Monday, 29 February 2016

Dreams of a bygone era- Urumbikkara

Relaxing by the lake at Mottakunnu- Vagamon
Surreal travel. Time spent in a colonial mansion, with clouds and mist floating by. Strange birds chirping all around. A feeling of being cocooned somewhere in a British Bungalow about a century old. Pack your bags and come with me to Urumbikkara. The term 'off roading' was relatively new to me, as we slithered in our sedan through the pristine Idukki district of Kerala. The moment I called up the resort from Mundakayam, we were asked to reach a junction at Yendhayar which we dutifully followed braving the dust and heat. The Kollam- Kottarakkara Highway that took us from Theni faded into the backdrop of the silent hills and dry rivers. 

January may not be the right season to visit Urumbikkara. Yet, the drive in the jeep from Yendhayar to Urumbi Hills Palace is a once in a lifetime kind of experience. The jeep jumps, bumps and winds it way through deserted rubber plantations, miles and miles of pineapple fields in the valleys and the road or the lack of it worsens further that what is left is a jungle trail. Urumbi hills plantation was once a thriving tea cluster, including a dilapidated tea factory which is eaten away by the jungle. Houses are very sparse. The sign Urumbi Hills Plantation Bungalow welcomes you after a rickety ride of about more than an hour. 
The red floored veranda for you!

The room where we stayed... by the man-made stream

The first sight of the red floored hall verandah was what bowled me over. Curious shaped dry wood pieces, red anthuriums that swayed in the breeze and a welcome drink of freshly squeezed lime awaited us. We had planned to do a 'locality check' that day, but the oppressive heat and the super cool stone walled rooms lulled us into beauty sleep. I woke up to the music of crickets welcoming the evening and briskly took a rain check around the resort. The children had located the large cemented ground beside the resort. One of them was cycling frantically around the ground, two engaged in a  game of shuttle cock and my dad, sitting on a stone bench and drinking in the beauty of a mountain sunset. 
Fire place in the dining room

Dining room
Veranda of the dining area

The beautiful sunset
The dinner was exceptional with kappa and fish curry, soft chappatis and chicken curry. The manager gave us a tour of the bungalow which was owned by an European tea estate owner who due to change of fortunes had to sell. The current owners have refurbished it, protecting the aesthetics. The hand made tiled floors, almirahs dating back to more than 50 years, wooden roofs, restroom fitted with bath tub and open to sky....The place is simply ethereal. 
Old floor tiles

The rooms
We sat down for a game of cards, chatted till late night about everything and slept like a log. The sunrise next morning was equally glorious as the sunset. Red, yellow, blue- I saw birds of all colors singing their song by the man made stream the resort boasts of. Devoid of running water now, the stagnated waterhole served its purpose for the birds though. After a swift breakfast, we left to Vagamon, some 38 kms away by another jeep. The drive started cool, among cardamom plantations and bumpy, but as we progressed through, we saw that the hills have eaten away everything on their way- including the panchayat road which is almost non-existent now. We stopped by a beautiful hillock to have a panoramic view of the valleys and a jungle stream with so many animal foot prints that I almost fainted listening to something bellow.
Hillocks near the plantation

The jungle stream
At some places we had to get down from the jeep and walk as it spider-walked using its four wheeled drive. The drive took almost 3 hours and sapped away our energy. After a hasty lunch of Kerala biryani, we visited the pine forest which was very crowded and beat a hasty retreat to the "motta kunnu" or the grass meadows. Tiny hillocks of grass jut around the landscape which hide a small lake. As we lie on the grass by the lake and look up at the clouds, cool breeze hugs us and so does sleep. The next stop is the orchidarium. Varieties of orchids and vandas smile at you, hanging from anything possible- bamboo poles, tree barks and even fences. The star attraction is the insect eating pitcher plant with its pink pitchers. As we walk around the cafe enjoying the evening tea, the setting sun and paragliders floating by give us such innate peace.
In the orchidarium
We return to the resort- again another rickety ride and stop by Madammakulam, said to be a waterfall, but now devoid of any water. With a content dinner of kappa and meen, we hit the sacks. Not before discovering a toad in the bath tub and yelling, awakening the entire sleeping resort. The next morning we take a plantation walk, visiting the plantation. Cardamom is the major money spinner for the plantation and it has replaced coffee and tea. After a peek at the cardamom factory where it is processed, we walk through the plantation, adoring the 'parijatham' flowers and sweet smelling coffee flowers. The only jarring note of the walk being the workers- almost all of them are from poverty stricken belts of Chattisgarh, being paid a measly Rupess hundred a day for the hard work in cardamom plantations with almost no human habitations nearby. 
The fragrant 'parijatham'
As we left the resort clicking a few more pictures, the care taker kindly requested us to pay a visit during season- July- October when the monsoon strikes this place with myriad colours and hues. I smile with glee...may be next time I will be lucky enough to dive into the man made pool and float, (if i can!) listening to the birds chirping and the mist floating by...

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

I will be back!

I'm dissent, I'm woman
Brand me as you wish-
Maoist or informer
I'm there, I stand brave.

Withstanding the shocks,
Crushing the stones inside of me,
As I bleed and as I lie
Face burnt, I am still brave.

There went my man,
A lonely pyre burning
You denied me the last rites
I remain silent, yet brave.

Brand me anti national,
Judge me all you want,
Acids can never penetrate
The strength inside of me.

I'm passing news
The world forgets,
Wherever oppression rises
I will stand against.

The prisoner of conscience
The frail one with iron heart.
I will come back
For I am- Soni Sori.
Get well soon, Comrade!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Letter from an 'aunty'- national

a.s.: Not intended to hurt anybody's religious, national, nationalist, pesudo nationalist sentiments.

  I am an average Indian woman, a Catholic Christian who loves her country and religion equally. Why I use the word 'average' here is to say that I am not rebellious. I am what others would term me as "Sick"ular. I was born in this country and I take equal pride in that, like every Indian does. I take equal pride in my religion which I profess, within the confines of my conscience and my domicile. I do not gloat about my religion, nor do I stupidly shove it on anyone's face.

   This sadly was a free country, till the lotus started blooming. The Bhakts, Bhakras and the trousers DO NOT signify Hinduism. To me, the lovely Vembu akka and her husband Azhagiyanambi in whose house I crawled and I salivated are Gods. Sankari auntie and her Diwali sweets always have a special place in my memories and so is our neighborhood Bhai's biryani for Ramzan. I never had to differentiate between Maariammal who cared for my brother as a child or Maria amma who was our domestic help for ages. They all are fellow humans. Not a step above, not a step below. I have been taught to treat everyone as equal. Sadly, most households have failed on that.

   I have been to temples and I can recite Gayathri Mantra as any Hindu does. I celebrate all festivals, yes, I am 'sick'ular. I have read a few Suras and I can understand the journey of Abrahamic religions and no thanks, Mr Zakir Naik, I DO NOT need your help in understanding the Kuran. I find myself living in a nation whose collective conscience has hanged Afzal Guru. Please DO NOT jump the gun here. This word has been 'imbibed' in the judgement of Supreme Court in Afzal Guru case. Neither do I glorify terrorism nor do I promote anti-nationalism when I say Kashmiris should be given the right to decide on their nationality, I am only reminding us of Nehru's stand on the issue as he himself has promised the UN on Kashmir. 

   We hang on to the issue of Kashmir as if it is a lifeline, a bone of contention with two neighboring countries, only because of its strategic border location, unmindful of our army men subject to inhuman conditions- all for pride. The pride that the nation belongs to you and me and we would protect it at all costs, be it the lives of 800 men who have laid down their lives. If raising slogans is 'sedition' then how should we name those instigating the minorities and students raise them? I feel unsafe in a country where I was born and I am right in every way when I blame the RSS and ABVP. 

   Call me a traitor, call me a 'sick'ular. I am tolerant. I have been tolerating the pesudo-Hindus and their pseudo-Hindutva for a long long time. So I am 'sick'ular. When the free thinkers, social activists, students, writers and creative people are termed 'Chinese and Russian stooges', then we all are equally guilty of having 'free thinking'. If free thinking and questioning the establishment is 'anti-national' then I am sorry- I am 'aunty'-national! I am still proud of my country and my religion and I shall silently await the next elections to show my 'sick'ularism. 

- By 'aunty' national ;)

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Dear hormones...

One more Valentine’s Day is round the corner. Roses and cards, gifts and chocolates abound in every mall. On the other side, the multi-various Senas  are scratching their tails thinking of plans to foil it. My perception of Valentine’s Day has undergone a ‘sea’ change from roses and candles to soiled diapers and exams. When you are all of 16 and sport a Lady Di cut with flared nostrils the size of a proboscis monkey, no one would dare mess up with you on a Valentine’s Day. Despite the ‘boyish’ charm, there was this guy who was persistent in his efforts to make my brain produce more estrogen. Alas, the guy failed miserably as I seriously lacked the grey matter. If you would ask me now, dear X, I would give you lessons on Fifty Shades of Grey!

Having never had the opportunity to put my foot in a college, I joined Railways when I was 18 years old. Life in a distant city, a ladies hostel brimming with trouble mongers and imagine a Valentine’s Day in their midst. The girls would buy special dresses for the occasion, even Kolhapuris to go with their cotton salwars as I would watch all starry-eyed and moon over their flowers and chocolates, slurping my parattas and licking my curd in the hostel dining room. Damn the hormones. They just missed me by a mile ;)

Few more years of hostelling and I started finding the V Day enlightening. If you sit along the hostel side walk and keep counting at the girls being dropped by the guys after a romantic dinner, you find it an infinite number. You attain Nirvana when even then, not a drop of oxytocin is secreted in your brain. Equally rejuvenating was the fact that I made better friendships (yes, you would say that to any relationship with guys twice my age:P) and grimaced at the itch generated by the ‘romance queens’.

I kept dreaming of a great Valentine’s Day once I got married. Married to a no nonsense man who treats romance very practically, cutting out the crap, the ‘honey moon sundae’ was lodged between my palate and throat. Every day was romantic, be it the sweet nothings we spoke for hours together or the fights we had breaking glass table tops. Life was anything but dull. As for the hormones, they went on an overdrive, I was bubbling with love and romance for the first year of wedded bliss. Pause.

That was only before the little devil number one came along.  He brought with him fragrance of soiled diapers and gooey vomit that I forgot the fragrance of roses or the taste of chocolates. But I fell in love with the chubby cheeks and softer skin, the miniature version of the husband looked far too attractive. We had dinner dates together, Junior spitting all the goo on me and pooping at the right moment when I looked besotted with him. Then came devil number two and I fell in love the instant I saw her. Cerelac and bonnisan dinners were paired with spray painting missions of the house, we both rocked the world, literally.

         The hormones were now confused and planning a strategy to get through my thick skull. Hit her at her weakest moment, they said to themselves. That moment never came. Every time Cupid aimed at me with his arrow, ding said the washing machine or the kids started a kick boxing match for which I had to be the referee. It was a burnt curry once or the submission dates for the husband, the next time. Cupid must have sensed that every moment is the opportune moment, then.

When love is in the air, each day is Valentine’s Day. Be it a crowded train or a busy road, our minds always stay connected. Be it thousands of miles apart or inches near, we always feel in love. L loves showering me with gifts- chocolates, phones, bags and perfumes. A doting husband does that every other day and Cupid realized we are too busy to check even the arrows that hit our foreheads bang on.

Love is not about candle lit dinners and roses. It is about raising the children together, growing old together and still paying the bills on time ;) It is about the ultimate sacrifice you make for the institution called family. So till then, if you ask what my gift is for this Valentine’s Day, I ordered myself a Nuapet Ikat saree online and received it just now. From me, to me :P Dear hormones, if you are still lurking there somewhere, bring that Cupid fellow to me. I must ask him if he has paid all his bills for this month on time and if he loves his baby’s potty time ;)

 p.s.: Loving Valentine's Day wishes to everyone!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Soldiers by fate

They're soldiers
Everyday they must have felt
The building above creaking.

They were clerks
Swallowing the little pride,
They must have worked.

They were laborers
Eating their own sweat and blood,
Waiting for that extra money.

They were humans
Someone's mother, someone's father,
As death came down crushing.

They were lives
Snuffed out by apathy
Bricks and mortar didn't murder.

They're killed everyday
By you and me who swallow
Pride and respect.

Their deaths hang at the doors
Of the high and mighty who sit
In half a lakh rupee executive chairs.

Their souls cry out
That never reaches those
Cloaked in authority.

To those in the High Castles-
Wait, your time will come someday
Mortar smothering your high walls
Bricks crushing your conscience.

They're soldiers unsung,
They're murdered in cold blood
As you and I sit silent, in a wilting grave.

Dedicated to the 5 people- 2 railway staff and 3 outsiders killed, as Hubli parcel office came tumbling down which was dilapidated and 'unfit' for human use.

Queen Of Diamonds- Part 1

The summer sun kept blazing as she squinted her eye and tried to look at it. It was a stifling hot day. She loved the temple, the cool haven that it was. She almost ran through the Chithirai Veedhi towards the temple gopuram (gateway tower). Her waist length hair flying behind her, the flowers on her hair, her ears, her head, her arms and legs suddenly coming alive. Not everyday is the Chithirai Thiruvizha. 

As she neared the gopuram, the crowd was swelling. How she had underestimated the crowd today? Meenakshi Pattabhishekam was no ordinary event with thousands of thousands of people thronging the Meenakshiamman Temple. She found it increasingly difficult to even walk now, the crowd pulling and pushing in all directions, rushing towards the Sanctum. She chose a quiet corner by the Meenakshi Nayakkar mandapam, sitting beside an intricately carved pillar and closed her eyes. She always wanted to see the Goddess Meenakshi. Today was the Goddess' special day, she would be bedecked in jewellery and flowers. Rubies, emeralds, pearls and diamonds would glitter all over Her body.
Aerial view of Madurai Meenakshiamman Temple
The thought of the deity and its beauty, with the precious stones and gold invoked a strong urge in her to see the Goddess. Some day, I should own a string of pearls like the Goddess, she thought lustfully. Though born in a royal Nayak family of Madurai, she lived a simple life. Her father being a plain courtier in the King's Court never helped her wishes. She loved jewellery. She loved grandeur. She wanted the life of a Princess. She even imagined she had an crown over her head as she roamed the streets of Madurai. 

With a sudden movement, someone closed her eyes from behind. She jumped immediately, ready to run, but was held tight by the slender arms around her. Her panic ebbed slowly as she felt bangles around the hand on her eyes and she blew out her relief. "Mangai...I know it is you!", she exclaimed. Mangai withdrew her hands in disappointment. "Meenakshi, you always find me out", she smiled. The two friends had planned to just while their time in a quiet corner of the temple, away from the humdrum of the day. The deity would pass by this mandapam after the noon prayers and they could have a fleeting glance of the same without being crushed by the crowd at the main hall.

"You look ravishing", Mangai eyed her friend with a tinge of jealousy. The simple flowers all around Meenakshi's slender body had a distinct fragrance. The friends started a game of kalachikkal with the pebbles Mangai had brought. 
( kalachikkal- a traditional game played with five pebbles, native to the Madurai and Tirunelveli areas of Nayak Kingdom)

They had forgot everything around them when sudden drumming and blaring of musical instruments brought them to their consciousness. Both sprang up and waited atop, with folded hands for the deity. A procession of musicians, dancers and then priests ensued and finally the Goddess appeared in all her glory, dancing in the palanquin held by four priests. The duo forgot to wink their eyes, spell bound and gaped open mouthed at the ravishing Goddess crossing them.
Pic Courtesy- Artist Maruthi

That was how he saw her. Her hands folded, long wild hair kissing her hips, luscious lips open apart in awe and eyes glistening. He noted she wore nothing- plain flowers all around her body, yet she looked so rich and bountiful. He like what he saw. He noted the eyes of his friend too roving all over her. He sent a pointed look to his friend and swiftly walked behind the deity. He had prayers to offer and he loved the lengthy chants and hymns recited by the Brahmin priests. Tomorrow...he promised to himself. I must know who she is.Unaware of the attention she had received, Meenakshi sat down with Mangai for another game of Kalachikkal. The pebbles scattered on the stone floor, the silent mandapam reverberating with the girls' laughter.

p.s.: This is pure work of fiction intertwined with few historic facts about Queen Regent Meenakshi- the last Nayak ruler of Madurai. This is not a research work. This is the last part of the Queens' trilogy that I have dreamed about, the earlier ones being The Queen Of Hearts and The Queen Of Spades. 
p.p.s.: All pictures courtesy- google search


Saturday, 6 February 2016

You and me...

I want to do with you
What spring does with cherry trees.
I long to watch over
What mother cares with a newborn.
I ache waking the nights
As you count the desert stars.
The fire, the thirst rages on
Unquenched as the tempest unfurls.
We walk the world worlds apart
Dreams intertwined with sweat.
When you will look at me
Find a zillion stars flashing.
The farther we move everyday
The souls bind us in a dance.
I die with eyes open
Hoping they see you explode.
We're destined to be together
As the sea and the horizon.
Cherry blossoms hang along
Rivers of passion keep flowing...
p.s.: I am back. This time, for good!
p.p.s.: I've quit Railways. Their loss, not mine ;)
p.p.p.s.: The next post will be the Part 1 of Queen of Diamonds, the last in the Queens' Trilogy :)