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....

23 September 2008

Thoughts on "foodie culture"

"Foodie culture": When you hear the words "foodie culture", what comes to your mind? A whole lot of posh restaurants? Celebrity chefs serving cuisine from different parts of the world? A city of connoisseurs of all things edible? Elaborate multi-course meals from far-flung corners of India? Specialty eateries which turn out "authentic" dishes? Columns in newspapers extolling the virtues of one eatery and slamming another for culinary sins? Elaborate records and long discussions on local cuisine in learned journals, local papers, coffee-table books? Or just diabetes, obesity and heart disease?
A city's foodie culture embraces all of the above. But above all is that most vital component: the men and women who live to eat! Serious foodies will tell you of their attempts to attune their pleasure receptors to the joys of vegetables and other such hearty stuff; but then you won't find them passing up the detrimental, the unwholesome, the non-nutrient stuff either! To be a foodie you need to strike a balance between your desire to eat healthy an your enjoyment of truly good food which may be fairly rich in calorific value!
In other words, combine an epicure's appreciation of skillful cooking along with a glutton's bottomless-pit approach to food. Among a certain slice of the food-possessed, to suggest that indulgence might put one’s health in peril is to invite ridicule.
Another vital requisite for being a foodie is deep pockets. When your kitchen reaches a plateau of culinary exploration, you should have the ability to dig deep into your monthly take-home, add novelty, shake up things and bring back the fun by heading off to your favourite eatery.
Last, but not the least, you should be able to pontificate about food as much as ( if not more than!) eating it. You should be able to use suggestive adjectives such as succulent, mouth-watering, tantalizing, tender, juicy, and melt-in-your-mouth. This will tell those around you that you define yourself by what you eat and where you eat it. The risk you run is that, on meeting another foodie, the conversation may turn into a sort of "mine is bigger than yours" affair. Which is all good if, pardon the bad pun, you are dishing it out, but not if you are on the receiving end. Those around you may think you're a pompous ass for discussing the provenance of the peas or the genesis of cottage cheese! I remember a programme where the svelte Padma Lakshmi interviewed a grizzly Hyderabadi chef. She asked him about the secret to his fabled biryani. The old man said something revelatory: "I don't talk about it," he said. "It's just what I make."
I started this post with the intention of discussing the foodie culture of Shimla. In a nutshell, I'll say I am yet to find any in my beloved adoptive home-town. So, I now rest my case with a plate of the ubiquitous daal makhani and mutter pulao!

21 September 2008


1. Biology A close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member. 2. A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence.

The reason why I thought of writing about lichens and mosses this afternoon is strange. Last week, Shimla saw incessant rain. It rained so hard and for so long that a lot of trees were uprooted, a lot of embankments turned into slush and bore away with themselves many human lives and man-made structures. How strange is man's relationship with nature. On the one hand, man is dependent on it for a host of benefits; on the other, he has today become a parasite - an organism whose existence is injurious to the health of its host.

Moss and lichen are good examples of happy co-existence, of an independent and mutually beneficial relationship. We need to learn something from them.


Lichens are unusual creatures. A lichen is not a single organism the way most other living things are, but rather it is a combination of two organisms which live together intimately, composed of fungus and alga.
I have seen them grow in all sorts of places: on rocks, fences, trees. Lichens require no food source other than light, air, and minerals. They depend heavily on rainwater for their minerals and are sensitive to rain-borne pollutants. The fungus I am told, produces a sort of acid which assists the process of weathering the rock on the lichen grow, eventually turning the rock into soil.
Before the discovery of aniline dyes, lichens were much used for silk and wool dyes. The blue and purple dyes litmus and archil are still obtained from species of lichens. Others have been used in perfume manufacturing and brewing. The “manna” of the Bible is thought by some to have been a lichen found in Old World deserts and easily carried along by wind.
The true identity of lichens as symbiotic associations of two different organisms was first proposed by Beatrix Potter, who is best remembered for her children's books about Peter Rabbit. In addition to her books, she spent time studying and drawing lichens. Her illustrations are still appreciated for their detailed and accurate portrayal of the delicate beauty of these bizarre organisms.


I've always liked the deep green colour and the rich velvety feel of moss. These are small plants that grow between 0.4 to 4 inches in height. You will observe them growing close together in clumps or mats in shady locations. They love dampness and low light and in Shimla can be found in woody areas and growing on rocks alongside streams. I have observed aquatic varieties along the coast of southern Maharashtra, where moss clings to rocks under sea. One man's weed is another's decoration applies well to moss, especially in Japanese gardening where moss is thought to add a sense of calm, age, and stillness to a garden scene.
People who scoff moss are requested to have a look at this article From the New York Times.

17 September 2008

Cosmos and Daisy

Cosmos, along with the daisies, rank as my most favourite. flowers. They look quite alike: both have open lacy petals, mostly arranged in opposing pairs. Neither has any fragrance, but are nevertheless attractive in their simplicity. Both grow well in the open where there's lots of sunlight, "coming ere the springtime, to tell of sunny hours". They both belong to the same family: asterceae.

Cosmos, as seen in the Yarrows garden:

Thanks, Yarra, for the reminder!

Seen below, daisies, as the Bard says, "smell-less, yet most quaint", from S's garden & growing wild in Shimla's outskirts:

14 September 2008

Shimla State Museum

This is the only museum in our little town. It consists of just two floors, the ground floor and the first. If you are coming from the Mall, just keep walking for 2 kilometres, until you reach the Hotel Cecil. Straight up the road is the museum. Be prepared for a really steep walk up the tiny hill.
At the outset, you should know this is not Uffizi; oh no, it is not. If you are looking for a glimpse into the history of Himachal, this is not the place. This is also not the place if you want to see rare antiquities. Do not step in expecting audio guides, or indeed, guides of any sort. The labelling of the collection gives the word basic a new dimension.
The collection itself is meagre and haphazard. There are bits and pieces of statues and you cannot be sure if all of these were actually found in Himachal. Some are connected with Himachal only in that they (the antiquities) belong to India, of which Himachal is a part! There is only a passing reference to the multitude of kingdoms and principalities with all their myriad histories and vivid heritage. Himachal's tribal areas are represented by a group of dolls in tribal dress. There is nothing that tells the curious visitor about the wonderful spiritual and geographic aspects of Himachal's northernmost districts.
There is a room, perhaps ten feet square in area, that is home to a set of wonderful paintings by Paramjeet Singh. These have absolutely no connection whatsoever with the rest of the collection! As you walk out of the room where the paintings are displayed, you will be startled by the sight of a cluster of old guns nailed to a wall. These are the museum's sole acknowledgement of Shimla's British history.
The lighting is rudimentary and does nothing to enhance the aspect of the exhibits. In any case, the main theme seems to be to store a bunch of old nick-knacks stored any which way. The cases where they are kept are the sort in vogue in the 1960s. Just minimal structures with wooden shelves.
That said, it's a nice little place, located at the end of a long-ish walk. It is a place to go to if you have nothing else to do on a weekend. If you have the energy, walk further up to Boileauganj, into Krishna Sweets - if only to drown your sorrows in a plate of hot jalebies.


I must admit I've never been a big fan of this flower. This is primarily because they appear soulless and have a near perfect prettiness that gives off a "look at me, but don't touch me" air. They do not possess the friendliness of daisies, or the fearful symmetry of dahlias. They lack the lambent air of fuchsia, nor do they attract you with the droopy grace of wisteria.

This year Shimla saw an extravagant crop of red, orange, pink, white and yellow ones. On closer examination, I found the flowers not unattractive. The outer petals are bigger than the inner ones, and are borne on hairy stems. Their leaves have a bristly edge and are ovate (with pointy ends) or rounded. the leaves tend to alternate on the stem. My vade mecum (Flowers of the Himalaya) identifies four Himalayan species: Begonia josephii, B. picta, B. diocia an B. rubella.

The classification is as follows;
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Cucurbitales
Family: Begoniaceae
Genus: Begonia

13 September 2008

And still more roofs!

Shimla's roofs are such a delight! I cannot seem to get enough of them, and so must inflict them on the gentle reader.

This shop used to house FabIndia until last year. alas, it's a casual-wear shop now.

Gaiety Theatre, which is still under renovation.

This yellow building houses our prime fire station, complete with a cute little fire truck whose provenance is unknown.

The Punjab National Bank building bags the prize for uglification of an otherwise lovely roof an facade.

Enfin, a poem by Robert Herrick, on the theme of roofs, of course.

Command the roof, great Genius, and from thence
Into this house pour down thy influence,
That through each room a golden pipe may run
Of living water by thy benizon;
Fulfill thy larders, and with strength'ning bread
Be ever-more these bins replenished.
Next, like a bishop consecrate my ground,
That lucky fairies here may dance their round;
And after that, lay down some silver pence,
The master's charge and care to recompense,
Charm then the chambers; make the beds for ease,
More than for peevish pining sicknesses;
Fix the foundation fast, and let the roof
Grow old with time, but yet keep weather-proof.

11 September 2008

Another Favourite Place in Shimla:

This post office is located in Chhota Shimla. I pass it each time I visit B & S (not Bourbon & Soda, I assure you!). But since the visits are usually on the weekend, I have always found the place shut, and have, therefore, been unable to walk in for a chat about its life and times with the staffers.
Since I am partial to blue, on the prettiness factor, I rate the Chhota Shimla post office higher than the one in Chaura Maidan. And everyone knows how dearly I love the latter place.
I have rhapsodised elsewhere about the romance of letters, and ink-wells and post offices, so I won't go into that again. My fond wish is that some day - some day - the government offices in India wake up and start constructing pretty public buildings such as this one.

6 September 2008

Bless you, Dolly Parton.

for the song: "wildflowers don't care where they grow".
It's long been a favourite and, for some reason, always springs to mind when I go walking on the wild side in Shimla - in this case, somewhere in the cedar woods around Koti!
So here are three types of wild flowers, a violet, a yellow and a peach-y-pink, clicked in May 2008, respectfully dedicated to Dolly.

Butterfly bush


Sheep sorrel

The hills were alive with wildflowers
And I was as wild, even wilder than they
For at least I could run, they just died in the sun
And I refused to just wither in place

Just a wild mountain rose, needing freedom to grow
So I ran fearing not where I'd go
When a flower grows wild, it can always survive
Wildflowers don't care where they grow

And the flowers I knew in the fields where I grew
Were content to be lost in the crowd
They were common and close
I had no room for growth
I wanted so much to branch out

I uprooted myself from home ground and left
Took my dreams and I took to the road
When a flower grows wild, it can always survive
Wildflowers don't care where they grow.

I grew up fast and wild and I never felt right
In a garden so different from me
I just never belonged, I just longed to be gone
So the garden, one day, set me free

Hitched a ride with the wind and since he was my friend
I just let him decide where we'd go
When a flower grows wild, it can always survive
Wildflowers don't care where they grow.

When a flower grows wild, it can always survive
Wildflowers don't care where they grow.

5 September 2008

A Fuchsia Post

in honour of the wonderful Megaera: the disputatious divinity of syntax, the winged goddess of serpent hair who personifies conscience and punishes crimes, particularly those related to conjugation and punctuation! The deity, who, when she is not pursuing those who do evil against English grammar, is trying to grow fuchsias in her garden.

(Alan Titchmarsh)

Charles Plumier first identified these flowers in the 17th century and named them after the German botanist Leonhard Fuchs. There is a bit of a debate as to whether it was Plumier who introduced fuchsias to Europe or a sailor named Captain Firth who brought it to the UK from America. Be that as it may, there are today, over a hundred varieties of fuchsia in the world, growing everywhere from South America to India to New Zealand and Europe.

These flowers grow in whorls and have a really pretty teardrop shape. My friend N says some species of fuchsia remind her of ballerinas' tutus. You will notice a thin stalk, which swells out to form a seed case. This seed case leads to form a sort of tube formed by four sepals. The main flower petals grow out of these. I have so far seen fuchsias in their typical fuchsia pink, and also from the deepst purple to pure white. It is my ambition to spot blue and flaming reds.

In Shimla, they grow in profusion in springtime, but have been seen in P's garden in autumn as well. P refuses to divulge the secret of this! My guess is that they grow well in her garden because of the abundant sunshine it gets from all directions - a rare commodity in most Shimla gardens. S says there are some hardy varieties which grow practically round the year in her garden. She takes care to move the potted plants indoors when it begins to snow. The classification is as follows:
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Myrtales
Family: Onagraceae
Genus: Fuchsia

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