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....

26 October 2010

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart.

"Walk, Shimla, Walk!" exhorted the wise Sushil Tanwar. On 23rd October 2010, We walked from Chaura Maidan to Cecil. I'm happy to report that the young in Shimla responded with fervour. This says a lot about their spirit and their foresight. I'm equally disappointed to report the near-absence of older people. This tells me a lot about their indifference and their cynicism. I was chagrined not just because they did not show up, but because so many people came up with excuses for what kept them away... When, dear Shimlaiites, are you going to wake up to the ills that plague our lovely town? Are you ever going to involve yourself in its affais, or must one quote the poet who said:
"Ay mauj-e-sabaa de inko bhi do-chaar thapedey halk se
kuchh log kinaarey par se hii toofan ka nazaaraa karte hai"!

Sushil Tanwar who runs Ashadeep. A source of inspiration for all around him.

Little girls with big ideas.

"Pollution! Pollution! Trees are the solution!" was a popular slogan that day.

A lovely poster depicting pollution and the damages it causes.

Placards which said: "Save the environment". "Plant trees. Make Shimla beautiful". "All is well. Without trees, all is hell"!

It isn't the size of the placard, but the intention that matters!

Curious onlookers.

Curious onlooker #2.

Still, on a day of hope and excitement, we chose to focus on the positive and could only say "Sabko sanmati de bhagwaan"! (May God grant everyone good sense).

23 October 2010

The wisdom of age: don't stop walking.

The redoubtable, wonderful Sushil Tanwar of Ashadeep and I are taking Shimla for a walk today. The idea is to remind Shimla of its old tradition of walking. How great was this, how good for the health of its denzins, and for its pure air which never carried anything more than the fragrance of the evergreens and wild flowers growing by its roadsides. 
Wish us luck, dear reader, that we are at least able to light a flicker of awareness in the residents our beloved town which is so beautiful and so generous. 
As always, I cannot leave you without quoting some verse!

I look and look
Looking's a way of being: one becomes
sometimes, a pair of walking.
Walking wherever one's looking takes one. 

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch
fanfare, howl, madrigal, clamour.
World and the past of it,not only 
visible present, solid and shadow
that looks at one looking.

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
That's a way of breathing

to sustain
walking and looking,
through the world
in it. 

~ Denise Levertov ~  

21 October 2010

Solvitur ambulando

Solvitur ambulando”. It is solved by walking, goes the Latin saying, and never was a truer word spoken. 
Walking is an excellent means to de-stress yourself, to re-energise, to stretch, tone and relax, to acquire poise and focus, and indeed, activate the natural healing energies within yourself. A Zen master was asked, “What is the Tao?”. “Walk on”, he replied. The human body is the ultimate exercise machine, and walking is the easiest, cheapest and safest way to burn away the harmful effects of stress and to bring back energy into your life. People often say to me “But where do I begin?”. Well, you just have to step out of home, go for a walk to the nearest park, or walk around the block. How far you go, or how fast you walk is not relevant. The important thing is to begin.

Here are some basic steps to follow:
  • ·         Poor posture is more often than not the culprit behind many a body problem. It saps our body of vitality and puts a stress on all our vital organs. So first off, think tall. Imagine that someone has run a string through you and is gently pulling you upwards. When you walk, keep your back straight, pull in your stomach and tuck in your buttocks. Your shoulders should be pulled gently back, but relaxed, your eyes looking forward.
  • ·         “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got the swing”, went an old Irving Mills song. This is true of walking too. Walk tall from your heel upwards. Have a smooth, rolling heel-to-toe motion. Lengthen your stride to as much as is comfortable. Swing your arms in opposite motion. Remember the mantra “heel-toe… heel-toe… heel-toe”!
  • ·         If you can afford it, invest in an iPod or a mobile phone which can play music. Music adds rhythm, energy and tempo to the walk. Mix the musical pieces to change your stride. However, remember that headphones may block out sounds of traffic and other dangers on the road. Be careful not to use earphones when walking late evening, or in lonely spots as it may make you unmindful of strangers with bad intent.
  • ·         Oxygen is free! Use as much as you can. Energise your walks by gradually increasing the speed. Remember, the speed should not be so high as to spoil your natural rhythm. Walk several paces at normal speed, then pick up speed and gradually reduce speed again. This helps prevent injuries such as pulled muscles. Do not push yourself too hard. A good test to see if you are going too fast: can you have a conversation without getting out of breath.
  • ·         Your feet carry all your weight. Be kind to them. Buy yourself a good, comfortable pair of shoes. My personal trick for testing comfort is to buy shoes at the end of a day. You see, by evening, feet are tired and sometimes gently swollen. When you try a new pair, always check whether there is enough space around the toes. Don’t fall for sales talk which tells you about how shoes will stretch – they never do! If a shoe is not comfortable, it’s not for you.
  • ·         Don’t let walking become a chore. “Roamertherapy” is a great way to live a quieter, simpler life. If you have children, or a dog, take them on any weekend for an impromptu walk to a scenic spot. Let Nature work its magic on you, stand and stare, climb up, down, just stand and stare. This does not have to always be about achievement, just about slowly savouring peace and beauty.
  • ·         I also love ‘’walktalk’’ therapy. In troubled times, it is great to go for a walk with a friend. A walk in the woods, or by the sea, or just about anywhere all the while talking away your troubles can be better than expensive therapy, or drowning your sorrows in alcohol or drugs! Take your partner, your children or a friend out for a walk – and watch your depression evaporate.
  • ·         Weather or not, just walk! Don’t let the extremes of weather faze you. Observe the changes of the season and prepare accordingly. In summer, set your alarm for early and enjoy the early-morning coolness before heat sets in. Wear light-coloured cotton clothes which reflect the heat. In winter, cover up your extremities and wear light layers which you can add or remove. Follow your inner light. Ignore negative self-talk which says “It’s so much better to catch those 15 minutes of extra sleep”, or “why go out into the cold when you can be comfy at home?”
  • ·         I love walking meditation. The idea is to nurture mindfulness and self-awareness. Savour the sights and sounds around you. Open your mind to a beautiful sunrise, to the chirping of birds, to the laughter of children. Consciously empty your mind of all thoughts, focusing only on your stride, your rhythm and on your breathing. Count your paces if you find it hard to focus. Breathe in and out at each pace. If your mind wanders, let it do so. Allow thoughts to come in, welcome their presence, then let them go. Bring your thoughts back to the number of paces you have covered.

W  We lead sluggish lives most of the time. We think that working a lot, or simply rushing about from place to place equals activity. The truth is that our heart  rarely gets to pump hard. Oxygen rarely courses through us they way it ought to – making us feel alive, energetic and vital. But exercise can change all that. Walking can change all that! 
T   The  beauty lies in simply walking without bothering about destinations or goals. Thich Nhat Hanh says “Your steps are the most important thing.” Forget about removing stress, losing weight, finding energy or any of those things. The important thing is to simply focus on your steps. Take one little step at a time, whether on your walk, or in your life.
And you will see – solvitur ambulando!

12 October 2010

Through the silence shines a stretching light-

Living in Shimla, one often takes this humble bush for granted. For all of Septmeber and now, when e are well into October, this pretty blue plant is dotting the road-sides, clinging to hill-sides, creating a veritable sea of blue in the woods. At first glance, I thought these were gentians. But my favourite website on flowers Flowers of India clarifies that this is not so.
These flowers actually bleong to the blue trumpet bush, also known as strobilanthes tomentosa. I've seen it grow in the woody, partially-lit slopes of the Sheogh woods, in Chaura Maidan and also near the United Service Club on Jakhoo Hill. It grows up to almost four feet in height. The leaves appeared very interesting: dark green on top and white on the underside.
The flower, as you can see in the picture, is shaped like a trumpet and stands at a 90-degree angle to its stem. It has a narrow tube which widens a little as it goes upward, finally opening into five round petals.
What a joyous aspect: little trumpets of bright blue, silently blowing the last clarion call of spring even as it is over and autumn steals upon us quietly, with a red melancholy....

The sight of these flowers brought to mind that wonderful Mary Oliver poem:

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking,
about the exceptional.

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant -
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these -
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

11 October 2010

The pedigree of Honey, Does not concern the Bee.

I love Emily Dickinson and am proud to share with her a love of nature and an excessive fondness for bees! Yesterday, while walking in the woods, I came across so many burly dozing ones, honey-heavy, bees fluttering from flower to flower, truly justifying the metaphor busy as a bee. I love the sight of a bee, how cleverly it suspends itself mid-air, its gossamer-thin wings supporting the weight of its body, greedily sipping nectar from a flower and yet never ever trampling the petals or crushing the aroma.... Emerson calls the bee a "zig-zag steerer, desert cheerer". Truly, he's a sailor of the atmosphere, sailing through the air and a yellow-breeched philosopher.... 

His labour is a Chant 
His Idleness — A Tune 
Oh, for a Bee's Experience 
Of Clovers, and of Noon! 

The Bee is not afraid of me.
I know the Butterfly. 
The pretty people in the Woods 
receive me cordially! 

And then there is that wonderful haiku by the master himself - Matsuo Basho: 

A bee
staggers out 
of the peony.

3 October 2010

The Shimla Class

Next in the series of guest posts on Shimla Gallimaufry is one by Varsha. 

Varsha writes a superb, deeply knowledgeable and really useful blog titled Wholesome Options. From Varsha, I have learnt to look at wellness as a way of life, learnt that healthy habits and fitness can be incorporated in daily life without any sacrifice or extra effort. Aside of being a full-time mother and wife, a wellness guru and a fitness maniac, Varsha also takes a wonderful Poetic Break from her bureaucratic life every now and then. She speaks here of lessons learnt from our common love, Shimla: 

The Shimla Class

Hills have a way of teaching you to slow down.
Of drawing you in the web of alluring sunsets, sun-dappled valleys and mist draped mountains. Of using that oldest means of transportation – your legs. And escaping at least partly from the whizzing world of honking cars and seething road-rage.
When I recall my Shimla days my best memories are about nature.
I was living with a bunch of strong-willed and rambunctious colleagues in extremely cramped quarters. Tempers frequently got frayed and patience wore thin. Walks were a way of escape-getting away from it all- initially. They became a balm and an addiction soon. A way of tucking in the splendid perfection of the Himalayas in different seasons and moods.
What did I learn in the Shimla Class (presided over by the old man Himalayas)?

Putting things in perspective.
I was incredibly lucky to be able to see the glorious Himalayas from my window on waking up each morning,
They always overwhelmed me. They gently reminded me everyday that I was not that important, my petty problems were not that important, nor were the shiny trophies of the rat race that important. The mountains would stand there even if the damned deadline was not met or if I did not ace some silly test.

The art of Appreciating beauty.
In Shimla, it was so easy to meet the perfect creamy rose-bud or a round, plump wild strawberry, a  sudden stream bubbling after the rains, an old friendly tree, clad  one fine day in magnificent bloom, a spectacular evening live show of the thrust and parry of the dying sunset and the ascending night. One had to stand and savour it reverentially. I learnt that when you see perfection – you must acknowledge it.
When we move in the bubbles of our own self-importance and obsessions, we become far too busy and blind to beauty around us. We must open our eyes, see it and savour it.

The art of inner Quiet.
Shimla also taught me to have a holy communion with nature. To get away from the noise around me I needed an inner quiet. I learnt being quiet with myself, by myself, for myself.

The art of appreciating History around you.
Any walk around Shimla is full of heritage and History. One keeps coming across rambling cottages with quaint names and distinguished ex-residents. There are majestic buildings scattered over the place. Steeped with tales of a faded era and set against the backdrop of the timeless Himalayas these gems of a bygone age taught me to appreciate History as well as the blip that my small lifetime is in it all.

2 October 2010

Let prayer be fire: admire, re-light, relate, regain.

Victor Hugo once observed that certain thoughts are prayers. There are certain moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees. Today, gentle reader, your blogger turned another year older. Today, I'm praying. Not asking, merely expressing a longing of the soul. Making candid demands of The One Above that I usually don't, when I pray. 
The following lines are from M. M. Kaye's "Far Pavilions". This is a prayer uttered by Ash as he looks at Door Khaima, the mountain peaks at a distance which give him solace and hope and heart's ease: 
"Oh Lord, forgive these sins that are due to my human limitations. 
Thou art everywhere, but I worship Thee here;  
Thou art without form, but I worship Thee in this form; 
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer Thee these prayers and salutations. 
Lord, forgive my sins that are due to my human limitations."

For Asha to have a safe journey free of worries. 

For Phil to recover her health completely. 

For Hannah, success in her interview.

For Prabha, heart's ease. 

For A, a visa. 

For Ranjani, the time to do the things she wants to. 

For Varsha to have intelligent and sensible people around her.

For Naheed, also a visa. 

For Rani, peace and good health. 

For Varun, success in all he does. 

For H, resolution and closure. 

For Chinu and Gunjan, success and peace.

For all my family and my friends whom I haven't named here: contentment, good health, joy and abundance. 
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