Mar 30, 2010

Celebration Time!








This is my 50th Post and I really am very happy with the response I have received to my writing!
Thankyou All for making this a pleasurable experience...
All your complements, criticism and comments has made me want to write more.
With each response I could feel myself get better at what I had taken up, blogging with a purpose!
After 50 posts I wish to go a rung higher!
At the same time I was missing all the fun I had with some silly posting I used to do at my personal blog...
There it was more of informal writing and blogging about my other personal interests like cooking and fashion
SO to commemorate the 50th post at this blog I am announcing the revival of my old blogspot
-Raison d'etre
Please feel free to go ahead and savour some of my old posts there...

Mar 29, 2010

Pune-Mahabaleshwar-PratapGarh

Come summer and one longs for a break from the sweltering heat! The lesser beings like me don’t always get a chance to escape to some exotic locale but where I went it was no less beautiful.

Mahabaleshwar is aptly referred to as the queen of all hill-stations. Nestled in the lush greenery of evergreen forests, Mahabaleshwar is a cool hill-station located in the heart of the Sahyadri hills in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra. I call this pet summer destination MahaB and it takes about an hour and a half to reach there by road (located about 120 km (75 mi) southwest of Pune and 285 km (177 mi) from Mumbai to be precise).

Being a complete foody uppermost on my agenda were Strawberries and Mulberries. MahaB provides for almost 85%of the Strawberry cultivation in India. As soon as we arrived at the toll Naka we were flocked by hawkers and we readily bought off small baskets  full of fresh, ripe and humongous sized strawberries and lovely rich purple Mulberries. I found the fruits tasted even sweeter, luscious and succulent than ever, this time! I love to see red and purple stained fingers and lips after gorging on the simply wonderful fruits. We arrived at Mapro Gardens and set about what I was longing to do….sinking my teeth into a lovely, red strawberry (even as I write, right now) !
Freshly cut slices of Strawberry liberally filled into tall glasses with huge dollops of snow-white whipped Cream is literally mouthfuls of pleasure. I reveled in it to the point of forgetting that people were watching my gluttony! :)
Mulberry (colloquially referred to as Tutoo) & Cream was brimming and spilling over from huge bowls which was immediately, scoop after scoop, polished off in no time!

If you plan to visit on a weekend during the summer holidays, which is the ‘season’, it’s most advisable to make prior bookings in your choice of resort. We got a lovely suite which granted a fantastic view of the gorgeous Green valley that is a whopping beauty in the misty morns’.

Then the actual touring of Mahabaleshwar commenced with a visit to the main shrine, the temple of Mahabaleshwar (Lord Shiva) in the Old Kshetra Mahabaleshwar. Mahabaleshwar derives its name from this temple of Lord Shiva, made of three Sanskrit words: Maha meaning Great, Bali meaning powerful & Ishwar meaning Lord. The history and mythology behind the temple of the Very- Mighty- God has been well-described here

Photography is strictly prohibited here so I regret not being able to secure any for this travelogue. I guess, you’ll have to visit to experience and see the sanctity and peace I found as I offered prayers here.

The PanchGanga Temple built by the King Singhan of Deogiri in 1215 which was later rebuilt in the 16th Century. This ancient temple houses the water tank which is considered the source of the river Krishna that flows across Maharashtra, Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh. The mouth of the statue of a Cow in this temple is the legendary spout through which the river is born.

Amongst the scores of scenic points, the most interesting is the Elephant’s head point. You can even reach the point atop the head and get a breathtaking view of the panoramic valley.


Boating at Venna Lake in the evening is a pleasurable experience, one shouldn’t miss. The lake is spread over 28 Acres and the boatman rowing our boat informed me that it must be 30 ft deep. This is a perennial lake, Mahabaleshwar’s water resource.

The stretch outside the lake has a host of entertainment venues like Go-Karting Tracks, Open land for Horse-riding, Ferry-wheels, etc.

I’ve picked up a pair of gorgeous, silk-lined Razai (quilt) at the market.

If you dig authentic Maharashrian Non-veg food then Babachi Wadi is the place to check out at MahaB. It’s a quaint, shack-like restaurant in the middle of the market area, where you will be served piping-hot, spicy Kombdi-Wade or Mutton-Wade ( This is a spicy, rich, meat Gravy served with big Bhatura or Puri-like bread ), from a humble but clean kitchen. I promise you the food is of lip-smacking goodness. One can even get a delicious plate of spicy Pithla-Bhakri along with lovely rings of pungent onion, lime pickle and fresh green chillies here! So keep your inhibitions aside and hog away here, like I did!


Next on our itinerary was the famous, strong and formidable hill fort PratapGarh!
PratapGarh was rebuilt by Chattrapati Shivaj Maharaj in the 17th century after he took over Jaoli and Mahabaleshwar. We drove from Mahabaleshwar for about an hour again, through the snaking AmbeNali Ghat to reach the fort. Hiring a guide, we learnt a lot about its magnificent history!

The architect of the fort Hiroji Indulkar applied great thought to making the fort as invincible as possible. One of the prominent features that contributed to making it a strong fort was the double rows of thick walls on all sides with tiny windows at vantage look-out points .

While quarrying the side of the mountain for construction material, they hit upon spring water, thus making the site self-sufficient in water supply and building material.

The most significant role played by this fort in the history of the Maratha Empire was the defeat of the mighty Afzal Khan at the hands of Emperor Shivaji. It was at the base of this fort that the towering 7 footer, Afzal Khan failed to kill Shivaji with a bear-hug embrace and a hidden dagger- katyar. Shivaji was protected by armour underneath his clothes. He immediately emboweled Afzal Khan with one swish of the Wagh Nakhi, Tiger’s Claw. The complete and awe-inspiring history of this fort & the historic battle that ensued can be read here.
Shivaji’s lieutenant successfully captured the fleeing Afzal Khan and beheaded him. His head was carried away to the Raigad fort to be presented before Shivaji’s mother Jijabai. His body however was interred at Pratapgarh, itself. Seen in the pic’ is the spot of the Shamiyana, erected for the rendezvous between Afzal Khan and Shivaji Maharaj, where Afzal Khan’s tomb now stands.




                                          



The main entrance to the fort is the imposing Maha Darwaja.
Stepping through, one can touch and feel one of the ancient Canon, Top still at the spot, where once upon a time, it must have been readied for attack.    In those times each gun had her own name but the guide couldn't tell us what the name of this one was. With or without a name, she's beautiful, isn't she?
The convoy of the king and the king himself always used the Palkhi Darwaja.

This is the view from the execution (Kade-lot) point. From here an errant lieutenant or traitor would be dumped in a gunny bag and pushed off the cliff to a definite death in the menacingly deep valley.

To commemorate the tricentennary of the historic conquering of the mighty AdilShahi Killedar Afzal Khan & the Maratha King Shivaji Raje Bhaonsale, a statue of an equestrian Shivaji was installed at the top of the Pratapgarh fort in 1959 AD. Made of an alloy of 4 metals this statue weighs approx. 4000 Kgs.

The TulzaBhavani Temple housed within this fort was built by Shivaji Maharaj and his mother Jijabai who were ardent devotees of the goddess. It is believed that a prayer sent up to Godess Bhavani seldom goes unfulfilled. I paid earnest obeisance and returned with a happy heart. A holiday not at all planned but really well utilized!

Mar 25, 2010

The Japanese Wife


I just finished reading Kunal Basu’s Japanese wife.  It’s a short story that revolves around a shy Snehamoy Chatterjee, a methematics teacher at a secondary school & his Japanese pen pal Miyage. With the progressing number of letters and increased frequency in the exchange of gifts between them, they eventually fall in love with each other. What unfolds is an unreal love story. I just couldn’t bring myself to accept that it is possible that a Sneha (as the Bengali BabuMoshai  is referred to) in reality could maintain a long-distance relationship over a decade. Especially that he goes to the extent of even considering Miyage his betrothed wife and vice versa when they’ve never met each other in person.
When in real life, we are seeing, scores of real husbands and wives can’t resist from cheating on their spouse when he/she is away, this piece of fiction is about Sneha & Miyage who preserve a chaste relationship despite the distance and passage of time. Their love, lives, flourishes and bonds over written words, only through letters.
 The commitment they show over a decade despite no wedding ritual or ceremony, ( neither Indian nor Japanese) having taken place between the two, is unbelievable!
Then Snehamoy’s aunt intervenes and brings along Sandhya, a widow and her 8 year old son to stay with them.
The arithmetic teacher and the little boys bond slowly strengthens and a warm understanding developes between Sandhya and Snehamoy too. That’s when he starts suffering guilt pangs and decides to write a confession to his remote wife!
At Snehamoy’s untimely death, its amazing to read that the Japanese wife arrives at his village Shonai, with a shaven head & in whites like a devout Hindu widow!
This story, though unbelievable, does build my hope in love and commitment through its beautiful style of narration, that is the upside!

The Japanese Wife is a forthcoming Bollywood movied by Bengali film director Aparna Sen, starring Raima Sen, Rahul Bose & The Japanese actress Chigusa Takaku, slotted for a release in April 2010.
I feel the original Kunal Basu story has been tweaked a bit to bring it on the reel and to make it more believable.
Waiting to watch it and see which one turns out to be the better half, the one on paper or the one on screen? 



Mar 16, 2010

Into the heart of the Jungle....

Almost a meter tall, the big cat was looking formidable and imposing in its rich, orange coat with the bold and clear stripes running at right angles to its bodyline. The feline was poised in a stealthy stance as if readying to pounce on its prey. I could almost feel the sharp claws waiting, retracted within the bulbous toes of the huge paws, lest it should blunt from the scraping on the ground, to shoot out. The Tiger’s tail appeared to be half as long as its entire body. Maybe it provides just the right balance to the sleek structure during the hunting chase. No wonder so many writers wax lyrical over the tiger’s round yellow eyes. Those keen eyes did instill fear and spell-binding awe in your heart, both at the same time.
I was looking right into the eyes of the Tiger and they seemed to be boring into mine.
The yawning mouth revealed large razor-sharp canines threatening to tear flesh in minutes.
One growl and I would have pissed my pants but now I could stand so close, so fearlessly, for I knew it could do no harm to me. The Tiger was not behind the bars of a zoo but was free and yet it could do nothing for it stood there lifeless, dead, just another stuffed effigy, yet another specimen on display!


As students of Fine Arts, the batch of 2000 was taken on a study tour to gorgeous Nepal, to sketch, paint and click to capture the beauty of another world. One of the breathtaking locales visited was the Machhaphuchhare (Fish Tail) peak in the Annapurna Himal of north- central Nepal, reflecting beautifully in the clear waters of the Fewa Lake. My camera clicked away and we halted at many beautiful spots to sketch the picturesque Pokhra environs.

Next on our itinerary was the Royal Chitwan National Park which was spread over an area of 932 sq.kms., in the flat lowland region of Southern Nepal. We spent the night in shacks and were visited by a stray, great, one-horned Rhinoceros while we were dining. All 45 girls were screaming our lungs out until the harrowed caretakers of the resort arrived at the scene and assured us of it being absolutely harmless and that it was a frequent visitor here. Meanwhile some other locals busied themselves at sending the animal away.
“I’m thoroughly enjoying it here” said Maggie my adventurous classmate and I said “Ditto!”
The next day, in the wee hours of the misty November morning, we left the resort in thundering jeeps. Most of us wore Khakis and fatigue print outfits to gel in with the forests, as instructed.  On reaching the venue it came as a surprise that we were to commence our Jungle Safari on Elephant backs! I was thrilled to bits.

We were split into groups of 4, Maggie and I along with Deepti and Pooja together.  From a Machan-like high platform, we were lowered into a rather crude, saddle-like, contraption fastened to the back of a sturdy Elephant. Rupin, the Mahout, then seized an ear in each hand when the elephant obligingly lowered its head. He then hoisted himself up onto the elephant’s trunk. Like a hydraulic lift, the trunk was raised into the air and Rupin adeptly dropped off to be seated like a valiant warrior , atop the elephant’s nape. From this perch, Rupin would talk to the elephant in a cajoling voice while giving soft nudges behind the ears to guide it through the Jungle Safari.

The first 15 minutes of the journey were consumed in getting a hang of riding Elephant-back, overcoming the fear of the height and falling off. All four girls were intently teaching each other how to hang on tight to the frail railing of the seat, guarding us from tipping off the Elephant’s back. In spite of the initial tension I found myself giggling as we learnt to follow the rhythm of the gentle rocking while our great mount took heavy, measured steps. As the elephantine movements trampled the earth, I was busy noticing that these were rich, sub-tropical forests, a striking contrast to the snow-capped mountains to the North. 



Thankfully Rupin turned out to be a genial and intelligent fellow contrasting the grumpy riders we saw leading our other classmates elephants. “What a boor!” Pradnya had described their Mahout, later that evening over dinner.
Rupin told us that our Elephant was a very loving animal, quite pleasant natured at most times, had the proverbial sharp memory and responded to the name ChampaKali.
“So bhayya you are the only guy here in our team!” observed Maggie and Rupin gave a gurgling laugh. We maintained as low volumes as possible, as instructed and the five of us chatted away to glory.
As conversation flowed one wise crack followed another and Rupin boasted proudly “She follows Hindi very well. Try it!”
I didn’t realize what got over me and I started actually addressing ChampaKali myself. Without a second thought I jovially reprimanded her, “This leisurely stroll through the jungle is getting a bit boring ChampaKali.” I said, “Why don’t you show us what you know! Take us where the dreaded Sher- Khan lives.”
At first we didn’t believe that ChampaKali had fully understood what I’d said, so we laughed but there was dead silence from Rupin. He never turned back and we realized ChampaKali had given a sudden jerking swerve to the left. She stepped off the well-trodden trail into the dense thicket. 
We noticed Rupin’s voice was caught between delight and alarm as he said, “She’s following your instructions Maydum.”
The words were out and they couldn’t be taken back.

ChampaKali was seriously leading us off into the depths of the tropical forest, away from the routine track for I noticed that over the past five minutes none of the other Elephants accompanying ours were to be seen. No human sound reached us. What we could hear was just the rustling of the leaves against the Elephant’s body and the gurgling of a stream nearby. The cooing of the birds, high up in the branches and the constant chirping of the crickets made the background score for our adventurous scene. I could sense the girls were a bit scared at the idea of approaching the tigers for real but I wasn’t. For their sake, I was almost about to request Rupin to abort the reckless plan but I didn’t find my voice, out of excitement.

As we neared the stream, ChampaKali slowed down and I saw that her feet were now mucky with the softened soil from the river bank. Rupin strictly asked us to maintain pin-drop silence. “Not a word!” he glared at me, raising a finger to his lips. We had now reached a clearance at the bank of the flowing stream, where ChampaKali suddenly ground to a sharp halt. Her body swayed and quivered. The poor animal had followed orders but was also very frightened at the finale. Just across, on the opposite river bank, a Tiger was lapping up the water, thirstily!

 Despite the distance, he’d noticed us and had looked up, almost immediately, at our arrival. I was looking right into the eyes of the Tiger and they seemed to be boring into mine!
 Despite the distance I could feel the fiery yellow eyes, keenly observing us. At that intoxicating moment, blood rushed to my feet and I felt faint. ChampaKali had afforded us a glimpse of the feline in flesh and blood, in all its resplendent grandeur, in its own habitat!




Here in this famous museum ‘The Panthera Tigris’ is poised on a grand pedestal, the board beneath reads, ‘Felidae family’ and all this seems like an irony to what I reminisce!
Here I can almost laugh at the fear I’d felt at seeing the Tiger eye to eye. At Chitwan, literally in the heart of the jungle, I’d fallen in love with our chance sighting. I was reveling in the fact that we even caught a glimpse while others had spotted only a paw mark in the earth somewhere or deep claw marks and long scratches on tree trunks.

When ChampaKali made an about-turn, Rupin had started telling us in a hushed, sad tone, “Until 1950, Chitwan was the favourite hunting ground for the Nepalese royalty. Extravagant camps would be set up for the big game hunters and their entourage who would shoot hundreds of tigers and panthers over the next couple of months.”

Though poaching cases are said to have considerably reduced, more than 200 tigers were killed recently. The malpractice is still rampant, of trading the Tiger’s pelt, bones and claws to China, Korea, Japan and many other eastern countries where it’s of great medicinal value or to Tibet where it’s traditionally used in religious ceremonies or costumes.

Rupin also told us tales of how the dwindling forests caused the Tiger to enter the village in search of prey. A step for its survival, led it to its death at the hands of the villagers. “It’s the same plight in India too!”, I’d replied and today it is worse!
With only 1411 left in India, what is the future of our national animal?
Sachin Tendulkar dedicated his 42nd test century at Hamilton to the cause of tiger conservation.
He did his bit.
I wish to do more than just stand here and stare into the feline’s eyes, which seem to beg me to protect its brethren from annihilation but how?



This story was also published as my 3nd entry at KathaSagar Short Story Contest 


Image borrowed from www. uffech.wordpress.com

Mar 10, 2010

My secret!



 Are you the type who reads a book you’d liked the second time over again? I am. And it almost always opens a whole new vista for me each time. “How could I have skipped that exquisite piece the last time I read it?” is what I find myself thinking after the 2nd spin through the same pages.
I just finished reading ‘the Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne. This book has thoughts and ideas that kept me glued to it like no other book ever did. I kept turning page after page and never felt like putting this wonderful book down for a second. Lest I should miss out even a single of those valuable words that all seemed to be weaving a magic carpet for me! That which could take me to all my dreams! Every thread was certainly important.
The ‘secret’ was being revealed. It wrapped me, enveloped me, ensconced me, and absorbed me in its wake, to the core. Bob Proctor had put it out loud and clear, “ If you see it in your mind, you’re going to hold it in your hand.” And Mike Dooley sums it up in just 3 simple words, “Thoughts become Things!” All that I’d read in this book made me extremely conscious of my thoughts and actions, my achievements and losses. I had to set about evaluating my life’s graph and analyzing the causes to all that happened. The why’s and how’s of all that happened; the good and the bad!

                                                                         *****************
 What I’d just read made me think back and wonder if any episodes in my life were distinctive enough to prove this theory that this book was so profoundly propagating. And Voila!! There indeed was. Not one but a couple of them already. I felt goose bumps rise all over me as I started recollecting. I will relate some remarkable incidents from my past to you here.
 One worth enumerating marks a turning point in my life. My close friend Shwe and I had gone for yet another girly- night-out- dinner somewhere in June 2006. The only thing that was Shwe’s prime concern over the past couple of months, as regards my life was my marriage. It disturbed her to see me single. Since I was motherless, almost 24 years old, with quite a steady career graph, she thought it was her responsibility and really high time that I chose my life mate. As the dinner progressed, we came back to the same old topic and launched on yet another argument on the topic and she was reprimanding me for treating the subject with such callousness.
 This time in a very finalizing motherly tone Shwe declared that she would have me registered with a renowned local matrimonial agency. My protests were given no heed. And we ate the rest of the dinner almost in silence with only an occasional mono-syllabic exchange. Poor soul she really was concerned about my well-being! That’s when I don’t know what got over me?!
As we stepped out of the restaurant we stared up at the starry sky with the romantic moon sailing along and something tugged at my heart! I was taken over by an intense longing to find my very own soul mate. And that’s when, with utmost convention and grit I declared to Shwe, “ Wait until December 2006. By then if I don’t find my guy and get engaged then I’m all yours Shwe. I’m sure I’ll be sharing this good news in December with you!” And we parted with hugs. I’d set out a deadline for my dreams. December 2006! As I walked away, the surety with which I’d just made the declaration landed on me.
And come December 2006, at Christmas I did get engaged to the love of my life! We met on the 17th and got engaged by the 25th, shared the news with Shwe ASAP. Praise be, to God! Wasn’t all that as if someone up there started working along the storyline that I’d vaguely jotted out? Paid heed to a prayer that I’d sent up into the starry night? As if some supernatural power could see what I had started dreaming of.
 My hubby is just the guy I ever wanted, to the ‘T’ and can there be anything more amazing than this real life story that fortifies the belief in the book?



                                                                         *****************
Yet another thrilling happening is one I will never forget. I had just finished with my graduation in 2004 and was rearing to go out into the world and make a career. My papa thought that my paintings should get evaluated so that I may know where I stand? We decided to take my work to a local gallerist in hope of some guidelines. My Pa is extremely proud of my skills and my friends have fortified his belief in my work by purchasing few of my works way before I even secured my graduate degree. I always got a whole lot of praises for my detailing, confident line drawing and design sense. So making it big as an artist was given, according to Papa. However when we reach this gallery with my work, we come across a haughty, seemingly very busy, know-it-all of a gallerist! And for the first time in my life, I am criticized. Not in an encouraging manner but outright derisively. Fine! My work was not mature enough (as per the gallerist) but it surely wasn’t as bad as he put it too!. He mocked and rebuked me for even thinking I could ever become an artist. A depressed and shaken me was about to walk out when he calls me and makes me an offer to buy off my painting at half the price I’d quoted. My pa and I exchanged glances in sheer dismay. Minutes ago my work was worth cow-dung and now a price tag??? Wonders of wonders!!
We walked out without saying a single word back to him. Standing right outside the gallery I turned to pa, teary eyed, “ I swear to God one day I shall make it real big as an artist and I will successfully run an Art Gallery 3 fold bigger than this one!” My Pa didn’t have a single doubt in my capabilities to make this true! The ‘big artist’ bit and the ‘3 fold bigger gallery’ part haven’t happened yet but 2 years ago, by God's grace, I did launch an Art Gallery of my own and I have sold quite a number of paintings by now. How it all happened was purely through hard work and because my pa, pa-in-law and hubby supported my dreams. But I truly realized that “The secret’ was at work when in August, I got a call from the Cultural Initative Board of the III Common Wealh Youth Games that were to be hosted in Pune. The lady from across was inviting me to a meeting at the ICC Trade Towers because my gallery had been selected for accreditation by the government. I was thrilled to bits! Having inaugurated in June, being selected within a span of 6 months was a truly tremendous achievement for me!
An accreditation would prove highly commendable and most might agree, a close to impossible feat for a budding Art Gallery. Once there I realized that only 4 Art galleries were selected from the numerous galleries all over Pune and the proprietors were to gather in the conference room. At the meeting what do I see?? Sitting right across me at the conference table was the same short, haughty, bloat head of a gallerist, from years ago!! All his spiting words came back to me but I suppressed my abhorrence and tried to ignore this person sitting there. In the corner of my heart I felt this growing feeling of pride and reassurance. Pride that I sat there at the same table as his equal and reassurance that some day my dream of making my gallery’s success 3 fold bigger than his will come true!!

Mar 7, 2010

Vintage Stamps

My Pa is still an avid stamp collector but sadly its a rarity to be able to lay your hand on a good stamp (unless you go and buy them yourself)due to this E-mail era !
The huge albums full of international stamps was just an inheritance to me until a few days ago, since childhood.
However since I recognised  that bird printed on the face of a stamp.
It was the Eurasian Golden Oriole that I'd spotted on the branches of the tree in my garden! You can check the photo' out, again, here.
Its thrilling to know that I own a vintage stamp of Hungary on its fauna, that I've managed to see in our very own city, Pune!
This is the 40filler with the   Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus) 





Another interesting Vintage Hungarian stamp has the Kentish Plover ( Charadrius alexandrinus). 
Will I spot this bird too some day? I also wish to progress from just simple stamp collection to informed Philately.
Anyone who can guide me with this is most welcome to share some tips and tricks! 

Mar 5, 2010

What Love can make you do....

This story is my entry for FINISH THE STORY contest conducted by Cafe GingerChai where we sip thoughts!To get updated on future contests,register at Cafe GingerChai.
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It was a warm night, neither humid nor too hot- in fact just right for a stroll. But it was 11.30 pm, not late by metro standards. But in the suburbs where the company township was situated, it was way too late. The highway was about ½ km away  and occasionally the hum of heavy vehicles passing by, could be heard but other than that , it was quiet with only the chirping of the cicadas in the background.

Ranjan hurried along the small lanes of the VIP quarters, isolated and further away, in the moonless night, frequently giving furtive glances around him. He seemed tense but strode ahead with purposeful steps, until he reached a particular bungalow. He stopped in front of it and stared at it for a few minutes. The senior level executives were issued spacious bungalows with lawns while the junior and the mid level executives were assigned one bedroom and two bedroom apartments, a fact that did not go well with them , after all the divide was quite unreasonable they thought. But this was not the issue at the moment. He was here for his own personal reasons…

It was quiet and dark on the other side of the wall. One notable thing was that the street lights were few and far between and most of them were not working.  The spot, where he was standing was shrouded in darkness, which suited him just fine. There was no sign of any activity inside the rooms of the freshly whitewashed bungalow of Mr. Gupta. Only a dim red light flickered through the curtains of a room, most probably the master bedroom. He scratched his head and tried to remember if Mr. Gupta had a dog and, No! No dogs, no watchman, so nothing to be afraid of. Yes! Everything was going according to plan. Mr. Gupta was out with the executive board members in the Company Club house entertaining the overseas client trying to secure the coveted deal, which meant that he will not be back before 2 am. That left him with enough time to accomplish whatever he had come for. 

He gave another glance towards his left and right and also the two bungalows flanking it, but all was silent. It would be a fool who would be out at that hour leaving the comfort of a bed and wife to roam about here and there. He smiled at the private joke. He touched the gate gingerly. It was an iron gate. He tried to move it but it gave a low audible creak and he stopped.
  “Damn! Asha, my sweet little fool… Why does she have to wish for near impossible things?” He could not afford to make any noise. He was dressed in track pants which also served as his night suit and rubber soled shoes. He realized with alarm that he did not have his cell phone or any identity proof with him.
    
He decided that the best and fastest approach inside would be to climb over the low brick wall.
   “ Asha! How you bewitch me!” He sighed, “All for love!” The brick wall was not high but it still disrupted the normal functioning of his 37 year old body for a few seconds, after he climbed over and jumped onto the other side clumsily. But thankfully the grass was thick which carpeted both his fall and the noise. He panted. His heart was beating at the rate of 100 per minute  ( more out of anxiety) and he was experiencing strange sensations at the pit of his stomach. After all it was the first time he was trespassing someone else’s property.
      He nearly gave up and retreated, but then he calmed himself, took some deep breaths and sat on the soft grass for a few moments.
     “ No snakes, I hope” he thought peering in the darkness. He had to do it today. He was not going to get a better opportunity to come here.
          
He hated his ex boss Mr.Gupta very much and the fact that he was doing this to him gave him additional satisfaction. Mr.Gupta fitted the description of a monster boss to a T. Ranjan first came across him eight months back when Mr.Gupta was transferred from their Bareilly unit. The dislike was mutual and the Monster made his life miserable. Finally after requesting the administration and literally prostrating himself in front of them, he was transferred to another unit, but the scars remained till date. It took all his patience not to physically assault his boss.  He used to often wonder how anyone could tolerate Mr.Gupta. How did his wife and children cope with him? He knew that Gupta had two sons aged 9 and 6 years. What did they think of him? Was this monster a normal person? He did not seem to have any friends or associates either. The only admirable thing about him though was that he had not seen anyone else with a greener thumb than his. He kept an impeccable garden and was the subject of envy among the others.
        
He looked at his watch. He had sat there lost in thoughts for almost 15 minutes. He stood up, smiling, he turned towards the verandah!
           
“Asha! Its your birthday and I want you to be happy”, he chanted in his thoughts. He felt the air cooler comparatively, on his way back home. Was it so late? He again looked at his watch and then his eyes went to the ‘package’ he was holding. Tenderly, he shifted the banana leaf holding ‘it’ slightly. He smiled, pleased with himself, his face glowing with satisfaction. He did not feel the least bit exhausted after his nightly caper. His step was light and springy.
     
He smiled again when he reached his apartment block, but his smile disappeared when he saw the watchman napping in a chair near the lift. If he was seen, it would give him away instantly and there would be a big scandal. As it is, it was a small town and things spread fast over here, be it news, fire or illness.
    
“What do I do now?” he thought shifting restlessly. There was no other way out.
 He had to take the stairs, but for that he had to walk through the well lit lobby and down the corridor. He looked up at the window of his apartment on the third floor.
   “All for love”! He sighed and started stealthily towards the back for the staircase. He gave a last timid glance at the watchman before disappearing up the stairs. “Thank God! He is asleep” and stifled a chuckle at the irony. He started climbing the stairs slowly. He wanted to run but it would prove too much for him and he did not want to make much noise. Panting and out of breath he reached the door of his flat. He took out his key and silently opened the door. When his eyes adjusted in the darkness, he walked past the drawing room to the bedroom. He stared at his wife from the door. She was still sleeping. She looked so innocent and angelic in the dim light. He walked in, sat beside her and touched her cheeks tenderly. She stirred in her sleep. He was still holding the ‘package’ and he started for the bathroom, when, she woke up.
    She was fully awake within seconds.
   “Ranjan? Where had you been so long?”
    He froze and then turned around slowly- smiling broadly.



Asha, his wife of 7 years was still very much the one and only love of his life. He was sometimes very awed by the way his heart still beat for this demure face with the dark honey coloured mole on the left side of her chin. Those almond shaped eyes were flashing like searchlights now and a sea of emotions seemed to flash all at the same time. How that young Bareilly girl he’d married had evolved into this sultry beauty he knew not. However he knew now that he had definitely a lot to explain to the love of his life or he would be done for! 


He decided to break the ice-cold silence with a warm hug and planting a kiss on her broad temple Ranjan wished her a “ Happy birthday my beautiful sweetheart!”
When he was extricating himself from the hug, he was wishing in the back of his mind that she hadn’t noticed the packet. But do women ever miss out on anything? Asha hadn’t missed noticing that Ranjan had been behaving unusually quirky and was still panting like he generally does after training at the Gym. Asha was quick to realize that the package he was trying to hide had something to do with this!



“ All for love, Asha!” he exclaimed having realized that he’d been caught and it was time for him to come forth with facts. Though he had meant to and would have loved to hand over this extraordinary birthday gift in the light of day, Ranjan spoke up, “ Asha my love, I had to get you the birthday gift you’d wished for, didn’t I?”
“.. but Ranjan you went for my birthday gift at this unearthly hour? Have you gone insane?”
“…but Asha how on earth should I have procured it in broad daylight?”
 “ What are you talking about Ranjan? Now stop making a puzzle out of it and show me! What kind of a gift is that which you couldn’t possibly shop for by day? Why do you have to lie like this? I wouldn’t have killed you if you’d owned up that you’d simply forgotten!”
Still holding the packet behind his back Ranjan pleaded “…But my darling Asha I hadn’t forgotten. That’s why I had to plan all this. This sneaking out and back at this hour is especially because this gift couldn’t have been secured any other day at any other time!”
Asha just stared back at Ranjan in disbelief. “ You don’t believe me, do you?” said Ranjan with an obvious hurt in his voice. The love struck hubby saw mistrust and doubt well in Asha’s eyes and he couldn’t take it. He couldn’t let Asha’s tear drops roll after so many years of trust and loving companionship because of his silly idea of a unique birthday gift. Especially NOT on this special day! The clock struck 12 and their 5 year old daughter sprang from beneath the quilt at Asha’s side. Little Aaryaa had started singing in a high pitched voice, “ Happy Birthday to you….”
anjan and Asha could not help but break into a fit of laughter. Now that the air seemed lighter, Ranjan decided to present the packet to Asha.  

As if when disappointment, dismay and rebuke are brewed together but the concoction is too bitter to swallow down, Asha’s face went red. She had obviously expected much more than this quaint little cold bundle of a banana leaf placed in her hands!
Later Asha had repented that she’d been so rude for her immediate reaction was “ What’s this?”
Curious Aaryaa peeked over her mother’s shoulders and looked peeved at the poor sight of the banana leaf packet.
A saddened Ranjan started to explain, “ What’s inside is important and I’m sure you’ll like it. I clearly remember you had wished for it!”
As Asha started to unwrap the bundle, Ranjan continued, “ Remember you’d mentioned last year that your friend Nanda from Bareilly had attended a derby race where Dr. Vijay Mallya’s horse Set Alight had won again? And that she’d been able to lay her hands on the great stallion’s shoe? I also clearly remember overhearing you talking to your Ma last month that you wished that you owned such a lucky horseshoe too because Nanda’s husband, Mr. Gupta had been promoted right after and now they live a luxurious life here in a bungalow!”

Asha had opened the folds of the leaf now and saw that she was holding the very horseshoe that had been adorning the arch over Nanda’s front door, just last week. How she had eyed that lucky charm each and every time she’d visited Nanda and her kids! How she’d yearned for the life that Nanda enjoyed!
Asha was speechless. Her eyes welled with tears. They were tears of gratitude, love and hope this time. She already felt far luckier than Nanda that she had a husband who really cared for all her needs, whether rational or impossible!
She found her voice after the emotions had swelled and ebbed, “ You took on such a big risk to fulfill a near impossible, silly wish I’d made? Ranjan, with a hubby like you, do I need this horseshoe to give me a life I dream of?”  

Ranjan was now secretly rejoicingover how he'd successfully stripped that vicious Monster Mr. Gupta of his lucky charm and had ensured his downfall for good.

And then Aarya quipped in “ Mommy say Thankyou!”


“ Thankyou Ranjan but sweetheart why did you have to do such a dreadful thing for me?” said Asha guiltily imagining how her husband had put his life, job and status at stake to get her an ideal birthday present.
.
“ All for love, my darlings, all for love!” exclaimed Ranjan happily. 




Mar 2, 2010

Rare blooms



This flower blooming on the Bombax  (Ceiba) Malabaricum or the Red Kapok Tree is a rare and refreshing sight!
This photograph is of the first bud on the giant tropical tree in my garden commonly known as the 'Silk Cotton Tree' or Semal in Hindi.The tree has a straight, heavily buttressed trunk and there are spikes on the trunk to deter attacks from animals. The woody capsule-like fruits when ripe contain silky floss or white fibers like cotton which are used in pillows, etc.
The large, lobed leaves are deciduous in winter and and then the tree is absolutely bare.
Large orange/red flowers with 5 petals appear in the spring before the new foliage.
This tree flower is the flower emblem of Guangzhou, China!

Mar 1, 2010

55 fiction #5



He had an ominous contraption wrapped around his chest.
The twin cylinders mounted on his back were attached to a long gun.
She cowered behind the car, pressing against the wall but he had spotted her!
He came up, his finger poised over the trigger, put the gun in her face
and screamed "Holi Hai!"