Tuesday

Marwari Havelies

Road trips are always close to my heart. They bring back beautiful memories. Recently we had a chance to go on a road trip to Rajasthan, India. Three things are closely associated to this state - Thar Desert, Pink City and Marwaris!

Being born and bought up in Madurai, we have seen Marwari community flourish in wholesale businesses, which include cosmetic, fashion jewelry, gift items, electrical items and a lot more. Generally, they live in large joint families, wear colorful clothes, often include sweets in their meals and make lovely pan/bedas. Apart from this I had no idea about their lifestyle back in their native land.

When we started off from Sikar to Bikaner, we heard that there are beautiful havelies on the way. Haveli, means town houses or mansions. After talking to a couple of locals on the way, we headed to Fatehpur in search of Havelis and went few kilometers into the village. At one point we saw beautiful dilapidated walls, wells and some old buildings. We were guided to drive further down a narrow lane to see a Haveli. As soon as we entered the lane, this is what we saw:

Contrast Havelis

I fell in love with these contrast colored Havelis. As you can see, murals of the Haveli on the left is predominantly painted with white, black and green where as the Haveli on the right has beautiful murals in bright indigo, red in an yellow back ground. Attracted by the iconic elephant drawing, I walked towards the white haveli.

Linking this picture to Our World


The whole area was deserted, and we started soaking in the beautiful paintings despite the scorching sun. The lovely paintings display the lifestyle of the rich trading community.

Beautiful archways, intricate windows and doors
We were about to leave that lane wondering what could be inside this palatial mansion. Just in time, we saw a lady coming out of a modern house opposite to this haveli. This time around the language barrier was not there as our friend who was travelling with us could speak good Hindi! We learned from this lady that there was nothing inside this haveli but she told us that there were people living next door, which is also an ill-maintained old haveli. She suggested that we could request the people living there to get a glimpse of live haveli. 

Living Haveli

This rambling beauty had traces of murals that stands as a testimony to it's glorious past. Motorcycles outside gave us hope that people living there are modernized and would be welcoming travellers. As I touched the small door it gave way showing something from a different era.


We asked this lady if we could come in and take pictures, she nodded her head and rushed inside. I took that 'nod' as yes and shot the picture above. Within seconds she came with another elderly lady who shooed us away and shut that door! What did I expect? A royal welcome? Of course not! It is their home and they didn't want curious travelers to invade their privacy. 

The formidable doors stared at us and I felt that it was fiercely guarding it's secrets! With resentment we started walking towards that yellow based indigo haveli, in the hope of getting better luck. Sure we were rewarded, yes we had reached the right place to learn the story of havelis. More details and colorful murals in the next post :)

Monday

Taj Mahal - Elusive Illusions

Taj Mahal, synonymous with the 7 wonders of the World and symbol of love, you can never appreciate it's charm and beauty until you see it in person. Seeing Taj Mahal in a picture or a video doesn't give you a clue of what it is in reality. You need to walk in through the Royal Gates to experience and appreciate the sheer beauty. 

We hired a professional guide and a photographer too (so that we can get those classic couple shots, without attempting crude selfies). I carried my DSLR to capture my own angles. In this post I have attempted to show how I saw the Taj through my lens. 

From afar, through the arch of the Royal entrance, white marble arches of the Taj looked so close. Take a look at the collage to get an idea of what am trying to say.

Royal Entrance on the left and first glimpse of Taj on the right
But as we kept walking towards the Royal archway, we felt that the Taj Mahal was slowly receding. It felt as if the Taj is taunting us to come closer to see her. The minute we entered the arch, the elusive marble wonder came into full view.  

It was nothing like what I have seen in photos or in the movies. I was spellbound and I think I was holding my breath in awe and realized that I was blocking someones way, until my husband tapped on my shoulder and asked me to move along. 

Multi tasking mind some how had stopped functioning and only my visual sense was working, in fact overtime! For the first few minutes, I was just gaping, without even taking any pictures. When I tried to focus my lens, something felt odd. Now, I noticed that the minarets were shrouded with safety nets and construction ladder. Restoration work was going on. 

Our world

While walking towards the Taj, I was wondering how nice it would be to view Taj without any scaffolding around the minarets. The guide was quite informative and with great passion he told how the Taj looks at different times of the day and during different seasons of the year. He recommended that we should come during Jan to Mar, that too plan for the exclusive Full Moon night view. 

Then the guide jovially said that, now Taj is getting a face scrub with a pack of multini mitti. It is true that the Taj is severely affected by acid rains and pollution, and the white marble is tainted. So, the archaeological department of India takes restoration initiatives once in few years by applying mud pack made of multani mitti, which is a popular Indian face pack!  

After wrapping our footwear with covers, we finally entered the Taj. The more you look at it the more you wonder how they would have made it without any modern machinery. The exquisite floral carvings and engraved marble inlaid with semi precious stones is a royal treat!
Jali Work and Marble Inlay with semi-precious stones

Marble Engravings

Marble Inlay work
The Taj is made of translucent white marbles from Makrana, Rajasthan. Seeing is believing. So, our guide promised us to show how it glows when light penetrates. We entered the mausoleum. It was dark. Our guide suggested that all we had to do was tip the volunteer, who was standing guard next to the restricted area, with just Rs 10. We agreed. The volunteer had a pen torch and he lit it against the marble wall. To our excitement, the wall was glowing like radium! He slowly moved the torch light around the walls and pillars, everywhere it was glowing! 

Photography is not allowed inside the mausoleum, but no one is there to stop one from taking pictures. Encouraged by people clicking around, I too dared to capture the inner beauty.
Jali Work made of single piece of marble!
On the way out, our guide showed us the beauty of honeycomb structured wall. Take a look at the collage.
Honeycomb structure
The top part of the collage shows the general view and when you peep in through a honeycomb, it acts like a wide angle lens and you get a beautiful view!

After stepping out of the mausoleum, our guide asked me to count the sides of a pillar. I counted it obediently and said 6. He denied, took me closer, oops it was a 3 sided pillar. I was caught off guard by yet another optical illusion.  
Optical Illusion
I guess I will be visiting the Taj several times in the next few years as we have relocated to this part of the world and pretty sure that I will discover something new every time.     

Friday

Somana Kunitha - A Folk Dance Celebrating Spirits and Village Deity

Every time we drive past DakshinaChitra on ECR, Chennai, we used to think, one day we should go there. Over a long weekend, finally we made it and the experience was very rewarding. 

Nowadays, DakshinaChitra is also becoming a prime location for wedding photo shoots! However, this is a heritage museum. Those who wish to get a glimpse on art and architecture of southern states of India, DakshinaChitra, is a must go destination. Trust me you won't be disappointed. Check their events calendar when you plan for a visit. Usually over the weekends and public holidays they have live performances. 

The museum is housed in 10 acres on ECR, facing the Bay of Bengal. We knew there was going to be a performance at 4 pm on that day. We were quite early, so we were exploring traditional houses of Kerala, which was near the performance ground. By 3.45 pm, we were exhausted and wanted to get a drink, so we were heading out of the ground and...suddenly we heard vibrant music from behind. We turned around to look. 

We were mesmerized by the huge colorful masks that were fast approaching towards the ground. That's it! We forgot about heat, thirst and just rushed back and found a perfect spot to watch the performance. At that time we didn't know about the name of that folk art. 

The musicians filed towards the stage area. The artists who carried the mask on their head slipped it on their faces with deft moves. The one who looked like the leader was carrying a whip, he came center stage and announced that they were going to perform Somana Kunitha, a folk dance native of Tumkur, Karnataka. 


As the lead was narrating in Kannada, I had to do the guess work and all i could get was that the performance had something to do with Godess Chamundesweri. Let me share the visual treat:



After the performance, we approached the group and thanked them for the wonderful performance and had a chat with the lead. We learned that the dance was to celebrate victory of good spirit over the bad one. Soma means mask and Kunitha is dance. The red mask represented good and the yellow the bad. The lead was actually the priest who invokes Godess Chamundesweri to support the good spirit! Had a chance for these close ups too. 

 
Add caption


 


Wish DakshinaChitra can arrange for translators for all the performances, so that non-native speakers of that particular folk art too can get a better understanding!

Tuesday

Thinking Out of the Box!

Most of us have out of the world ideas, right? Some of us dare to speak up, while others don’t! Crazy ideas and quirky habits go hand in hand. See a connection? No?

Well, clouds have been influencing me big time. They are dynamic, they keep moving and changing shapes. Instead of looking at clouds as meteorological phenomena, I look at them for inspiration and believe that they are constantly trying to communicate with us! I have been watching these majestic beings since childhood. 

When I was growing up, I tried to talk with “real life friends” about my passion or rather attachment towards clouds! All I received was weird looks. Already, I was labeled as a naughty tomboy character. In fact I was also called as ’Vaishnavan’…on top of all these, I was not keen in getting labeled as cranky! So, I stopped sharing about my secret friends. Instead, I started to take pictures and write about them.




Not just writing skills, my secret friends were constantly shaping my thought process and guide me in all walks of life! For example, often I’ve heard people saying ‘Every cloud has a silver lining!’ to console the depressed. But, it was difficult for me to comprehend the connection between dire situation and clouds with silver lining, until I saw them with my own eyes.

Once I was hurrying up for meeting with a difficult client. The skies looked dark and ominous. I already was apprehensive and thought that this impending thunderstorm would worsen and the traffic would play on my nerves. When I was about to get inside my car, I saw a dark heavy cloud traveling towards the way I was about to drive. I was sure that it is going to pour down massively. But, I think my floating friends decided to show me a magic and keep me level-headed. Suddenly the dark beauty it stopped moving, in the stillness I saw a fine white line along the edges. Subtly, the line widened to a silver border and in minutes the dark cloud was completely engulfed in the white light. Gone was the darkness! Amazing isn’t it?! You don’t have to be depressed about adverse situations, things will change!

Bunch of clouds gliding towards each other remind me of friends rushing to greet.  Colorful clouds, especially during dawn and dusk say that nature is the greatest painter!
See, with a crazy habit of watching the skies I am gifted with secret friends, with whom I communicate in my own terms. They keep coming to me at right times and add color to my life! 

I flow along with the clouds and see how they shape up. Best ideas, solutions come to me while I watch them. Whenever I’m at crossroads, I look up to my secret friends, clouds. They are there, as always!

Thursday

Adapting and Communicating in a Foreign Country

Distant pastures are always greener, this is true in every walk of life. Once, I used to think that living abroad would be a great pleasure. How naive I was! Now after few yrs of being an expat, I have mixed feelings and am trying to gauge my thoughts...

At first, in Kuching (East Malaysia), I enjoyed the pleasant climate and good-natured people. I used to communicate by sign language with a neighbor, because both of us didn't know a common language.

Later in Kuala Lumpur (West Malaysia), even though many spoke English, at first it was difficult to understand their accent and style. Others used to say the same thing about my accent as well. After being there for 5+ years, more or less I started to speak/communicate like locals.
Now, here in UK, for the first few days it was like re-inventing the cycle, in terms of communicating with the locals. At a super market till, the cashier asked me something twice and I couldn't catch it. It sounded like this:

Chu nida bae?
She had to repeat it for the third time and finally I understood that she was asking me:

do you need a bag?
I was a bit embarrassed and lamented about this to a friend. Um, well, her experience gave me more confidence because she told that in her early days, she could never understand anything, even if the same thing was repeated several times! Nowadays, to overcome this situation, whenever I travel in public transport or be in a public area, I try to catch up with the conversation that goes on around me, but the intention is not eavesdropping:)

So far, I have never heard should, must or for that matter they don't even use can you. They are always polite. Let me share an experience to show their politeness or rather use of language. When you travel by bus, besides regular stops, there are several Request Stops. If you happen to wait at this type of bus stop, you need to wave your hand, to signal the driver that you need to get in. Similarly, if you have to get down at these stops you need to press the red buzzer in the bus.

Say, if you were unable to reach the buzzer, you would be requesting someone nearer to help you, right? I would have probably said "excuse me, please press the buzzer". But, I overheard someone's request, which was: Could you please ring the bell for me? That too with a pleasant smile. After that, she was profusely thanking the other person.

Saying thanks and sorry for even very small incidents is a part of the British culture. A friend, jokingly commented that these phrases are too natural and sometimes it looks like automated words without meaning, but so far, I have not had any negative experience in this area.

In public, usually people are lighthearted. Once an old lady was finding difficult to get up from a par bench. Just then, I had an eye contact with her. Immediately she had a beautiful smile and quipped: I need a pair of new legs.

Ruins of Alampara Fort

Exploring new places that too without making any plans, rather like a nomad is the most exciting relaxation. After almost a year in Chennai, we went on a 'wild goose chase', well a rather calculated chase I'd say, because we already had a planned destination, but not the route or stops. Moreover, this was my first off beat experience on Indian roads. ECR (East Coast Road) reminded me of Kampung roads in and around Melaka, Malaysia, where I used to drive along the beach! After few stops for photo shoots, we chanced on an obscure board that directed to 'Amampara Fort'. Curiosity got the better of us and we decided to traverse on the unknown narrow road. And the reward was too good! 


As you can see in the above picture, that place was deserted and I was reminded of the climax chasing/fighting scenes in Indian Movies, where the hero/heroine would end up in desolate places amongst the gangsters. But, the sheer beauty was enough for us to get closer and check out that rusty boards, which might be boasting its glorious past.


Built by the Mughals in the 18th Century CE and gifted to the French. But, the fort was captured by and partially destroyed by the British.    


The most intriguing thing about this fort is that, it was a popular sea port in ancient India and was popularly known as Alamparai port. From here, silk, ghee and other exotic material were exported to distant lands. Come to think of it, the culture at that time was so advanced that this port had its own mint and the money was called as 'Alamparai kaasu/varahan'. Here is yet another view of this fort, which forms a mesmerizing silhouette.


The creaky wretched board at the site claims that this fort is maintained by 'The State Archaeology Department'. Just wondering, if they know the meaning of 'maintain'. It is pathetic to see that these impressions of power and identity of the past are not well preserved.


Wish we take care and cherish our treasures, which might help us to understand our past and probably shed some light on things that would eventually guide us in shaping our future!

Monday

What You See is What You Get

What you see is what you get – Does it ring a bell? Well, most of us in IT industry would have heard WYSWIG interface in web and content designing tools. 

Let us take this concept to the next level, where seeing = focusing!

You see, even while shooting pictures, in mobile or DSLR cameras, if you miss to focus your subject, either you get a blurry shot or loose the context in which you wanted the picture to be. In a broader sense focus is the key to succeeding in anything and everything. 


Focus - Our World

To stay focused, you need to have three things: 
  • dedication - to learn
  • determination - to understand what we have learned 
  • discrimination - to prioritize on what is important while applying the knowledge
Let me explain this concept with a story, from the great Indian epic, Mahabaratha. I have heard this story from my grandfather several times. Each time it used to feel fresh because of the way he made us to see it in different vantage. This is the episode where the Guru Dhron was challenged for his favoritism towards the prince Arjuna who was known for his remarkable skills in archery. It was agreed that a test on archery skills would prove who the best archer is.

A wooden bird, with a painted eye, was suspended on a leafy branch of a large tree. Now, the guru stated the rules of the contest.
  • Every student would get a chance to aim.
  • Before striking they must answer guru’s question.
First came the senior most prince. As soon as he raised the bow and aimed, the guru asked him what he saw. Immediately the prince turned towards the guru and replied that he saw the wooden bird, the branch on which it was perched, and a nest. Then, when the prince shot, the arrow misfired. Similarly, all the princes came, aimed and gave a variety of answers.
  • One said he heard birds chirping merrily 
  • Another  said that he saw the large tree and a nest just below the branch where the wooden bird was perched.
  • Yet another one said that he just saw the bird.
But, all of them missed to hit the target. Finally came Arjuna’s turn, he raised his bows aimed, and stood steady. The guru asked the same question, ‘what do you see?’ Without taking his eyes off his target, Arjuna said ‘painted eye of the bird’! The guru tried to distract him by stating, what all the other students saw, but he was undeterred, and finally when he pulled the strings, the arrow flew with laser like precision and pierced the painted eye of the bird! What he saw was what he got!

Arjuna won because he saw what he had to hit. 
Life is like a camera, focus on what you want, you will get it!



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