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....

30 June 2009

Dance until the earth dance!

A weekend afternoon. G & I set off for a walk towards the Mall in a bid to beat post-prandial coma. An unexpected treat awaits us at the amphitheatre outside Gaiety. A group of musicians is tuning its instruments. Then another group trips out lightly. These are dancers from Chamba, announces an officious little gentleman in the biggest sun-glasses you ever saw.

The dance begins.

Initially, the rhythm is gentle. The song speaks of a courtship. A boy offers a girl a flower, then the moon and finally, his life! She is flippant and shy, by turns.
The drums beat a little faster. The cadence picks up. Then, there are pauses in the movement. Together, the boy and the girl declare they desire to visit Shimla! She calls him "my gun"! He compares her to a flower! The jollity, it seems, is interspersed by a sort of spiritual elevation. As the tempo rises, feet move faster. Colours are a whirl.

The dance imparts an affirmation of life. It energises you, the spectator, with the vigour, the humour, the wonder, the enigma that life is. This is poetry with arms and legs. This is a revelation of the mystery of music, with the added advantage of being human and therefore, so much more palpable.

The music in the dancers' soul spills on to the audience....

21 June 2009

What's bugging me?

I went walking in the forest of Sheogh with G, K, S, A and little M yesterday. These are deep woods located a little outside Shimla. For a paltry fee of Rs. 200, you can go up to the little rest house owned by the Forest Department, but no further. That pleasure is restricted to the heaven-born, such as yours truly. Be warned that the guest house has no amenities except a wonderfully pink toilet. You will need to carry your own food, water and other dire necessities. My fellow explorers and I spotted a group of the well-heeled, delicately sipping wine and eating little cucumber sandwiches with their pinkies raised. I can never help marvelling over the variety of people I get to meet on the road (or, as in this case, the forest)!
But, back to my group, a truly marvellous time was had by all. This was in large measure thanks to two of our companions: A who is an expert on forestry and pointed out all sorts of interesting details about the different types of trees which grow there; and S who is a scientist and taught us more in half a day than all Botany teachers in middle school could over several years.
It's incredible how the people with whom you journey can totally alter your perception and transform your experience!

We saw many varieties of trees, plants, flowers (which will make their way into this blog soon, I'm sure). But the best of all were the bugs! I wasn't able to identify a single one, but they were all fascinating, each of a different hue, each busily collecting nectar, taking off from this leaf, landing on that petal: the whole forest buzzed with activity.

I was reminded of an Aileen Fisher poem I'd read as a child. It went like this:

Don't you think it's probable
that beetles, bugs and bees
talk about a lot of things -
you know, such things as these:

The kind of weather where they live
in jungles tall with grass,
and earthquakes in their villages
whenever people pass.

You know what was so fascinating about the fat little spider in the picture above? He was the exact same shape, size and colour of the buds of the common broom plant on which he was building his webby home. The camouflage was so perfect that one of us nearly plucked him out, thinking him to be a fat little flowerbud!

A small, speckled visitor
Wearing a crimson cape,
Brighter than a cherry,
Smaller than a grape!

This little fellow reminded me of a senior colleague: someone who is great at punching holes into just about anything that's put before her!

19 June 2009

Ann, meet Naughty.

Ann, you asked about Naughty. So here he is. Especially for you.

Happiness, they say, is a warm puppy. I don't need to add any words to these pictures. Look at them and smile. (Naughty is an absurdly cute puppy I met recently. My friend R is his human).

Said St. Bernard, (the saint, not the dog) "Qui me amat, amet et canem meum" (Who loves me will love my dog also). Right on, Saint! Naughty laughs with his tail. His tail, possibly the most overworked limb of his body, is expressive and speaks a language of its own. He likes eating and sleeping and playing with an oversized ball, preferably with obliging humans who will kick it around for him endlessly. He's one of those dogs who, if you said something really foolish, would give you a look that said "My god, you're right, I never would've thought of that!!"

18 June 2009

All I ask is friendship’s pleasure:

Friendship is a common belief in the same fallacies, mountebanks and hobgoblins, said a wise man once. For me, it is a tangible thing: alive and concrete, offering supports that sometimes even love has failed to provide. Could be that it weighs more merely because where love has sometimes been blind, friendship has chosen to close its eyes! Uncommon as true love is, it is clear that true friendship is even rarer.

This mention of friendship comes to mind because I am reminded of my recent visit to Sunni to catch up with my friend R. R, in turn, reminds me of those lines by Maria Wentworth: "Good to the poor, to kindred dear / To servants kind, to friendship clear / To nothing but her self severe.." By association of thoughts, I leap from musings on friendship to thoughts of R and from there to images of Sunni, the little town where she lives.

Sunni is a little taluka place about 45 kilometres from Shimla. Plenty of people visit Tattapani, but few seem to stop at Sunni which is home to a lovely architectural gem, home to R, her husband M, their cute little puppy, Naughty and her venerable father-in-law, the old Tikka-saheb.

The drive from Shimla winds past Mashobra, Baldian, Badmain and Basantpur. A river runs through it all. Now you see it. Now you don't. Mountains form boundaries of sorts. In big-brotherly fashion, Shali, the tallest of them all, towers above the rest. The road which once tried your nerves as well your bones is today almost as smooth as Hema Malini's botoxed cheeks.

Take the hairpin bend where the road says Basantpur/Tattapani, and you're on your way to Sunni. The first thing you notice is the perceptibly higher temperature. R & M like to frighten potential visitors by talking of the horrendous temperatures. For sure, Sunni is not Shimla. (And thank God for that!). It is warmer than Shimla, but not as warm as, say, Delhi, or Agra!

A walk around the town reveals a multitude of temples, almost an embarrassment of religious riches, so to speak! The visitor sees godmen of various hues and persuasions. One or two look quite dubious, given to the ways, alike, of man and mammon.

Turn another hairpin bend. Puff your way up a little slope. If you stop to wipe your brow and happen to look up, you may see this little "palace". The residents shrug in acceptance of breathless praise. Perhaps, for them familiarity has bred contempt. But to the first-time visitor, the Bhajji palace is a breath-taking sight. On an empty stomach, it has reminded me of rich, scrumptious black forest pastry! But on a serious note, I drink every quaint little detail and never tire of this droll building which, though well-embellished, is not so rococo as to sate the eye.

I lack the knowledge to comment in an informed fashion about the architectural details of the palace. Suffice it to say that I find its combination of mud, plaster and wood ideal for the local weather.

It is also home to fanciful things, here a little window with swans and lemon fruit, there a spiralling stairway that looks like a sea-shell cut in half.

The wood has aged well: you see a range of colours: terracotta, russet, tawny, auburn, chestnut, hazel, fawn and puce.

The setting sun bounces off the palace windows. But Naughty the little puppy pelts around the house, creating waves of energy that don't let you settle to some melancholic and sombre associations. This is a building where you rest your oars and humour an unusually meditative mood.

The mansion is small as palaces go (not that I've seen many!), but is larger, much much larger, than your common-or-garden urban dwelling. It takes long for the domestics to charge from the kitchen to the living area, the poor blokes must live in constant state of exhaustion!

Simplicity, as seen in the Sunni palace, has in its foundation a sort of modest refinement rarely seen in large houses these days.

This little manor is majestic without severity, impressive without being showy, emphatic in its admonitions and grand in its sheer simplicity. All is measured, mingled and varied, abundant of meaning, should you choose to seek it.

4 June 2009

Hills of home

Name me no names for my disease,
With uninforming breath;
I tell you I am none of these,
But homesick unto death -

Homesick for the hills I had known,
For brooks that I had crossed,
Before I met flesh and bone
And followed... and was lost.

And though they break my heart at last,
Yet name no name of ills.
Say only, "Here is where he passed,
Seeking again those hills."

Witter Bynner (1881–1968)

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