Love Potion

A magical concoction that is meticulously brewed with rare ingredients to make your cherished one fall hopelessly in love with you. I once read so many stories and fairy tales where a fairy or a witch or some other magical creature would grant that love potion, after much persuasion, to the desperate lover boy or the lovelorn lass, so they can win over the one that they so desire.

Image courtesy vectorstock.com

The idea of love potion has always intrigued me. Fictional it may be, stuff that fairy tales are made off, but is it possible to make someone fall love with you – just a spoon of love potion to be mixed in the drink and the one you love will be yours forever. And if magical potions make love possible, it that ‘love’ really worth the effort? These questions bothered me even as a girl. ‘Mythological bullshit it is,’ I told myself dismissively, but the idea stayed with me and the many questions.

One reason could be my love for fairy tales – fairy godmothers, magic wands, fairy dust, one swish of wand making everything possible. Cinderella turns into a princess and finds her prince charming, the magic fades though and the prince knows her no more. It takes determination of the prince who had fallen in love with Cinderella and a little bit of magic, the magical slipper, to bring them together. I could live with a little magic when heart is in the right place. Often wished for a fairy godmother, or a Gennie to take me to a wonderland or even help me with daily chores. I know that’s not possible, but no harm dreaming. A few strokes of fantasy to add intriguing hues to otherwise humdrum life!

But love potions? Doesn’t that go against the rules of magic – for magic cannot make anyone fall in love with you, it says. Magic also cannot bring back the dead or change the past. Thank god love potions are just fantastical, or who knows in one of those weak moments when I was helplessly in love, I may have been tempted to try some such magical potion on the person I so desired then. For love does make you do crazy things at times!

But then, imagine my surprise, when I learnt that for many love potions are for real. There are even recipes available online that are supposedly ‘safe, simple and powerful.’ Do people really try those recipes? I hope not. I can live with food or fruits that are aphrodisiacs, but love potion goes against the very idea of love. After having loved and lost and loved again, the only thing I know for sure is that no magic or miracle or love potion will work when it comes to making someone fall in love with you or making love work. The very idea that I would need love potion to win someone’s love is kind of humiliating.  Love is magical only when it’s voluntary, for it takes a lot of effort to keep that magic alive!

The only love potion that works is the one that’s brewed within, the nervousness that we feel in the pit of our stomach in those early days of love, or the calm contentment of mature love, that can turn even a cup of coffee into love potion. Sometimes magic fades, the potion loses its power, it’s best to let go then, rather than desperately concoct some magical tonic to hold on to love that may have run its course!

My Kitchen Garden with the help of those tiny hands by Titas Mazumdar

Working Mom – isn’t it always a big challenge? The guilt of not able to give enough time to your little ones, and the fear of not creating enough childhood memories. I am no different and not free from those guilts. I keep on brainstorming and engaging my little time after work and weekend with my daughter with a lot of creative stuff like DIY projects, best out of waste, bottle painting, soap making and the list goes on and on. The best one which is also a stress buster for me is gardening with the help of those tiny hands.

I always dreamt of having my own vegetable garden but never had the luck of staying on the ground floor to grow my own, but as the saying goes, where there is a will there is a way. Luckily, I am blessed with 4 big terraces that prompted me to take up terrace farming. I realized that’s the best way to keep my little one engaged and create some childhood memories for her.

YouTube is my best teacher; yes there ought to be couple of hits and misses but I never lose hope and faith, and always remember there are no gardening mistakes but only experiments. These video and tips help me a lot in my journey of building my terrace garden. I never buy seeds from market, I use vegetable seeds, shoots, cuttings to grow my veggies. Pumpkin, bitter gourd and watermelon are the easiest to grow, they have never failed me. I let my daughter pick the fat healthy seeds from these fruits and allow her to sprinkle them all around. The excitement in those tiny eyes to see the seeds sprouting is unfathomable. Within few weeks tender leaves comes out and within a month, if the soil is healthy enough, the plants start flowering. 

There is also another very interesting aspect when you are farming at home with your kids. I introduced her to the concept of photosynthesis, pollination, male and female flowers and fertilization. It’s very easy to identify male and female flowers in these melon category plants. Many a times male and female flowers are out of proportion in numbers and hence I use hand pollination (Remember those 80s Hindi movies 🙂 and hand pollination does help too, got quite a good result from it. Trust me growing a kitchen garden with my daughter has been so much fun!

Freshly grown tomatoes

After successful fertilization, the wait time is a little longer as the fruits grow slowly at their own pace. Bitter gourd can be harvested quickly within a couple of weeks but pumpkin and watermelon take more than three months to grow to full size. It’s a different kind of pleasure growing your own fruits and vegetables, though in a small quantity, the satisfaction is immense. Someone rightly said growing your own food is like printing your own Money 🙂

We bongs cook almost every part of the plant, say for example the leaves of bitter gourd are used with lentil paste for fritters, we eat flowers of Pumpkin plant dipped into gram flour paste and deep fried, the leaves and vegetables go with mixed vegetable curry in mustard and poppy seed paste.  I even wrap mustard coated fish in pumpkin leaves and steam it. It’s one of my family delicacies. Serving something on table from your kitchen garden is indeed tastier and healthier.

The most exciting part is when you use your vegetable waste/throw away to grow your garden. This year late winter I planted the throw away stem of a market bought cabbage, and guess what – I was gifted by nature with three medium size cabbages. One point I have noted in my last 2 years of terrace farming, you cannot expect market size from you own kitchen garden. I think one reason might be I grow in pot, ground produces a better size and secondly, I don’t use market fertilizers, it’s completely organic. I use my own fertilizers. I use fish water, egg shell, used tea leaves and coffee powder. I have two compost makers; all my kitchen waste goes there and after couple of months I get home made organic fertilizer. If you have plants you are sure to invite few pest guests too. Easy solution to keep unwanted guests out from your garden is spray diluted Neem oil with water and a spoon of Shampoo.

Pickle with home grown chillies

Garden has a tremendous healing power on a stressful and tiring day, it soothes me and relaxes my nerves. Last year I planted a Mango, Avocado, Guava tree. This year Guava plant blossomed with 25 beautiful hairy white flowers, almost 15 flowers turned into fruits but heavy wind and birds didn’t allow to grow into full size. I am just left with a few now. Lesson learnt for next year, I have to create some shade for my guava plant. I have a 6-year-old a different breed of a lemon plant (We call it Gandhoraj Lemon- King of fragrance in Bengal). This plant is yet to bear fruit but so what, I use its flavorful leaves in my Thai & Malaysian Curries and Bengali daal. It tastes heavenly.

Pasta is my daughter’s favorite and what can be tastier than making your pasta from hand-picked basils from your garden. Two varieties of basil Sweet Basil and Thai basil grows in my pot round the year for all my Southeast Asian and Italian dishes. 

Ajwain plant is another low maintenance herb and easy to grow from stems and has immense health benefit. I use thick green succulent Ajwain leaves for making Chai, Pakora, Paratha and Daal. Tomatoes and chilies will never upset you; these gorgeous sexy reds enhance the beauty of my kitchen garden.

Katha with cabbage 🙂

I also try my hands in microgreens, they are full of nutrition and gives results in just 3 to 4 days. Salad lovers will love microgreens of Moong, Methi (Fenugreek), Mustard and many more. That’s again another kind of gardening, can be very easily grown even in dark corners of your kitchen engaging your little ones. And the best part is, the kids cannot say “No” to what they have grown, even the pickiest eaters fall into the prey of their own kitchen garden and start eating veggies. Isn’t it a win-win situation for the mommies?

Titas is a banker, a mom, passionate about gardening and cooking. Look out for her next post on the many delicacies that she dishes with the yields from her kitchen garden.

Savouring Vintage Wine

The price that we are willing to pay for a bottle of old wine! Connoisseurs and collectors outbid each other in Sotheby’s or Christie’s to possess a bottle of fine vintage wine. They are preserved and stored with the utmost care and savoured only on Very special occasions. For a wine that has reached its plateau of maturity can be magical — offering nuances and textures unimaginable in a young wine.

Image courtesy winecottage.co.uk

Apparently, in 2015, Russian President, Vladamir Putin, and former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi drank from a bottle of Jeres de la Frontera worth $90,000. Chateau Margaux 1787 is valued at $500,000 as it may have once belonged to the declaration of Independence writer, Thomas Jefferson. A bottle of the Massandra Sherry de la Frontera 1775 was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $43,500 in London in 2001, making it the most expensive bottle of Sherry in the world.

While the above wines are beyond ordinary mortals like us, we do occasionally enjoy a mature wine – 20-year-old Port or Madeira maybe. Those occasions are special. The bottle is uncorked and wine poured with much ado. We slowly sip in the valuable liquid, role it in our tongue before taking it in. Savouring the mature flavours of old wine! 

Image courtesy Royist

However, many don’t know that not all wines age well. Only fine wines with a high level of flavour compounds, such as phenolics (most notably tannins), are likely to age well. White wines with the longest ageing potential are those with a high amount of extract and acidity. The acidity in white wines acts as a preservative like tannins in red wines. So only the likes of Pinot Noir, Port, Madeira, Claret, Bordeaux and Sherries are likely to become more valuable and flavourful with age.

Then again, it is not easy to age wine or handle vintage wine. A lot depends on the bottle, the cork and the storage. Most wood-aged ports and sherries are bottled after they have aged sufficiently in the winery, sometimes for decades. For the wine to age perfectly it needs to be stored in a cool, dark place, till all its flavours and nuances are released, and then, it can be enjoyed by someone who truly enjoys wine. Even after a bottle of vintage wine is delivered to a customer it needs to be handled with patience. Some wines need to sediment, while some need to breathe. Even decanting wine is an art to be perfected with experience. And a wine lover will always have a cool cellar for storing wines. For fine wines need to be stored in right temperature, even the angle must be right – 45 degrees.

We can fuss endlessly over old wines, and yet we go to ridiculous extent to look younger, even deny our age. Wouldn’t it be more fun to age like fine wine, becoming wiser, mature, and more enigmatic with age!  For with passing years and experience we do acquire those magical nuances to be savoured like vintage wine.

Love and its old world charm

Love! We can talk endlessly about love. So much has been written about love. We have dedicated poems and songs to love. We are never tired of making movies on love and romance. From Pakeezah to Dilwale Duhlania Le Jayenge to Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Pretty Woman to Titanic to Brokeback Mountain, a good love story has always won our heart.

Of course, love has changed with time. Expressions have changed, mediums have changed. Sometimes I feel love has become more complicated, or we have complicated it by incessantly swiping right and left. The digital platforms and the mobile apps that that have brought young people from across the world closer, may have also added to the confusion. The restlessness, the uncertainty, the indecisiveness, sometimes reluctance to commit. Though these emotions have always existed alongside love, the more articulate younger generation may have only brought them to the surface. They may have also given love a bold new expression.

Many of us though still miss the older times, we nostalgically look back to our simple college love stories. Anupriya Agarwal beautifully pens down the old world charm of love that she so misses.

Anupriya with Vibhor: when they just met

The charm of older times – falling in awe of someone over a cup of tea, or a glass of water is all gone. I remember in college, during college fests – admiring someone for his pink shirt – sheepishly discussing his smile with friends and then making a big deal if he came and said Hi, we will be in touch!

Your post, ‘Love me, love me not’ reminds me of good old times – the boy who only called out the colours that I was wearing during a tip tipi top game in school, or another one that I liked to go to the water cooler with for period breaks in school.

Image courtesy food.ndtv.com

This charm of falling in love over a little smile, a small conversation, a discussion with friends is forgotten these days! All we do is digitally bombard our thoughts, likes and dislikes. Love, in those days, wasn’t even anything to do with having relationships, but to just enjoy that moment of appreciation, when someone came said I love you and ran away never to meet again. It was a glass of water and a capsule that made two friends meet, a cup of chai was all that it took for two people to get married and rest well is history!

Thank you for taking me back to these lovely memories. Words will always swipe my heart away.

Culinary magic of Lovina Gujral

Recently I have come across numerous articles on food that can beat lockdown blues, how food can keep depression at bay and many more. Research claims that food immensely benefits our mind, helps lift our mood and cheer us up.  So, eating well and eating right is important not just for our health but happiness as well. But we knew that already!

No wonder, the lockdown has seen emergence of so many home chefs. My Facebook, Insta pages and WhatsApp groups are flooded with images of delicacies that people are making at home. From innovatively made Maggi or sandwiches to Indian delicacies to continental dishes, you can find them all.

One such home chef who has been tempting me with mouth-watering images is my friend and colleague, Lovina Gujral. While I struggle with household chores and work from home, Lovina makes time to treat her family with delectable dishes almost every evening. It could be anything from roast duck leg with veggies to pork belly to burgers or pizzas. And it’s not just the food, it’s the presentation too. Lovina could give any speciality chef run for his/her money!

“We are foodies,” says Lovina. “We would eat out quite often before the lockdown. Since it’s not possible now, I make something special almost every day for dinner.”

“I just love watching people enjoy the food, the happiness and the satisfaction in their faces, and that’s enough for me,” adds Lovina.

Stir fried bok choi with garlic & dried red chilli

Surprisingly, Lovina was not much into cooking in her younger days. “I was a tomboy. I would happily do outdoor work like standing in the queue for a gas connection, paying the bills etc., but never enter the kitchen. My sister, Nagina, was the experimental cook in our family. Even after I got married, we would mostly order in or eat out.”

Lovina developed an interest in cooking after moving to Bangkok. “We became friends with a lovely couple, Gavin and Neetinder, who would organize dinner parties quite often. Those were elaborate dinners starting with a palate cleanser and appetiser and ending with desserts. All kinds of dishes from continental, Italian to Asian to Thai were served in those dinners. That’s when I became curious about cooking and started experimenting.”

Her kitchen in Bangkok had all kinds of gadgets, ingredients were easily available there. Lovina would call up her friend for the recipe or try something innovative. “Even now I don’t follow a particular recipe. I google and read 3 to 4 different recipes of the same dish, even the likes of Jamie Oliver. I mull over them for a few days and then when I enter the kitchen, I just know what to do.”

When asked to share a few of her favourite recipes, Lovina pauses for a while and then smiles. “The problem is I never repeat the same recipe twice. I would never use the same sauces and condiments for roasting a duck leg or lamb or pork ribs. I sometimes don’t even remember what I do. I once made a vegetable casserole by emptying a few almost finished bottles of sauces in the veggies. My non-veg family polished the vegetables in no time. My daughter has been asking me to make the same casserole again since, but I can’t. I don’t remember the sauces that I used.”

“One reason why I try making so many varied dishes at home is my daughter Rhea. She has been exposed to a variety of cuisines since she was a little girl. Three-year-old Rhea would enjoy sushi when most Indian parents wouldn’t serve such food to their kids. Somehow Rhea never developed a taste for Indian food, so I keep making continental and oriental dishes at home.”

Noodle & dimsum soup

“Frankly, even I am not very enthused about Indian cooking. Sometimes I instruct the cook at home.  I tweak the recipe a little when I do that. Instead of onion tomato gravy, I encourage the cook to use curd or mustard. Maybe it’s because of east Indian friends like you who forever mock Punjabi’s for using onion tomato base in every recipe,” laughs Lovina.

“One thing I never felt like making is anything sweet, be it Indian desserts or cakes or puddings. I have never made anything sweet in my entire life. My daughter Rhea enjoys baking cakes and muffins though.”

But cooking every day, after a fairly busy work schedule. “I enjoy it,” says Lovina. “I get into the kitchen every evening around 7 without any plan. I check out the ingredients available and then decide what to make.”

As Lovina gets into the kitchen to surprise her family with another delightful dinner, I am waiting for the lockdown to end so that I can join her dinner table!

Love me, love me not!

I was in 7th standard then, watching the finals of inter-class football tournament, when suddenly a boy from my class called me from behind a tree. He was a friend; we took the same bus to school. On approaching him, after struggling for minutes he blurted ‘I love you,’ and ran. That was the first time a boy professed his love for me, a big thing for a 12-year-old girl. I immediately sought out my best friend, gravely reported the incident to her and I was advised never to talk to the boy again.

As we grew up, there were many instances of boys’ expressing their affection, scribbling love notes, letters, lovelorn glances. Most of our lunch break would be spent discussing these overtures at length, advising our friends whether she should take it forward or not. Even when a friend was involved, she would seek our advice and opinion for every little thing, from gifts to letters to sometimes vague suggestions that her boyfriend may have made that could be interpreted any which way.

Those were the days of letters and landlines when we would meet in the bus stands and college canteens, sneak the cordless phone in our room at night to talk to our boyfriends. Our generation then moved to office canteens, theatres, McDonald’s and mobile. SMSs became a popular means of expressing our feelings – witty innuendos, flowery proclamation. Of course, discussing every little matter of heart with a friend or a cousin was still very important.

Digital revolution changed the game. Range of dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and the rest widened options for young people seeking someone special. It’s not just the boy next door or your classmate or colleague, we could connect with anyone we liked. Times have changed, so have the rules of love, dating and relationships. It’s all about swiping right when a photograph catches our fancy, prolonged chats to know whether our interests match! With a digital screen masking us, we play with words that may mean different things to different people. While someone may be looking for a casual fling, someone else may be looking for a relationship. You can want whatever you want, but it’s important to know whether your match wants the same. 

From pouring over love letters we started sharing screenshots of Tinder chats. For a second opinion always matters, it’s important to read between lines. An objective observer can see what we, blinded by emotions or carried away by the moment, may ignore. It’s better to get it right in the beginning to save us embarrassment and pain later.

For all those Tindering, you can now huddle with your friends and discuss your matches without having to share screenshots. Yes, Charmed will make it possible soon. The app will allow friends to view each other’s matches including chats and bios. Even if you are not dating you can be on Charmed to advise your friends. 

Wow, whoever thought technology could make it so easy for friends to gather and talk about their love interests! 

The app is currently in beta but you can join the waitlist (www.charmed.app).  

Wardrobe Woes

Last night I had a dream. My saris, blouses, dresses and tunics were floating around me and talking to me. ‘When are you going to wear me again?’ asked my purple kanchivaram in her silky voice. I had worn the purple beauty only once during my cousin’s wedding, I recalled. Pretty pink jamdani glared at me angrily. I had almost forgotten about her. My range of designer blouses, tunics and dresses started jostling for my attention. Golden stiletto and red sandal started accusing me of neglect. They started dancing around me as if in frenzy, pulling me in all directions. The golden stiletto suddenly kicked hard on my ankle. Startled, I woke up. ‘What a crazy dream or rather a nightmare!’

I switched on the light and opened the wardrobe. All my clothes were in the right place. Saris stacked up neatly on top of each other, blouses stuffed in the drawer, dresses and tunics hanging close to each other. I opened my shoe closet next. At least 30 pairs of shoes snuggling close to each other, at least 10 pairs that I haven’t slipped my feet into in months. I took another look at my prized sari collection. Many of those, especially the expensive ones haven’t been worn in years. I went back to bed but couldn’t sleep. The images of my overstuffed wardrobe and shoe rack suddenly started mocking me. Locked up at home, with social distancing the new norm, I was quite clueless about when I would get to wear all these clothes and shoes again.

The image of me prancing around as girl in a flowery frock flashed before my eyes. I had about 8 to 10 ‘good clothes’ then that I wore for birthday parties, weddings, for visiting friends and neighbours etc. – frocks, skirts and tops mostly stitched by mom, a few pairs of jeans, and two pairs of shoes, besides the school going shoes. With what sounds like a limited wardrobe now, I was considered to be a well-dressed girl back then. I was very happy accepting hand me downs from my older cousins as well. It was a done thing then.

My mom, who loves saris, owned about 4 to 5 expensive saris then (besides her regular cotton, organza, and silks) that she should wear for weddings and special functions. It was absolutely fine to repeat those saris. She had a beautiful rani pink tanchoi silk sari that she would wear for such functions quite often.  Later, when the sari started coming apart, she cut it and made a beautiful kurta for me that I cherished for many years. She would also wear a beautiful peacock blue kanjivaram with broad red border every now and then.

I started becoming more ‘fashion conscious’ during my college days. Mom stitched clothes were not enough, I wanted branded clothes. When I started working, I would spend a lot of time in Sarojini Nagar hunting for fashionable clothes, knock-offs that would fit my budget. From street fashion, I soon moved to the branded stores and then to the glittering malls that offered great deals on international brands. E-commerce sites that offered everything from lingerie to footwear at an enviable price further added to the allure. My wardrobe was spilling, my shoe rack was full, I had more purses than I could carry, but I just couldn’t stop buying.

Sari day at work

With years I became a little more discerning, chose style over fashion, or so I thought. I developed a fondness for saris like mom and started buying saris from all over India. Be it Bengal cotton, south cotton, chanderi, baluchori, ikkat, bomkai or kachivaram, I have them all. The cotton and the silk ones I would wear often to work. The more expensive ones were worn for weddings etc. I have also built a collection of exclusive dresses and tunics, thanks to my designer friends.   Though I have been spending money on saris and other expensive clothes it didn’t feel like a waste. ‘These are classics that would never go out of fashion’, I would tell myself.

My wardrobe made me feel good. I was ready for all occasions. But every occasion demanded something new because repeating an outfit is an absolute no-no. How could you wear the same outfit or sari before the same crowd? Posting a picture on social media in the same dress twice? Thus, I ended up with so many saris, clothes, and shoes that I love and that look great on me. Ironically enough, I have worn these beautiful things only once or twice, just because I can’t repeat myself. Seriously, when did I become such a hoarder or a show-off, or both!

“This has to stop. I am going to wear all my clothes over and over. I am going to repeat my saris because I feel beautiful in them.” Maybe I am a bit delusional with the extended lockdown or maybe I have more time to self-reflect or maybe it’s both!

Food Mood: Cooking in times of Corona by Heema Roy Choudhury

It is well known that good food can play wonders with our mood. So, what better way to cheer us up in these gloomy days than to cook up a good meal. But resources and lack of time (managing both household chores and office work) can be a problem.

My very talented friend Heema Roy Choudhury shares her lockdown recipes that are delicious and easy to make. Locked at home in Bloomington Illinois, cooking and painting keeps Heema’s spirits high. You can check out her paintings at Hearts Work on Facebook.

As lockdown doesn’t allow us to eat out, I found easy ways to prepare few dishes at home. One of my favorite dishes is Chicken Biriyani that I cook in Instapot. It doesn’t take much time and tastes delicious.

First marinate chicken with yogurt, ginger garlic paste, salt to taste, biriyani masala (any brand). Set the instapot on saute and fry chopped onions in 2/3 tbsp oil and then add the marinated chicken and saute for 10 mins. Then set the instapot to manual at high for 10 mins. Use natural vent to release pressure.

Now for the rice, use 3 cups of basmati rice for 2/3 lbs of chicken. Wash and drain water from rice. Add salt and ghee. Take the lid off and put the layer of rice slowly over the cooked chicken. Sprinkle a handful of fried onions, chopped mint and coriander leaves and saffron.

Add 3 cups of water for 3 cups rice, 1:1 ratio. If there is gravy already from the chicken then I add less water— normally I measure it by dipping my fingertip, the water level should be 1 finger mark above the rice. Put lid of instapot and close it and set it to manual, high, for 8 mins. Let it cool on its own, do not vent the pressure. Open the instapot after about 10 minutes and biriyani is ready to serve.

I also make Bengali’s favorite Mishti Doi (sweet yogurt) with just 3 ingredients at home. Another easy recipe that can sweeten lockdown.

Take one cup of condensed milk, one cup of full fat milk and one cup of plain yogurt. Blend all of them using a hand mix or blender. In an oven proof vessel pour the mix and bake at 250F for an hour. Take it out and cool at room temperature and refrigerate it. Serve it chilled.

A showgirl sans audience

Locked in all alone in my apartment, no one’s coming, no one’s watching me, I can do pretty much as I please. I can don my finest clothes and walk around, or I can choose to wear nothing. I can be on bed the whole day and laze around. I can read or watch TV through the night and get up at noon. I can sing, I can dance, I can scream (as long it doesn’t reach my neighbours), I can be a mess, or I can be perfect. Who cares? No one’s here to judge and comment on my choices. What freedom!

A regular day at work before COVID

Yes, that was my initial feeling of glee (in these gloomy times) when the lockdown was first announced. But alas, it was short-lived. I blamed it first at having to work from home. “If I didn’t have to open the laptop at 9:30 every morning life would be so much better,” I grumbled to myself. Then I realized my weekends were no better. So obsessed I was with cleaning every nook and corner of my apartment, cooking a perfect meal that I managed to have lunch only at 4 on weekends. After that, I would be too exhausted to do anything, usually not in such a great mood.

Lockdown, which in some ways has been a break for many, has been utterly exhausting for me. I go to bed planning the next day’s chores “I have to be up by 7 and clean the balconies, chop the veggies and then close a proposal before the 10 a.m. call,” I would mutter to myself at night like a prayer. I would jump up in the morning and chide myself for waking up late for there’s so much to do. I pushed myself almost to the brink – the house had to be perfect, meals cooked, all the tasks done well ahead of time. I even dress up every morning for office (my living room now) or a call, that’s something I actually enjoy.

Many moods: work from home

In the evening when I would finally relax with a cup of coffee, I would look around me with some pride and satisfaction. I would look at myself in the mirror and smile. But then, the feeling of being let down and being under-appreciated would come gushing back. My friends who sometimes are not able to call me every day, my colleagues and acquaintances who don’t seem to appreciate me adequately would be frowned upon. For, strangely enough, I would feel like a martyr. “I am doing so much from morning till night (all for myself, on my own accord), and no one cares.”

Many moods: work from home

But why should anyone care? Why should I care whether anybody cares about what I do within my four walls? But unfortunately, I do. I guess we all do, whether we like to admit it or not. We have a bit of a narcissist strain running in us, we are all bit of show-offs. We love to be acknowledged, we love to be appreciated, we love all the attention we get. My life is my show, my performance and I am the protagonist or the showgirl. Not having an audience for our show has perhaps been one dilemma for people like me, who are locked in alone. Though I was a little ashamed when the realization first dawned on me, it’s not such a bad thing, I guess. My urge to show myself off is something that is driving me along as I wait eagerly to catch up with my friends and family once this is over.

Now that I have accepted the fact that there’s a showgirl in me who’s missing not having an audience around, I am much more at peace with myself, I am much happier. I have stopped blaming others for not being there, I stopped being hard on myself. The showgirl does as she pleases, she smiles at herself often, she ponders, she relaxes. And most of all, she takes good care of herself, for when she steps out again, she would like to put her best foot forward!

Hampi – My Story by Saptarshi Saha

A beatifully penned story of Hampi by Saptarshi, an IT professional and a traveller who loves to write.

Who discovered me? Who let me into the history books? It was Colonel Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821) a Scottish army officer who loved travelling and anything which was orient. He was in the British East India Company and later became the first Surveyor General of India. He was ordered to survey the Mysore region shortly after the British victory over Tipu Sultan in 1799. He produced my first maps along with illustrations of the landscape and notes on archaeological landmarks. However, what the history books do not mention, that it was only by sheer accident that he stumbled upon my many ruinous minarets. It all started on a stormy night when the colonel’s boat on the raging Tundra was thrown against the granite rocks. The colonel and his orderly barely managed to hold on to the timber and save themselves. They managed to swim ashore. Tired and beaten by the rain, both drifted away to sleep. And then… the rain stopped. The birds and the deers came out. The morning with its sun, revealed all my wonderful vistas to the boat wrecked colonel and his orderly. He could hardly take it all in, with his eyes. As the morning sun shone away the rain of yesterday, I presented my ethereal beauty in all its splendour. The liquid gold of the sun, the shine on the minarets made the colonel… my lover for life. 

Hampi – Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Let me not bore you anymore with the colonel. Hampi is my name now, but I was always known as Pampa-kshetra, Kishkindha-kshetra or Bhaskara-kshetra — derived from Pampa, which is the old name of the Tungabhadra River. The name “Hampi” is an anglicized version of the Kannada Hampe (derived from Pampa). Over the years, I have also been referred to as Vijayanagara and Virupakshapura (from Virupaksha, the patron deity of the Vijayanagara rulers). I was chosen because of my strategic location, bounded by the torrential Tungabhadra river on one side and surrounded by granite ridges on the other three sides. My story starts with this popular folklore, which I want you to believe. Two local chieftains, Hakka & Bukka, large in girth and big in courage reports to their guru an unusual sight they saw during a hunting expedition. A hare chased by their hound suddenly turns courageous and start chasing back the hound. Vidyaranya, the guru, tells them that the place is so special and asks them to establish their capital at this place. The seed of my first empire was sown. And over the next 200 plus years (1336 AD – 1565 AD) four dynasties started their rule on me. 

Hampi – Melody in rocks
Photo courtesy New Indian Express

My glory years have been a saga of resistance against the northern Sultanates as well as building of some of my most spectacular monuments. Domingo Paes, a Portuguese horse trader, who visited me during my heydays wrote in a letter, “The size of this city I do not write here, because it cannot all be seen from any one spot, but I climbed a hill whence I could see a great part of it. I could not see it all because it lies between several ranges of hills. What I saw from thence seemed to me as large as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight; there are many groves of trees within it, in the gardens of the houses, and many conduits of water which flow into the midst of it, and in places there are lakes and the king has close to his palace a palm-grove and other rich-bearing fruit-trees…and so on.” Does not matter, I still did not like Domingo as he had many skeletons to hide in his cupboard. The books do not tell you that. But I could see everything and remember. 

 So what, if I am aged! But I am still charismatic enough to attract tens of thousands of visitors through the year, especially during the annual festival held in December. Since my discovery in the new world and after my UNESCO heritage branding in 1986, I have been a delight for backpackers and pilgrims alike. The temples, palaces, aquatic structures, markets and many such ancient remains are the ways I have ingrained myself into your mind and pages of history. The wonderful kings of Vijayanagara dynasty were popular for their encouragement to the fine arts and creation of temples. No wonder that you find parts of temples like that of Virupaksha dating back to the 11th century, a time even before the kingdom was established. In fact, I also feature in the tale of Ramayana as Kishkinda – a fact that is recorded in the carvings at the Ramaswami temple.

Sureal Hampi – Photo courtesy Malayala Manorama

As happy as I always try to be, sometimes I too feely lonely. Just like you, human beings crave for lost time, I too get lost in the years that I have left behind. I am someone to whom time has not been always kind. But there are places scattered across me, given up by man which have still stood their ground. Forsaken and abandoned though I feel during a typical hot May summer day, I quench my thirst by clinging on to my past and draw in newcomers to lose themselves in my beauty, mystery and charm. The Vithala Temple Complex images the true story behind the empire’s encouragement for art and music. This splendid structure, though ruined by the later Mughal invaders, has 56 musical pillars, a stone chariot with revolving stone wheels and several monolith pillars. The House of Victory, built after King Krishnadevaraya won the battle at Orissa, is popular for the elegant carvings on plinth mouldings. The Lotus Mahal with the geometrical accuracy to ensure a perfect climate inside the queens’ quarters all year round, elephant stables, Pushkarini, the Mahanavami Dibba and Nobleman’s Palace are just a few of the hundreds of structures that I adorn history with.

Most of the structures lie along the route between Kamalapura and me. One such place is the Dravidian-styled Malyavanta Raghunathaswamy temple that has marine monsters carved on its outer walls. The 6.7-meter tall monolith of Ugra Narasimha depicts King Krishnadevaraya’s love for architectural splendours. In fact, the Bazaar that been photographed and reproduced in zillion features reflects truly my eclectic mixture of the ancient and the modern. In my heydays, you could actually buy diamonds and rubies as big as your fist in this very place. And on and on I can go talking about all my attractions. Lord Rama and his brother had visited me, while looking for Rama’s wife, Sita. It was Vali and Sugriv, the brave monkey kings who helped him to raise his army. I get all misty eyed to think about such memories. The Hazra Rama Temple complex known for its frescoes from the Hindu religion. It has over a thousand carvings and inscriptions depicting the story of Ramayana. Did you also know that Vijayanagara’s main coin mint was located here? The coinage was astonishing with gold, silver and copper coins with pictures of Gods, animals, birds, etc. The ruins of the mint can be seen inside the walled enclosure at the west of the royal enclosure. These are only a few interesting facts about me. There’s much more and beyond about me and my monuments. And you ought to visit me to learn and see.  

Without sounding vain, I am possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Even if you are cynical and experienced, you will admit as much. Your camera and words will fail. I am surreal beyond the realms of what you can dream. The fields so green and the sky so azure with stones in burnt amber. I will forgive you if you would come back again dumbstruck and cry aloud… ‘Yes, this is where the trinity played lego with the granite stones. This is where the Apsaras had their Disneyland’. I will encourage you to strike a conversation with the locals to know me well! 

I with all my ruins and monuments am spread over an area of 26 square kilometres, and can easily be reached by road, rail and air through Hospet. You can also come by regular buses plying towards me from all nearby towns and cities. Hospet, which is 13 km away, has a railway station and several road transport facilities that can help you reach me easily.