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....

23 August 2010

For through my lips may breathe adieu, I cannot think the thing farewell.

Those of you live in Shimla, or have visited it will have no trouble recognising this place: the Barista on the Mall.
How many friends have we met in this our most favourite of watering-holes in our little town? How many cups of cappuccino, hot chocolate and ginger tea did we down while waiting for someone to arrive, or someone else to leave before we could get cracking with the important business at hand: of catching up with friends? How many happy moments have we had doing the one thing our town excels at and which the world, in its hurry to win the rat race has forgotten, watching the world go by?
From here we gathered important tid-bits of what went on in town. Here we sat and wrote post-cards to people in a faraway places. Here it was that we read a book desultorily. This was the perfect place when you wanted to be alone but not alone. You need not have anyone sitting at your table: it was enough that there were people around: giving you that semblance of company without actually intruding. Barista was the pits-top before you walked on your way across town.
It was here that you first nodded to someone you had seen as a fellow Barista-addict. It was not about the coffee. It was never about the coffee! It was here that nodding acquaintance turned into introductions and sometimes, serendipitously, into firm friendship. It was here you escaped for a quick respite when the goings of the day got much and you needed a friendly face to smile at or a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. This was the place you headed to when you wanted to meet someone but felt too lazy to walk to wherever it was that they lived and the sentiment was reciprocated. It was here that you did the Peyton Place thing" "Hmm, did you see who is walking with who?"!

As a Bombayite, you understood the commercial maxim of ''location, location, location". Yet it was not just that. It was a whole package of friendliness, openness and warmth that brought people back over and over again.
Oasis. Asylum. Hideaway. Resting place. Retreat. Watering hole. Barista, you were many things to many people.

They say all good things must come to an end. And so it will be with Barista. Going by yet unconfirmed information (only about the date, not the event itself), as on November, this most friendly of coffee-shops will be downing its shutters. Its place will be taken, we are told, by some international clothing chain, selling stuff that we in Shimla neither patronise nor need, but such is the way of all flesh....
Farewell, dear little place. We shall miss you.

21 August 2010

Pleasures are like poppies spread, You seize the flow'r, its bloom is shed...

The road which leads from Bairagarh to Satrundi and onwards to Sach Pass in Himachal's Chamba district is a truly magical one. Early morning mist renders the scenery like a scene out of a Basho haiku. Other times, it feels like an expertly-etched sumi-e painting.
The velvety grey of the sky is relieved by the chartreuse, the moss, the viridian and the beryl of the trees which line both sides and dot the hillside. The true delight for me came from the innumerable species of wild flowers which spring up in the rainy season.
I spotted a blue poppy!

Flowers of the meconopsis genus of the Papaveraceae species are often mistakenly lumped by the common name of blue Himalayan poppy. However, like the holy Roman empire which was neither holy, nor Roman, nor completely an empire, a blue Himalayan poppy is not always blue and certainly not found in the Himalayas alone.
The one that I found would probably fall in the meconopsis acculeata category, being the only one of its family to be found at such a high altitude. Legend has it that the legendary climber Mallory first spotted it in Bhutan and carried a plant back to the United Kingdom after his famous failed attempt to climb the Mount Everest. It is therefore appropriate to mention that this is the national flower of Bhutan.

The genus comprises of 45 to 50 known species and almost all are native to the Himalayan region. Some may occur in lower but nonetheless montane altitudes. They are found from central Nepal to the Tibetan plateau, from China to Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
The flowers were about 5 to 7 centimetres across, with four almost rounded petals. I found the golden yellow stamen-filaments to be a wonderful contrast to the pale blue petals. The petals were paper thin, water seemed to run off them speedily, which was just as well, considering how heavily it rains in the Pangi region. The leaves (not visible in these photographs) grow in a sort of rosette, and are widely-spaced and pinnate in shape. The stem of this herbaceous perennial has bristly hair. The blue poppy was found growing in well-drained, but sunny spots and rocky crevices.
This wonderful, show-stopper of a flower is commonly known as Vanita (वनिता) in Hindi and as gul-e-neelam ( गुल-ए-नीलम) in Urdu. So rare has it become that I feel it was a divine blessing to have been able to see it with my own eyes.

17 August 2010

Loneliness is solitude with a problem!

I have in the past written on solitude. I have treated mine, as Collette says, like "heady wine". Octavio Paz sums it up so well when he says "Solitude is the profoundest fact of human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone". I have found my mind to sharper and keener when subjected to uninterrupted solitude. And I love Sandburg for saying that solitude is creative if you are strong, for that's what has been revealed to me!
Today, I came across a gem of a video made by Andrea Dorfman based on a wonderful piece written by Tanya Davis. I hope I am not infringing any copyright laws by posting this video, but it is just too beautiful not to be shared. It is called "How To Be Alone".
The text is placed below the video.

If you are at first lonely, be patient.

If you’ve not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait. You’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it.

We can start with the acceptable places, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library, where you can stall and read the paper, where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there. Where you can browse the stacks and smell the books; you’re not supposed to talk much anyway so it’s safe there.

There is also the gym, if you’re shy, you can hang out with yourself and mirrors, you can put headphones in.

Then there’s public transportation, because we all gotta go places.

And there’s prayer and mediation, no one will think less if your hanging with your breath seeking peace and salvation.

Start simple. Things you may have previously avoided based on your avoid being alone principles.

The lunch counter, where you will be surrounded by “chow downers”, employees who only have an hour and their spouses work across town, and they, like you, will be alone.

Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone.

When you are comfortable with “eat lunch and run”, take yourself out for dinner; a restaurant with linen and Silverware. You’re no less an intriguing a person when you are eating solo desert and cleaning the whip cream from the dish with your finger. In fact, some people at full tables will wish they were where you were.

Go to the movies. Where it’s dark and soothing, alone in your seat amidst a fleeting community.

And then take yourself out dancing, to a club where no one knows you, stand on the outside of the floor until the lights convince you more and more and the music shows you. Dance like no one’s watching because they’re probably not. And if they are, assume it is with best human intentions. The way bodies move genuinely to beats, is after-all, gorgeous and affecting. Dance until you’re sweating. And beads of perspiration remind you of life’s best things. Down your back, like a book of blessings.

Go to the woods alone, and the trees and squirrels will watch for you. Go to an unfamiliar city, roam the streets, they are always statues to talk to, and benches made for sitting gives strangers a shared existence if only for a minute, and these moments can be so uplifting and the conversation you get in by sitting alone on benches, might of never happened had you not been there by yourself.

Society is afraid of alone though. Like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements. Like people must have problems if after awhile nobody is dating them.

But lonely is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless, and lonely is healing if you make it.

You can stand swathed by groups and mobs or hands with your partner, look both further and farther in the endless quest for company.

But no one is in your head. And by the time you translate your thoughts an essence of them maybe lost or perhaps it is just kept. Perhaps in the interest of loving oneself, perhaps all those “sappy slogans” from pre-school over to high school groaning, we’re tokens for holding the lonely at bay.

Cause if you’re happy in your head, then solitude is blessed, and alone is okay.

It’s okay if no one believes like you, all experiences unique, no one has the same synapses, can’t think like you, for this be relived, keeps things interesting, life’s magic things in reach, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t connected, and the community is not present, just take the perspective you get from being one person in one head and feel the effects of it.

Take silence and respect it.

If you have an art that needs a practice, stop neglecting it, if your family doesn’t get you or a religious sect is not meant for you, don’t obsess about it.

You could be in an instant surrounded if you need it.

If your heart is bleeding, make the best of it.

There is heat in freezing, be a testament.

Tanya Davis ~

15 August 2010

There is flattery in friendship.

Not my words, this is what the Bard observed.
So this post is not about Shimla, or about its author whose not-so-occasional rambles readers have been so tolerant of. I just want to talk about my friends and the wonderful ideas they're thinking up and sharing with the world. Here they are:
Meet SdS, she writes a great little blog Grant Me Bookshelves. Book-mad noone quite reads books the way she does, her perspective is always amazing and her impressions and insights deep and astounding.
Asha has only just begun to work on Self Leadership. I look forward to being with her on this journey of examining beliefs and values related to leadership.
Autar Mota is a deeply sensitive, poetic soul. His photographs and words on Chinar Shade sear the reader and leave you numb and joyous by turn.
Imran's a seeker. He may choose to describe himself differently, but I am yet to come across a person like him who combines his sense of adventure with his spirituality with such grace and felicity. Imran's pictures, worth more than a thousand words can be seen on his photoblog Imran The Trekker on Flickr.
Ranjani has been a healer and empath for as long as I can remember. In her blog Reiki Rhapsody, Ranjani is trying to help us, her readers, regain and hold on to the precious rhythm of life through music.
Kaushik is young. His perspective, fresh and innocent like his mind. Looking at his photographs, I just know it in my bones that this young lad will go very far in life.
Vinayak's take on things, like his blog At The Edge, is sharp and sapient. Just when my ideas begin to feel stale, I go look at his blog and am blown away once again.
GP is witty, wicked and utterly irreverent. I totally wouldn't like to be at the receiving end of the bon mots he comes with on Noise Of India which claims to, and succeeds in, "putting the mock back in democracy".
Varsha is my wellness Guru. Through her blog, Wholesome Options, as also through fortuitous personal acquaintance, I have picked many easy tips and tricks and have had many a health myth shattered.

Thank you, each one of you, for sharing your perspectives and insights. My life, as indeed that of all those who visit your blogs, is richer because of you.

14 August 2010

That foolish fort, a heart...

Some of the best things in life happen unexpectedly. SdS and I had wandered up into the polychromatic gompa at Ghemur. It was one of those days you just know will be magical. You just don't know how... The sun had been playing hide and seek and shadows of the clouds overhead dappled the mountainsides. The monastery was closed and all the Lamas had left for Khardang where they were celebrating special prayers.
But an unpredicted bonus awaited us in the form of a little old man. We met Nyema Dhondup. By having wandered around the gompa open-mouthed and ooh-ed and aah-ed over an amazing collection of carvings on stone which represented various incarnations of Buddha, somehow, SdS and I had managed to unbend the old gentleman. "Would you like to see a fort?", he asked. Being old hands at fort-spotting, yes, yes, we almost babbled in excitement. Follow me, he said.
So up, up, up we went. This was a narrow overgrown path, leading up from Ghemur. Thick bushes of primroses, harebells and buttercups leaned onto it. We were out of breath in no time at all. But could not decide: was it the steep climb? The sheer variety, colour and fragrance of the wild flowers? Or the stunning vistas all around? It was hard not to fall to one's knees and thank the Almighty for letting us be here.
We followed a village trail. Women were bent over, harvesting peas. A man lazily chewed a stick of grass. A big brown cow looked up inquiringly from its grazing. The narrow mountain path had abruptly widened into a valley, sometimes skirting the river Chandra, other times going farther afield from it.

There, rising towards the mountains, with lines as straight and precise as to gladden an engineer's heart, lay the stupendous fort of Khangsar. The shape of fort makes an enchanting vision: its glacis into the river below counterpoised by its linearity. The solitude of the scenery was unbroken, except for a tier of house here and a chain of chortens there.

Made of mud and wood, its walls smoothened by age, it sat in the midst of the little village like an old soldier, tired and resting after a long war. The thing I love most about old structures, particularly those made natural materials is their colours: chestnut, terracotta, auburn, sorrel, ochre, puce, ginger, burnt sienna... they are a delight of browns!

The inside of the fort is every bit as awe-inspiring as the ramparts viewed externally. It is hard to tell from outside that this little building contains one hundred and eight rooms. Interestingly, all rooms are built around a sort of atrium. However, unlike the classical atrium design, the roof does not open into the sky, or is covered with glass. It is just a normal roof, covered with mud and thatch and wood. There were, however, a number of small windows which let in a sufficient quantity of light.
To me, the most interesting aspect of the fort were the little well-like structures in each room. You will notice one in the photograph above. It is a small square arrangement with wooden slats all around, perhaps to prevent the curious from falling in! The interesting thing is that looking down you find yourself staring into a giant kitchen. In the old days, big fires were lit in the cooking area. These were used not only for cooking, but also for heating water. More importantly, following the well known theory of physics, the warm air rose and managed to warm the entire castle. What an ingenuous system!

Ask me about the one feature that struck me about the Khangsar fort, and I will say it was the carving on the wood. The patterns were incredibly delicate, so finely-wrought in their detail. It is like seeing lace on wood. The motifs, interestingly, find resonance in many gompas around Lahaul. The dragons, the inverted flower buds, the lotuses, the waves and the pearls in flames. You also notice the typical and incredibly lovely chequered pattern hewed out of the wood and then embellished in bright cobalt blues and forest greens.

Entering the sanctum sanctorum of the fort, one finds the usual spot designated for the deities of the family. Now here is an intriguing aspect. An ageing sepia photograph reveals the Rana to be a gentleman of distinctively Indian features. He looks as though he could belong to anywhere in Himachal and is probably a Hindu. His face is unlike the people he would have ruled, whose features are Monogoloid.
Juxtaposed with this is the fact that the area of worship is completely Buddhist - whether it is the religious texts, swaddled in colourful silk, the deities, mainly Avalokiteswara and Padmasambhava, and all other accoutrements of devotion: the offering bowls, the butter lamps, the prayer wheels, the drilbu (the bell, rung during prayer), the kapala (in this case the skull was that of a goat!) and the dorje, the small sceptre which represents Buddha's compassion.

The little fort, standing up valiantly against the rampage of weather and time, betokens an age of grace, of tolerance and a culture that was urbane while existing happily in the midst of wilderness. The deliciously straight lines, the sumptuous colours, the projecting terraces topped with a pillar in turn embellished with rams' horns. One never gets tired of uttering exclamations of joy!

11 August 2010

Dogs got personality. Personality goes a long way.

I have loved dogs for as long as I can remember. Couldn't have been otherwise, since this is a genetic predisposition, inherited from dog-mad parental units, one of whom has the penchant for kissing any dogs which happen to cross her path and bringing waifs home ever so often.

Unlike cats, dogs aren't narcissists. You won't find a dog wasting time grooming himself. He would rather roll in dead fish, and emerge - like Botticelli's Venus - with a triumphant grin and a distinctly ripe air. I could swear there are dogs which lie awake at night thinking up good deeds to do the next day! They just want to please! Call a dog, and it will run to you helter-skelter, even at the risk of breaking its own neck. Call a cat and what you will get is a look which says "What's in it for me?" I like dogs because, like humans, they understand ladder-like social arrangements. Cats, on the other hand, see themselves as the hub surrounded by spokes of human minions, all reluctantly acknowledging the superiority of the despot!

I find the first encounters between dogs highly entertaining. These are thrilling and pregnant with possibility. There is a curiosity, tempered by constraint. An atavistic canniness stops them fro going utterly overboard even at the whiff of future friendship. The mutual reluctance to pass each other is amusing to watch.

Shimla's strays have afforded me the opportunity of petting and playing with dogs at a time when I am, thanks to my itinerant habits, unable to keep a pet. They have given me the warm affection of close acquaintance which stops short of a familial relationship. Shorn of any mutual responsibility, our meetings are joyous, but free of expectation. If only these could be replicated with some two-legged creatures I know!

8 August 2010

By this merit may all attain omniscience. May it defeat the enemy, wrongdoing.

Wander anywhere up, down and around the Himalayas and you are bound to come across wonderful domed structures, made sometimes of clay and wood, at other times of concrete. These wonderful representations of piety called chortens or stupas dot the entire stretch from Himachal in the West, right up to Nepal, Burma and beyond to Thailand. Southwards, you find them in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and in Sri Lanka. It is interesting to note how these, while retaining the fundamental shape and elements of structure, have acquired variations on the theme in different parts of the world. I am not going to make an exposition on the chortens of the world here, but merely share pictures of some I've seen in the wonderful state of Himachal Pradesh.

Khangsar, Keylong.

Gemur gompa, Keylong.

In Sanskrit, ''stupa'' is used to designate a top-knot, one that is created when hair is gathered on top of one's head. This Wikipedia article gives us an interesting and detailed explanation of what chortens or stupas symbolise.

Khardang, Lahaul.

Shashur, Keylong.

A chorten is a sort of equivalent of a reliquary of the Catholic faith, developed from pre-Buddhist grave mounds, serving as the final resting place for saints. These eventually became destinations for pilgrimage, or at the very least, places of worship or meditation.
Pilgrims and travellers circumnambulate chortens as form of respect and devotion. According to my friend Nyema Dhondup, movement along the circular path (Tib. kora) is clockwise, so that the right shoulder is always facing the monument.

Gondhla, District Lahaul

Gemur, near Keylong.

The basic structure of chorten consists of a square base which symbolises the earth; the dome symbolises water; the tapering steps (13 in number) are meant to symbolise fire. These lead up to a sort of stylised furled parasol which represents the wind, topped by a twin symbol of the sun and moon. Made of mud, wood and butter, the perishability of the materials used is meant to symbolise the illusory nature of all objects, including those considered sacred.

Shansha, District Lahaul.

Tayul, District Lahaul

Chortens are revered because they represent Dharma, the body, mind and speech of Lord Buddha. As such, they act as a reminder to all passers-by that they are on the path of enlightement. The structural design of the chorten also asks us our eyes to travel from the base to the dramatic image of the sun and moon at the very top - a reminder of the need to travel from this base existence to a state of enlightenment.
So the next time you pass one of these wonderful domed structures, don't forget to circumnavigate them clock-wise, asking for the well-being of all creatures living and dead.

7 August 2010

The dew-drop carries in its eye, mountain and forest, sea and sky,

Kobayashi Issa, the great haiku poet puts it so well:

"A world of dew is, yes,
a world of dew,
but even so"

Trusty, dusky, vivid, fleeting, the world globes itself in a drop of dew. It is impossible not to see a dew-drop and not melt at the sight. A row of stars threaded on a cobweb. A diamond shining on a petal. A pure circle expressing a greater heaven through its lambent light. A tear trembling in mournful glint.

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

~ Christina Rossetti ~

3 August 2010

The motion of light, spills itself in astonished seed

I dragged myself away from beloved Shimla recently. Favourite fellow-traveller and good friend SdS and I went gallivanting over the hills from Kangra to Chamba to Lahaul to Kullu. Over hill and dale, past many a waterfall, it was a marvellous journey. I leave it to SdS to tell that tale since she does it far far better than anyone else in our circle of acquaintance.
En route from Chamba to Lahaul falls that magical place called Pangi Valley. Its beauty deserves not just a blog post, but perhaps an entire book, and even so words will not ever be able to describe, nor any camera be able to really capture the bounty that Nature lays out before human eye.
SdS and I stopped innumerable times to smell the flowers, so to speak. For a flower-lover Pangi is a treasure trove, and more so in the monsoons when many rare flowers bloom for a short while only to disappear for a whole year until the rains arrive the next time.

So, somewhere between Bairagarh and Satrundi, on a path unknown, this bright yellow bouquet caught my eye. Growing in a tight tuft, there was a cluster of leaves at the base of this plant. Its stem was delicate but erect. The flowers grew in an interesting, interlaced arrangement, as you can see above. They were about 2 to 2.5 cms in length including a spur that was half as long, growing straight or in a gentle downwar curve.
My vade mecum, Polunin and Stainton, tells me that the name of this plant is Corydalis govaniana Wall, Family fumariacaea. My entourage (which excludes SdS!) told me it is locally known as "bhutjata" "bhutakesi" or "bhutbishi". I also found this flower being referred to as "Govan's Fumitory".

A common alpine species, corydalis govaniana is usually found at a height of 2400m to 4800m on open slopes. Narain Singh Chauhan in his book "Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of Himachal Pradesh" says he has found these along places as disparate as Rohtang, Churdhar and Lahaul.

The leaves are radical, growing in a dense tuft and reminded me of those belonging to the marigold plant, or even coriander. They were clustered at the base of the plant. The stem arose from the centre of this bunch.
The root and juice of this plant have several uses. These range from the cure of dandruff to the use of the juice as a diuretic. Interestingly, I found citations in the US Food and Drug Administration daabase which state list Corydalis govaniana as a poisonous plant. (Ref: FDA #F05964, GRIN #11624). The Indian Journal of Experimental Biology also includes this plant in its acute toxicity data. Amazing, that a flower so beautiful should have beneficial powers and at the same time be so toxic!

2 August 2010

Old age, calm, expanded, broad with the haughty breadth of the universe... flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of death.

It ought to be lovely to be old
to be full of the peace that comes of experience
and wrinkled ripe fulfilment.

The wrinkled smile of completeness that follows a life
lived undaunted and unsoured with accepted lies
they would ripen like apples, and be scented like pippins
in their old age.

Soothing, old people should be, like apples
when one is tired of love.
Fragrant like yellowing leaves, and dim with the soft
stillness and satisfaction of autumn.

And a girl should say:
It must be wonderful to live and grow old.
Look at my mother, how rich and still she is! -

And a young man should think: By Jove
my father has faced all weathers, but it's been a life!

~ D H Lawrence ~

Related Posts with Thumbnails