Kitchen of my Amma and her Rituals…

Angithee and the Agni Dev

During my childhood, in early sixties, in Shimla, for my Amma, a routine job like, cooking food was not less than religious ritual. Amma would  cook food on a Angithee which would have coal in it. Old iron buckets would be used to make this Anghithee.  The ironsmith would cut a hole on one side of the bucket and would fit an iron grill at the center of the bucket. Mixture of fine clay and shredded drass would be used to line the inside of the Angithee and the top would have three round projections to hold the cooking vessels and also to let the air and fire flames pass from below!

The last kitchen chore that my Amma would do was to give this Angeethi a fresh coating of clay. Even this was a ritual worth explaining. The used coals, still hot and buring, would be put out from the Angithee and the Angithee would be prepared for the morning use. Amma would give a fresh coat of clay to the Angithee. The liquid clay would at once dry as the angithee would be so hot even when there were no burning coals in it. The vapours would fill our small kitchenette with a smell which no perfume today can compensate for.

And why did Amma do all these rituals! For my Amma, and most of the women of her generation, Angithee was the abode of Agni Dev. Amma would purify her Angithee every time after cooking food. When she would cook food, the first offering of the food would be made to Agni Dev! Such was her belief that Agni has to be fed the first thing before serving food to anyone else. The food had to be pure! Nothing could or should defile food while being cooked.

During my recent visit to my Amma, I saw an old Angithee lying in the storehouse. No one ever uses it. It lies discarded lamenting, perhaps, her golden times.  I thought of all the ritualistic performance that this Angithee had seen and paid my obeisance to it for having been instrumental in feeding us.

I wanted to peep through relics and memories of my childhood—some old paraphernalia, books, papers and yellowed black & white photographs! I thought of annual issues of Purana, published by Gitapress Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. I craved to find them.

“Amma, where are the old Puranas?” I shouted while searching for the old heap of books and paraphernalia that seemed so out of place in the marbled new construction that is my Amma’s proud home now. I had asked her as I was not able to locate the old books that during my childhood had made a small abode in Shimla, our home! I was searching for a part of my childhood that still was alive in the yellowed papers of the old books.

All those Puranas lay peacefully in a steel trunk lying in a corner of a room that had all the old unusable paraphernalia spread in it. I opened the trunk and scrambled through so many old papers, each of which had something or the other to remind me of. And then I came across Agni Purana. Now this was a Purana that I remembered only glancing at during my childhood as it didn’t have any stories in it! I loved reading anything and everything that had a story  but AgniPurana had description of many of the tricky religious practices. So this is the Agni Dev that my Amma fed everyday during her daily ritual.

But now when I had reached an age where such religious practices and methods interested me a lot, I picked up this Purana and went through some of its pages to have a look at it. The Purana had Agni Dev as the recite of various Akhyanas of the Purana and I found tits and bits of the Purana very interesting. The Purana was in a very bad shape. Its pages had yellowed, the paper cover had come off but luckily the inside was intact and in good shape. I wanted to carry it back with me to Hamirpur to read it and to find why my Amma religiously fed the god of the Angithee, the Agni Dev. And what I found in the Purana was nothing less than a miracle to me.

To be continued…..

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My middle class sentiments: sensibilities or shakles???

Ah! Today when in the morning, I looked at what my Little one had to announce to the world, I was in for a big surprise! She had announced, uninhibitedly, her love for Simone de Beauvoir and her classic masterpiece “The Second Sex“. And i was suddenly reminded of my first reading of the book “The Second Sex” and identifying with much of the said and unsaid in the book. I realized after reading the book that women all over the world, of any nationality or creed, think in a similar manner. My second acquaintance with the book was when  I was in Hyderabad and my daughter had bought this book and flaunted it proudly to me and her Papa. KS was a bit uncomfortable looking at the title of the book but as he had had me as his wife of a considerably long time so these kind of books no longer surprised him much! Later we read together some of the portions of the book and had discussions about it. But all this happened inside the four walls of our home! I remember discussing about more explicit emotions and feelings during some very debatable seminars but then these seminars were also held inside four walls where like-minded persons discussed such topics. But when my daughter shouted at the top of her voice on Facebook how she loved the book, my middle class sentiments came rushing to me. The dilemma, whether these sentiments were sensibilities inbuilt in my persona during my growing up years or they were the shackles that stopped me from openly endorsing certain things that I would endorse in privacy of select few, be they my family or friends, faced me! Whether I was a hypocrite or only had my real self under wraps and covers which I would reveal to select few, made me uncomfortable. What was this middle class sentiments that had raised their ugly head when I was past middle age, made me think and think hard.

I had to peep, once again, inside the dark alleys of my childhood that took me back to early sixties when I grew up in narrow alleys of Lower Bazaar Simla. Why Simla, and why not Shimla? Because this past that i refer to relates to Simla and not in Shimla. Growing up in Lower Bazaar where we lived in a small house, the first house in a narrow alley, facing stairs. Stairs in Simla have always stood for me as vehicles to reach out–sometimes to reach down and sometimes to reach up. reaching up, metaphorically and symbolically always heralded positive feelings as it meant reaching the Mall from the Lower Bazaar and for any dweller of Lower Bazaar the Mall was the ultimate in everything–even in dreams!

The Mall signified freedom, anonymity and unbridled access to a life of dreams whereas the Lower Baaar meant shackles, familiarity and the harsh realities of real life! Where boys were either brothers or cousins and boy-friends were a creed of romantics that had to be talked about in hush-hush tones. Well, today some forty year later, when I am fifty-four, I can laugh at all those things which were so dreadful to me at that point of time. In our days, only “bad’ girls had boyfriends! If a boy from some other school would know your name you would have thousands of questions to answer HOW?? If your name was mentioned on a wooden desk of a class room, be sure that you were doomed for life as the name would be etched with a blade and nothing could undo the damage to the wooden desk or to the repute of the poor girl! If some boy called aloud your name, be sure to be censured by all the so called “good” girls! The boys in love were seen only in a movies and no doubt that “Bobby” became a hit during my college days! The most romantic of the boys would follow a girl till some distance on the road leading to her home, maintaining respectable distance. And still everybody else would know what was being cooked between the two! The examples are numerous and today might seem funny belonging to a world that has long been forgotten, even by those who lived in that world.

The Mall was the only place where a boy, and that too if he was a part of a big group of boys, could follow a girl,  in a group of girls, maintaining a steady distance! The only boys you talked to were your cousins or at the best your friend’s cousins! Life was interesting, very interesting! It was fun as no one would go to Facebook, the first thing in the morning, to declare his or her liking or love for a person, place or a thing!

That was surely “Love in Shimla” in the real way!

My Impressions About Lohri Celeberation

Happy Lohri to all… 

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Khichri and Ghee…

Lohri day brings to my mind so many memories each trying to take centre stage relegating others backstage! Each impression has been an eye opener for me and has made me learn so many lessons of life.Some pertain to my childhood—Steaming hot Khichri with ladles of clarified ghee over poured, having a bath early in the morning, the dry fruits surrounding us, the lohri songs being sung, the heaps of chillers that we would distribute equally among us kids and the good feeling of having made some money of our own. Khichri would be prepared with all the ceremonial importance due the occasion. The aroma of the paste of ginger, garlic, green chilies and the garam-masala would raid our nostrils in the morning but the ritual bath early in the morning would be a compulsion that in the winter chill of Shimla we would have to take quite early, rather the first thing, in the morning. Th ladles of ghee would be taken that day. I pity the young generation today for being so careful about not taking ghee though what I would suggest them is to work more to burn calories. Thank God I don’t have any guilt feeling taking up ladle-full of ghee even today when I am fifty. I have learnt to eat well and to work well to burn all those over-eaten fats rather than neither to eat more nor to work more.

Another is from my childhood in Shimla when we sat near the fire throughout the day, when it had snowed outside, making strings of dry fruits—neojas, almonds, walnuts, kishmish, pista and kaju etc. and would put them in our necks and relish eating them later though would eat a lot during the operation string making as well escaping ma’s very prying eyes!! Perhaps it was an ingenious way to keep us indoors when it was so cold outside. I learnt to think of innovative methods to keep kids busy and occupied as well to give them a pleasant memory to cherish.

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The Lohri Specialities…

There is another impression pertaining to the time when I had stopped seeking Lohri from all uncles and aunts as I was a growing up teen-ager and had become conscious of myself. That Lohri evening I was sent on an errand to someone’s home where the Lohri plunder was being distributed among all the kids who had gone singing Lohri songs and collecting the money given as Lohri, I was given an equal share though I had not been a party to the group having gone braving the chilly weather as well as chilly and inclement looks of some householders! I learnt to be generous while sharing the booty. There was not even a single frown on the face of the kids when they happily divided the money equally with an unearning member of the group. So much for the socialist pattern of thinking without even having heard a word about Karl Marx!I learnt to share all that had without a frown.

Some more generate a different feeling as these were very personal feelings. The day I was coming home from the college and saw in the bus so many newly married women going to their parents’ home to celebrate Lohri while I, bone-tired, from personal and professional work could not think of any such possibility. I suddenly had an urge to be with my mother and take all the comfort that her mere presence could give me. But instead went to my Ma-in-law! The feeling must have been very strong to have left this impression as today, after about 20 years, I suddenly am deluged with the same feeling and the same helplessness of not been able to go! I learnt to put duty first and my priorities last!

I wonder if the present generation kids, too, are learning some of the good things from Lohri or are they becoming so business minded that they have penned Lohri songs stressing the amount of money that they would take—or the way they come in a group having not more than two members so that the booty is not divided among more and the share is relatively more. So much for learning!Or when young and old men and women dance around Lohri fire and indulge in all kinds of hooliganism all in the name of Lohri celebration! I wonder what cultural values would they be spreading around.Perhaps I am getting old and I try to find the values that I still cherish in the world around. But perhaps all those are long lost in the present day modern society.

The old order must change to pave way to the new! 

Mashobra: God’s Own Land

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A Breath taking View of Heavenly Beauty from Mashobra, Shimla

A recent visit to Mashobra and my heart bled watching the incorrigible damage to the pristine beauty of the place. We reached Mashobra when it was quite dark so despite my ardent wish to go out and watch the place to my hearts fill, I could not do so as it was dark. No, it was full of artificially lit lights. What I longed to see was the same old Mashobra that made me experience the feeling of “Far from the maddening crowds” when we came to this small suburb of Shimla in the sixties and seventies.

In the sixties when I was a small girl, an excursion to Mashobra would fill me with the feeling as one has these days when he is planning to go to some unexploited destination in Himachal. We would start early as we would go to Sanjauli on foot and from there to Dhalli in a bus and from there onward, again on foot to Mashobra. It would be a tiring excursion but still we would be so excited. More so as my father would recite to us stories from the past, past that still had its relics at Mashobra!

It gave a feeling of a rustic charm to be in the small market of the place that had the old homes of the natives on one hand and the royal summerhouses on the other. Mashobra seemed to be a place with the houses of “Who’s who” of the Indian novieue rich and royal household names of the region. Not only region, even of the neighbouring countries, like there was a summerhouse of the King of Nepal.
What I loved more than the houses of the named and famed was the exquisite natural beauty that the place was endowed with. Though I was very small to appreciate natural beauty as such but coming from the congested environment of the Lower Bazaar, I could appreciate the fresh air and the wide expansive and deep valleys around Mashobra. If the Retreat, looked majestic on one hill top, the beauty of the other hilltops, without a crowning beauty of an architectural beauty to boast of, could not be undermined. To my eyes, it would be comparing the beauty of a rustic damsel, without embellishments, to that of an ornamentalled beauty of a rich girl! Acting like a judge in a beauty pageant, I would assign more pints to the rustic beauty for her natural charms. I fell in love with the beauty of the unlimited mountainous ranges and deep valleys. Both held a deep charm for me for being fathomless!

As soon as I was done away with relishing the Summerhouses of the rich and known, I would run to the points nearby wherefrom I would watch the nature’s charisma! My Ma would be worried about me as she would think about me to have fallen in a ditch trying harder and harder to capture a better scene. How amazing is the fact that at a time when I had nothing like a camera to capture the beauty on a device, it was my own mind’s horizon that acted like a device to record the deeply etched scenes of beauty. And these days we rush in with a camera to capture a beautiful scene with a hope that we can look at it endlessly once that is downloaded on a computer. But the harsh fact is that we just download it, watch it once or twice, and then forget about it in search of another. Abundance and easy acquisition have led to have less in our mind’s landscape.

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Defacing the Very face of Nature: The Haphazard Constructions
It was from one such point, where I would stand as a small girl to watch the beauty of the nature that I once again wanted to sip deep the beauty of the place. Early in the morning, as soon as the Sun spread its light, I went out to the point carrying my dig-cam with me. I was shocked to see the concrete houses abounding the narrow market of Mashobra where earlier only the small wooden and stone houses could be seen. And when I reached that point, I was awestruck by the beauty of the ranges. They looked captivating in the morning sun, seemingly bathed in the golden haze. So immersed I was to view the distant sight that the nearby reality didn’t register me. It was when I started to aim to shoot a picture that I realized some cumbersome and ugly structures coming as stumbling blocs I my focus. I was shocked to realize the mushrooming up of concrete houses where there were a few locally designed houses earlier. That reality made me shiver at what man had done to the beauty of the bountiful nature. I tried capturing picture that won’t show the ugly concrete and could have fallen down in the valley, had I not checked in time. The worst nightmare of my Ma would have come true that day!!

 

the-spoiled-beauty-of-an-idyllic-hillock.jpgThe Spoiled Beauty of an Idyllic Hillock…
I had gone full of vigour and expectation to find my childhood dream still alive but came back sad to see the attempt in making to rob it of its beauty, Looking around, I found more onslaught to the beauty of the nature. The hillock nearby had, once upon a time, the summerhouse of a Raja and an Out-house near it. I remember sitting at a window and gazing for long hours the red roofed house that was perched magnificently and only a portion of it would be visible from my window. It would look so charming that I would feel like rushing and seeing the whole instead of peeping at a part of it. It looked majestic. There was another nearby, later a residence of some forest officer, that didn’t mar the beauty of the hillock but seemed to rise from the hillock itself. The nature had done its best for the place and the human hand had not done anything to mar the beauty! But now a multi-storied complex was being constructed nearby. I felt the pain of the hillock as if it pleaded to me to save it from the onslaught on its honour! I was helpless. I just watched the hillock that looked defaced and ugly! I could see it as I carried in my mind a picture of the past as a reference point and would compare the place to that picture. The contrast in the architecture, the plan and the lifestyle would be an eyesore to hardliners like me! I became pessimistic about the human greed to raid the natural beauty and give it a name “development”. Not being able to gaze at the place that I loved and whose beauty had been marred, I looked in the distant.

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Thank God it is Still Green and Sane…
Gazing towards the horizon, I was blissfully happy to find greenery around. It was, perhaps, land under green cover otherwise human greed could have robbed it, too, of its innocence. I thanked God for the place being still green and sane. Green forests, healthy and shining, made my heart swell and made me a little optimistic that the there still is a hope. The Himachalis may have lost a battle when our lands are being exploited to serve the rich people’s desire to won property and land in the state but the war was still to be won. I wish the Pahari architecture is kept intact even when planning for constructing new houses. I find, though have no authority to comment, that the houses should mingle with the nature and must look like a part of the nature rather than starting to look as an ugly blot to the natural beauty. The modernization and the cultural heritage should go hand in hand and neither should be promoted at the cost of the other.

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What Lies Beyond the Ranges…
Perhaps I am an escapist. I run away in search of pastures anew. While as a child, I would come to Mashobra as a respite from the crowds of Shimla but now I find even Mashobra to be unable to provide a serious reveler the respite that he craves for. I am a human and have the power to think beyond. So the ranges of the mountains, still maiden and unexplored, seem to invite me to explore and to find what lies beyond!!!

 

Christ Church Shimla: A Perspective Through My Eyes

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Christ Church Shimla: Pristine Ambience of Peace

During my recent visit to Shimla, among other affairs in my itinerary, the one on the top of my mind was to see the places where I had roamed, free as a bird, during my childhood days. I felt like Scarlette O’Hara going back to Tara! Perhaps deep inside me was an ardent desire that the charm of the old world still would be there to lure me back to its fold. I was so excited to go to the Mall. Suddenly I started missing the Red and green majestic building of the General post office, the Grayish charm of the Town Hall and the majestic Gaiety Theatre. Not to forget the wide expansive Ridge to soothe me and the yellow Christ Church, reputed to be the second oldest church in northern India, to fill my mind with the charm of my childhood days, when for me it stood for power, shelter and timelessness despite its big clock! Though it was much later while collecting information about the Christ Church that I came to know that the clock was donated by Colonel Dumbleton in 1860. And also that it is reputed to be the second oldest church in northern India.
The Christ Church stands erect proudly, even after so many years of its existence. It must have watched so many changes taking in and around it! The silhouette of this grand structure can be seen, aiming to reach the skyline from a great distance.

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Aiming for the Sky: The Christ Church Shimla

It was designed by Colonel JT Boileau in 1844, but consecrated only after 1857. I wonder that the Boileaugunj, a place in Shimla, must have been named after this man?
Like most hill stations, the town sprawls along ridges at many levels, connected by steep lanes and staircases. My memories about the Ridge bring in me the surge of feeling for freedom. We would often roam around the Mall and the Ridge to savour the freedom from the lanes of the Lower Bazaar! While my parents sat on the benches, he famous green wooden benches of the Ridge, we would play around the Church. Though initially, I would be scared of getting very near to it as I had heard stories about someone having been buried near the rear of the Church. I would be afraid that the ghost may not come up being disturbed by all the noise that we made. I don’t know how far is it correct but remember being told that once it snowed so heavily in Shimla that it was impossible to take a dead body of an English man to a cemetery near Dhalli or Kanhlog and he had to be buried in the rear courtyard of the church itself. Story or hearsay but it did deter us to explore whole of the area around the church as we were really scared of the buried English man who must be feeling so lonely having no other company!

During the night, the church would look so beautiful especially when Christmas was around he corner. The glass panes towards the Ritz side looked beautiful as it depicted some scenes and figures that, though we were unable to have any clue about, looked so colorful and enticing. It still has those lovely stained glass windows for which it is so famed.
It was again much later that I came to know that some of the stained glass windows represent the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Patience and Humility. My parents had no idea about it so it was not transmitted to us! Later on while studying for my Masters in English Literature, when I read about the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Patience and Humility, I could easily relate it to the stained window panes of the Shimla Christ Church!

I remember having run to the small porch outside the main Church to seek shelter from sleet when we were caught unawares. The small porch seemed to have a protective cover to save us from all evils. The four corners of the porch were often used by us kids to play “corner-corner”, a game that needed five players, four to occupy four corners and one to attempt dislodging any one of them. It was a power game. We enjoyed playing it under the roof of a building that for us was a relic of the Raj days. It gave us a sense of empowerment.

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The Crowd and the Christ Church

On Sundays, a large gathering of the devotees would be seen going to the church and it was only when we were in college that I entered it forth first time. The inside is even more beautiful as compared to the outside. How ironic when compared to human beings. We try to look attractive from outside, hiding all evils inside us, but here it was so peaceful and a feeling of being at the mercy of a power that runs the world. I was awestruck! All my childhood fears about the Church vanished in a second.

So it was a mixture of all these feelings that I carried along with when I walked towards the Ridge. The memories that lay dormant somewhere inside me. I wanted to recapture the innocence and charm of my childhood days. I longed to experience the serenity that the place stood for me.

But the Ridge was so crowded that I was astonished. Shimla sure is attracting many tourists. I wanted to capture a picture of the magnificent Christ Church shining in the sun in all its glory. I tried tacking a few shots from the ridge but the people would somehow overshadow the church that my mind was no ready to accept as for me the church always overshadowed everyone around it.

I would not allow my childhood image of the imposing structure fail me. So the next thing that a novice like me could do was to take a picture from the road that descends to the Ladies Park. Lo and behold, the picture was able to capture the old world charm for me.

Imagine it was all about perspective.

Today, when I was trying hard to teach developing Perspective to my students who want to prepare for GRE, this example came to my mind. Since I carried childhood references about the place and had made up my thoughts based on those references, I would try capturing the same picture of the Church. I moved stance that is my position and was happy when I got to see the church as I wanted to see it. If a person could be so subjective about a concrete object then imagine his stance about an abstract idea for which he has only old references to fall back upon.

I felt comfortable taking a picture from an angle that supplemented my childhood references, though my rational mind knew that since the times have changed so trying to recapture the ambience of the old world was just impossible, but tried hard I still!

This is what we do all the time, taking a stance during arguments and developing perspectives. We take a point of view that is based on and supplements our childhood references, howsoever illogical they may be.

I wanted to give the Chirst Church the same treatment. I wanted o see it as an imposing structure, above all else, that it stood for me, that the present realities would not even deter me from. I thought that is it not the same that we do all the time, not making any allowance for changes that might have come owing to times and places! Though it was only the crowds that put me off but if tomaorrow, a more imposing and magnificent structure comes in the vicinity of the church, then what would happen to my strongly held childhood references, would I not budge even then. I thought hard and decided, I would then use Photoshop to create the ambience in the picture. J