A fictional street in a real city

​When you turn the corner on the 4th crossing of Main Street, you retrace your steps back in time. It’s true – boutique hotels, underground pubs and international consumer retail outlets are replaced with hole-in-the-wall shops selling locally manufactured snacks and candies, hawkers ranging from astrologers to magazine-and-paperback sellers use the prime real estate of sidewalks to put up their goods and services on display, vintage songs in the local language waft down in raspy waves from public broadcast systems overhanging the traffic light and the entire colour scheme changes from an urban neon to a saturated sepia. People halt to stare at newspapers pasted daily on metal display boards. They pause to sample the wares at the various shops that open their doors wide on this street – the brightness of the assortment of clothes, utensils, bicycles and even pets for sale somewhat dimmed by the warm filter of light that shines on them from age-old street lamps. If you are lost and ask someone for directions, chances are that you would have caused the most interesting and (aberrant) event to have occurred on this street on that day and thus aroused the interest of more persons than just the one you intended the question for. 

Traffic on this street is the only thing that is rushed, except for the times when a tram comes snaking down its tracks and serves as a reminder to all other vehicles that they may very well outdo its ancient pace, but here, on Main Street, they will have to observe a ceremonial pause upon its arrival. After a tram – which makes its appearance about twenty times a day, has passed by, and its accompanying rumble and the din of vehicles taken by surprise has died down, life on Main Street reclaims itself. Old men continue to sit at jewelry stores with cut-glass counters that house gaudy gold trinkets and stare into nothingness, sweetshop owners fan themselves under the signages of their storefronts – some apparently dating back to the early nineteenth century. Potbellied men wearing nothing but checkered lungis resume the act of bathing in public at water outlets that open on roads in the city and gush river water into its gutters at scheduled intervals. Bus conductors hang from the doors of buses and call out names of stops – making their buses dawdle till they have enough people ready to travel to the destinations they’re selling and thereafter egg their drivers into participating in impromptu races with other buses in a most violent fashion.

Meanwhile, the houses on Main Street maintain a most dignified and slightly disdainful silence. What with the laying out of the pavement and broadening of the roads, and the chaos of the street market, it seems as if these houses have been forced to recede in the background. It takes a practiced eye to tear away from the faded madness of the street to notice them. Their shuttered windows, extended patios and hanging verandahs with cracked, red floors and even dimmer indoor lighting seem fragile, almost two-dimensional. You hardly ever see anyone go in or out of these houses and rarely will you spot a face at their windows or verandahs. The stillness of these houses is left absolutely undisturbed by visible human activity. For all practical purposes, they may actually be the hollow facades left behind during a Festival season countless years ago. For we all know that during the Festival, Main Street is transformed – every by-lane furnishes numerous makeshift temples to house the goddess who is on her annual home run, every shopkeeper bears a special glint in his eye, and every pedestrian is pushed and jostled by the endless crowds that emerge from suburban regions to shop at these shops and then visit these temples dressed in their newly acquired Main Street finery. Even then, the houses remain passive – sometimes they bear a few strings of fairy lights or receive a fresh coat of paint, but other than that they show no signs of participation in the added chaos. 

Main Street is a small yawning gap in the new design that is slowly enveloping the city in its blue and white wash of Progress, a dark spot where the twirls of glimmering, luminous cord lights do not cast their redundant and eerie glow. Is Main Street an unfortunate oddity because of that, or a welcome relief – a true picture of the city that houses it? You could ask around for an answer, or you could decide for yourself. I, however, am reminded of a time when I spotted a sergeant at an intersection trying, with all the sluggish agility he could muster, to prevent a standee from flying onto Main Street. The standee advertised a conference on Progress organised by the Most Honourable State, it was in the signature colours that Progress comes in – blue and white, and as it defied the cop’s attempts at restrain and landed bang in the middle of Main Street, it seemed mighty incongruous. And just after a minute or so of lying there, fluttering to the tune of an ageless song, it seemed mighty irrelevant as well.

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A long, long time ago, I met Bhutan. This is how it went

Too many notifications from Facebook memories have brought me here. About a year back, I’d been playing around with these pictures from a trip to Bhutan that took place two years ago and made a silly photo-story out of it. I’m just putting it on my blog now, because more than any other place, Bhutan is one that can’t be captured in words alone. And because, well, I miss the mountains. (All pictures in this post were clicked either by Gopica Dhawan – who is a great at clicking pictures! – or by one of us bunch of buffoons who happened to have held her camera for a bit.)

1. Just some mountains to get you started

1. Just some mountains to get you started

2. And a burning lamp2. And a burning lamp

3. And a makeshift vase with flowers3. And a makeshift vase with flowers

4. And what looks like a Tiger’s Nest
4. And what looks like a Tiger's Nest

5. Wait, let’s get a closer look
5. Wait, let's get a closer look.JPG

6. And… closer, yes that’s the Takhtsang Lakhang, Tiger’s Nest to you
6. Closer, yes that's the Taktsang Lakhang, Tiger's Nest to you.JPG

7. Merry flags on the climb up to old TN
7. Merry flags on the climb up to old TN.JPG

8. We have our own DIY shrines
8. We have our own DIY shrines.JPG

9. And lots of DIY jewellery9. And lots of DIY jewellery.JPG

10. And cherry blossoms10. And cherry blossoms.JPG

11. Yes, see11. Yes, see.JPG

12. Yes, in different hues
12. Yes, in different hues.JPG

13. CHERRY BLOSSOMS! You thought only Japan or Shillong had ’em13. CHERRY BLOSSOMS, you thought only Japan or Shillong had 'em.JPG

14. Our graffiti’s way cooler than yours
14. Our graffiti's way cooler than yours.JPG

15. And so are our cats15. And so are our cats.JPG

16. There’s a good kitty16. There's a good kitty.JPG

17. Wait, you said Delhi has wide roads, is it?17. What, you said Delhi has wide roads is it.JPG

18. But does it have such rivers running along them?18. But does it have such rivers running along them.JPG

19. So clear…19. So clear.JPG

20. Yes, rivers20. Yes, rivers.JPG

21. And such sunsets!22. And such sunsets.JPG

22. And such vast expanse of open space23. And such vast  expanse of open space.JPG

23. And Buddha statues like these24. And Buddha statues like these.JPG

24. And such houses25. And such houses.JPG

25. We make our own paper26. We make our own paper.JPG

26. All handmade!27. All handmade.JPG

27. From this to soft papyrus, yeah!28. From this to soft papyrus, yeah.JPG

28. Branded, of course…29. Branded, of course.JPG

29. We like our doorways like this –30. We like our doorways this way.JPG

30. And our buildings made of heavy stone31. And our buildings made of heavy stone.JPG

31. With the sills done up all prettily32. With the sills done up all prettily.JPG

32. (Dragon tails are pretty too)33. Dragon tails are pretty too.JPG

33. And so are our babies34. And so are our babies.JPG

34. And our (baby) monks!35. And our baby monks.JPG

35. And our people…36. And our people.JPG

36. And our dried cheese – nope, that is not paneer!37. And our dried cheese - no, that's not paneer.JPG

37. Oh, and I forgot to mention…37. Oh and I forgot to mention.JPG

38. We eat foreigners.38. We eat foreigners.JPG

39. LOL, jk!39. LOL, jk.JPG

40. We’re a happy country40. We're a happy country.JPG

41. And when we’re happy and we know it41. And when we're happy and we know it.JPG

42. We play holi!42. We play holi.JPG

43. Ting!43. Ting.JPG

Let me know how you liked this little encounter with Bhutan.

10 ways to get to know the “real” Rajasthan

I recently visited Rajasthan, the state I ‘hail’ from as my ancestors were native to it. Having followed the itinerary that my parents chart out every year as part of their religious duties, my visit to this much talked about state was quite different from the usual beat followed by tourists and travellers. There were many a temples to be visited, most of them in the thick interiors of remote villages, and what I saw on the way to and at these villages culminated in a rather unique experience. I thought I’d condense this into a list-post and have a click bait for its title to boot. So, here goes : 10 ways to get to know the “real” Rajasthan

  1. Eat at a local basa – If there’s something that can hold a candle to the Punjabi dhabas, it has to be a Rajasthani ‘basa’. Food that’s rich in taste, not so high on calories and rather well-balanced and well-suited to the Indian climate – the humble ‘basas’ of Rajasthan offer all that, and more. The colours, presentation and rustic aesthetics of this meal eaten at one such basa in the village of Ratangarh in Rajasthan are testimony to this fact. On the plate, you will see – from left to right, “chhowki mirch”, “lahsun ki chutney”, “gatte ki sabzi”, “aloo-tamatar”, “kadhi”, a spiced preparation of local Rajasthani vegetables, daal, salad and helpings of all you can eat “phulke”, “missi roti” and rice. All of this for the sum of Rs. 70.

    The thali at the basa at Ratangarh

    The thali at the basa at Ratangarh

  2. Travel in its unique autos – Built to surf the narrow lanes and by-lanes of  its villages, these rajasthani autos define Indian kitsch.

    Much swag and flamboyance

    Much swag and flamboyance

  3. Take the road into its villages – As someone whose idea of scenic beauty is rather biased to include little else but mists and mountains, the arid, rugged and rather flat countryside in Rajasthan was an unusual but welcome change. Field after field of millet and bajra, interrupted at times by old pipal trees full of thick and cool shade and at times by the older Aravalli range formed settings that may not have been verdant but were beautiful nonetheless.

    The cool shade of gorgeous Pipal trees

    The cool shade of gorgeous Pipal trees

  4. Shop for souvenirs – Rajasthani handicraft is as popular as it is colourful. Pick up souvenirs – pagdis, lehariya dupattas, “lakh” jewellery and figurines, leather mojris, and clothes crafted indigenously in its many regions – sanganer, maheshwari, to name a few. Best place to shop is anywhere that catches your fancy. However, visits to Bapu market and Zaveri Bazar would prove to be quite fruitful, should you find yourself in Jaipur.
  5. Take a walk in one of its villages – I’m a strong believer in walks as a means to understand a place. Short walks in the villages of Chidawa, Laxmangarh & Ratangarh in Rajasthan were interesting to say the least. It is quite a feeling to walk past architecture that’s traditional and sits proudly amidst all the modern-day, box-like structures. These walks also revealed the content temperament that most people in remote places tend to bear.

    Homes built to be naturally cool and beautiful

    Homes built to be naturally cool and beautiful

  6. Spend a night under its skies – Chances are, that a balmy breeze full of the smell of the earth will lull you to sleep and you will be woken up by cries of peacock that you will try to spot, unsuccessfully.
  7. Know its gods and deities – The annual pilgrimage my parents undertake is to the shrine of the deity Rani Sati, in a place called Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan. While I have witnessed many a celebration of this deity’s power by followers in other parts of the country, a visit to this temple revealed that her followers came from all religions and castes. The same is the case, I learnt, with most of the popular shrines in the state – be it that of Salasar or Shakambari or Khatu – these deities are sacred to Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims alike.

    Prayer flags at a Hindu temple, Salasar, Rajasthan

    Prayer flags at a Hindu temple, Salasar, Rajasthan

  8. Explore its palaces and monuments – I only had time enough to stop at the Amer Fort a little way off Jaipur. The palace is, well, splendid. The tales associated with it – of the human sacrifices practised at its in-house Kali temple, of saffron gardens planted to scent the air as Raja Man Singh and his queens bathed, of transvestites guarding the queens in the absence of the king, of tunnels leading to Jaigarh palace – told in the many tongues of the guides who’d gone to all lengths to adopt not only the languages of the tourists who flock to Rajasthan from every part of the world but also their diction and accents are sure to transport one away from the banalities of life.

    View from behind the screen for queens at Amer Fort, Jaipur

    View from behind the screen for queens at Amer Fort, Jaipur

  9. Sample its street food – This is different from eating at a basa. Street food in Rajasthan is quite different from other parts of the country. Try “kanji vada”, lassi, dahi vada, pakoras, kachori chaats, puchka, and not to forget, the many “churans” that are so abundant in the state. Apparently, Kaluram’s churan shop in Laxmangarh is quite a draw.
  10. Make friends – It may have been because I visited more villages than cities in the state, but the people in Rajasthan were surprisingly easy to talk to. One native woman, a caretaker of a small temple at Ratangarh readily offered us water from an earthen pot, told us about the wedding of her daughters and updated us on the rat situation at her home, all very readily and sparked off by just an exchange of smiles.