Randomly ……. ok

Randomly …….6087A5ED-09E6-47C6-9561-5CB3AFBF9CAC

Traveling cross country reinforces a definite impression that the South at least has got its act together. Kerala in particular. Kochy – Munnar – Thekkady –Thiruvanthapuram – Alappuzha – mile upon mile of forest, plantation – sparse population (relatively). The education hurdle was crossed way back in the sixties closing at 100% literacy. Mass emigration followed leading to the Gulf rush & new found prosperity, visible everywhere. Notice the flamboyant houses – size, hue & colour. Infrastructure & super highways that offer zero chance of knocking down stray cattle in this, our very own beef country.

From smog filled Delhi to clear blue Munnar skies & a state wide ‘bandh’ against the entry of women into Sabrimala. It is a fairly peaceful affair with complete business shut down, people – traffic off the roads & driving a pleasure. Going past tea gardens, spice – rubber plantations, forests, dams, waterfalls, river Periyar & the quiet serenity of the backwaters.




Renji our driver & guide, barely communicates but he is pleasant, well informed & an ex army man to boot.

The State has a large reserve of ex servicemen & they are of two kinds. The Bacchus brigade that believes it has earned the right to endlessly imbibe & the ‘Diehards.’ Veterans putting skills to use, earning a tidy packet. Selvi, the owner of the houseboat we hired was that. Through dint of hard work he had acquired a fleet of 6 houseboats. Considering that each cost over Rs 90 lakhs, this was no mean achievement. He sat us down to banana chips, drinks & a wistful chat making sure his boat departed on time & everything was in order. The Captain was directed to cruise to a certain spot for us to select from the catch of the day. Our sea food dinner, prepared on board. A splendid meal on all counts after which we retired to the comfort of air conditioned rooms, experiencing the backwaters ‘neath star spangled skies. Our boat anchored near paddy fields we were in the company of fire flies, crickets & tadpoles. It was a night to remember. As was the golden dawn.


Sabrimala devotee


Mattupetti dam


Munnar,rolling hills

The days went swiftly by soaking oil massages, cuisine to die for & the arts – Bharatnatyam, Kalari etc – so intrinsic to this land.

There was a shopping list of sorts. Ayurvedic herbs, oils, exotic spices & ‘halwa’, the famous fruit- dry fruit- molasses combine.

Hence, off to the legendary spice markets……

Fort Cochin area has elegance & charm. Also, the aroma of whole & freshly ground spices. Our hike through spice country had been an experience but this was something else. An array of spices greeted the eye. Cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, cumin seeds, star anise, vanilla, cloves, ginger, nutmeg & peppers. Peppers, round & elongated. Peppers red, white, black or green. Had no idea such a vast variety existed or that there were 2 kinds of cinnamon. The soft – light variety used in sweets & the thick, hard, dark kind that spiced up curries. Deliciously exhilarating, I could easily have swooned.

The shop keeper, a pro fished out jars full of spice for us to touch, feel & examine. Dive our nose into & inhale. The perfect seller – buyer quid pro quos.

Ahhh! Ahhh!! No word to describe it.

While settling the bill it was like “…..17000? Is it gold I’m buying? Or spices?”

Sudden comprehension dawned in the realisation that this was what had brought the world to our shores & us to our knees. The English, Dutch, French & Portuguese, who  arrived from around the Cape of Good Hope. They conquered, made quick fortunes & disappeared – into the dust bins of history. With new found culinary skills & a rudimentary knowledge of spices one would hope. Or were they merely after that pot of gold?

On this my 4th visit I had once again missed the spectacle of the flowering Neelakurinji. A once-in-12 year occurence, when a carpet of violet- pinky blue covers entire hillsides for the shortest duration – 2 months to be exact. The next flowering would be in 2030 & I may not even be around. In response as if, a tiny little floweret caught the eye. The last of the season. Bidding a lingering farewell.


The Neelakurinji

Change happens everywhere, every time. Sometimes for the better, needless & distressing otherwise. An ordinary break in continuity, like a change of place names can disorient & bring on a wave of nostalgia. Alas, for the cadence of soft sounding names: Cochin, Trivandrum, Calicut, Alleppy, Quilon. Forever gone. Like the topless old women & little girls in long skirts – half saris. Mundu clad men too, a breed of the past.

If only there was a way of turning back the clock.

PS: Old/ New Kerala hands. Your comments please!







Vodka Museum


Public tea shop

A nations’ toast, several towns have museums for it. No prize for guessing Russia’s famous tipple.

A close second is …………………………………………………………TEA.

A country of tea drinkers, a lot of ceremony, drama & melodrama goes into the making & having of it.

Witness this parody:(courtesy ‘Lev Tolstoy’)


A family gathers around the tea table, at the center of which is a samovar. Practically every household has one. A prized possession, its importance can be gauged from the fact that the government has banned taking it out of the country, if it is antique.

The lacy, hand embroidered linen & china is family heirloom too.

Notice the festive layout. The two young girls, impatient to be served. And to the assortment of goodies – delicious Russian cakes & pies. It must be cold outside.

Tea is taken as tea, without the aid of additives. You may want a sugar cube but dip it in the brew before putting it into the mouth. Absorb the taste, let it linger & sip your tea thereafter. That is common practice. Drinking off a saucer is not taboo Nor is it bad manners. Just remember not to slurp.


Anatole comes home after a long day at work & is welcomed with a steaming hot cup. Pure bliss! “That feels good”.

But what if he’s had a bad day, returns in a foul mood & feels like flinging the cup across the floor?

His wife may be hapless but she is clever too. “Wait. Wait,” she says, “I’ll be right back. In a minute.” And off she goes…….

To return with a stiff one, poured straight from the bottle onto the gentle brew.

And offered to him with a smile.

All’s well. Naturally.

And Anatole can eat humble pie.

Olgha on Volga



Happy ever after

Tariki Turkiye

Tariki Turkiye

Dateline Turkey


Come whoever you are. Just come as you are

Turkey is the sixth most popular tourist destination in the world. It is a delightful mix of East & West, modern & traditional, young & old. And nothing epitomizes this better than Istanbul on the Bosporus. A Eurasian city astride two continents. It is a place of frenetic activity & leisurely pace. One feels the vibrant energy & sense of joie de vivre everywhere. It’s many charms ever so beguiling.  Turkey’s largest city. Let these pictures do the talking.

Its leisure time always

Foreign language students

English is spoken & understood in very few of the cities & towns of Turkey. To that extent communication does pose a problem.  At Cannakale I asked  a group of women  for directions to the jetty. I knew it was in the general vicinity but did not want to waste time going around in circles. The women spoke no English whatsoever. ‘ Just a little ’ gestured one & then they animatedly broke into what seemed  a torrent of gibberish. Except that it was Turkish, not gibberish. ‘Wait’, I yelled, halting them in the tracks. I just heard you say ‘ishaara’. I understand that. I am from Hindustan. I understand ‘ishaara’. There were smiles all around as they followed me on to the road pointing the way to the jetty. Using sign language or ishaara. ‘Shukran’, I said. Thank you, followed by a wave of the hand & ‘gule gule’.  Goodbye!

Experts believe that the Indo European group of modern languages originated in Anatolia, Turkey. This would of course include English, Turkish & Hindustani. Mr. Burak Akcapar, who is presently the Turkish ambassador in New Delhi has said that Turki & Hindustani have at least 9000 words in common. You bet they do, as I discovered trying to make myself understood in No English – In – Turkland. This understanding came upon me very slowly, aheste aheste. But it made travel – sefer – so much easier especially when chatting up women (avrat /aurat).  Only (sirf) women, in some heart to soul (ruh) talk. Travelling alone this was not only useful but immensely interesting. What do women who are complete strangers (ecnebi/ajnabi) discuss? Our thoughts & feelings & the injustice done to us, obviously. Common words with the deepest meanings. Yani,- that is to say –  words such as

gam       sorrow

gurur    pride

muhabbet   love

nefret   hatred

dost  friend

dusman  enemy

musibet  trouble

masum  innocent

akil – akal   intelligence,

asik  ashique  lover,

avare awara  vagabond

azad  freedom.

This above all. Azaad. O, for a life of freedom!

The world – dunya  – appeared to shrink despite the wide chasm of the seas – darya – separating our shores – sahil.

The Cay/ Chai Boy

There are a host of general words that the reader will easily comprehend. The most familiar being vatan, hamam, meydan, hisap (hisaab), faqir, insan, saf, zalim, seytan. If someone were to commit a gunah he would be taken to an adalet or to the polisi with a seykayet against him.

Many of the inns sarays are owned & managed by Kurds who are a politically disgruntled minority. Away from their families they come to the cities in search of work. A lot of them taxi drivers. One has to watch out & keep alert or else get completely rooked. It’s the same old story all over the world ‘dost‘ So look yourself in the mirror ‘aina’ before getting judgmental

The bazaars are laden with goods from all over. And the dukan has practically everything from kitap to sabun to seker, sugar or shakkar. The stalls are full of absolutely taze ananas, badem, nar, pomegranate or anar  there are cay chai shops, chaiwallahs & hamams. Away from your vatan you are a misafir here, a guest. We love you yar.

The Dervish before his performance

I had dinner one evening at Café Mesale in Sultanahmet. I had to be there by 8pm in time for a performance by a whirling dervish. A drink was ordered. Yes, sarap or sharab is readily  available in this  Islamic republic. The dervish appeared with his tombstone like headgear & white shroud & whirled with open arms, his right hand directed to the sky ready to receive the creators blessing & the left turned solidly towards the earth. He whirled & pivoted from right to left stating the fundamental belief that the human  condition is meant to revolve & circulate. Like blood for instance. It was mesmerizing.

The whirling Dervish

The food at the café had a variety of taste & traditional flavor. Baharat is the word for spices in Turkish because spices originally came from Bharat, India in Hindi. Even today the spice markets  are full of exotic spices from  Hindustan as the Turks would have it.

 When cultural vocabulary of any language creates special words to denote a special connection, we can truly say that we have entered each other’s consciousness. The same as other Hindustani words like vilayat or misr, for England & Egypt respectively.

So what shall I have to eat ? I think I’ll settle for sade/ plain tava baked bread, taze sebze/ fresh vegetables, and pehnir/cottage cheese. Kebab, Pilaf, Kiyma & Kofte. Thank you.

Is it any wonder then that the chief architect of India’s wonder of the world, the Taj Mahal, is none other than a gentleman named Isa Efendi. And you know what ? He came from Istanbul