Saturday, October 30, 2010

History is a Cylinder

The Mughals and their architecture. Spellbinding.

Seriously. I never thought the Qutub Minar could be this gorgeous. I mean, in the distance, it's just a multi-coloured cylinder, fuzzed in the Delhi smogosphere.

Up close, it's quite something else.

The Qutub Minar   IMG_3314

Layers of toffee-coloured Mughal rule enshrined in a tower. Years of Delhi's history, neatly contained in a truncated cone.

While we're on the subject of truncated cones (groan, if you must), it struck me that history is kind of like a cylinder. 'What on earth?', you ask. Well, a cylinder is just another name for a cone whose apex is at infinity. And the Qutub Minar seems like the perfect example of this: built from the bottom, one floor at a time, extending infinitely higher as time goes by. A historical cone into the unending sky.

Beautiful, isn't it?


I would fail at further describing how seeing it made me feel, because the sight of such a magnificent relic so close made my head spin like a sea of bubbles, rendering any thoughts incoherent. So instead, because most of you live in or around Delhi, I'll take you there someday. And then we can gaze up at the skies, admire history and art, and thank god we're alive. How does that sound?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Happy (Birthday) in Hampi

For my birthday this year, I wanted to do something as far from my routine as possible.

I ended up not just on vacation, but on vacation from being on vacation. Turning one year older in a place so old, you'd probably need a cake wider than its expanse to fit all its birthday candles.


Speaking of birthday cakes, here's mine. The most delicious birthday cake I've had in a year! Dark chocolate with hints of orange, held together with bananas -- not butter -- studded with nutty chocolate. Cut on a hill at sunrise, in the company of strangers. Absolutely gorgeous.

Like Hampi itself. As the capital, Hampi is built on the amassed wealth of the Vijaynagar empire, which stretched over a major part of the South Indian peninsula. Established over many, many years, the capital consisted of several religious centres, each surrounded by its own residential enclave. Hakka and Bukka, the original rulers and designers, must've been pretty chuffed at how it turned out.

The sheer scale of the whole thing is amazing. Six hundred square kilometres of temples, columns, boulders, and water channels. Never mind that the whole thing was knocked down by armies five hundred years ago. What remains is stunning. Grand, but not imposing. Ornate, but not ostentatious. Spaces so vast and so stark in their simplicity that they reduce you to open-mouthed atoms. An album to see what I mean?


Part of the other-worldy feeling was perhaps induced by our journey to Hampi, which was too ordinarily Indian for me to believe where it had brought us. We went there in the most exciting section of an Indian train: the sleeper class, so called because it has eight bunks, and not much else to do but sit, eat and sleep!

To me, there can be no more fun way than sitting with a bunch of strangers, your arm on the open window grill, your hair whipped by the wind and your ears and nose wafting in all the morning tea snack-sellers yelling "vada-vada-vada-idli-idli-idli-idli" and their wares; delicious fried onions held together with spiced gram flour, steaming broken-rice cakes that are so good you're glad you asked for more than one, and shots of tea with amounts of sugar you can't imagine fully dissolving.

Travelling cattle class is also about really seeing India, smelling India, covering your ears so they don't hurt from the noise and just accepting India for what it is. You don't get to choose how warm or rainy the weather is that day, or to not see the fields being used as toilets. You don't get to smell only fresh, clean air, or live in a bubble of quietude. Being in sleeper class means you take it all in, both unending chatter and the babbling gush of giant waterfalls. Both the sweat of a million Indians and the eucalyptus trees in the distance. And all kinds of people. Skinny, verbose, tobacco-stained, curious. This is India. Everything, all at once.

And then some more.

India both allures and annoys you. It makes you covet it, and then challenges you until you come back smiling, though you don't know it, saying, "I'm in India." It makes you change game plans a dozen times a day, until you learn that the easiest way to be here is to just be.

You could fall in love with it, but it's not easy.

But I'm going off on a tangent here. Travelling for eight hours with what seemed like every single person in India did no good in preparing me for the remoteness of Hampi. Here, it's so quiet, you can feel the souls of the departed Vijaynagaris hovering over their boulders, guarding them from wayward tourists. So quiet, you forget you're in India. So quiet, you can hear yourself think.

And when those thoughts resonate in all that empty quietspace, Hampi takes a step back, opens itself out even wider, and consumes you. Completely.

Like seeing the sun set in Hampi, over a sea of boulders and Canons. I wish I could give you more than a glimpse, but try to imagine the panorama below in three sixty degrees. A giant sunset egg, with you in the center.

And now, I rather hastily bid you good morrow, because my legs keep falling asleep, and I should follow.

Gah, first days back.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I spent another gorgeous day at the beach today. Being outside the sea, being within the sea, and being the sea

Though my relationship with water is profound (ha!), I have only gotten to know the sea fairly recently. The first time I stood with my back to the crush of the waves, I was twelve. It wasn't my first time on the beach, but it was the first since I've been a little girl. Since then, I've come to love the sea for all it brings to me; turquoise skies, the smell of sunscreen and drying fish, and the warm, holiday feeling of being a thousand miles from reality.

So, tonight, I leave you with some Neruda. Beautiful, eloquent, the poet I'd like to be.

A fisherman readying his nets to go out for his second trip of the day.

Poet's Obligation

To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or harsh prison cell:
to him I come, and, without speaking or looking,
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a great fragment of thunder sets in motion
the rumble of the planet and the foam,
the raucous rivers of the ocean flood,
the star vibrates swiftly in its corona,
and the sea is beating, dying and continuing.

So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea's lamenting in my awareness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the autumn's castigation,
I may be there with an errant wave,
I may move, passing through windows,
and hearing me, eyes will glance upward
saying "How can I reach the sea?"
And I shall broadcast, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and of quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing,
the grey cry of sea-birds on the coast.

So, through me, freedom and the sea
will make their answer to the shuttered heart.

- Pablo Neruda

Monday, October 4, 2010

South Goa

I spent the morning at Palolem beach yesterday. Just me, my camera and the sea. Rows of weathered fishing boats, shells striped like the rear-view of a line of happy dogs, and the ceaseless thundering of the waves, content in their marriage to the lazy palm fronds. 

Below, you see one of the million blue dragonflies that hovered around me as I sat under one of those zorgein maads [Conconi for 'lazy palms'], reading Eat, Pray, Love. One of the best books I've ever read. Thank you, mum.

To its right, you see the proud flag of a fishing boat. Who knew?


I found a five-paise coin washed up on the shore. It's refreshingly light and, as you can see, very worn by time and sea. But it's mine, and I love it.

The baby pomfret on the right? "Wery fresh", assures us the lady in the fish market. We can tell by how pink its gills are. And how it smells like the entire sea dried up into three square centimetres.

Don't let the two pictures below fool you. Life is not equal parts work and rest in Goa. Much less picking up rags at the beach, much more sitting in your chair, staring out at the passersby.


It's good to be here. On holiday, finally.