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....

29 June 2008



It was love at first sight. I first came across hydrangeas in the 80s in Srinagar (J&K), where they grew in profusion in our neighbour Mrs. W’s garden. None of avid gardeners in the area knew the name of this pretty plant. They called it “snowballs” because it was white & round!

It was when I moved to Shimla & quizzed some knowledgeable locals that it turned out these were hydrangeas.

Here are the results of some desultory research I made:
There are about 75 species of hydrangeas. These are spread as far and wide as southern and eastern Asia, in southern Europe and in both continents of America. In Shimla, these plants start blossoming in spring and continue to do so until almost autumn. They grown in large flowerheards, or corymbs and the flowers are of the same size.

My friend P shares an interesting fact about hydrangeas: she says that in these species the exact colour often depends on the pH of the soil; therefore, acidic soils produce blue flowers, neutral soils produce very pale cream petals, and alkaline soils results in pink or purple. In my neighbourhood, you have blue flowers growing in profusion in one section and pretty pink ones just a few feet away! P also told me that hydrangeas can be “a mophead, lacecap, snowball type ('Annabelle'), oakleaf, or paniculata (PG) type.
I’m afraid I may not been able to tell an “Endless Summer” from a “Nikko Blue”, except to say that the ones in Shimla look like mopheads to me! R confirms that the mopheads are indeed hydrangea mycrophylla, a most common species of hydrangea all over the world.

I notice that the leaves are a thick, crisp-looking, deep green & heart-shaped. Their edges appear to be coarsely toothed. The stem seems rather short.
Today I’m in a scientific state of mind; so here are a few more facts!
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliospida
Order: Cornales
Genus: Hydrangea.

On a completely unscientific tangent, don't the flowers in this picture remind you of cricket fans, peeking through the tall fences that divide spectators from the sporting arena in a stadium, eager for a glimpse of their favourite heroes?

25 June 2008

For my friend H: A poem by Yeats.

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honour bred, with one
Who, were it proved he lies,
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbours’ eyes?
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

23 June 2008

Re. taking things for granted.

You see the building in this picture? It is located at the foot of the Mall, opposite the Central Telegraph Office. I have passed it hundreds of times. I have stopped near it to catch my breath, after walking up the incline past Kali Bari. I’ve bought popcorn from a shop inside it. In the good old days, I have gone in to book railway tickets. Yet, it was only recently that I actually took a good look at it. Mainly thanks to a friend who said “Doesn’t this building resemble a steam engine rushing down a railway line?” Good heavens, R, if it weren’t for you, I’d have gone on taking this pretty little edifice for granted.

Last week, I went to a friend’s place. She lives in a really pretty cottage, with a gorgeous view of the mountains and a garden strewn with wild irises, and poppies and lavender and lilies and hydrangea. I asked her how she could bear to leave her home for even a trip to the local market.

“Oh, I’m tired of it,” she responded indifferently. “It was great when I first moved in, but now it’s just the same old thing. I can’t see it anymore.”

“I can’t see it anymore.” How accurate the statement. She failed to notice the mountains. She walked by the flowers without so much as a glance. She thinks of her home as a place as merely a place to lay down her head. Living in paradise, she might just as well have resided at the city dump. Nine people out of ten would have jumped at the opportunity to rent my friend’s house, yet she does not appreciate its virtues.

Human beings have a curious capacity to take things for granted. The most exquisite diamond loses its luster with familiarity. The most compatible intimate becomes boring. Miracles like the daily sunrise fail to astonish because they’re commonplace! Repetition and time dull our sense of wonder.
We endow novelty with powers and attributes that it does not really possess. When a thing becomes familiar to us, the mystery we have projected onto it is lost. We see it without the overlay of our imaginings.
The irony in this idiosyncrasy of human character is that we are disappointed by the very things that used to excite us. The once new job, a partner, or a favoured activity is now tedious. We feel let down rather than uplifted. Disappointment is a consequence of our expectation that an object or event will continue to provide us with stimulation regardless of how constant our contact. Unless we adjust our expectations accordingly, we will continue to feel deflated.
I cannot understand human beings' capacity for boredom! I believe that I am able to maintain a fresh perspective on the commonplace by living life with contrast. At times, in my leaving, there has been a return. If home has beckoned me, it was because I answered the call of the road. I think if my friend is forced to spend time away from her beautiful home, she might return to it with “new” eyes. She might see it again as she did the first time.

So, the next time you find yourself taking someone, or something, for granted, just stop. Stop for a while. Step back. Take a deep breath and remind yourself what it is about that person, or thing, that so attracted you in the first place. What was it that made you stop appreciating them. And then - if they're an animate object! - let them know you won't be taking their presence for granted.

21 June 2008

A little village path

This poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892–1950) is titled “Departure”. It holds a special place in my heart because I first read it at age 9 in a tattered copy of an old magazine, tucked away in a shelf of a library. Last night, while hunting for someting, I found an old notebook where I'd carefully copied this poem in schoolgirl cursive writing! You could say that this was one of the starting points of my life-long romance with poetry. The sentiment expressed by St. Vincent Millay appealed to the romantic in me, the thought of leaving it all behind, nary a care, just flying, flying away. Then I was brought up short by the end!

It was a beautiful morning, clear and crisp and a little nippy, when I went ambling through a cedar forest, past a little hamlet in a little-known part of my area. This journey was somehow enhanced because my walking companion understood the need for stillness and did not rush in to fill conversational gaps.

As we walked, the sight of this little path brought back memories of that musty old library in Mhow, being perched on a ladder that lead up to a ceiling that seemed to climb right up to the sky and that startling poem in that tattered copy of Ainslee’s Magazine.

It’s little I care what path I take,
And where it leads it’s little I care,
But out of this house, lest my heart break,
I must go, and off somewhere!

It’s little I know what’s in my heart,
What’s in my mind it’s little I know,
But there’s that in me must up and start,
And it’s little I care where my feet go!

I wish I could walk for a day and a night
And find me at dawn in a desolate place,
With never the rut of a road in sight,
Or the roof of a house, or the eyes of a face.

I wish I could walk till my blood should spout,
And drop me, never to stir again,
On a shore that is wide, for the tide is out,
And the weedy rocks are bare to the rain.

But dump or dock, where the path I take
Brings up, it’s little enough I care,
And it’s little I’d mind the fuss they’ll make,
Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere.

“Is something the matter, dear,” she said,
“That you sit at your work so silently?”
“No, mother, no—’twas a knot in my thread.
There goes the kettle—I’ll make the tea.”

19 June 2008

A Lament

I love Shimla. Though not by birth, I consider myself an honorary Himachali. I claim this by virtue of having been able to visit this state over two dozen times in the past 15 years, and now, when I have actually got the opportunity to live here. There is much that this little town has to offer. Clean air, gorgeous views of the rolling hills and snowy peaks, many varieties of wild flowers, and, above all, a populace that is universally friendly and accepting of strangers in its midst.

What, then, is my lament?

I do not miss the crowded roads, the honking horns, the foul air of my hometown. I do not miss the hurly-burly of metropolitan life. I do not miss the malls, with their little ‘M’. Our own Mall beats those hollow any time. I do not even much miss the swanky multiplexes which offer a choice of four films or more under one roof. But I do miss the vibrant forms of entertainment Bombay offers.

This former Bombay-ite, mocked friendly-like by her local friends as a dilettante, misses being able to watch theatre in Shimla.

I miss the thrill of an opening night. I miss the little paper lamps that are strung up in the area outside. They sway gently & cast merry shadows on the enthusiasts milling around. I miss the open-air café which does brisk business with tea and snacks. No fancy-sounding coffees. Only the good old-fashioned tea, with milk & sugar added in the kitchen.

I miss checking out the blurb on the pamphlets handed out; studying the month’s programme, carefully noting the dates of future shows. I miss the going off of the first bell. I miss shuffling in. Serious lovers of theatre are rarely seen elbowing fellow enthusiasts out of the way. Everyone takes a seat they think offers the best view and acoustics. After all, you do not wish to miss a single word or gesture.

The play begins. There is a lovely little proscenium stage. The seating arena for the audience fans outward in a sort of elevated half-circle. The acting space looks awfully small. The actors troop in. Tonight you may be watching a black comedy. Last week, it may have been a 'collaborative creation' or improvisational theatre: where the action was originally created not by a writer, but by the performers themselves. Next week, you might get to see a romantic comedy, a medley of clever scheming, calculated coincidence, and wondrous discovery, all of which contribute ultimately to making the events answer precisely to the hero's or heroine's wishes, with the focus on love. It might even be a “social”, a heavy, tear-jerker melodrama spotlighting anything from adoption to adultery to the abandonment of the elderly or the infirm. You might be watching the play in English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil or Malayalam. I miss scanning the papers for reviews. I miss reading them and then scoffing at the way the critic’s remarks have missed the base!

I miss laughing hard at “Hai Mera Dil”, shedding a tear at “I’m Not Bajirao”, being moved to the core by “Gandhi Viruddha Gandhi” or “Tumhari Amrita” …. I miss that palpable silence which falls on the house when some lines of a play strike a chord in its watchers. I miss the standing ovation given to a group of players. I miss going backstage to tell an actor how much his work has thrilled me.

So where is all this in Shimla? Why do we not see much of the local theatre groups? Is it because they are, like their brethren in most other Indian cities, strapped for cash? If this is the case, where are the well-heeled amongst us? Why are they not coming forward to encourage an activity that can be creative and profitable at the same time? Why is there such a paucity of space for creative expression? Why are the czars of government not coming forward to act as patrons by creating better facilities and by subsidizing productions?

The theatre in Gaiety is on its way to being readied. But what about other spaces? The auditorium inside Kali Bari is antiquated, offering neither good visuals nor decent acoustics to the viewer. The stage is at such a height that if you happen to be seated in the first few rows, you are almost tempted to raise yourself on tiptoe, if only for a better look at the down-stage activity. Funnily and unintentionally, the auditorium in Kali Bari achieves Bertolt Brecht’s “defamiliarization effect”, in that it gives the audience the required emotional distance to reflect on what is being presented!! I have not seen the auditorium of HP University, but fervently hope it does one better than the one I mentioned.

And where are those vital ingredients of this endeavour: the playwrights, the actors, the directors, the producers, the sound and light specialists? For good theatre to exist and flourish, we need not just good facilities, but also enthusiasts among those who create and those who, for want of a better word, consume the artistic product.

Theatre is not just about entertainment. It is not about going to a particular spot, sitting passively and absorbing the spectacle on offer. Human beings do not merely hear and see things, they also sense them. They are able to appreciate the subtle nuances of a tone, a blink or a movement. The beauty of theatre lies in the fact that the quality of the audience affects the play and the players. Unlike films, plays are not a passive, one-way, pre-packaged experience. In plays, as in films, there are rehearsals. But once the show gets going, a theatre artiste does not have the opportunity to give another ‘take’ – to make another attempt at mouthing a dialogue: what has been said, has been said. Audience reactions affect acting as it happens. The warmth in the tone of a speaker travels directly to the viewer; a glimmer of a tear in the performer’s eye immediately causes the spectator to respond. A skilled actor, through the blend of voice, tone, gestures and outfits succeeds in creating a world and transporting his audience to it. The actor’s energy expands and fills up the space which is also occupied by the viewer; the energy flows from one to the other. The viewer feels the despair of Mahatma Gandhi at Pyarelal’s delinquency; he feels Zulfi’s longing for Amrita; he laughs with Dhanjisha Batliwala & quibbles with Madhukar Kulkarni.

Kay Kay, Naseruddin Shah, Dinesh Thakur, Aul Kulkarni, Shabana Azmi, Boman Irani, Mehrbanoo Mody Kotwal, Rahul Da Cunha, Feroze Khan, Sanjana Kapoor, Shernaaz Patel, Rajit Kapoor, Jayati Bhatia: they allow you to enter their world and experience, in the span of two hours, many highs and lows, rapture and anguish, a whole world of moods and happenings.

I want this in Shimla. I want this for Shimla.

17 June 2008

Vachel Lindsay :: Aladdin & The Jinn

Chant me a word of the twilight,
Of roses that mourn in the fall.
Bring me a song like hashish
That will comfort the stale and the sad,
For I would be mending my spirit,
Forgetting these days that are bad:
Forgetting companions too shallow,
Their quarrels and arguments thin;
Forgetting the shouting muezzin.

16 June 2008

I read Faiz over the weekend.

Raat yoon dil mein teri khoi hui yaad aayi
Jaise veerane mein chupke se bahar aa jaye
Jaisay sehraon mein haule se chale baad-e naseem
Jaise beemaar ko be-wajha qaraar aa jaye

12 June 2008

Time & Eternity: Emily Dickinson

I reason, earth is short,
And anguish absolute.
And many hurt;
But what of that?

I reason, we could die:
The best vitality
Cannot excel decay;
But what of that?

I reason that in heaven
Somehow, it will be even,
Some new equation given;
But what of that?

8 June 2008

Solvitur ambulando.

Main Entry: sol·vi·tur am·bu·lan·do
Pronunciation: \ˈsl-wi-ˌtr-ˌäm-b-ˈlän-dō\
Etymology: Latin

: it is solved by walking : the problem is solved by a practical experiment.

Since I cannot make a post that does not contain some favourite bit of poetry, here's Wordsworth:

Our walk was far among the ancient trees:
There was no road, nor any woodman's path;
But a thick umbrage--checking the wild growth
Of weed and sapling, along soft green turf
Beneath the branches--of itself had made
A track, that brought us to a slip of lawn,
And a small bed of water in the woods.
All round this pool both flocks and herds might drink
On its firm margin, even as from a well,
Or some stone-basin which the herdsman's hand
Had shaped for their refreshment; nor did sun,
Or wind from any quarter, ever come,
But as a blessing to this calm recess,
This glade of water and this one green field.
The spot was made by Nature for herself;
The travellers know it not, and 'twill remain
Unknown to them; but it is beautiful;
And if a man should plant his cottage near,
Should sleep beneath the shelter of its trees,
And blend its waters with his daily meal,
He would so love it, that in his death-hour
Its image would survive among his thoughts:
And therefore, my sweet MARY, this still Nook,
With all its beeches, we have named from You!

William Wordsworth.
Poems On The Naming Of Places.

7 June 2008

Indepedent Man

Now who could take you off to tiny life
In one room or in two rooms or in three
And cork you smartly, like the flask of wine
You are? Not any woman. Not a wife.
You'd let her twirl you, give her a good glee
Showing your leaping ruby to a friend.
Though twirling would be meek. Since not a cork
Could you allow, for being made so free.

A woman would be wise to think it well
If once a week you only rang the bell.


To love is to find your own soul
Through the soul of the beloved one.
When the beloved one withdraws itself from your soul
Then you have lost your soul.
It is written: “I have a friend,
But my sorrow has no friend.”
~ Edgar Lee Masters ~

On my volcano grows the grass,—
A meditative spot,
An area for a bird to choose
Would be the general thought.

How red the fire reeks below,
How insecure the sod—
Did I disclose, would populate
With awe my solitude.
~ Emily Dickinson ~
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