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....

27 October 2009

Autumn song

Know'st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the heart feels a languid grief
Laid on it for a covering,
And how sleep seems a goodly thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?

And how the swift beat of the brain
Falters because it is in vain,
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf
Knowest thou not? and how the chief
Of joys seems--not to suffer pain?

Know'st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the soul feels like a dried sheaf
Bound up at length for harvesting,
And how death seems a comely thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?

~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti ~

पतझड़ में कुछ पत्तों के गिरने की आहट
कानों में इक बार पेहें के लौटाई थी
पतझड़ की वो शाख अभी तक काँप रही है
वो शाख गिरा दो,
मेरा वो सामान लौटा दो
~गुलज़ार ~

25 October 2009

Bring me the sunset in a cup

An ignorance a Sunset
Confer upon the Eye—
Of Territory—Color—

Its Amber Revelation
Omnipotence' inspection
Of Our inferior face—

And when the solemn features
Confirm—in Victory—
We start—as if detected
In Immortality—

~ Emily Dickinson ~

14 October 2009

A panegyric to solitude

It is dusk. Light falls softly and disappears even as I look out of the window. I am sitting at my desk in a house so silent that I can hear a bird alight on the tree outside. No one comes in clamouring for attention. No one calls me outside to see icicles on the oak tree. No one interrupts me with an anxious "Haven't you worked enough for one day?"
The silence began two years ago, on a day full of the sound of running water...
My experience feels unique to me, but of course, it isn't.
We who live solitary are visited from time to time by great gusts of loneliness. We are scarred by those dismal hours in which what we have to do - without anyone helping us - seems too much. We are overwhelmed by a longing for the paired life we see others enjoy, simply for the joy of sharing intimacy.
But solitude brings a life full of satisfaction, warmth and even joy. Since the times of solitude can come to many of us unchosen, it behoves us to learn how to find these joys, so that we may live with dignity and grace.
Looking back on some times I have spent solitary, I see some moments crystallising in my memory. Like that first gentle, thin ray of sunlight after rain, there is a meagre, yet growing warmth that is indigenous to my solitude.
Where does this warmth come from? First of all, from memory, which holds together the skeins of my life. Solitude enhances memory. And so, curiously, memories strengthen the sense of continuity I feel with others' lives.
If my solitude has been lit by memories, then it has also been warmed by a growing sense of my own identity. After I had lived alone for a while, I found myself caught up in innumerable inner dialogues, between the self dying of the grief of aloneness and the self who wanted to live; the self who believed and the self who denied; the self who loved and the self who repudiated love because it hurt too much.
Haven't we known, Like Whitman, that we contain multitudes? Compassionate and cruel, mature and callow, wise and jejune? Haven't we always known that the colloquy between these warring selves has been waiting for us to catch up with it?
Caught up in these struggles, I have had the chance to come to grip with unexplained beliefs and answer important questions. Why do I do this and not that? What is being asked of me? What am I to do with my life? When I lived surrounded by people, some of the passion and insight natural to my inner self leaked away through the sieve of the daily humdrum. Alone, I was forced to pay attention to the question marks in my heart.
Solitude, I found, is that identity-making place where I learnt to fight my demons. And how many I had of those when my solitude began: the fear of the dark, the fear I would never be loved again... The risk for all of us who live alone is that our feelings may become the most important thing in our lives! We may brood resentfully about people instead of responding to them.
Every day, the solitary person - still fighting the all too human battle against growing up - must cope with something new. Quickly and painfully, you discover what kind of a person you are, what kind of inner resources you can muster. In solitude, as Rilke says, "there is no place that does not see you" - so only honesty is good enough.
At my most daring moments, I like to believe that what is going on is that ultimately divine work - the shaping of my soul. True, there are many agnostics hiding in the foxholes of solitude; some of them became that way because they were alone for much too long. Nevertheless, there is something in the nature of the solitary experience that contributes to the growth of the spirit. Many a solitude has been lighted by the discovery of what the Quakers call "that of God in every man".
Above all, my solitude is warmed by people and my new understanding of them. That sounds like a paradox, doesn't it? You may ask: isn't the solitary, by the very nature of her solitude, handicapped in her relationships with others? On the contrary, the solitary is particularly fitted for relationships. As Carl Jung says "No one is more sensitive to companionship than the lonely man".
We have empty, therefore, open hearts as we did not when preoccupied with just one love. We are freer to meet the stranger, freer to talk to him in depth,
The sorrows of others seem to enter my solitude framed by the understanding of my own struggles. Solitude is part of the inescapable enterprise of maturing. A time for solitude, well used, is a spillway for what has choked one's life; it is an illumination of the rest of one's experiences.
But it is not always tranquil. My inward life is sometimes the threshing floor of emotions. I suspect that solitude never leaves you the way it found you. You emerge from it angrier, or gentler, sterner or more compassionate; more bitter, or more loving; more shut within, or more communicative; but never the same.

Search out the joys of solitude. I have heard people say "Nothing good ever happens to me". I don't agree. My gratitude journal list my daily joys: "Today N called"; "S sent me some music"; "DB sent me wonderful candy"; "Had lunch with N, S and P and giggled madly over the way H behaves"... Reading those pages, I watch myself growing and can only marvel at how unpredictable and wonderful life can be!
Solitary, or coupled, the most important thing we can do for ourselves is to learn with ourselves with courage, humility and beauty.

13 October 2009

O, the thorns we stand upon!

Too often am I accused of only focussing on all that's pretty about Shimla. But that's not just my attitude to Shimla, I assure you. This is pretty much the sum of my world-view. The construct of my memories is the result of my personal aesthetic which rejects that which is ugly and painful, vexatious and noisome!

And yet, where would we be if it weren't for the sordid and the troublesome? A garden would be really boring if it had only roses and no thorns, a life so dull and lacking in challenge if it weren't for the vicissitudes that life throws at us! If the dress weren't occasionally caught in the thorns, would we stop to look at and smell the lovely flower that grows unseen? I am forced to agree with William Penn when he says "No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown"....

Thorns, to me, have become reminders of that which I try to escape. Sometimes, it is the commonplace that I try to escape, other times, the bizarre. I retreat ahead of that which vexes me by manipulating my vision and thrusting an alternate dream within a dream. Often, I offer a prayer upwards , not for my own escape, but for someone I hold dear, almost as a ransom.

On a more prosaic note, thorns are a woody outgrowth with a sharp point, usually of a stem or a branch. Plants grow these as a protection against herbivores. On a walk near Ghumma last weekend with R, I discovered this peculiar spinulose plant with little prickles growing, of all places, on the surface of its leaves. A helpful person informed us that this plant is locally known as "foota kanda", which roughly translates as "broken thorn". I haven't been able to locate its proper botanic name yet, but promise to update this post as soon as I do.

8 October 2009

A towered citadel, a pendant rock, a forked mountain...

Travel into the heart of Kinnaur and it is inevitable that you find yourself at Sangla, an edgy little town ranged along the Baspa. The settlement has little to recommend for itself, except a sort of ubiquitous Kinnauri prettiness and a huge mountain which, my local companion explains is "the back-side of the Kinner Kailash", that last being one of the tallest peaks in these parts.

The greatest find in Sangla is the lovely old fort of Kamru. Locals are incertain of its provenance, claiming it to be anything between four to seven hundred years old. It is a structure found commonly in Himachal. A tall wooden building, several stories high, so located as to serve as both a fortification and a look-out point for the village.
The climb up from the village is a steep one,. If you find it difficult to breathe, blame it not just on the steep incline, or the low levels of oxygen in the mountain air, but on the views all around which take your breath away! Just look at this magnificent fortification. It is designed to inspire awe in the manner in which it forces the viewer to crane her neck and make her eye travel upwards!

At the entrance is an imposing gate. This is made of old wood, embellished with a gorgeous motifs made in beaten metal of some sort, probably copper. The vagaries of the sun, the snow and the wind have burnished the copper into most attractive shades of titian, russet and henna. The visitor must take his shoes off at the entrance and put on a Kinnauri cap and a sort of string-like belt as a mark of respect to the royalty and the presiding deity.
Tall visitors are warned: the door in the picture above is designed to make you lower your head as you enter! Also, the fort doors are open only for a fxed while in the morning. So, should you be interested in exploring the fort, make sure you present yourself at its portals no later than ten o'clock in the morning.

What you see above is the little structure through which the visitor emerges having passed through the imposing doorway of the Kamru citadel. Some interesting musical instruments hang from sundry nails on its walls, unintentionally creating a fabulous Manetesque, still-life like effect.

Directly to the left as you enter lies this tiny hut. Evidently, it is a storage space for the palanquin of the presiding deity. It is on this palanquin that the deity goes for an "airing". I do not mean this in levity. Through a medium, locally known as a "ghoor", the deity has been known to express a desire to go visitng her siblings and friends in neighbouring villages; thus occasioning much celebration and gaiety.

The deity of Kamru, Kali, is much feared locally. Several bloodthirsty fables are attributed to her. Most important of all is the local concept of "darohi" or treachery. Legend has it that the Raja who ruled from Kamru demanded vassalage from all the thakurs (headmen) of surrounding villages. One day, finding himself encircled by Tibetan, he sent out frantic messages requesting support from his vassals. However, he was betrayed by a thakur and a local tailor from the village of Chini who told the Tibetans a way by which the ramparts of the Kamru fort could be brought down.
The Tibetans, and indeed the traitors, had not reckoned with the powers of the deity which were ranged alongside Kamru's ruler. Those supernatural powers and the mundane reality of approaching winters, made the Tibetans abandon their plans and at length, the Raja was able to chase them out of the valley.
This episode, however, left a bad taste in the royal mouth. And so was born the concept of "darohi", or treachery. The recalcitrant thakur was reduced to vassalage and the tailor, poor man, lost his head!
The Raja then ordered that a representative of Chini village be present every year at the eight-day festival held in honour of his deity. The poor man is then plied freely with liquour until he's fairly senseless. He is then dressed up in a mock armour and made to perform a sort of burlesque before the assembly of Kamru's residents. The idea is to make the village of Chini a laughing stock and to parody the treacherous actions of the thakur and the tailor. Water is then sprinkled over the head of this representative in a symbolic representation of his "beheading".
To be sure, people from Chini told me that no one wants to participate in this mock ritual which keeps the memory of their traitorous ancestor alive. On their part, the Rajas who ruled Kamru (of the Rampur-Bushahr line) have eased things by allowing waterto be poured over the representative's hands, instead of his head!
The concept of "darohi", however, is alive and kicking. Acting like an oath of loyalty, today it ensures obedience of the rule of law.

7 October 2009


Delaying, loafing, dilly-dallying, frittering , loitering, So many words describe the essence of me! However, I strongly maintain that my imagination needs moodling,—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. I don't think I'd be able to do my work, or write my blog, or wander around taking photographs if, as Rupert Brooke says, I could not dawdle away the wat'ry noon...
(Must take a moment to thank the subjects of the picture below. These men, government employees to a man, were found entertaining themselves on a working day. Do not ask, gentle reader, what the person behind the camera was doing!)

As a true master of the fine art of procrastination, I was rather taken in by something a very favourite blogger, Christine Kane wrote recently.
She said:
"If you're a procrastinator, it doesn't mean you're lazy!"

Produced below are her thoughts from her weekly e-zine. Thank you, Christine-guru. I'm going to finish reading that boring file, send in the promised article, collate photos for my book... Soon. As soon as I'm done updating my status message on Facebook, reading sundry (junk) emails and staring out of the window....

9 Simple Solutions for Procrastinators

Irony: As I started to write this article, I thought, "I'll just go play one Sudoku game first." I caught myself in the act and marched to my laptop.
People who say that procrastination is about laziness are probably the same people who think that anorexia is about not eating enough.

Procrastination isn't about laziness. It's about fear. It's about perfectionism. It's about overwhelm. We all experience it, and there are some tricks to help you get moving again.

Here are 9 ways to break the procrastination habit:

1 - When you get an idea, do some little thing to begin.

When I read Stephen King's book On Writing, I noticed something. I noticed that when Stephen King gets an idea, he writes it. Immediately and imperfectly.
Most people get an idea. Then they sit there. They wonder if it's a good idea. Then, they wonder if it's a good idea some more.
Got an idea? Begin it now!

2 - All hail small chunks of time!

Lots of us complain about having no time. My guess is that we all have lots of time. It just doesn't happen to be all at once.
Are you waiting for many hours of spare time to begin your idea, your project, or your taxes? Stop waiting! Learn to use the spare half hour that comes up here and there. (I gave myself 45 minutes to write this article just to take my own advice.)

3 - Agree to do it badly.
Set a goal to do it badly. Set a goal to show up. Let go of doing it ALL, or doing it WELL.
Some of my coaching clients' biggest victories have a lot more to do with getting over perfectionism and fear, than they do about getting it all done perfectly.

4 - Commit aloud.

Call a friend and say something like this: "I'm going to spend the next half hour working on my Law School Essay." Then go do it.
Call the friend after the half hour and make her congratulate you. Repeat daily.

5 - Define quantities.

Nebulous goals make for nebulous results. "I'm gonna get my office organized" is a lot like saying, "We oughtta do something about Global Warming."
Most procrastinators have a hard time defining quantities. We think everything needs to be done NOW.
When are you going to do it? For how long? Which part of your office? The file cabinet? Or your desk?
Define the goal and acknowledge its completion.

6 - Install this System Upgrade into your Mental Hard Drive: Less is More.
Have fewer goals. Have no more than three priorities for a week.
Because you're not lazy. You're just trying to do too much.
Find out what it feels like to accomplish one thing instead of not quite getting to everything. Wow – what a difference this makes!

7 - Do it first.
My first coach made me write songs first thing in the morning. He told me to schedule the 2-hour chunk as my first activity upon waking.
"Because you're telling the universe that this is your priority. And then the universe lines up everything to align with your priority."
Action grounds your priorities. It makes them real. It also makes your day easier because you're not wasting energy thinking about this thing you're supposed to be doing.

8 - Avoid nose-bleed activities.
Email, voicemail, web stats - any activity that bleeds itself into your whole day becomes a non-activity. It becomes a nose-bleed. When you do it all the time, you never complete it. You just let it slowly drain the very life force from you. Define times for these activities. Then, turn off your email, your cell phone, your web stats, until that time comes.

9 - Don't ask how you "feel" about doing the activity.
Have you ever committed to getting fit? And then when the alarm goes off, you lie in bed thinking, "Do I really feel like going to the gym?" (Like you even have to ask!)
Change this pattern. Make your decision the night before.
Commit to getting up and going right to the gym, the computer, the blank canvas. Don't have coffee and sigh and think, "I'll probably feel more like it at lunch time." You won't!
If it's a priority, don't waste time asking yourself how you feel about doing it. Feelings are an easy out.

There. I did it. I wrote this article. And now, I don't even want to play Sudoku! How about that?


(Performer, songwriter, and creativity consultant Christine Kane publishes her 'LiveCreative' weekly ezine with more than 4,000 subscribers. If you want to be the artist of your life and create authentic and lasting success, you can sign up for a FRE*E subscription to LiveCreative at www.christinekane.com.)

5 October 2009

Hawaghar Re-Redux

I've mentioned the hawaghars in Shimla in earlier posts. I found two more! They are both located en route from Annadale towards Vidhan Sabha.

This one's close to Comar House:

And this one is located at the crossing Vidhan Sabha, Kennedy Cottage and Knockdrin:

Rest, rest, perturbed spirit! (Hamlet, Act 1, Sc. 5, apropos of nothing!)

4 October 2009

Clematis and cabbage.

Nature has place for both, says the venerable Thoreau. So right he is, because not every every truth recommends itself to common sense! Some truths are romantic, others sensible. We must decide: do we choose to look at the cabbage or at the clematis? If you're an idealist, you may be tempted to conclude that merely because the clematis smells better than the cabbage, it makes better soup. But then you're entitled to such a perspective!

Walking in the Sheogh woods is ever a pleasure. Every month reveals fickle bugs and capricious flora. A little velvety starlet which caught your eye in March vanishes in September. That little black spiny fellow who went scampering under a bush in May goes off for his winter vacation and will only put in an appearance next year. Still, in the spirit of gathering ye flowers while ye May, one ventures back into the forest over and over again; unfailingly treated to some new species each time.

This time, I discover Clematis connata.

The Dictionary of Botanical Epithets describes this plant as "clematis "= climbing; "connata " = connate, fused together.
This is pretty lemon-coloured, bell-shaped flower about an inch long. It is mildly fragrant. It had four long petals that curve outwards and are finely woolly-haired when seen up close. The anthers are creamy green and the leaves, a glossy green pinnate. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees and flies. I found the flowers growing in warm, sunny, yet sheltered spots. The soil looked moist, but well-drained. The leafstalks had wrapped themselves around twigs and branches for support.
I'm tickled to find this smarmy and retro Alexander Bathgate poem in the Gardener's Book of Poems:

Fair crown of stars of purest ray,
Hung aloft on Mapau tree,
What floral beauties ye display,
Stars of snowy purity;
Around the dark-leaved mapau's head
Unsullied garlands ye have spread.

Concealed were all thy beauties rare
'Neath the dark umbrageous shade,
But still to gain the loftiest spray,
Thy weak stem its efforts made;
Now, every obstacle o'ercome,
Thou smilest from thy leafy home.

That home secure, 'mid sombre leaves
Yielded by thy stalwart spouse,
Helps thee to show thy fairy crown,
Decorates his dusky boughs:
His strength, thy beauty, both unite
And form a picture to delight.

Fair flower, methinks thou dost afford
Emblem of a perfect wife,
Whose work is hidden from the world,
Till, perchance, her husband's life
Is by her influence beautified,
And this by others is descried.


The humble cabbage is native to the Mediterranean and was known to the Greeks and Romans, even finds place in Cato's writings. Then man, it seems, praised it for its medicinal value and called it a vegetable that "surpasses all vegetables"! This is a herbaceous, biennial plant which is a great source of Vitamin C and riboflavin and contains significant quantities of glutamine, an amino-acid which has anti-inflammatory properties.

This leads me to conclude that some truths, no matter how unattractive, may actually be good for you!

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