Fraternising with geographers at the #RGSIBG14

Up until a few months ago, I didn’t consider my work or my research as geography. I had not realised that the boundaries of the discipline of geography had stretched here, there and seemingly everywhere. This has been driven home by my time at the Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference in London, where I’ve met geographers who theorise, practice, those who influence policy and many who work closely with communities. As an urban planner, I’ve been looked at as a part of the geography fraternity and not really outside it. I’ve wondered about how Indian academia works in silos, right at the other end of what I’m seeing here, which is frighteningly inclusive!

It’s not only the range of topics that has been interesting, but also the people. A young man from Slovenia is working on a PhD that looks at the interests of those who own small-scale forests. A woman from Jamaica is studying water security. A German bloke is looking at religion and city making in Ecuador. I’ve gathered a bunch of heavy theoretical terms that don’t roll off my tongue easily, but that I’m sure will help me anchor my often wandering thoughts.

I have been fascinated by the range of methodologies I’ve been exposed to and am thinking of dedicating a separate post to just that when I return. Especially the use of visual methods of data gathering and analysis were fascinating for me, with my architectural background.It has also been a good opportunity to bounce off my own experiences and ideas with people, find synergies but also alternative ways of looking at situations. I’ve found solace in the confusions and frustrations of fellow researchers and practitioners as well!I’m presenting tomorrow, on the final day of the conference on migration decisions of youth in the context of a small city and right now, I’m struggling to fit everything I want to say into 15 minutes! Not a nice way to spend my evening in London, but what can one say…you gotta do what you gotta do!

Southwark through a local’s eye: A walk along the Thames in #London

I’ve anticipated this London trip for so long and yet have had little time to plan an itinerary. A work trip for the most part, I knew my touristic experiences would need to be squeezed in. I’ve opted to live with a friend, someone I’ve known since college and so, by default, I’ve been let into her little world. I let her lead me through her neighbourhood on my first day in what locals consider “the greatest and most beautiful capital city in the world”!

We started our stroll with a visit to her local square. Kids kicked a football around, a few stalls were selling trinkets and toys. The residential neighbourhoods we walked past were still and sleepy. A dog barked at us, a baby gurgles, the locals stood out in the sun in bunches, satiated with pints of beer and lazy lunches.

The neighbourhood square

The neighbourhood square

Riverward..on the way

Riverward..on the way

My friend lives in the London Borough of Southwark, south of the Thames and close to the London Bridge. And our walk took us river-ward. An area with Roman origins, the riverfront we walked onto is rich with wharfs and restored warehouses. On a surprisingly sunny yet balmy Saturday afternoon, the place had a zippy, young feel to it. Families out with their children, friends catching a drink at the pubs and restaurants that lined the Thames, that sort of thing.

Posh apartments,  redeveloped from the docks that lined the Thames give this area a unique flavour

Posh apartments, redeveloped from the docks that lined the Thames give this area a unique flavour

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The ramps that took the cargo from the qyayside to the warehouses. Pretty dramatic huh?

The ramps that took the cargo from the quayside to the warehouses. Pretty dramatic huh?

My first glimpse of the Thames...gasp!

My first glimpse of the Thames…gasp!

Love the clutter!

Love the clutter!

View across the river

View across the river

Wine stop!

Wine stop!

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Public art, lots of naval stuff like enormous anchors strewed around for kids to clamber over...

Public art, lots of naval stuff like enormous anchors strewed around for kids to clamber over…

The sun lit up the Thames and the famous landmarks that were spotted out to me dazzled and shone. The Tower Bridge, of course, the City Hall designed by Norman Foster and, as my friend put it, a miniature of the Bundestag Dome we saw in Berlin, and the HMS Belfast right there in the centre of the river. We walked across and around the Tower of London where, along with the swarms of tourists, the sea of ceramic poppies greeted us, a recently installed commemoration of the World War I in its centenary year.

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City Hall, HMS Belfast, the sights and sounds of the river...

City Hall, HMS Belfast, the sights and sounds of the river…

Walking around the Tower of London.  I was here 15 years ago...

Walking around the Tower of London. I was here 15 years ago…

The poppies...oh the poppies!

The poppies…oh the poppies! Blood red and stunning

Caught the Shard between the turrets! It's Renzo Piano's latest addition to London's skyline

Caught the Shard between the turrets! It’s Renzo Piano’s latest addition to London’s skyline

A surprising detour through the upmarket St Katherine Docks where the Queen’s gilded boat rests and where I was amused to see The Dickens Inn, rebuilt in the style of a 17th century timber-framed building and apparently inaugurated by the famous writer’s grandson. That the author spent a part of his life in this part of London is well-known but it was had to reconcile the images of Dickensian London in my head with the extensively redeveloped swank sights before me!

No longer serene, but still quaint, St Katherine's is a lovely little marina, apparently the playground of the rich and famous

No longer serene, but still quaint, St Katherine’s is a lovely little marina, apparently the playground of the rich and famous

err....like the Queen, whose gilded craft is on the right side of this pic

err….like the Queen, whose gilded craft is on the right side of this pic

Ceramic panels we walked by...

Ceramic panels we walked by…

Posing in front of the Dickens'

Posing in front of the Dickens’

An aside: A lovely little fountain and a peaceful square. Seeing the city through a local's eye is the BEST way to do so!

An aside: A lovely little fountain and a peaceful square. Seeing the city through a local’s eye is the BEST way to do so!

No, can't wipe the smile off!

No, can’t wipe the smile off!

And thus, after being introduced to this delightful part of London, I dragged my jet-lagged self back at last night, happily tired and looking forward to more good times here!

 

 

Documenting grief: A grey area?

A young girl I knew died recently. She had a short, tragic and extremely painful experience with cancer and being present for her cremation was one of the most poignant and emotionally intense experiences of my lifetime. Call it a miracle that God gifted us, but I found it more painful that my memories of my own father’s passing, which have faded and acquired a patina of sweet and self-indulgent nostalgia over time.

At the cremation, some relatives were busy taking videos and pictures of the entire ceremony on a smart phone. Initially, they were unabashed but our shocked and angry stares made them do it surreptitiously, for a bit, till they stopped altogether. That got me thinking about a bunch of stuff. About the appropriateness and ethics associated with documenting the experience of extreme grief and anguish. About how the availability of technology can mess with our minds.

And yet, some of the best portraits I have seen, and even taken, are those that capture a moment of grief, or that have been taken when someone is recalling a past experience that was painful.

It’s a grey area from an ethical perspective. I see grief as one of the most normal and beautiful of human experiences. I don’t consider it taboo to capture it, share it, relive it even. And yet, its a tight rope walk to decide when it is ok and when the act of documentation can cross the lines of comfort and propriety.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weaving traditions of Tamilnadu

ramblinginthecity:

And a post about handloom saris in the Chettinad…also on mum’s blog.

Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:

Every region of this country has its own unique weaving traditions. Many of us who grew up wearing cotton sarees through the hot and long summers, came to recognize the origins from the design, style and texture of the weave. From the Muga and Eri silks of Assam, the Chanderis,  Benarsi, Paithani, Kanchipurams – the list can go on and on. And buying a saree in the local weave is on the agenda, where ever I travel in the country. So, our travel in Tamilnadu led us to the local weavers.

Hand looms are an integral part of the livelihood in many of the villages and towns in and around Kumbakonam, Thanjavur etc. So in Kumbakonam, we visited the house of Mr Kamsan,  who had his loom in the front verandah of his house. Hand weaving is the family tradition, and he now has 60 odd looms around Kumbakonam. These…

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Hand made in India

ramblinginthecity:

Hand-crafted things are beautiful. In India, there’s something earthy and exquisite everywhere you look! Here’s a post from my mum on Tanjavur’s paintings and tile work!

Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:

Handicrafts are a great tradition in our country and every region has something unique on offer. These have been beautifully described in an exhaustive book Handmade in India, by two NID, Ahmedabad Professors. My recent sojourn through Tamilnadu took me to Thanjavur and Karaikuri.  Thanjavur is rich in handicraft traditions, being famous for the wooden Tanjore doll, (the one which shakes all over, if touched), bronze statuary (which they have been making since the Chola times), bell metal lamps, art plates and of course the well recognized Thanjavur painting.

The Tanjore doll, which adorns the front of many South Indian restaurants held no attraction. Neither did the brass statuary or lamps, which I already had at home. So after the visit to the temples and other sites, we made it to a recommended Thanjavur painting center. Mr Ganesh of the Balaji Arts and Crafts was a pleasant young man…

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Accepting mental illness without judgement #internationalyouthday #mentalillness

I remember her as unpredictable, but affectionate. She would have very dark moods, but she could also make me laugh. She was so much older than me, yet I thought of her as my playmate, my friend and someone who would protect me, no matter what! One day, I remember she looked at my hand and said, “I am darker than you. See?” And then she slapped me, just like that, without warning! I was seven. The tears sprang into my eyes, but I did not complain. I knew she didn’t mean to hurt me.

Mangal was my father’s first cousin. She was independent and smart, full of life but gradually, over the years, the demons seized her. Diagnosed to be schizophrenic, she drifted further and further from ‘normal’ as the years went by, till she finally gave up and passed away in her forties.

But back then, in those early days of her disease cycle, we bonded. On the streets of Mumbai- in her house in Andheri, at our home in Parel, on Juhu Beach. Walking together and laughing, staying home and playing make believe games, sitting around Ajjee (my grandmother) and helping her with her work. On some days, she would be full of angst and pain, and I can still hear her voice ringing out at the unfairness of what she was experiencing! “Why me, Aati?,” she would say, addressing my Ajjee. “You tell your God to make me all right. I don’t want to be sick like this. I also want to get married, have children, I also want to go to work, have friends. Why me, Aati?”

My parents, as doctors, were the natural port of call for every emergency and every incident related to Mangal’s schizophrenia. I saw a lot up close, first hand. As a child, my family did not need to teach me to accept. The acceptance was built into the fabric of my family.  I am sure there were some who were mean, but in my immediate surroundings, I only saw people being kind to Mangal, inadvertently teaching me the most valuable lessons about empathy.

Years later, I would visit Mangal and find it hard to get through. After my marriage, when Udai was born. She would refuse to speak with me and if she even looked at me, I would see the pain in her eyes.

Today, as we reflect on our attitudes to mental diseases specifically as part of celebrating the International Day of Youth, I am thinking of the value Mangal brought to my life and the enormous courage it took for her and her family to face the realities of a mental condition. I think of the happy times, the insane giggling fits and family outings, and I resolve to be there for others like my parents were there for Mangal.

As a dear friend mentioned on her FB page today, sometimes all we need is someone to talk to. Here’s hoping we can create more neutral and non-judgmental spaces, more opportunities for young people to share what they feel.

Another thing. One of the things that struck me most about the Nazi xenophobia was the elimination of the mentally ill. No, those with mental conditions need our support and acceptance, not our hatred or violence. I experienced this first hand as a child with Mangal’s story. And I know it made me a better person.

Note: Quotes in the piece are translations from Konkani, in which Mangal and me spoke back then. And Ajee too, even now!

And apologies for the slightly disjointed, hurried, emotional post today. I’m wanting to go look for a picture of Mangal’s. Wondering where to find it!

Happy apple days are back again! #farmfresh #pahari #apples

The first time I witnessed the pahari’s passionate relationship with the apple was way back in the mid ’90s. I was in the hostel and all the pretty girls from Shimla would bring back crates of apples with them when the new session started in August each year. Then they would proceed to lovingly polish these divine fruits off, some generous enough to share, others crunching away after the roomie had dropped off to sleep! My friend Charu was thankfully the sharing kind and I had the fortune to revise my opinion of the apple. Until then, I had eaten the ones we get in the market and the taste of Charu’s apples was a million times better.

Back then, we did not get the imported apples in the markets where we lived in Lucknow. So my mother waited eagerly for the apple season in Himachal to begin. My parents had lived in Chandigarh for many years and they had developed a taste for fresh Himachali apples, my father having a weakness for the golden apples. In those pre-globalisation days, Indians still ate fruits seasonally, and personally I think each fruit was special because we learnt to associate it with certain memories, certain routines–the mango with the summer vacations, for instance and the orange with the winter sunshine!

Nowadays, fruits we buy from the markets in Gurgaon are usually a disappointment. Local produce is hard to find and it’s got to the point when you can taste the chemicals in what you eat! Apples are particularly problematic. My kids love them and it breaks my heart to feed them peeled (because the skins are so waxy) and often soft apples, which the poor darlings eat happily because they don’t know any better!

And so, a few years ago, when a friend mentioned that he’s getting apples from his organic orchards in Himachal, I was hoping he’d be as generous as my friend Charu had been. He did better and sold me an entire box! We had an apple party, called everyone we knew home to taste apples, sent a couple to our neighbours and everyone reminisced about their own memories of the ‘happy apple’ days of yore!

Well, I’m glad to tell you that the ‘happy apple’ days are about to be back for my family. Saazid sent me these pics on my phone a few days ago, knowing my mouth will water.

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To tell you a bit more, Saazid is my “cool farmer” friend, by his own description. He is passionate about farming and dairy without additives and chemicals and has helped his father transform his family’s apple orchards up in Kotgarh into something they are very proud of today. The story goes like this.

The apple trees on their land were planted by Saazid’s grandfather in the early 1900s, who was one of the first to do so in that area. In the ’90s, Saazid tells me, Dayal Orchards faced a crisis. Climate change meant a sudden drop in production. As the century turned, Saazid finished his education and came back the farm full of fresh ideas. “Given the circumstances, I knew I had to do something different,” he says. “The various sprays we were working with had to stop and we decided to take the orchard back to what it was till the ’80s. We revived older practices and we now have the satisfaction of producing healthier apples, devoid of chemicals,” he adds.

Today, Saazid is looking to bridge the gap between the farmer and the consumer. For fresh produce, this ‘last mile challenge’ is important and the world over, farmer’s markets have sprung up to address this gap. In the absence of adequate institutional mechanisms to do so, Dayal Orchards has decided to ahead on its own, and is reaching out to consumers in the NCR area who value the quality of the produce and are willing to pay a premium for it.

Now I know that many of us sit on the fence with ‘organic’ food, understanding its value but not quite biting the bullet and paying more for the quality we want. Also, in my experience, sometimes the quality doesn’t match the claims made. But in this instance, I’ve experienced the quality first hand.

So I’m thrilled to have ordered my box of farm fresh apples this season. I can’t wait to hear that crunchy sound and taste the juicy bits of apple. And I’m looking forward to the delight on the faces of my children when they do the same!

If you are in the NCR and want to reach Saazid, reach out to his FB page and he will be happy to answer your queries.

The great living Chola temples – another heritage site

ramblinginthecity:

The heritage in India never fails to boggle the mind! A delve into the Chola temples….

Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:

Its been over a year since my visit to Bhimbetaka  near Bhopal – which was no 18 on list of 23 World heritage cultural sites . And this time, I could make it to Thanjavur to see the Chola temples. We took the train to Kumbakonam – a 6 hr journey – and stayed at one of the new eco-resorts in the area. The site includes three great 11th  and 12th century Shiva Temples built by the Cholas: the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram.

On the first evening, we visited Gangaikonda Cholapuram. The temple was  built by Rajendra I (1012 -1044 CE) the son of Raja Raja Chola  following his  great victorious march to river Ganges. He assumed the name of Gangaikonda Cholan (the Chola who had seen the Ganga) and  hence the name. The structure was completed in…

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Camera capers: Inside the stunning Bundestag Dome in #Berlin

I had pre-booked our visit to the famous new dome built over the Bundestag in Berlin. Designed by Norman Foster, this was my must-see in the city from an architectural perspective and I had been warned about the need to pre-book and be there on time by fellow travel enthusiasts. And so, on the morning of our appointment, my travel anxiety kicked in full swing. I was impatient with the kids and Rahul, urging them to get ready fast and walk fast. We reached late and had some difficulties finding the right entrance to the building. For a while, I really thought we had missed our slot. I was a dour and unlikable person until we actually stepped into the premises of the Bundestag (also known as the Reichstag), when I finally permitted myself to breathe easy and smile!

This is where the German Parliament works from, the seat of power and a powerful symbol of democracy for a nation that has seen a tumultuous recent past. Moreover, the building burnt down during the Nazi regime (1933, blamed on Communists despite little evidence) and the open space around has been the site of many protests and political gatherings. Truly a witness to Berlin’s ups and downs, the new dome designed by Foster is perceived as a symbol of unified Germany, one that has given the building a fresh lease of life and a sense of joy and purpose.

I was very excited to be here, and once I was in, it was my relationship with my camera that took over, as Rahul and the kids faded slowly out for me (they were busy with their own audio guides, which were so excellent that even the kids could independently explore the dome for over an hour!). So many aspects of this magnificent glass dome are fascinating- the way it channels light into the Parliament hall below, the double helix ramps that take you to the top, the opening at the top that let the refreshing summer air in along with some raindrops when we were up there, the clarity of the glass that offers the most fantastic view of Berlin….I could go on and on, but I’ll let the pictures tell you more!

 

On our way...The Dome is somewhere behind there, the angle doesn't offer that view

On our way…The Dome is somewhere behind there, the angle doesn’t offer that view

The clouds above made for a dramatic view of the large grounds in front of the Bundestag

The clouds above made for a dramatic view of the large grounds in front of the Bundestag

Inside the Dome. Seriously, an architectural photographer's dream come true!

Inside the Dome. Seriously, an architectural photographer’s dream come true!

From the ramp looking at the hall below where an exhibition of photographs contextualised the building we were in

From the ramp looking at the hall below where an exhibition of photographs contextualized the building we were in

The fantastic funicular that has a set of mirrors to channel natural light into the Parliament hall below and the screen that can move around the dome to block out light that is not required

The fantastic funicular that has a set of mirrors to channel natural light into the Parliament hall below and the screen that can move around the dome to block out light that is not required

Fun with the mirrors! Spot me :)

Fun with the mirrors! Spot me :)

More fun with reflections!

More fun with reflections!

Another fun angle!

Another fun angle! The views outside were stunning too

As sen through the glass with the droplets of rain on it, Berlin looked ethereal

As seen through the glass with the droplets of rain on it, Berlin looked ethereal and even unreal

Right at the top

Right at the top

The effect of the glass dome on the kids was interesting. They were enchanted and engrossed in the audio guide, which was simple and easy to follow, with interesting tidbits but not too much chatter!

Moments for contemplation: The effect of the glass dome on the kids was interesting. They were enchanted and engrossed in the audio guide, which was simple and easy to follow, with interesting tidbits but not too much chatter!

The Dome in its entirety as seen from the terrace ouside. We walked out into sunshine and a rain drenched bright sky!

The Dome in its entirety as seen from the terrace outside. We walked out into sunshine and a rain drenched bright sky!

The kids grabbing the sunshine and a bite to eat

The kids grabbing the sunshine and a bite to eat

Look at the architectural variety Berlin has to offer!

Look at the architectural variety Berlin has to offer!

 

I was pretty satiated when I bid my adieu to the Dome

I was pretty satiated when I bid my adieu to the Dome

We joined the throng of happy tourists outside!

We joined the throng of happy tourists outside!

Last peak as we carried on to another destination, another experience in this beautiful city

Last peak as we carried on to another destination, another experience in this beautiful city