“A palace which gave the original a run for its money” by Rajib Deysarkar
Often skipped by tourist in favour of its more popular cousin the Faluknama palace, the Chowmahalla palace which was built as a replica of the Shah’s palace in Tehran, Iran, was rumored to have surpassed the original in it’s grandeur.
Recipient of the prestigious UNESCO Asia Pacific Merit award for cultural heritage conservation in 2010, the Chowmahalla Palace whose restoration are still going on, is one of the must to visit tourist spot while you are in Hyderabad.
Though the older Southern part of the palace is still undergoing renovation but the Northern courtyard and “Khilwat Mubarak” which is open to public is enough to make you understand the splendor of the palace in it heydays with central fountain and pool and the adjoining greenery and buildings which were mirror image of each other.
The “Khilwat Mubarak” turned into a museum now, used to be the heart of the Palace where coronation of the Nizams used to happen and prestigious durbars of the Nizam used to be held here – the seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty. The Durbar hall along with the aritificats of the museum – the arms and armaments section of th museum are one of the finest one can see in this part of the country. It brought me back the memories of arms I saw in the Rajput forts of Junagarh (Bikaner) and Mehrangarh (Jodhpur).
The Chandeliers of Belgian crystal in the durbar hall and the intrinsic stucco works on the ceiling and walls are another example of the grandeur of the palace.
I would love to be back to the Chowmahalla Palace when the Southern courtyard opens and I hope the palace administration can then go on to introduce a “Light and Sound” show to relive the days of the Nizams.
The palace has a small cafeteria just after the entrance serving tea, coffee, ice-creams, soft drinks and some basic snacks, however the eatery needs to have more chairs for guest and needs to kept more clean. There are toilets also which were quite clean when we went.
I visited Chowmahalla Palace with my family during December 2016.
Chowmahalla Palace Khilwat, 20-4-236 | Motigalli, Hyderabad 500002, India
The socialist wanted to do away with private ownership of property and introduce the idea of collective community ownership. I have tried to create three brief speeches to show what I feel the people of Europe might have been thinking. Have fun!
Poor Labourer Working in Fields
Friends, today I want to talk about private property. Private property is one of the biggest problems of society today. In my village, there is this man, Kolshes. He is a big miser. He owns most of the land in the village, and he hires us to farm them! Because of him, the rest of us have very little land. This is the problem with private property. If one person owns it, nobody else gets anything. Instead, the land should belong to a collective! Everybody will farm it, and however much we get, we should divide among ourselves according to who did the most work. This way, all the property will not belong to a few people, and the money will be distributed fairly. This system will be just and equal. Thank you!
Medium level Landowner
Friends, I want to say that this idea of public property is very good. I have a small amount of land. Alone, I may be able to get some money from the crops. But if I combine my land with everybody’s land, we could get more profit. How much money we get will not depend on how much land we have. It will depend on how much work we do. The only problem I see, is what happens if someone wants to sell their land. If all the land belongs to the Collective, will the Collective buy the land from us? Or if we want to move away, will it give us some money? Other than this problem, this is a very good idea. Thank you!
Friends, this idea of public property has many problems. I have a house in my village. If the Collective owns the land on which the house is built, does the house become theirs? If it doesn’t, then what is the use of owning that land? They cannot use it for farming, and I could sell the house together with the land to someone. Next, how do we know who did more work? If everybody is cultivating the same land, then how do we know how much work we did? Right now, Titolis is cultivating 10 bushels a month, and Litanes is cultivating 12 bushels a month. If they combine their land, and produce 22 bushels a month, how will they decide who has done more work? These are the main problems I see here. Thank you.
Europe was swept with high drama over the ages. But it is always interesting to return or reflect on how it all must have started!!!
I am Mota, a name coined in school; am Zen, a title earned by virtue of my ‘know it all attitude’ and am going to take you through a journal of three stupendous days of my life spent with two extraordinary individuals.
An exemplary scene, if I may call it so, of this mémoire, wouldbe the one where am screaming, “Rums dare you fall asleep!” “Am not sleeping, it is just the eyes, you continue…” says Rums feebly, visibly half asleep completely tired from the day’s ordeal. I continue with the same zeal amidst my cough, finish the monologue about some very unimportant chapter of my life with few interceptions from our all remembering friend, the data bank and finally retire to bed. Rums is fast asleep by then and greets us all fresh and set to hit the beach in the morning. We two meanwhile have had little rest, me by virtue of an incessant cough and Vidu for trying to tend to me so that I could get some relief. Rums is inspiration personified. After having an illustrious corporate career for 15 years she has taken another leap to distinguish herself in a vocation that has been her passion. Rums is a bundle of fun and vigour. She is a chatter box and exceptionally unassuming. Rums is incapable of presuming an ulterior motive in any deed. She is a cushion and a pillar at the same time, soft and strong and radiates a smile at all times that can melt any heart.
As the Innova sped on the metalled road, through the night, we were rolling in laughter, hardly noticing the occasional lights from either a house by the road or a dilapidated structure, which may have been occupied in a distant past. Laughing is contagious and when three schoolmates meet after more than 20 years and are out on a trip together there is every reason to be happy. Rums took the pains to stop her thundering guffawing and explain this to the lovely gentleman who has been driving us around all evening.
Vidu had flown in earlier in the day and was doing the formalities of checking us into a hotel which we had painstakingly chosen over the days and agreed upon after numerous WhatsApp messages and calls. Her husband had taken the initiative to book it online but there was some dissension over the charges for the extra person, as we were three. We walked in a little while later and were greeted with a refreshing kokum juice. Little did we care for the poor soul who was struggling to get her way through, not only for her but also us, as we waited in the beautifully decorated lobby, giggling our hearts out, also contemplating if they would offer us another drink.
Vidu, the data bank is an intricate character; sensitive, delicate and yet eloquent, exceedingly sober but sombre. She has a great sense of humour and can be really fun if she chooses to be so. Vidu is into serious aspects of humanity and has passionately turned it into her metier. She is a softball the type they give at offices these days as stress busters; people can dump their woes with her and she’ll happily absorb it all and suffer silently. We were checked in, three schoolgirls, out of their regime, and free to do anything they wished to; now that doesn’t happen every day. An outline of “things to be done” was already in place, girls are oh! So organised. Vidu was starving and we promised her food on the way as we discussed our evening plans, which included tourist spots, beaches, water sports, river cruise and fine dining. Rums gave us apples. We took just a little over an hour to decide what to wear and after about 3 changes, matching the accessories each time, the first leg of our “do as you like” began.
Just in time for the last cruise, we reached the jetty, accompanied by a mild drizzle, and anybody would have bet any amount on our being high on alcohol, but we had not had a drop. I’ll never forget the faces of the hapless chaps at the ticket counter who had to keep a straight face as we asked stupid questions and made outrageous comments. We asked if they served food on the deck, very well aware of the fact that they never do. We inquired about the programme on board and when they said regional culture, we actually said the bad word for crap!
The glittering lights from the boats were dancing on the waves and so were Vidu and Rums on the deck, as we talked and talked and talked more. The poor starving girl had been fed earlier that evening, though not on the way but at Dona Paula where we lingered on till nightfall. We tried to offer her sandwiches, paw bhaji and biscuits, as the shops came along, but each time she would say no and then once we had passed the shops, she would want to have them. Finally, the gentle driver offered coconuts that were being sold by the roadside, this time Vidu readily agreed but Rums forestalled us and we drove on, for obvious reasons which had slipped out of our minds.
A little undecided about where to dine, finally we gave in to Rums suggestion and the ambience of the restaurant was just what we needed to rejuvenate us after a long day. There was live music and very lively decor. Rums enjoyed the fish, which was too herbaceous of a certain kind for my taste and I spend the next day regurgitating it. Vidu seemed a little deranged but she played along. She doesn’t drink but did sip in from ours only to confirm her distaste for the heavenly liquor. The day concluded with the exemplary scene aforesaid.
Mornings are always beautiful, they bring hope, and a morning spent on a beach racing with the waves and dodging them is a perfect morning. The perfect morning gave way to a sumptuous breakfast accompanied by hearty laughs and long tales, never tall though, we had opened our hearts to each other and had no intentions of any fabrications. The clocks struggled to make time for the ladies, as they groomed their already handsome selves into exquisite beauties.
Fort Aguada up the hill overlooking the Arabian Sea was where the beauties de-boarded, me running off to throw off first. As I felt better we hovered on the hats at a stall nearby, I had forgotten to carry one along so was vaguely interested but then decided against them. Coincidently Vidu had a hat on, which was very similar to a pile on display. The keeper of the stall, a lady, thought that Vidu was walking away with one from the pile. Evidently, Vidu’s hat was a little different and not an exact copy, so we got away with only a little embarrassment.
Before lunch we made our presence felt at Vagator beach, me again rushing off to disgorge some more of that stupendous fish which my husband would have died for. Vidu let her hair loose to get it beaded with colourful threads and Rums and I sang our lungs out to the vast expanse of the ocean. I wondered if some faraway boatman looked up to find the source of a faint melody.
Lunch was at Fisherman’s Wharf; the ambience was overwhelming with the old world charm recreated through remarkable decor. The menu was a foodie’s delight and Rums enjoyed. Vidu also seemed to be more at ease and happily enjoyed the Goan curry and rice as opposed to last night. My poor ailing stomach agreed to only a trifle, but delicious it was. We sat there long enough for the other guests to clear off and the furniture being reorganised so as to indicate shop closed. Nobody drove us out though and we took our own sweet time to help ourselves out of the chairs.
Young is what we call ourselves, nevertheless matured we are, thus having paid a great deal to the hotel; the idea was to enjoy its facilities to the fullest. Thus we made it back to the hotel after we picked up a little something, customary, from the market. We stretched ourselves on the bed, making the most of our payment, had loads of tea, provided by the hotel, took long showers, used the toiletries, the only thing we did not use our money’s worth was the idiot box, we are too smart for it.
The swimming pool was closed by the time we managed to change and disembark from our room. Vidu poor thing got caught up with something urgent and had to devote some time to her work- dabba. I and Rums sat by the poolside. It was the first time I was sitting alone with another woman, mom excluded, under the wide open sky, with the rumbling of the waves as background music. We were talking of pleasant things, one of them being Reiki; we were talking of enriching experiences, one such we were presently in at the time; we were talking of things that had come to pass and of things that might do so. It was another magical moment of the many that I had lived in the past couple of hours.
We took special care to get ready for dining on the eve of our departure. We chose to dine at the hotel and by the time we settled at a table, the other guests had left and the kitchen was on the verge of closing. Little did we care, as our gorgeous selves are always drowned in self-appreciation, we are indubitably self-obsessed individuals. Most people think women dress to impress, only a true woman knows that we dress in celebration of our own being.
Dinner was satisfactory under the able supervision of a very cute boy; most likely from the northeast, nevertheless to our discomfort he just couldn’t leave us alone. We also had cats for company which none other than me was excited about. The high point was Vidu trying to taste a spoonful of our drinks as if it were faluda or firni. I had ordered a neat tequila shot but on rums insistence, the fair guy got us a lemon, which Vidu promptly squeezed into the shot glass, so instead of having to bite into the lemon after gulping down the shot we had nice good lemony tequila, which I sipped and Vidu took a spoonful or two.
Deep into the night the three of us chatted up, that was our last night of togetherness, at-least for then. The day of the departure was to be a hurried one as we had flights to catch to get back to our dominions. Yet I and Vidu hit the beach again, she playing alone in the waves this time, as Rums had a sleepover and rather wanted to take a plunge into the pool a little later. I watched Vidu happy and contemplating; I watched the sunrise bringing joy to the world, the rays breaking in through the mist; I watched the scurried movements of the tiny crabs and I felt happy and alive as always.
We shot Rums at the pool; she looked like a blue mermaid in her costume. After a couple of graceful laps the diva and her companions went off to gorge on food. Breakfast was complimentary throughout our stay and the spread was good and wide. We had every intention to check out well in time but even after so many hours we still had so much to talk! Finally, we packed and picked all the remaining sachets of beverages, settled the bill, got a cab and reached the airport.
I spilled out the remnant of the fish as we dislodged ourselves from the cab. A week before the trip some corona-viruses decided to explore my body so I can’t really blame my stomach completely for rejecting anything sumptuous.
Thus we were at the terminal, Vidu ran as her flight was to take off earlier than ours. I and Rums got through the security eventually, our time together was a wee bit longer; one we stay in the same city and two we had taken a train to reach Goa, which gave us an evening and an extra night to talk and laugh. The train being late we had occupied a bench, piled up our luggage and shared stories and food that Rums had packed from home, oblivious to the crowd and inquisitive eyes. Rums had a hat on most of the time and appeared quite a character; I pulled out a t-shirt and put it on above my top as the gentle breeze slowly got chilled, as the night darkened. Vidu was wirelessly with us on phone from time to time. It was a long time since I had laughed so loud in public.
By some untypical logic after the airport security check, we sat facing the restrooms, where there were no monitors showing the details of the flights. Vidu came around to bid us goodbye and our first reaction was of annoyance, we were scared she would miss her flight.
As a desperate attempt to bestow these cuties with a gift I offered to pick something from the airport lounge but they declined. The heartless creatures with no regards for my feelings had picked up the choicest gifts and affectionately presented it to me as we had met. I having researched a lot could not finally manage to grab any for them owing to my untimely infection.
As the time for our departure approached, I and Rums walked around the little airport lobby to get a place near the gates and then I spotted him! A dashing young man in his late twenties maybe, tall, fair, handsome and with a poise of an ultimate gentleman. By the time I told Rums, he had seated himself, so she had to take a small walk to have a look, and she was not disappointed at all.
Goa is all about Bikini, Booze and Boys. We had an almost private beach where we played like kids, bikini we left out for the benefit of humanity at large; we had two drinks at the two dinners, with a teetotaller trying spoonfuls from them and we saw this gorgeous boy at departure. We had it all then!
It was raining as we emerged from the airport and with a hurried goodbye we rushed to get a transport, though we live in the same city, the localities are wide apart. I took a Volvo and was drowned in the reminiscence of the past couple of hours that undoubtedly were one of the best. I am a traveller, my team which comprises of my hubby and son take frequent trips which are focused around photography and exploring a destination, so outings are common for me, but this was a trip where I explored humans and am unquestionably happy to have taken it.
Indian men and women have traditionally been puppets of destiny governed by tradition and culture. The moment a child is born to an Indian family the process of turning him or her into an ideal Indian man or woman begins; from the food we eat to the clothes we wear it is all about imbibing the culture into the heart and soul. The sole purpose of the whole family that surrounds the child and helps in its upbringing is to carry on the heritage.
The baby boy is pampered with love and luxury with the single expectation that he would reproduce and carry on the family name and do something in order to earn a living, the baby girl is showered with good sermons, as on her rests the honour of the family. In the process, the boy grows up to be a carefree man getting away with almost anything as long as he happily agrees to marry the girl that the family chooses for him and does a decent amount of studies to bag a degree and a job.
Please note the most important thing is to “marry according to the wishes of the family”. On the other hand, the girl has to grow up into a typical “sanskari” that is a cultured girl with all the good virtues to get married to a guy who may or may not give her any love respect or even basic amenities. In some cases, the girl has to even provide for this pati parameshwar (husband the ultimate God) and his family and yet be taunted and tortured for having the privilege of going out.
This full proof arrangement has been going on for ages as its very scientific that a docile creature would perform the duties well and never stand for its rights. In effect, the girl was completely dominated to be most docile and the reins of the boy were slackened a bit to give him the pseudo feeling of a king and were given at-least one slave – his wife. That was the general story until even a decade back.
Now in the modern cities exceptions are becoming a rule and the children unruly. The Indian men and women are going through a series of transitions owing to the influence of the western world. They are forming an opinion of their own, which was unheard of in such a large scale, occasional rebels have been known but they were easy to silence, given the well-knit social structure where the rebels could not survive for long without either giving in or losing their lives.
Some city boys and girls are now not only forming an opinion but also voicing them strongly and if not supported by the family are choosing to sever the family ties. The small town girl can now come to a big city and pursue her dreams, maybe at the cost of her family’s honour, but she now prefers to be honourable herself rather than being a slave. Small town goes to big town, big town goes abroad as today with a shrinking world it’s plausible, with a little courage and determination.
Interestingly the metrosexual man is also more sensitive and sensible. He has slowly learned to look beyond heritage and culture. Today lot of children see both parents earning, both parents washing vessels and most amazingly both being treated equally. But all this is happening in just a small percentage of the vast Indian population. Child marriage, dowry, abortion of girl child, wife beating and cruelty against women is far from being abolished. Unfortunately , even within the educated section of the people, it is a regular practice.
Yet there is hope as the world around Indian men and women are changing, in a small way, though. The voice within is rising, very slowly, very silently but very strongly.
It would be a cliché to say the view was picturesque, Kashmir is too beautiful to express in words. We were on our way to Pahalgam. As we left the city of Srinagar behind and hit the highway, my window was splashed with colours, the yellow mustard fields, the green lining of the willow trees, the greenish-grey hills, the shimmering white snow cap and then the pristine blue sky; one making a backdrop for the other. It is like a layered painting conceived by the greatest of artists.
It was a little after 6 am, and the roads were almost deserted.
A bandh (shut down) was called on that day demanding justice for Asifa, the hapless little girl. Procuring transportation was difficult but our hotel manager (Walisons Hotel) Sajad bhai went the extra mile to extend his cooperation. He insisted that we move on early, a village en route to Pahalgam in Anantnag district was supposedly in an enraged temperament and could pose a threat. Thus the journey at the appointed hour.
Suhail the kashmiri boy, all of 21, drove at a slow but steady pace, showing us the Kesar fields, the walnut trees, the willow trees, the bat market and the kesar market lining the highway with countless shops, ofcourse all closed at that wee hour, interestingly most of the kesar shops had ‘Zamindar’ on their Signboard pre or post fixed with something or the other.
Soon we were driving past sleepy little villages, the apple orchards and then we met the Liddar. Rajib asked Suhail to stop and urged us to get down. I had no idea that the air outside would be so chilled.
Srinagar was at 5200ft and we were now approaching 8989ft, much closer to those snow caps. Pahalgam boasts of being the gateway to Amarnath pilgrimage. The famous Amarnath yatra starts from ‘Chandanwadi’, 16kms uphill from the main town of Pahalgam.
Srinagar looks like any other town, bustling with activity, big and small buildings, flyovers and congestion. Jhelum and the flood channels are fairly clean and looking at the ornate bridges on them, with a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains at the horizon, one does get reminded of being close to paradise. But Pahalgam is paradise.
The river that is called Liddar, fed by numerous streams trickling or babbling down the snow-capped mountains, gives a distinct character to Pahalgam. It is at the heart of this tiny picture-perfect town.
There is only one way to enter Pahalgam, through a small check post on the road. After the welcome banner, the road goes upstream beside the Liddar. On one side the hill slopes up and the other limits the gully that the river creates. A few hotels are scattered on either side of the road, each kindling a desire to frame it or better be a part of that frame.
The road leads to the centre of the town which is at the river level. The town centre is a stretch of about 2 km on the same road; it has two big parking lots (to hire cars) at each end, curio shops, eateries and hotels, a mosque, an ancient temple and a gurdwara. It also has two ATMs and branches of J&K Bank and HDFC. SBI atm counter had been closed since long. A public utility stands a little way up the slope from the road, opposite to the Gurudwara, Swachcha Bharat!
The road then bifurcates, one leading towards ‘Chandanwadi’ and the other towards Aru Valley and further.
The town has another level accessible by two roads, one a steeply inclined road which goes straight up the slope from the town centre to the main gates of the JKTDC (Jammu Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation) tourist lodges where we were housed for the 3 unforgettable days of my life.
Another, which we took on the day we arrived, a little round-about but less steep, is an offshoot of the main road at the onset of the town centre. This level is on the slope of a hill that goes up, up and up; mostly has JKTDC lodgings, some government offices and residences of the forest and other departments.
There is a village at the fag end of the road on this level. This road is called the circuit road.
In Pahalgam, riding is the thing to do, if one is not angling or rafting or trekking! It had been raining and snowing for the last couple of days and it was only for us to ride that snow white gleamed on the mountain tops, and ride we did.
We checked in to a pre-booked (online) two bedroom cottage, had tea and breakfast sitting at the garden table. Gulam was just a phone call away to take care of all our needs. Villagers from the nearby mountains came with their wares to sell, we mostly declined, taking just one dress material as a gesture of empathy. All winter they weave and wait for the tourist season that begins in April.
Tourism is the only livelihood of the people of Pahalgam, in fact of Kashmir as a whole. The hotels, the shops, the weavers, the artisans who do paper mache or woodcraft to the drivers, horse tenders and the horses and even the masseuse, all depend on us, the tourists.
The masseuse, another Gulam bhai was persistent about rendering his services and finally, we promised to avail them in the evening. He came around 7 pm and massaged Rajib and Roddur. It was good and reasonable at only Rs 300.
We took the horses from the guy, whom the manager of JKTDC recommended, the rates are written on the board for all to see as though fixed, yet negotiations go underway if the hours are lengthier and the numbers are more. We took three ponies for a 4 to 5 hrs trip (12kms) for Rs 4800.
Little did we know about the adventures that awaited us! Roddur had been very eager since he rode a horse in Darjeeling and a camel in Jaisalmer. I was very sceptical since in Darjeeling, I mounted one and got down immediately screaming hypnotically and in Jaisalmer was almost hanging for my dear life at the camel’s butt. Rajib was only worried about being able to sustain the long ride.
As soon as I got up, my head reeled but I hung on, for one if I backed out the fun would get spoiled, two there was no other way to go to Baisaran valley also called ‘mini Switzerland’, except for on ponies or foot and I could not have trekked alone.
After a while I got comfortable, this was a classic case of defeating fear with mental powers, I did it! The metalled road soon ended as we started the climb to the next level up the slope through a winding road that was full of muck and water from the incessant rains that had hit the valley till the day before.
The ponies want to walk through the mud, as the stones laid on the mud road hurt their legs, thus they move over to the edge often. We went on for a while stopping at times to see the Pahalgam valley peeping through the pine trees as if to take a look at the new bride. And beautiful she is.
At a point we stopped to pose with rabbits which the local boys catch from the forest and are happy to get any dime that one cares to give them. Then came a turn where we left the path which came close to be called a ‘road’, though muddy and clearly made only out of regular use.
We started climbing up the slope, no tracks, no marks, just a straight climb up. All my fear had vaporized by then and I was amazed to find that the horseman was able to find a footing on the slope where I could see none and the beast followed.
We went over the logs, through gentle streams, adjusting our bodies, bend back when going down, bend forward when going up and in the midst of all this I give a sidewise glance and find Roddur riding all by himself at a little distance giving instructions to his horse. Under normal circumstances, I would have been petrified but there atop my pony in that vista, I assumed myself to be Ibn Battuta going on a long journey and thought of him as a fellow traveller used to ridding naturally, which he proved to be all through when we hit even harder descends down the slope.
Finally we reached Baisaran valley. Rolling meadows, surrounded by pine forest with a backdrop of the snow capped mountains. It seemed like a gateway to heaven. Baisaran is the camp site for trekkers who go up to Tulian Lake at 12000ft. Baisaran is 5kms from Pahalgam.
We sat for a while, drank kahwa and ate maggi which is readily available. Roddur did some Zorbing and Rajib clicked, clicked and clicked.
The onward journey, again through the off-beat, no track path took us to a village which had 3 houses. The Gurjar lady happily let us photograph her ware and we gave her a few bucks.
There was a nice stretch of land after the village and then came the most horrific descend. We were to ride down a slope which had an inclination of almost 45 deg down to a waterfall. I was trying to focus on the awesome scene.
Suddenly Roddur’s pony was sick of following mine, which was being led by a horseman and went astray. It had been doing that all the while but this descend was not to be fooled around on, so my horseman took its reins too. It would have made quite an intense scene in a movie. One horseman trying to lead two horses down a very steep slope with riders on them, one of which, me, was quite a rounded bundle prone to lose balance any instance.
Rajib had a horseman to himself but that didn’t make it any bit easier.
The waterfall was another prattling stream cutting through the rocks, coming from somewhere uphill. One could wade through it in April and the drier months, but after July it swells up and makes quite a sight rumbling down over the rocks, rendering the crossing over impossible.
There is a small shack for refreshments.
The descend further is not so steep but a difficult terrain for the horses. Its all rocks and slippery too! The ponies tripped a couple of times. I reasoned that since they had four legs, a little trip won’t make it fall and if we could just cling on to it, then we won’t crash land either.
Soon we hit the metalled road that was the other end of the circuit road that we had started our journey from. There is a small village and settlement at this end. Children were waving and running along.
Roddur seemed to be in his element all through; he mostly rode on his own, up the hill, down the hill and was having a roll.
The next day, to Roddur’s dismay and discomfort, we travelled on the four legs of a car that we are more used to. We visited the famous Betaab valley, where Roddur tried Zip Lining to my surprise. He is scared of heights and is a very non sporty person.
We went till the snow line at Chandanwadi and had jhaal muri, in the Aru valley where we found possibly the costliest public utility in India at Rs 10/- per head.
Back in Pahalgam after the sightseeing, we tried trout fish. It was too expensive but delicious. Food all through the Kashmir valley needs a special mention. Just as the valley is a paradise, the food is that of the Gods; from 5 star rated restaurant to road-side dhaba, everybody knows how to cook up the most mouth-watering savoury.
Kashmir is also famous for its Papier-mâché art in addition to their signature motifs on textile and wood carvings. Walnut wood is widely used for decor. Pine is used for the base of the Shikaras. The saying goes that its only after some 10-15 years that the pine realises it is in the water, the decay might start then.
We picked up most of the home decor from Pahalgam.
The day before our departure we explored the 1300 years old Sun temple, the mughal garden at Achbal and Kokernag; that is another delightful story which needs to be told separately.
Closing the Pahalgam chapter, we headed for Srinagar. Liddar kept company for a good time and then we parted, once and for all? May be not, who knows. Loaded with souvenirs and kesar and cranberry and blue berry and kehwa and saffron cream, and many more things and enchanting memories we came back to a sweltering Srinagar.
Srinagar we found is chilling when it rains and sizzling when it doesn’t, that is in April.
I have been familiar with the term cantonment since childhood well into my forties. But ‘containment’ had never been so up close and personal. We contain harmful chemicals, angry bulls, rising water levels so on and so forth but humans en masse, unbelievable!
Equally unbelievable is the fact that I am the potential danger, and all humans around me are death personified. Creepy as it feels, an indiscernible tiny spec has become the governing body of our oh! so superior human bodies. One touch, one sneeze, one spit and I could be infected in 60 seconds.
My son tells me that our bodies are weak, our abilities are inferior, and without advanced tech, left alone, even a dog can shred us into pieces. But look what we have become – a weapon of destruction without any tech.
We have heard of bees whose behaviour gets altered after being bitten by Apocephalus borealis. The infected bees fly at night towards bright light aimlessly displaying ‘Zombie’ like behaviour where one is not in control but is being controlled by someone or something else and dying eventually.
Thus subjugated by the Corona virus, we the humans, are also behaving like zombies – venturing out purposelessly towards procuring stuff we don’t have an immediate requirement for, be it food or medicines or gadgets as if being forced by a will that is no longer ours but manipulated by evil, and dying eventually.
In that sense we have become harmful and thus need to be contained. Our housing society had to be made a containment zone for a couple of weeks as the number of Covid positive cases were rising at greater rate than fuel prices. Frequent advisory notices, awareness talks or even people getting affected could not make people to adhere to norms that would benefit themselves.
Can we then say that we are superior intelligent beings capable of making democratic choices or should we hand over our reins to the AI that cannot be manipulated so easily? But then who knows, viruses don’t spare anybody! Does it not seem like they are at the apex after all, naturally occurring or manmade? However we are free again, out of containment and once again given the opportunity to prove that we are sentient beings with a rational mind. Feels good, hope we prove worthy.
Chemical fertilizers are one of the cornerstones of the Green Revolution in India. They drastically increase the yield of crops grown in the fields. However, they have their own drawbacks.
Chemical fertilizers dissolve in water and are absorbed by the plants as mineral nutrients. However, they also enter the groundwater and form poisonous substances. Sometimes, rain washes them into rivers and streams, thus polluting them.
When animals or humans drink or use such water, they fall ill, due to the poisonous nature of some of these substances.
The bigger problem, however, is that chemical fertilizers do not enrich the soil, unlike organic fertilizers such as manure and animal dung. This is because chemical fertilizers deplete the nutrients in the soil. For example, excess nitrogen in the soil feeds the growth of nitrogen-eating microbes, which produce CO2. In this way, carbon is pulled out of the soil and into the atmosphere. However, it is essential to have sufficient quantity of carbon in the soil. In this way, chemical fertilizers reduce the amount of essential nutrients in the soil. They also prevent the regeneration of soil nutrients.
Chemical pesticides are also a major problem. They kill off the bacteria and fungi in the soil. The reduction of organic matter has drastic consequences for the soil. The soil does not regenerate essential nutrients. This is because the bacteria break down compounds into nitrogen and phosphates, which are important for the health of the plant.
In this way, chemical fertilizers and pesticides severely harm the soil. Alternatively, organic manures and organic pesticides made from natural substances can help to keep the soil healthy. The yield will be reduced, but the soil will last for a longer period of time. Thus, it is wise to choose organic pesticides and fertilizers over chemical ones.
Giti Gitu and Gito had come to that part of the prairie where they were not supposed to be. It was a restricted area. They weren’t there because they were naughty, but because they were lost. The only relief was that there was light. Ample light, to find our way back home, thought Giti, the eldest of them. They were not siblings but in their biome G’land, everybody’s name started with G.
10 yrs old Giti was a smart chap. It so happened that after school, Gitu (8) and Gito (7), who lived in the same housing complex as that of Giti requested him to take them home by a detour he had quite often spoken off.
The detour was a small one, hardly a couple of fathoms more than the usual way home. It was bordered by a line of very tall bushes.
So it was first two lefts then a right and a slight right and a left again to reach home by this detour. Giti knew it as good as the table of 5. And yet it happened. He got lost and with him Gitu and Gito too.
“Must have taken a turn we should not have.” Gitu said aloud. True it is, but which one? thought Giti.
Beyond the tall bushes, Gito spotted a lamb and showed it to the others. Giti gestured to keep quiet. The lamb was happily jumping around unaware of their presence, suddenly it turned to face them and with a start jumped back and ran as fast as possible. The children ran after it but soon lost it.
Gito was exhausted and sat on a pile of dry grass with a thud. Giti and Gitu were about to join when they saw Gito rolling down into a pit as the dry grass started caving in. He had accidentally touched a lever that opened up a sort of thatch. Gito started screaming and the other two ran towards the opening. Gito was standing on firm ground, not very deep, hardly about their height into the earth in a squarish enclosure. Giti and Gitu jumped in.
The three walked towards the interior of the enclosure and found a door. A little push opened the door ajar and they walked into a room that was walled with glass. Giti placed his palm on the wall and started walking around the room, the other two followed. Suddenly Giti could feel a portion of the wall moving outward. It was a door. The trio pushed and entered another room, much smaller and filled with many narrow chambers like phone booths that they had seen photographs of in their books.
They got inside one and found that it had a lot of buttons. Gito started pushing them but nothing happened. The kids rushed out and started checking the other equipment. There was a big box that looked like a washing machine or dish washer. that they had seen at home. Gitu and Gito started pushing all the buttons and before Giti could warn them one of the booths started glowing. The children ran towards it and went inside. The door shut almost immediately. A voice started saying, “Initiating protocol for descend. Please take your seat” The kids sat down on the bench and a belt came around their waist. A sweet smell filled the chamber and the kids felt sleepy and before long were snoring aloud..
Giti woke up first. The booth door was ajar. The belts were no longer holding them. He shook Gito and Gitu out of their slumber. The trio moved out of the booth and came into the room. Giti said, “Guys I think we slept off and it must be quite late, lets head home, our parents must be very worried.” The other two agreed and they ran out of the room pushing the doors. They came into the enclosure where the hatch had opened, but the hatch was closed now. The kids started looking around and shortly found a lever sort of thing. On pressing it the hatch started to cave in.
Giti put Gito on his shoulder and stood up. Gito climbed out easily. Next out was Gitu and then Giti climbed out. They stood there dumbfounded. Where was the priory? There was sand all around.There was ample light so they could see afar. But with sand all around and no known landscape, they didn’t know which way to go.
Giti said, “I am completely out of my wits, what do we do guys?” Gitu and Gito looked at each other. Finally Gitu said, “Lets start walking.” The three started walking. After a very long walk the kids saw a white tent and a few people moving about it. One of the men spotted the kids and came towards them.
The kids were very exhausted by now and passed out. The man called out for a few others. They picked up the kids and took them into the tents. Made them lie down. After quite some time Giti woke up. One man was sitting by his side. He slowly spoke to him but Giti could not understand. He then punched some buttons on his watch and gestured to Giti to speak. Giti said, “I am Giti.”
The man looked at the watch and a wrinkle formed on his forehead. He again punched some keys and this time the watch repeated after he had spoken, “Are you lost? You seem to be from G’land. How did you reach D’land?”
Giti gave the complete account of their escapade after school. He then inquired about Gitu and Gito. The watch translator said that they were in the other tent. Soon after the trio were given refreshments and they felt revived. Now they wanted to go home. The men from the tent told them that they were far out from the city. Giti asked inquisitively, “What is happening here?”. “We are replacing the water pipes. It has to be done every 20 – 25 yrs to keep any contamination at bay,”
Apparently, the kids came through an elevator but according to the men there wasn’t supposed to be any elevator nearby. This was a remote location meant only to facilitate water circulation throughout the different biomes. Children coming from Grass(G)land to D(Desert)land meant a lot of trouble on a global scale. It meant unauthorized entry to a different biome, through an unauthorized shaft dug without official knowledge and definitely with a malicious intent.
Next morning the kids were taken to the nearest habitation – a beautiful township complete with hi-tech facilities just like the one where Giti, Gitu and Gito live. One of the official routes to traverse between the Lands which the tourists, officials and scientists used was nearby.
Giti Gitu and Gito were taken to a building with beautiful gardens around it, it was a striking feature in a otherwise sandy landscape. They were thoroughly examined, decontaminated and then taken to a room which had a couple of vertical cylindrical metallic elevators just like the ones that the kids had seen and traversed by but much more sophisticated and comfortable.
However the apex living beings of Earth, the humans felt the need to preserve the beautiful biomes(habitats) that the planet had once been adorned with. They wanted their children to know the beautiful and bountiful nature. But they wanted to create a layered Earth where each habitat or biome will be preserved and their unique biotic and the abiotic factors will not interfere with the other biomes.
So they dug into the Earth and created a unique biome for a couple of thousand kms supporting it with pillars and complete with artificial sun and all other natural elements as required with the help of advanced nano bots tech.
The ecumenupolis was followed by the grass-land, the desert-land, the forest-land and the ocean-land.Beyond that was the mantle and core of the Earth, which kept it going – no messing up there!
The kids were given a small drink and asked to sit for a while. While the adults could handle the travel between the habitats, it had never been tried on kids, they were not even made aware of the existence of the other biomes till 16 years of age, after which they could travel freely between the biomes. The light music and ambiance made them feel sleepy and they slept off.
Gito was thrilled to see his mom as he woke up. “Mamma, I went to another earth, it had a lot of sand and no grass. I didn’t want to go there. We were just taking a detour and then…” Mom gave him a patient hearing although she knew everything, the officials had briefed the parents earlier while the kids were still under the effect of the sleep inducer. The three little G’lander kids were very excited about their adventure. But there was a lot more to find out !!!
The automated voice greeted K’Rell Suga as he exited cryostasis. He quickly got into his anti-inertial luxury couch and strapped in. The deactivation of the warp field and the sudden stop caused by the ship entering Realspace was nauseating, but the couch should help.
K’Rell was going to Earth(as in The G’lander kids), for a business deal. He was travelling in his one-person frigate, upgraded with state-of-the-art security and a powerful FTL engine. He had heard many stories about Earth, and how beautiful it was, both its urban side, and the Biomes. K’Rell was not impressed. Surely it could not be more beautiful than the great cities and vast natural parks of his home planet, L’Orgrehi?
“Entering Realspace in 1 minute. Please strap up your belongings.”
K’Rell didn’t have to worry about that – his belongings were safely stowed away. He simply waited impatiently for the moment when the warp bubble would collapse and he would enter, ‘Lagrange Point 2, Earth-Luna System, Sol System’, as he had been informed.
“Entering Realspace. Warp bubble collapsing in 3, 2, 1… Warp Bubble Deactivated. Enjoy your trip!”
K’Rell deactivated his harness and stepped out to the window. Earth’s moon, Luna, obscured the view of the planet itself, but his ship was moving and soon he’d be able to see –
K’Rell gasped. He had just had his first view of Earth. The entire planet was covered in a single city. He knew the term for this – he had learnt it in school. It was a – Ecumenopolis? Yes, that was the term. A city planet. Beautiful.
But where were the Biomes? Most people who visited Earth refused to tell anybody else about it, saying that they needed to visit it themselves. As a result, K’Rell had heard about the Biomes, but he had never got any real details about them. Either way, he’d get to know, soon.
His ship took an hour to land on Earth’s surface, courtesy of their space elevator, and another hour to check in out of the spaceport. Once he had all his baggage ready, he chartered one of the local automated ‘flying taxis’ – why not use pods, he didn’t know, but the locals just laughed when he asked them, murmuring something about a ‘fifth element’ – and then checked into his hotel. He was on the 56th floor, one of the lower ones.
The next morning, after breakfast, he got to Juk-Rai Market Nexus, and attended his appointment with the CEO of Verision Industries. The deal was successful, and now a lot richer, K’Rell decided to explore this planet.
He chartered an automated gyro-pod – at least they had those – for the entire day. Then, he started his tour.
He went to entertainment parks. He went to shopping malls, holo-cinema halls, and to restaurants. He rode roller coasters, bought souvenirs, and tasted dishes from all over the universe.
When he heard that there were interesting and unique heritage sites, preserved for more than a thousand years, he decided to visit them. He chartered a supersonic bus to carry his gyro-pod to the heritage site of Burj Khalifa. The tower, constructed in 2009, had been the tallest tower on Earth for a long time. Now, of course, it looked tiny, compared to the 5-kilometre-tall skyscrapers rising around it, and the even larger luxury condominiums.
He visited the ancient mega-cities of Tokyo, Beijing, Singapore, New York and London, now absorbed into the Ecumenopolis. He visited museums and exhibition centres.
At the end of the day, he returned to his hotel, tired but happy, having explored the entire planet. However, he still hadn’t found the Biomes, though he had seen several advertisements for them. He had originally planned to stay for only a day on Earth, but now he decided to extend his visit by another day.
The next day, he went to the hotel management, and asked them to charter a trip for him to the Biomes. 1 hour later, he was on a personal supersonic carrier, travelling to the nearest ‘elevator’.
K’Rell wondered what that meant. Was he going to a space elevator? Were the Biomes in space? Well, he would find out, soon enough.
K’Rell arrived at what looked like a reverse space elevator, leading downwards instead of upwards. His carrier docked onto one of the Hubs, labelled Outer Earth, which didn’t make any sense to him. He then followed the instructions on his holo-ticket to a door labelled ‘Murmila Biome Tours’. K’Rell flashed his ticket at the reader, and the door opened. One quick DNA scan later, he was led down a corridor by a human guide.
K’Rell was taken to an elevator, and told to strap in. The couch was comfortable, and clearly inertially damped. The guide checked to make sure he was comfortable, and then gave a signal.
The elevator started moving down, speeding up until it was moving downwards, through solid rock, at breakneck speed. K’Rell, was getting nervous, when suddenly, the rock fell away, and the sight under his feet – because only now did he realise that the floor was made of a transparent material – struck him speechless.
Below him, was a vast grassland, spreading out in every direction.
It took them half-an-hour to reach the hub at the bottom. The guide led him to a gyro-pod for 2, and then proceeded to take him on a tour of the Grassland Biome, colloquially known as G-Land.
They toured the G-Land for the next 2 hours, and finally returned to the Hub.
K’Rell smiled, and told the guide, “Thank you, young man, that was a wonderful tour. I’ll be sure to write a good review.” The guide looked at him strangely and asked, “What are you talking about, sir? This is only the beginning!”
And then, he took K’Rell down another layer, to the Desert Biome. And then to the Forest Biome, and then the Ocean Biome. Each layer seemed more beautiful than the last.
K’Rell spent the entire day exploring the Biomes. At the end of the day, he returned to Outer Earth – that name finally made sense – and got his baggage out of the hotel. 7 hours later, as K’Rell prepared to go into cryostasis for the journey home, he knew he would be leaving Earth with not just a successful business deal, but with extraordinary memories of the planet and its beauty.
# Biomes – a large naturally occurring community of flora and fauna occupying a major habitat, e.g. forest or desert.
# Cryostasis – process of freezing a person, in this case – while on a long planetary travel.
Crogy, Neel’s housekeeping Cyborg, is programmed to efficiently handle human emotions, well only the straight forward ones; so when Neel is struck by cupid’s arrow, Crogy tries to find a rationale and fails. He is the author of this narrative which spans years and generations from one pandemic to another and tells the story of heart aches in times of global crisis and how it created predicament in the personal lives of his master Neel and his grandfather Mohit. Crogy switches between the past and present chapter by chapter bringing in hordes of characters that influence the lives of his protagonists in a small or big way, he also gives a sneak peek of his times – the futuristic world that 2090 could be. The gripping novella ends on a sweet note having taken the reader through two vivid and eventful journeys, full of twists and turns.
The periodic table is a common sight in nearly every chemistry classroom in the world today. But how did it come to be?
In 1789, Antoine Lavoisier published a list of 33 chemical elements, grouping them into gases, metals, nonmetals, and earths.
In 1829, Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner observed that many elements could be grouped into triads based on their chemical properties. For example, Lithium, Sodium and Potassium were grouped together in a triad, as soft, reactive metals. German chemist Leopold Gmelin worked with this system, and by 1843 he had identified 10 triads, three groups of 4 and 1 group of 5. However, although various chemists were able to identify relationships between small groups of elements, they had yet to build one scheme that encompassed them all.
In 1862, the French geologist Alexandre-Émile Béguyer de Chancourtois published an early form of the periodic table, which he called the telluric helix or screw. His paper used geological rather than chemical terms and did not include a diagram. As a result, it received little attention until the work of Dmitri Mendeleev.
In 1864, Julius Lothar Meyer, a German chemist, published a table with 28 elements. Realizing that an arrangement according to atomic weight did not exactly fit the observed periodicity in chemical properties he gave valency priority over minor differences in atomic weight.
Concurrently, English chemist William Odling published an arrangement of 57 elements, ordered on the basis of their atomic weights. Odling alluded to the idea of a periodic law but did not pursue it. He subsequently proposed (in 1870) a valence-based classification of the elements.
English chemist John Newlands produced a series of papers from 1863 to 1866 noting that when the elements were listed in order of increasing atomic weight, similar physical and chemical properties recurred at intervals of eight. He likened such periodicity to the octaves of music. This so termed Law of Octaves was ridiculed by Newlands’ contemporaries, and the Chemical Society refused to publish his work. The Chemical Society only acknowledged the significance of his discoveries five years after they credited Mendeleev.
Russian chemistry professor Dmitri Mendeleev and German chemist Julius Lothar Meyer independently published their periodic tables in 1869 and 1870, respectively. The recognition and acceptance afforded to Mendeleev’s table came from two decisions he made. The first was to leave gaps in the table when it seemed that the corresponding element had not yet been discovered. Mendeleev was not the first chemist to do so, but he was the first to be recognized as using the trends in his periodic table to predict the properties of those missing elements, such as gallium and germanium. The second decision was to occasionally ignore the order suggested by the atomic weights and switch adjacent elements, such as tellurium and iodine, to better classify them into chemical families.
In 1871, Mendeleev published his periodic table in a new form, with groups of similar elements arranged in columns rather than in rows, and those columns numbered I to VIII corresponding with the element’s oxidation state. He also gave detailed predictions for the properties of elements he had earlier noted were missing but should exist. These gaps were subsequently filled as chemists discovered additional naturally occurring elements.
The popular periodic table layout, also known as the common or standard form is attributable to Horace Groves Deming (1923).
In 1945, Glenn Seaborg, an American scientist, made the suggestion that the actinide elements, like the lanthanides, were filling an f sub-level. Before this time, the actinides were thought to be forming a fourth d-block row. Seaborg’s suggestion was found to be correct, and he subsequently went on to win the 1951 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in synthesizing actinide elements. As we know, the periodic table has undergone many changes throughout its history, until it has reached the modern form we see today. Many elements were found in nature, and some have been synthesized in labs. Scientists are working, even now, to find more elements and improve the periodic table. Let us hope that we continue to find out more about the periodic table, and that our chemical knowledge improves in the process.
Megastructures are truly massive structures, which are used for projects beyond anything we can do today. One of these is the space elevator.
A space elevator is a theoretical structure stretching from Earth to space, which allows the transport of materials and spacecraft from Earth to space and vice-versa, without the use of a rocket.
The construction of a space elevator would be extremely expensive and difficult, but the payoff would be immense. It would require an extremely strong thread, one that only became possible after the invention of artificial super-fibers like C-60. However, no existing material has the required strength to support such a structure. Several plans have been put forward for the construction of a space elevator, though none have been realised yet.
Apart from the thread, another problem is location and actual construction. A space elevator would have to be built at the equator, to avoid major problems. Several locations have been suggested, in regions free from storms and heavy winds. The western equatorial Pacific is a possible location, as it has the best possible natural location, free of environmental hazards.
Many ideas, such as building the elevator on top of a mountain or tall tower, have been proposed, to reduce the stress on the cable. The construction would probably be done by a satellite, feeding cable down to the Earth’s surface, and a counterweight to create centrifugal force, upwards. The space elevator is a fascinating megastructure and has the potential to cut costs down by up to 100 times. It would be very useful and making one would be very rewarding for whichever country manages it.
This is a story of long ago, when I was a boy, barely a teenager. It is the story of choices, options, and where we can go in life.
One day, long ago, I was sitting at a desk, doodling, instead of studying. I was quite intelligent, and I arrogantly believed that I could probably handle whatever tests and exams I had to give with a minimal amount of studying. Deep down, though, I probably knew that I had to study, and immerse myself in academics, if I wanted to succeed in life. Still, I lazed about and enjoyed myself by doing pointless things.
And then, suddenly, I was gone from my house. I was on a plane, and there was a parachute with me. There were empty junk food boxes, and discarded soft drink cans. There was a huge gaming system and a powerful computer with me. I panicked and called out for help. Suddenly, a man appeared in front of me. He stared straight at me and opened one hand. He said, “This plane is going somewhere. You can stay here and enjoy the ride. Whatever you want will appear here. You will not have to do anything.”
He opened the other hand, “Or, you can take the parachute and jump. It will not be an easy jump, but once you land, you can go wherever you want. You can reach whatever destination you want, using whichever path you want.”
Then he turned both palms over. “But choose quickly”, he said, “Because a storm is coming, and you will not be able to jump once it does.”
I mustered up my courage and asked, “Where is the plane going?”
He shook his head and said, “You already know.”
And I did. I already knew, but I didn’t want to know. Somehow, my mind kept resisting the idea. I didn’t want to jump out of the plane. I knew it would be difficult, but I also knew, somehow, that the man would help me. Still, my mind desperately wanted to stay on the plane, to enjoy the ride.
But I knew, very well, where the plane was going.
Because I had gotten on to this plane, a while back, knowing in the back of my mind where it was going, but not willing to accept it, because the plane’s interior had been so comfortable. I had searched around for things to do, and I had found the plane, but I had not stopped myself before I could embark on this journey.
The parachute was ready, but still my traitorous mind rebelled. “What if it’s a hoax? What if the plane really is going somewhere good, and I’m just missing the opportunity? What if the man is wrong, and I can get to where I want to go using the plane? And anyway, there’ll be time to jump out later.”
But I knew the truth. The plane wasn’t going anywhere good. It would drop me into a hole worse than the one I had come from, and then getting out would mean doing things much harder than jumping out of a plane with a parachute and a guiding voice.
I had to jump. But my mind, my treacherous mind, was fighting me, every step of the way. Getting up from the huge bed I was on – and yes, I was on a huge bed, took so much effort, I almost turned back. Every step made me feel heavier. Thousands of voices, doubts and fears, crept up behind me. The plane itself started telling me to turn back.
But I didn’t stop. I walked towards the parachute. The old, patchy parachute. A new set of doubts rose in me. Would the parachute hold? Maybe I would just fall, and fall, and fall. The effort to get out of that hole would be just as much as that of the plane’s destination. Maybe I really should turn back.
But I didn’t. I fought the voices of doubt, of greed, and of complacency. I trudged onward, and fastened the parachute. Then, I opened the plane door.
The plane pleaded with me. “No! Don’t go! It’s safe here, don’t go!”
But I had to leave it behind. I took a deep breath, and jumped.
As I left the plane behind, my eyes closed, and I reappeared in my room. Then, I put away the piece of paper I was doodling on, and started studying.
Even now, the old regrets sometimes haunt me. Should I have stayed on the plane, where it was relaxing? But deep down, I know, that what I did was right. I know, that the Plane of Comfort was leading me on a self-destructive spiral. And I know, that the hard path, was the right one. The path that I took, took courage, and willpower, but it was, indeed, the right path.
সকালটা ভারি সুন্দর ছিল। ফুরফুরে হাওয়া, হালকা মিঠে রোদ। হাতে কাগজ, পাশের টেবিলে চায়ের কাপ। হঠাৎ এক শালিক বাবাজি এসে ডাকাডাকি শুরু করল। সবাই জানে শালিকের ডাক মোটেও শ্রুতিমধুর নয। একটু হুট হুট করলাম, তাতে কাজ হল, সে চলে গেল। চাযে চুমুক দিয়ে দেখি তিনি জুরন্তি নগরে গেছেন। মিতালি মিতালি বলে হাঁকা হাঁকি শুরু করলাম, উত্তর এল না। আলসেমি করে উঠলাম না, কাগজে মননিবেশ করলাম। একটু পরে দেখি নিজে থেকেই গরম ধুমায়িত চা এসে হাজির,হাসি মুখে ঠান্ডা চায়ের কাপটা ধরিয়ে দিলাম পচার মাকে।
এহেন স্বর্গ সুখের মাঝে আবার শালিক, এবার জোড়ে। তা বসবি বস, না! আবার ডাকাডাকি। একে একে জড়ো হতে লাগলো শালিক রা। এক সময়ে আমার বারান্দার রেলিং টা আর দেখা গেল না।
মনেমনে ভাবলাম উঠে দাঁড়াই, কাগজটা মন দিয়ে পড়তে পারছি না। একবার শালিক সমুহর দিকে তাকাই একবার কাগজের পাতায়, এই করে খানিকটা সময গেল, চা শেষ হল। অনেক বিবেচনার পর চেয়ার থেকে উঠলাম, আর যেই না ওঠা অম্নি সবকটা শালিক এক সাথে আমার দিকে লাফিয়ে পড়লো বারান্দার রেলিং থেকে। সহজাত প্রবৃত্তিতে চোখ বন্ধ করলাম।
চোখ খুলে দেখি একটা অন্ধকার গুহার মধ্যে পড়ে আছি। এদিক ওদিক তাকিয়ে দেখলাম একটু দূরে্ একটা আলো দেখা যাচ্ছে। সেইদিকেই চললাম। খানিক হাঁটার পর আলোটার কাছাকাছি চলে এলাম। আর একটু এগোতেই গুহা থেকে বেরিয়ে বেশ কিছুটা খালি জায়গা। তাতে ছড়িয়ে ছিটিয়ে অনেক গাছ, বেশ মোটাসোটা এবং আকাশ ছোঁয়া। আকাশের দিকে তাকিয়ে দেখি তার রঙ সবুজ। এতক্ষন অন্ধকারে থেকে গুহার বাইরে টা খুব উজ্জ্বল মনে হচ্ছিলো। চোখ সইতে একটু সময় লাগলো।
এক পা দু পা করে এগোতে লাগলাম। হঠাৎ দেখি একটা বিশাল পাখির পা। আস্তে আস্তে মাথা উঁচু করতে থাকলাম, পা টা অনেক দূরে গিয়ে যেন মেঘের মধ্যে হারিয়ে গেলো। কিছু বুঝে ওঠার আগেই কি যেন খপ করে আমাকে তুলে বেশ উঁচু একটা গাছের ডালে বসিয়ে দিলো। এবার দেখলাম পা টা মেঘে না এক বিশালাকার পাখির গায়ের মধ্যে হারিয়ে গেছিলো।
“মহাশয় আপনাকে এ ভাবে ধরে আনার জন্য দুঃখিত কিন্তু আমাদের শালিক আন্তর্জাল সূত্রে খবর আছে যে আপনার সাহায্যের প্রয়োজন, যখনি যার সাহায্যের প্রয়োজন হয় আমরা তাকেখুব উত্সাহ সহকারে সাহায্য করে থাকি। তবে কিনা এই সমান্তরাল পৃথিবী তে নিয়ে আসতে হয়ে তাকে।“ এই অবধি বলে বিশাল পাখি থামল।
আমার তো সব জ্ঞান বুদ্ধি লোপ পেয়েছে ততোক্ষণে। ভ্যাবলাকান্তের মতন তাকিয়ে আছি বিশাল পাখির দিকে। পাখি আমার মনের কথা বুঝতে পারল মনে হয় তাই আবার বলতে শুরু করলো। সে গলা ভারি মনোরম।
“মহাশয় আপনি যেই পৃথিবী তে থাকেন সেখানে মানুষ হল এপেক্স বা সর্বোচ্চ স্থানে, বুদ্ধি দিয়ে সে এই স্থান গ্রহন করেছে, বাকি সব প্রাণীদের নিজের অধীনে করেছে এই পৃথিবী তে আমরা শলিকেরা সর্বোচ্চ স্থান অধিগ্রহণ করেছি। একের পর এক সমান্তরাল পৃথিবী আছে, কতগুলো আমি জানি না, তবে আমি বেশ কয়েকটিতে বিচরণ করেছি। প্রত্যেকটি অনন্য।“
“আসুন আপনাকে এই পৃথিবী যার নাম ‘জিউমা’ তার কিছুটা পরিভ্রমণ করাই।“ এই বলে সেই বিশালাকার পাখিটি আমাকে তার সাথে হাঁটতে বলল, কিছুদুর গিয়ে ডালটা শেষ হয়ে গেছে তাই একটু অবাক হয়ে তাকালাম। পাখি বলল, “ভয় নেই আপনি যত এগোতে চাইবেন ডাল তত এগোতে থাকবে। বুরুচ এক বিশেষ গাছ যেদিকে যেভাবে চায় নিজেকে সম্প্রসারিত করতে পারে।“
বেশ খানিকটা যাওয়ার পর সমতল ভুমি ঢাল বেয়ে নামতে শুরু করলো। যেদিকে তাকাই শুধু বিশালাকার বৃক্ষসমূহ। সে সব বৃক্ষের মাথা দেখা যায়না কোনটা ফলের কোনটা ফুলের তবে তাদের রঙ গন্ধ আকার কিছুই আমার চেনা কোন ফুল বা ফলের সঙ্গে মিলছে না।
একটু দূরে একটা সবুজ চকচকে নদীর আকৃতি দেখতে পেলাম। পাখিটি যেন আমার মনের ভাব বুঝতে পেরে বলল,”জিউমার নদী, আকাশ সব আপনাদের পৃথিবীর মতন, শুধু একরকম বেগুনি।“ আমি বললাম,”বেগুনি কোথায় আমি ত দেখছি সবুজ।“ পাখি মাথা নাডল, “আপনি আমাদের পৃথিবীর রঙ দেখতে পাবেন না কারন আপনার চোখ সেই রঙ গ্রহণ করতে পারবে না।“
এবার চোখে পড়ল নদীর ধার ঘেষে কিছু ডোম আকারের স্থাপত্য, জিজ্ঞাসু নেত্রে তাকাতে পাখি বলল, “ওটা একটা বসতি।“ আমি বললাম, “ওখানে আপনার বাড়ি?” পাখি মাথা নেডে বলল, “না, আমার বাড়ি এখান থেকে অনেক দুরে। পরের বার এলে নিয়ে যাবো। ওখানে থাকে এই পৃথিবীর কিছু বাসিন্দা যারা জলকে জয় করেছে।“ আমি হাঁ করে তাকিয়ে থাকলাম ।
পাখি গল্প শুরু করল, “জিউমা তে অনেক রকম প্রাণী বাস করে, কেউ জলে কে জয় করেছে, কেউ বা স্থল কে আবার কেউ বা আমাদের মতন আকাশ এবং বায়ু কে। কিছু এমন প্রাণীও আছে যারা নিদ্রা, আহার এমনকি মৃত্যু কেও জয় করেছে। একবারে তো দেখা হবে না সবার সাথে, তবে আপনার লেখার জন্য আজ যা দেখছেন তাই যথেষ্ট।“
“লেখা? আমি তো লিখি না।“ খানিকটা অবাক হয়ে পাখির দিকে তাকালাম। পাখি কিছু বলল না। বুরুছ আর পাখির সাথে এদিক ওদিক ঘুরতে ঘুরতে এক সময়ে আবার সেই গুহা টার কাছে ফিরে এলাম। পাখি বলল, “এবার আপনি আপনার পৃথিবীতে ফিরে যান, মনে হয় আপনার সাহায্য করতে পেরেছি।“ বুঝলাম প্রশ্ন করলে উত্তর পাব না, তাই গুটি গুটি পায়ে গুহায় ঢুকলাম, ভেতরটা অন্ধকার,অনেকদূর অব্দি দেখা যায় না, তবু চললাম, একসময়ে খুব ক্লান্ত লাগলো, বসে পড়লাম, চোখ বুজলাম।
“কিগো কি হোল? দাঁড়িয়ে দাঁড়িয়ে ঘুমাচ্চো নাকি? কখন থেকে সাড়া নেই কেন?, কতবার ডাকলাম।“ মিতালির কথায় যেন চমক ভাঙল। আশে পাশে তাকিয়ে দেখি আমি আমার বারান্দায় দাড়িয়ে আছি।
অভিজ্ঞতাটা চটপট লিখে ফেললাম, হপ্তা খানেকের মধ্যে সেটা বেশ একটা উপভোগ্য রূপ নিল। কাকতালীয় ব্যাপার মশাই আমার এক খুড়তুতো বোন অনু কিছুদিন হল একটি পত্রিকার সম্পাদনা শুরু করেছে, একদিন বাড়িতে এলো, এ কথা সে কথার পর হঠাত্ বলে, “দাদা তুই তো ভাল লিখতিস, আবার লেখ না, অন্য কাজ তো নেই এখন, আগে নাহয় অনেক অজুহাত দেখাতিস।“
কি খেয়ালে চট করে লেখা টা দিলাম আনুকে। মাসখানেকের মধ্যে লেখাটা ছাপা হল, পাঠক পাঠিকাদের মনঃপুত হল, এবং আমি ভীষণভাবে অনুপ্রাণিত হলাম। লেখা শুরু করলাম, প্রথমে ছোটো ছোটো রচনা, তারপর বড় গল্প – উপনাাস। এই ভাবেই আমার নতুন জীবন বা যাকে বলে সেকেন্ড ইনিংস শুরু হল। যারা আমাকে সাহায্য করল নিজেকে নতুন করে খুঁজে পেতে তাদের পৃথিবীতে আর যাওয়া হয়নি। আসলে সেই ভাবে চা এর পেয়ালা নিয়ে বসে অলস সকাল বহুদিন কাটানো হয়নি। সৃষ্টির আনন্দে মেতে আছি, যেন আমার পুনর্বিন্যাস হয়েছে।
I love to see things grow, and a human baby is one of the most intriguing of all. All this time since birth to his 12th birthday, Anoushrayan had been changing slowly – the face, the structure, the voice and the abilities.
But then all of a sudden things started changing so rapidly that it was like riding a whirlwind. I wouldn’t say I could no longer recognize my child, it was not that dramatic but there were things which I needed time to cope with.
To begin with there had always been discussions and long chats but now they turned to heated arguments. Anoushrayan was never ready to take my words on face value; I had to prove everything by showing it on google – a concept I introduced him to, but now that he was knowledgeable enough to form his own opinion, or so he thought, he would debate even the established ideas. His ‘WHY’ haunted me day n night.
His memory had been sharp but now it became sharper and yet the scores started dropping from the usual 100%. The reason was none other than the multitude of fancy fantasies that had started making his head their home. From Harry Porter to Percy Jackson to Ravagers to what not – featuring demi-gods, artificially intelligent life forms, all crowd his mind space. Anoushrayan always an avid reader; reads the stories intently and then makes different versions of them on his own. He then plays them in his mind over and over again, chants the dialogues and sometimes enacts them too. He has turned out to be an acclaimed script writer and is asked to do the same for most school projects.
We had decided to skip travelling out of town in the summer of 2019 as Rajib had to get his cholcystectomy done and would need time to recover. So I started looking for horse riding classes, Anoushrayan had been keen on riding since early childhood but it had really taken his fancy since the ride in Pahalgam, Kashmir where we went in 2018.
I found one that could suit my budget, horse riding is an expensive affair. It was a bit far off yet we signed in, for a preliminary course. We had to go early morning but it being summer helped. The drive was refreshing for the most part, and the place was absolutely delightful. Huge grounds with trees around. The horses were tall, much taller than the ones we rode in Pahalgam.
Anoushrayan took to riding as fish would to water. The head coach who is also the owner of the place – a retired army colonel, was impressed by his natural ease. Though tiring I felt this was worth the long drive and the early wakeup regime even in hols, we are owls – night people, all three of us and early mornings are not our thing.
He was so much at ease that I thought having some shared genes I could give it a try too. But the moment I got up on the beast I was certain I did not share the riding genes in particular. I was very very scared. Over the days I did get a bit comfortable but I am definitely not a rider material.
Over a period of two weeks Anoushrayan picked up trot and canter. The horse seemed to respond to him well. Though it would not be possible to continue the classes once school started, we discussed the possibility of coming back in the breaks.
As planned we bought a Duster just a day before the last day of the horse ridding class, Rajib was fit to drive by then. The last day was a Sunday, Rajib came along as we had planned to dine out on the way back home, may be after a bit of a longer drive to give our Duster a good run.
It was my last riding day as well; we – the not so riding savvy adults were taken for a short ride away from the arena where the budding riders were practising, Anoushrayan being one of them. We were on our return journey, the time having got almost over and then we heard a cry and saw a commotion inside the arena from a distance. Once we reached I saw Anoushrayan on the ground and a lot of people around him. Rajib looked nervous.
Our humpty dumpty had a great fall. The way he explained the fall was hilarious and gave a glimpse of the naive baby that he still was. He knew he was falling from almost a height of 7ft or more and yet he didn’t think it might break his bone. He didn’t think of rolling over or giving cushion to his head, hands or legs simply because he thought nothing would happen after all, nothing ever happened to Tom and Jerry!
There was a doctor on spot and he apprehended a surgery. Anoushrayan was in great pain but he was upbeat and was trying to analyse what might have happened. We rushed to Narayana Multispecialty Hospital in Whitefield that would be nearest to our home as we anticipated multiple to and fro visits. Also having got Rajib’s surgery done in there, we were quite satisfied with the facilities of the place.
Anoushrayan was taken to the emergency ward and diagnosed with ‘Left elbow posterior dislocation and fracture epicondyle’. So 21st Apr 2019 Anoushrayan was admitted to a hospital for the first time in his life in order to have the surgery performed on him. He turned out to be a brave fellow, quite excited to undergo such an experience.
I was not nervous but definitely worried. The late night surgery took quite some time but all went well. The healing would take time, the doctor said and even after a good deal of physiotherapy the elbow might never regain its original position.
I am an optimist and so is Anoushrayan, so we didn’t pay much heed to the nay saying and rather focused on getting a proper physiotherapy done. So we spend the summer vacation visiting the physio lady near our home, and a good job she did. Within 3 months Anoushrayan was completely cured with hardly a tiny mark of the accident.
I had always wanted a pet, a dog to be precise. Rajib also loves pets, he felt very de-stressed when Limca was around. We had also fostered another puppy called ‘Poppy’ for a few days. Both Rajib and Anoushrayan had wanted to keep Limca or Poppy but I was not in a condition then so I promised him a pet once he was 12. So that he can share the responsibility of looking after the pet. He readily agreed. But we figured that summer rather than his birthday month February, would be a good time to bring in the new baby. Thus came Dogmatix in May. A month old shihtzu baby hardly the size of our palm.
The new school session started and Anoushrayan was bowled over by the sheer size of the campus and its grounds. He liked the ambience. Over the months he faced a mixed bag of emotions from his classmates. He faced hostility and humility for something which we were not made aware of till then – apparently he spit while talking and the boys did not take it lightly. The spitting problem could have been an outcome of the braces.
Anoushrayan proved to be good even amongst a good lot, but he started facing good competition and that enthused him. He tried harder and though he failed to score a 100 every time he was close and thus established himself as an academically bright student.
We travelled to Chikmagaloor in August in our duster along with Dogmatix. It was Anoushrayan’s first experience of staying in a coffee estate and he loved the laid back no hoping around trip.
I had planned for a fitness focused summer vacation, which of course did not really materialize but I had been looking for opportunities to get Anoushrayan into some sort of physical sport. The idea came from his classmate’s mother. Her son was into Basketball and since Anoushrayan had an interest about the sport we thought of giving it a try.
It was a real game changer. Anoushrayan emerged from a chubby fellow rounded in the middle to a somewhat elongated boy with a flat tummy. His muscle mass increased, fitness levels enhanced and he started showing off his strength, to the poor mommy of course.
In October we went on a road trip in our duster again with Dogmatix, this time to Hampi, Badami, Pattadakal Aihole and Chitradurga. Anoushrayan had visited Hampi earlier in 2011 but he was a little baby then all of 5, perched up on us most of the time. This time however our 12 year old was my able companion as we went up the Matunga Hill. It was easier to handle Dogmatix with Anoushrayan around as we went on a coracle (round basket boat) ride in the Tungabhadra river that flows beside the ancient grand temples of Hampi.
Right after we came back, we brought Zhauwu, another Shihtzu baby, a month old again. The breeders want to do away with the babies as soon as possible and do not wait till the prescribed 2 months. I feel everyone needs a friend of his/her own kind and so I had planned for two puppies together but that didn’t happen so our doggo babies are 5 months apart. Dogmatix was a full grown Shihtzu at 6 months and Zhauwu was a tiny little thing. He was a complete opposite of Dogmatix; while Dogmatix kept to himself mostly, allowing us to pet him at his will, Zhauwu was always licking and wagging his tail.
Anoushrayan wanted to pet Dogmatix and had been bitten and snapped many times, now with Zhauwu he was free to do rolly polly and licky and whatever his heart desired, finally he had the pet he had always wanted.
In November we shifted to a new housing complex, AWHO Sandeep Vihar, on rent, leaving our small 2bhk flat in Sai Sarovar to the tenants, as we wanted to have more space and amenities for the babies – mine and the adopted ones. For the first time we were staying in a flat that had 4 bedrooms and was more than 2000 sq ft, even Anoushrayan, who is not much concerned about where we stay, was reverential.
Anoushrayan took a few rounds of the campus, which is quite a big one with loads of amenities and is quite delightful, for a couple of days on-foot and cycle (dad had been teaching him to cycle and now he was a pro), and then lost interest; he is anyway the ‘comfortable@home’ kind of person.
In December we went to the Andamans again keeping in mind Anoushrayan’s love for beaches, most of our holidays and trips are now planned in accordance with his holidays and preferences. He loved the sea and the pristine beaches, the boat rides and the overall tranquillity.
1st January 2020 we were back to Bangalore all set for another round of exams – the school’s third term, SOF second level and finally the final session ending exams in march, and thereafter a trip to London and Scotland in summer.
Rajib went to London for a couple of days; his usual office trip and I invited a few of Anoushrayan’s new friends for a small get together. Two of his friends, namely Nandagovind and Vedant were to stay back overnight, this was a first time experience for Anoushrayan and he enjoyed it thoroughly.
We were a tad worried about our visas but all was done in good time by the beginning of February. Anoushrayan entered into teens on the 7th of feb 2020.
And then came, the news first and the embargoes next. The final exams were cancelled hardly after they had just started, within 2 days. The children were all promoted to the next grade nevertheless.
So it was a novel experience for all of us owing to the novel corona virus, being imprisoned in our homes. Anoushrayan was indifferent to the situation. He feels he has everything he needs to entertain himself, at home; in-fact he even cherished the idea of not having to go to a cold place as London/Scotland. The only thing he started missing after a while was food – outside food. His favourites are Subway, KFC, Pizza, pasta and sandwiches/burgers.
Once again my plans for a physical activity laden summer went out of the window. Instead Anoushrayan read a lot of story books, played a lot on his comp and also studied a good deal. He also started learning Guitar.
Anoushrayan was now well into 13 and the colours were showing loud and bright. He was highly distracted at all times. Focus was almost nil. School started online and that gave him the opportunity to be online more often than I would have preferred.
The biggest change in my lad – he started lying often and on. It was as though he was unable to control himself. He started reading stories on some sites while the teacher was teaching in class and when I questioned he would deny. Being a not so seasoned liar he would easily get caught then apologize but then do the same thing again.
His scores fell, missing out a mark or two in almost every subject. But amazingly fared very well in adapting to the online system, together with another friend he found loopholes to chat with certain people he wanted to talk to.
We never had any dreams for him. We are committed to support him in anything that would catch his fancy. He had first wanted to become a sweeper, as the broom was the most exciting thing and our maid always has to sweep while he was asleep or away at school lest he would take it away from her. Next was the garbage truck driver, who he felt drove such a fascinating huge truck and must be oh so powerful. Then he wanted to become a genetic engineer and a scientist and own a farm where a huge number of animals would be housed. He is sticking to it till now.
All our efforts are focused to help him fulfil his dream. He wants to join IISc or IIT; though he has the potential, he is getting driven by his hormones and is getting derailed from the path that might lead to accomplish his desired task. I literally have to work on my nerves to keep him steady on the path by screaming like a banshee most of the time. This is by far the most challenging task I have assigned myself to. Anoushrayan is also trying hard, fighting his hormones, my poor naive teenager. He is righteous and sincere to the core, hardworking and quite an obedient fellow. He respects others, has a very soothing behaviour and has an intelligent streak of humour which is pleasing.
Anoushrayan has been assigned many household tasks and though it took months he slowly managed them well without my surveillance. He is quite capable of taking care of himself and his pets now though he tends to play the baby whenever am around.
Anything digital, the younger generation picks up fast; he also became quite adept in taking shots of the homework and uploading them through which looked like quite a complicated process to me. Though he did miss uploading some tasks on-time, he was more or less consistent. Interesting were the exams, where they had to write on paper in a stipulated time, get the parents to sign it and then take snaps of the answer sheets and upload them in a stipulated time.
After the half yearly exams we started braving the outside in October. We started eating outside food, though nominal. We took a short day trip in our car to Kolar, about two hours from our place. Dogmatix and Zhauwu were kept in a pet boarding along with Jerry (a neighbour’s 3 months old shihtzu baby who had been residing with us for two weeks then on lieu of his parents being away on urgent work). The trip was to take a break and also try out the pet boarding. The boarding thing didn’t work well but our trip was refreshing with good roads and a lovely weather.
In December we took a road trip to Sultan Bathery, Wayanad, Kerala. I had booked a cottage in a plantation and the plan was to chill out. Anoushrayan had a lovely time chilling out with his kindle. He was in the room mostly, taking just a single stroll around the plantation in three days.
On the way from Bangalore to Wayanad, one has to go through Nagarhole, the reserve forest; Anoushrayan was totally oblivious to the beauty of the forest and rather wanted to doze through the scenic journey along with Dogmatix and Zhauwu.
He loves to be in the world of fantasy – aliens, magical creatures, mythology, space or time portals; and as of now earthly things and its bountiful nature does not fascinate him. As he turns 14, time management is the biggest challenge he faces with hordes of activities, loads of dreams and throngs of distractions.
It felt so distant. It felt so far fetched. It never felt like an eventuality. Well I was wrong. Every other child becomes 12 every other day and so did Anoushrayan; on 7th Feb 2019.
The naughty but innocent eyes were expressing feelings yet beyond his comprehension. The little toddling feet had grown taller and stronger than mine. His palm was bigger, his grip was firmer and we now held hands, more for me in need of support.
Flashback 2008. After his first birthday, which we celebrated in Science-city, Kolkata along with both the grandparents, I and Rajib left for Bangalore and my parents and Raspy left for Guwahati – Assam, where my dad was posted at that time in the capacity of a plant protection officer for the govt of India. We visited them off and on. The residence in Guwahati was in a delightful surrounding. It was some distance between the city and the airport and was like an isolated hamlet. Raspy got ample space to play and explore. He got introduced to numerous animals and birds. The two storey house faced the main road and the hill range thereafter. At the back it had a water-body and then fields.
Raspy was a happy child and very much at ease with my parents. Mom had been there since he was born infact before that, so he didn’t differentiate much between mom and me. Mom had put up two huge photographs of me and Rajib on the wall and used to identify them as mamma and dada to him. When I visited them the first time a wonderful thing happened. I had just settled in the drawing room, he had been sleeping when I arrived and presently he was coming out of the bedroom, he looked at me, looked at the photograph, gave a broad grin and ran back into the room. I followed and sat down. He slowly came to me and perched up. It was lovely to see the recognition and love in his beautiful little eyes. He also recognized Rajib with ease when he arrived a few days later and was very happy to have all of us around.
We got his mane cut, having got a barber over to our place and Raspy happily slept through it.
In October Raspy came to Bangalore for a visit with my parents. He was thrilled to see and board the train as earlier he had travelled by plane only. We went on a trip to Mysore and had a lovely time exploring the zoo and the animals through his eyes. Raspy’s jaw literally dropped as he saw the Giraffe. We also visited Udupi and Raspy was at a beach for the first time as we went to Malpe Beach. He loves beaches.
Back then we only had a scooty pep and he loved the little rides standing in front or sandwiched between us.
Flashback 2009. We had trouble toilet training Raspy. One such evening, I wanted to scold him for not trying to learn and took him into my room. I made him stand on the bed so that we became the same height and he could see me in the eye. After a short while I realized he was intently following my mouth and was very intrigued. All this while I was scolding in English, (as ‘am comfortable in the language when agitated or overwhelmed or want to make a point) and there stood my 2 yr old baby with an appreciative look and happy nod. I continued, trying to sound somber. When he had enjoyed enough he jumped on to me and started eating my nose. The last accident on bed happened when he was 6 yrs old which of course was a one off case, by 4 Raspy was well trained.
The time he took to get toilet trained is inversely proportional to the time he took to be english alphabet trained. When he was a little over 4, we were once travelling by train and he started reading station names, as big as Visakhapatanam. We are a family of readers so we have numerous books at our homes, be it Kolkata or Guwahati or Bangalore. So little raspy started reading voraciously, from bottle labels to magazines, one could see the pleasure in his cute almond eyes when he read. He actually always read ever since, he can’t sit without reading. Though now he has choices and preferences, that time he just read not knowing most of the things he read. It was very comforting in a world where parents were literally having to dance on their heads to make their kids read.
The first three years of his life we kept on travelling to and fro between Bangalore, Kolkata and Guwahati, sometimes I / we went, sometimes he came over with my parents or we brought him and dropped back. He was happy everywhere.
I went back to Kolkata with him to stay with mom. Rajib joined us for a short while. He was a little over 2 then and it was time for school. The scheduled day for school arrived and we were all very excited. He was very happy to hang the tiny bag on his shoulders which had a snack box and bottle, all decked up in new cloths. Thus three of us – me, Rajib and Roddur, hand in hand, walked down the lane to the school, namely Kidzee, a little distance away. Raspy’s official nick name is Roddur.
All went well till the lady help took his hand from ours and started to get inside. It was mayhem. We had to bring him back. We tried for a couple of days and then had to give up.
I started looking for other options and found one which had a more open atmosphere. The kidzee near our place was basically a huge decorated hall and apparently Roddur was uncomfortable to go in a walled place without us.
Welland Goldsmith is a school of good repute and they have a kindergarden standing separate from the main school building. Their round hall in a standalone structure had big windows on all sides and was quite airy and sunny. Somehow Roddur liked it to my relief. I wanted him to socialise, mingle with other kids of his age and he did fairly well in getting along with his mates and teachers in the school. All this while he had only been surrounded by adults, mostly people the age of his grandparents.
I was scared if I would be able to recognise him amidst all those tiny tots and an experienced teacher reassured me, “…even if you don’t, he will find you…” and every day he would find me and run back into my arms when the school got over.
We visited Pondicherry in October and once again Raspy loved the beach though there wasn’t much of it. He enjoyed Auroville, the famed concept village. He also loved the boulevard. On the way back we stopped for cakes and it had rum, the poor little guy could not process it and vomited.
Flashback 2010. After a short stint at the play school in Kolkata, Roddur came over to live with us in Bangalore. He was almost 3 then and we decided to get him admitted in a school called Fusco’s School. It is a missionary school run by the nuns. We liked the grounds and the classrooms. It was a perfect place for a tiny tot to discover his surroundings and he enjoyed his Pre-KG and LKG with the wonderful teacher Martha madam, who made him want to go back to the place; but the beginning was a nervous affair.
Anoushrayan was to face an interview the next day for admission in Pre-KG. The Principal would interact with the child, we were briefed previously. We expected her to ask him his name, our name, favourites and stuff like that. We felt it was most imperative to know one’s name; so we had taught him well, both ours and his.
Context one – few days back we had watched the movie Madagascar, and he loved it. He identified himself with Alex(the lion), me with Gloria(the hippo) and Rajib with Marty(the zebra).
Context two – Since his early childhood days my mom would read to him the wonderful Bengali poems and stories written by Sukumar Roy (Satyajit Ray’s father); it is a delight to read them even today. However we identified Anoushrayan with a character called ‘Hijibijbij’, which literally means nonsense. It is a seriously funny character who would make one roll with laughter. So was Anoushrayan, and thus the connect.
Starting a couple of days before the D-day, every time we or anybody else would ask him his name, it was either Alex or Hijibijbij. The eve of the D-day really got me nervous. This was a school in our proximity, a reputed one and within our means, so I wanted him to be admitted there. However hard I tried with the 3 yr old, rolling my eyes and making my voice demure, the answer would not change. Next morning we went all dressed up and as I repeated the question in the car, the little brat gave the most heart warming smile and said, my name is Alex, my mother’s name is Gloria and my father’s name is Marty. I knew not what to do and just sat there twitching nervously till the call came. I kissed him and he kissed back smearing saliva all over my cheek. We went in holding hands, Rajib tailing us. The principal, a nun with a sage like demeanour called him and he ran to her. She asked him his name as we were taking our seats and to my veritable relief, he said Anoushrayan Deysarkar. Man, it did sound sweet!
Every morning we would pack breakfast and drive down the short distance to his school as Anoushrayan was likely to throw up and felt sick if he had to ride after having food. Fusco’s has a big parking lot, we always reached quite early, played a little, fed him, cleaned him up and then walked down the beautiful pathway leading up to the classrooms. He would kiss me and hug me and then bid me goodbye to join his classmates. I would walk back to the parking lot with a heavy heart though I knew I’ll see him in just 2 hrs. It was a routine for 2 years and I re-learned and honed my driving skills in this duration, going over the same route each day.
At around the same time Anoushrayan was experimenting with the gift of his glib, Rajib noticed that he was unable to say ‘coconut’ properly; he could say Canada, Center, Cute, City but not Coconut, on further probing we found that he was converting the ‘C’ to ‘T’ for any word which had ‘CO’ to begin with. I said it’ll get corrected with time but Rajib was worried and started working on it. He would show him how to roll the tongue day after day and interestingly Anoushrayan would keep practising it, I often found him sitting with his toys or in the balcony and repeating the tongue roll. And after many days he was no longer saying ‘totonut’ but had mastered ‘coconut’ and the other words.
Over the years Anoushrayan retained his ability to overcome challenges by sheer hard-work and determination. But again he has to be really convinced about its utility, if he doesn’t feel the need he can be as obstinate as possible to resist learning or practicing. My biggest challenge being making him to do any physical activity / any form of exercise.
Every step that we had taken together had been so vibrant and high on drama that I have never missed the vivacious opportunities of work that I lost in lieu of being with my child 24 by 7.
We were quite invested into photography at this time; we still are but not so extensively, majorly due to lack of time, the pattern of our travels which has changed due to Raspy’s preferences and also to an extent for not being able to use the multitude of photographs we have, productively.
So there we were at Thanjavur at the Brihadeshwara temple. Raspy was tagging me as I clicked and for the most part either I was holding him or he was holding me. Rajib was somewhere happily taking shots of the temple. This one place I had to focus a bit at an extraordinary angle so I made him sit and said he should keep sitting till am back. I was about a yard away from him and yet in his vicinity. I took a couple of shots and possibly had to be out of his sight for a minute or two. As I turned to go back to him, he was not there.
That was the first time in my life, my heart skipped a beat. I had been happy and sad and angry but never never never so scared. I had literally lost him. I ran to where he was sitting, it was a big open space and he was practically nowhere to be seen. Kumbakonam temple is famous for child lifts and Raspy would be an easy target. I called out his name and started walking past a smaller temple structure in whose shadow I had made him sit. A minute later I saw him walking a little ahead of me amidst a crowd calling ‘mamma, mamma’. I ran to him and picked him up.
The lost and found episode must have lasted for a max 3 mnts but those were the longest 3 mnts of my life. I continued to have nightmares about losing him for months thereafter. We lost him a couple of times in supermarkets as he would never stand at a place. He kept moving and if I would stop for a moment to checkout something he would have trotted on somewhere.
Flashback 2011. This was a challenging year. I was finding it very hectic to manage Raspy, a bundle of energy – curious and hyperactive. I mismanaged myself and was diagnosed with diabetes type 2.
We went to kolkata in Oct. Fusco’s was very reluctant about granting leave and I had to make up a lot of stories to get a few days extra. We visited my ancestral village, Karanjali too and Roddur enjoyed wadding around in the pond with my dad.
Flashback 2012. We celebrated his fifth birthday and our tenth anniversary with pomp and show amidst friends and family in Kolkata, the idea was to get him introduced to the multitude of our far and near relatives. I let him choose the cake and to my dismay he chose an airport, I had grand plans for a tiered cake.
Anoushrayan joined a new school Shishya BEML Public School in UKG. The major reason for changing school was the second language. Fusco offered Kannada as second language but we preferred it to be Hindi. Nevertheless he started learning kannada as a third language. This school was even nearer to our residence. It had big grounds and huge classrooms and a number of staircases.
Rashmi Menon was his class teacher in UKG and I was amazed by the way she managed a class full of chattering bundle of energies. She did not pamper them and yet she took great care. She taught them little things like tying shoelaces, stacking the notebooks neatly, eating the snacks in a tidy way. The kids loved her.
Anoushrayan was never any teacher’s pet as he somehow never warmed up to anyone, teacher or classmates, though he liked them all and never complained. The teachers also liked him because of his amicable nature and outstanding performance from the very onset in anything academic.
A lovely boy named Swaroop befriended him in grade 3 or so, otherwise, Anoushrayan turned out to be more of a loner since childhood.
This year, one fine day shortly after moving into the apartment – Dalli Sai Residency, I and Anoushrayan then just 5, stood atop the elevation holding hands. The apartment had a basement parking and one had to drive up an elevation to get to the road. It created an excellent opportunity for a downhill or uphill run. He was scared but we walked down side by side hand in hand. We went up and down, first walking then running, day after day, he trailing me and for years I outran him.
Flashback 2013. Anoushrayan in Grade 1. The respective class teachers would bring the kids to the gate and call out the names at dispersal. I went when she said Anoushrayan. He looked at me, top to bottom, with surprise and suspicion, then he hugged me and then smiled. Moments later, in the car he said, I could not recognise you at first, as you are wearing a full pant (a salwar, I usually wore quarter pants) but when I hugged you I recognised the smell.
We mostly travelled the less than 1km distance to school in our scooty, initially Anoushrayan used to stand in front but as he grew taller than the handle, he had to sit at the back. He would hold tight and my back would have a good backrest. Years later when he grew a lot bigger he would sit a little further back and my comfort was gone.
Well this was the year little Anoushrayan started winning accolades. He reported one afternoon as we were heading back home that he wants to take some exams. I gathered from his diary and his incessant blabbering that he wants to participate in the exams conducted by SOF World which goes by the name Olympiads and he was asking for my consent. I willing gave it and also guided him with his preparation. Anoushrayan was exuberant with joy when his name was called in the assembly, he had stood first in all the three exams he took, namely Maths Science and English. He later told me that he was almost trembling with happiness as he made his way up to the podium to receive the medals and certificate.
Thereafter he kept on bagging many prizes in the field of academics. In grade 5 he received an excellence award for outstanding performance and a hefty amount in prize money. In grade 6 however he wanted to take a break and didn’t appear for any external exam.
This year Anoushrayan got introduced to the idea of a pet. We got two cockatiels from a pet shop and named them Murray and Darling as they are indigenous to Australia. I had taken them for a check up and a lady brought in this little puppy who had been running amuck at a signal, he was hardly 2 months old. She was ready to pay for food, medicines and vaccines but since she had cats at home and a large number of them, she was unable to take him home. The clinic was not in a position to let him be there as he was too young. The only option was to take him home and foster him till he would get adopted.
The lady, the clinic and a few good people tried hard, I and Rajib went to an adoption camp and sat there all day. Anoushrayan was very happy when we came back home with Limca since he had not been adopted, well not that day.
It broke our hearts when he finally had to go. I was not in a position to take care of a pet dog as I was still trying to do some work in the external world and Anoushrayan needed a lot of mamma time.
Among other places we visited Kanyakumari with Anoushrayan, both for the train ride that he loves and the beaches. In fact Anoushrayan took a lot of photographs himself; he has quite a steady hand.
Flashback 2014. I love Art; music, drama, drawing and painting, sculpting; just anything creative, romantic and beautiful. I found a wonderful art (drawing and painting) teacher and would take him there in the evenings thrice a week. I was still committed to professional work at the time, so I would sit in the car working while he, I supposed, would make an inception into the creative world. His drawing copy would have lines and a few drawings which he needed to copy or colour. After about three months, one evening I stepped into the studio where the kids were all spread out and were at different stages of drawing and painting. I found Anoushrayan standing at the teacher’s table and looking at the drawing that she was making. I repeated the visits and always found him standing and watching. The other kids told me that he always does that and never does anything on his own. I had a hunch as his drawing book was rather empty and one day asked him why he is not doing anything and just watching. He said he just likes to watch.
This was one of those rare years when we didn’t go on a vacation out of town. We instead bought a dream flat making a huge investment, which turned out to be a bad debt as it never got constructed, atleast not until feb 2022. Rajib went to London for the first time on office work. Anoushrayan watched chicks hatching from eggs for the first time as our finches went on to extend their family.
Flashback 2015. Starting with Karate at around 5 yrs, we tried Kung fu, dance, Lawn Tennis and Skating before giving up. I felt very humbled at the Tennis court and felt a beautiful balance. In school Anoushrayan was the topper winning accolades in any exam internal or external, so I had to face both appreciation and concealed jealousy. At the court I was the mother of a very dumb player and a subject of sympathy. The coach even told me that he is really worried about my son’s future because if someone can not pick up tennis after almost 2 yrs then how would he manage maths or any subject for that matter in school. I just nodded suppressing a smirk.
His curious mind was ever hungry and school books not being enough I introduced him to the internet. We would watch youtube videos on many topics and thereafter discuss at length. Anoushrayan got lovely teachers in Shishya BEML as he went up the grades, one namely Nisha Madam who taught maths was his favourite. She was strict yet polite and jovial.
Anoushrayan loves energy and energetic people.
We did two wonderful trips this year. One where Anoushrayan had his first stint with mountains – Darjeeling and Kalimpong in West Bengal and the second where he had his first encounter with the jungle – Kanha in Nagpur. Anoushrayan was fascinated when we came face to face with a Royal Bengal Tiger but wasn’t much impressed about the snow capped mountains and rather grew distaste for the cold accompanied with it. He loved the vintage toy train ride in Darjeeling though and of course the pony ride.
Flashback 2016. A 9 year old Anoushrayan was all excited about his first trip abroad, and so was his 41 yr old mother as it was her first too! Unless Nepal is considered foreign which I and Rajib visited in 2013 without Raspy.
So Singapore was the destination for the summer of 2016. The zoos and the wonders of Sentosa were overwhelming for Anoushrayan but he thoroughly enjoyed every moment. Being accompanied by my parents on this trip added the extra pampering he always enjoys around them.
In October we plunged into another kind of sea – the sea of sands. Anoushrayan was thrilled to ride a camel in Khuri desert where we spent two nights in an unusual tent like setting. Jaisalmer is a household name, thanks to ‘Sonar Kella’ by Satyajit Ray and Anoushrayan was extremely happy to be on the scene that he had seen on tabloid so many times.
Flashback 2017. Here we were at the same elevation where in 2012 I outran Anoushrayan, now he could outrun me by far more number of seconds. He sometimes even dragged me up as I got out of breath, helped push the scooter up if need be. My little boy had grown up.
The dream flat (Skylark Ithaca) we had booked, was due in march 2017 and the work was going on in full swing, there was a possibility of a delay as is normal with most big projects and to be on the safe side we decided to change Anoushrayan’s school from the next session that is next grade and also move our residence closer to Ithaca. In effect he would not have to travel a longer distance in case we got the flat in possession any time during his school year.
We bought a small 2bhk in Sai Sarovar Apartment near Skylark Ithaca with our remaining means, thinking we would live there for at most 6 months before moving into Ithaca, and Anoushrayan was admitted to Mount Litera Zee School nearby for grade 5.
Combining farewell and birthday we threw a small party for his friends from school and it was good fun. This time the cake was black forest with fruits.
In the summer of 2017 we shifted to Whitefield on the outskirts of Bangalore. We were fortunate to find the last remaining white fields of eucalyptus plantations from where the area got its name. Our balcony became home to sparrows eliminating the need to keep caged birds. We had anyway given away all our birds before we shifted to this smaller place.
Anoushrayan not only managed to fit in the new school but also managed to win the hearts of his classmates, teachers, and even the principal. It was in this school that Anoushrayan gained humongous confidence regarding his abilities and emerged as a beautiful all-round soothing personality, thanks to his wonderful teachers, Bharati Madam who had been his class teacher and mentor needs a special mention as she had been largely instrumental in his growth. Anoushrayan made two good friends, Saket and Premraj.
The school has a swimming pool – half Olympic size, and swimming was part of the curriculum as was skating. He also started taking additional swimming classes in the evening and to our delight was eager about it and picked it up rather quickly and learned well enough to hold on till the rescuers arrive in case of any emergency situation. It is imperative to mention here that earlier when he was younger we had enrolled him for swimming classes and it was a complete failure, as he was outright scared of the coaches and their strict methods, he preferred free-floating and a little doggy paddling as my dad had taught him at our village pond. The coaches won’t allow that and hence his aversion towards swimming.
This was again another rare year of no travels but Anoushrayan didn’t complain. We went for a short trip to Horseley Hills nearby. He loves to spend time at home with his computer and books and is happy playing with me and one or two select friends.
Flashback 2018. The onset of 2018, namely the month of February his birth month, marked his first big stage performance as an anchor of the Annual Day Program for his school. He was enthused by the appreciation and applause.
A few days before the annual function in January, Anoushrayan was given braces in an attempt to correct his mole teeth look.
In his summer vacations, we went to Kashmir via Delhi. This was Anoushrayan’s first visit to the capital of our country. He liked Delhi. In Kashmir the most significant event for Anoushrayan was the pony ride in Pahalgam. He enjoyed the Gondola in Gulmarg but it was too cold for his liking.
Once again a change of school was on the cards. NPS came up in the lane next to Zee school; this was even nearer to our residence, Sai Sarovar Apartment. NPS is known for its academic orientation and that aligns perfectly with Anoushrayan’s demeanour. He loves to gather knowledge and can be at it for hours. No other vocation attracts him, neither sports nor cultural activities. So we decided to give it a try; I filled out the forms and Anoushrayan appeared for the written entrance exam and interview in October.
Winters took us to Madurai and Rameshwaram. Anoushrayan tried snorkeling and loved it. We tried banana boating but it turned out to be quite strenuous for us. Anoushrayan was fascinated standing at the last land point of India at Dhanushkoti.
Flashback 2019. Anoushrayan witnessed a ceremonial wedding for the first time. My niece got married in Kolkata and we all went to attend it taking special leave from school. I would not say he enjoyed the ceremonies cause it was too complex and crowded for his liking with all my cousins and their families around but it definitely gave him a sense of how big families can be. Being out of Kolkata for the most sensible part of his life till now, he had never known family apart from just his parents and grandparents.
We also took the opportunity to take a peek at the Sundarbans – the famed mangrove forests that are the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger. Anoushrayan loved the boat rides, he is too happy when he doesn’t have to walk, doesn’t have to write… in a nutshell doesn’t have to do anything which involves engaging his physical self actively. And yet he loves to ride… horse, camel… don’t know what else…
Back in Bangalore we had a lot to look forward to… one of them was to arrange for the party we had planned for Anoushrayan which was again going to be a farewell cum birthday bash.
And then he was 12. 155cm tall, 54kgs.
Time doesn’t fly; it stands still; in those images, that the camera lens creates and our sweet memories that never fade and need no technology to preserve.
For a mainlander it is an experience of a different kind, especially if one is a first time visitor like me. Of course, with water filling three fourth of the Earth we all are living on one island or the other, but ours is a huge one, and the more inland we live, it does give a sense of safety – at least from tsunamis.
Getting on with Baratang, one can do a couple of things. We chose to begin with visiting the parrot islands. You can’t actually step on the island but sit in the boat and wait for the chirpy parakeets to fly back home after dusk.
The setting is surreal. Imagine water all around you, tiny lush green islands floating here and there. The coastline of the island of Baratang is visible at a distance on one side and on the other the hills of the middle strait – the Jarwa territory come flowing down to touch the waters. Any moment poisoned arrows could come flying. The golden sun which was already melting would shortly give way to a glistening darkness full of stars. The breeze is strong and chill. The wide ocean beckons from where the channel meets it, far to fathom and yet near if one goes with the flow.
All of a sudden a shrill cacophony hits your ear. You raise your head to trace the direction of the sound and spot them flying towards you. A flock, then another, and another and another – they are of varied sizes: Small parrots, big parrots, long tailed, short and stout. If you have seen Hitchcock’s ‘Birds’ you would be scared. Even if you have not, you would be thrilled.
The moment, the surroundings –anything could have happened, had we been in a novel, an author could do a thousand things with a setup like this.
The parrot island is named so as the parrots have made it their home. Every evening they come back to this island. They have decorated the island with their beaks and the tree tops look perfectly manicured. This distinctive feature has turned it into a tourist spot.
By the time we started our journey back through the channel, it was completely dark. We sped through the waters under a star lit sky and came back to the Jetty. Pricey it was, but a boat ride I’ll remember and delight in all my life.
Dew Dale – our abode, tucked in the little village by the road can be perfectly cast as a haunted resort. Of the 12 cottages, only two were occupied at the time we stayed there, one ours and the other by an Englishman.
At dinner we got talking to the manager and chef, young chaps with promising careers. The food was excellent both in taste and quality, at par with star rated hotels. The resort is usually occupied by corporate guests and government officials.
To go to north Andaman, one has to pass through Baratang, as the ATR continues across the channels. Thus Baratang has a lot of passing traffic but hardly any stay on and hence the dearth of hotels. The tourists prefer to visit Baratang on a day trip from Port Blair.
We had stayed on, as we usually do. So the day we reached Baratang, we visited Parrot Islands in the evening. Next day we started early as was advised to visit the Limestone caves. This is the journey I had been really really looking forward to. It is majorly a motor boat ride and a bit of trek.
This time we went in the opposite direction to that of the parrot islands and towards the Jetty on the middle strait. We went past the Jetty and further down… or up? Well that depends on one’s point of view. The motor boat was gliding at a tremendous speed cutting the waters. After a while we slowed down and headed towards the bank lined with mangroves. We got into a channel which was quite narrow and the boat waded for a while. The mangroves could be seen closely now.
We were asked to de-board at a small jetty. A guide took us on a short trek through a narrow mud path lined with tall trees.
The trek has a few ups and downs and a sturdy foot gear is recommended. First we reached a small village. The villagers were selling fresh lemonade under make shift tents. After a few more steps we saw hoardings describing the Limestone caves. There were restrooms too.
Going further we reached the natural wonders. A very narrow one way path goes on to the end of the caves laced with stalactites and stalagmites forming beautiful patterns inspiring vivid imaginations.
The place was so crowded that it is difficult to find a footing. Batch after batch of people following their guides were either in the process of going in or out. The caves are on a level ground so one doesn’t need to go down into a cavern or anything like that. In other words it is not scary at all.
On the way back we stopped at the village, had lemonade, clicked some pictures and then went back to the small jetty where we had de-boarded, but instead of going into a boat we were directed towards a walkway on a series of bridges, it is called –‘mangrove walk’.
The winding bridges took us through the mangroves jungle which was indeed a delight. The light was low for photography. Occasionally crocodiles can be spotted but we didn’t spot any. The walkway ended in another Jetty from where we got into our boats again for a return journey.
One has to wear a life jacket while on these boats mandatorily and given the speed at which they move, I would definitely support the rule though it is immensely uncomfortable. Once on shore, we headed for an eatery next to the Jetty. The food was simple yet tasty.
Mud volcano is another natural wonder that this island has on offer. We took a detour from the ATR this time and moved towards the interior of the island in order to reach them. A few steps up a hillock adorned by well nourished gardens on both sides makes for a serene landscape. It is in sharp contrast to the baron top where numerous mud mounds are created and the mud is bubbling and boiling and gushing out of the mouths of these tiny volcanoes.
No sooner had we finished marvelling at this earthly wonder we found some wonderfully coloured feathered friends unique to Andaman vying for our attention. In our whole trip this was the only place where we saw some spectacular avian life. Most other places we saw their pictures or at best heard them.
After another delicious lunch at the dhaba we returned to our cottage in Dew Dale. Evening was spend playing Monopoly with ‘chay’ and ‘pakoda’(snacks).
Next morning we woke up early got freshened up and were all set to head north… again… yes further north! Stay tuned for our journey to the Northern most town of Andaman – Diglipur.
Aalu paratha is one of my favourite dishes and to my excessive pleasure whether in Kashmir (had the unforgettable experience of having them on a shikara) or in Andaman I had the fortune to savour them; it almost always comes as a complimentary breakfast. Following the tradition, breakfast was on the house in shelter hotel at Port Blair too.
Happily fed, to the ‘North’ we headed. This was to be an interesting journey. Andaman is a conglomeration of islands. South Andaman is one big mass with a few small islands scattered around, like Ross and NorthBay that I had earlier mentioned. Baratang can be considered to be the last considerably big island in South Andaman.
To reach Baratang, one has to cross the much romanticised ‘Jarwa’ territory. Imagine a dense forest, tall trees that can be seen in tropical rain forests – reaching the sky, shrubs overburdened with wildly fragrant flowers, a slightly hilly terrain sloping down to the shores of the pristine waters. That is where they live, the Jarwa tribe.
From the city of Port Blair one needs to go past the airport towards further south and then take almost an u-turn to go northward on the Andaman Trunk Road, which runs from the north to the south and is the only arterial road for commerce and commuters. Earlier when the ATR was not completed or those times when the reserve was off limits for common use people and goods used to travel by small launches and boats to Mayabunder Jetty from Chatham or Port Blair Jetty.
As we left the city behind, the landscape started changing. First came a few houses amidst fields and then the road started getting lined by woods. The road condition was pathetic and Sanju was driving very slowly to avoid damage to the car and rolls in our stomachs. Anoushrayan and I are motion sensitive creatures.
We reached a place called Jirkatang which is where all the vehicles line up who need to go North. There is a gate here operated by the government officials. It opens four times throughout the day – 6.30am, 9.30am, 12.30 afternoon and at 15.00 hrs. An escort vehicle leads the way and all the vehicles must follow it all through the Jarwa Reserve till the Jetty where one needs to cross over on a ferry to the island of Baratang.
There is a beautiful south Indian style temple at Jirkatang on an elevation beside the road. The roadside is also lined up with Tea stalls which have a range of snacks to cater to the passengers. Toilets/washrooms are present for our convenience. A small curio shop has an interesting collection priced reasonably.
We got the 9.30am gate. For a first timer it is nothing less than an adventure, passing through a land inhabited by the dreaded Jarwa tribe. We envisioned them as an aboriginal race that hunt with bow and arrows and are fiercely hostile towards civilization.
The first 5kms are buffer zone and actually have a few settlements, mostly village homes that have been there for many decades. We were given strict instructions to not take photographs all through the reserve, it is a punishable act to the extent that we could be jailed and fined. On top of it the driver would lose his license for 10 years. The windows were to be kept rolled up.
The reserve is indeed a serene terrain to traverse through. We were going in a convoy and then it seemed to slow down. Sanju said in a hushed voice, “See see Jarwa.” We started peeping but could not see any one for some time. Then we saw a guy in sunglasses, wearing a green shirt and khaki trousers walking down the road towards our car in style. His facial structure and skin colour were the only things that made him look any different from an average Indian. He had Negroid features and a very shiny black skin.
As we moved on we saw many more Jarwas sitting by the road side, mostly women and children. Most of the adults were clothed with a very few exceptions. They were accompanied by a man from the our world. We came to know that the government has tried to post personnel along the whole length of the road that cuts through the reserve to prevent any possible contact with the Jarwas.
Many indigenous tribes have perished from coming in touch with us as their body is not immune to a couple of diseases that we can spread. Also ‘civilized’ people have the unique tendency to exploit the trusting and somewhat naive people.
Our journey through the reserve was peaceful and pleasant and also quick – the road being well maintained. We reached the jetty where a channel separates the island of Baratang from the mainland of South Andaman. The cars and buses need to queue up and buy a ticket. We got out of the car as Sanju lined it up and then went off to get the tickets.
The channel is quite wide and the flow is fast. As we were waiting at a sit out we saw the birds diving for fishes which were a plenty.
After a short while we saw a big launch coming afloat and positioning it in such a way that its rear aligns with the slope of the jetty. The launch had a huge belly where the cars and a bus rolled in. The people then percolated in – the scene was akin to salt trickling in a jar filled with pebbles. The ride was short but exciting. At the jetty on the Baratang side, the salts, I mean the people went out first then the vehicles. The whole affair is very well organised by personnel on both sides.
Food was at the top of our minds with the stomach growling. Sanju took us to a nice joint, one of its kind in Baratang. It was a bustling place with two front rooms of a two storey house converted into dining halls complete with sitting arrangements – a batch of people were eating and another batch waiting at the porch beside the road. This was a north Indian household with origins from Delhi, who had made Baratang their home decades ago. As I went to the washroom that was a clean affair at the back of the house accessible by a passage by the side of the dining hall, I got talking to the lady of the house. She got married more than 25 years ago and settled amongst these transparent people – as she calls them, on this small island amidst the pristine waters.
Her husband takes care of the front-desk while she runs the kitchen. Almost all the people who visit Baratang either for a day trip or as passerby to further north dine here and there is hardly anybody who stops over for a night and thus there aren’t very many places to put up for the night.
We quickly got our seats and the plates were laid. The menu was fixed as the footfall was too high to cater to different choices for an optimal task force. Rice ‘daal’ vegetable curries and ‘papadum’ kept coming in a sequence. One could ask for as much as the stomach would agree with, but I went beyond my capacity as it was delicious to say the least – All this for just a 120INR per plate.
We went off to check in to Dew Dale Resorts, half an hour’s drive owning to the precariously bad road condition. Dew Dale, tucked in a village by the roadside with its aesthetically designed huts to match the ambiance complete with all the modern amenities is worth an experience by itself.
Join me as we go on to explore Baratang and beyond… So long…
Twenty four structures including temples, ruins and a museum in town; a temple 25 km to the north-west, another 10kms to the northeast, a village 22 km to the south-west and a popular pilgrimage 43 km to the south-east; that’s all we had planned for the 3 day trip to one of West Bengal’s hottest tourist destination in winter – The temple town Bishnupur.
Bishnupur town is around 200kms in the northwest direction from Kolkata located in the district of Bankura (one of 23 districts of WB) that is included in the area known as ‘Rarh’ in West Bengal, India. ‘Rarh’ popularly means ‘land of the red soil’. Bankura finds a mention in Mahabharata where it is called as ‘Suhmobhumi’.
We started on a Wednesday, last December, early in the morning and boarded a train from Shalimar station. The station gets its name from Shalimar Paints; who have painted the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Howrah Bridge, the AIIMS and many other prestigious structures since 1902. One can still see their dilapidated guest house and grounds near the station.
The train was on time, we hopped on to it and settled the little luggage we had on the rack above our seats. I directed my gaze towards the tea stall where the mob was, interestingly it was called Pillai tea stall. Rajib went to get us the steaming cuppas. A helpful gentleman educated me about the terminal station which had a name, that I thought was quite funny – Bhojudih.
Bhojudih is in Jharkhand. It is surrounded by three rivers, Damodar, Ijari and Guwai. It also has a famous kund (lake) that our epic Mahabharata hero ‘Arjuna’ created while the ‘Pandavas’ were in exile.
The journey in a reserved chair car on a winter morning is promising from the word go. I missed my boy, who loves trains just as we do. We omitted him from the trip as he would get bored spending hours around the brick temples as we study, survey and document each of them from every angle, brick to brick.
I suggested we move out right after lunch so as to be able to cover the huge list, but Rajib was craving for a little rest after the good meal. Lunch was simple yet delicious. Daal(pulses), aalu-posto(poppy seed curry), aalu-bhaja(finger chips, really thin) and a fish curry. The WBTDC lodge is the favorite eat out for day tourists as well.
The train having reached almost on time we had checked into WBTDC lodge after a medium rickshaw ride from the station that is to say the distance was neither short nor too long.
So we went into the AC deluxe room with a full stomach, body yearning to retire having been subjected to activity since the wee hours of the morning, put on the AC and slept off.
At about 3ish in the afternoon we pulled ourselves up from the alluring comfort of the bed, got ourselves and our gear ready and came out to conquer the land of the Malla Kings, Bishnupur was the capital of Mallabhum for almost a thousand years; and the sun gave us a wink! He was taking an early off and we were caught unawares. It was no good for photography.
Stunned by the sun’s stance we decided to just walk around heartbroken and headed to the museum that is less than a km down the alley from the guest house. It was open but photography was allowed. It’s a nice old structure with many artifacts.
Dihar, around 10-12 km north of Bishnupur was a site of human habitation as the Chalcolithic people settled on the north banks of the river Dwarakeswar by 1000 BCE. Excavations have revealed many utensils and tools used in those and later times. Some are on display at the museum.
The stone and brick sculptures we saw at the museum had interesting formations and names. They were mostly Shiva and other Gods from Hindu mythology alongside the ‘Jain tirthankars’.
Once out of the museum we walked along the directions on the roadmap and also google maps to reach a group of temples we knew was lurking somewhere around the corner amidst the development happening in terms of apartment sites scattered here and there.
We walked beside a school/college campus that was big and a very old one too, stretching from the beginning of the road till the pond that was a long way ahead. It had many hostel blocks and grounds, that’s definitely a student’s delight.
Uncertain about the distance and the navigator girl at google which like Cuthbert’s pendulum kept on pointing north we decided to ask a human being and in a short while reached our destination.
We tried a few shots but the sun said “Sorry! Expiry underway” like the stockbroker who won’t let one buy or sell any more stalks after 4 pm and we just sank in the dusk amidst ages of history day 1 went by.
As we strolled back to the hotel this time by another route, we passed by a live temple which was rather crowded and had many shops adjacent to it selling terracotta artifacts. I started peeping into them while Rajib quickly did a handy work with his camera getting snapshots of the goddess. Most live temples in India do not allow photography.
It was not until I had seen the picture Rajib shot that the name struck me, the goddess is called “chinnamasta” which means “severed head”. She is worshipped as a form of power and according to mythology had severed her own head to satisfy the hunger of her two mates, Varini and Dakini.
The road from the temple to the guest house had shops all along; apart from terracotta the shops also had “dokra” crafts; there were the famous “baluchori” and “bishnupuri” sarees, some woodcraft and the usual tea stalls and sweet shops.
A mega fair was to start the day we were supposed to leave Bishnupur and it being on the grounds right opposite to the guest house there was a lot of hustle bustle, preparations were on a full swing. We indulged in local made sweets and chops, the medium of cooking showed its true colours a day later and we didn’t try to brave them ever again.
Accuweather predicted that the next two days were going to be foggy with the sun mostly working undercover. We sat down with the list of “to be visited” with a grim face, no sun meant no shoot and we had only two and a half days in hand.
It reminded me of our honeymoon trip. Traveller’s cheques were in vogue back then, but by the time we managed to visit the bank anticipating a probable cash crunch, it was closed; we were supposed to leave for Geyzing from Gangtok(Sikkim, India) the next day thus were left on a shoestring budget until we could get a bank that was operating.
Back then it was money and now it was time. We would have to be very prudent, take wise decisions using all our experience and ration time.
It grew dark as we whiz past the jetty in Sanju’s car and as we were passing by the harbour front road with the sea on one side and a hill slope on the other, I wished if we could stay nearby and the wish came true! The Shelter Hotel is on the base of the hill slope which houses the Cellular Jail. The ‘honeymoon suit’ as they call it is just another double bedded room with a clean attached bathroom; but the balcony is a love affair for sure. It has a moderately good sit out option facing the sea, right across the road.
We freshened up and went out, heading for the ‘sound and light’ show at the cellular jail at 9pm. We needed to grab our dinner before that somewhere on the way. The road by the sea is both delightful and a bit scary for first timers like me, though the railings bracing the footpath were mostly present, the once that were broken did pose a danger. The breeze from the sea was strong and we felt the chill. There weren’t too many pedestrians or vehicles at this hour. At a junction the road bifurcated, one branched up the hill and we followed.
A short way up was the Cellular Jail, all lighted up. We got the tickets.
Our road went on bypassing the Cellular Jail and going down to meet that road which had continued straight on from the bifurcation. We went down that way and found a road side arena decorated with lights and umbrellas with many fast food stalls and sitting arrangement, we got some of it for dinner. The waterfront has many options for dinning. This is an interesting place, and is just a walk away from Aberdeen Bazaar. We explored this area after coming back from North Andamans.
The sound and light show brings alive the sufferings of the prisoners, the cruelty of the Jailer with dramatic narration and inspiring songs.
We came out with a heavy heart but the breeze and the distant lights in the dark, the huge Indian flag hoisted at the tip of the waterfront brought back the lively mood as we walked back to the hotel. Rajib and I sat in the balcony late into the night watching the ships anchored in the harbour. Some had dim lights, few had bright, and we could even see small boats sailing in the light of the stars. It was beautiful, mystic.
We almost started the day on the balcony again, we means me and Rajib, Anoushrayan as I have said earlier has eyes for only kindle; he came, he saw and said a brief nice before rushing back to his beloved.
Luckily to our left was the fresh catch fish market, so we got a glimpse of a lively merchandise exchange. A boat was anchored at the opening of the wall / railing on the footpath. It had many varieties of fishes which had been caught fresh. The boatmen, two of them were busy segregating them and they didn’t finish until we left for our day tour, which would be about an hour. The retail sellers were mostly women in their brightly coloured sarees. People came in small and big cars, all residents of Port Blair. Some bought directly from the boat man as the ladies were busy setting up their shops. Some were waiting patiently and slowly the place that had a quite sleepy start was bustling with activity.
The plan was to see the museums and enjoy some water sports. We didn’t go for water sports in Havelock, which was definitely a mistake we realised later. I was particularly interested about the sea walk which didn’t need any swimming or diving experience. But we came to know only after reaching North Bay Island that it has been stopped after some unfortunate incidents.
Sanju, who by now had almost become a chauffeur, was ready at the gate. We drove off to the island of Chatham, which is connected by a land bridge over the sea. Chatham is where the felled trees are cut into sizes as is in demand and sent out to far far away lands on ships. Chatham is where the first and the second penal settlements were established. Chatham is where the 200 prisoners first landed on 10th March 1858. The date is still celebrated as the foundation day of Port Blair and those prisoners are considered the ancestors of modern residents of Andaman.
At Chatham one needs to buy tickets to enter through the gate, there is a nice little museum stuffed with photographs with information on various important things and places and people of Andaman and Nicobar. It has many beautiful articles on display, majority being things made of the famous ‘Padouk’ wood that is indigenous to the Andamans. At a time only 20 people are allowed inside.
//——–We saw many Padouk trees on our journey to Baratang and further north to Rangat and Diglipur, but could not identify even one on my own, however hard Sanju tried to educate me.—–//
Then there is the bunker to hide from the Japanese bombing, the huge ditch created by the Japanese bomb that fell on Chatham and mostly destroyed it and last but not the least one gets a walkthrough of the saw mill. Huge bundles of logs, huge machines to cut and polish them, it is a fascinating place and definitely not that one gets to see on a day to day basis. It is not a tourist destination by definition, but an amazing experience.
The curio shop has items made of the Padouk wood, it has the cheapest and the best collection in town. We bid farewell to this historic island with loads of souvenir to visit another, Ross Island. The motor boats take 6 / 7 passengers, first to Ross then to North Bay and back to Port Blair. While Ross is where the Brits had their headquarters, living quarters, entertainment arena which is all in ruins now, having been captured by the Japanese for a brief period and then finally abandoned; North Bay is for water sports ranging from scuba diving to visiting the marine life in submarines.
Ross Island has many things for the ones like us who are interested in ruins. It has a haunted feeling about it. It also has peacocks and deer roaming about. Beware the coconut is way too expensive in Ross. From Ross we went to North Bay.
Since underwater sea walking was not possible, we wanted to opt for Scuba. The norms don’t allow diabetics and hypertensive to go scuba diving thus we sat on the shores as Anoushrayan took the dip. It is expensive at 3500INR per person. The experience was not so great for my child as his braces hurt against the mouthpiece. We found many oldies with sugar and pressure taking the plunge not withstanding any warnings and coming out clean. We also saw many young girls and boys failing the test that is mandatory (to be able to follow basic instructions) before diving in.
One can go snorkelling, which is open to all as it doesn’t take one deep down but once again Havelock would be a better place to try all these.
Lunch was a quick affair on North Bay in one of the make shift shacks but it was good to taste.
We were transferred to a submarine parked a little way into the sea by a motor boat; though there is a great deal of marine life to be enjoyed and the boat belly where we were seated was taken very close to the bottom of the sea exposing a multitude of corals and fishes and plants; the sapiens inside the belly were too noisy and unsettling in contrast to the vibrant calm outside. I puked and realised that land, plain land not mountains not on fast moving vehicles – is where I belong, neither the sky nor the oceans.
The moment the submarine ride ended we were almost snatched off and ushered into our motor boat, our co-passengers were a tolerant lot muttering the grudges only under their breath, in the morning they had to wait for us for a whole 2 hrs, while we took our time at the Chatham saw mill, in the afternoon another two as they didn’t engage in any sports. That is how they gather the passengers; 2 here 2 there to make 6 or 7 in all, our co-passengers where a family of 4 so they had to wait for us 3.
Once back on the island of Port Blair we rushed to the Anthropological Museum, as all museums close by 5pm and we had just about an hour to spare. It is a fine building which houses many artefacts that the different tribes of Andaman and Nicobar have been using since time immemorial. We also saw the models / photographs of the men women and children, belonging to different tribes that were and are residents of the Andamans. But the most interesting was the model of the boat called the outrigger canoes. It helped these people to brave the seas, then and even today. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the museum.
By now we were hungry as a hippo. We had only grabbed a cucumber at the waterfront after de-boarding the boat; the most expensive cucumber I have had in my life. All through Andamans cucumbers are extensively expensive, most other food items raw or cooked are not. The auto dropped us at Aberdeen Bazaar and we walked through the busy streets lined with shops on both sides. We found a good looking restaurant, had our fill, bought some cheap tshirts written Andaman and Nicobar on it of varying sizes and colours for ourselves.
The next day we were supposed to head on to Baratang, so we picked up some cash and bakery stuff. In Andaman we had to fish out cash everywhere except The Taj. We picked a few souvenirs on the way back to the hotel and skipped dinner. Once again we enjoyed sitting in the balcony and gazing out at the lights from the ships and the stars and the dark waters and the light house that stood at the edge of the island opposite to us, for the last time.