Author Archives: ramblinginthecity
Sharing two pieces that highlight the stressful relationship that women seem to have with the institution of marriage. This Quartz piece from China that tells the story of married women who condone and finance criminal acts to eliminate their husbands’ mistresses puts the spotlight on an uncomfortable fact: that marriage is about social sanction and financial security. What about love, companionship, trust?
The other piece from The Guardian highlights this same stressful relationship that women have with marriage, but in the light of Muslim women in India who live in perpetual fear of “talaq, talaq, talaq” from husbands whose motivations to remain married to them are often purely exploitative in nature.
That women should be so dependent on marriage for their security in an age where more women are financially independent (not nearly enough though!) is a travesty. That women should constantly live in fear of the consequences of a failed marriage is also a sad reality, and it’s not just poor women we’re talking about here.
I’m sure men too are stressed about marriage and the responsibilities that come with it and that could be fodder for another conversation, but surely the idea is to move towards a social structure in which marriage is a matter of choice for both men and women and not a social tick mark burdened with so much expectation and anxiety?
This post is a teaser to entice you into submitting an entry to #TheCityasMuse Contest I’m running on this blog. There are more to come. I’m jumping at the chance to bring my favourite descriptions and narrations of cities from a variety of authors of different genres and nationalities. Hope you enjoy these…and may the words fly from your pen (or keyboard) soon!
I’ve recently completed re-reading the first two books of Amitava Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy in preparation to read the last and final one, Flood of Fire. I’ve been fascinated by his description of Fanqui Town outside of Canton, where foreign traders were permitted to set up enclaves while they were forbidden to enter the actual city. Ghosh describes this small and intensely colourful microcosm of the world through the eyes of various characters very different from each other. Set during the 1830s, at a time when colonialism was at its peak and trade via sea flourished, here are some excerpts from Ghosh’s 2nd book of the trilogy, River of Smoke.
This excerpt is from one of the letters that Robin Chinnery, a Bengali-speaking illegitimate son of a British painter self-exiled in Macau, to his lady friend Paulette, the Bengali-speaking orphaned daughter of a French botanist, both having been friends during their childhood in Calcutta. Robin wrote:
“And so at last to the foreign enclave- or ‘Fanqui-town’ as I have already learnt to call it! It is the farthest extremity of the city, just beyond the citadel’s south-western gate. In appearance Fanqui-town is not at all what you might expect; indeed it is so different from what I had envisioned that it fair took my breath away! I had imagined the factories would be prettily primped with a few Celestial touches- perhaps a few curling eaves or pagoda-like spires like those that so beguile the eyes in Chinese paintings. But if you could see the factories for yourself, Puggly dear, I warrant they would remind you rather of pictures of places that are very far away- Vermeer’s Amsterdam or even… Chinnery’s Calcutta. You would see a row of buildings with columns, capitals, pilasters, tall windows and tiled roof. Some have colonnaded verandahs, with the same khus-khus screens you see in India: if you half close your eyes you could think yourself to be on the Strand, in Calcutta, looking at the bankshalls and daftars of the big English trading houses. The colous are quite different though, brighter and more varied: from a distance the factories look like stripes of paint against the grey walls of the citadel………..
……..I am getting ahead of myself: I have yet to bring you to Fanqui-town’s landing ghat, which is called- and this is true I swear- ‘Jackass Point’ (the fabled Man-Town must, in other words, be entered through the point of Jack’s Unspeakable). Yet this suppository is no different from our Calcutta landing ghats. There is no jetty- instead there are steps, sticky with mud from the last high tide (yes, my darling Puggleshwaree, the Pearl, like our beloved Hooghly, rises and falls twice a day). But even in Calcutta I have never witnessed such a goll-maul as there is at Jackass Point: so many people, so much bobbery, so much hulla-gulla, so many coolies, making such a tamasha of fighting over your bags and bowlas. I counted myself fortunate in being able to steer mine towards a lad with a winning smile, one Ah Lei (why so many Ahs, you might ask, and never any Oohs? On the streets of Macau too you will come across innumerable young men who will pass themselves off as ‘Ah Man, or ‘Ah Gan’ and the like, and if ever you should ask what the ‘Ah!’ signifies you will learn that in Cantonese, as in English, this vocable serves no function other than that of clearing the throat. But just because the bearers of the ‘Ah’ are usually young, or poor, you must not imagine that they possess no other name. In their other incarnations they may well be known as ‘Fire Breathing Dragon or ‘Tireless Steed’- whether accurately ot not only their Wives and Friends will know).”
I watched Masaan six days ago and my brain is still processing it. That’s the way the narrative is fed to the viewer, slowly and subtly in even measures; loaded with detail and yet very clean and sharp. I haven’t seen a film with so much clarity in a long time.
Masaan is a film about hope, not despair. It’s about the ability that humans have to rise above the depths of grief and anguish. It spoke to me because it underscored that the plunge into the abyss is but part of the experience of life. And death, that too is just what it is. Nothing more, nothing less.
In particular, I liked that the women in Masaan are stolid and yet ordinary. In Devi’s (played by Richa Chadha) silence- one that has been interpreted widely as strength- I saw simply a profound grief. At losing her love, at being deeply misunderstood and wrongly accused. In Shaalu’s recognition of Deepak’s sincerity (played by Shweta Tripathi and Vicky Kaushal respectively) and her courage in wanting to overcome what certainly are overwhelmingly large taboos of caste, I see a rare independence and ability to take risk. These are strong women emerging from the deeply conservative landscape of a small city; they forge an independent path without an iota of self-consciousness. How can they not make a profound impact?
Deepak’s story is the stuff of inspiration. Despite numerous obstacles and a debilitating experience of personal loss, he perseveres to make himself and his family proud by being the first to rise beyond his low-caste occupation and get a white collar job. What makes Masaan special though, is that its the small details that come back to you later. In all the light-hearted banter of Deepak’s friends circle and in the midst of the masculinity exhibited by the small town male- roadside flirtations, catcalls and comments, social media stalking- there is also the space for a heart-rending outpouring of his grief. I appreciated that nuance shown in the relationships between young men even more perhaps because of the stereotypical portrayal of youth in Hindi cinema.
And then there is the river. The Ganga. As a vessel of sorrow, as a rejuvenator, a forger of destinies and above all, a harbinger of hope. The quality of cinematography in Masaan played no small role in highlighting the poetic parallels between the river and the ebb and flow of life.
Of all Udai’s writings, I’ve enjoyed this the most. He really wanted to write about b**g*rs!!
Originally posted on theamazingud:
I was born in somebody’s nostrils. A dark, damp place filled with our homes. When I slept I dreamt of light. I thought that my home was peaceful and I would live forever in this place.
But the next day I saw the monstrous thing. It picked up my brother. ‘It’s going to eat him up’, I thought. It flicked my brother on to the carpet. ‘How rude!’ I thought. I found that this monstrous thing or ‘the finger’ won’t leave us alone.
One day I woke up to find myself in the gutter. I stayed there for weeks and weeks. I was saved by water missiles that poured down from the skies. Next day ice and water missiles rained from the skies. I saw a massive strangely shaped giant running. Those missiles must be deadly for him to be in such a hurry.
After some months, the…
View original 44 more words
Udai pens down his recent gastronomical journey to Matia Mahal during Ramzan…. Enjoy and yes, your mouth will water!
Originally posted on theamazingud:
Ramzan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. In this month, every able-bodied man, woman and teenager is supposed to fast. From dawn to sunset nothing is allowed to touch their tongues. After seeing the moon and doing Namaz they can eat whatever they want till sunrise.
A few weeks ago, I went to Old Delhi to try all the various delicacies made during Ramzan. I went by metro with my father’s friend Ruzeveh. The metro was very, very crowded. My father was waiting for me when I got to the Chowri Bazaar metro station. We walked till Jama Masjid and after some time entered Matiah Mahal.
We had seekh kebabs and beef boti at Lalu Kebabee; brain curry, tandoori roti and Nihari at Haji Shabrati; biryani at Tofiq Biryani; mango ice-cream, and kesar milk and Firni at a shop opposite Karim’s. We drank lassi at Khabo Lassi too. I liked…
View original 42 more words
Earlier this month, I traveled out for work. This wasn’t your usual work trip, but a retreat to help some of us unplug from the humdrum routine to think of more strategic matters. And what other place but the mighty Himalayas to make the brain go into overdrive. Fresh and clean air and lush greenery, occasional showers and the mist rolling into the conference room…could one ask for more?
I had my own personal challenge to overcome on this trip. I’ve recently undergone surgery on my knee to reconstruct a torn ligament. Weeks have gone by with limited movement, extreme caution, pain. Shoghi (located a little short of Shimla in Himachal Pradesh) signified RISK….and risk brings in a certain excitement, an element of challenge.
When we reached Shoghi after a train ride and a taxi drive steeply uphill, the clouds were building up and threatening to rain. The walk from the reception to the room was steeply uphill and I laboured upward, taking one step at a time, praying the ground would not be slippery. I texted home: This was a bad decision!
But over the next two days, I learnt to negotiate the slopes. I set my own pace. I asked for support and help. In between the most productive work discussions, I doodled furiously, as I do when my brain is on overdrive. The adrenalin was pumping through me and the confidence (which had taken a wee hit in the weeks before though my optimist hadn’t!) went up and up.
A change of scene can do wonders and the Shoghi sojourn proved that for me. I returned calmer and surer of myself, snapped out of my ‘patient’ mode and stopped cutting myself slack on account of by health. I re-introduced elements of my regular routine (dropping kids to school, the little errands and household chores). I feel so much more hopeful now.
Sharing some misty images and doodles from the trip…..
The hilly states of India have had a long history of out-migration. In Uttarakhand, officials in the smallest towns and district capitals cite palaayan (migration) as a top concern. Farmers talk about falling productivity, climate change and poor connectivity to markets and youth rue the lack of employment opportunities for them in and near their villages. The sense one gets from conversations is that migration is not always a matter of choice, the city is not necessarily seen as a place of opportunity and that there are many young men (and increasingly women) who would rather live closer to home if they were able to access non-farm jobs.
Development to fight out-migration hasn’t yielded the best results
A key aspect of the hilly region’s bid to disengage from Uttar Pradesh through a long separatist struggle that lasted through the ‘90s and resulted in Statehood in the year 2000 was the concern that focused resources and strategies were required to develop the region and strengthen it economically so that people are not forced to migrate out to earn a basic living. The strategy of fighting out-migration with development has, therefore, been part of the Uttarakhand’s DNA since inception.
However, Uttarakhand’s initial successes have yielded intense development in its non-hilly foothill regions. The Census 2011 shows high growth in decadal population in the four districts of Dehradun (32.5 percent), Hardwar (33.1 percent), Udhan Singh Nagar (33.4 percent) and Naini Tal (25.2 percent) that have much of their land areas in the plains. On the other hand, population in the hilly districts like Chamoli (5.6 percent) and Rudraprayag (4.1 percent) has grown slowly or been in the negative as in the case of Garhwal (-1.50 percent) and Almora (-1.73 percent)!
Can strategic investments impact migration patterns?
Last month, the Chief Minister Harish Rawat launched 15 new development projects worth Rs 62 crore that include road upgrades, pumping of drinking water and housing. While these development projects follow the old mantra of using development to fight out-migration, they seem to be wisely located projects in remote hilly locations like Pithoragarh.
Similar timely interventions are required to develop quality educational skill development infrastructure, encourage entrepreneurship and invite private sector investment in hilly regions. While value-added agricultural initiatives like floriculture and cultivation of exotic vegetables has taken off in many parts of the State and the tourism sector is a large employer, service sector jobs created by rural BPOs are also making inroads here. How do these investments impact migration in the State?
Narendra Nagar case study reveals migration decisions are complex, rational
Detailed interviews conducted in 2014 with employees of eGramServe, a rural BPO located in the Nagar Panchayat of Narendra Nagar, Tehri Garhwal, reveal that decisions regarding migration are complex and rational. When a new opportunity emerges in their vicinity, it compels young people to rethink their alternatives and opens new avenues that are alternatives to the dominant pattern of out-migration.
The study found that while aspiration is still strongly connected with migration to the city, imagined as a place of opportunity and also risk, educated youth from rural areas around Narendra Nagar, find themselves unable to or unwilling to migrate far away from their villages in pursuit of a better life. Young people in Narendra Nagar viewed a business like eGramServe as an opportunity to work in an IT-related job that they perceived as respectable and exciting without the need to migrate out in pursuit of one. They also saw it as a learning platform and stepping stone to something better.
With the Internet and mobile telecommunication easily and cheaply available, young people have considerable access to information about opportunities and hardships in the big city. These information flows impact their perceived value of migration, which in turn comes out of an analysis of the expected returns and costs of migration. The respondent analysis clearly shows that while the expected returns of a better job and better lifestyle come with risks, young people are able to identify several tangible and intangible costs of migration that urge them to remain closer to their families.
The responsibility of taking care of aging parents and dependent family members, for instance, was recognised as an inhibitor to out-migration for instance. Said Manvir, a 19-yr old boy, “There is a responsibility (upon us), we have to understand that. The family also needs us. If we go away, how will they manage?” Poor quality of nutrition and low-quality living environment in the city was another. Shakuntala, a young woman who was pursuing her MA while she worked in eGramServe and who lives with her family in Narendra Nagar said, “Here (in Narendra Nagar) I can eat well, home food is good. We like our dal chawal roti (simple food).”
Many rural youth feel passionate about bringing development to their villages. They want to return to their villages where they can live on their own land and wish for new kinds of livelihood that complement their agricultural earnings. They see the option of migrating out as a betrayal of what they believe in and hope for. Ajay Negi, who commuted to Narendra Nagar from his village every day to work in eGramServe and was also enrolled in college in NN expressed this conflict well. “I don’t like the idea of going out. People from the village are selling their land, but others are protesting new developments being proposed here by investors from the city. I want to stay here to be part of that movement. Maybe I can somehow save my family from misfortune and ensure their survival,” he said. His passion is reminiscent of the passion that marked the many years of Uttarakhand’s struggle for autonomy.
Understanding youth motivations, developing small cities key to influencing migration patterns
These perspectives run contrary to the larger and rather simplistic understanding of migration as something desirable to educated young people from rural India. The Narendra Nagar case study highlighted the need to listen carefully to these alternative voices. To me, they seem to be saying something important. By tapping into these perspectives, it could be possible to be more strategic about future investments and planned development in the hills of Uttarakhand. It would also be possible for this bountiful hilly State to reposition its small towns as critical conduits for development and migration.
Narendra, who worked in eGramServe in a supervisory role, the development of strategic opportunities in urban locations in proximity to the rural hinterland could trigger return migration as well. “Now I am nearer village,” Narendra told me, “its easier for me to stay in touch (with my family), attend to their needs. I can even manage much better in terms of expenses.” Narendra is also more hopeful about the development that has come to Uttarakhand and the Garhwal region and sees his return migration as his contribution to the positive changes in and around his home.
Naik, Mukta. 2014, Vibrant small cities can keep rural youth closer to home: A case study of Narendra Nagar, Tehri Garhwal presented at a Special session on Small Cities at the Annual Conference of the RGS-IBG, 2014
Todaro, Michael P and Smith, Stephen C. 2012. Economic Development, Tenth Edition. Pearson Education
My dear friend Richa Bansal reacts to my reminiscence of the Fallen Leaves in Berlin with her own memories of an unforgettably beautiful summer sojourn in 2010.
It takes a minute and I am transported back to the moment and the turn, where I wished time stood still, and I did not have to return. I stopped, stood, felt, heard, and cherished the stillness. And still do.
Called the Coffin route, in ironic contrast to its aching beauty, the downhill walk between two of William Wordsworth’s houses—Dove Cottage (in Grasmere) and Rydal Mount (in Ambleside)—remains my favourite travel memory and instant call to solitude. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that I was an English literature undergrad, where I both studied and savoured the Romantic poets.
The Coffin route was suggested by the coach driver of the guided tour (on Day 2) in the Lake District in England where I had escaped on my 31st birthday to beat the woes of completing the first year of the dreaded thirties (feels strange when I look back now, give me the thirties any day! J).
On my birthday (Day 1), on a windy, rainy, and sunny day in July, I walked for nine hours in the rolling hills, with a walking group led by the quiet, old but energetic (who puffed on cigar to recharge himself as we kept walking) guide Mark, his dog Sky, and a lovely bunch of people I met for the first time.
Stopping by Angle Tarn for lunch, climbing to the top of Place Fell, we headed back to Windermere (where I was also staying) by late evening, exhausted but satisfied. It was my birthday—Mark offered to buy me a cider, and I bought him dinner. And that’s how I turned 31.
On the second day, while taking the touristy guided tour, and completing the circuit in a rushed manner, as I complained to the coach driver that I wanted to spend more time outside the coach than inside, and wanted to explore something offbeat, he suggested the Coffin route.
This idyllic walk connects Dove Cottage (home to William Wordsworth from 1799 to 1808) in the village of Grasmere down to Rydal Mount in Ambleside (home to William Wordsworth from 1813 to his death in 1850). In olden times, it was the route up which the dead from Rydal were taken to the St. Oswald’s Church in Grasmere, where Wordsworth is also buried.
I decided that on my third and last day, I would do it alone—start by exploring the village of Grasmere in the morning, walk down Coffin route to Rydal Mount in Ambleside post lunch, catch the bus back to Windermere, and be in time to collect my luggage and board the train back to Cambridge. I even had the bus numbers, timings, and rough location of the bus stop jotted down. It was all figured out, and I was pleased with my plan. Little did I know…
Rightly enough I started the day by heading to Grasmere (catching the bus from Windermere, which arrived as per schedule), walked around the charming village, which Wordsworth called home, visited the church and the tomb of the poet, stopped by the famous Grasmere Gingerbread Shop (where the Grasmere gingerbread was invented in 1854), and had delicious creamy risotto for lunch, before walking over to Dove Cottage. A quick tour of the Cottage had to suffice, there was no time for the detailed guided tour (made a mental note for the next time), as I left to take the Coffin route back. The part I had been most looking forward to.
When I walked out of Dove Cottage, it had started pouring (but then it was July in the Lakes), but I was not deterred. Dressed in waterproofs, armed with an umbrella, I began what I was told would be a maximum two-hour walk. As I walked down the road with trees lining both sides and meeting at the top, making a green burrow, with the sunlight filtering in gently, and a mystical feeling in the quietness that surrounded me (not a soul in sight), I could see why the place gave birth to some of the best Romantic poetry.
For the uninitiated but interested, unlike the popular consumption of the word, Romantics were moved by the sense of wonder, most often found in the sublime beauty of nature, and specifically in the case of Wordsworth, starting the creed of Pantheism (where nature becomes divine). Romanticism grew in part as a reaction to Enlightenment or the age of reason and rationalization.
Walking down the Coffin route, I passed the Moss Tarn, where a placard read Wordsworth use to ice skate in winters, a bubbling stream, small waterfalls, and yes, daffodils. And it was somewhere between all of these that the turn came—where surrounded by the hills, the dripping luminescent greenery, and the sound of raindrops, I experienced stillness, a few moments of absolute joy, a space I still visit in my mind.
I also came across a lovely Irish couple who took the only photographs of me down this road before walking on. Suddenly I realized it was almost two hours and I was nowhere near a bus-stop in Ambleside next to Rydal Mount as planned. I saw a stretch of road a short distance away, and trudged there, only to discover I had taken a wrong turn (it had felt too sharp downhill at a point) and was way ahead of Ambleside. I started walking towards Ambleside, only to reach the bus-stop much later, to discover that there was no bus for more than 30 minutes. There was no way I could make the train back to Cambridge, and I was panicking.
And as I looked around hapless, I ran into the same Irish couple whom I met on the Coffin route, and upon hearing of my predicament, the man went to the hotel, brought his car, and the couple drove me down to Windermere, helped me pick my luggage and dropped me to the train station just in time. All the way scolding me lovingly for being too adventurous on my own! I was in such a rush I forgot to even ask their full names, simply mumbling a hurried thank you and rushing to my train.
When I got back, I searched all hotels in Ambleside, and called up a few (where I thought an elderly Irish couple were likely to stay) till I found out where they were staying. I found their address in Ireland, and sent them a post card expressing my gratitude with the photographs they had taken.
My enduring memory of the trip to the Lakes will not only be defined by the jaw dropping beauty of the Coffin route (in particular, although the Lakes as a whole are stunning) but also by the touching kindness of that wonderful Irish couple. And I ascribe it again to the milieu, for beauty without brings out the beauty within, just as much as it does the other way round.
Ah June! To be grounded while I could have been traveling the world…that isn’t a good feeling. But then, there’s nothing bad about it either. As much as travel is about moving around and seeing things in the flesh, it is also about making journeys of imagination, reliving past moments and recreating them for your own pleasure.
Last year in June, we were in Europe on an idyllic vacation. The city lover in me was taking my family through some of the most spectacular sites of urbanisation in the world- Amsterdam and Berlin. Traveling in these two cities has offered me some of the most poignant moments of my life. At 16, I remember visiting the House of Anne Frank in Amsterdam and being moved to tears by what I felt inside.
At 38, I had a similarly intense moment as I turned a corner inside the Judisches Museum in Berlin to be surprised by the spectacular work of art, Shalekhet or Fallen Leaves by Menashe Kadishman. I remember gasping in surprise as I saw before me a sea of faces cut out from sheet metal. Sad faces, agonised faces, screaming faces, horrified faces, faces of despair, blank faces, tortured faces…thousands of them right there before us stretching out to what seemed like infinity.
To put things in context, a visit to the Judisches Museum designed by architect Daniel Liebskind was on my to-do list. But I’d heard extreme reactions to the building and I didn’t know what to expect. This is a structure of blacks, whites and greys. It is stark and has used sheer walls of concrete to express a deep anguish over the fate that befell the Jews at the hands of Hitler and the Nazis. But what I liked most about the building were the unusual voids- triangular spaces, spaces out of proportion, spaces with giant cut outs, spaces of deep darkness and sharp pins of light, spaces that held me spellbound.
The Shalekhet occupied one such space, very very tall and extremely narrow, as if life and happiness was being squeezed out of it. I stood there spellbound. And then, the children started to walk out onto the fallen faces strewn on the floor. I remember making a sound of protest, reaching out to stop them. But they were following an older child and I soon realised this is what the artist intended. For us to hear the clanking of the metal as people walked over the faces of all those who suffered and died, to feel that tortured sound of being in chains, of being walked over, destroyed.
For some reason, the Fallen Leaves made me think of the innocent children all over the world who are victims of violence, not just war and terror, but also beaten inside their homes or emotionally abandoned.
We’re letting them down, I thought. A year later, I’m still stung by that thought.
“Who is you best friend mumma?” Aadyaa asked me today. It’s a recurrent question, one that girls her age seem to be particularly curious about. Today, she came back with an interesting story from the park, an incident that made me really think about friendships and what they mean to us. The story, whispered in my ear as it was a ‘secret’ goes thus….
“We saw V reading something in the park. Some time later, we saw her crying and going home. Later, we found torn pieces of paper lying around. We put them together. Her group of friends had voted and decided to throw her out of their group. We found a big piece that had everyone’s signatures on it also.”
She seemed intrigued rather than upset about this. The girls she was talking about are older than her and the world of their politics is currently fascinating!
To her recurrent ‘best friend’ question, I come up with different answers everyday. I also evade and distract every now and then because it is a difficult question, isn’t it? I’m never entirely comfortable answering it….
And yet, I know I’m lucky in the friendships I’ve made and been able to keep over the years. In a moment of nostalgia and emotion, I created this little collage of my ‘besties and me’ and sent it to them. Sharing it with you and hoping that the carefree spontaneity seen in these pictures is preserved throughout our lives till we grow doddering and old…. (the pics were taken at the same occasion, we’re all either subject or photographer here…)
Now, that’s what I call friendship!