A morning walk with a difference #bookworming

When I saw the announcement for a curated walk through Connaught Place or CP (it is still that to me!!) under the title of ‘bookworming’, I was intrigued. Digging deeper, I realized that this was a term used for a walking and experiencing a city through a book! And the book selected in this case was Sam Miller’s “Delhi – Adventures in a megacity”. This was more than I could have wished for – a combination of my 2 favorite activities, reading and walking. And the book in question was one I had read a few years ago.

Sam Miller is a flaneur, which is a French word “for someone who wanders aimlessly through cities” despite having the means to “travel by car, take a taxi, or ride the train; or perhaps even stay at home”.  Miller chose to walk in an outward spiral starting with CP as the center. And since this walk planned to cover the first couple of loops of the spiral, the meeting point was early Sunday morning at the Rajiv Gandhi Metro Station. We were a small group of 6 adults and a young child, and we set off with the lead walker and organizer, Shriti. She gave us a background to Miller, his book etc, since probably not everyone was familiar with the book..

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The walk took us along the inner circle corridor of E and F blocks,  and we crossed over to the Palika Bazaar.  This ‘infamous’ underground market, which Miller calls ‘sunless, shrunken, sunken doppleganger of CP’, was a popular destination for shoppers in the pre-mall days!! No one was keen to dive underground, and so we walked over to catch a magnificent view of the iconic Jeevan Bharati building designed by Charles Correa. I must admit that in all the years I have been in Delhi,  I have never seen it from this angle.

Bookworming - 10 Then we crossed over to the outer circle, and walked counter clockwise, to take in the Statesman House, which lies at the corner of  Barakhumba Road. Further on, we took in Gopal Das Bhavan (where Miller, who was worked for BBC, had his offices), the Fire Station, Shankar Market, Minto Bridge, the VIP entrance to the Railway Station before we crossed the road to take in the youngest sufi shrine of Delhi. All that you see on the road side is a masjid, and then as you go through the small lane at its side you come into the peaceful, paved courtyard that is the dargah of Hazrat Abdul Salam Chisti. This dargah dates back to the early part of the 20th century, and protrudes into the Lady Hardinge Medical College grounds. They had a much larger piece of land earlier, the major part of which was taken away for the new medical college which came up in 1916.

We continued around the outer circle and ended the walk at the iconic Regal building, or Re(g)al Theat(r)e (with the missing G and R, its original name.

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This was in its time, a grand cinema hall with ornate balconies and embellishments, columned foyer etc. built to match the grand theatres of London. It with few parallels in the country, Opera House in Bombay and Mayfair in Lucknow come to mind. As single screen halls around the country bow out to the multiplexes, this one has now become a wax museum – the famous Madame Tussad’s, no less!

For me the outing was more than just a walk, as I have been seeing CP since 1955.  I grew up in the New Delhi of the 50s and 60s and  lived in the sarkari part of it. The go-to market for us was Khan Market – CP was an occasional luxury. During school and pre-med days, it was usually for the occasional family outing to Kwality for an ice cream sundae treat (and that institution is as it was then, although I have not had the ice cream sundae for many decades), an annual expedition to the Khadi Gram Bhavan (still at the same location in Regal Building, albeit much modified) at the time of the Gandhi Jayanti sales, an occasional family expedition to the movies especially in the summer vacations, when cousins were visiting. Many are the morning shows (9.30 am sharp) and matinees (3.30 pm) that I have seen in Regal, Rivoli and Plaza. And then there were the 6 college years at Delhi Gate, when CP was the place for movies, eating out (United Coffee House, Wengers, South India Cafe, all Institutions that still survive) and occasional shopping. Till I left Delhi in early 1973, there was no structure taller than the buildings around the circle itself, all the radial roads were open to low volume traffic in both directions and the central area was a tree filled park. In the late 60s and early 70s, various new structures appeared –  Shankar Market, Apna Bazaar in its own (the first department store!) building across from Shankar Market and some landmarks disappeared. The iconic India Coffee House, at the site where Paalika Bazar stands, moved to the new location on Baba Kharak Singh Marg, where a row of shops with various State Emporiums came up.

Between 1973 and 2009, I was only an occasional visitor and did not witness the transformation of the area – the first high rises, the Jeevan Jyoti building, the new Statesman House, the business centers that developed along KG Marg and Barakamba Road,  the rejuvenation of the central Park and widening of Barkhamba Road with the building of the Metro. Since I moved back to the NCR in 2009, I  have reached CP only about half a dozed times or so. And  major efforts have been made to re-do the frontages, clean up and re-pave the corridors etc. especially around the centenary of the Delhi Durbar of 1911. But I was disappointed to see the paan stained corners and the dirty corridors of the outer circle, which smelled like a long continuous urinal. This is suprising, since the whole area seems to have become a long chain of eating places and ‘Bars’. One would think, that at least the owners of these establishments would take some interest, keeping their clientele in mind.

Much remains the same, while much has changed too!! And I really felt good about having made the effort to reach CP for a #morningalk with a difference!

#ilovewalking, #mymorningwalk

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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…