Snowy white winters – a wonderland or wanderland

Update for week ended 23 January 2022

In modern metropolises, the most we interact with neighbours in in the common elevators taking us up to our apartments. One such recent encounter that I had went something like this:

Me : Hi – long time, no see! Were you travelling during the yearend break?

Neighbour: Yes, I went to India

Me: Oh – so you went to Delhi? (presumptuous me)

Neighbour: retorting proudly – No, we went to Shimla. I belong to Himachal Pradesh and that is home.

Me: Aha, so did you get a snowfall? (Shimla was the summer capital of British India and chosen for its cool weather all year round, and a few bouts of snowfall in winters)

Neighbour: Luckily, no. I believe it snowed the day after we left, and that was fortunate, else we would have been stuck and unable to travel to catch my flight back to Singapore.

The lift door opened as I reached my floor, and got off the lift with the courteous farewells and that got me thinking. How so many of us, who don’t get to see snow in the tropics, crave for it; while there are many who don’t particularly find the thought welcoming. Take the residents in the Pakistani capital. The hill station of Murree is not too far from Islamabad, to drive down for a day trip. And when it snowed one day at Murree, almost everyone who had a car, rounded up the family for the day picnic. Off they went clogging the roads uphill, and the snow fall turned into a storm that just got fiercer and made it impossible to drive through. So many of the cars just stopped and stayed still along the narrow, winding roads with little room to turn back waiting for the storm to abate. The jam was several kilometres long and the wait was getting colder, as the snowfall refused to cease. To keep themselves warm, most of the drivers shut all windows and kept their car engines running to keep the heater running , as well, in the car. It was not helpful for many, as they suffocated in the cars and froze to death. A Different story unfloded last weekend in Manitoba. A group of migrants were being illegally transported form Canada to the US Border to start their new lives. They were dropped off in the wilderness near the border by a van driving agent, who asked them to trudge the last half a kilometre or so on foot. Mind you, this was snow country, and the walkers were from hot and humid western India, perhaps ill equipped to handle the freezing snow. Amongst them was a family of 4 including an infant, who perhaps lost their way and after a long search were found frozen dead just 100 metres or so from the border. In search of a new life, this family lost their their current one, forever. RIP !

The winter snow storm that hit north eastern America also piled the white fluff on W Street. I hear that the weather is still chilly and sub zero if you used the Celsius scale (unlike the DJ Boyz who prefer the Fahrenheit). The chilling weather froze the DJ Boyz’ fingers and their feet trembled, as they got to work in the last week (or at least those how did attempt to get to work), giving their favorite DJ index a similar cold treatment. What had been a drop from all time highs a couple of weeks back, continued to plunge like the mercury on the thermometer. The DJI moved below 36000 and even below 35000 to end the week at a timid 34,265.

The bleak winter presents many facets; of awe to those who never had a chance to see snowflakes traipse earthwards; while it is reason for others to cancel their trip to office and perhaps a few of the zoom calls to help clear the snow that blocks their driveway. Next week, many Asians would celebrate the Lunar New Year and look forward to spring with great hope. Perhaps some cheer would be welcome.

Till then, do chat with a neighbour and share with me any interesting conversations you had. who knows that might get you thinking about.

Birds of Prey – Eagles, Vultures and even Hawks

Making Sense of the DJ Boyz

Update as of 6 Jan 2022

Birds of Prey – Eagles, Hawks and even Vultures

Birds migrate, and so do animals. Some of these migrations stretch over thousands of miles and traverse myriads of terrains, over land and even over sea. The bitter cold weather of the sub-arctic region of northern Europe and largely Russia is harsh, bleak and snow covered,  leaving it difficult for birds and animals to find food easily, unless they have adapted their diet to either shrink or live off whatever is available. Bears as many of you know, actually shut down their physiological functions and go into hibernation till it is warmer, so that they don’t have to starve while awake. But many birds who can fly long distances, choose the easier option out, of finding warmer weather further south. One such species of avian are the griffon vultures of Siberia. They fly thousands of miles southwards over the mountains in south eastern China and into Thailand. These birds of prey are carrion birds, and feed only on carcasses; so they prefer to go to places with teeming animal life.  Over the past few years, residents of the southern island in Thailand, welcomed these birds by offering them raw meat spread out over the island. And the vultures have been vesting them often. Except for a few, that strayed away from their flock and landed a few thousand miles south eastward. They perhaps landed out of exhaustion, onto the manicured plains of a Botanic Garden in the centre of Singapore. This generated a lot of excitement and shutterbugs flocked to the gardens for a “Kodak” moment with the birds, but one of them was extremely exhausted and perhaps dehydrated. The vets had to be called in to take special care of this visitor who had chosen the new form of VTL into the island – the Vulture Travel Lane… And then over the weekend, they nursed it, checked it, fed it and when it looked “fit” to fly again, they brought it back to the garden to get it to fly again… This much anticipated moment was what everyone looked forward to this week. It was also the week when most offices got its staff back (or at least half of them) after a long time and everyone was excited and looked forward to queue up for the lunch food at local CBD food courts and markets and people yearned company on the buses and trains to and from offices. And then all the chatter at lunch a colleague was about how the vultures would return to their flock and be one nice happy family this week. And with bated breaths everyone wanted to know about the vulture’s welfare and whether it would fly off this week. And sigh, what a sad fate. The poor bird could not fly and despite being given a green signal by the vets, it just could not lift off…

Going into the New Year, such was the excitement in the Dow Jones as well, as the DJ Boyz (on W street across the globe), that they were eager to set the streets on fire again with their excitement. After the New Year parties and festivities, they were all keen to return to office and do what love to do most – take a shot at the favourite picks of the week…. If they felt electrified last week, they were keen to pick on what was new for this week. And they trundled on to work – not worrying about the WFH guidance that many cities announced – and looked forward to the Big Eagle announcement of the week. Note that eagles too are birds of prey and usually part of the same part of a bird park or zoo as the vultures, perhaps because they are distant cousins of vultures, or maybe similar as both are meat eating birds, with curved , sharp beaks and long talons to grasp they food / prey and even help tear it if needed. I am not sure, if the DJ Boyz were also aware of the griffon in Singapore or even knew what a griffon was (except for Harry Potter fans among them who knew a house names Gryffindor – could that be related to griffon vulture?, they would have wondered). And then the big announcement from the institution of the Eagle, the FED, made hawkish statements… and the eager eagle watchers suddenly ducked for cover – as hawks have sharp beaks, talons and eyesight and can catch their prey off guard, quite easily. And the exuberance of last week gave way to a sharp fall in the DJ Boyz favourite pastime, playing the DJ index!! And you can see how the music played last evening!

The poor Vulture in Singapore has to spend some more time in its unexpected “Quarantine” despite flying through VTL, and we wish it quick recovery so that it can rejoin its family and friends soon. And for those shutterbugs in Singapore, they will have to wait for another day to get their next PIC of the day of a flying vulture. And from what I have seen of large birds like the Eurasian Griffon Vultures is that they need a long “runway” to create momentum and enough space to flap and spread their over 2 meter long wing span before they can take off. Quite an amazing spectacle. Perhaps they should take it to an airstrip the next time. Till then, let us give it our best hope and cheers.


The week commenced on full moon night. The night that has the brightest moon, the night when the black inky sky is brighter than usual with twinkling stars and the blackness is subdued. It was the night many, many moons ago when a young prince was hugged tightly by an ogress. She then self-immolated setting the young prince on fire. She succumbed to it, but the prince survived. People in India still revere the event till this day and light huge bonfires and throw symbolic “heads” into the fire. (Heads = coconuts). One o the many tales of good over evil. The world over, people are doubling down trying to dodge the next sneeze r cough droplet, lest they be swept away by the new “evil” virus… and here i was staring at the rising moon – pale orange at first and then soon glowing into a brighter yellow. The brightness in the dark open park outside my house enriched the colour of the grass and the large banyan tree. Would evil be triumphed over by dawn?

And when I woke up in the morning – the moon was still in the sky – closer to the western horizon and the inky blue sky was littered with stardust … and the sea of tranquility looked like its name … tranquil. And as the moon sunk further dawn to the horizon, 180 degree away form it, there was to be another glorious sunrise, I hoped. I put on my running shoes, and went for my morning brisk walk. The sky was lightening up quite quickly… and then as I went into the park by the bay, the twitter of the birds played music… the hue of every tree changed from darker shades to an orangish glow…. Bathed with the rising orange sun… I looked at it and so calm it looked. The trees were awakening to another day. The dew drops on the grass wet my shoes… the twitters increased…. And I hoped that this day would also be a bright one across the globe. The day after the ogress was burned down… the colourful birds flitted by in the park, the green parakeets with their signature pandemonium calls, the blue winged kingfisher waiting for the insects to crawl out onto the grass, the Indian cuckoo cooing away liltingly… and I knew that the week ahead would be bathed in the glory of the sun and surrounded by the colours of nature…. The spring festival – HOLI was here …

Until I got to work a little later … and oops….. there was mayhem …. The W Street Boyz had burned themselves really badly that night (which was day for them actually given the time zone differences between them and moi) .. They stumbled along with their other Caucasian friends and theat sent a chill down the Asian Street Boyz …. It looked like a case of reverse symbolic fire; the boyz behaved like they were being showered by infernal coconuts; and ducked and dodged and tripped and fell as the day went by. The day went by and the week went by as the boyz continued to dodge the missile coconuts and the “evil” virus spread like its name … virus …. I am not sure of the W Street Boyz and their friends across other Streets were dodging the fiery coconuts or the droplets of sneezes, coughs…. But the Boyz, did they stumble and fall. About 2300 steps down DJ alley… not just falling down, but picking themselves up to start falling further away after that … and as they stumbled in their stampede.. people say that on W Street, the Spanish bulls would have been trampled on, in a tragi-comic role reversal ….

The funny thing is that this stampede on W Street has parallels occurring in malls and public toilets … around the most sought-after commodity in the world today… No No… it is not an anti dote or vaccine for the virus, but toilet rolls … but I will tell you that story some other time …

Till then, I go back to the tasty filter coffee served with a peanut butter sandwich and wait till some sense prevails over the Street Boyz ….

From Raga to Rock – Part 2

Making Sense of the SENSEX – update for week ended 3 March 2017

The queue was long. It got longer ahead of us as parents suddenly identified their friends ahead and quietly moved in to make small talk, and then blended into the queue. There must have been 70 people ahead of us – or so. How smart, I thought – yet how inconsiderate of the fellow families standing behind. But no-one complained and as the door opened to the auditorium, the parents filed in – and then the city’s culture seeped in – with little chopes (reservation of seats using any item, even tissue packets). and we were stranded on the aisles with most of the prime seats taken. So I just moved to the front rows and saw empty seats right in front  of the stage and the three of us sat down. The stage curtain was up and the performers were standing under and behind the sets. The musicians were also there under the scaffolding of the sets. Visible to us, and yet hidden given their black costume on a darkened stage.  And then the performance started. As the light focused on the second level of the set – the strumming guitar, the beat of the drums and lilting flute heralded the anti-hero singer – as he grimaced and gave us a peek into the show and what to expect. His voice was bold, with a lot of feeling, and the anguish the character had, was felt by the audience as they listened and watched in rapt silence.  And as the story unfolded, the other cast members melded in so breezily. So one heavy rock number was juxtaposed with a lighter one for the hero. The hero’s  followers walked in with the candles in hand – and there she was was – singing and dancing with glory. I had never seen her so carefree and enjoying every moment. She emoted when the sequence turned grim, and rejoiced when she was singing and dancing and looked askance when the group was in a quandary about “what next”? All of this in a black and grey ensemble. Sitting on the first row, I was closest to the stage  and was immersed into the play. At one moment, I was inside the mansion of the General and in another, I was in the palace of the King and in a third, I witnessed the arrest of the hero in the Garden, as the anti hero, gave him a peck on the cheek – leading the Roman soldiers to identify the prisoner. And then she trooped in again, but with a colourful costume, almost blingy as she and co stars  danced like the showgirls of the thirties, full of mirth and playfulness. And this was the part where I was amazed at the skill with which she switched her character to play a lively, smiling and carefree girl. What next – I wondered.

The D Boyz had to wait long to get into their office last week. The queue got longer and this delay saw some of them unable to tend to their favourite SENSEX – which slipped 70 points from 28812 to 28742. And when the music started, it lifted their spirits to help the SENSEX gain to almost reach a crescendo of 29000, but then as darkness loomed and no-one knew what to expect of the drama unfolding on the world stage, they retreated to 28832. All in a week’s play on the Stage called  D Street.

And then the sadness was palpable, as the hero was tortured. The anti hero was remorseful and sang his swan song before taking his final step before the hero was done with by the men in black robes. The audience shed tears as the sad melancholic voice of the heroine, silenced, as she sat, head bowed, tears streaming down her cheek as the limelight shone on her in the foreground and the Hero in the background who looked relieved and then smiled his beatific smile before passing on. The audience was applauding the finale  with a  standing ovation. The stars of the evening on stage deserved it. The singers, the actors, the dancers, the musicians, the backstage crew, everyone. Finally the actors, actresses walked in for their traditional bow. I was so proud to see my little girl who was not so little now, bowing down for her thank you…… she looked so happy and I was happier. 17 years old and in a Broadway Rock Musical – where she danced and sang like a pro. A star was reborn!

We waited at the entrance to the green room as did many other parents, friends and teachers, and cheered as the stars emerged shorn of their grey costumes and much of their Gothic make-up. They smiled back and were hugged by their “fans”. I wish I knew how to whistle, was all  I could think of, and so I did the next best – cat call!!

Have you seen a Broadway musical – presented like perfect professionals but performed by rank newcomers? Let me know about your experience.

Have a great week .. cheers



From Raga to Rock (part 1)

The cab arrived just in time, as I reached the kerb outside the apartment. I opened the door and greeted the driver. He smiled and asked where would I like to go. I replied, “the National Library”. The chatty driver was quite surprised at the destination for a late Sunday afternoon. And as he started driving, he asked why I was heading to the library, “To relax?” And that got me thinking. Here I was, leading an existence of just getting to my destination, from home to office, then to meetings and more meetings and worst of all, meeting deadlines. I was quite unaware of the day of the week, especially during the weekdays and weekends were there just to recoup or recharge the dying (or near dead) batteries. And this gent was asking, “to relax?”  I suddenly lighted up and was pleased with myself and of course the friend who had invited me to the library. I told the driver that I was going for a musical recital of a friend’s daughter, and that I was indeed looking forward  to the event. I was now looking forward to the event more than before, after the wonderful thought, induced by the chatty car driver. So when I got to the destination, I rushed to Level 5, as I was late for the recitals and had to wait outside the theatre. The usher turned up the volume of the television in the wiating area. It relayed the live performance from within the hall and I could the hear the salutations to the Elephant Headed God. The powerful and confident rendition made me more eager to hear the singer in person. When I entered the darkened theatre, I was ushered in to select my seat in a near full auditorium and as I shuffled my way in, the announcer introduced the next song. The lady at the centre of the stage looked confident, smiling gracefully as she sat cross legged in a bright “maambazha colour” kanjeevaram sari, and the trademark “Malligai poo” on her hair. Her devotion was evident as she deftly juggled the “Swarams” and the “taalams” with a resounding voice that soothed and provoked the mind at the same time. Her proud parents were there too, the father as calm and composed as I remembered him from the last time I met over 25 years ago, and the mother scurrying around to get everything in order. The songstress (yes she was singing like she had for ages) was mesmerising the audience with every song, and the loud and long claps that interspersed the performance encouraged not only her to sing the “alaapanai “, but also the accompanying violinist (who played brilliantly) and the “mridangam” player – who was trying hard to keep up with the changing beats that the girl experimented with. At the end of the performances, when it was time to give a concluding applause to the enthrallers, I was indeed feeling relaxed and I forgot that the songstress was a teenager just making her debut on stage – being guided by her teachers and wellwishers. Despite sitting cross legged for over 2 hours on stage and juggling between the multiple “swarams” and “taalams“, the young lady looked fresh, to take on the world – as she moved from the tiny stage in the Black Box auditorium to a larger one that we all know as the World!

The D Boyz had a hectic start to 2017. the orange season had begun as truckloads of the fruit flooded the city streets and everyone was eating so many that some even started feeling like the hair on their head was turning a tinge of orange – like a person who was taking centrestage on 20 January. And when they slipped into February, they were getting exhausted and felt like they needed a break and were looking for some softer finer arts to soothe their senses. D Street is not very well known for the fine arts – so they trod off to the nearby renovated A Library (a grand building that once served as the TownHall of the then British port city of B). And they were lucky to hear soothing music being staged on the steps leading to the entrance and that got them to untangle their tangled minds and loosen the tense nerves and muscles. The gentle strains of the “Tanpura” and pure music flowing from the performers played magic on their minds. All worked well for the D Boyz as they returned to D Street to take their favourite SENSEX to an all time high by the last Friday of February – 28,892.

As the concert concluded and I proceeded to the exit – I was met by my friend, JP. He looked as young as he did 25 years ago and despite the immense pride he had in his daughter’s performance that day, he did not show it. He was thrilled that I could make it to the performance. I met his humble family and got an opportunity to meet the star of the evening. As I bade my farewell, I remembered the driver who got me here and his kind and wise words,”You are going to listen to your friend’s daughter’s musical performance? It is good to encourage the children, especially when they are family or friend.” And I fondly remembered the previous evening when I went to the Rock Concert Musical Show staged at my daughter’s school. And my daughter had played 3 parts in it. I will tell you all about it.

Till then…. have a fantastic week ahead.


The Valley

Update for Month ended 4 September 2015

The clouds seem to descend onto earth and soon we were not on earth. It was unbelievable. The sky, the ground, the air all seemed to be one and we were floating. The whirr of the jeep and the creaky sounds that it made seemed muffled, as though they too felt hallowed in this world. Then it was clearing, the mists cleared and in the grey light we could see the darker grey tarmac of the road and the browns of the earth that lay exposed, wet and squishy and the grass had overgrown rapidly to almost encroach the road. It was unbelievable. The setting was so lush, so verdant, so peaceful and yet we were carrying our bags of sins with us. The place too serene for us to rid ourselves of it here. I looked to my left and my co passengers half dozing or even dazed. I mocked (in my mind) – that you could not make out if they were dead or alive. How could someone not love the misty hills. But to each his or her own. “Driver – thoda dheere chalaana” – I chided the driver to drive slowly. He slowed down a bit, as a large truck crossed us on the other side. Its red tail lights glimmering like rubies set in a gaudy, garish wedding necklace, amidst glittering golden tassles, and a painted rear in all shades available at the local paint shop – out of place and among so many other glittering gems that it lost its place of being the bright spark of a jewel.  And as the truck moved away, i turned back and saw it disappear into the misty road ahead. It was grey again and then I heaved a heavy sigh and requested the vehicle be parked at the kerb. The slight jolt of the vehicle as it got out of the smooth tarmac and stumbled over the gravelly and at times squishy, grass covered dirt track by the side of the road, woke up my co passenger. He looked at me. No words crossed our lips; he at the other end of the back seat by the door. Both of us opened our doors and got out into the cold, moist, windy hill air. I took in a deep breath. Was this how the other world was – blissful, peaceful, without the sweat and grime of the earthly world? And then I smiled and looked at the co-passenger. He turned and looked down at the valley. We could not see much, but we knew that the drop was steep and no one would be able to climb down and return in one piece, let alone alive. I gave him that look again. He held my hand and gave it a tight squeeze. I looked at him and smiled a Cheshire Cat smile – wide but bereft of emotions. He then went to the driver and both of them quickly opened the door to the left of the jeep – and helped the third co-passenger out of the jeep. They had to prop her hands over each of their shoulders and hobbled together to the  stone culvert at the edge of the cliff. They seated her down and she rested her head on my shoulders. I had already sat down on the culvert – drinking in the heady mountain  air. The driver rushed back to the jeep and got his jerry can of diesel (it was always kept handy for emergency situations) and the bag of charcoal. They looked to the left and right and did not see any vehicles. They even stopped to hear any sound – it was eerily cold and silent. The silence of the valleys was deafening to my ears. I looked at the girl and warm tear slipped down my right cheek. She looked so peaceful, after that tumultuous journey. The driver had heaped the coal and sprinkled some diesel over it to get it burning quickly. The damp air made it difficult to strike a match. He could not afford a lighter –  and I was feeling cold and desperate. “Jaldi Karo”, i screamed at him to speeden the proceedings. He was a smart guy and so rushed back to the jeep and pushed the car cigarette lighter in – till it heated to a red hot coil. And quickly picked up a diesel drenched piece of charcoal and lit it before quickly tossing it into the heap. The fire crackled and was flaming hot. I held her hand and we steadied her up to get close to the fire. And then I stumbled and let go of her – as she fell forward towards the fire.

The D Boyz have been living in a year of hope, and almost had their heads in the clouds as they took the SENSEX on a heady spin. 27000, 28000, 29000 – these were mere numbers this year. It looked surreal, everyone said on D Street, but the D Boyz did not care. There were danger warnings that passed by. Bright and informative – but the D Boyz did not care. They looked at the verdant scenery and imagined how it would to be in the green place forever. They wondered if W Street or the other streets of the world where their ilk would aspire to go to, was as verdant as their D Street. And then a dazed member had to be helped onto his feet. One unsteady step and  the steep slope would be unending. They looked down and knew that if they fell, they would not return in one piece. That was when the China vase on the table came crashing down and as the broker rushed to prevent the other one – he almost stumbled, while the others looked on – with wide open mouths – he would have fallen out of his 25th floor office window. Did he fall or didn’t he? Remember that the SENSEX was already hanging at the precipice at 25201.

Stumble she did, but fell on the soft grass that had overgrown – knee first and then head. The soft landing was not without bruises and grazes, but woke up the co passenger. She was still dazed. Mountain sickness was not new to her. And this was not a mountain, but a hill. And poor her – she had such a bout of fear of heights, heightened by her throwing up. She could not stay still in the jeep and that is why we sat her in the middle of the back seat. And to help her get over this fear, my ex-husband and I had planed this trip. We knew that an  air conditioned journey was not good, so chose this monsoon season, so that we could open the windows. And also knew that cramped cars would scare her even more. Hence the choice of roomier jeep. She did manage the trip but was exhausted by the end of it as we drove up the hills and i thought it was good place for her to stop and smell the cool, damp hill air. It would clear her lungs of the putrid vomit smell. The mists were thick – so she would not see much of the valley – but just a little to get her accustomed to it. We steadied her up and she slowly hobbled to the culvert as the driver steadied a kettle over the coals to rustle up a quick cup of tea or coffee. I looked at her, my eyes moist. I slowly cooed – I’m sorry beta, but i had to do it.” She looked at my eyes, wiped my tears and smiled as she cupped my hands into hers.

And you all thought that this was  a murder mystery? Well yes, it was – murder of  a fear.

Hope you enjoyed the blog …. And I hope to write more – hope the D Boyz don’t take me to scary territory very often.

The crow caws and other tales – 2015 Edition 3

Update for the 2 months ended 17 April 2015

Oh, how I miss the lady behind the grilled window. She used to be ready with her hot, steamy rice every morning just as I would swoop down onto the windowsill or sit on the open window and even if I could see her walking towards the window with her ladleful of the white glutinous rice, I would still caw and make my presence heard. She would talk back to me and even though I did not understand her language, I knew that she was imploring me to stop cawing as she had brought me the right mouth shutter – the rice. This routine occurred every day and I would caw every morning knowing fully well that the food would be ready for me, rain or shine. I think she was in a way connected to me, knowing when I would come and admonishing my cankerous caws. And I have known her for years. I remember once, she was missing for several sunrise days and perhaps quite a few crow nesting seasons as well. And then I saw her again. She looked plumper than I had seen her before and she was quite happy to restart her morning conversation with me. And we reconnected. I also remember how she then left on a hot afternoon with others and boarded a black moving iron box that had a yellow top. I followed it as it went rumbling along till it reached a large squat building with asbestos roofing. I flew over the roof to the open area beyond it and saw two long iron rods laid on the ground besides the building. There were many such pairs of rods laid at regular intervals and people were hurrying around with large boxes, bundles and at times, children on shoulders or hips, following other people wearing a red long shirt. And there was my friend from the grilled window. She was walking with what looked like her three children and her husband, following another red shirt. They got into one of those linked iron wagons and I could see her settle down behind another grilled window; except that the window was smaller and the grills were horizontal instead of the usual vertical grills. And then the iron wagon started moving with its linked wagons and kept going through the sunset and the sunrise and another sunset and another sunrise. I would stop periodically when it stopped or would just perch myself onto it when I felt tired or could not keep up. It was just the bond that kept me going. At one such stop, I was at the edge of the wagon atop the grilled window occupied by the lady and her family when I had to go. (You know when you have to go you have to… ) So I just relieved myself and there was a loud shout from below – a young boy yelled and said something which I think was a complaint. I think I had dropped it on his right arm. And his mother was consoling him. Since I had developed a bond with her over the years, I think I understood her – she said something like – don’t worry, if the dropping is on your right arm, then it will bring you luck. So I was happy and continued on my metal perch.

The crows also seemed to miss their D Boyz who fed them regularly on D Street. The street was beginning to look desolate as some of the D Boyz started withdrawing from the market and that led to the SENSEX looking forlorn….. and it must have shed quite a bit of weight. I think it fell from its heavy 29000 points to 27457 by end March. And then some of the D boyz reappeared and the SENSEX was fed a little to get it going up to 29000. And with some droppings by the crows, the SENSEX must have shouted out and the D Boyz saw it lose some weight to end on April 17 to 28442. But like humans say, if it was on the right arm, then it will bring good luck. So the D boyz will be happy after reading this.

And then I followed the lady to her new house. A modest, small place with lots of coconut trees and lush fruit laden mango and jackfruit trees surrounding it. I met a few of my country cousins in what they called God’s own country. It was a peaceful place and although I like the peace and tranquility – I missed the cacophony of the city by the sea. I got to taste sour and sweet mangoes and heard loud hymns instead of motor metal shouts, but I missed the rice on the window. And then I saw the lady – she was walking towards the backyard with a plateful of something I loved – human trash. I immediately swooped down and missed my target and landed on her head. She yelled, I cawed and flew away…. And I could see someone run behind the lady to help her regain her lost balance. She immediately ordered her to go take a bath. And what was that for? Apparently, I came from the netherworld and hence was untouchable, so whoever touched me had to bathe before interacting with people of this world. I cawed and cawed my innocence as I had never been to the netherworld. But no one heard me and the lady just shooed me away as I flew over trying to impress upon her. Humans can be funny. But that is not why I miss the lady with her warm chatter and warmer rice. She continued feeding me nevertheless. But I miss her for another reason which I shall tell you some time later. Till then let me keep savouring the thought of the white glutinous, steamy rice.

Caw caw caw…….

Fasting and Feasting

Update for fortnight ended 20 February 2015

This week, many Indians spend most of their Tuesday fasting. And Fasting takes a different meaning in India depending on the region you are in. It is by no means, staying away from food. It is staying away from chosen foods….. or in some cases, excluded foods. So in the North of India where the devout Hindu believes that by fasting, they will get the boons that the Gods are about to bestow upon “fasting” devotees, they decide to stay pure to fasting. So no grains, no pulses…. but all else will do and there is no moderation here. So grains are replaced by carb loaded sweet potatoes, or plain potatoes and water chestnuts, and buckwheat. These are patted into little doughballs and flattened and cooked on hot griddles with loads of pure “desi” ghee. Oils are to be avoided as well. Sometimes, these flatbreads are fried into golden puffball breads or “puris” and eaten with potatoes seasoned with rocksalt. Peanuts are welcome, as also fruits in all shapes and colours. Milk is not only used for worship, but also gulped down in litres, if not gallons. And as you move east, where the fish is considered vegetarian, this is a day, when males in the house can partake of their vegetarian fish while the women cook their favourite sweetmeats to be offered to the Gods. As one traverses to the south, the only exclusion to the fasting feast is rice. So no rice…. which is unheard of in their meals, is a huge sacrifice. The rice is replaced by snacky wheat chapatis or rotis. sometimes, the craving for a ‘ricey’ dish gets the innovative south Indian to mix the wheat flour with water and salt and temper it with the ever present mustard seeds, and then ladled onto a well oiled hot griddle, to be spread out into thin doshais. Of course, the common factor with their northern brethren are the fruits. However, as India fasts, their close competitors (or at least in Indian’s minds) start preparing for their annual feast with the families. Families start getting together as many traverse miles in sardine can packed trains that criss cross the cold and frosty countrysides of China to get their hometowns, almost like salmons that brave dangers of rapids, and have jump up waterfalls to reach their “birth places”… trying to avoid the hungry, fat paws of the grizzlies as they wait for easy prey that swims against the current and so is tired. Much like these salmons, the packed sardine Chinese are also prey to petty thieves aboard these crowded iron snakes that gorge on and vomit out human beings as they snake  through the countryside. So the family dinner will have the favourite pork and perhaps some chicken and for seaside residents, there will be plenty of seafood on the table; all to be eaten amidst gaiety and family fun.

Festivities were in the air on D Street as the D Boyz gathered their favourite fast foods for the festival around the corner. Many had asked fro boons or blessings at least, and hoped to get them answered by “sacrificing” the excluded food group from their meals during the day. While some D Boyz did not touch wheat and pulses, some stayed away from rice. But all of them had their share of fruits and milk which must have kept them in good health, as they could not only lift their SENSEX, but actually hoist it above their shoulders to above 29000 for the entire fortnight or so … and even today when they sat down to partake their meal, the SENSEX did slip and that too about 240 points, but still the SENSEX was at 29231… The red buntings of the Chinese New Year feast not withstanding, the treats on the table did get the D Boyz’ mouths watering and they are waiting for their “competitors” to be back next week to see if they can taste the mandarin oranges and its goodness as well hope to receive their red packets.

The Chinese believe that a monster like creature visits homes on the Lunar New Year new Moon night, so to ward it away, they light up red lanterns and paste red sayings on their doors. This is supposed to scare away the monster and therefore protect the Chinese. And then they gift little red packets of cash to the little ones for staying awake all night on new year’s eve, as gratitude while also gifting it to older members of the family as a way of telling them that they need not be worried of expenses as now they have the cash. And for the givers, the saying goes that “One who gives is One who has”, so it means that prosperity is already with you.

With that thought, wishing you all a Happy Lunar New Year …..


The Long Walk

Update as of 10 February 2015

Pichagam, have you made the garlands? yelled her mother. Pichagam was stringing the chrysanthemums with the roses and the green fragrant leaves and had to hurry up. Her mother was dressed in the festive silk saree and she grabbed the last few flowers from Pichagam and told her to go and get dressed, while hurriedly giving finishing touches to the garland. She didn’t use any needles or thread for the garland, but knotted the flowers tightly together with fibre from a banana stalk. When she was done, she took it to the prayer room and placed it at foot of the altar along with the fruits, long needles and hooks, a pot full of milk and the special “prasadam”, sweet offerings made in the morning with jiggery and rice. She bent her head low and mumbled her prayers, as her husband walked in dressed in a yellow mundu, a traditional cotton wraparound garment with a red border. His forehead was smeared with the sacred ash and he prostrated before the altar before picking up the garland, the needles and hooks that had been placed alongside the prasadam. Pichagam picked up the steel pot full of milk and placed it on her head to the chants of Shanmuga, Muruga, and headed out of the house, followed by her father and then her mother. They walked barefoot to the nearby temple where the elaborately decorated wooden contraption was ready with its hook holders. The father’s friends and other well-wishers were already there with a large bowl of the sacred ash and they took the needles and hooks from him and smeared the ash liberally on them. And then invoking divine blessing, they garlanded him and then proceeded to strategically pierce the needles and hooks onto the father’s bare torso. For the first few pricks, the father grimaced, but kept chanting and thereafter, he took each needle pierce with a louder chant – to drown out the pain. And then the helpers, held the wooden contraption up and connected the hooks and checked to see if it was well balanced over his shoulders. Chanting one more time loudly, they then proceeded to embark on their long journey on the hard tarmac street to the temple dedicated to the Son of Shiva. Pichagam carried the pot of milk on her head and she followed her father as they trudged the 4 ½ km long walk along the streets of the city to the temple dedicated to the Son of God. The sky was still dark, but the streets were well lit and there were hordes of well-wishers and passersby who hailed the people walking to the temple. Pichagam and her family were part of hundreds of others who were walking this trek that February morning. There were chants along the route, but the walk was not easy. The hard tarmac and concrete roads were rough on the soles, the needles pierced harder if the walkers moved faster, or lost balance. The heavy wooden contraption only felt heavier with each step and the tiring walk made them thirsty every few steps. But no-one stopped, nor did they have any mishaps along the route.

Even D Street was a lit up early in the morning at this time of the year. There was a lot of hustling and bustling as the D Boyz entered the street. Each step they took was with a clear objective in mind – to keep going straight and making balancing the SENSEX on their shoulders,; but the needles and hooks that pierced them from time to time reminded them of some traditional processions in Interior Tamil Nadu – where devotees of the Son of Shiva would take this pain to offer gratitude for boons granted. The street was not straight – there were obstacles like rough streets, which at times would send the D Boyz off balance. This would result in some more needle pierces or hooks tugging at their skins. The delicately balanced SENSEX would sway from side to side – sometimes up and sometimes down. That was the route the D Boyz took to seek divine intervention to protect them this year. And the D Boyz don’t know if their prayers will be answered – because the SENSEX started at 27855 and climbed all above 29500 before retracing its steps and rebalanced to 28183… all in a span of 6 weeks of the year and there are 46 more weeks to walk on.

Pichagam’s mother was by her side, wiping her forehead of the sweat, as she walked along the route. The crowds swelled as they neared the temple and the morning sun was blazing strongly through the leafy lanes that led to the temple. There was a specially cordoned street that was specially arranged for their entry and the temple volunteers and local policemen managed the crowds that had gathered to watch the spectacle. Many were devotees who also paid obeisance to the carriers of the contraptions. Though most of the crowds were Tamilians, there were quite a few Caucasian tourists who also took photographs of the event. Many Chinese and Malay students joined their Tamil friends to line the street and take in the festive atmosphere in this multi-racial island country, far away from Interior Tamil Nadu.

Have a great year ahead … cheers.

Legends of the Lamp

Update for month of October 2014 (ended 26 October)

I am the lamp – Deepa. I am lit in many Indian homes prior to the onset of winter. I am usually made of clay – and at times decorated and filled with the oil of the region – sesame in the south, groundnut in the west, mustard in the north and the east. When lit, I can fill an entire room with light, bringing joy to all around me. I have been lit for over centuries and ages and I will tell you the various legends that have been witness to. Let us go back at least 5000 years to the age of the naughty blue cowherd. He was known to be as naughty as he was fearless. His village folk by the Younger Sister River trusted him a lot with his ability to keep away danger. This blue boy was so skilled with his fingers whether it was with playing the flute or lifting mountains or twirling discs as he was with exposing evil plans of killer moms and helping cleanse poisonous rivers (read And my legend goes to the days when hell’s gates opened up – perhaps due to the shifting plates of land as the modern world was forming and causing myriad earthquakes in that region resulting in the hot lava spewing out with its venomous gases from the centre of the earth or what people referred to as the netherworld or hell. The gases would choke the cattle that dared to roam about near the chasms and the searing heat from the molten lava would further aid the vaporization of the gases to travel afar. The Blue Cowherd happened to be near one such chasm which was still spewing steam and venomous gases out of the opened up earth. The heat and the steam rose into the skies and the changing weather patterns at that time of the year (after the end of the great rains and before the start of the great wintry months) meant that the winds were not strong. The clouds that formed over the river banks grew larger and larger. Everyone in the village was terrified. The clouds spewed out lightning and its thunder rumbled on for hours. The lightning streaks bolted down from the skies and set afire to some drying leaves and bushes and the village folk were too frightened to venture out and put it out. The blue boy grabbed some thick branches of the tree nearby and broke it. He rushed to the fires with the branches and swept over them to smoulder the flames. The young flames died down soon, not only because of the swift sweep and strokes of the branches, but also because the leaves and bushes were still fresh and not so dry after a bountiful rainy season. He then looked heavenwards and shot out an arrow into a low cloud which burst into showers. This triggered a chain reaction in the clouds as the lightning and thunder intensified and with it also the rains that descended on the smouldering earth. The hot earth hissed like dying serpents as the rains poured onto them and the deadly gases were consumed by the heavy raindrops. The blue boy was wet by now and he pulled at his bow and plucked the string to send out the last arrow skywards. The metallic arrow seemed to have been charged as the lightning broke out fiercely striking it and it glowed over the dark grey skies. The villagers who cowered in their huts and cow sheds, saw the glow in the sky and they knew that this meant something important to them. They recognized the arrow shape as that of the Blue Cowherd. They feared for his life and prayed to their gods to protect him. The rains lasted a whole day and the hissing around them stopped at the end of it. When the skies cleared up, they looked heavenwards and the villagers were overjoyed to see the clear skies studded with twinkling stars, a sight they had not seen for days and months and they knew that the monster from the netherworld was tamed. Now they had to look for the young blue prince. They saw him walking home in the dark – it was one day away from the new moon. And to help the blue prince find his way to the village, they lit a thousand or even more of me, the Deepas…. I was lit on the window sill, on the doorsteps, next to the barn, in the courtyards. The heavens had competition that night from the villagers by the Younger Sister River, there were perhaps more twinkling stars of deepas on the ground than there were in the skies above. The villagers gathered outside their homes to welcome back the triumphant blue boy!

After the heady days of September, when the D Street Boyz rejoiced at the greening of their street, came the grey clouds. The hot October, perhaps the hottest that the street had seen in a decade, sent the SENSEX sweltering down. The Boyz of D street did not know what ailed them; was it the global uncertainties or was it the strengthening greenback. One day they heard their continental Caucasian cousins were going bust, and the next day, they heard that it was not so. They were so spooked by the volatility – almost like the blue boy and his villagers who did not know what monster from the netherworld was disturbing their environment. And then one of them decided to take the “bull by the horns” and lead it up the path and get the SENSEX revived by the lights and Deepas of the season. They even chose a fair dark kohl named girl to come and ring a bell on their festive day. She came dressed in shiny yellow festive clothing, almost the colour of the traditional Deepa flames and did not know that she had to strike the gong – she just stood dumbstruck and spreading her toothy smile until someone led her to the charging bull statue on D Street. Even there, she did not know what to do – so she remembered her Tamizh film hero who had once fought a bull in his movies and decided to do a rehash of that. She enjoyed it … at least on D Street, she had more importance than in the movies she did down south! The D Boyz cheered on as they saw their SENSEX revive to an honourable 26 851; up from 25999 in Mid October, though still below the 27206 in end September.

It was early morning, by the time the blue boy walked home. His mother awaited his arrival and with tears in her eyes, but joyous smiles on her lips, she welcomed him in. He was wet and perhaps tainted by the poisonous gases and liquids that poured down on him. To purify him, she used her time tested special oil; laced with special herbs and spices. She invoked the blessings of the family deity and asked the eldest member of the house, her husband, to anoint the young blue boy. She knew that this oil had the purifying qualities to cleanse his body. She then prepared his bath with warm water and sprinkled a few drops of the Great River into it. Though the Younger Sister was the source of their regular water, it was now slightly polluted by the poisonous rains of the previous night. The magical qualities of the Great River could always purify any source of water and so was precious, yet abundantly available. She then set about to make the blue boy his favourite food treats ……. Including a special herbal mix that he had to ingest at the start to cleanse his insides as well, lest he swallowed some of that poisonous rain. The blue boy did all that his mother asked him of and looked forward to the grand feast that was to unfold that day. It would be one of his favourite days……. And I was there that day to witness perhaps the first Deepawali our land has known. I continue to light up Deepawalis across the ages and even in your homes. Thank you for your hospitality.

So tell me how you enjoyed your Deepawali. Do you have another legend of the lamp that you would like to share with me? I have many more…… that the Deepa has told me. I will tell you all sometime soon.