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Showing posts from 2015

Revisiting an old love: Blossom Book House

This afternoon, I went to Blossom Book House on Church Street after a gap of some months. Felt like visiting an old love, but it was an effort to rekindle the old magic. Has the book-buying experience changed? Or have my circumstances changed? 
I first discovered this bookstore about 13 years ago, in 2002, when it was a small one-room store in Brigade Gardens. When I was working as a sub-editor in a newspaper on MG Road, I'd end up at Blossom during the famed 5-6 pm 'thindi' break. Blossom was a sanctuary for me. I didn't have too much money to spend, but would end up buying a nice second-hand one for about Rs 50, and come back to the desk, in time for the post 6 pm rush. Work on the State Desk was dull and dreary sometimes, and we had to edit poorly written copies or make page after page on old systems that often hung! And the endless translations from Kannada to English. Going to Blossom became a ritual, a bright spot in an otherwise dull day.
I discovered several au…

When the #Emergency was clamped in India...25-06-1975

25th June, 1975. One of the darkest days in Indian democracy, when the Emergency was declared. Growing up, I was fed on a steady diet of anecdotes from those days.  Both my parents worked in Central government offices, so I have heard a million stories about the disciplinary action taken by authorities during the Emergency. Of office gates being closed, so people wouldn't leave before 5.30 pm etc. And stories of colleagues speaking against the government at bus-stops in hush-hush tones. Of the louder ones asked to keep the volume down. My parents recall how they'd have to take a day or half a day's leave even if they were late to work by a few minutes. They recall how union leaders would be put under suspension, and many people dismissed. Some were even demoted as part of disciplinary action.

They also talk of how it was when the Emergency was lifted eventually, and Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister lost the elections after that. My family loves talking about 'tho…

In conversation with Amitav Ghosh

I greatly admire Amitav Ghosh and his 'Ibis Trilogy'. So, when a good friend and editor asked me to interview him, I jumped at the opportunity. And what a wonderful experience it turned out to be,

Keep it simple, stupid

Every now and then, we all need to tell ourselves to be Rahul Dravids. Don't gun for glory. Get down to the basics, and do the simple things well. I have always tried to keep it simple: Keep your head down, just score the singles, keep the scoreboard ticking. This philosophy makes things easy. It is only when I act against my true motto that things tend to go wrong. A Rahul Dravid innings, the way he has conducted himself in his professional life has many lessons in there for us. In fact, 'Keep the scoreboard ticking' brings back many happy memories because it was my first ever blog. Back when no one had even heard of what a blog was. It was when I was a struggling journalist that I started to watch Dravid carefully. This was way back in 2002/03. The way he planned an innings was the way I was beginning to plan my years in the newspaper I worked for, back then. Keep it simple, and the big runs will come later, I would tell myself as I slogged on the moffusil desk, doing n…

Slow down, let go

This is a great read. Especially on a Monday when you (at least, I) tend to lose focus. Especially when too many things are happening around you, and you are feeling overwhelmed. When you have to handle contempt and scorn. When some scenes from the past keep twirling like a dancing doll in your head. When you know you deserve better. When you need to slowly get your moorings back and stay afloat. When you need to learn equanimity. And be unmoved by high praise and vile criticism. When you should let go of people or things who are not for you.

Excerpts from the link where Pico Iyer and Matthieu Richard have a great conversation:

I think that’s why people like me, who are not part of a religious tradition, will often go on retreat to monasteries, because suddenly you can listen to everything and you’re not endlessly talking and you’re not trying to impress everybody around you, and you’re not being distracted by emails and texts … Suddenl…

#TeatimeTales #History

From Glasgow to Pattikonda: The journey of Sir Thomas Munro
Sir Thomas Munro, a Glasgow-born Scotsman, who became the Governor of Madras Presidency in the early part of the 19th century, made a deep impact on the people of the Rayalaseema region. I was reading up on the palegar (local chieftains) strife in Rayalaseema region, and read this interesting snippet: In many parts of Ananthapur and Ballari regions, Munro was so respected that the locals named their first-born son after their favourite administrator – Munrolappa (Kannada and Telugu are the local languages).
I haven’t seen it, but there’s a famous statue of Sir Thomas Munro in Madras, near the Gymkhana, according to a piece in The Hindu. (Sriram’s piece in The Hindu.)
What triggered my interest in Sir Thomas Munro was that he was the Collector of Anantapur district. My ancestral village is in the same district, and many of my family members continue to live in the district.
I came across a letter Sir Thomas Munro writes to …

My heart cries for you, Nepal

Over 6,000 people have lost their lives in the Nepal earthquake, and the toll is expected to touch 10,000. When I think about it, I am at a loss for words. It is deeply saddening, and painful to see so much suffering in this world. 

Nepal holds a special place in my heart. I visited that beautiful country in April 2004. It was the first time I stepped out of India; I was sent there on a 'fam' (familiarisation) trip by the newspaper I was working for then. I had never seen a snow peak till then, and remember being awestruck by the sight. What's more, the peaks were part of the mighty Himalayas. In fact, on April 25, 2004, exactly eleven years back (the day the earthquake struck in Nepal -- April 25, 2015) I was somewhere between Kathmandu and Pokhara, I think. This region is among the worst affected. The epicentre of the quake is somewhere in between these two famous tourist centres.

During that trip, we went on a shortish trek near Bandipur, visited the Siddha Caves, went …

If you want to do your bit for Nepal

If you want to do your bit for Nepal, here's a link:

You can also contribute to the Prajavani Relief Fund, announced recently

Times of India in association with Fab India is offering to do their bit as well:

Also, read this point of view

The Guardian has a piece on the right way to help: 

#TeatimeTales #History #Bengaluru #Plague

What Plagued India and Bangalore in the late 1890s
August 12, 1898, Bangalore: A servant of the railway superintendent arrives in Bangalore from Hubli. He is inspected and tests confirm that he has the plague. That becomes the first reported case of plague in Bangalore*. 
Later, the disease gains epic proportions, taking lives of thousands of Bangaloreans. Reports suggest that there were over 10,000 deaths between September 1898 and March 1899*.

Where it came from
It was in China that the third big plague outbreak in recorded history occurred in the 1890s. This plague devastated many parts of India. A WHO report puts that figure at over six million between 1898 and 1908. 
In the Bombay Presidency
It is now believed that the first cases of plague occurred in Bombay as early as March, 1896. However, the first cases were reported near the docks on the Port Trust Estates in Mandvi district in August 1896. The ‘Moltanies’ who lived there are said to have had dealings with China, explaining …

#TeatimeTales #History

From Italy to Kengeri: The Thread That Binds So, I was randomly surfing the internet last night, and one thing led to another, and I found out that a certain Italian gentleman called Signor De Vecchi is linked to Kengeri. What? An Italian and a suburb of Kengeri in Bengalooru – what’s the connection, you might wonder. It was Signor De Vecchi who tried to revive the silk industry, and got the sericulture community together in 1866. He started a filature unit back then, in a bid to add sheen to the silk industry.
Kengeri, a hobli (cluster of hamlets), was a well-known centre for sericulture during the time of Tippu Sultan. Tippu is credited with bringing sericulture to Mysore state. Kengeri’s silk industry flourished as well. By 1866, over a good half a century after the death of the Sultan, several experiments in sericulture were in progress in and around the country.
According to the book/report, ‘On the Silk Culture in Southern India’ by M M MacKenzie, published 1870, (the book is …


If you have lived in Bangalore or visited the city, am sure that at some point, you have made a trip to Lalbagh. I have many childhood memories of the beautiful gardens, the floral clock and the flower shows.
The history of this beautifully laid out gardens has always fascinated me, and I have always looked around for interesting stories around this lung space of Bangalore. In fact, there are hundreds of stories revolving around the green legacy of the city. The nurseries of Siddapura still thrive, actually, a reminder of the city's green legacy.
Anyway, one interesting reference to Lalbagh comes from The Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener, Country Gentleman, Bee-Keeper and Poultry Chronicle. (Volume XIV., New Series), published in London, 1868.
Under the sub-heading, ‘Bangalore Horticultural Fete’, the journal describes the Fete held in Bangalore on December 31st, 1867. “Inside the show of Flowers, Vegetables, and Fruit, and especially the latter, exposed …

Science and spirituality

Who am I? No thinking individual can ever escape this existential question. I was just watching this TED talk and found it thought-provoking.

Religion and spirituality

I have no belief in an organised religion, and the concept of a god who needs appeasement in many ways, a thousand candles lit or yet another million rituals and prayers so he/she will shower blessings on us. I don't believe in a textbook version of god, as religion wants me to believe. Suffice it to say my god is my values, not any god mythology/the sacred books speak of. I believe more in making everyday living meaningful rather than reciting prayers after prayers without ever trying to capture the essence of any of them.

Yes, you can light a hundred lamps to a god you believe in, and perform all the prescribed rituals. That makes you religious, and not spiritual. Spirituality has nothing to do with celebrating festivals or performing rituals associated with them. You don't even need to believe in a 'god' to be spiritual.

I have always felt organised religion is more about a sense of community, rather than spirituality. Being religious has nothing to do with liberat…

Star-struck in Gujarat

My favourite part of our Gujarat trip was how Hindi cinema references kept popping up at every stage. Hindi cinema served as a nice reference point to draw people to history, it seemed to me. Here's my piece in The Hindu Businessline's weekend supplement, BLink

Notes on 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha'

What a nice ode to the Nineties 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha' is. Recording favourite songs on cassettes, sometimes re-recording on them, retrieving stuck tapes from the recorder/player, the whole works...Growing up, I remember how the person with the most tapes was always looked upon reverentially. I also remember using some of my parents' old cassettes to record, re-record and re-re-record. The Nineties were when we took our Hindi movies quite seriously and even watched terrible ones like 'Waqt Hamara Hain' in a theatre.
My only quarrel with the movie is the manner in which it ends (over-simplistic, I felt). Suddenly, thanks to a local contest, the wrinkles are ironed out, and everything is sweet, and all is well that ends well. For a film that has managed to look at small-town Indian society and arranged marriages from a realistic perspective, the manner in which it ends is much like any other Hindi movie
Also, take away the last device of the contest, and there is no p…

One evening at Law Gardens, Ahmedabad - Gujarat Diaries

They love their street food at Law Gardens! The whole street is buzzing and alive, come evening. Shoppers, street-food lovers and lovers all throng Law Gardens, lovingly called 'Louvve Gardens' by the autorickshaw drivers!

Salt of the earth. The white Rann - Gujarat Diaries

On the road - Gujarat Diaries

How does one sum up a journey that encompasses the White Rann of Kutch, the hamlets along the way that are treasurehouses of great art and craft, the royal heritage of Bhuj, Baroda's classiness, and Ahmedabad's distinct flavours all at once? And yes, I forget to add Adalaj, a nearby town which is home to a stepwell, Patan, of the famed Patola sarees and Rani ki Vaav, Modhera, home to a sun temple that predates the Konark sun temple, according to some sources, Mandvi, the charming dusty port town, Anand, home to Amul and the White Revolution! I can only show you some pictures for now!

Bhuj landscapes - Gujarat Diaries

Typical sights on our journey to Bhuj.

The yellow of this man's kurta brightens the barren landscape just that much!
The vegetation, if any, was 'gando baval' (in the local language) or 'jaali' as we call it in Kannada and Telugu. 

Baroda delights - Gujarat Diaries

Baroda is a sheer delight. It's classy, and is the cultural capital of the state. The old and the new sit cheek by jowl here. It feels like Mysore in some respects, thanks to its royal heritage. We went to the awe-inspiring Laxmi Vilas Palace, where some members of the royal family still live. The palace is in great condition; a nicely presented audio tour is also available. We also visited the museum, which is housed in a beautiful red structure. But for me, the piece de resistance was the Tambekar Wada, a 19th century structure belonging to Bhau Tambekar, the erstwhile diwan of the princely state of Baroda. It is an old wooden building hidden in Raopura, in the lane opposite Dhuli Ram Pendawala, a famous vendor of sweets, and am sure the cab driver was amused to see us enter that crumbling old building. Wadas are typical Maharashtrian joint family homes, much like the waade manes of North Karnataka. This Baroda wada (traditional home) is in a state of disrepair. One of the port…

Talking of ‘avarebele’, Bangalore is full of beans!

No, this is not about cricket, although cricket is a constant presence. Some days I could be watching it, some days not. But it is there. Like music, like the smell of jasmine or ‘agarbathi’ in the bylanes of Bangalore. Or even the loud ‘soppu’ cry of the vegetable vendor pushing his cart in my city.
My mind goes back to a winter’s morning in the city. I remember waking up at 5 am to watch a test match between India and Australia. I had set the volume on the TV really low. There is a certain guilty pleasure in switching on the TV really early in the morning and listening to the commentary at a really low volume. It is intimate and conspiratorial, almost like the commentator is talking exclusively to you. I don’t remember much of that winter morning except that it was an India-Aus test series. But what I distinctly remember is the lunch hour of that test match, by which time my parents were up. And I remember drinking my mom’s trademark strong coffee. Then she took out the bowl of soake…

It's a wonderful world out there!

Witty, smart, charming, affectionate, sad, all these come easy on social media. Try that in real life and it is a different ball game altogether. I thought about this as I asked (on Facebook) someone I know to be brave as he had just lost a young son. How easily I said it. Not that I did not mean it. I meant it from the bottom of my heart. And yet, Facebook had made it easy for me to say it, somehow. That's how it is on social media. Log in: FB reminds you it is a friend's birthday. You wish her. Someone else has announced it's her anniversary. You wish her as well. And then someone is grieving. You say sorry. Someone's unwell. You wish them a s
peedy recovery. Someone's posted holiday pictures. You like them. Someone's cooked a fantastic meal. You like the pictures. Someone's being extremely witty. Like the post. You mean well, and do all this. You feel you have made someone's day, effortlessly. It is really easy to pull all this off on social media.