A new year, new thoughts

Every new year is welcomed with great new expectations, new resolutions and new anticipations, and ends with “Oh, is the year over? There was not enough time to fulfill all those expectations or achieve the goals and targets”!! There was a time that I too went through these cycles – but have now reached an age when the external pressures have fallen away and the internal pressures are fading.

2017 was an eventful year, in which significant events were sandwiched between a quiet beginning and a quiet end, albeit in different parts of the country. The year was welcomed in Puducherry, with my sister-in-law Liduine. But soon after, we got back to Gurgaon, to find that my mother was not doing well. A hectic few days of medicines, doctors, hospital, ICU – and on 14th she left us. The following days were filled with the nitty-gritties that follow this final departure, made complex by the fact that my generation of the family has drifted away from the rituals and traditions that were so important to my mother. We tried our best to do what she would have liked!

Over the following weeks, I struggled to find a new rhythm to my routine, which in some ways had settled around Amma’s routine. The major change was around food, as she needed a typical rice-based kerala-brahmin meal at lunch time – and a non-chapatti dinner as her teeth had been growing shaky in the last few months. I am not a rice fan! So idli-dosa moved from dinner to breakfast and chapatis took center stage.  It took a while to sort out her things – and the final break came when the young Jharkandi maid who had helped to take care of her, left in mid April. Around this time I also dropped sugar from my diet – although I must admit it is not quiet 100%, I have managed to stay >90% off, with an occasional spoon of dessert from some one else’s plate!! This has been definitely my proudest achievement of the past year. Over the following months, my diet has grown more organic, less cereal based with larger share of uncooked vegetable and fruit!

In March I spent a few days in Goa, and as joined by Mukta and the kids for some of that time. We had 2 days by the beach at the Mahindra resort, which the kids really enjoyed.

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The sand, sun and ocean – the perfect holiday

During the summer, I spent 3 weeks in Paris with Mukta, Radha and the kids. This was made possible by an assignment Mukta had with the Diederot University. We rented an apartment, spent time at our own pace  and used the opportunity to see Paris at leisure. We started with great enthusiasm, setting sight seeing lists and gastronomic goals. Needless to say, we did not get to the end of either! However, the footsteps target of 15,000 was exceeded on most day, many a crepe was eaten and many a museums visited. While we were happy to escape the searing Delhi heat of June, the first week of our stay felt even hotter than home since neither the homes or public transport (except for some very recent additions) have AC. The weather then slipped to the usual European summer and rain actually bothered us only on a few days.  While Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dam, Musee Rodin, Musee d’Orsey et al were visited, day trips to Versailles, Disneypark and  Fontainbleau were the high points. Of course, we never did get to Pampidou Centre or the catacombs, by the middle of week 3 kids were happy chilling at home. So there is enough left for another visit….

The other high  point was the birthday week-end in August – I turned 70 and the family planned a week-end at the Nimrana property at Tijara. It is barely 2 hours away from our place in Gurgaon – the Chennai group turned up on a Friday afternoon and we drove over on Saturday morning. We had a leisurely day and a half, spending many hours at the pool – one of the loveliest I have used anywhere! The food was reasonable, the company excellent and we meandered home on Sunday afternoon, through some interesting old monument, the exact history of which we could not make out! The party continued on Sunday evening, with friends for dinner and cake cutting, and spilled over to Monday lunch, before the Chennai group flew home. I cannot thank all those involved enough for the lovely gesture and making a significant landmark,  so memorable.

For the rest, there were some minor travels in late October/early November to Lucknow (to catch up with old friends), Chennai (official), Dehradun (to spend time with a dear friend) and Pune for the release of the release of ‘Technology Vision 2015: Education’ – a venture on which I have spent considerable amount of time these last 2 years. And then, while waiting for the taxi to take me to the airport at Pune, I got a call from Chennai saying that my brother had been taken to the Emergency and was in the ICU with severe blood loss from a GI bleed. Many anxious hours later, I was in Chennai and spent more anxious hours outside the ICU, before he was out of the crisis. In the weeks since then, he has made a slow and steady recovery, and is re-orienting his life to take in the new realities. It has also brought a sense ‘the finite’ to all of us, his friends and family, something that continues to stay with me!

For the final week of the year, it was back to Goa  bringing in the New Year quietly at home with family.  There was a virus floating around, and everyone took ill in turns, which is why this post, which should have gone out in late 2017, is delayed

2017 was my first year of total retirement and I have had no regrets regarding that decision. The full year also passed without a full time driver, enabled by the wonderful new facility – the app-based taxi service. Academic commitments are gradually decreasing and I attended only a couple of conferences in 2017. The days fill up –  some cooking (which I really enjoy), some exercise and a lot of reading ….. I had set a target of 52, and finished 72 books. And in August/Sep/Oct I became obsessed, as I took a challenge to complete all 13 Booker nominated books (announced in mid-August) before the winner was declared on October 17th. So 2018 is to be a year with no book challenge – and a greater effort to do non-reading activities! Lets see how that goes!

One of the positives of the year has been regular yoga sessions at home, thanks to the excellent teacher we have been lucky to find. This with the change in diet, has left me, maybe not much lighter in weight, but energetic enough to look forward to an active and healthy 2018. It is going to be transitional year, as some changes are being planned and also a year of travel – as I want to make the most of the time of health and well being that are left to me!! And I also hope to write more (unlike 2017). So here is wishing all of you a great and healthy 2018, and that you achieve whatever are the goals you are looking for. As for me, the time for goals is over and as I start the eighth decade, I will try to take things as they come and live for the moment, to the extent that is possible.

 

 

 

 

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Southern sojourn (2)

From Mamallapuram we headed south to Puducherry along the ECR – and here the stay was in sharp contrast! We had a comfortable, but austere room inside a convent. This was the fallout of the fact that I failed to find  a single room in the “White Town” (the French part of the town) in late September.  This particular place was recommended to me by a local contact. It was a large, old French style house, in which the Sisters had had 5 rooms for rent. The convent was known as the embroidery house, and it provided employment to more than 30 women of all ages who spent the day doing exquisite hand embroidery. It was obvious that the shop, selling these works of art, was not doing so well – and the decision to rent rooms to augment the income, must have been a difficult one for these Ladies of God!

The house was situated on a quiet road, just opposite the famous De L’Orient ( Nimrana group hotel) and offered basic amenities (no room service, for one) at 25% the cost. At the heart of the French quarter, and a street away from the sea front, it suited us fairly well. The cafes and restaurants within a few steps from the door were many and so the lack of room service was not really missed.

This part of the town, still retains quite a few of the original buildings, partly  I think because a substantial number of the buildings belong the Mother’s Ashram. The Ashram itself is one of the biggest draws of the town, although we did not venture to visit it – we were there on 31st December and 1st and 2nd of January – since the town was teeming with tourists, day trippers and the lines to enter were winding down the street. It was also the season of the bougainvilleas, and the shaded streets with the characteristic European colors on the houses, have an old world charm about them.

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The Seaside promenade is another attraction of the town. It is one of the few ‘traffic-free’ zones anywhere in the country – albeit only for 2 hours in the morning and 2 in the evening. One morning I had a wonderful morning walk and a cup of filter coffee, and then of course a couple of leisurely strolls at other times of the day as well. It has the mandatory Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar statues, but also an old lighthouse, the cathedral and a few other interesting buildings.

Across a small canal, which is now dry, lies the rest of the town, including the original Tamil part. In earlier times, the two would have been tightly segregated with the ‘servant’ class living in the Tamil part and crossing the bridges to work for their French masters. The Tamil quarters are less well preserved, although a couple of streets do give a flavor of a Tamil theruvu. 

Within the quiet streets of the White town are also a number of interesting shops, many of them selling the wares from Auroville. A visit to Auroville itself should be on the list of things to do in Puducherry, but somehow we felt a quick day trip may not be sufficient and so postponed to another time. But on the whole, a few days in this town are really relaxing, with the many restaurants serving excellent local Creole food, the many cafes and bakeries, the shops…… how I wish, it could be possible to make this whole section free of vehicles – I am sure it will add to the tourist lure!

A brief Southern sojourn(1)

shore templeA family wedding took me to Chennai in late December – and I stayed on for a few extra days to relax by the sea – first at the Radisson resort in Mammalapuram and then at Puducherry. Both destinations were busy with the holiday tourist crowd –

The Radisson is an upmarket resort which has been around for some years. It is comfortable with very average food options – but for water lovers like me, the 2 great swimming pools make up for all the other deficiencies. The 2 mornings we were there, I had very different experiences on #mymorningwalk. The first morning, I stepped on to the beach, hoping to walk southwards, to the shore temple which I could see in the distance. However, in the many years since my last visit, this approach is no longer possible as the temple complex has been barricaded from the beach side. So I turned around and walked north for a few kilometers. The weather was great and the sun was just coming up and although the beach was narrow at high tide, it was a lovely walk. Except for the landward sights – the whole distance I walked was a continuous series of resorts – of variable shades of elegance/or the lack of it. Many had constructions jutting onto the beach, including the State Government one – what of the ‘500 meter law’ (a 1991 law by which building in the 500 m from high tide line is prohibited) I wondered! The total lack of greenery was not all man made – the cyclone had ravaged this coast just a month previously.

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The next morning, I walked out of the front gate of the resort and into the town of Mammalapuram – with the intention of visiting the shore temple. After enjoying a fresh cup of filter coffee, I walked past the bustling tourists jostling for their street side breakfast, to reach the gates of the shore temple.

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The ticket office was open and here I was in for a surprise! The notice above the booking window said, Rs 30/ for Indians and Rs 500/ for foreigners.  Me in my tack suit and T, requesting for a Rs 30/ ticket in Tamil, was requested to produce ID proof of my Indianness!  I am sure the same was not demanded of the many in their sarees and veshtis – and no amount of arguing in the local tongue, would convince the very diligent booking clerk. He pointed out the large notice board which said somewhere said that an ID was required. So I had to be content with the distant view of the shore temple and closer view of the many fine pieces of stone carving, which are on display in the many shops along the main street.

And then we moved on to Puducherry for the rest of the sojourn!

So near and yet so far…..#mymorningwalk

A few weeks ago (mid-December, 2016)  a group of us (35-40) senior citizens, got together for an unstructured get together at a resort close to the NCR. It was 50 years since we first met as entrants to the medical college and  traditionally, the college which celebrates its alumni meet every year on 20th of December,  honours the Silver and Golden Jubilee batches. And the batchmates themselves plan to spend time together and catch up – in other words a total nostalgia trip!

The resort was about an 8-10Km off the Delhi-Jaipur highway, not more than an and half by road from the heart of the Capital. It was a reasonably furbished and run place (how many stars, I’m not sure), and although the food was not really great, the group was so excited about meeting after so many years that the minor faults/inconveniences did not seem to matter.

Mid-December was cold, but I a morning walk addict. So the first morning, I ventured out to walk around the resort. To one side of the hotel was a golf course around which were holiday villas and the whole place was green and picturesque – but the short distance around them was not very interesting.

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The second morning I decided to venture out of the resort and a short walk of less than a Kilometer, through the dense morning fog,  took me into the local village, Sarai. And it was a typical Haryanvi village – with a pleasant surprise thrown in.

The village road meandered inwards, and as I rounded the first corner, I cam across this wonderful old fort. I could not locate any specific history of this area – but in all probability it dates back to the 17th century  when the Jat Kingdoms were ruling many parts of present day Haryana.

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Of course, I could not gather any information from the local people with whom I interacted. For them these were some old ‘kandhars’ and a convenient location for the biggest local industry – cow dung cakes.

Conversing with these women,  I learnt that for them life revolves around cattle.  All the women, young and old, spent large amounts of time collecting the dung and making the cakes. Of course, many Government schemes had reached them, and all the houses had gas connections – but the gas was saved for making chai (which was made many times a day) and other emergency needs. Cow dung cakes continued to be the major fuel for their cooking, supplemented by collected wood, which was segregated and stored systematically. The importance of their cattle was evident, as every house had a large water tank at the front of the house and in temperature around 10 degrees C, the buffaloes were being washed down. The children looked less washed….

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As I talked to the women and children, an offer of tea was made, accepted, the charpai put out, a fire lit and we had a little chat session going.

It was school going time and I commented on the number of private school buses plying. I was told that the local Government school was upto class 8, and had good teacher attendance. But everyone preferred the private schools, and these were in  the nearby towns. 10-12 buses came to pick up children, and the fees could be anything upto Rs25,000/month for KG. But all girls and boys went to school, the Government high school was some distance away. The young men sitting and drinking tea with me rued the lack of  any job opportunities – the only local jobs were as cleaners, waiters, gardeners etc. at the resorts (like the one I was at) that have come up. The access to health was limited, the closest Government dispensary was 6 KM away and as in most of India, there is limited faith in the Government system. The private clinics were also in the nearby towns and so not very close by. Everyone was aware though, of the various schemes of the Government, like the ambulance system, payment for hospital delivery etc. Their biggest lament was the poor electricity supply  – they are happy if they have 6-8 hours a day.

By this time, the tea drunk , I  said my goodbyes and walked back to the resort,wondering how  so much has changed – like the ubiquitous TV dishes and TVs in every home, cell phones with so many, no one tills the field with a plough, threshers have replaced hand threshing and so on… yet so much remains unchanged. How near and yet so far…

Summer sojourn in Europe (1)

This is a long overdue post – am not quite sure why! I am usually enthusiastic about travel and have also been fairly regular about recording the experience through these blogs. But, following the fortnight I spent in Europe in late May/early June, I seem to have just overlooked recording the visit. In fact, I have uploaded very few posts since, for reasons I seem not to find! So, as I was hunting for some pictures, I saw the ones from the trip and decided to write about it, albeit with some loss of details.

My primary destination was Netherlands, where I have family. So there were get-togethers, meals, family visits etc. But apart from these, we also had some fun  outings – enough things to see and do, in spite of my many previous visits.

We had a day trip to Enkhuizen, a harbor town in the north of Holland. This was an outing of a group of 8 women in their late 60s and early 70s, who had started their working life together as nursing professionals, almost 50 years ago. They meet up once a year, in the summer to spend the day together, catching up on news and much else. This I found really interesting – being a small country, with limited emigration, people stay in touch for decades. Although of the same age group, I am in  touch with only  one of my school mates and of the 4-5 of my college mates,  we have lost 2 to cancer. Being from the  middle class background, many of us moved away from Delhi and met sporadically over the years. And in the pre-internet era, the occasional birthday card, letter was our only link. But even more importantly, culturally we tend to get drawn into the circle of husband/children/families and the expectations of society that endorses this – this being truer for the women than men.

Enkhuizen is itself an interesting town and was once one of the leading trading centers of the country and  a busy fishing town. However, the trading activities declined over time and today, the town is a tourist center. It has a large marina, where many boats are berthed. It also has the Zuiderzeemuseum, a cultural-historical open air museum, giving an impression of life around the former Zuiderzee in the late 19th and early 20th century. Central to the museum is a reconstructed fishermen’s village, with both authentic and replicated buildings from various places around the Zuiderzee, and where demonstrations of old crafts are given.

img_5752 You can reach the museum only by boat, and once you get there you are transported back in time. Great efforts have been made to reproduce the total ambience, even the after effects of a flood!

There are a host of people in traditional attire, and ongoing performances of traditional dances, music etc. – unfortunately the various talks and demos are all in Dutch. The  the ambience is well created and reminded me of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, USA which I had visited many decades ago. Its all in the open and so, you have to be lucky that the weather is dry!

The other day-outing was to the city of Rotterdam. While, many Dutch towns have the ‘preserved in time’ look, with the tall buildings only on the peripheral areas, Rotterdam is distinctly different. It was almost completely bombed out in WWII and has seen a large part of its centrum rebuilt. And as this has been an ongoing effort over many decades, it show cases some marvelous examples of modern architecture spanning these last 4-5 decades.Very little is left of the original Rotterdam, and they stand out in these fairly modern streets.

npls0703The Markthal was the most amazing market I have seen – totally walk through like a street, with wonderful murals on its walls, the outer wall being apartments.

img_6390The very new public library is amazing too, with magnificent interiors, open for all to wander through. And of course, the brand new central station is the pride of the city.

There was also a special installations to mark 75 years since Rotterdam began its post-war recovery – the impressive 29 metres high and 57 metres long scaffolding to  climb up onto the roof of the Groot Handelsgebouw –providing a magnificent  view of the city.

We walked for many hours and many, many kilometers and I am sure we had not  seen it all.  Walking is always the best way to see a city, and its wonderful that you can do it in so many European towns. One of the highlights of the walk was the street art – which just popped up – and there was also Picasso at one  street corner. It was a lovely summer day and so we did not waste any time indoors – no museums etc….. but what a wonderful day it was, ending with wine by the harbor!!