as against fighting for a just and equal society.

As we were completing the meeting, one of the women gets up. Hesitantly, she waits till she could get the attention, says “we don’t care if there is no food on our plates; we want our children to go to school, to be able to study.”  Tears brimming our eyes, choked for words, we nod, it is not easy, but we will all try together, that the children go to school.

The highest estimated adult HIV prevalence is found in Manipur (0.78%), followed by Andhra Pradesh (0.76%), Karnataka (0.69%) and Nagaland (0.66%) – See more at:


“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.




I can’t really remember how long I have been walking. And, how and when I came to enjoy it. My two schools till tenth standard were in walking distance.We never had any vehicle at home. There was no question of anyone dropping me and my brother to school. We woke up on time, ate on time, and left on time, and walked to school like clockwork. I now think how much of pressure it must have been on my mother, every morning, through the day, to stick to this schedule. But that will be another story.

That bit of walking apart, my father used to go for a walk almost every evening. Once school was over, and the daily routine of school-play-homework-story book could be altered, to stepping out in the evening sometimes, with friends, visiting others, and occasionally walking with my father. Often times, it was a quiet walk, or a discussion on someone, or some squabble or some forthcoming festival/ event or to pick up vegetables from nearby market where an extra hand is always useful.

When I left home to study further, and then to work, time spent at home got restricted to few days of vacation or leave. One thing I did, at least once every visit, was to go for an evening walk with my father. By then we had changed house and the landscape, regular path and route all became different and unfamiliar to me. But both of us, going for a walk, has come to be our tradition.

My work involved walking in the forests of Odisha. That made up for everything else. Some of my most memorable walks have been those, natural forests or plantations, hills or plains, the walk in the midst of trees always brought happiness. Flowers, berries, driftwood, stones, ponds and rivers, birds and often times, the sunset along the walk always added to the contentment of a walk that tires you physically but invigorates your mind.

So it has been a very very long time, that I have been walking, wonder if I try to calculate it in hours and days?!!

Walking fitted in beautifully to the rhythm of married life, suited what we both liked to do, our pace and concept of exercise, along with our love for treed landscapes and all creatures great and small. As we moved from city to city, small or big, we will look for spaces to walk and weave our routine around it. If it’s a large and lit campus, we walked in the evenings. If some days work kept us in the office, we walked in the mornings. If there was not a large campus, we wandered around to find a less crowded path and walked in the early morning light. All our travel to new destinations, holidays are remembered through our walks. Walking as the End, sole purpose, not just the Means.

Often times, the walking spaces are common properties, even though they may be State owned, and the State may be responsible for its upkeep, there usually are multiple users (for example the KBR National park in the middle of Hyderabad, where we walk now) .

When we lived in Bangalore, we stumbled upon this nicely hidden campus called Mini Forest. It had mixed plantation, few office buildings, nursery of plantation trees, and couple of low rise apartment buildings for its staff. Not wanting to trespass, we stepped in with apprehension, through a side gate which was partially open, the large iron gate was firmly locked. We were thrilled to find so many people already walking inside, it meant we could also walk there!

So this became our regular walking route, with an occasional diversion to another large residential campus, where we would go to see our dog friend Toffee.

Mini forest has a strange mix of local trees and exotics. There is Nilgiri (Eucalyptus), Neem (Azadirachita indica), Karanj (Pongemia pinnata), Gulmohar (Delonix regia), Jamun (Syzygium cumini), Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma) and many from the Cassia family. Am not sure if the trees were planted with some thought or just randomly, but they provided shade and were a treat to the eyes. We would often spot bee- eaters, coucals, tailor birds, sunbirds making the walks so much more pleasant.

Few things that has bothered me for a while about this space.

Every year, the jamun trees would blossom. We would see the tiny green fruits appear. They however, never live to ripe, to turn that rich dark purple. They would always be plucked, sometimes the whole branch, broken and left on the road. Unlike a mango, an unripe jamun cannot be eaten or cooked. What then is that uncertainty, curiosity, not letting it ripe, or someone else eat it…what really is it that year after year, they are so savagely destroyed? I wish the jamun tree had an option not to fruit.

This is a place for walkers. One can see by how stones and blocks are placed on the entrance that bikes are not allowed inside. But still people will manage to push their bikes in and speed away; scaring the children and elders who play and walk there assuming it’s a vehicle free space.

Stray dogs reside in this campus in large numbers, fed by the residents. They mind their own business, used to peoples’ walking. There also are many pet dogs brought there by the owners as this place would be a dog’s delight. But they leave behind poop all over the place. So much so that you need to mind your steps even when walking on the paved roads, forget the paths.

I first noticed a small framed picture of a hindu god on the crevice of the campus wall. The god soon donned flowers. Very soon, even the termite mounds had pictures of gods and goddesses and flowers on them (it is believed that the termite mounds are actually rishis/ hermits who are praying inside for a long time).

It bothers me when I frame all the above four together and see how they change the character of a green public space.

How these acts of ours define this space? It’s a free, open to everyone place where most people go to walk, occasional hand holding camera clicking couples/ families aside. When I worked with communities in the rural areas to own and protect common properties like land, forests and water bodies, despite the many layers of differences in that social milieu, it was largely possible to define the users and identify the intruder.

In an urban area, that’s one of the hardest.

What can be done? Let the forest department make some rules? And get guards to enforce these rules? Along with that, there will be many interpretations of these rules, timings, paths, for all you know, clothes will be defined  and many other regulations. Put signage? Would people read and abide?

How much of rules and discipline is enough?

Would it work to form a group with certain critical strength of voice and authority, of the floating population and tell everyone the dos and don’ts over a period of time, may be a month, so that everyone understands. The group does not own the place, so what’s their interest? Why would they do it?

What hinders common sense?

At Mini Forest: Save Earth, we have no where else to go.
At Mini Forest: Save Earth, we have no where else to go.

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.