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....

29 March 2010

The smallest flower is a thought...

My friend Sanjiv has a lovely garden. A garden I love because it grows happily, without the application of geometry or any semblance of order. It is higgledy-piggledy, but healthy. I love exploring it because it grown on several levels and its denizens change from month to month.
So imagine my happy surprise when, during my wanderings yesterday, I should chance upon these flowers which reminded me of lanterns I'd seen in Hong Kong. Sanjiv thought the plant is called japonica. But trawling through my favourite website Flowers of India and a quick look through my vade mecum, Flowers of the Himalayas (Polunin and Stainton), I found they are called "Chinese Lanterns" or "Trailing Abutilon".

Also called "winter cherry", abutilon megapotamicum is a species native to Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina. The shrub I spotted in Sanjiv's garden is about 2 metres in height. The leaves are dark green, palmate, with a heart shape at the base. The buds resembled a fat red paper lantern. The fully-bloomed flower had five petals, these are actually enlarged sepals that have fused together to envelop the forming fruit. The fruit, resembling a cherry tomato., had a shiny skin , its flesh embedded with a rich harvest of seeds.
The delicate, five-petalled blossoms are bright crimson with bright yellow anthers. They soon are replaced by tiny green bladders that expand like balloons until they are nearly 2 inches in diameter. It was clear that the plant prefers to grow in a place where it gets some sun and light shadows in the afternoon.

My research tells me that this plant has myriad medical uses, such as bed-wetting, facial paralysis, nocturnal incontinence, hoarse voice and ... the desire to talk constantly. If you have bed-wetting, inexpressive visitors who won't shut up and cough too much, sneak a fruit in their dinner and call it a night.

Some scientific details:
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Malvales
Family: Malvaceae
Genus: Abutilon
Species: Megapotamicum

28 March 2010

The spirit-wine of a singing line

Life, come to me in no pale guise and ashen,

I care not for thee in such placid fashion!
I would share widely, Life,

In all thy joy and strife,

Would sound thy deeps and reach they highest passion,

With thy delight and with thy suffering strife.

Whether I bide with thee in cot or palace,
I would drink deeply, Life, of thy great chalice,

Even to its bitter lees

Yea, shrinking not from these,

Since from bitterness come strength and solace

And wisdom is not won in slumberous ease.

Wan peace, uncoloured days, were a poor favour;

To lack great pain and love were to lack savour.
Life, take the heart of me,

And fill it brimmingly,

No matter with what poignant brew or flavour,

So that it may not shrunk and empty be.

Yea, Life, thus would I live, nor play at living,
The best of me for thy best gladly giving.

With an unfaltering cheer,

Greeting thee year by year.

Even in thy dourest mood some good achieving,

Until I read thy deep-hid meaning clear.

~ L M Montgomery ~

26 March 2010

You are my hidden treasure... my cross, my dampened pain...

This post is inspired by, and therefore, dedicated to my old friend and soul-sister Ranjani. Our shared love of Urdu poetry goes back to the time when we were teenagers. At that time, as students in Srinagar (Kashmir) we would scribble our favourite lines on the last pages of each other's notebooks.
Last evening Ranjani called me, frantic, because a fragment of a ghazal she's loved for long was stuck in a corner of her mind. She couldn't remember all its words and wanted me to look it up for her, for she knew that the poet is someone very close to my heart: Ahmed Faraz. It was with the greatest of pleasure that I pulled out a pile of books from my poetry shelf...
This ghazal had been published as a part of Faraz's collection of ghazals and nazms called "Khanabadosh".

Read it and revel as I do in the felicity of Faraz's pen.
Thank you, Ranjani.

Kya aise kam-sukhan se koii guftagoo karey
jo mustakqil suuqoot se dil ko lahuu karey

Ab to humein bhi tarq-e-maraasim ka dukh nahi.n

par dil yeh chaahta hai ki aagaaz tuu karey

Tere baghair bhi to ganeemat hai zindagi

khud ko gawaa.n ke kaun teri justajuu karey

Ab to yeh arzoo hai ke wok zakhm khaiiye

taa-zindagi yeh dil na koii arzoo karey

Tujhko bhulaa ke dil hai woh sharmind-e-nazar

ab koii hadsaa hi tere rubaroo karey

Chupchaap apni aag mein jalte raho 'Faraz'

duniya to arz-e-haal se be-aabroo karey

Some lovely Temple, Tenantless...

My wanderings in Shimla's surrounds have revealed an unexpected treasure trove of temples. It is interesting how quickly word spreads when you reveal an interest to your circle of friends. There you are, sitting with your fingers wrapped around a cuppa, saturated with postprandial bliss, when someone says "G, you simply have to go to X, or Y or Z!". There's little to do but oblige! The trip to Balag was the result of one such evening, and the provocation came from my revered friend B. S. "Billy" Malhans who is an authority on the temple architecture of this wonderful state.

There are three temples in Balag, a small village in the sub-division of Theog. Two are of the rock-cut variety and one built in the old "devra" style which is my personal favourite. As with many temples in Himachal, this temple too has legends connected with the famous Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. What is more interesting is that in Balag, mythology surrounding the Hindu deity Shiva has got inextricably linked to the allegories related to Mahabharata.

The most important temple is dedicated to the divine destroyer, Shiva. The temple displays all the motifs and symbols connected to his apologue. Nandi, the divine bull, guards the entrance to the temple. The shikhara, the rising tower which covers the sanctum sanctorum, is bedizened with his emblems, weird animals and grinning ganas, his attendants or ghostly hosts, on account of their nature.These are supposed to be of ghostly origin and generally benign except when someone transgresses against their Lord.

The temple is built of blocks of sandstone some of which are coming sadly undone. There is a huge vertical crack running through the northern end of the "shikhara" which could prove catastrophic in the future. The temple's "kaardars" (keepers) say they have knocked on several doors, but to no avail.

Ganesha, the son of Shiva is a deity beloved of Hindus, for it is his name that is invoked before the commencement. He stands for a heightening of every sense and of pursuit equally of knowledge as well as good food! I saw a small stone statue of his in Balag, resting separately from the temple in its own niche. The provenance was of the same era as the main temple. The statue had suffered the depredations of time, its surface worn smooth, yet still revealing Ganesha's elephant ears (symbolising wisdom), his pot-belly (symbolising a huge apetite) and long trunk (which stands for heightened sensory perception).
Similarly, there are small staues, no more than eighteen inches in height of Shiva and his divine consort Parvati ("Daughter of Mountains"), and of Shiva as "Mahadeva" the Supreme Soul.

Among several of his anthropomorphic forms, Shiva is also represented in the shape of a vertical rounded column. Regarded by some as the phallic symbol, worship of the lingam actually originates in the Atharva Veda in the praise of the sacrificial post: the Yupa Stambha.
Standing close to him is Nandi, his divine mount, another symbol of Shiva being the Lord of Animals.

T little temple in the picture above was the second in the little triad. This temple is dedicated to Nakul, one of the five Pandava brothers and twin borther of Sahdeva. It is embellished most attractively on the face of its little "shikhara" (temple dome) with the face of a figure not unlike that of Pashupatinath ("Lord of Animal-like Beings"). Surrounding this are gorgeous floral and lacy patterns, wrought delicately in stone.

This is the oldest devra of Balag, which, while not de-consecrated, no longer sees regular worship. As can be seen, it looks to be of an entirely different age and design than the other two temples.

22 March 2010

Just living is not enough, one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.

Antirrhinum is a genus of plants commonly known as snapdragons from the flowers' fancied resemblance to the face of a dragon that opens and closes its mouth when laterally squeezed (thus the 'snap'). As a child, I loved to pinch the tiny individual blossoms and make the "dragon mouth" open and close.

Snapdragons are perennial plants that do best in full or partial sun. They are available in a range of heights: dwarf (6 to 8 inches), medium (15 to 30 inches) and tall (30 to 48 inches). They uniformly bear a whorl of leaves atop slender stalks. Their large, blossom-laden flower heads are faintly fragrant and come in in a wide assortment of bright colours, white, yellow, pink and burgundy.

For the detail-minded among my gentle readers:

Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Lamiales
Family: Plantaginaceae

21 March 2010

i am a little church (no great cathedral)

Yesterday I happened to pass by that little area known to Shimla's older residents as Ripon Place. This was a quiet Saturday, and as good a time as any to wander into St. Michael's Cathedral, the other big Christian place of worship of our town. The dressed grey stone is, to me, its most attractive feature as is its spire, somewhat visible through the branches of an old oak.
This church was built in 1885, and was then known by its full name : the Cathedral of St Michael and St Joseph. Given its age, it is quite possible that it was constructed under the supervision of the famous architect, Henry Irwin. Its site was chosen by the Viceroy, Lord Ripon.

The Indian Engineering, a Calcutta periodical of the times, carried the following note in its issue of October, 1888: "...Mr. Henry Irwin, C.I.E., is transferred to Allahabad ... It is now seven and a half years since Mr. Irwin came to Simla, to build the public offices. Since then he has designed and superintended the building of the Army Headquarters; the P.W.D. Secretariat; the Post and telegraph Offices; the Foreign Office and the Ripon Hospital ... His crowning work in Simla is the Viceregal Lodge, a handsome stone building of the Elizabethan style, which he saw completed during the summer of the present year. He leaves Simla, the city he has beautified, on the 1st of November, carrying with him the best wishes of a large circle of friends and acquaintances." As can be seen, there is no mention of the design or construction of St. Michael's. Nor is there any record to prove that Irwin designed this lovely little church.

Everyone in Shimla knows the role that Lockwood Kipling played in the beautification of Christ Church. when he designed its wonderful chancel windows and supervised their making by the Students of the Lahore School of Art. Few are, however, aware that his famous son Rudyard would participate in a play to raise funds for the construction of St. Michael's cathedral.

St. Michael's is laid in the cruciform or Latin Cross form. There is a long nave, the main longitudinal area of a church, extending from the main entrance or narthex to the chancel to be used by the congregation. A transept, the transverse arm, lies across it: an array of musical instruments revealing the tastes and hobbies of the churchgoers. The nave is flanked on either side by long, narrow aisles whose ceiling is considerably lower. The clerestory windows are simple and elegant in design and provide a touch, not just of beauty, but also utility by providing necessary lighting to the central space. The ogival arches are, perhaps, a nod to Gothic architecture, but aren't as elaborate or as flamboyant as the ones seen in the Dom in Cologne, or in the Notre Dame in Paris.There is a vestry, a baptistery and a confessional. The latter is a simple structure, showing none of the drama or creativity one noticed in, for example, the Se Cathedral in Goa.

This lovely stained-glass window over the altar has St. Francis on the left and St. Joseph to the left of Lord Jesus. Since the church was empty of people, I couldn't ask anyone about the provenance of this window, but will update this post as soon as I do.

St. Michael's reminded me of a e e cummings poem:

i am a little church (no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
- i do not worry if briefer days briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of the earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying) children

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope, and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church (far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish) at peace with nature
- i do not worry if long nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring; i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

20 March 2010

Thou unassuming Commonplace Of nature, with that homely face...

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower – but ‘if’ I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson ~

19 March 2010


Brilliant, this day – a young virtuoso of a day.
Morning shadow cut by sharpest scissors,
deft hands. And every prodigy of green –
whether it's ferns or lichens or needles
or impatient points of buds on spindly bushes –
greener than ever before. And the way the conifers
hold new cones to the light for the blessing,
a festive right, and sing the oceanic chant the wind
transcribes for them!
A day that shines in the cold
like a first-prize brass band swinging along
the street
of a coal-dusty village, wholly at odds
with the claims of reasonable gloom.

~ Denise Levertov ~

13 March 2010

On the stem Of memory imaginations blossom.

For winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the seasons of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom spring begins.

~ A.C. (Algernon Charles) Swinburne ~

12 March 2010

The very temple of Delight...

About 50 kilometres from Shimla stands a little village called Chikhad. This is in the Theog sub-division and is localed in a valley off the National Highway. Rushing on his hasty way from Shimla to Rampur, the average traveller is unlikely to spot this village. It is but another Himachali village with its big and little wooden houses, its fields and hayricks and, of course. its temples. From a distance, you would think you are looking at a little model of a village created by a particularly skilful child.
This is a set of three temples. Clearly, they have been built at different times, by different people, and have received varying degrees of attention from the locals.

What you see above is temple number one. Built with the typical pagoda roof and standing about four floors high, this one is home to the youngest deity. It was most intriguingly adorned with a decaying stuffed head of a huge antelope. The antelope's expression was not unlike that of Miss Havisham's in "Great Expectations"! This temple bore all the traditional bells and whistles seen in other temples: there are little dangling wooden pieces, swaying and twirling in the breeze. Little pillar-like objects join the wall to the ceiling, bearing a really attractive likeness of men in worshipful poses: knees bent, palms folded. A little wooden ladder, about as wide as your average laptop bag, ascends to the sanctum sanctorum. The structure is edged by a pretty floral pattern.

The second temple is a small wood-and-stone one. A helpful local tells me it has been at the receiving end of the local politician's attention. Hence, the excessively polished "PWD" look... What I liked best about this temple was its roof. Constructed in the pagoda-roof fashion, its shape is strongly reminiscent of those little umbrellas which come with a cocktail drink! Its candy stripes only embellish that look further.
A feature that emphasises its recent renovation is a large ''om'' that is carved into its door. In older Himachali temples, one is unlikely to come across overt Hindu motifs. In fact, the designs are remarkably catholic and universal in their shapes and forms and are either geometric or floral.

The third and oldest temple is the one that is the most captivating. A squat structure, it recomends itself strongly to passing off as a vehicle of an alien invasion. Something that flew in from the skies one day and found its rest in the hills. Golden, purple, azure shadows break up and crisscross on its floors. A little pink platform bears up the entire structure and slanting wooden pillars, painted a happy green rise to the tiny roof.

Inside the temple you see a pandemonium of colours. Every imaginable aspect of the spectrum marks its presence in the patterns. Humans jostle Gods who rub shoulders with animals and birds. Some gods looks angry and vengeful as they smite demons with sharp weapons. Others bear a joyous aspect and frolic and dance with their divine companions. Each wears rich fineries and elaborate jewellery. The menfolk bear fierce-looking arms: bows, arrows, spears and maces. Some are seen astride horses. The womenfolk are dressed in long skirts and wear lovely trinkets: bangles, anklets, nose-rings, necklaces and all sorts of adornments in the hair.
There is a multitude of scenes from Krishna's life. From his childhood, filled with naughty tricks. His slaying of the snake-demon Kaalia and his frolics with an army of Gopikas.
The temple is also adorned with scenes from the Puranas. Each of the ten avtaars assumed by Vishnu are lovingly represented here. The elaborate details are at once mesmerising and humbling, for yet again, for all the huge quantity of loving attention and hard work they have put in creating these decorations, you find no allusion to their creator or creators. The only thing the artistes have left behind are thousand upon thousands of abstruse images depict the lives and times of a swarm of deities.

A happy calm prevails. No step disturbs the peace of the temple. The holy fire on the altar has long been quenched. No voice bursts into joyous prayer, nor does a sigh rise to the heavens. No precious incense rises like the balm offered by a good person's litanies. But this temple gives you the feeling that a grateful song, a fervent prayer would surely rise to the heavens and find acceptance there.

9 March 2010

Let me be at the place of the castle. Let the castle be within me.

The wings of fancy are powerful. They can bear you up to mid-air, and allow you to construct a stupendous castle there. But it is so much the better to chance upon one, a real one, perched as if in mid-air, when you are looking for something else!

Last week, I went looking for the stone-cut temples at Balag (this is in Shimla's Theogh sub-division) and en route espied a gorgeous building, what Wordsworth would call a "rugged pile" at Sainj. It stood there with a handsome, stony face, a strong, weather-beaten sentinel sunning itself in the pure and sweet air.
As the Brad notes in Macbeth:
This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses.

This building, which reminded me of a mighty, yet gentle giant had a sleepy air inside. Little beams of sunshine peeped through beautiful trellis-work, making pretty patterns on the walls. A calm prevailed, the air resigned to the dust of history and achievements past. Here and there, a gleam consecrated the overall gloom.

The place, or castle, or what you will is built on tranquil land. The stone and wood are strong, yet speak not so much for fire-eating dragons or cruel princes sweeping in horses with frothing mouths. Rather, the place seems to smile, if a little wistfully, as it bathes in the sunshine of bliss.

There is nothing quite as romantic as a castle-palace-fortress. Nothing quite as delicious as its slightly decrepit air, the all-embracing sweep of the mountains, the groves of fruit, the fields and farms, the enchanting climate!

This castle looks as though it is a treasure-house of memories of peaceful years, a chronicle of happier times, of lasting ease and of an almost Elysian quiet. Yet, underneath this steadfast peace, also lies a sea of physical distress, caused by age and impecunious times. Old wood stands there sublime, encasing the castle from the unfeeling armour of time, fierce winds, trampling storms, heartless sunshine. Chocolate, cinnamon, beige, auburn and sorrel streak the walls. The colours speak of welcome fortitude and patient cheer, commodities we of the modern times and urban lives would do well to learn.

[A note on the commonplace: Sainj is best approached from Shimla via Theogh. The total distance is about 40 kms. This Sainj is not to be confused with the one in Kullu district. The Ranas are remarkably easy-going people, which is why you would be disinclined to impose on their kind hospitality and their generosity in opening up their home to complete strangers. ]

7 March 2010

Trees grope with itch for Spring! Go on and itch, Trees, you don't know anything....

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast.

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray.

A tree that may in Summer wear,
A nest of robins in her hair.

Upon whose bosom snow has lain,
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
Only God can make a tree.

~ Joyce Kilmer ~

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