Monday, October 23, 2023

Dusshera Memories


The nip in the air after a few recent showers rake up the sweet memories! Indeed the festive season is around the corner. Surprisingly, we have now more than one way of knowing that festive time is knocking on our doors. No prizes for guessing- the media of all kinds is flooded with advertisements from the white good sellers, Amazon, Flipkart and more leading the bandwagon with an eye on the fat wallets of the nouveau rich middle class. After recovering from the after-effects of the pandemic, the world seems to have suddenly realized to make good every moment. The restaurants, malls, stores, and retail stores are enticing the customers and there is no place to maneuver in these places.

As kids, the springing of pandals in the neighborhood and blaring music with loud dialogues from the Ramlila signified the heralding of festive times. After early dinner, we would head to one of these pandals in the neighborhood where the epic 'Ramayana' was being enacted. The smell of freshly roasted peanuts being warmed with a clay pot of burning fire was difficult to resist. So my siblings and I enjoyed our evening till an announcement over the loudspeaker asking for us interrupted the fun. It was time to return home to attend the school the next day. 

Huge effigies were being readied for the D day for consignment to flame next to the venue of Ramlila by artists from villages giving shape to the bamboo twigs. Also, on the sixth day( Shashti) yet another pandal with a majestic idol of goddess Durga astride a lion, demolishing Mahishasur the demon would become a huge draw. It was a nightlong event with cultural programs, heavenly food, screening of Bengali movies, and above all the ladies attired in their best sarees would add to the glitter.

Sometimes we would visit our paternal aunt's place on the Dusshera day where the entire family congregated for a traditional ceremony where the sisters would apply 'tikka' on the forehead of brothers followed by a feast. We would then rush to the venue of Ramlila ground where the effigies would go up in smoke after the traditional slaying of Ravana the demon king by Lord Ram with his ' Dhanush'( bow and arrow). We would all be dressed up in the new clothes to attend this occasion. There were no mobiles or cameras that people carried to record the events. Most of these memories have been created with visuals that bring back the memories of simple times just by the flick of a mental switch.

Over time the world has become a global village. The festivities have added more luster with ' Dandiya' performances and musical evenings everywhere. I wish all my readers a very happy festive season that brings joy and cheer

PS Image kind courtesy Google

Monday, August 14, 2023

The Journey of Independence


As the dawn of completion of 76 years of Independence Day approaches, there is much to feel happy about and also to brood over what lies ahead. The earliest memories go back to the days when the tricolor would be unfurled in the school followed by sweets and singing of some patriotic songs. The speech of the prime minister would be heard over the radio recounting the achievements and tribulations. Outside the kids would be busy flying kites and the sky would be festooned with all the hues and at times competing with the tricolored balloons released in the neighborhood. 

Those were the years when India went to war with its neighbors in 1962, 1965, and 1971 and the air would be filled with the stories of valor, award of medals of bravery, and heart saddened to see the lives lost. Lata Mangeshkar the legendary singer sang, ' Ai Mere Watan ki logo' before a jampacked audience at the National Stadium in Delhi in the presence of  Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, which I vividly remember having attended as a child. A new nation Bangladesh was carved out of erstwhile East Pakistan and for the first time in recorded history, India had won a decisive war with the document of surrender from the Pakistan Army as a piece of evidence for posteriority. All these events were laying the foundations for pursuing a career in the Armed Forces at a later date.

India progressed with leaps and bounds as the 'Green Revolution' and the 'White Revolution' worked as miracles to feed the teeming millions added to the population. An ever-enthusiastic Sanjay Gandhi the son of Ms Indira Gandhi fulfilled his dream to launch a small car ' Maruti' for the Indians and to curb the rising population went on an overdrive to sterilize the young people. This coupled with the Allahabad High Court judgment cost Ms Gandhi her prime ministership. The dark era of " Emergency' followed while I was in college. It was a turbulent time as some of the students also went to jail, The country witnessed the emergence of a short-lived coalition government under Morarji Desai followed by Choudhary Charan Singh. Indira Gandhi returned to power and remained as the prime minister till her assassination in 1984 following ' Operation Bluestar' in Amritsar. Under Rajiv Gandhi, India entered the ' computer age' and never looked back regardless of who came into power. The following years saw rapid multi-dimensional progress including the emergence of the Satellite era and the entire world became a borderless entity. One could see pictures from across the world just by the flick of a remote on the TV screen.

India went through a very harrowing financial crisis in the early '90s when the then PM, P V Narasimha Rao, steered the country out of the financial mess. Another war was looming large when once again Pakistan opened the war front in Kargil. A befitting reply followed by the recapture of Tiger Hill by the valiant Indian Army. Atal Bihari Vajpayee the Indian poet Prime Minister took India to diplomatic heights. Congress once again was back in power under Manmohan Singh. Despite being a financial genius he could not add luster to the job at hand. On the contrary, a series of financial scams brought more disrepute than any accolades! The dynamic Chief Minister of Gujrat Narendra Modi assumed the Prime Minister's office and is firmly saddled for two consecutive terms. The daring feats like taking Pakistan terror camps head-on, demonetization of currency, abrogating Article 370, and resolving the long-standing Ram Mandir dispute are things that will go down the annals of history. Multi-prong development, making a common citizen into a netizen, and making technology and its benefits accessible to an ordinary man is still ongoing reforms.

All these memories flash past as if turning a kalidescope to see the changing images. 

 Indeed we are blessed to be born at a time to see the world transforming around us. From the times to standing in queue for rations and kerosene to travel in airconditioned metro rail there has been a quantum jump. There were times half a day was spent just paying an electricity bill or buying a rail ticket. Nowadays even the ordinary vendor on the street flashes a mobile and collects payment via Paytm. 

Notwithstanding the impediments that we encounter, it is my firm belief that the coming years of independent India will see huge changes to make our lives better and we will proudly  hold our heads high.

PS: Image kind courtesy Google


Friday, June 30, 2023

Loving Rains


The rainy weather brings torrents of memories as the strong winds, a clap of thunder, and lightning bring the raindrops to soak the parched earth. The earliest memories of playing in the rain with abandon and floating paper boats in the puddle of water get refreshed. The streaking vehicles on the street would leave a trail of  by soiling the clothes and bodies with mud. Unless it was a school uniform we never cared, 

Like every weather rains have a special soothing effect after days of blistering heat, sweat, and perspiration. The markets are flooded with mangoes as the watermelons and rock melons make a hasty retreat. The sight of trees dripping with water droplets and the wet birds hiding in the corners quietly is fascinating. The aroma of hot fritters(pakoras) spiced with green chutney prepared from fresh mint and cardamom tea would even wake a dragon from its slumber. I recollect the days I was posted in Goa while serving in the Navy, Our house overlooked the sea and with the onset of monsoon, the sea would no longer remain tranquil. Sometimes the fishermen caught in the rain would sing songs while returning ashore. The treat of pakoras and tea would oft getrepeated while admiring the pitter-patter of the rains and hearing the songs of fishermen., as there were several rainy days at a stretch. Sometimes when I accompanied my wife and daughter on my scooter would get caught in the rain after purchases from the local market in Vasco-da-Gama, After reaching home the exercise to unpack the ration had to be done with a precision of a surgical operation to avoid making a mixture of lentils or a mix of different flours.

I also vividly recollect when I first saw the fury of monsoons when I landed in Cochin( Kochi now) at the Naval Academy. At night the lightning and thunder would strike with such ferocity that I would jump outof the bed.  In Delhi,  I had never seen such rains at a stretch, as I  witnessed  in Kerala. Most of mornings, the day would start going out for long jogs and PT in the drizzle and return totally drenched before the next event of the day!

One night when we were on a sailing camp at the academy, we cast our boat at Bolgatty Island ( now a five-star hotel) for the night. It was peltering cats and dogs and as I stepped near the shore my foot slipped on the  moss on a rock at midnight and I landed in the sea. Everything blacked out as I struggled to hoist myself up. Fortunately, there was a boat tethered alongside which I caught by the side of a buoy.

There are a galore of tales related to rains that I have witnessed and each story is equally fascinating making the rains one of my favorite times of the year

PS Images kind courtesy Google

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Reminiscing Birthdays


Home made treats
For most of us, birthdays are special events regardless of the age at which they are being celebrated. As the years keep rolling on when I look back, I see how every passing year has been more exciting than the previous one. As a child, being the eldest of the other two siblings, I remember, it used to be a solemn occasion, but always an eventful one. The main reason being during the school and college going years it invariably fell in the midst of summer vacation. I never got a chance to invite any friends as invariably all my relatives and cousins showed up on the day. Invariably my grandparents also were around most of the time to bless me. The day would start with a breakfast comprising ' sooji halwa' and homemade pakoras or samosas, both my favourites. A simple 'tika'  ceremony with coconut and fruits along with some small gifts followed by kneeling before the almighty to thank for everything.

With parents and daughter in Pune 

As the day progressed the cousins would show up a few for lunch, others for the evening tea, with no prior information, so my parents would work overtime to prepare delicacies at home depending on the hour They would be giving us company. I do not remember any complaints either from my parents for making arrangements 'on the fly ' or my relatives who would pitch in if any help was needed. 
At Cinque Terre Italy-2017
The festivities would go on into the evenings and some of the late arrivals would show up for dinner, I wouldn't be wrong if the count of those who showed up exceeded fifty by the end of the day. We lived in a small one-room flat with just basic facilities but somehow the space seemed to expand on that day to accommodate them in every inch of the house. 
In the hotel room Zurich 2010
Even after my college days, when I had joined the Navy, though we had shifted our house the routine on the birthday rarely differed if I was around. After my marriage, I was posted in Delhi, my hometown and my wife initially was shocked to see the impromptu celebration with the entire household and adding more colour to the party by baking some lovely cakes, which gave a tinge of the West to an otherwise 'desi' event. My daughter who arrived two years later seemed to enjoy all the attention that would now make her a bigger draw!
At Jamie Oliver Restaurant Cambridge UK 2018
I was fortunate to move in the corporate world immediately after my stint in the Navy and as luck would have it every year I would be in a different location celebrating my birthday. One of my company colleagues was married to a girl whose birthday coincided with mine. He too did more stints abroad than his entire work time in India. On every birthday even to this day, he does not forget to wish me regardless of where I am and we exchange notes regarding our locations. I have a German friend who I met on one of the Blogger meets who happens to be a 'birthday twin'. So I have more people who share this day with me. The old traditions of cooking at home with lots of love and attention are being now carried forward by my wife and daughter who do not leave any stone unturned without making the day special by preparing the choicest home-cooked dishes and also outing indulgences. I am grateful to the god who has given me more company with every passing year and even as of now, while working with children in different NGOs I find that celebrating the special day with these special children adds more joy as the time rolls on.

PS- A sincere gratitude to all for a life lived well

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Seville Cathedral and Giralda Tower


Seville Cathedral
One of the high points of my trip to Seville was the visit to Seville Cathedral and Giralda Tower, which are in the heart of the city. This gargantuan edifice's sheer magnificence and opulence act like a magnet for visitors. It is the third largest place of Christian worship after St Peter's Church in Rome and St Paul's Cathedral in London, The 105m tall Giralda is perhaps the tallest structure in the region and the surrounding cathedral with engraved arches, huge doors with carvings, and intricate work are spellbinding. The catholic monarchs Ferdinand and his family, Christopher Columbus and his son Diego lay buried in this cathedral.


Facade of the Cathedral

It was built as a mosque in 1172 AD and completed in 1198 AD. Soon after the conquest of Seville by King Ferdinand, it was converted into a cathedral in 1248 AD. The interiors were converted into huge chapels. According to the cathedral chapter, it was said that 'Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will take us for mad'. The construction of the Gothic cathedral continued till 1511.

Giralda Tower

Among the most noticeable features of the cathedral are its huge area of around 15000 square metres, a great boxlike choir loft, and vast carved scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, The builders preserved some parts of the mosque like the courtyard for ablutions, the huge minaret( converted to bell tower called Giralda) and patios with orange trees. The cathedral has 15 doors on its surrounding four facades. Each of these doors has unique carvings and scenes from Bible depicted on them. The cathedral has 80 chapels in its precincts. 

A View from Giralda Tower

A climb on the Girala Tower is a must to appreciate the beauty of not only the tower but also the views of the city from the windows and from the top. The decorated facades and the windows on the tower are stepped to match the ramps and maximise the light inside the chamber. After the conversion of the mosque to a church the minaret underwent a change as a bell tower. A cross and a bell were mounted in 1400. This iconic structure became an inspiration for several more buildings that were constructed using similar designs like the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, The Freedom Tower in Miami, both in the USA and the clock tower at the University of Puerto Rico.

A view of the roofs of the Cathedral

Some tips for the people who would like to visit the cathedral when in Seville is to visit in the early hours of the day to avoid the rush and also book the tickets online in advance. The 35 sloping ramps take the visitor atop the viewing gallery on the Giralda Tower, The place is restricted so best avoid rush hour to soak the beauty of the city on reaching the top. Finally do not forget to see the final burial place of one of the greatest navigators Christopher Columbus!

PS: All pictures are mine

Monday, April 10, 2023

Real Alcazar- A Treat for the Senses


The Royal Alcazar
Little did I know about a magnificent palace called  'The Real Alcazar' till I had planned a short trip to Sevilla in Spain around Christmas in the year gone by. Historically, the Alcazar located, just opposite the Cathedral of Sevilla, is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. One cannot miss the enormous edifice which leaves the onlooker in disbelief and awe even before stepping into the place. A steady stream of visitors is a testimony to its popularity.

The Main Courtyard
The Royal Alcazar was founded in the middle ages at the beginning of the 10th century. The Caliph of Cordoba ordered a new place for the government premises. Ever since its construction, it witnessed tumultuous upheavals and changes to keep pace with the changing times. Since 1248-49 ever since conquered by Castilians, the place has retained the title of the Royal Residence and as the city's political hub. Besides the architectural frame that acquired new forms as the rulers changed, the new use of spaces, the creation of gardens, endless water aqueducts and fountains with the stamp of the creators in the labyrinth of structures and gardens created 11 centuries ago, the palace has mysteries ensconced in its bosom,
The intricate tapestry on dome

The influence of the Crown of Spain is visible in the buildings of Alcazar due to its relationship ever since its creation. The influence of the changing fashion with times is visible in the intricate interiors. One such example is the Courtyard of Maidens which was refurbished in the Renaissance style. 

The lovely inlay work
The Renaissance artists contributed magnificent treasures to this building. Among other treasures are stylish wooden furniture, paintings, pieces of art, chandeliers, clocks, and tapestries that adorn this palace.
An immaculate tiling work

The upper floors of the place are still reserved for the monarchy to stay when visiting Sevilla. This place is renowned for its artistic tiles. Different forms of tiles can be seen as one moves from one end to the other end of this palace, Puerta del Leon or the Main Entrance has a huge figure of a Lion holding a cross in its claws. A little further is the Courtyard of the Maidens where according to a legend, 

The beautiful gardens of the Alcazar
Moors demanded 100 virgins every year from the Iberia region. There are several other places and gardens that abound and need more than an entire day just to get a glimpse and appreciate the beauty of the place,
The jaw-dropping beauty of the gardens

It would be impossible to capture the details of this fascinating place in a single post but some of the pictures will speak more than words about the beauty of this palace.

PS- All pics are mine

Monday, March 27, 2023

Sabores de Seville


A View from Giralda Tower

Sabores de Seville, translated as 'flavours of Seville', comes to mind when visiting this splendid city in Spain. The range of exotic flavours especially during the Christmas festive time is a wide array of choices, be it food, the flavour of music and dance, fairs, or illumination in a truly magnificent way. Every nook and corner was vibrant with activity.

The historic La Campana

A day spent exploring the magnificent castle and Giralda tower was soul-enriching, The intricate mosaic inlay work in the cathedral, the huge tinted glass, the coffin of Christopher Columbus and bird's eye views of the city from the Giralda Tower were enough to take the breath away. I will devote a full post to sharing my experience of this huge edifice in the forthcoming post. After a walk around, the hunger pangs took over and a quick search brought us to ' La Campana' in the heart of the city. This shop has been in existence since 1885 and the decor has not changed much over time. The beautiful glass cases show off the delicious selections of cakes and pastries. Don't forget to seek the opinion of friendly salespeople who can suggest some exotic treats that will go down memory lane, with the flavours igniting the taste buds. There is a galore of Tortillas, Empanadas and a lot more besides the sweet savouries.

The Bullfight Arena
A walk further down the alleyways bursting with people brought us to Plaza de Torros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria, or the famous Bullfighting Arena. Unfortunately, there were no shows so we had to be content by admiring the beauty of this huge circular venue. This is the largest ring in Spain with a unique Baroque facade dating back to 1762-1881. A number of statues of the greatest bullfighters adorn the periphery of the arena. There is also a museum that recounts the history of the place.
A Flamenco performance in Sevilla

A fitting finale to an eventful day ended on a slightly dark end of a street where the theatre staging a ' Flamenco Dance' was to be held. There are several such performances held every evening in Seville and we were fortunate to attend one. Nobody knows the exact origin of this electrifying dance but origins can be traced back to the Andalucian region of Spain, Latin America or the Caribbean. An interesting fact that I learnt was that around the 9th-14th  century, some migrants from Rajasthan ( yes in India) migrated to Spain. They brought with them tambourines, bells and wooden castanets and with a repertoire of dances and music set the stage ablaze. The passage of time with the Jewish and Moorish influences brought these dances to the present form. The underlying beauty of these performances is the 'cante' or the song in its different forms, the rhythm and synchronization of tapping of feet and gyrations of the performers. The ' baile' or the dance leaves spectators asking for more. 

I will continue with the journey in the forthcoming posts to share more such memories of the vacation.

PS- All pics and videos are mine