Monday, April 30, 2018

Z is for Zaroorat and Zahrah #AtoZChallenge

Zaroorat means need in Urdu.

I heard an elder give this as a blessing to someone who'd bent down to touch her feet, "Bhagwaan khush rakhe, na zaroorat se zyada aur na zaroorat se kam de."

Translation: May God Bless you. May He/She give you just enough, no more and no less than you need.

Can you imagine such a blessed life? Just enough to eat, to wear, to read, to watch, to drink, to share, to walk on, to fly in, to escape to, to hold on to,to hug, to let go, to forget, to remember, to laugh, to cry, to sigh, to think about...just enough...no more and no less.

"What should I get from the shops?" My father used to ask my mother on his way to work, to check if she needed anything for her kitchen or home. His shop was in the bazaar so he would pick fruit and vegetables and sundries on his way back.

"Sirf zaroorat ka samaan." (Only what we need ) Mummy would say.

Our parents never made long shopping lists. We always had enough to eat--almost always fresh. I can't recall a single time when any food was ever wasted. Left-overs didn't usually happen because Beji, my gradmother, was a stickler for eating only freshly prepared meals.

Whenever I come across a bowl of food that's been moved to the back of the fridge or a can of something that's gone past its best by date, my Indian conditioning churns. Buy only zaroorat ka samaan (only what you need) Arti. I have to remind myself of this simple tip. 

So as I come to Z and look back at a journey of plenty, of sharing, seeking, reading, smiling, nodding, even guffawing every now and then, I thank the A to Z team for this month's 'just enough.' For just as the typing muscles are starting to ache and the reading cells are coming up to saturation, Z has appeared on the horizon.

After every day, there's a night. After every challenge, there must be rest.

I know that despite my best intentions, I will write less, blog in-frequently and visit the people I've visited every day, only every now and then.

Rumi's words: "And don't think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It's quiet, but the roots down under are riotous." point to a sleeping that is full of preparation and renewal. 

It's time, then, to wave a fond farewell to all the people whose words and pictures visited my days and filled my nights, woke me up before sunset (jet-lagged week that went by) and somehow managed to push Netflix out from my April. That's an achievement fellow A to Zers:) And I thank you for it.

Until we meet again...

I pray for all our lives to be blessed: may all our zarooratein (needs)be met and when they are met, may grace guide us to see we've reached our plenty, may our hearts then sing with gratitude for our life of enough.

Leaving you with another Z word but this time it's from Arabic: Zahrah meaning flower or blossom or beauty.
 These beauties are from the garden that sits by the kitchen where I type out my posts.
Zinnia, Lantana, lemon grass, sunflowers, mogra, chameli (jasmine) fill my needs.
Na zaroot se zyadae
aur na hi kam
No more
No less
Just enough.
Spring has sprung in many places I've visited in this A to Z.
Doha is heating up for summer. 
Spring is short lived here, so I captured it in a post and whenever I feel the zaroorat,
I log on to enjoy the the colours this garden once wore
Here's a beautiful ghazal by Faiz, sung by Tanya Wells.
It's spring with subtitles:)
I know you'll love it.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Y is for Yartsa Gunbu: the viagra of the Himalayas #AtoZChallenge

Jagat, our Nepali guide, pointed out to the ground and said, 'look.'

I looked but didn't see anything.

'Look...look.' his body followed his pointed finger and folded into a squat peering at the ground. 'Can you see?'

I looked but I could not see.

I felt exactly as I had when my driving instructor had asked me,'which way is the wheel facing?'

We were both inside the car. I thought it was a trick/funny question.

'How can I know? I'm inside the car?'

I saw him slapping his forehead like Punjabis do to suggest no-hope for this one. (i.e. idda kucchch nee ho sakdaa). His eyes were peeled at my hands holding the steering wheel. He was trying to tell me the clue was in my hands with his eyes.

I didn't get it then. I was almost thirty when I decided to learn to drive. He had told me more than once that I should've done this when I was seventeen. i.e. I was too old. So, I knew he was biased. 

Only after my legendary attempts at passing the driving test did I get it and then I felt as stupid as I was feeling that day at 10,000 ft above sea level trying to see what Jagat was pointing at in the lush meadows of Ali Bugyal.

Jagat scarped at the ground with his index finger and like an expert pair of pincers teased out a worm like creature from the ground.

'Open your palm.' he said and put the creature on it.

'Half plant, half worm.' he proclaimed.

'What?' 

'Yartsa Gunbu, very, very, very expensive Tibetan medicine....it's plant for six months and worm for six months. Sells for 50,000 dollars for half a kilo!'
My eyes popped out at this tiny thing. He tweezed another one out and put in on my palm.

I trusted Jagat. All his information about the local flora and the peaks we were about to climb had sounded plausible up till then.

For better photos and a brief description of the biology of Yartsa Gunbu, please do click on: www.npr.org. You have an option to listen to the article. It's very informative.

After I got back from this wonderful son and mother trek to Roopkund, I started digging up more about this super expensive fungus.

Like all elixirs of youth and life, Yartsa Gunbu comes with its fair share of bans, police chases, rules put by governments and flouted by people for survival or greed. 

'Locals, sometimes, go looking for it. It's illegal  ....But....' Jagat's eyes had said the rest.

I came across stories of gangs, a man killed by another for YarstaGunbu which prompted the local government to put the ban.

However, as an aphrodisiac and as a status symbol (especially in China, I'm told), this tiny fungus has been the bane of many small villages in the Himalayan region.

I read a story of a man who went missing and was later found dead. Such stories are not uncommon in villages of Nepal. The more I googled, the more disenchanted I felt.

My heart breaks when I see this beauty and the beast of human greed that's acting just like the caterpillar fungus: consuming some villages from within.
Yartsa Gunbu is being researched and googling it will tell you that they seem to have found it useful for treating cancer and arthritis.

I hope and I pray that right measures are taken to farm it and that locals, the guardians of these magestic mountains are not short changed by the mighty corporations or greedy men and women. Even as I type this out, I can hear the echo of the emptiness of my words. But, hope I will.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

X is for Xavier's College Canteen in Kolkata #AtoZChallenge

'Your one month's tuition fee is more than what my father paid for my entire education.' my husband often points this fact out to our son who's studying for his grade 12 exams at the moment.

Our son, like our daughter who's now at university so out of her father's earshot, hears this every now and then, especially when the topic of university fees comes up.

My husband likes to point out to them that he was awarded a scholarship in high school which not only covered his tuition fee, he even had a bit left over which became his pocket money. Yes, he's not winning the most popular Dad award any time soon. He's an Indian father whose two primary concerns at this point in time are:

1) his son should work hard to get the grades he needs to go to the university of his choice.
2) his son should know that money doesn't grow on trees.

June, 2016. My husband's alma mater informed him that if he didn't collect his degree (which had been awarded to him 25 years ago but he had failed to collect it as he was not living in the country anymore) it would be sent back to the University. And anyone who knows anything about offices in universities of India will tell you that it's easier to find a needle in a haystack than a piece of document you've worked hard for.

So one hot and humid June afternoon in 2016, we found ourselves immersed in his recollections of his dear St. Xavier's. One of his college friends joined him and the two of them dipped in and out of anecdotes from their days, teachers they loved and the ones they loathed, stories of wearing two or three underpants on days of caning etc.etc.

'What's your favourite memory?' I asked

'The only really clear memory I have is the 8 o'clock break. Bhookh zor se lagee hotee thee --we would be starving so we'd run down the narrow staircase to head to the canteen to be first in line for luchee aaloo and samosas.' 

College started at 6.00 am for them! 

Despite the heat, we relished luchee aloo (fried bread and potato curry) and samosas with tea that day. There's something special about sharing someone's food memories with them. It's a slice of their childhood you can taste. I think our children saw the boy their Dad once was and forgave him for his 'scholarship' toots (at least for the time being).
Jhaal Muri : jhaal means hot and muri means puffed rice.
It's a popular street snack in Kolkata.
No day in Kolkata is complete without a helping of this delicious, mouth watering, crunchy, tangy delight.
I used to stop by at a jhaal muri stall almost every evening after work.
 St. Xavier's College has its own jhaal muri waala. I was impressed.
My husband's friend made sure we were properly impressed so he gave the guy instructions on making a dish he makes for a living!
Yes, as Indians, we do love to give advice: lots of it and it's all for free:)
In case your taste buds are tingling like mine are right now, check out this recipe video:
It's Friday today. The husband is at home and he does make a mean jhaal muri. 
I reckon we'll have a snacky lunch today:)
*****
Do you have any food memories from you school days you'd like to share?

W is for Wells #AtoZChallenge

WELCOME to Wells, Somerset.
It's the smallest city in England.
Wells Cathedral is the reason that this tiny medieval city is called a city.

Every inch and nook of the city is picture perfect.
So, it was hard for me to choose just a few pictures to post today. 
I tried. But, I didn't succeed. 

We stayed in Wells for a few days last August.
Let the tour begin.
Let the pictures do the talking (with a few words for company)

Wells High street: so quaint and small that by the time you've said high, it's over.
Wells Cathedral: Gothic and poetic




Ha! Do you see a W or two?
Spotted in August'17 in Wells. 
Who would've thought they'd appear in a W post in April 2018?
Such treasures come by when we keep our eyes open to see. Right?
We picked a couple to munch on. They were delicious: crisp, slightly tangy and very juicy.

The Vicars' Close
This extract has been taken from somerset-life.co.uk:
"Adjoining the Cathedral is Vicars’ Close, believed to be the only complete medieval street left in England. The houses were built in the 14th century to provide accommodation for the Vicars Choral, who sing the daily services, and this is still the case today."


The Bishop's Palace
somerset-life.co.uk tells us that its...
"Home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for over 800 years, the palace is surrounded by a moat, complete with resident swans trained to ring a bell for food." 
We were exploring the caves in Cheddar gorge that morning, so by the time we got back to Wells, the palace was shut, but we managed to walk in its beautiful grounds.

We didn't see any swans. Perhaps they'd eaten and gone to bed by the time we arrived.


The Sew Vintage shot that featured in V Post was taken in Wells, Somerset.
*****
Well, that's it folks. 
Expecting to see you here tomorrow. 
Where are you planning to be this weekend? Any place special?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

V is for Vintage #AtoZChallenge

"Did you bring any body lotion with you?" asked the husband as he stepped out of the bathroom after taking a shower.

"You didn't ask. Besides, we're in a hotel. You'll be fine." I replied.

I happened to travel out of Doha to join my husband for the weekend. He'd been away for over a week. He had a free weekend in between his work commitments. 

"Why don't you join me?"He had called on Friday.

A to Z, I thought and then figured that I could carry on posting as long as I carried my laptop with me. The flights looked wide open to avail of staff discount.

So here I was. With him. Talking over the sound of running water, I was telling him what he should do with his free Sunday now that I'd made the supreme effort of joining him when he asked for the lotion. He's fond of the one he uses and usually carries it with him. This time he forgot to pack it.

The day's decisions were made, unanimously, of course. 

I entered the bathroom to shower.

"This body lotion is so smooth. It literally glides." I cooed to the tiny hotel bottle and got dressed.

Monday morning. He stepped out of the bathroom holding the almost empty bottle of body lotion in his hand.

"Is this the lotion you used yesterday?" I should've known. His honey eyes were twinkling.

"Hmm...why?"

"Well, it says hair conditioner on the bottle... thought you might like to know." He continued despite the soft chuckles that were beginning to muffle his words a bit. 

"You're so vintage Mrs. Jain." he guffawed at his own joke and almost tripped over his briefcase lying next to the desk.

Bless the Lord that I was keeping my eyes and ears open for V and all I heard was : Vintage!

He escaped to work unhurt. 

I cleaned my reading glasses and flipped the laptop open to write the T Post.
The venue of the pictures above will be revealed tomorrow with W. 
So you'll have to wait.
This one fit so well with his 'so vintage' remark  that I just had to use it today.
******
Any vintage moments you'd like to share?
Vintage wine kinda moments are welcome too.
I haven't been able to visit some of you on account of travel. But I'm back in Doha now, so I will be stopping by to say Hi:)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

U is for Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge of Meghalaya #AtoZChallenge

"We build too many walls
and not enough bridges."
Isaac Newton
(Please note that there is some ambiguity about which Newton really said those words: 
Sir Isaac Newton or Joseph Fort Newton)
I was looking for a quote (I'm still feeling quite quotish. I blame Q!) when this one caught my eye.

We're back in Meghalaya today. Back in the home of the clouds and the wise Khasi people who almost 200 years ago devised an ingenious way to cross rivers swollen with monsoon rains by planting Indian rubber trees on the banks of their rivers and training the roots of these trees through hollowed out trunks of the Areca palm to form sturdy, long-lasting natural bridges.

For a succinct and extremely well written account of the history and ecology of this unique phenomenon, click on this BBC travel story , where Neelima Vallangi's professionally taken photos will make you go wow. The extract below is from the same link:

"There are many living root bridges scattered across the dense valleys of Meghalaya’s Khasi Hills region, but the most spectacular and arguably the most famous is the Umshiang double-decker bridge, which is more than 180 years old. It is found just outside Nongriat, a small village that’s reachable only by foot, about 10km south of the town of Cherrapunji. The bridge’s two levels span the Umshiang River, and local villagers are adding a third level, hoping it will further attract tourists. (Neelima Vallangi)"

And for a wander through these dense, humid, lush forests filled with insect noises, bold butterflies, spider webs and fallen leaves, come this way...
 We have to cross a few scary bridges first.




 Almost there
 Here we are
Wave and smile:) 
They're the  best group of girls to go gallivanting with in the greens of Khasi Hills.
The next hour was spent immersed in this cool pool of water. It's a welcome relief after climbing down 3,500 steps in the sticky sub-tropicalal heat.
The first time you step in, you squeal--the water is so cold, unexpectedly so.
You settle in and then you go 'ouch' -- little fish have started feasting on your feet even before you've made yourself comfortable on the mossy rocks.
Lots of hilarity, more squeals and squeaks follow.
I followed a pair of butterflies. 
Perched on top of a rock, sitting very, very still, I clicked lots of photos and a short video which I've shared on my N post.
It was time to start the climb back. 
Yes, 3,500 steps!
So glad I packed my folding fan.




You can always stay in the forest if you like. Arrangements can be made.
But, please, please take your rubbish with you. Or better still don't bring any plastic bottles or bags that you'll feel tempted to chuck anywhere you feel like.
These are people's homes and their villages. 
The Khasi people have looked after their trees and their rivers for generations.
As a visitor, you're morally bound to leave their heaven as you found it.
******
Have you built or crossed any bridges recently?

Monday, April 23, 2018

T is a for Tales of Tailors #AtoZChallenge

If you are a saree lover/wearer, by the time you finish reading the title of today's post, your memory machine would've started churning a mini series of tailor related sagas of your own. You may have already switched off by now and started planning the title of your tailor memoir and the only way I'll be able to get your attention back is if I show you pictures or photos of beautiful sarees. Hang in there, just a few words to read. There's a picture. I promise.

For the non-saree wearer who's going uhh?, let me elaborate.

Sarees are worn with blouses and blouses are stitched by tailors.

To elucidate the importance of a tailor in a saree wearer's life (or actually any person's life who gets his/her clothes stitched by a tailor, especially in the Indian sub-continent), I'm borrowing this quote from life_in_a_saree, an Instagrammer I follow:
"Saree lover proposes, tailor disposes."
Yes sir. That's the power tailors wield in the lives of people who go to them to get their saree blouses stitched.

Looking at the picture below: do you notice anything unusual?
No. Not the dusty leaves of frangipani (note to self: wash leaves before clicking pics)
No, not even the oddity of a saree blouse hanging out in the garden with flowers. 
Have the observant among you noticed that the colourful scooters are all up-side down?
My trusted tailor obviously didn't.
"Master ji (usual term to address tailors as they are masters of their craft!), is my blouse ready?" I called my tailor last Thursday to find out about a blouse that was supposed to have been ready two Tuesdays ago: if you believed the date written on the collection receipt. 

Anyone, who's had anything to do with tailors will tell you that the date of collection on the tailor's receipt is as elusive as Yeti. You get a general idea, a teaser of a trail but you NEVER find your finished piece on that day. 

That's the day you start your follow up ritual with your tailor with phone calls and visits. With kind requests that slowly ferment into threats. If the tailor is very good and he has achieved celebrity status among your circle of friends, then the threats that have fermented inside you don't usually come out of your mouth. They just boost your acidity. Your rage simmers silently inside you. You call him in your sweetest voice and plead, "Masterji, jaldi keejeya na." Please hurry, Masterji. You have NO access to consumer rights if he messes up, so you don't want to upset him, you see.

If he's not that great and you're only trying him out, then you're not so invested for you've given him an old piece of cloth which was an unwanted gift that had been lying in your cupboard for so long you'd almost forgotten about it. Chances are the 'trial' tailor will call you on the date of the receipt and remind you to collect your blouse that's ready. 

And after you've recovered from the shock of that call, you'll wonder why you didn't pursue a career in genetics and human biology. You could've mixed Masterji's skill with the new chappy's work ethic and got yourself a perfect tailor.

ONLY in dire emergencies, like marriages etc. do these Masters deliver on time--and that too if their kaarigar (worker) is not celebrating Eid, Diwali or Durga Pooja. 

So when I called him for the third time in the two weeks after the due date, he sounded as masterful as ever,"Yes, madam....it's been ready for ages...why haven't you collected it ?"

I know better than to point out to him that just yesterday he'd given me a five minute long list of excuses about why it wasn't ready. 

I played my 'lie that's not really a lie' card (I'm sure my females friends will understand) and said, "But I have nothing to wear to dinner tomorrow!"

Thursday morning: I went. I paid. I got home. I took out the blouse. I tried it on. Something wasn't right.

Don't say it. Do NOT point to the print please.  

"But that's for children..." the surly salesman at the shop in the souq had pointed out to me when I had asked him to cut out half a meter for me, a few months ago. 

"I'm a child." I declared to counter his surliness. 

His surliness did not twitch even a tiny bit. 

I'd fallen for this colourful print and I couldn't wait to get it made into a saree blouse to welcome the hot Doha summer with.

So, when I got home last Thursday and tried it on and looked at myself in the mirror, my heart sank!

The front of the blouse looked like a scooter junk yard (with all those up-side down scooters.)

The back, however, looked exactly like how I'd imagined it: cheerful. A colourful reminder of Gregory Peck in  Roman Holiday.
The quandary I find myself in is that I bought this fabric almost six months ago. The surly salesman may have sold the rest of it to children by now. Well, I will have to go back one of these days to check. 

Why go through this drama? You'd be right to ask. 

There are many ready-made options available. In fact, I've worn sarees with shirts and tops, like so many people now do. So, it's not that there aren't any options. There are. But, there is something about seeing a print or a fabric and using a master's skill to turn it into a happy garment.

If tailors give us tales of woe, they also turn fabrics or things into wearable works of art.  

A few months ago, while clearing out my wardrobe, I came across a bag my sister had given me almost 25 years ago. It's from Kutchch and I love the earthy, hand-embroidered beauty of it. I hadn't used it for so long. An idea occurred.

The bag is now a blouse:)

You can see now why I keep going back to my master ji:)

A promise is a promise. So sharing a saree picture. 
This gorgeous grey was bought from PSR Silks in Coimbatore in July 2017.
It's a Coimbatore cotton saree with a woven black, mustard and red border.
Photo was clicked by husband.

I was not really ready for the shot, but I like the click:)
Have you ever had a testing time with tailors?
Any tales you'd like to tell?

Friday, April 20, 2018

S is for Street Art #AtoZChallenge

One of my favourite occupations is seeing, looking, staring, ogling--you get the idea. 

I've been chided by my children for admiring beautiful people openly (often with mouth agape).  I used to listen to them but I don't any more. In fact, I'm becoming bolder as I'm ageing, so now I walk up to the person who's beauty has caught my eye: beautiful eyes, warm smile, gorgeous skin or just a kind manner and compliment them. Every single time, I've been rewarded with a smile back and a thank you.

Street art can't smile or whisper a thank you when you admire it. So, I tend to click it and share it and ooh and aah forever after.

Today, my lovelies, to celebrate the end of week 3 of this challenge, we're going to wander the streets of the world and enjoy the seeing.
Beirut: the famous steps on Armenian Street
Beirut again
Amman, Jordan
Nottingham, UK: When nature plays the artist
Ahmedabad, India: Not all art needs paint to be put on,
 sometimes paint peels off  to create art
Back to Beirut for some poetry
Arshia in Amsterdam: Art peeps.
Florence: floored
Florence: David: In deep water
Tbilisi, Georgia.
There are many more streets captured and clicked, 
but I realise it's Saturday and you must have a lot to do, so I'll let you be.

Sit, stare, strut, sing, skip, sleep, stand, sigh or simply be. 
Whatever you do, smile and be merry:)

Remember Karmageddon from K Post?
Well, here's an S word from the same list: (The Washington Post's Style Invitational one)
Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
Do share how you see streets when you go wandering.
I'd like to know.