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....

19 July 2009

The kindred spirit of an inner haze...

I am the mist,
the impalpable mist,
Back of the thing you seek.
My arms are long,
Long as the reach of time and space.

Some toil and toil, believing,
Looking now and again on my face,
Catching a vital, olden glory.
But no one passes me,
I tangle and snare them all.

I am the cause of the Sphinx,
The voiceless, baffled, patient Sphinx.
I was at the first of things,
I will be at the last.

I am the primal mist
And no man passes me;
My long impalpable arms
Bar them all.

Carl Sandburg

16 July 2009


Last July, I made a post about this most peculiar plant. I had seen it grow around Chaura Maidan and in parts of Chotta Shimla which haven't been overrun by people, cars or buildings. This year, it grows in greater profusion all along the road that leads up to the Viceregal Lodge and the path which leads from the Viceregal Lodge down to Curzon House.

Much to the amusement of some morning walkers, I went down on my knees to measure the plants. The smallest is about 30 centimetres high, whereas the tallest grows up to 65 centimetres.
It emits a smell not unlike that putrefying flesh, which is most unattractive. I was, therefore, mystified to find insects trying to crawl into the cavernous mouth of an Arisaema flower. A Botany maven then informed that certain types of insects are actually attracted to this foul scent and will go into the flower looking for easy pickings on the dead flesh of some animals. Arisaema cleverly imitates this stench, and once the unsuspecting insect walks into its flower, it (the insect) gets stuck in the slightly sticky substance inside the flower.

The ones seen last year were light green all over, whereas this year, two ore interesting types seem to have sprung up. One is of the palest green with dark green stripes. The other, has violet, almost brown stripes. I find this a bit like describing the colour of a zebra: is it white with black stripes? Or black with white ones?! A learned Botany type tells me that some scientists classify these as three variations of the one species, whereas others say these are three distinct species! At any rate, they all belong to the magnoliophyta (flowering plant) division, and to the liliopsida class.

Arisaema amurense

Arisaema cillatum

A little later last year, I was also fortunate enough to be to photograph the fruit of Jack-in-the-pulpit. I little knew that this cluster of shiny berries was a part of the same plant I'd condemned as being rather unsightly earlier! The fruit is smooth, shiny green and about a centimetre in diametre. It begins to turn bright red before the plant goes dormant in winter.

The dangerous aspect of Arisaema cannot be emphasised enough. The presence of calcium oxalate crystals can cause of the mouth and digestive system, and on rare occasions, the swelling of the mouth and throat may be severe enough to affect breathing.

15 July 2009

Lovin' Shimla!

I love Shimla and I love old Hindi cinema. It is, therefore, with great glee that I watch films shot in my adopted home-town. Some capture "the Shimla mood" wonderfully well. Others merely use it as a backdrop to illustrate an emotion, or a situation.
Dr Usha Bande, a respected local academician and old Shimla hand has spoken eloquently on this in her essay "Real Shimla in Reel Shimla" in the anthology Whispering Deodars, edited by the redoubtable Minakshi Chaudhry.

I will speak of a few favourites only.
My no. 1 all-time super-duper favourite is "तू कहाँ ये बता" (tu kahan ye bata) from the 1963 classic "Tere Ghar Ke Saamne". In all likelihood, the song was shot in a studio set. But it captures the misty, rainy evenings that Shimla residents revel in yearly during the monsoon.
"हसीनों की सवारी है" (haseeno ki sawaari hai) from the 1960 film "Love In Shimla", a Mills-and-Boonesque romance, is a perennial favourite. This song captures Shimla's quaint rooftops, winding roads and dappled shade so wonderfully! A rare treat to see the Shimla of the 60s as the hero, Joy Mukherjee, runs past Shimla Club (didn't notice Chalet Day School which is located on the other side!), up to the US Club, then on to Ridge past Chris Church to reach Scandal Point.
No films based around Shimla would be complete without the hero yodelling the mandatory song in (or even on) the Kalka-Shimla train! "दिल थाम चले हम आज किधर" (dil thaam chale hum aaj kidhar) also from "Love In Shimla" has Joy Muhkerjee crooning in a first-class train compartment. In "मुझे अपना यार बना लो", (mujhe apna yaar banaa lo) from the 1960 film "Boyfriend", you have a jaunty Shammi Kapoor cadging a rooftop ride. Dangerous, but visually spell-binding!
Please click on the links to enjoy a moveable feast of Shimla! You may not understand Hindi, but the delights are all visual anyway...

14 July 2009

Pessimism For Beginners

Went to Tattapani the other day. The place is famous for its sulphur springs which have a therapeutic value. For me, unfortunately, the place has negative associations because only last month, someone from work lost two children to drowning there. The sands are treacherous, shifting and look deceptively calm. Any number of youngsters visit the place for a day's frolic, which can turn tragic in the blink of an eye.
The grey sand, grey water, grey rocks make me pensive.

When you’re waiting for someone to e-mail,
When you’re waiting for someone to call –
Young or old, gay or straight, male or female –
Don’t assume that they’re busy, that’s all.

Don’t conclude that their letter went missing
Or they must be away for a while;
Think instead that they’re cursing and hissing –
They’ve decided you’re venal and vile,

That your eyes should be pecked by an eagle.
Oh, to bash in your head with a stone!
But since this is unfairly illegal
They’ve no choice but to leave you alone.

Be they friend, parent, sibling or lover
Or your most stalwart colleague at work,
Don’t pursue them. You’ll only discover
That your once-irresistible quirk

Is no longer appealing. Far from it.
Everything that you are and you do
Makes them spatter their basin with vomit.
They loathe Hitler and Herpes and you.

Once you take this on board, life gets better.
You give no-one your hopes to destroy.
The most cursory phone call or letter
Makes you pickle your heart in pure joy.

It’s so different from what you expected!
They do not want to gouge out your eyes!
You feel neither abused nor rejected –
What a stunning and perfect surprise.

This approach I’m endorsing will net you
A small portion of boundless delight.
Keep believing the world’s out to get you.
Now and then you might not be proved right.

~ Sophie Hannah ~

10 July 2009

Raindrops keep fallin' on my head.

Predictable, I know. But the rains have come so late to Shimla this year that our first serious showers deserve to be greeted with a cheesy song! By happy coincidence, this song completely fits my mood at the moment!

Raindrops keep fallin' on my head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothin' seems to fit
Those raindrops are fallin' on my head, they keep fallin'

So I just did me some talkin' to the sun
And I said I didn't like the way he got things done
Sleepin' on the job
Those raindrops are fallin' on my head, they keep fallin'

But there's one thing I know
The blues they send to meet me won't defeat me
It won't be long till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep fallin' on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turnin' red
Cryin's not for me
'Cause I'm never gonna stop the rain by complainin'
Because I'm free
Nothin's worryin' me

It won't be long till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep fallin' on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turnin' red
Cryin's not for me
'Cause I'm never gonna stop the rain by complainin'
Because I'm free
Nothin's worryin' me

9 July 2009

Beauty is a light in the heart...

This morning, thanks to SR's blandishments, I found myself in Bishop Cotton School. That venerable establishment deserves a post all of its own, but for now, I'm going to speak of some moments of magic.
I walked into the BCS chapel.

This is a long room with a wonderful high, arched ceiling, made of the most beautiful dark wood you ever saw. This creates a sort of perpetual twilight. This dimness, coupled with the kaleidoscope of images created by the stained glass windows, is a magnificent feast for the eye. The sombre light elevates the spirit rather than rendering it austere.

Stained glass has been used in chapels, churches and cathedrals for centuries now. Metallic salts are added to glass during the process of manufacture in order to create different colours. These bits of colour are then joined together with lead to form elaborate Biblical scenes. Stained glass windows are unique not only for their beauty, but also their sturdiness in withstanding rain, hail and strong winds.

For me, the greatest artistry lies in the way stained glass windows control light. In these windows, light becomes an accomplice in decorating the chapel, rather than it merely being a medium of illumination!

I particularly loved this so-blond Jesus, pensively holding a lamb to his chest. Rev. Halder, the wonderfully merry shepherd of the BCS flock, tells me that the windows were designed by the redoubtable Martin Travers.

The windows shown above were originally part of the Viceregal Lodge chapel. They were removed to BCS at some point in history.

5 July 2009

The spiral is a spiritualised circle...

quoth Nabokov. In the spiral form, the circle, uncoiled, unwound, has ceased to be vicious; it has been set free, he said.The meditative eye can look at any object and find an entire cosmos in it. The artistic problem, as Aldous Huxley pinpoints, is to produce diaphanousness in spots, selecting the spots so as to reveal only the most humanly significant of distant vistas behind the near familiar object.

He sought spiritual nebulae and Mozart's music in the smell of roast duck. I, less ambitious, looked at Calla lilies in S's garden and thought of Noel Harrison!

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel thats turning
Running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

Like a tunnel that you follow
To a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern
Where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving
In a half-forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble
Someone tosses in a stream
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

Keys that jingle in your pocket
Words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly?
Was it something that you said?
Lovers walk along a shore
And leave their footprints in the sand
Is the sound of distant drumming
Just the fingers of your hand?
Pictures hanging in a hallway
And the fragment of a song
Half-remembered names and faces
But to whom do they belong?
When you knew that it was over
You were suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning
To the colour of her hair

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel
As the images unwind
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

3 July 2009

A divine ecstasy, an inexpressible delirium of joy.

That is how I would describe the evening that went by yesterday. Yesterday, I heard my favourite poet in person, in a building I love (though I often say rude things about it!

उठाये फिरते थे एहसान दिल का सीने पर
ले तेरे कदमों पे ये क़र्ज़ भी उतार चले

This morning, a friend asked me: "So, how did it go? Did you get his autograph? Did you click a picture of yourself with him? What did you say to him?" I told her "The answer is: it was wonderful. No and no and nothing!"

I ask you. What do you do when you suddenly find yourself in the same room as someone whose words you cherish beyond life.
Whose poetry courses through you like that other red substance.
Whose songs are.... in his own words... "तेरे बगैर दिन न जला, तेरे बगैर शब् न बुझे"!
Do you tell him,"I love your poetry. It has lightened many a dark moment in my life". Can you reveal to him that all that he's written about feels as though it has really happened to you and that when you finished reading what he wrote, it belongs to you and to you alone: the good, the bad, the rapture, the torment, the bliss?
Do you ask him: "What inspires you?"
Do you inquire if he had lunch and whether it was to his liking?
Do you demand to know how he met and became friends with Meena Kumari and how did he chance upon her poetry?
How do you pry into his politics?
Do you implore him to share the true nature of his relationship with Raakhee, his former wife, friend, permanent muse? Do you quiz him on how love dies, and yet friendship remains?
Do you beseech him to explain his love for "mojris"?
Do you probe into his signature quirky phrases which push the frontier of language, which hop and skip from Urdu to Punjabi to Hindustani to English, much as dragon-flies skip on the surface of a still lake?
Do you grill him on who this new young person in his life is, to whom he so laughingly refers in his poems?

With Gulzar, every question seems an intrusion. The man wears an aura every bit as shiny white as his trademark crisp white kurtas. To pose questions would be, in some way, to sully this purity. The peace that he carries within cannot but percolate to the lovers of his poetry. Each one seems struck as silent by his presence as I am!!!

नज़्म उलझी हुई है सीने में
मिसरे अटके हुए हैं होठों पर
उड़ते फिरते हैं तितलियों की तरह
लफ्ज़ कागज़ पे बैठते ही नहीं
कब से बैठा हूँ मैं, जानम
सादे कागज़ पे लिखके नाम तेरा

बस तेरा नाम ही मुकम्मल है
इससे बेहतर भी नज़्म क्या होगी...

2 July 2009

What would you ask for?

This was the question that one of my favourite bloggers, asked in her blog "My Topography".
It got me thinking, for I've always had a problem with asking for things. For some reason, I grew up quite deficient in a sense of entitlement - from my family, the man I loved, my friends, even from God. As a result of this not knowing what to ask for, I often settled for what I got. I do not blame the givers, for more often than not, they were unclear about what I wanted! This happened partly from my failure to articulate my "wants" and partly, because I myself did not know what I wanted!!!
But now that I'm older, have lived a life of my own making and one that resulted from choices I made - good and bad - I realise it's a good thing to ask for what you want! I am reminded of those cheesy (but fanstastically true) lines from the film "Om Shanti Om" "कहते हैं कि ...... अगर किसी चीज़ को दिल से चाहो तो पूरी कायनात उसे तुमसे मिलाने की कोशिश में लग जाती है ." (Rough translation: if you want something from your heart (i.e., really badly), the entire universe conspires to get that thing for you)

Here is my list:
  • Two to three years more in Shimla.
  • Good health for all my loved ones: family and friends.
  • Books of Sophie Hannah's poetry.
  • A reunion with the my classmates of KV, Srinagar.
  • A Tamron AF57N-700 72E SP90MM 1:1 Macro Lens.
  • A book of my Shimla photographs.
  • A pissup at Shimla with the WT girls.
  • More travels. And still more travels.

For all that I already have, I am grateful to whoever it is that's up there.

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