Why this blog is called "Gallimaufry".

gal-uh-MAW-free\, noun.

Originally meaning "a hash of various kinds of meats," "gallimaufry" comes from French galimafrée; in Old French, from the word galer, "to rejoice, to make merry"; in old English: gala + mafrer: "to eat much," and from Medieval Dutch maffelen: "to open one's mouth wide."

It's also a dish made by hashing up odds and ends of food; a heterogeneous mixture; a hodge-podge; a ragout; a confused jumble; a ridiculous medley; a promiscuous (!) assemblage of persons.

Those of you who know me, will, I’m sure, understand how well some of these phrases (barring the "promiscuous" bit!) fit me.

More importantly, this blog is an ode to my love for Shimla. I hope to show you this little town through my eyes. If you don't see too many people in it, forgive me, because I'm a little chary of turning this into a human zoo.

Stop by for a spell, look at my pictures, ask me questions about Shimla, if you wish. I shall try and answer them as best as I can. Let's be friends for a while....

31 March 2008

Some things you'll only see in Shimla

Wild flowers which don't care where they grow...

A post box with a crown that looks suspiciously like the one Queen Elizabeth sometimes wears!

An abandoned house which seems to belong to an Edgar Allan Poe story.

More venerable local institutions

Indian Coffee House

It is not confirmed whether Shimla's Coffee house has for its siblings the august chain of the same name, located in Kochi, Bangalore and, most famously, Calcutta. Be that as it may, this is the home for many a gossip session, the place where people congregate for a quick tea or coffee sold at nominal rates, where waiters still wear livery (turbans & all!). The coffee is piping hot and so are the debates. Lately, the Indian coffee house seems to have become a great favourite of the lawyers - I found this out by counting the sheer number of black coats & white collars, that's all.
The food is predominantly South Indian, but the quality has gone downhill over the years.

Krishna Sweets

Krishna Sweets is a gem of a place, tucked away in Boileauganj. The owner, in typical laid-back Himachali fashion, is delightfully vague about the age of the shop. He says it is probably 30 years old. A helpful gentleman, awaiting his turn to buy some Krishna's legendary samosas, says he's been visiting the shop for 50 years, so it has to be a lot older than that. As the debate rages, patient customers waiting for their plate of jalebies watch on with interest, but without complaint. Its worth the while to do so! This tiny shop doubles up as a snack-shop & a sweet shop. Its samosas & jalebies are crisp, its barfi tender & melt-in-the-mouth. Their tea is simply superb, freshly brewed with the best quality of milk & with just a hint of cardamom. There are other mithais too, besan barfi, balooshahi, gulabjamuns. Fie on those who claim that Mehru or Natthoo make them better. Krishna's gulabjamun's are works of art!

You pause in your greedy consumption for a minute when you spot a photograph of the owner's son, Anuj, who was martyred in the Kargil War.

20 March 2008

Some random thoughts before we return to the main programme!

Too much "ouch" in this world. Too little band-aid.

It's not the despair... I can stand the despair. It's the hope.

If there were no fireflies in this world, we'd be forced to invent them.

Love is like skin. Wonderful, provided you don't examine it under a microscope.

If heartaches were commercials, we'd all be on TV.

19 March 2008

Shimla GPO

See that white-and-green building in the far corner? That's Shimla's General Post Office. It was originally called Conny Lodge & actually housed a tailoring establishment. Its insides are rather marvellous: with pillars, twirling stairways and tiny vaults.
Our local heritage maven Raja Bhasin says that in the late 1800s, a red flag used to be hoisted on the tower of the post office to announce the arrival of the post. Local postmen would then arrive at GPO to collect the post for further distribution.

On a tangent.

The sunset swept
To the valley’s west, you remember.

The frost was on.
A star burnt blue.
We were warm, you remember,
And counted the rings on a moon.

The sunset swept
To the valley’s west
And was gone in a big dark door of stars.

17 March 2008

Venerable local insitution #3

"As the light swept them, there leaped out from the walls a collection of Tibetan devil-dance masks, hanging above the fiend-embroidered draperies of those ghastly functions - horned masks, scowling masks, and masks of idiotic terror. In a corner, a Japanese warrior, mailed and plumed, menaced him with a halberd, and a score of lances and khandas and kuttars gave back the unsteady gleam."....
"The Lahore Museum was larger, but here were more wonders - ghost- daggers and prayer-wheels from Tibet; turquoise and raw amber necklaces; green jade bangles; curiously packed incense-sticks in jars crusted over with raw garnets; the devil-masks of overnight and a wall full of peacock-blue draperies; gilt figures of Buddha, and little portable lacquer altars; Russian samovars with turquoises on the lid; egg-shell china sets in quaint octagonal cane boxes; yellow ivory crucifixes - from Japan of all places in the world, so Lurgan Sahib said; carpets in dusty bales, smelling atrociously, pushed back behind torn and rotten screens of geometrical work; Persian water-jugs for the hands after meals; dull copper incense-burners neither Chinese nor Persian, with friezes of fantastic devils running round them; tarnished silver belts that knotted like raw hide; hairpins of jade, ivory, and plasma; arms of all sorts and kinds, and a thousand other oddments were cased, or piled, or merely thrown into the room".......
That is Kipling describing Maria Brothers. Only, he renames this little shop as the "Curiosity Shop".

Venerable local insitution #2

Bindra Studio.

There is something so heart-breakingly brave about shops like Bindra Studio. They stand like lone sentinels in the cold, impersonal world of digital photography. If you happen to visit Shimla & even if getting yourself photographed is not on your list of things to do, pop over to this 104-year old establishment. Take a peek at those lovely black-and-white pictures. They will take you right back into the world balls and fancy-dresses. The world when a young girl's successs in Shimla was measured by how crowded her dance programme was.

And no, a "dance programme" was not a recital she gave on the stage of Gaiety Theatre. It was a a little gilt-edged card. On one side the the dances and tunes to be played that evening were listed. On the opposite side, you could note the names of the people who proposed to partner them. The tiny pencil attached to this "programme" with a silken cord was a device that made and broke many a reputation!

The pictures in Bindra Studio will remind you of that era gone by when the world seemed simple and uncomplicated, indeed it was only a whirl of dances, a medley of songs from musicals such as The Quaker Girl, The Little Michus & The Dollar Princess.... A world of funny hats & polka-dotted dresses. Of secret assignations in the Gaiety's Green Room. Of martinet domestics in buttoned boots. Of jhampanis & abdaars & khansamahs & masalchis & bhistis.

What a time it must have been.

15 March 2008

Venerable local institution #1

Embassy Restaurant:
Even if you aren't familiar with Shimla, the location is not hard to find. Let us assume you are on the Mall. Say, somewhere opposite the Town Hall. Now turn to your left. Yes, that road which leads towards Gaiety Theatre & further onward. Walk past Trishul Bakery. (No, you mustn't look in - after all, your destination is Embassy!). Past Gaindamull. Past Sher-E-Punjab (another local institution now sadly gone to seed). Ignore the turn-off for Lower Bazaar. Keep walking! Keep walking! You are now near Combermere.
A little beyond, lies Embassy.
This little restaurant makes possibly the best mutton chops in India (naturally, in my humble opinion!). Actually, the owner calls them mutton chops, but they are more like deep-fried mutton cutlets with a crispy coating of some sort. Most likely of corn-flakes. Whatever be the combination, there's nothing like sharing a hot, crispy chop with a friend on a nippy evening!
I also like their tomato soup. It's thick, but not too thick. It's slightly sweet, a little sour, moderately peppery (by Indian standards) and piping hot. As soups go, it's nearly perfect in its consistency, flavour, fragrance and colour.
Embassy also sells amazing cakes. None of your machine-made, chemically-enhanced stuff. Good old-fashioned cakes, almost the way Mother makes them! Walnut & banana, Dundee, vanilla, chocolate..... Their almond cake is a slice of heaven.
For those home-sick for ghar ka khaana, or just desirous of sampling Indian food, cooked home style, then Embassy's the place. I particularly recommend their parathas & baingan ka bharta. The last dish especially so, for I'm really fusy about the way brinjals are cooked. They must have been roasted to a fine turn, firstly, Secondly, the tempering (the "tadkaa", as it's known in Indian cuisine) should be just so, with the onions brown, but not burnt, the tomatoes cooked until their skins peel & the spices a hint, but no more. They do this really well at Embassy.
But this is not all. Going to Embassy is not just about food. This little eatery has a lovely view of Shimla's tumbledown rooftops. The sight may not be very inspiring during the day, but defies description at l'heure magique. Go there.
See it for yourself, if you wish to understand what I mean.

6 March 2008

Two buildings I like

This post is apropos of nothing.
It's just that I've passed these two buildings countless times on my way to the Mall and back. There's something about them I love. I cannot explain what it is that I like about them. I do not even know what the style of architecture is, or how old these two buildings are.
I just like them.

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