5 things not be overlooked in your Kerala trip

My birthday week couldn’t have been better when I switched from partying with booze inside four walls of a pub to celebrating amidst nature and cultural spectacle of Kerala. My birthday this year reminded me to celebrate the beauty of the world, the beauty in minutest action and minutest things that workaholic people often tend to overlook.

So, here are five things of my Kerala trip that I would reminisce about:

  1. THE COSMOPOLITAN AMALGAMATION OF CULTURE:

As my ‘tuk-tuk’ (the autorickshaws are named so!!!) took me through the streets of the aromatic Malayali spice market in Kochi, I came across Gujarati signboards giving me the feel of cultural brotherhood.

If the Paradesi synagogue stands testimony to the Jewish connection with Kerala, the St. Francis Church (the oldest European church in India) also reveals Portuguese influence. And while the Dutch Bolgatty Palace transports you back into time, the cantilevered fishing nets will give you the Chinese pull. Long story cut short, the weighty presence of various ethnic communities emphasizes on the pan-Indian nature in the Kochi neighborhood.

The presence of Cheraman Juma Mosque (built in 629 AD and believed to be the first mosque in India) in Thrissur, the Bhagvathi temples and the Jain temples – all signify the multicultural secular inhabitants living in peaceful coexistence.

  1. THE ART CAFÉS IN FORT KOCHI:

The streets of Kochi would make you hark back to time as you see lines of old houses built by Portuguese, Dutch and British in the colonial periods. Most of these old houses has been restored, renovated and converted to hotels, heritage buildings and art cafés.

Of late, the art cafés in Fort Kochi has become cynosure for anyone who has an appetite for both tasty food and creative artworks.

One of them is an age-old Dutch house transformed to Kashi Art Café. It is a place where you can appreciate contemporary art at leisure without compromising your peckish belly. It is also one of the sites of 3rd edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale – an international exhibition of contemporary art which ends on 29th March this year.

  1. THE GRAND DRAMATIC STORY RECITAL CALLED KATHAKALI:

It was one of my best birthday evenings when I spent it at Kalamandalam Vijyan and witnessed world’s one of the greatest art forms – Kathakali.

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Kathakali is an operatic performance where an ancient story is presented theatrically. What I found beautiful in this musical art form is that even though no words are spoken during the whole play, one can comprehend the whole story through their hand signs (mudra) and facial and eye expressions.

And how can you identify who is playing what character through the vividly painted faces???

Well, the elaborate make-up follows an accepted code.

Red colour portrays evil character and green portrays noble and heroic character. Half red and half green means a hypocrite/ an anti-hero and yellow is the code for monks and women.

 

  1. THE ALLEPPEY BACKWATERS AND THE VEMBANAD LAKE:

Relaxing under the starry night sky on a roof-top bed of a kettuvallam anchored near the serene green paddy fields vastly spread along the backwaters is a lifetime experience.

In olden days, kettuvallams/houseboats were used as grain barges to transport the rice reaped in the fertile fields alongside the backwaters. Now, these are used for backwater cruises to make you fall in love with nature again and again.

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As your Kettuvallam meanders through the watercourse, you begin to cherish the verdure and placidity of and around the Vembanad Lake.

  1. THE MAGNIFICENCE OF THE ANNUAL POORAM FESTIVALS:

Procession of 21 caparisoned elephants with display of Kaalavela(bull effigy spectacle) and Kuthiravela(horse effigy spectacle) and the stupendous cadence of drums, horns, and cymbals together created a unique ambiance drawing crowds from all over to the Pariyanampetta  Pooram festival in Palakkad on 19th February this year.

(P.S. Festival dates are decided in accordance with the Malayalam calendar).

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Dedicated to Goddess Bhagavathi, these festivals, hauled with cultural craftsmanship and entertainment, are celebrated every year in different temples of Kerala mostly after the summer harvest.

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One should attend at least one Pooram in Kerala to feel the gloriousness of the event.

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Ever been to Kerala??? What are the five things in your Kerala trip that you’ll always remember?

Leave your comments below…

 

Image credits: Anirban Tamuly and Anna Tamuly

Letter from a sexually liberal girl – Destigmatising female sexuality

Dear men and women,

There’s a nude sculpture of Yakshi – the mythical being of Hindu mythology – in the Malampuzha garden of Palakkad, Kerala. Yakshis are considered as the guardians of the treasure hidden in the earth and often depicted as beautiful and voluptuous with wide hips, narrow waists, broad shoulders and exaggerated spherical breasts. So, why am I telling this and how is this relevant to the topic?
I, just by simply posing for a pic with this sculpture, raised many eyebrows in the garden. So, I know many people have by now felt a little qualmish after reading the title of the article itself.
On Women’s Day, when on one hand we talk about gender equality and women’s rights, why our community on the other hand discourages women from being confident in their sexuality?
(Mind you, being ‘sexy’ and being ‘sexual’ are different)
Now, you ask me what gender equality and women’s rights has to do with women’s sexual liberty. But before that, let us talk over the stereotypes about a sexually liberated woman.

Stereotypes

The first sexist hetero-normative assumption for a sexually liberated woman is that she is not normal. Why so? Is it because our view of women as less sexual stems from our view of women as less human?
The virgin/whore dichotomous belief comes from the second assumption that women who talk openly about sex is a ‘slut’. Talking about sexual desires doesn’t mean that a woman is interested in casual sex. Along with physical intimacy, an openly sexual woman wants to and has a right to experience emotional intimacy too.
The third assumption – that openly sexual women are kinky – freaks me out. Just because she’s open about sex, people assume that she’s sexually adventurous. Men deduce that she’s into ménage à trois or sodomy or literally anything or everything they want.
A woman can be completely vanilla and have high sex drive, and someone can be super kink and be less sexual. These things are not related.[1]
Another ridiculous assumption about the sexualities of women are made based on their race: Latina women are “spicy,” Middle Eastern and South Asian women are simultaneously “exotic” and “repressed,” Asian women are “submissive,” black women are “wild” or “animalistic”.[2][3][4]
It is to be understood that any skin colour, race, creed or religion of a woman do not determine the degree of sexuality in her.
Well, we don’t really have these stereotypes about men, so why do we treat women as unusual?
History behind

The most important piece of a woman’s sexuality did not directly relate to what women believed about their own sexuality, but more so the roles assigned to them through the beliefs, superstitions, and decrees of the Church, the law, and men. These three entities came to define female sexuality and sexual identity in the Middle Ages.
There were an abundance of superstitions and beliefs about women’s sexuality during the medieval period. Medieval women were assumed to be far more insatiable than men and a woman’s lust would have been considered her ultimate sin. Aside from these beliefs, medieval men did not take female sexuality seriously except insofar as it threatened male privilege or the natural hierarchy of genders.[5][6]
New England Puritanism (1630-1660) and the Victorian era (1837 -1901) was downturn when hypersexuality was often treated as an exclusively female disorder, diagnosed on the grounds of as little as masturbation alone.[7] Moreover, this era led to the creation of counter image of mid-nineteenth century ideal of the Victorian lady – Jezebel – an African ‘black’ woman with sexual appetite. The idea that black women were sexually promiscuous stemmed from Europeans’ first encounter with African women. Unaccustomed to the requirements of a tropical climate, Europeans mistook semi-nudity for lewdness. The practice of polygamy among Africans was attributed to uncontrolled lust, and tribal dances were construed as orgies.[8] This image also gave the impression that black women could not be rape victims because they always desired sex, thereby legitimizing sexual assault of black female slaves by white males.[9]

As far as my home-country India is concerned, there are historical evidences, like the sculpture of Ajanta caves, the Kamashastra and many more, showing sexual liberalism in ancient India. Built around 9th to 12th century, Khajuraho in central India showcases some of India’s most famous ancient works of art, depicting romantic themes and situations. Then when did India became regressive on matters of sexuality?

The period of sexual liberation was cut-short with British occupation of India.[10] Victorian values stigmatized Indian sexual liberalism. The pluralism of Hinduism, and its liberal attitudes were condemned as “barbaric” and proof of inferiority of the East. A number of movements were set up to work for the “reform” of Indian private and public life. Paradoxically while this new consciousness led to the promotion of education for women and (eventually) a raise in the age of consent and reluctant acceptance of remarriage for widows, it also produced puritanical attitude to sex even within marriage and the home.[11]
Effects

Stereotypes about sexuality can impact perceptions of sexual assault. The very idea that a woman’s sexual purpose is to be the object of man’s desires is catastrophic. It perpetuates discrimination, violence and humiliation. Stereotyping can impede access to legal rights and protection for victims of violence. It also impacts the reproductive and sexual health and rights of women and girls. The Executive Director of the Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development,Yetnebersh Nigussie highlighted that women with disabilities are believed to be sexually inactive and therefore unsuitable for marriage. They are also the least likely to acquire an education for fear that they could be abducted, raped or subject to other forms of violence in school. Further, women with intellectual disabilities in particular, including when they are victims of sexual violence, were seldom considered reliable witnesses in courts.[13]
What can be done?

Alike men, women’s wants and needs are also to acknowledged. Any attempt to demystify sexuality must involve men first. As Harish Sadani of Men against Violence and Abuse(MAVA) says, it is impossible to talk about gender equality and women’s rights, without first sensitizing men on these issues.[14]
A very patriarchal notion of sex and sexuality is propagated – sometimes unconsciously and inadvertently – within the family that conditions the minds of children, especially boys, about what is acceptable. I feel it is the parents’/ partner’s role how they shape their children’s/mate’s attitude towards sexuality. Sexual emancipation, circumscription of sexual violence and elevation of women’s rights can be promoted through open dialogue only. Last but not the least, the media should also cease to stereotype female sexuality.

Wrapping up my letter, I hope it encourages healthy and open discussion and equal acceptance of male and female sexuality.

By the way, HAPPY WOMEN’S DAY 2017.

Yours sincerely,

just another deviant woman

References:

  1. 4 Bogus Stereotypes You Might Believe About Openly Sexual Women” Suzannah Weiss, everyday feminism(Oct 20, 2016)

2.  “Women of Color Seen As Always Sexually Available” Jaclyn Friedman (Oct 29, 2011)

3. Stereotypes of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the United States wikipedia.com

4. “Where the ‘Spicy Latina’ Stereotype Came From – And Why It’s Still Racist Today” Katherine Garcia, everyday feminism (Dec 7, 2015)

5. Judith M. Bennett et al., Sisters and Workers in the Middle Ages (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 176, 179, 87, 101.
6. Vern L. Bollough and James A. Brundage, eds., Handbook of Medieval Sexuality (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996), 199, 44.

7. Frick, Katie L. (2002). “Women’s Mental Illness: A Response to Oppression“. University of Texas at Austin

8. White, Deborah Gray (1999). Ar’n’t I a Woman. W.W. Norton & Company.
9. West, Carolyn (2008). “Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and Their Homegirls: Developing an ‘Oppositional Gaze’ Towards the Images of Black Women“. Lectures on the Psychology of Women (4)

10. “Tracing Sexuality in Indian culture” Shweta Kothari, HuffingtonPost (Aug 30 2014)

11. “Indian concepts on sexuality” Kaustav Chakraborty and Rajarshi Guha Thakurata

 

12. “EXOTIC FEMININITY: PROSTITUTION REVIEWS AND THE SEXUAL STEREOTYPING OF ASIAN WOMEN” Devyn T. Dougherty, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS (Dec, 2014)

13. “The harms of gender stereotyping” (June 20, 2014)
14. “Let’s talk about sex” Divya Gandhi and Julie Merin Verghese, The Hindu (May 08, 2016)

Perks of work travel – Epicurean Mumbai signpost

The gourmand traveler in me feels blessed when at times my work demands tour and I take this as chance to use the time out of office for fueling my passion of travel. But, it was until my last November’s official trip that I thought of jotting down the benefits of work-travel.

  1. Opportunity for recreation

Just imagine you’re being sent on official tour to a city where your favorite rock band happens to perform in the evening !!! Cool, isn’t it? You can take this as a chance for your rollicking affairs.

 In my case, I got the opportunity to be part of India Cake Fest 2016 held in Mumbai, which gave a platform to students and local bakers to get exposed and showcase their talents in the bakery industry. It fell during the dates of my trip.

Being a passionate homebaker, what more I needed.

  1. Meeting up people

I always believe nurturing new relationships add to healthy human experiences. An official trip offers you interaction with new people.

As I think back now, travelling on a Mumbai local train or bargaining at fashion street or the kaali-peeli ride from Colaba causeway to Nariman point at midnight wouldn’t have been fun if it weren’t for my bunch of amigos I met at my official trip.

I was in my mid-twenties’ crisis when I met these people who were in their late thirties but carried themselves as jolly teenagers. I used to feel old until I met them who made me realize age is just a number.

Most importantly they gave me reasons to jot down my next two travel benefits.

  1. Introduce your taste buds to many flavours

If you’re an experimental ardent foodie, then this kind of job is a blessing for you. Visiting different places let you know the culinary trademarks of the places.

This trip of mine introduced me to different eateries and joints that formed the food culture of Mumbai.

Juhu Chowpatty – The food stalls of Juhu Chowpatty  have churned out one of the outstanding street food of India – Bhelpuri. It has set as the benchmark for all other bhelpuris in the future.

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Originated from the food stalls of Mumbai, this recipe of Bhelpuri  has spread to most parts of India

Colaba causeway – A major land link between Colaba and Old Woman’s Island in the city of Mumbai holds some of the iconic eateries.

Café Mondegar – Who says only tranquility and calm can doff the tiredness of the day. Come to Café Mondegar where you can feel the mood of cheer by the sight of bustling mixed-aged crowd and the sound of music wafting out from the jukebox.

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Cafe Mondegar is the first restaurant in Mumbai to have a jukebox.
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Mario Miranda’s murals depicting ‘Life in Mumbai’ and ‘Atmosphere in Cafe’ adorn the walls of Cafe Mondegar. And here we’re depicting both in one frame… 🙂

It was love at first bite when I first tasted the onion rings with schezuan sauce. Not to mention the hotness in chilly garlic sausages that went superbly well with my pints of beer.

Bademiya – The sight of oil dripping, hot and spicy Desi food being devoured by people holding plates in their hands or at the car bonnets is not uncommon in this eatery’s alley. Try the Mutton Keema with roomali roti and you’ll know why this tiny roadside stall, which is filled with smoke and offers no place to sit, is legendary in street food cult.

Eddies Bistro, Bandra West – The demure husbander of European viands in the heart of ‘queen of suburbs’ Bandra , Eddies Bistro is an example of ‘café meets the bar’.

The miniature lamb burger and chicken roulade were the perfect accompaniment to the fine wine served. You won’t realize how pleasantly your evening will pass just by savoring every bite of your food.

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Chicken roulade

TAP Resto Bar – Leaving Mumbai without digging into seafood isn’t possible.

Deviled prawns with two house-special cocktails – Bull Frog and Seven Wonder were my company the night before my flight departure.

A fiery yet smooth concoction of Vodka, White Rum, Dark Rum, Gin, Tequila, Triple Sec, Whisky and Orange Juice – Seven Wonder hits the back of your throat without deterring you to appreciate the irresistible drink.

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Deviled prawns
  1. Knowing places

The best part of work-travel is that you can tourist places. Besides, if you’re a history buff or shopping aficionado or a souvenir collector, exploring a new place is a bonus point for you.

As far as I’m concerned, sighting the historical Gateway of India at my company’s expense is what my work gifted me.

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Quick fact: Erected to commemorate the landing in India of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, the Gateway of India was designed in Indo-Saracenic style.
  1. No run-of-the-mill weariness

Once in a while you need a break from your routine chores of your humdrum existence. There is no need to worry for food to be cooked or dishes to be cleaned or laundry to be done.

My life couldn’t be better when my evening is spent reading my favorite book and getting my food and wine served at my table while my manager sings to me instead of switching to boring motley TV soaps.

  1. Whet your adaptation skills

The quality that is admired profoundly by your employer, family and friends is your ability to adapt with different situations. Your work-travel does put you in some unwarranted and uncalled-for situations like – your flight being cancelled or have your luggage misplaced during transit ( and end up going to office in ripped jeans and T-shirt that you wore on flight !!!) and much worse, inhale ‘fart-induced’ oxygen inside an airplane.

If Charles Darwin would be alive, he would have mentioned ‘work-travel’ to be one of the key points in his evolution theory of ‘survival of the fittest’. 😛

  1. Frequent Flyer Points

Oops! How can I forget the obvious perk of work-travel – the opportunity to augment your FF points?  If you’re invariably flying from one location to another and you’re adhering to your preferred airline, the points will bucket up. What ensues is an opportunity to exchange them for upgrades and free flights, just like I did while flying from Dehadun to Delhi at only ₹900 and from Kolkata to Jorhat at only ₹1400.

  1. Stories to tell

Last and not the least, you would come back not only rich in professional skills but in travel experiences. Soak up those experiences – they’re memories in the making. And that’s what life’s all about.

Letter to ‘open-minded’ Indian citizens – Retelling Uniform Civil code

Dear ‘open-minded’ Indian citizens,

With the Law Commission currently seeking public opinion on the Uniform Civil Code, issues related to the implementation of UCC across India have once again come to the fore. It is upto us how we as Indian citizens counter these issues.
For the uninitiated, what is UCC?
UCC is the proposal to replace personal laws of each religious community of India with a common set governing every citizen. Article 44 of the Indian constitution specifies that ,” The State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India. ”
Since the Directive Principles are only guidelines, it is not mandatory to use them.
Why UCC is needed?
Currently, there is a Hindu Marriage Act, a Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act 1937, a Christian Marriage Act and a Parsee Marriage and Divorce Act. Hindu Marriage Act applies to any person who is a Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion. There is also a Special Marriage Act 1954 under which people can perform marriage irrespective of the religion followed by either person. These laws deal with matters involving marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintainence of the respective religions.
Existence of personal laws based on religion has kept the nation divided into watertight compartments in many aspects of life and thus, keeping India back from advancing to nationhood.
Unlike stated by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board(AIMPLB) or the Rashtriya Adivasi Ekta Parishad ( a group that claims to represent interests of 11 crore tribals) that implementing UCC will hamper India’s secularism [1,2], UCC will in turn eliminate discrimination on the basis of religion.
What the opponents of UCC fail to understand is that their very argument is fallacious and self-contradictory as secularism means equal treatment of all religions by the state.
In an affidavit filed in court, AIMPLB said, ” … it is the issue of freedom of conscience guaranteed under the Article 25 and 26 read with Article 29 of the constitution” [1]
It seems that they’re disoriented as Article 25 (freedom of conscience and free propagation of religion) and Article 26(freedom to manage religious affairs) are “subject to public order, morality and health. The right to practice religion is disparate from the individual rights relating to inheritance, marriage or divorce.
Through UCC, circumscriptions or barring of practices such as witchcraft, superstition, child marriage, prohibitions against window remarriage, polygamy, polyandry, triple talaq, Maitri Karar in Gujarat, Natha Pratha in Rajasthan’s Bhil community will distemper gender injustice. Women are grossly discriminated in the name of religion. One definitive example is of a legally married wife who filed a bigamy suit under CPC Section 494 in Ahmedabad as her husband had entered a liaison in the name of Maitri Karar (A Gujrati social custom of keeping mistresses by circumventing Hindu Marriage Act)[3].
As far as the Muslims are concerned, I would like to quote a verse of Quran which is sacred law of the Muslims –
” And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry women who seem good to you, two or three or four and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so marry) then one(only) or (the captives) that the right hand possess. Thus, it is more likely that ye will not do.”
It is clear that the Quran only permits, does not enjoin polygamy and that too only in those cases where the man finds it impossible to safeguard the interests of widows and orphans. If the man doesn’t feel confident of treating all the wives equally without discriminating against any of them, he should have only one. Is it possible for a man to give equal love and affection to all four wives ? It is quite impossible. Therefore the arbitrary power of the Muslim husband to have more than one wife has been controlled almost in all the Muslim countries[4]. If Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan have reformed Muslim Personal law, why should Indian Muslims fall behind?
And yes, does Rashtriya Adivasi Ekta Parishad(RAEP) look after the interest of tribal men and not women?
Isn’t Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur vs Durga Charan Hansdah case[5] a classic exposition of male chauvinism in alliance with religious conservatism?
Not to mention Shah Bano case 1978 where the appellant was denied the right to maintainence. Similarly, I see pro-male rules in Section 10(A) of the Christian Divorce Law that makes the separation period of two years mandatory for mutual divorce whereas in other statutes, the requirement of separation is one year. Also the Succession Act 1925 gives Christian mothers no right in property of the deceased kids[6].
The right to equality of the Fundamental Rights of the constitution speaks of equal protection of the laws, regardless of race, class, religion or gender. So, implementation of UCC will entail safeguarding of this basic fundamental right.
Why is it difficult to have a UCC?
Ignorance amongst the mass is the cardinal factor. When the RAEP claimed that the tribals had their own personal laws and do not come in the category of Hindus[2] , it was easily understood that they failed to comprehend what UCC is. UCC is being perceived as the imposition of the Hindu code and procedures, and as result of this erroneous religious ideologue amongst the minorities, a rational debate on its implementation has become an arduous task (It’s mainly due to over-zealous bhakts waving the UCC flag quite mindlessly).
It will do away not only with Muslim Personal Law or Christian Law or any other tribal law but all other laws on the statute books that grant legal sanctity to unique practices (read: mal-practices :P) of the diverse communities of India.
Moreover, despiteful communal politics has led to distortion and misdirection of UCC, thus stalling the process of social reform.
The argument that UCC will lead to the loss of cultural identity among minorities is factitious. As a matter of fact, uniform civil code will focus on rights, leaving the rituals embodied in personal law intact within the bounds of constitutional propriety[7]. Goa’s uniform civil code – derived from the Portugese Civil Procedure code 1937 – is our case in point.

Way ahead
One must understand that the religion involves relationship between an individual and his/her God and that implementation of UCC doesn’t establish a challenge to faith and religious identity, even after modification of customs.
Hence, we should welcome Law Commission’s exercise of seeking public opinion through questionnaire whose aim is to manifest coexistence of reform in UCC and religious freedom.

Yours sincerely,

Just another ‘open-minded’ Indian citizen

References:

1. “Muslim personal law outside SC jurisdiction, asserts board” Dhananjay Mahapatra, TOI ( Mar 24, 2016)

2. “Tribal rights group moves SC against Uniform Civil Code” Utkarsh Anand, The Indian Express ( Oct 24, 2016 )

3. “Love pacts: Just good friends” Chander Uday Singh, India Today ( Oct 24, 2013)

4. Shiv Sahai Singh, Unification of Divorce Laws in India, p29-30

5. “Marriage: Scheduled tribes not covered under bigamy law. “

6. “Uniform Civil Code is good but it can wait” RD Sharma, Hindustan Times (Jun 15, 2016)

7. “Who’s afraid of a Uniform Civil Code?” BG Verghese

8. ” Uniform Civil Code because we’ve long ignored real minorities” Sreemoy Talukdar, First Post ( Jul 1, 2016)

9. “Uniform civil code: Law panel seeks public opinion on anti-women practices” Dhananjay Mahapatra, TOI ( Oct 13, 2016)

10. “ ‘Maitri Karar’: Gujarati Social Custom of keeping mistresses by circumventing Hindu Marriage Act” Desh Kapoor, Dristikone ( Jan 3, 2013)

11. “SC Ruling on Hindu Succession Act Lends Credence to Uniform Code Nishtha Gautam, The Quint ( Nov 24, 2015)

P.S. The views expressed here are totally personal and do not intend to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments.

My ‘un’travel diary of Mussorie

Are we defining our existence with an ideal corporate job, a cosy 2BHK flat, gizmos, technology, long hours of meetings and traffic gnash and a night that put your hopes, dreams and aspirations to sleep?

This question would intrigue me often and that’s when I take a chance to escape from the asphalt jungle to the Queen of Hills – Mussorie. Just 35 kms away from my place of residence in Dehradun, Mussorie became my habitual getaway to where I would take a relaxing but mind-boosting drive or a chilling yet ironically comforting bike ride. Be it with my friends or my family or my former beau, I travelled there so many times that I have lost count. 😛
Mussorie, like all other hill stations, has a different story to tell each season.
Summer – to beat the hustle of tourist spots, we would often take a detour to Dhanaulti 24 kms away from Mussorie, or further 15 kms ahead to Kanatal. At times, city-life frets our souls so badly that the lush green hills, the chittering birds, the serenity of the place and the view of the far-flung snow-capped mountains provide perfect rejuvenation.
The bike ride to Sir George Everest’s Park Estate House was also one of my citable trips in the early summers. My biker colleagues and I started early in the morning, to avoid the scorching heat of the sun, to the Hatipaon Hill where lies the remains of the building of Sir George Everest, the Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843.

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Sir George Everest’s Park House resting on the edge of the Hill. Pic courtesy : Anna Tamuly

About 6 kms away from Gandhi Chowk/ Library Bazaar, this place provides a gorgeous vista of the Aglar river valley, the Doon valley and the Himalayan range.

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Even the colourful flags couldn’t distract the view from Hatipaon Hill. Pic courtesy: Dhriti Das
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As I sit pondering on top of the hill. Pic courtesy : Dhriti Das

Those captivating views appeased our peckish souls but what about our starving belly? The answer was Rose’s Diner Restaurant at Cloud End Forest Resort , just 3 kms away from the Park Estate. We biked to the Colonial style rustic resort which has 400 acres of private wildlife estate of thick vegetation, 104 species of fauna and 44 species of flora. Built in 1838, the hotel is surrounded by benedictory pines, old oaks and tall fir trees.

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Cloud End Forest Resort. Pic courtesy : http://www.cloudend.com

Aranyani, the Hindu Goddess of Nature cited in the Rigveda, seemed to have blessed the place with abundant natural beauty. I could see my skin soaking up gentle sunshine; I could inhale the freshness of nature, hear the sleepy murmurs of the forest.

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Rose’s Diner Restaurant. Pic courtesy: http://www.cloudend.com

To top it all, the restaurant’s long glass windows trotted out exhilarating view of the Himalayan range to the east, the Doon valley to the south, the Winter Line to the west and the Benog Wildlife’s sanctuary sprawled to the north. While we enjoyed the view, we also loved the sumptuous hot meal, the price of which were very reasonable. I especially loved the chicken curry with the flavours of fresh whole authentic Indian spices which made me feel at home.
It is a must-visit place where one can put up for the night also as it provides beautiful suites as accommodation.

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Groupfie with my biker gang

Come winters and Mussorie hills will be covered with dull grey mist. Many a times, it happened that in the winter evenings we drove out after office hours to grab a burger or roll at the Rajpur road of Dehradun and ended up relishing hot chicken momos of Kalsang at Mall Road of Mussorie. Since it is off-season, the Mall Road, the chief promenade of Mussorie, wears a desolate look where occasionally we catch a glimpse of one or two shopkeepers or bystanders warming themselves by the fire. I find it the best time to walk by the Mall Road as I can see the clouds floating down from the hills and spread over the city of Dehradun.

Take a kulhar of piping hot tea and a roasted ‘bhutta’ ( corn on the cob flavoured with lime, salt & pepper) – and you’re all set to enjoy the wintry evening of Mussorie.

The rainy season is what the tourist guides advise to avoid in Mussorie. But I redefined the rainy season in Mussorie.
As I drive my car between 25-35 km/hr and operate the wipers to clear the windshield, I can see the green colour of the hills turning into emerald; the rainwaters washing away all the dirt and dust. Dense fog and heavy rains giving us driving woes??? – What we do is park the car by the road side with the parking indicators on, recline our seats and experience the mesmerising sight of rainfall flowing down the window panes. Those were the times when I realised that all nature seems to bespeak works of God.
As the rainy season retreated and autumn crept in, we once made a thrilling full circle drive.
Dehradun – Kalsi – Mussorie – Dehradun

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Following Google Maps

Adventure drivers and nature lovers would love this trip as we drove amidst the greenery, seeing river Yamuna flowing through the valley and giving us company halfway through the drive. I didn’t take any pictures during the whole drive as I felt photographs won’t be able to justify the ethereal beauty of Mother Nature.
Being a touchy traveller, I have had amusing and icky memories too – memories of trash and traffic, horde of boozehounds and honeymooners littering the Mall Road with plastic packets and bottles. Hotels have become hideous excrescence on the once-lovely hill slopes, giving serious problems of garbage-collection, water scarcity and parking shortages especially during the summer tourist season. Given its relative proximity to Delhi, Ambala and Chandigarh, the hill station becomes the summer retreat of the people. Throughout the season, Mussorie echoes with the sound of honking cars occasionally with the Hindi swear words of the party roisters. Mall Road gets filled with pot-bellied men in tight T-shirts, women carrying ‘see-I’m-holidaying’ handbags, dressed up like Christmas trees and children running and screaming to buy play-things at the shops.
The sightly Kempty Falls and the Company Garden fell prey to commercialisation, unaware of the ecological disbalance.

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Restaurants and hotels mushrooming around Kempty Falls, natural waterfall being barricaded for artificial swimming pool. Pic courtesy : Rajeev Kumar

Though tourism is the most significant segment of Mussorie’s economy, I hope it doesn’t fail to preserve the old and pristine hill station.
Whether you’re a tourist or a traveller, here’s some of my important tips for you:
1. For winter – as the temperature goes below zero degrees, do deck yourself up in winter gears.
2. For rainy – unless you’re a pro and a patient driver, do not venture as there are chances of skidding your vehicle down the valley. Don’t drink and drive; keep your mobile phones handy to call for help if you experience road blockade. Don’t panic.
3. Respect Mother Nature and don’t litter around.
4. If you want to celebrate weekend party, go clubbing. Mussorie is not the right place for you. Don’t disturb the birds, animals and the tranquil state of nature.

Tangy fish curry with ridge gourd ( Assamese cuisine)

My culinary journey is incomplete without preparing my homeland’s popular authentic recipe – the maasor tenga ( tangy fish curry) – the epitome of Assamese cuisine. Khar( Alkaline) and Tenga ( Acidic) characterises an Assamese traditional meal. The knowledge of this recipe is one of my family heirlooms – my great-grandmother taught my grandmother, my grandmother taught my father and my father taught me.
Actually there are several ways to prepare the masor tenga depending upon the souring agent used. It could be lemon ( citric acid) or tomato ( citric acid ) or chuka xaak/ Sorrel ( oxalic acid) or outenga/ Elephant Apple ( betulinic acid)   or thekera/ Mangosteen ( a sour fruit indigenous to Assam). Season also affects the way of preparing it. For example, in the summers, the recipe calls for ridge gourd and lemon ( jika-tenga-maas) and in the winters, the recipe calls for bottle gourd and tomato( lau-bilahi-maas). Other variations are chuka-paleng-maas( Sorrel and Spinach), Dhekia-outenga-maas(Fiddlehead fern and elephant apple ), Kosu-konbilahi-maas  ( Colocasia and currant tomato).

I’ll share all the recipes that my grandmother knew in my forthcoming posts. But right now, let me share one of my favourite dishes – which happen to be my ultimate comfort food.

Ingredients                                                 Prep time:30 min    Serves:2

200 gms fresh river fish, cut into 1- inch thick slice
2 tsps turmeric powder
2 tbsps cooking oil ( I prefer mustard oil)
1/2 tsp paanch phoran ( It is a mixture of equal quantities of five spices: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, onion seeds)
1 ridge gourd/jika – cut into small cubes
1 cup boiled potatoes
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 green chilli ( slited)
1 tbsp lemon juice

Instructions
1. Marinate the fish with salt and turmeric powder for 10-15 minutes.
2. Heat oil to smoking point, reduce to medium heat and then add the fish slices. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side. Drain on absorbent paper and set aside.

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3. Add paanch phoran and coriander seeds in the remaining oil of the pan. When the seeds crackle, add ridge gourd. Add turmeric powder and salt and sauté for few minutes till tender.

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4. Add the slightly mashed boiled potatoes and green chilli and sauté for two to three minutes.

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5. Add 1 cup of lukewarm water and fried fish to it and simmer for 4-5 minutes in medium-high heat.
6. Lastly add lemon juice and simmer again for 2-3 minutes to let the fish absorb the tangy flavour.

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7. Remove from fire. Serve hot with rice.
Happy eating!!!!

Letter from a train-driver’s daughter – Paralympians’ zeal for life

Dear stranger,

Yes, you’re the man who jumped in front of the train that my father drove. Why did you do that? What made you end your life?
When he saw you, he put his brakes on and blew the horn. Even then, you didn’t move away from the railway track and he realised why you were there.
It is a traumatic experience for any driver to have someone commit suicide under their train. Do you realise how severe are the after effects for him and his family? It’s the thing that stays in the vanguard of his mind for months. He knows it’s not his fault. He didn’t cause that to happen. But he does still have pangs of guilt. He doesn’t sleep; he’s tired all the time and gets irritated easily. And our whole family has to deal with him not being his usual self.

Okay, enough advocating for my father. He’ll get over it soon. Now, let me ask you – were you so badly stuck in a terrible life situation that you ended your life? Were your problems so overwhelming? Haven’t you heard Limp Bizkit singing – “cause life is a lesson, you learn it why you’re through” ?

Let me tell you a true story of a man who suffered permanent disability in his right leg at the age of five. Born to single mother, he is one of the five children abandoned by their father. His mother raised him and his siblings, carrying bricks as labourer until becoming a vegetable-seller, earning ₹100 a day. He was just a five-year old kid when he was run over by a drunk bus driver while walking to school; thus crushing his leg below the knee. Despite this tragedy, he completed secondary school, got qualified for Rio Paralympics where he won the gold medal in the men’s high jump T42 finals, and even donated money received from prize to the Government school he studied to improve facilities. He is Mariyappan Thangavelu- the Indian Paralympic high jumper who represented India in the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games.
The Syrian refugee, Ibrahim al Hussein, is also a Paralympic athlete. He lost his leg in a rocket bomb explosion while rushing to the aid of his friend. Just see the plight of those trapped in war-torn countries and those left with no other choice but to risk their lives to try and escape persecution.
I can cite more than thousand such stories that emphasises on do-not-give-up attitude. Were your problems bigger than those?
Heartbreak, financial crisis, being jobless, domestic violence, death of loved ones or any failure – whatever the problem is, the solution’s never going to be death. Unlike others, I won’t call you a coward because I know it takes a huge amount of courage to even harm oneself, let alone suicide. But, if you had applied the same amount of strength and courage to solve your life situation, then you would have made my father a bit less guilty and most importantly, you would have been alive bravely overcoming your hurdles.
If it were possible, I would have been there with you at that moment, to sit with you and talk, face to face and heart to heart.
After all, no body can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

Yours sincerely ,

The train driver’s daughter