Exploring Delhi: Humayun’s Tomb

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Those walls
Resting on symmetry
Climb up to a bulbous head
And finials reaching out
To a clear firmament.
Those walls
With holes and crevices
Let light in
And shine it out
Out of those rooms
Full of stories and sounds.
Those walls
Of rust red tombs
With six-pointed stars set in sandstone
Chipping away
Living on.

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Humayun’s Tomb was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1993, and has undergone extensive restoration work since.

One fine day, a friend and I were idle, magically, at the same time, and we decided to head to Humayun’s Tomb, the mausoleum of the Mughal emperor Humayun built in the 16th century in Delhi. What ensued was a realisation about how we often overlook the beauty of our own city while hankering for escapes to outstation destinations. A wondrous escape was right here, under our proverbial noses!

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We reached the main tomb enclosure after passing several smaller monuments that adorn the path leading up to it. It was more than 400 years ago that Humayun’s first wife, Haji Begum, commissioned the tomb near the banks of river Yamuna.

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The site was chosen because of its proximity to Nizamuddin Dargah, which is the mausoleum of the Nizamuddin Auliya, a celebrated Sufi saint and a favourite among Delhi rulers.

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Designed by a Persian architect, Mirak Mirza Giyath, it was the first garden-tomb to grace the Indian subcontinent with its ‘Charbagh’ gardens. The structure portrayed a leap in the design of Mughal royal mausolea, which reached the apogee with the Taj Mahal at Agra.

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Naturally, it is one of the top tourist attractions in Delhi, being a monument that gives a peek into history together with art and architecture. As for us, this small trip was also a fresh change from the long hours spent amid papers and books and electronic devices.

IMG_20170322_112134_270As much as I wish that we had chosen a breezier day and time, the sight of lush green fluff shining bright under the buttery noon more than made up for the mid-March heat.

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Even more memorable was that this mini-exploration culminated under the cool shade of a tree overlooking the six-pointed stars set in red sandstone, in the good company of an old friend and alloo paranthas packed in a steel lunch-box.

Featured image clicked by Ishan Sharma.

Travel Diaries: Laxmi Ashram, Kausani

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Dharti hai ek,
Aasmaan ek hai.
Phool hain anek,
Baghbaan ek hai.

All the squeaky voices, hushed conversations, and noisy banters were replaced by a mellifluous chorus as I sat down in the back of the classroom. Morning prayers at Laxmi Ashram, as I found out, are always unifying affairs, and down-the-line cheerful and cathartic.

Forty five minutes previous I was tossing Imli toffees in my mouth to prepare myself for the ensuing altitude sickness. I was going to hike to a seven-decade-old, all-girls residential school run on the principles of Gandhi’s Nai Taleem. Established in 1946 by Catherine Mary Beilman or Sarla Behn to empower rural girls and women through education and holistic skill-based learning.

When I reached the Ashram, there were two smiling faces, waiting. Waiting to open me up to a world of simplicity and unity. To show me how empowered and independent young girls go on to become pillars of strength for the rural community.

I was a bit late, thanks to the multiple stops I’d made during the hike. Some girl students were collecting their books while others had already started ascending the stairs to their classroom. I entered the room from the back, and quietly sat on the floor like everybody else. I was soon going to hear them sing a prayer song that would footprint my heart.

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I left the place humming a tune of togetherness, and optimism. Of a song that distilled in a few words this beautiful message:
There is one Earth. And it is but one sky that canopies the flowers on its face. The flowers may look different, still there’s but one Gardner who looks after all of them.

Travel Tale: Floating in the Poetic Dusk

A big ring adorned Mamta’s nose, silhouetting half her face as we huddled around a bonfire for warmth. And sitting there with the glorious Kumaon hills girdling us and Mamta reading one of her poems for me, I learned how nature and words soothe a crumbly spirit.

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It was only a day before that I had met Mamta for the first time when the hosts of my retreat centre introduced us. Our small chat had concluded with her beaming at me and exclaiming in broken Hindi, “Didi, I will come and see you at the inn tomorrow!” She wanted to know what a bunch of college girls from Delhi were doing in Kausani!

Which brings me to: What could I do here? In 3 days?

For starters, I could sit on these porches that always welcomed us with tea and viands. I could talk to these people who always regaled us with colourful stories. With them, I could drink these buttery noons and tangerine sunsets. Maybe along the way, I could pick up a few Kumaoni words, understand a new culture, unspool its richness and authenticity. But, who could’ve imagined that I would do just that and more, and that Mamta would help me with most of it!

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She joined our group for tea just like she had promised. A few moments later, we were scribbling Aipan designs on random scraps of paper—and in the next few—up on our feet, matching folk tunes with our own versions of Chholiya as the sun dived between the hills. Here, in an Indian village in the quiet vicinity of the Himalayas, the Italian saying of il piccolo mondo got a whole new meaning!

Within hours, I was sitting under the pin-pricked night sky, listening to Mamta’s voice as she read a poem from her notebook. And while her words warmed the December air, I took a closer look at the poetry of the land I was in. I could see and feel it in the Buransh (Rhododendron), in the chartreuse farmlands, and in this amazing rendezvous of nature, people, and history.  

That’s how I was always going to remember this village cradled in these verdant hills. As a place where I felt freer, happier, lighter—all at the same time. My souvenir: A friendship that began with a Kausani local asking me, “Tumar naam ki cha?”

Travel Archives: Almora

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Yesterday, while scrolling through some old photographs on my laptop, I found this one of me and Munni Devi. It was clicked in December 2015 when I took a sort of cultural to Almora, Uttarakhand.

I met Munni Devi at Nanda Devi Handloom and Heritage Centre that sits peacefully amid the Himalayas, supporting and empowering rural women. She showed us around the museum―a recent addition to the place―and took us to the workshop to meet the women artisans. Some of them had been working there for more than a decade!

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Scarves and shawls knitted with the indigenous nettle grass, hand-woven carpets, and an argosy of trinkets were put out on display. What stood out to me more than the material objects, though, was the affection that was raffled off to us.

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An Aipan artist at Nanda Devi Handloom and Heritage Centre

It was so easy for them to trust a stranger. To happily take a break from their intricate work and strike a conversation with some curious students who’d come from a gummy city to know more about their art.
But, did these students know the story behind the wedding ritual of a traditional pichhauda? And that they shouldn’t go home without tasting the signature Bal Mithai! Had they tried the folk dance of Jhoda?
They didn’t. And no, they hadn’t. But suffice it to say that they left the Himalayan peaks of Nanda Devi much more enlightened about Kumaoni culture, and a lot more in awe of this land’s warmth.

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Also, Munni Devi gave me the biggest hug as I said goodbye! Recalling that feeling twists my tear ducts even today.

My Recent ‘Feels’ Playlist

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When it comes to music, my song picks end with anything that has strong lyrics. A song that marries the sensation it evokes with the emotion it comes from sticks to my playlist for a long time. This may be because of that thing about music – it connects, makes you feel less lonely. So, today I decided to list down a few such songs; I call it my ‘feels playlist’ as it has the power to soothe my melancholy and elevate my joy.

Nostalgia: The songs that disinter the sweet moments.

Journey: Companions for when the going gets tough.

Perseverance: For me, these songs are like anthems that obviate the blues.

The Rationals: These songs can work wonders to kill the din and clutter of a bad day from your mind.

Happy listening!

Midnight snacking

In a dusty corner of a small mezzanine is a scrap of paper scribbled with poetry. Sea Fever by John Masefield – is a friend that is around when it’s  hard to sleep. So here goes:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
                                And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

The God of Small Things – A story that stayed

I usually end my day with either reading or writing something. Today, I thought of welding the two worlds together, by writing about a book I read by my night lamp: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

 Roy delves into sexual abuse, gender bias, and untouchability in a subtle and poignant manner, stimulating deep thoughts on these issues. The story is set in 1969, in the south Indian state of Kerala. She narrates the story as if it were unlayering the thoughts of the two twins, Rahel and Estha, with words which evince innocence – Orangedrink Lemondrink Uncle, light blue carsounds, bumpy red road, . The sentences are as rich as they are moving. Twins separated following an unfortunate incident, a loved one dying because of a wretched system, and a mother spending her last moments alone after a series of unfair events – everything transpires as if one were half expecting it, but shocks and saddens in equal measure as the story unfolds. “Who should be loved, and how. And how much” is a question which forms the nub of story. The question is posed when the twins’ mother leaks her “Unsafe Edge” that leads her “to love by night the man her children loved by day.” It is posed again when the society looks down upon it. And yet again, when Estha’s quietness and Rahel’s emptiness finally merges. Roy depicts the malaise of the characters’ lives through words which depart from the literal sense, thus evoking deep emotions in the reader’s heart. It’s a beautifully written tale about love laws, and how they destroyed lives. How the small things led to a sad turn of events and shook the big things. It is a story I read months ago but one that has stayed with and will stick around.

Follow me on Goodreads here.

From Sad Languor to Creative Ideas: Lessons that helped me start this blog

Our frenetic pace of life, of the so-called digital natives, leaves us with no time for even cursorily glancing at the path that we’re so frantically pacing. As for me, I realised what havoc my lifestyle was entailing when I started spending more than twelve of my waking hours with my computer and phone.  I turned into an irritable, lazy, and of course, unhealthy person who went without speaking more than 10 words to any person, in person, in a day. I couldn’t concentrate, and fell prey to a major creative-block. And so, I decided to take charge of the situation (after my ears were almost bleeding from my mom’s constant chiding). I translated my constant need to remain plugged to a digital device into a plan of action to help me connect to myself first. And while most of it may seem clichéd, I can now say from experience that it helped. Here are the 6 things that helped me keep my sanity amid the digital frenzy:

1. Exercising

I have been waking up early and exercising for half an hour for over 21 days now. And it has done wonders for me, and not just in beating the languor of the start of the day on its head. On the most days I wake up cranky, I feel refreshed and inspired after a jog. New ideas strike when you start your day well. Starting this blog was one such idea for me.
And like we’ve been told several times: exercising regularly, irrespective of being a lark or an owl, generates immense gains in the health department.

2. Reading

Words have a cathartic power. There’s always something you take from what you read. Reading stimulates thoughts and makes you question things that you’d normally not bother about. So, what I did was to simply set a reading challenge for myself and put it up on Goodreads to keep a tab on my progress.

3. Eating Healthy

A healthy mind resides in a healthy body, and that depends on what you feed it. I start with the first meal of the day and never skipping it (even a bowl of fruit does the trick). I eat something every three hours and drink 6-7 glasses of water in a day.  An interesting revelation I made is that when I keep eating small, healthy portions after right intervals, I don’t hog on junk later.

If cutting down on all the junk we love so dearly might seem too much, we can at least try to accompany our meals with green foods and salads. What’s also important is to have a buffer in your diet for cheat days.

 4. Prioritizing

As a student, I do most of my work online, and there’s no escaping that. But the key to time management is curbing that urge to log in to your Facebook, or watch that cute cat video on YouTube or Ellentube, if you may. So, why not assign an hour of the day for all that entertainment, and try to stick to your schedule? Why sneak that email during dinner when you can answer it easily (and without embarrassing typos) later?When fully immersed in writing that kick-ass project report, learn to politely say no to that friend who calls just to ‘catch up’. If they’re not calling for anything urgent, what’s the point when you’ll meet them the following day in college anyway!  Productivity is directly related to prioritization and concentration, or so I’ve learnt.

5.  Observing

When was the last time you took a walk in the park, or looked at the stars? If your answer to that question is somewhere around a month ago, we’re in the same boat. But I recently tried to change that. And things like a stroll in the public park, a walk to the stationery shop, have helped me appreciate my surroundings more. It has opened up my thoughts to interesting ideas and creative ways of putting them into action. So, try it before you dismiss it entirely.

6. Valuing Relationships

Making some careful lifestyle changes also helped me take a step towards feeling internally fulfilled, and ultimately communicating better.

We often take our loved ones for granted, and subject them to the horror of our irascible selves when we don’t feel good. We bottle up our feelings and start holding grudges against one another. We may think we are A-OK keeping to ourselves, but we do need human contact. We do need conversation. We do need the lovely, often underestimated, exchange of different viewpoints. 

All this led me to start a blog to give form to the million hums in my head, and to share with others what I experience as I find the tricks to mastering the art of getting by. 

To the daily grind!