Month: May 2020

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.