Small Beauties of Shimla that we miss…

Surplus Surprises that Shimla showers….

Shimla is unique in more than one way but only if you keep your eyes and ears open while walking the already well-treaded roads of Shimla,  who knows that you may come across a thing of beauty that may be a source of life-time of joy for you!

While visiting a tourist place during vacation the real pleasure is in roaming around on foot, watching around with a childlike curiosity and unabashed interest in all things queer and simple. I am sad when people don’t seem to look beyond what is apparent to the naked eye and go back as ignorant as they were when they reached that place.  They might take a few pictures using the famous places as the background to impress friends but they lose a lifetime opportunity to rejoice in the local flavours and simple bounties of nature.

It is spring season in Shimla and the nature is at its best to shower surplus surprises to visitors. But how sad it is that so accustomed have we become to the superficial realities that anything beyond remains un-deciphered to us. I found hordes of visitors to the famous Indian Institute of Advanced Study appreciating the historic monument. The flower beds smiling boldly with flowers of various hues, the verdant lawns, the walks around the terraced gardens! And they are not wrong as it is a scene worth watching. Even I would do the same thing during my stay at the IIAS. So focused would I be on the top of the building that somehow my eyes would  sadly miss some very fine gifts of nature that abound the vicinity of the Observatory Hill on top of which IIAS is situated.  Whichever way you select, you have to walk up to IIAS and to look around for wonders while walking up is a bonus point.  I had this blissful insight one spring morning!

It was the rhododendron flowers, red and fresh, paving the way to IIAS that made me look at the wonder of nature. These flowers added a rare red hue to the metallic black charcoaled road as if soul was added to a body. I stood in a trance-like situation and admired the beauty lying scattered under my very feet. For a moment I felt like a princess walking on a road strewn with flowers. Ah! What an adder it was to my ego. I felt and walked like a queen there after and somehow unconsciously was waiting for a bouquet of flowers coming my way! And Lo and behold I could see a shy beautiful flower smiling at me from a nook in the stone wall that sided the road. I stood mesmerized watching how life can sustain even amidst the worst of circumstances. The nook held little mud in the crevices but that was enough to put life, shy and beautiful, in a seed.

I felt humble at the power of nature and looked down. The surprise of surprise awaited me—the various hues of flowers waited to be catching attention of lost onlookers and I was surprised to see violet banafsha flower peeping from the surface.  I remembered having collected handful of banafsha flowers during my childhood.  We would bring back home small fistfuls of banafsha flowers as Amma used to say that the flower was used in concoction and was good for cold. Instinctively I tried to reach out and pluck the flower but held my hand back and left it smiling shyly from behind the leaves so that it might fill some other trotter’s heart with joy as it had filled mine.

From behind the cracks in stones came out an amalgamation of ferns, flowers and various leaves, all unique and loving. The Bittchhuputti plant still makes me shiver but the solace that antidote to it is nearby makes me assured of small wonders of nature where all things are balanced! It is a real surprise and a great lesson of life. And the Saamp ki Butti with its red shining corn would make anyone run for a cover. As these plants are seen only at an altitude similar to or above Shimla’s and as these plants appear for a very short duration, they do deserve a second look. But sadly these creations of a lesser God don’t even get a much deserved first look.

When I reached IIAS, I found, as usual, groups of tourists admiring the well-kept green lawns and the flower beds and I rued remorsefully why human mind has been so conditioned as to look for ready-made surprises instead of searching for surprises that nature so bountifully showers around us.

But then we are the cultured human beings capable for paying for retreats for our eyes and ears!

Peeping at the world of my father through his words…

When I put my hands on the Agni purana, I held it with love, delicacy and affection as it was a relic of my childhood days. its paper had yellowed, the cover had given way but the inside paper was intact. i was lovingly going through its leaves when suddenly I came across some papers inside it. as I have always believed that you can come across treasure kept secretly in big old books, with abated breath, I unfolded the papers and looked at them.

I was dumbfounded when I looked at the paper as it was in my father’s handwriting. How could I ever forget long and drawling hand that he wrote in.  The paper was sanctimonious. My father has been dead for more than twenty-one years now and holding in my hands a paper in his handwriting moved me a lot. More surprise was in store for at the revelation that this paper held. It was my father’s official communication after he had joined at Head Post office Simla in March, 1947, some five months before India became free! The fact that the paper was more than 61 years old and the ink he had used to write in was equally old, the letters on the paper were bright and illuminated the way my father always had been!

I went through the paper and two things struck me at the very start–one was the impeccable style of writing that he had and the handwriting. As a teacher of English, I always look for mistakes in any write-up so unconsciously I was searching for one in my father’s official communication  as well but amazingly found none! There were no cutting, no overwriting and no mistake–grammatical or otherwise. it becomes more important when I think that his only grouse with life had been that he was not able to continue his studies. He wanted so much to complete B.A. but had the satisfaction of having completed only F.A.! But he always wanted us, his kids, to do our best in studies and did everything possible within his means to see to it.

Holding the letter in my hands I was able to peep at the world of my father through his words! The old world charm, held in Agni Purana, opened up a barrage of emotions in my heart which I promise to write shortly!

My Stamped Impressions about Peter Ronald deSouza…

Friday, 12 November, 2010  http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20101111/himachal.htm#8

The news in the Tribune dated 11 November, 2010 about Prof deSouza getting another term as Director of the prestigious IIAS, Indian Institute of Advanced Study made me really happy. The detailed news speaks about Peter writing to Ministry of HRD much in advance to appoint someone as the new Director so that the work at the institute does not suffer owing to vacuum created after his term came to an end in December, 2010. Now this particular aspect is very important keeping in view the kind of pressure that is exerted by some other “Directors” to have an extended tenure at some other Institutes. I believe that this is an appropriate time to write a few words about my first meeting with Prof Peter Ronald deSouza at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla!

Spreading Radiance

It was in December, 2009  when Prof deSouza shared with me the good news about my selection as a Fellow at the Institute. I was so overwhelmed at the news that I must have uttered a few thank yous and the stuff but making little real conversation. What I remembered later on was only the tone and the quality of the voice which I found to be very genuine and humane. Perhaps the teacher of Communication Skills was assessing a person through his voice! If I remember correctly, it was on Monday the 28th of June, 2010 when I had the first opportunity to meet and converse with Peter, as he is affectionately called by all the Fellows and friends of IIAS. Though, I have talked much about this meeting with many of my friends but I think this is the time to share with my readers how this meeting went as it would show certain qualities that make a person a good “Director”. And don’t we all aim for excellence, may be even in words and logos perhaps!

I was in very bad shape physically, mentally and psychologically at the time when I went to Shimla on 27 June, 2010. The Institute I had worked at, whole heartedly, had shown me the door by making a peon deliver a paper at my door saying that I was not fit to be retained as an employee of that Institute. The last date to join my tenure as a Fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study was over, Rather, looking back I can see more objectively how some people had meticulously worked to see to it timed liked that. I had, simply, nowhere to go. The Institute I worked for, had done away with my services and I could not join at the Institute that had offered me Fellowship because it was late! I

I wanted to make another request to IIAS to give me some more relaxation keeping in mind the special circumstances that unabled me from joining in time. So it was under these circumstances I was to meet Prof deSouza. Ashok Sharma Ji was so very kind and helpful in arranging the meeting. I had a long talk with Sharma Ji and apprised him of all that had happened at my parent Institute. He was very sympathetic and advised  me, when I was about to go to meet Prof deSouza, to not to speak about the allegation I was implicated in. Honestly speaking, I myself was not very comfortable as my self-esteem had come down to ground zero level.

Finally at the designated time, the PS to the Director announced my arrival to him and made a sign to me to go in. Woh! the spectacle that greeted me was wonderful. Deep blue patterned, two inches thick, carpet sprawled in a similarly elegantly decorated spacious room! I looked around to see where the Director is, and I saw another spectacle that took my breath away. In a sunny beautiful small office, at the west end of the sprawling room, was another room and there stood a man whom I had seen during my presentation at Delhi. What had taken my breath away was not the grandeur of the room, which once upon a time used to be the office of the Viceroy of India, but the unassuming simplicity of the man and that he was according welcome to me by standing from his chair! Now, those of you who have any inkling about how some of us the children-of-the-lesser-god are treated at most of other places, it was nothing short of a miracle to me. To my soul, starved for some esteem and dignity, it was a very pleasant surprise. Extending his hand to take mine in his, he said, “Welcome to the Institute!” I was shaken to my very being. I was on verge of crying as such compassionate treatment and that, too, from a person I barely knew, was enough to shatter the semblance of indifference that I had tried to mask myself in. Prof deSouza asked me in a very kind voice, “Sharma ji has told me about you,” and added, “I would like to help you.” These words opened the barrage of all that was lying so heavily on my soul. I told him plainly what I have been accused of. “I have been allegedly said to have caught my Director from his collar,” I said in non-challant manner. When I uttered these words, I was fully in control of my emotion though before this moment I would start crying at the allegation that was levelled against me. I don’t know where I got all the strength from but I felt so strong. It was Peter’s comforting presence, his warmth and succour that transformed me into an epitome of strength. I told him all that had happened. The expression on his face changed from disbelief to anger for the blind system and empathy for my situation. He didn’t sympathise but he empathised. And this was what I needed at that time. “I am with you,” he said. “Fight your case and don’t ever give up,” were his words to me. He promised to take the matter of my joining at IIAS with the higher-ups and assured me of all his help.

When I had gone to his office, I was a shattered, broken and bruised person. I had lost all faith in humanity but when I came out of his office, my faith in humanity and human values had revived. I felt stronger and empowered. I knew that I had reached a place where I would get support instead of sneers. I was, suddenly, among people who seemed to be my own though I had never known them before.

So the news in the Tribune that Prof deSouza had got another term as Director of IIAS made me so happy. I am happy for the Institute as it is in good hands, in able hands that would nurture it with love and care the way they extended warm welcome to a bruised person. Thank you Kapil Sibal for this brilliant decision!

Memories and Dreams Captured on Camera…

I was watching some old pictures and came across a few of Aarush and my elder daughter. These pics were taken when she had come visiting me with Aarush.

 

Nani and Aarush

I don’t know how grandmothers acquire so much of energy and that too when they are constantly complaining of leg aches, backaches and all other aches. I never knew how could it happen. What was it that invigorated them with strength until I myself became a Nani. And I tested my strength and stamina when I was at Shimla. When my elder daughter finally planned to come to Shimla, I told her in no uncertain terms to bring Aarush’s Pram! I dreaded carrying him as I was an old woman and Shimla has so much of walking to undertake even if it meant a small walk. But when Nidhu came she had come with Aarush but sans the Pram. I was so angry with her. I was suspicious of the strength of my old muscles and bones. While my love for my grandson would make me carry him in my arms but soon i would be panting. I realized how difficult it is to carry a child even if the child is merely less than a year old and weighs just 7-8 kgs.

 

Both my daughters would dress themselves up, dressed to kill and the job of carrying Aarush would be left to my frail shoulders. In the beginning it was a bit hard but gradually my muscles and bones regained their strength. But looking back and especially at the pictures, i find that I loved it, loved it more than I ever said. Aarush would cuddle close to me and watch curiously at a new world sprawled before his tender eyes. He would listen to endless tales that I had to share. Watching some pics, I realize as if he understood it all. He would laugh when I had something interesting to share but would scowl when I would tell him a tale of my pain.

 

No Generation Gap

And the best of the pics is when I had taken him to my most revered aunty living in lower Bazaar. I had grown up, listening to stories about Shimla, at her feet and that day when Aarush sat in her lap, it was  blissful moment for me. Aarush seemed to understand the deep relationship that I nurtured with my aunty and sat so quiet while with her. From the window of her room, he looked out, the way long back his Nani used to look at the Arya Samaaj School and the lively Lower Bazaar. And today watching all those pics, I am regaling old memories and weaving new dreams at the same time. Life goes on and on. Perhaps some day Aarush would read all what I write today!

 

I salute the Indian Tricolour…

Everyday I would watch with admiration our National Flag atop this magnificent building and would salute it silently. It would provide me with the strength of mind which I needed so much. With added vigour and moral strength I would take up the tasks at hand. I wanted to go up and see from a very close angle the Indian Flag. So one day I decided to do so.Viceregal Lodge Shimla

The day was sunny and bright. With excitement filled in my heart, I was climbing up and up the building that, once upon a time, was the symbol of British power in India. Yes, you have guessed it right, I was climbing towards the Flag post on the top of the Viceregal Lodge to see closely the object of my veneration. The Indian Tricolour, pride and glory of our nation.

I had watched this flag everyday, from afar and today when I was going up, my heart was filled with childlike excitement who had got the biggest prize on the world.

The view from the top of Viceregal Lodge

I was simply ecstatic! The world seemed so different from this height. I remember having read in a book that of all the seven hills in and aroud Simla of the yore, the Viceregal Lodge was constructed at a place that commanded the best view of the vast expanse of land around Simla! I could see it around me. I was standing so close to our National Flag, closest that I could ever be and the fact that this special Flag flew proud and dignified on this building, made me exceptionally blessed. I could only imagine the proud moments when this Flag must have replaced the British Flag after independence. How blissful and glorious must have been those moments. I could imagine the sacrifice of innumerable people that made this unrealistic dream come true. I saluted the Flag and pledged to keep its dignity forever intact!

The Multi-hued Clouds Overcasting the Sky…

The light seeping in my room changed to a golden hue which really surprised me and I rushed out in the open verandah. The light was emitting from the evening Sun that had a golden haze around it and the clouds over it made the filtered effect of light look plainly majestic. I rushed for my camera and was able to capture a few brilliant shots. Well, I correct myself, I think them to be brilliant.

The Indian Tricolour, in the golden hue, looked bewitching. And the Observatory House on the other side which we call Guest House also presented a heavenly picture. The myriad hues of the Sun added glow of life to the structures of stone. Strange are the ways of nature to show its power, brilliance and benevolence.

And just now when I looked at the sky, it was coloured in a different hue!

Camaraderie: A Practice not an Exception at IIAS

09 August, 2010

Monday

It was 3:50p.m. on Tuesday the 9th of March when coming out of the cafe that I clicked this picture. I clicked it just like that with no particular intention other than capturing a picture of a colleague and a friend that I had known only for some more than six months. It was a time to say goodbye to him as he had to leave. Farewells are pretty common over here. We had arranged an informal one at the Cafe!

But I was sad, very sad. I just wondered what made me feel the loss of this companionship though here at IIAS it is only at the regular seminars that we often meet. At all other times everyone is busy in his/her own pursuit of ideas and thoughts that there are no gup-shups over cups of tea that are so very common in many Academic institutes. Not so long age, I, too, had my own share of gossips that would make my day. But no longer do I enjoy all those dilly-dallying over trifling matters when there is so much of serious matter to be pursued.

I don’t know whether I have changed or the circumstances have changed but either way the new-found friends have taught me the real purpose of life. Watching this picture I miss the silent yet strong presence of my colleagues who have made a mark in the world of scholarship yet they are so down to earth. This chance picture shown four of my friends and out of these four three have completed their term and have left the institute but each one of them was different and had a personal attribute that made each of them stand apart from the crowd. Perhaps some other day I would write about each of them but today it is suffice to say that IIAS stands for camaraderie that makes it unique!

Dreams are the Stuff we are Made up of…

Everyday when I climb up to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, I keep awaiting for the sight of majestic Indian Tricolour flying high atop, higher than the insignias of the British Raj, carved in timeless stone!

This sight makes my day!  I wonder at the amount of sacrifice that has gone into realising this dream of the multitude of Indians for whom watching tricolour on Viceregal Lodge, if not unattainable, was difficult to attain. I stand admiring the courage and valour of those Indians whose unfailing faith in human audacity made it possible.

And the fact that I stand watching the Indian Tricolour as a Fellow of the Institute makes me doubly believe in the possibilities of realizing what seems, at one time, a difficult dream. I have learnt the importance of dreaming big! Though honestly speaking,  it was not even a dream as I never acknowledged  even to myself that such a dream could be a reality for me! The whole saga seems like a fairytale come true to me. At the resent point in time when I can reflect back on many happenings of my life with a detached objectivity, I can see the importance of even a small unintentional idea that infiltrates our psyche though we never know of its existence. I never knew that I carried the seed of a stray idea that my little brain carried for such a long time till it became a reality!

During the early seventies when my father joined as a postmaster at the Chaura Maidan Post office in Shimla, the new residence on the upper storey of the Chaura Maidan Post office building brought so many changes in our life.  Having shifted from the congested but lively and bubbling-with-life Lower Bazaar neighbourhood, where I had lived for seventeen years of my life, the new residence was a blissfully spacious and peaceful abode. Far from the maddening crowds of the Lower Bazaar, the spacious accommodation filled my life with more of vacant space as I sought human company which sadly this accommodation failed to provide as there was no neighbourhood to talk of. My only pastime used to be gazing at persons who would walk through the road in front of my new home! To compensate for the lack of human companionship I would sometimes overhear some of them talking while standing outside the Post-office building. So much so that I had come to recognise many persons only by watching them from behind the windows. The funniest part was that these people would never know that they were being watched and overheard!

As I am talking of an era which can best be described as the post era as connectivity to other places for sending messages was only through the epistles and post-office was an important and happening institution in the life of all. I would watch the visitors to the Post-office and would weave stories about them in my imagination. There was one such person who would come quite often to the post-office. She was a very graceful middle aged woman, with a pleasant countenance and confident looks. Who could be she? A Woman coming regularly to Post-office was not a very common sight in the early seventies! “Who is the graceful woman who comes so often to the Post-office?” I asked my father one day. “She is a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study!” said my father in awe. His voice full of admiration, regard and genuine respect made me think that whatever she does must be something of great import which has earned such admiration from my father. “What does she do at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study?” I asked in genuine bewilderment. “She writes” and added, “she does advanced research”, looking at me with a wistful strange gaze. I was seventeen years of age and had recently started college life. I was too naive to have seen the dream in his eyes which he never even put in words. As a college dropout, because of family circumstances , he had carried many a unfulfilled dreams in him and nurtured many dreams for us as well. But this dream was too big for him to have even put into words!

I forgot about this small talk but the image of a very graceful elderly woman struck in my memory for ever. Life took its toll and I went on swimming along the currents most of the times and against the currents sometime. I was now Fifty Two years of age and comfortably settled in teaching profession. I had the usual middle-age problems and challenges to tackle. It was during this time that I saw an advertisement inviting applications for Fellowship at IIAS. The little talk that I had with my father some thirty five years ago reverberated in my ears and the image of that elderly graceful Fellow flashed in front of my eyes. I realized to my astonishment that I had forgotten nothing. All details were fresh in my memory. I was able to decipher the strange look in the eyes of my father when he talked about that elderly graceful lady. I could understand the dream that he nourished! I applied for the award of Fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies.

Watching the tricolour flying high on the top of the building I think of my father when he was talking to his seventeen years old daughter some thirty five years ago. Today I can see the dream in his eyes that he never put into words. His dream, too, was fulfilled as was the dream of multitude of Indians to see the Tricolour fly high on the top of this building that was symbol of Raj! My eyes were filled with tears at his memory as he had died some twenty years back never even speaking of the dream he cherished.

Today, when I stood admiring at the majestic building of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study and the blue sky, dotted with clouds, overhead, I could see faintly my fathers’ benevolent face smiling at me—his ‘little one’– a Fellow at this prestigious Institute.

Women’s Day 2010

8 March, 2010

Monday

I looked out of the window and the sky presented a bewitching picture. The dotted clouds made it look all the more beautiful. The Deodar tree must have kept a strong vigil over the lawns for a very long time. I could see some tourists raoming on the road and looking up at the majestic building.

And the fact that I was gazing out of the window of my Study and could take this picture from the verandah of the Public Entry building of the IIAS speaks about my dream having come true. The other fact that life has become more strenous doesn’t seem to matter. When I, along with Shi, ate paranthas sitting in this very verandah, I thought of many other women who would be having sumptuous lunch waiting for them at home. But life is all about the choice that we make.

After taking the parantha with the pickle and catching up with little tit-bits of life  we decided to have a cup of coffeee in the coffee shop to pamper ourseves and to celeberate Women’s Day. I think this celebration is the best celebration of women’s day in my life when I am where I always wanted to be. I could walk around where I had only dreamed of walking around! What more personal empowerment for me could stand for?

Happy Women’s Day to all those women who achieve it by stint of their hard work and not because they have compromised their values and proinciples to achieve something petty, in the name of success, in life!

Rhododendrons paving the way to Indian Institute of Advanced Study…

02 March, 2010

Tuesday

Flowers are beautiful, all of them! But the rhododendrons that add reddish charm to the green forest cover especially when the snow capped mountains make the background picturesque are my personal favorite! Perhaps because they carry me to the good old days of my childhood when I would walk to Sanjauli, holding my father’s hand, through the road that had green lush trees with red rhododendrons giving them an odd proud look!

We would carry the bunch hold of flowers back home and my maa would make chutney of those flowers. She used to say a lot about the medicinal qualities of the flower. But I loved to chew them for the bitter sour taste that filled my mouth with. But I made sure to chew only the petals!

 Today when I saw the road to Indian Institute littered with rhododendron flowers, I was pleasantly surprised. I looked up and saw the tree full of red color. I was so deeply immersed in my thoughts that didn’t even notice that the trees around me were full of the flowers.  It heralded the advent of summer months! A stray thought about Shelley’s  famous line “if winter comes can spring be far behind” brought a smile on my face. Yes, the winter is over, both literally and metaphorically and the red flowers littered on the road to the institute heralded the advent of a change of season!

I could not stop myself from taking a picture of the flowers on the road and was surprised to notice how they had filled with color the colorless road! Suddenly I was filled with the realization that we are so busy at times to rue over our petty problems that we fail to count the blessings of the God. I had not even glanced at the tree overhead, laden  with beautiful flowers, till God showered some flowers before me. Laughing at how blind, at time, we become to the blessings of God, I thanked Him for making me walk this road. And I am sure that it was a pleasant sign from the Almighty of more colors that are going to fill our life with gaiety and happiness. Amen!