A quiet retreat

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The New Year started quietly, but children are resilient and by the 3rd, they were enthusiastic to head to Dudhsagar plantation.  I have been going to Goa regularly, since 1973. I had made one trip to see the Dudhsagar falls in one of those early trips. After that I have  crossed the mountains of Goa many a time by bus and on a few occasions by train,  in the days when we travelled back and forth by land. In the last few years we fly in and out and the mountains get forgotten in the charm of the ocean. This time, I decided that the mountains needed some attention. And so I had found this small farm stay and booked a short stay.

A short 90′ drive took us to the destination, which is tucked away in a quiet corner of the state, the nearest towns of Sanverdem and Mollem being 15-20 KM away. The family which runs the place have converted their family property into a small facility with a few independent huts of variable sizes. We had one with 3 beds, and the amenities were clean and basic – but no A/C or room service for the picky types. The lounge area was an open hut (am not sure what happens in hotter times!) with basic seating and 24hr free wi-fi! There was no Airtel tower anywhere in the vicinity and so I was totally out of phone contact. Of course with wi-fi, there is always WhatsApp!! The food was  basic and tasty as all ingredients were local and fresh.

So what did we do for 48 hrs? We walked the local walking trail, which had us wade across the Dudhsagar River both ways.

Kids enjoying the clear, sweet water of the River

The 7-8 Km walk took us past a couple of local villages, and we got a small glimpse of the local life. The community is mainly agricultural and beside the paddy cultivation, cash crops such as betelnut, coconut and cashew are part of every house. We passed the local government primary school, a fairly new and nice building where the children were running out for their mid-morning break. I walked in and talked to the 2 young lady teachers – there are 40 odd students upto class 4. The children were all in neat uniforms and were too shy to talk, but smiled broadly.

We explored the plantation which had  coconut and betel palms, but also had pepper vines creeping on the betel palms and vanilla and nutmeg trees. There were  10 cows and the kids watched the milking. They also made friends with the dogs (two of them accompanied us on out walk), and did not want to come away from the 2 little kittens.
There were 2 young girls who did the cooking, serving and looking after the other needs of the the residents. Both were Hindi speaking and came from Jharkhand. The other staff were also mostly from Jharkhand, with no local workers at all. The Eastern states of the country, seem to be providing the labour force for most of the country.

It was a real quiet retreat, with 100% pure air (an important point for us Gurgaonites), and it was a good get away!

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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!

Of hoarding and memories -#mothersanddaughters

Amma’s not being here is a state, that is ongoing, but has not been accepted as ‘permanent’ in my mind. But, the slow clearing of her belongings, few as they are, are bringing back memories of times past. This morning I opened up a set of old boxes that had been tucked away at the back of her cupboard.

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This was one of them after I had cleaned it up – I did not capture it in its original state!

My mother was a hoarder, and nothing, nothing in which she saw potential re-use, and many that had no reasonable hope of re-use were put away. This was a trait revealed to me, only after my father passed away and she started living alone in Chennai. On those short visits during the vacations, one of my regular chores was to clean the book shelves, as my father’s large collection had been moved en block from Bangalore to Chennai, and I was their designated keeper. But, pulling out a drawer here, or opening a cupboard there  to look for something, would reveal hoarded utensils, plastic bags, old brochures…… and since I was, I suppose rather disdainful and somewhat mocking of her trait, she would order me to leave her things well alone.

Every flier that came in the morning papers, wasw stored near the telephone, to jot numbers etc. The envelopes of every card she received (this was the 90s!) was kept for re-use, and the aluminium foil of medicines were carefully stored for scrubbing utensils as were the the plastic milk bags, washed and stored for aliquoting stuff for the freezer. She must have had periodic forays into cleaning and clearing, but as she grew older, these probably became fewer and the house started to get cluttered. So in later years, she would ask me to clean out a cupboard or shelf, and I would throw out stuff with her reluctant permission. It was in 2011, when she was in hospital for some time, following a hip fracture, that I really managed to throw out a lot of stuff. And ever after she kept complaining that she could not find things because of my clean up.

Like many of her generation, she knew sewing, and although I don’t remember her making clothes for us as children, she made her own petticoats and blouses for a long time. The manual sewing machine which she must have bought in the 50s was with her to the end and the sewing machine, near a window with good lighting was very much part of her house. Ans so today as I cleared up the boxes, I found this treasure – press buttons, a blade which was probably’s my father’s, a box of pins dating to the 60s, extra buttons from a sweater she must have knitted when??

And  she often asked my brother and sister-in-law to get needles/stitch removers/needle threaders – the quality of European needles were considered to be better and the latter 2 items were not in our markets then. They continued to carry these for her over the years and this is today’s loot – enough needles to keep everyone I know in supply for many years, especially considering how much stitching is done!

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I have considered myself to have taken after my father, a non-hoarder. But strangely, as  every item in these boxes brought back memories,  I found I could not throw out anything!  And as I recalled the pruning of my father’s shelves in Bangalore and how I discovered books dating to his college days when I was unpacking his books on reaching Gurgaon, I realise that he was also a hoarder! Memories live on these little things….

Mumbai for 18 hours

A hurried, short notice trip to Mumbai a few days ago,  was just the kind of travel I am not comfortable with. But the request came late, and it was a meeting that I did not want to miss. And so airport – Nariman Point- airport all in 18 hours!! The trip was over the week end and so  I did not have to face the usual South Mumbai traffic chaos. I landed in the early evening, and got to the hotel in 50′. Since the meeting was the next morning, I had an evening to myself. Room service is never very exciting, and when I decided to venture downstairs at 9pm, the in-house restaurants looked deserted and pricey! So, I decided to step out and explore the other options.

I have not strolled along Marine Drive for decades, and in the night time was even further back if ever, and alone was definitely a first! My aim was to stroll a bit, and catch a pav-bhaji/ vada-paav road-side dinner.  The total sense of security when I stepped out onto with the wide, well paved esplanade was amazing. It was bustling with people, singles, same sex and mixed groups of all ages (mostly the young and the elderly, families with kids, kids in prams and the elderly in wheel chairs, in jeans and shorts, sarees and burquas ………it was not noisy, there was no jostling, just quiet enjoyment of a Saturday evening with family and friends. I can only say that ‘I love Mumbai’.

I kept walking, and there were no vendors at all anywhere in sight, on the sea-side of the road or on the other side, not even a strolling ‘chana-jor-garam’ wala or an ice-cream cart. I can only guess that the BMC is fairly effective in implementing some rules. The whole stretch was spotlessly clean, helped I am sure by the lack of food vendors. But it must be more than just that, as I could see people eating stuff that they had probably carried with them.  There were other interesting observations – the famous Victoria carriages had acquired fluorescent lighting, all traffic stopped at red lights – behind the pedestrian crossing, the renovated Saifee Hospital had acquired a most ghastly permanent bedazzlement that diminished the ‘Queens necklace’.

I suddenly realized that it was almost 10pm, I was hungry and I was almost reaching the Gymkhanas stretch, just before the aquarium. So I did an about turn, and since I had not seen any restaurants on this stretch, turned towards VT and found a  place called Salt Water. And as the name suggested, fish was their strong point – so a glass of white wine and grille ‘fish of the day’ was a great ending for the evening.