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....

25 April 2009

My camera taught me how to *see*...

I have always been observant. I am curious. I am interested in people, in things, in events unfolding all around me. I am one of the few people I know who can honestly claim that they do not have the capacity to be bored. The one thing that fascinates me most is the play of human emotions.
A lot of people say that in taking photographs, we often miss the beauty of the moment. I disagree. My camera has taught me to see. I always wanted to be an artist, but lacked the necessary impulses, the skills, even the diligence required, but my camera gifted me the impulse to keep looking. It taught me to live in The Moment, to witness, to cultivate what the Geeta calls the "sakshi bhava", that attitude which requires you to be present, yet not present in the midst of an action unfolding. However, I hesitate to photograph people because I do not wish to make them objects of humour or pity, or as though they are not worth much, just to prove a point. I cannot use them as props.

As I wander around Shimla, I am hugely tickled by the sight of that thing tourists do: of converting experience into a souvenir through their cameras. As Susan Sontag says, "travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs"! The camera relieves some of the burden of memories. Photographs can be clicked, stored away and taken out some later date to be exclaimed over accompanied by "Do you remember such-and-such...?", like coffins being exhumed and opened. Like cynical God, the camera records in order to forget. Photographs help us to go back in the past to take possession of a space that was ours temporarily.

Clicking photographs also appeases the anxiety which people develop when they are in an alien place. They can take pictures: they have something to do! I have learnt to be more respectful, less leery of "tourist traps". These "traps" stop the tourist from climbing over the fence of some of Shimla's (or indeed Rome's or London's) prettiest places to take pictures of people in their natural habitat!

I have posted a set of photographs of people taking photographs. My intention is not to poke fun at them. Indeed, I feel a genuine affection for them, for do we not belong to a brotherhood which is trying to capture a neat slice of time, choosy, chancy and temperamental as that may be?!

24 April 2009

Pretty in pink.

Cyclamen is a plant from the Primulaceae family. I've heard friends in Shimla refer to it as sowbread and sometimes Persian Violet. These are perennial herbaceous plants, with surface or underground tubers. Each leaf and flower grows on its own stem which appears identical, except in height.
The leaves grow on stems up to 8 cm tall and form a tightly bunched circular disk of leaves. Leaves are rounded to triangular, 2-10 cm long and 2-7 cm broad, and usually variegated with a pale silvery horseshoe-shaped mark round the middle of the leaf.
The flowers have four to five petals which grow erect at at almost a 90° angle out of the bud. I've found white, pink and purple ones in Shimla so far. Still looking for dark-red cyclamen.
Kingdom: Plantae, Family: Myrsinaceae. Genus Cyclamen.

I come to visit thee agen
My little flowerless cyclamen;
To touch the hand, almost to press
That cheer'd thee in thy loneliness.
What could thy careful guardian find
Of thee in form, of me in mind,
What is there is us rich or rare,
To make us claim a moment's care?
Unworht to be so carest,
We are but withering leaves at best.

~ Walter Savage Landor ~

22 April 2009

Old, rich, bourgeois, distinguished.

British design critic Stephen Bayley once remarked that "interior design is a travesty of the architectural process and a frightening condemnation of the credulity, helplessness and gullibility of the most formidable consumers—the rich".
Walking into the Viceregal Lodge, you are at once awestruck, exasperated and amused by its interior. If its exterior is Promethean, its interiors are pure Hamlet! If the exterior is about Power, then the interior is an endless chain of indecision: pagan? Jacobean? Victorian? Scottish Baronial? Heck, let's have it all!
The value of economy is abandoned in favour of grandeur, of a sort of unrestrained "look at me" drama! The woodwork, the heights, the patterns speak not only about the forces at work in society at the time when the Viceregal Lodge was created, but also about the intensely social character of the interiors of its occupants.
Rich detail characterises each room. Yet nothing is left to your imagination: it is not ambiguous, or arcane and certainly not mysterious. This is not a world of intuition; and yet, you are transported by the shape and form of the corporeal objects all around you into a world of unique and inexpressible beauty. There is order, and symmetry and a sort of moral comeliness to this building... If the intention is to strike awe in the viewer, it is achieved in great measure!!

20 April 2009

Nostalgia attack!!

Yesterday, walking to a friend's house, I noticed this advertisement painted on the wall of a shop on the Mall.
The mind went in reverse gear, because this was the exact same model of the very first Philips stereo I ever owned, gifted to me by the parental units, back in 1983. Back then, not many companies were making audio systems in India. This venerable institution started business operations in India in 1930, and introduced the audio cassette to us - thereby opening up a whole new world of music.
The stereo sang pretty much all through my waking hours, playing old Hindi film songs and Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan and many others.... It was kept on a little stool, jammed between the bed and the study-table for easy access. A little shoe-box below was the repository of the music, the precious horde, collected with care from a meagre monthly allowance.
But it wasn't just the tapes. The "two-in-one" also had a radio. It could catch All India Radio and on odd days, Radio Kabul which, in between chaste Pashto announcements, played amazing old Hindi film songs.
All India Radio had a special hour every evening called "Yuv Vani" (the voice of youth) which played (guess what?) Hindi songs for an hour. Occasionally, very occasionally, the radio station would invite a local fuddy-duddy to speak on "matters related to, or important to, youth". This august personage having been young a really long time ago and rarely had any interesting insights to offer. But well, the time when they were interviewed in hushed tones and their responses were the time you took a comfort-break, or wandered off to talk to your parents about something!
Sunday nights fared better: someone your age hosted a program, called "In The Groove". This was practically the only time Western music was played on AIR, by listeners' request. An announcer (They weren't called "radio jockeys" back then!) by the name of Chandramouli Basu was a hot favourite....
Tuning into the AIR Shimla, it appears things haven't changed much! Fuddy-duddies are still interviewed. An idiotic announcer still shares "useful information for the youth" (the deepest part of Indian Ocean anyone?) and they still play number from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Comforting and disturbing at the same time!!!

Bless Philips, for they've given so many people hours of enjoyment.

16 April 2009

The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.

Old age is not a disease—it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.

15 April 2009

In the dusk of day-shapes, blurring the sunset.....

All these years in Shimla, and I simply have not got over our magnificent sunsets. Every single evening is magical. Every single evening reveals new colours, new hues, new shades: blue, orange, lilac, gold, pink, yellow, purple. Each encounter with dusk is unique and spell-binding.
As Sartre says: "At dusk, you must have good eyesight to be able to tell the Good Lord from the Devil"


Between two hills
The old town stands

The houses loom
And the roofs and treesAnd the dusk and the dark
The damp and the dew
Are there.

The prayers are said
And the people rest
For sleep is there
And the touch of dreams
Is over all.

~ Carl Sandburg ~

4 April 2009

The House That Was....

I spent all of today exploring two wonderful places, Dhami and Arki. In this post, I'm going to you pictures of the old "palace" of Dhami. I love old buildings, especially crumbly ones with character. One wasn't allowed inside, but walking around this old structure was a treat in itself! Every grand edifice has a spirit, an emotion. I sensed a deep nostalgia and a wistfulness around this building..... The palace seemed a little meditative, a little forlorn, but not wholly disconsolate!

Dhami, an old pricely state, is also known as Halog. Initially, it was a part of Bilaspur, it became an independent state in 1815. Dr. Usha Bande, who has undertaken extensive research on the forts and palaces of Himachal Pradesh, informs that Dhami is famous for its "patthar ka khel" (a game of stone-throwing) held shortly after Diwali. The village divides itself into two parties and each participant from each party must simultaneously throw sotnes at the other's and dodge the stones chucked at it by the opponents. Sounds gruesome, but apparently, the game is greatly enjoyed by locals. No fatalities have been reported.

Of the old house, only a few crumbled

Courses of brick, smothered in nettle and dock,

Or a squared stone, lying mossy where it tumbled!

Sprawling bramble and saucy thistle mock

What once was firelit floor and private charm

Where, seen in a windowed picture, hills were fading

At dusk, and all was memory-coloured and warm,

And voices talked, secure from the wind's invading.

Of the old garden, only a stray shining

Of daffodil flames amid April's cuckoo-flowers,

Or a cluster of aconite mixt with weeds entwining!

But, dark and lofty, a royal cedar towers

By homely thorns: whether the white rain drifts

Or sun scorches, he holds the downs in ken,

The western vale; his branchy tiers he lifts,

Older than many a generation of men....

~ Lawrence Binyon ~

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