The Voice Bhootha

'.....a bhootha has stolen the children's voices and taken them away in a bag'

Look, if nothing else, voice is what we have, as surely as opinion, possibility and desire. Voice is also what we can damned well choose to exercise or not. Our voice, that which we speak with, sing with, cry with, or...choke, is singular, for sure the only voice of its sort ever to be heard over aeons.  RESPECT may belong to Aretha, but ain't nobody gonna sing it like YOU. It figures, therefore, that voice, can be passive or active.

Children, largely, have active voices screaming to be heard, understood, loved, looked after. It takes an enormous amount of energy and social conniving to turn an active voice passive. But enough well-intentioned advice to shut up, pipe down and keep their opinions to themselves, in mitigating circumstances, can render even a child silent. We're hugely self-involved, us adults. Like KVK Murthy says...

Vanitas Vanitatum Omnia Vanitas

26th January 2013
The Theatre Lab kids are working with The Concerned for Working Children to shoot an episode for a a year-long program they are producing on Rights of the Child. Urban, middle class kids, my Theatre Lab, they're brought in all the wrong costumes. Anything Indian has now been turned into 'ethnic wear' so the langas and pyjamas that were 'normal wear' of yore have been turned into things of bling. 'No, no....' says Ashwathy the director as the Shiny and Glittery emerge from plastic bags. What happened to old faded cottons and mulmuls, I wonder, till Sharanya, a student at The Valley School, and thus well versed in soft and well work khadi, brings out some old kurtas. 'Oh...." mouths Sonakshi, slowly getting it.

Ashwathy making notes
Selecting costumes
Khadi kurtas always work
Santosh and Hemu setting up shots
They're staying at the farm from Feb 1st-3rd for the shoot. 

31st January 2013
Yesterday Hemu took the army-like provisions across - rice, dhal, sugar, oil, pasta. Enough for 10 children and 8 adults. He also went to the Bachanhatti and Motaganahalli panchayats to get permission to shoot around there. A film shot by young adults and featuring children. The story is called 'Swarabhootha' and was scripted by Nandana. It tells of a bhootha who has stolen the voices of children and how they go, led by a boy called Nagaraj (much like our own Nagaraj who built the cottages at Infinite Souls) to retrieve their voices from the bhootha's gunny sack. 

Nikhil Bharadwaj, who played Ganesha in our play - The Wedding Party - has joined the gang and will be playing a police constable. He will come straight to the farm after playing Inspector Bertozzo in Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist at Chowdiah for the Deccan Herald Theatre Festival. Love joining those dots...

In the spirit of what will go down this weekend, learn more about The Concerned for Working Children who were just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize -


And here's an interesting article about the longevity or lack, thereof, of instamatic pics - 



In a Pickle and a Jam

Yesterday’s riches were these: Lemons (from the Arunachali tree that Minz planted over Laddu’s grave), Limes (massive and delicious smelling), Sapotas, Alsande, Green chillies, Dried red chillies, Tamarind, Tomatoes, Rosemary, Drumstick leaves and flowers and a sack full of Amla. It’s like having our own organic box delivered from a nearby farm except, woo hoo, it's our farm :) The drumstick leaves and flowers are best scrambled with eggs to eat with hot chappaties, the rest will all vanish over the next week. But the amla?? Hmmm… I’m going to have to pickle and jam. 

In the Adyar house, our Nynamma used to put to work everything that the thotakaar brought in from the garden. 

Wood apples: Mushed with jaggery and put into small earthenware bowls for breakfast.
Raw baby mangoes: Pickle
Pomellos: Bitter marmalade
Limes: Lime squash, lime pickle
Sapotas: Laid out in baskets to ripen
Thaati nungus: Straight to the fridge to be eaten cold
Tamarind: Dried on the verandah and nicked by us children to be eaten with salt and chili powder

Every season of the year, there was pickle pickling, a jam boiling somewhere or vadams drying on the terrace.

Amma made a nellikai pickle one time, from the abundance of gooseberries that were left over after we had eaten our fill.  She made hers with hot groundnut oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves. But eventually I decide to try a mustard oil pickle. My quantities are all rather slap dash, so I suggest you do the same. I have neither the diligence nor the flair of my mother, aunts and grandmothers - but this is definitely an homage to them. But I warn you, just keep tasting along the way and don't write and tell me all the things that are wrong with these recipes!

Amla Pickle

I kg (approx.) amla 
1/3 cup methi seeds 
1/2 cup saunf seeds (powder them coarsely. I forgot to do this, but I used fine Lucknowi saunf, so...)
1/3 cup kalonji seeds 
1 1/2 tsp asafoetida (hing)
1/2 cup chili powder
4 tsp haldi
250ml kacchi ghani (mustard oil)
Salt to taste

Boil the amla for about 10 minutes. Drain and cool. You could cut them and seed them, but mine were comparatively small, so I didn't see the need. Mix everything together with a seriously dry spoon in a seriously dry and clean dish. Bottle them in clean jars that have been given the once over with hot water as well. The jars need to be 100% dry. Leave the bottles in the sun for about 5 days and gaze smugly on the redness of the oil, the jeweled beauty of the amla, the flecks of methi, saunf and kalonji as the sunlight streams through the jars.

Last but not least, do not take my word for anything except that last sentence, being as I am a wholly untrained and inexperienced pickler....so store your pickles in the fridge.

Amla Murabba

Here is what I did with the remaining 1/2 kg of amla (all the while furiously recollecting my Bombay aunt, Viju chikki's winter amla murabbas): I put those amlas in my favourite orange Le Creuset with about 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 6 Kashmiri red chilies, 8 cloves, 4 large sticks of cinnamon, 1 tablespoon of peppercorns and about 1/4 cup of water and stewed them till the mixture was thick, pinkish and smelled gorgeous. Bottled as well. Delicious with anything - chappaties, rice, roast pork, on toast...

Drumstick Leaves with Eggs

My daughter blanched at the idea, but ended up eating copiously. This is made in many different ways, with coconut, with roasted and powdered ground nuts etc. But mine was a simple porial. I just like the idea of the free-ness of it: Pick some tender drumstick leaves and flowers from someone's tree and cook up a storm. 

Oftentimes, Sathya (from India Garage) will bring me some from his home in KGF. But today, I had a wealth of leaves and flowers from the farm.

Strip about 2 cups of the leaves and flowers off the stems. Wash and drain. The go about things as you would for any porial:

Heat oil, add mustard and allowe to splutter, chuck in a dried red chili or two, a couple curry leaves. Then add the leaves and flowers and 1/2 cup of water to cook it in. In the meanwhile, beat three eggs with salt and haldi. Once the greens have cooked, add the beaten eggs and stir as in scrambled eggs till cooked. Eat hot with chappaties. 

Ps...Just in case you didn't know...





Bangalore to Binsar

Our Zui is an odd one. When she was about two, one winter, I once found her sitting in her red plastic bath tub, filled to the brim with cold water. What on earth are you doing, I yelled. To which she replied with all the dignity a shivering 2 year old can muster, "I'm meditating on Shiva, like Parvati did." It was them Amar Chitra Katha comics that did it, primary coloured pictures of Parvathi's beautiful and naked shoulders emerging from ice Himalayan pools. There was another time as well. In Kamakhya in Assam. When Zui first saw the crowds of red-robed tantriks on the hill, she shrieked "Take me back mama, or these rakshasas will cut my head off with their treshuls (sic)!!" Wha..? It didn't take much probing. Remember the pictures of Shiva cutting off Ganesha's head with his trident? That's what.

Our daughter's Parvati fascination and my memories of romantic train journeys from the South to the North of India were the spark. We decided, along with my parents, to take the Rajdhani to Delhi and from there to head to the Himalayas. In a coupe, no less, so we could feel much like passengers on the Orient Express. Dressing for cocktails, dining on oysters and turbot with green sauce and so on.

We boarded the Rajdhani Express on November 20th 2012, about 24 pieces of baggage, 2 guitars, 1 guitar amp, 8 bottles of Khodays XXX (not enough, by far, for what was to follow) and 5 motley humans ages 19 - 78 in all. We played Dragon Tails and Rummy or just talked. I, largely, stared out the window. Passing Nagpur...stopping at Bhopal. Orange trees endlessly and then a large group of women sitting in a huddle on Bhopal Station. Wondering about them.

The highlight was the tomato soup, Amul butter and bread sticks. I missed the old II Class AC bogeys though. Watching the landscape change.  The shapes of temples change when you pass Andhra and enter Orissa.  The vibe of platform food changes from the masala vades of the South to the samose-kachori of the North. There is less romance in coupe travel.

Nizamuddin. Delhi in the winter. Aching soul, answering city.

Of famous addresses, this one utterly moves me.

Ghalib ki haveli, Ballimaran
Gali Qasim Jan, Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk, Delhi.

Mirza Ghalib wrote...

"....Bhai, kya poochte ho. Kya likhoon. Dilli ki hasti munassar kai hangamon per thi. Qila, Chandni chawk, her roz majma Jama Masjid ka, her hafte sair jamna ke pul ki, her saal mela phool waalon ka. Ye paanchon baatein ab nahin, phir kaho Dehli kahan. Haan koi shehr is naam ka Hindustan mein kabhi tha."

Maybe, but the madness around Lal Quila and the daily majma at Jama Masjid are still ours to enjoy. 

Meena Bazaar, smelly, intense. Giant long eared goats and an old woman sitting in front of her hut getting a nice winter thel maalish. Radishes, rikshaw guy promises to be waiting near the blanket sellers. Bunches of fresh, green sarson on carts. Green chillies. Rusks. Where's the man with the python? Skipping over snot and dung towards the dargah, then up the stairs of Jama Masjid. Man who keeps our shoes later says dawn is the time to be here, at Jama Masjid, to watch the sun rise over Old Delhi. But I'd miss the pigeons. Rising, settling, rising. He also says to make a wish in the dargah. The fried-in-ghee jelebis near the Gurudwara and then a gun shop. Out of the blue. People snaking past a tree covered with talismans on the way to the metro. Serenity. Zui bought a green nose stud on one of the lanes near Paranthewaaley gali. Suddenly Delhi, is everything to her. Morning spent listening to the azan and watching the pigeons at Jama Masjid. What it must be like during Eid.

This was on the way back, actually. After Almora, Binsar, Bhasoli, Kasar Devi. (A song in there, right? Music.)

On the way to, we went on the great Cellars Hunt. In Connaught Place. Kuki and his band had a 6 month gig at Cellars when they were teenagers. Konarak Reddy, the great drummer - Porgie Pope and Stanley Joseph. Kuki remembered it was opposite one of the Pallika Bazaar's entrances, somewhere near Regal. But everything was so different. We'd heard Cellars stories for years; the short walk from some MLA's home on Jantar Mantar Road, the band eating chicken curry and chappatties for Rs 5 at midnight, meeting assorted freaks like Silver Boots, Stud, Cornelia 'The Butterfly' Tchaspo, dropping acid and thinking his guitar was a snake. Now here we were some 40 years later and no one had heard of Cellars. Until, we asked a grey haired man and he says "yes, it was famous hotel" and points ahead.  We crossed the road and there, next to Regal Theatre, was Cellars which has now been transformed into the fantastic Pind Balluchi. From disco to dhaba, what to do. Make no mistake, the food was gorgeous - sarson ka saag, makki ki roti, palak pan....damn, what  is the secret of the paneer in Delhi?

We took the night train (2nd class three tier, no AC coach, no coupe) to Kathgodam. This was more like it. Reminiscent of journeys past. Closely pressed bodies, helpful suggestions, seat changes, offers of biskoot? Plantain? Are you going to Haldwani? Freezing cold because we, big time buddhus, don't have travelalls and razais, on a train climbing into the Himalayas. Kuki does a midnight warm-up of rum for us girls. Mmmmm.....But it's a crazy feat trying to keep warm. Then suddenly, I, on the topmost berth, wake with a start and think I'm looking at a gigantically tall man in silhouette because his head is near the fan on the ceiling. What the....? Someone's sitting on my berth! Chatting laconically to his friend on the opposite berth. "What are you doing?" I scream, sotto voce. "Bas, bait raha hai...Just sitting" he replies. "Then get off" I say, uncharitably and he does. No complaints.

The drive from Kathgodam to Binsar, oh God. The spectacular Kosi River to our left and Zui and me vomiting non-stop thanks to cowboy driver tactics designed to show us plains folk the hills. Through recurrent waves of nausea, I see on the river bed beneath us, pearly white, smooth rocks washed clean by the seven Himalayan tributaries, Saptakosi, that feed it. Kosi or Kausiki, where Sage Visvamitra meditated. She the wild, little sister of the Holy Ganga. Exactly as in those Amar Chitra Katha comics, river rocks like dinosaur eggs.

Would that I had the energy, as we passed through Almora, to consider for a moment the great Almora dance experiment of Uday Shankar and his love of the Kumaoni Ramleela.
Finally, tender Bhasoli, nestled in the lap of Nanda Devi. Somewhere, far below, continues to snake the River Kosi. We heard her one night as we walked past the tiny Hiath Hotel, where we would eat soft phulkas, bhang ki chutney, aloo jeera and shani hui mooli, past the shed with the single motorcycle, past the man covered in a razai sleeping on a charpay on his terrace, past the archway, past the provision stores and gas depot, past the bend in the road with four silent taxis.

Bhasoli, the apricot and walnut strewn playground of Parvathi, will forever be the place that Aala tried to get her Shiva on. It all started with painful arthritic knees and a concerned daughter who suggested that a well timed joint would do the trick. Then there was a guitar class that Zui wanted to take with a certain Yotam from Kasardevi (left fork on the road from Bhasoli to Almora. Swami Vivekananda meditated in the temple here) at the fabled Mohan's Cafe. Long and short, said daughter scored a tola of dark Kumaoni loveliness from a waiter at Mohan's Cafe. Then the smoking of it. Aala, like a fire dragon, with huge gusts streaming from her nose, nothing staying in long enough to give her the faintest buzz. And us knocking ourselves out with this daily medicine, all for Aala's knees ;) 

Hara Bhum Bhum Bhole Nath Shiva Shambho Shankara Vishwanatha Shiva ...

The first thing that happened on the walk to Zero Point was that a giant, Nandi-sized bull, on a really narrow path, semi-charged me. In slo-mo. The others say it was your garden variety cow and it was just waiting for me to move my ass the hell out of it's way, but what do they know. Oh, and Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary... Oak and rhododendron sholas as far as the eye can see. Crunching our way up through nests of pine needles. The air smelling of Pinesol and then, light bulb moment, huh... This was the real thing, the smell of fresh pine. Pale green and yellow light streaming through the ferns and hanging moss. 

Did I tell you we dreamed of this for so long? The long distance train and traveling with Aala and Ajit to the Himalayas before Zui goes off to college. 

Finally, there we were.... 300km of Himalayan peaks before us in a blue-white, mad-mad-mad unending arc. Nanda Devi, Nanda Khap, Nanda Khot, Trishul. Parvati running around somewhere in the snowfields, I'm guessing, trying to seduce Shiva. Calming his Tandava with her Lasya. Ready-mix and chocolate to beat the cold. My father's downy, silvery head looking off at the peaks, Kuki and I, pointing to distant villages in the snow, let's go there or there, let's take the Gypsy and drive there next year when Zui is off. Milk chocolate, but all else bittersweet.

One day, Deepak our taxi driver, told Zui about his dog who had recently been lifted by a leopard, but had miraculously escaped! Come to my house and meet him, he said. So the next day we walked up to his home. Built Kumaoni style on the top of a hill, Krishna's footprints, painted in red and white, running along the courtyard. Alapana on every threshold. His mother made us sweet, delicious ginger tea and we met his beautiful black and tan Bhotiya and the heroic Rocky (a Pomeranian, would you believe it!). A young leopard (Deepak told us that the scent of a leopard is goat-like) had picked up Rocky by the neck. Rocky struggled and actually released himself and made it back home, bloody and miserable. Now he doesn't step out post 4pm, choosing instead to sun himself on the upper terrace where the bhang seeds dry. He's got the battle scars to show for it. Deepak gave us a bag of walnuts to take home. In Kumaon, people are generous like that. Leela and Shanthi gave us small sacks full of bhang seeds. We hitched a ride to Kasardevi for Rs 15. Smokes manifested themselves, through Yotam, through a waiter. Grace.

The graceful Goddess. The grace of Parvati. She didn't scramble for anything. Lasya: small, slow, graceful steps. Grace. The ability to make sacrifices. To think of others at least one frikkin' nanosecond before oneself. To give of oneself, in energy, in spirit, in bhang seeds. But to give nonetheless. It's worth meditating in a Himalayan pool for, sweetheart...


A Sort of Utopia (but real)

I've been wanting to write about the two recent camps we had at Infinite Souls, a sort of magic infused them. But everytime I think of the kids sitting around the pond, their feet nibbled on by Papa's guppies and looking hard for the checkered keelback that lives in the pond, I have no way of deciphering the strength of that moment. This is the lightness of being then, this unquantifiable something.

Thus I can't find anything to write about camp without it sounding like some ha ha hee hee sort of travelogue cum plug. But am thinking instead about this damn Time thing. Kali. And this damn attachment thing. Lasi once said, as she served herself some Kung Pao chicken from the erstwhile Ginza, that what she wished for most was "to not think and to not feel". I could do with a portion of that.

Every child who was at camp left us with something; a feeling, a leaf, a fear, a discovery, some wonderment. How then do we manage to take these luminous beings, desensitize them so thoroughly and turn them into cogs? If they are happy cogs, well and good. But what lessons do we give them to save them from "a kind of measles of the spirit, a mumps of the psyche, a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul"?

Today is Zui's last day at school and I dunno why I'm crying. She's been waiting for this day forever, so why do I feel like some moment has passed?