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Faith

Faith – that limitless expanse of hope that stretches out when the grey clouds of life encircle and engulf…That tiny flicker within that keeps you moving along the weary road.

Faith that finds itself in a tiny Buddhist temple where the lamps flicker and an elderly monk wraps his wrinkled fingers over his prayer beads.

 

 

Faith in the eyes of  rosy cheeked children as they push one prayer wheel after another.

Faith in the timeless prayer flags.

That belief that it will get better. Because it does.It really does.

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Gratitude

A good cup of coffee. Discovering history at an antiquated monument.Dogs flopping by me after a run. A good book.The glow from a  candle. A fragrant well spiced biryani. A good conversation. The first flower on a new plant. A quiet sunset. A pretty scarf. The first rains. Freshly baked cake. Kindness. Forgivness. Gratititude

October in Dehradun

A week at home turns out to rush by even before you catch it by the tail,almost in a flash there you are looking upwards at the signage on the airport glowing in the setting sun the letters spelling out DEHRADUN, as you climb out of the wobbly ATR and before you know it, you are back in time watch the sunrise out of the hills as you prepare to catch an early morning flight back at the end of the vacation that sped by. October is the best time to be in Dehradun, well-atleast it is close contest with June( the litchis in June,sometimes add an edge to being home in June perhaps). But October has its merits. With the rains receding, the sun comes out to dry out the musty walls (and piles of damp washing that my mother struggles with through the monsoon and extended monsoon that Dehradun is famous for).20160414_180900.jpg

October stands stark,lined with the dregs of the monsoon initially and the mellow sun heralding the onset of winter as the month progress. There is slight briskness to the air early in the morning as the sun begins to shine fearlessly, devoid of the cloud cover that masks it through the previous months. Evenings get longer and pink and peach hues cast their presence across the horizon. It is not time to be swaddled in the scarves , jackets and woolly socks that make up winters in Dehradun, but the nip in the air calls for some extra moments of clingyness with the blanket each morning. 20161011_152519.jpg

Memories of October are laced with smells and sounds just peculiar to October- of paint , of acrid smoke from crackers pre and post Diwali, of chikki in school being prepared just in time for Founders Day, of frentic excitement and a buzz that takes over as the festival season kicks off. October was always about unpacking school blazers and de-tangling Diwali lights, of hot cups of coffee and watching the trellised shadows of yellowing leaves on the walls.

Chrysanthemums jostle with marigold and the city seems cast in a faint yellow glow-of autumn, of the receding monsoon, of the upcoming festivals and of nature about to welcome a cold winter.

A Tryst with Tradition

This write up by me appeared in Arbit , Rashtradoot on 26th July 2016

A day before the Chief Election Commissioner announced the schedule for the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, I received an order that I had been transferred as Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Beawar from my then posting as SDM Alwar. Since I was not expecting the transfer it came as a bit of a bolt from the blue but as is customary in the service I packed my bags and headed off with a wee bit of trepidation to undertake the new assignment. Beawar, I was told by many solicitous senior officers was going to be unlike my first posting in Alwar, more so because it was an independent sub-division far from the district headquarters and because it presented a number of challenges that no other sub-division in the state did.

Beawar, the name itself presented a legend wrapped in the history of the sub-division, one that made me a feel a sense of dread at the prospect of what lay ahead. Upon reaching the new office, the staff and residents of the city took it upon themselves to educate me on the historical significance of the city of Beawar and where it got its unusual name from.  The region where present day Beawar is located was called Magra-Meawara and was ruled by the fierce Kathat tribes and Rawat Rajputs. Despite the efforts of the British to subdue them, these groups continued to present resistance to the British through their guerrilla warfare techniques. Beawar was of extreme strategic importance to the British located as it was at the tri-junction of the states of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. Hence a fortified cantonment was built here by Colonel Charles George Dixon (1795-1857) in 1836. As for the rather distinctive name, the legend goes that the British put warning signs of “Be Aware” around the cantonment as an alert to their officers and men leaving or crossing the cantonment. Slowly from these boards the name Beawar was born.

An impending election looming large ahead of me and the legend of Beawar behind me I had a sense of imminent dread yet attempted to be undaunted and felt quite like Frodo Baggins of The Lord of the Rings as he made his way to Modor. If I believed that the  conducting the Lok Sabha election was the biggest challenge before me as I arrived at Beawar and took over, I was wrong, a bigger challenge awaited, one that the staff and other officers of the Sub-Division were fretting about.  Nine days after I joined the new assignment was the day of the Badshah Holi, an age old tradition in Beawar and for the first time one of the main protagonists of the festivities was going to be a lady officer –me.

The Badshah Mela of Beawar dates back around 150 years and finds its roots in a story of Akbar and one of his nine gems Todarmal.  According to the legend, whilst on a hunting expedition Akbar was captured by some bandits who threatened to kill him. He managed to escape with the assistance of Todarmal and in gratitude granted Todarmal the “Badshahi” (power to be king) for “dhai din” (two and a half days). As the period of his Badshahi came to a close, Todarmal led a procession through the city and threw gems and precious stones from the state treasury into the cheering crowds. Finally the procession ended at the palace where the Emperor Akbar welcomed him. To commemorate this event, the Agarwal community of Beawar joins hands with the sub-divisional administration and celebrates the day after Dhulandi, by re-creating a ceremonial procession complete with a person from the community who is dressed like Todarmal and another from the Brahmin community who is Birbal. In Beawar, the procession culminates at the SDM office. Crowds from the town of Beawar, the surrounding villages and even neighbouring districts like Bhilwara, Pali and Rajsamand stand along the roads , on roof tops as the procession makes its way along the traditional route from Bheruji ka Chowk, through Ajmeri gate and onwards to the SDM office. Todarmal rides on an open truck along with other members of the organizing committee. Birbal in traditional wear dances to the gair a dance performed in Rajasthan around Holi. Both Todarmal and Birbal are selected carefully, physical fortitude and a strong arm to throw colour for hours being a primary pre-requisite. Pink gulal or colour is hurled up in little packets of paper by the team atop the truck and in return the people along the roads and the women and children  on balconies throw pink colour on the procession. In a few minutes after the procession starts the whole environment is a sea of pink. Men and women collect the packets, a sign of good luck and keep them in their lockers as a lucky charm that will bring prosperity all the year through.

As the evening advances, the procession and crowds make their way to the SDM office where the SDM and other officers await their arrival on a specially made stage outside the building. A raging battle of colour ensues between the public, the team on the truck and the administrative officers led by the SDM, each hurling colour at the other. Thereafter, Todarmal and Birbal are led onto the stage where Todarmal presents a “farman” or a directive to the SDM ordering him to take certain steps for the welfare of the city. In return the SDM presents a nazarana to Birbal in the form of a coconut .

When I heard the story, I felt vaguely anxious, facing a crowd of around one lakh people hurling packets of colour on me sounded like a litany of torture. The staff at the office too was in a conundrum, a lady officer had never been at the receiving end of the Badshah tradition. “Would madam want the Tehsildar to stand in for her?” was the query whispered to me by a sympathetic official. However, being eager to banish any misogynistic theories perpetuating patriarchy I was quick to snap back, “of course not!” There was to be no debate or discussion, I was taking up the gauntlet and would stand and receive the procession as was customary.

As D-Day dawned and the rest of the country slept after the Holi frivolities, officials and staff from the municipal board arrived to set up the stage and large halogen lights outside the office. I inspected their work in frenzied anticipation only to be informed by a cheerful official that two years ago the stage had collapsed under the then SDM and his staff as the crowds approached. The thought was unsettling to say the least and I looked on at the pillars and poles under the stage with consternation. A trip into the market was in order as preparations by the Agarwal community began early in the morning. Gallons of thandai were being made in the inner lanes, to be served to the milling crowds. The organizers unaware of my dread seemed infused with transcendent joy as they went about with their preparations for the day. In my office, a small room had been converted into a war room- staff and my orderly sat on the floor squatting between packets of colours, making small packets, their fingers and nails a bright shade of pink. Animated chatter prevailed; everyone seemed to be galvanized with a new vigour and energy in preparation for the evening completely oblivious to my disquietude.

At around four in the evening the procession began slowly weaving its way through the streets. The police bandobast was in place and intermittent messages on the wireless system reported its location.  I sat in my chamber trying to keep my legs which were quivering like a jellyfish by then steady. My orderly Ram Singh made his way into the chamber, with a pair of transparent plastic glasses, much like divers use for deep sea diving, a cap and a pair of plastic gloves. During the course of our training at the Mussoorie Academy, I recalled how during the lecture on law and order management we had been strictly told not to step into any law and order incident without being armed with the necessary paraphernalia – read helmet and jacket. Possibly these glasses and gloves were the requisite battle armaments for this battle. I gratefully took them from the orderly, blessing his sagacity. A little later a head bobbed into the office, wrapped in a yellow cloth, eyes hidden behind a pair of black glasses; it was my Tehsildar, also prepared for battle.

Nightfall approached and the bags with packets of pink colour were carried onto the stage. For the umpteenth time I asked the Junior Engineer to check whether the stage was strongly erected. After what seemed like a geological epoch we began to hear drum beats in the distance as the procession approached. My orderly stepped in quietly and whispered to me, it was time. I stepped out into the open as a crowd of people were marching and dancing into the office compound. In the bright yellow halogen light a mist of pink was visible. My newly acquired battle gear in place on my nose and head, I climbed up the stage along with the team of officials. As I looked on into the crowd, the truck with Todarmal made its way slowly towards the stage, its occupants barely recognizable in the layers of pink. An exhausted looking Birbal continued to dance in front of the truck. The first packet of colour hit me on my leg and dissolved into a heap of pink at my feet signaling the start of the battle. My orderly held out a packet to me and I hurled it out with all the strength my shoulder could accord. Very soon packets of colour were flying in both directions; the stage held out and was soon covered in a layer of pink. It was an experience like no other. The drum beats reached a crescendo and the crowds cheered as packet after packet were hurled between the administration and the public.

At the end an exhausted Todarmal and Birbal were led up the stage with the farmaan. Both the SDM and the stage had survived the exhilarating adventure. As I wiped the colour off myself that night I realized that administration was not just about files and orders. Instead it meant connecting with the people, their traditions, understanding them and being a part of the history of the place. A year later I was still in Beawar, to face yet another unique Badshah Mela.  For the people of Beawar, Badshah is a time honoured tradition, celebrated by the entire town with much energy and joy, all communities and the administration coming together for an unforgettable evening of enthusiasm, harmony and joie de vivre.  For me, it was an insight into the heritage of a unique town where I learnt some valuable lessons on administration.

 

The Rains are here

One of the first things that struck me about the monsoon in Rajasthan is that in the months from July to September everyone you meet (at least in government)
will talk about it. Whether it is late or early, excessive or short, the damage the rains have wrought by their presence or their absence. As a District Collector one of the super important reports brought to me twice a day morning and evening was the amount of rainfall in the day and I have learnt not just to appreciate rain drops as they roll down the branches of vilayti babul but also to measure in millimetres the true extent and impact they are likely to have in the larger scheme of things. In my first district I was struck in particular by a senior officer (now long retired) who took it upon himself to quiz me every single work related phone call on how much rain the district had seen.

Having been raised in Dehradun where it rains pretty much all the time,I had begun to take the monsoon and the rains for granted.  It is only after all these years of working in Rajasthan that I can truly appreciate the impact of rains in this mostly rain starved region. Despite the water-logging , the traffic jams , the broken electricity poles, the rains bring a sort of calm to this arid region after a scorching summer .

Jodhpur saw its second downpour this season. Much awaited after I had all scanned the skies my hopes rising every morning at the slightest sign of faint fluffy clouds ,mentally imploring all the rain Gods that be to share some of their droplets with us. Almost in response to the combined prayers of Jodhpur the clouds stopped in their onward journey this weekend and exploded in a flurry of rolling thunder and the city was awash with the bounty of the first rains of the monsoon. Zigzag streaks of lightening crossed the grey skies as the rain roared onto the water logged streets and the trees turned liquid ,droplets streaming down the leaves. Perched in the  narrow veranda of the government quarter I drew my toes in as the wind swept a shower of droplets my way. Twiddler was not amused, he tried pawing the shut door to go in and then turned back to glare at me for my insanity. His woof could barely be heard under the thunder, the jangling wind chimes and the wind blowing through the trees. Little rivulets crisscrossed the yard into a giant puddle near the gate and rain drops smashed into the puddle making it a sea of ripples. As the rain stopped a chirping of birds could be heard over the blaring horns of slightly irritable car drivers trying to make their way impatiently through the water logged street.

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Growing up in the hills gives you a different feel of the rains. Rains are torrential the sun barely paying a visit in the months of July. In Rajasthan the rains come in bouts yet the landscape bursts into a sea of green just after two rains. It’s funny how a barren, stark expanse of brown can change colour so soon. Trees that shed their leaves to survive the onslaught of a very harsh summer start to break into little bits of green and tiny blades of grass poke their heads out of the sandy road side. Little scrub bushes spring up across the sandy desert and in the Aravallis the rock faces almost disappear behind a veil of green. Peacocks begin to display and dance , a common sight in the villages .

Droplets of water glisten on electric lines glowing in the light of the halogen on the street. An oppressive humidity clung to the air but all is forgiven in the joy that the rain has brought.

 

 

Nightly Tales

The black tar top road matches the blackness of the night as the car hurtles down the desolate highway. Dark silhouettes of scrub trees stand silent in the vast expanse of Rajasthan’s landscape. A half-moon casts a pale silvery glow into the car through the window, cleanly divided in the middle, the man in the moon visible partly in the silver light and partly in the dark semi-circle. A faint star flickers in the silver halo of the moon the lone star out tonight.
In the pitch blackness an ocassional light flickers in the horizon , a tiny home in the distance perhaps, flickering like a lone fire fly. Thorny bushes give way to tiny hamlets. School buildings stand dark and quiet waiting for the noise and pattering feet to return in thr morning. A speed breaker and a white metal board it’s paint peeling off point out the exisistence of the school. A tiny lamp gleams behind a metal grill gate guarding the idol in the temple for the night. The pujari and presumably the God in the temple have retited for the night. In a house lit up by a clear white bulb brass utensils gleam telling a tale of an evening meal taken. The hamlet gives way toa limtless expanse of scrub divided in the middle by the road .
Red reflectors on the back of trucks cut through the black night, the only spot of colour  in the blackness. The white  line marking on the road race towards the car almost being swallowed by it as the driver accelerates ahead of the gigantic trucks. We whizz past a bus, most passengers are aleep their heads resting againt the glass panes rolling ocassionally. Save one little girl.She has her nose pasted against the glass pane ,her mouth flattened against the window staring into the night. Another one fascinated by the world the shadows and night creates.

Madness,Muslin,Musings in May

May just whooshed by without being noticed. Well, come to think of it five months of the year have gone by. It’s almost been a roller-coaster and a scorching ,sweltering one at that. As the month draws to a close, I came back home to an empty house (if you don’t count the dogs that is!) with the parental unit having left for the home-town. So May was partly a rushed ride because having one of the parents come over makes it more eventful. Watching them leave is a wee bit depressing and although I cannot be all forlorn like the dogs , sitting near the front door waiting for the father to pop back in ,it is still all quiet in the house now and the dogs are depressed and lost.

The mercury  seemed to want to out-do itself in a hugely competitive drive of wiping out hundred year highs and setting new benchmarks which made the headlines and the heads ache. Mornings became the only time when the outdoors were pleasant thanks to the cool winds from the desert as it cooled off in the night but as the sun rose the sweltering day would begin.  Probably the only relief from the  oppressive heat during the days was the one night it rained in Jaipur. Raindrops ran down the glass panes of the guest house, streaks of lightning split the dark skies into two and the all too familiar smell of wet earth in the rain engulfed us as I sat with my nose glued on to the window of the guest house room wanting to absorb as much as I could of  the sight and smell of rain that one lone rainy night.

Isn’t life a pot-pourri of contrasts, highs and lows,  searing ,stifling days and nights with a blast of cool air?  Sunsets and the skies exploding into shades of muggy yellow amidst the shriek of honking cars and rush of people to get home from work and the watching the serenity of the sunrise sipping my morning cup of tea with in the silence of the morning broken by the wind whispering through the chimes in the verandah.

May has been about soaking the plants early in the morning hoping that they survive the onslaught of the scorching winds during the day. Bare feet trying to soak up the drops from the freshly watered grass as it lifts its head preparing to be singed by the day’s unforgiving sun. Muslin fabric on the skin and open sandals. A fresh batch of mangoes in the kitchen waiting to be popped into the fridge and their sweet smell permeating the house , one of summer’s most distinctive smells almost over-powering the pungent smell of last night’s tortoise coil burnt to drive away the swarm of buzzing mosquitoes and still hanging in air like a veil that is waiting for the breeze to lift it.

 

It’s been about fretting about the potted plants wilting under the hot,dry winds and lusting after the bunches of golden yellow laburnums dotting the road side and photographing the blazing gulmohar against a blazing blue sky. Waking up early just to feel the breeze on my face and then sweating it out as the rest of the day progressed.

 

So the month raced by leaving us gasping for breath. Work and work related travel continued and in between the two a need to slow down and take in the moments that make up life. May has been a study in contrasts ,insecurity, disappointment, miserable lows ,inexplicable highs, over-the -top joys and heartfelt satisfaction, emotions that range from one end of the spectrum to the other. As Pema Chodron said,” Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world “. As I look back at month gone by I hope I have tried to be inspired by the little moments of joy and make those moments count. Above all I am glad I have learnt to make the tiny bits , the “ordinary things” that make up the days and the weeks and the months go zipping by.