Postcards from…is a series about one picture perfect capture from a place I have recently travelled to. I am just back from a short monsoon holiday to the southern Indian state of Karnataka and the postcard is from one of the most picturesque and atmospheric places that I visited during this trip — ruins of the Rosary Church at Shettyhalli.
This Church was built by French missionaries in the 1860s. This was abandoned in 1960 when the Hemavathi dam was built and the reservoir created partially submerged the church when the water levels rose during the monsoons. The monsoons had not fully set in when I visited, so was able to see and walk around the ruins of the Rosary Church.
We don’t always have to travel to seek stories; they are right there in our homes too. In “Stories From My Home“, I examine the many objects surrounding me at home and attempt to document and share the memories associated with them, one story at a time.
I wasn’t surprised at what my Appa wanted. He was crazy about the railways, trains, engines and everything associated with them. He loved watching the animated series on Thomas the Tank Engine and I used to love watching him watch the series on TV and giggle away.
So that’s what I got for Appa when I returned from London in 2009 after a year-long stay — a small model of Thomas and a book with illustrations of all the engines and characters in the series. I got him other things too, but once he saw Thomas, nothing else mattered. The look of delight on Appa’s face when I gave it to him is something that I will never forget.
When I visited you the February 2017, it was a trip of many firsts — the first time I was travelling to the Northeast region of India, the first time I visited Assam, the first time I visited a wildlife sanctuary (as an adult), the first time I brought back fresh produce from the Uzanbazaar market in Guwahati for my Amma, much to her surprise and great delight, and many more firsts.
The trip materialised out of the blue with an invitation to be a part of journalists and travel writers from the organisers of the Rongali Assam, a cultural festival to be held in Guwahati in the first week of February 2017. Even, as I sent in my acceptance mail to the organisers of Rongali, I was already planning how I could do some independent travel on my own in Assam.
Some research later, I zeroed in on visiting Kaziranga, Sivasagar, and Hoollongapar for a three-day independent trip before I joined the rest of the group for the Rongali Festival. It has been more than two years since that trip, but I can still remember the wide-eyed excitement and thrill I felt when I landed in Guwahati, and which lasted me all through the trip. When I boarded my return flight to Mumbai 6 days later, it was with a suitcase full of souvenirs and brochures, a heart filled with happiness and also memories and experiences of a trip like no other.
Let me give you a glimpse into what my Assam trip was like.
This post has its beginnings on a hot summer afternoon in Mumbai, when I reluctantly accompanied a friend who was visiting the city to Palladium Mall in the Lower Parel. I’m not particularly fond of malls and do my best to avoid visit them; the visit to Palladium Mall was probably my second or third. If not for the fact that this was a dear and very close friend, I would not have agreed to visit the mall.
As my friend explored the various the various stores spread over four floors of Palladium Mall — Mumbai’s “first luxury and premium retail…destination” — I dutifully followed her around. At one of the stores in the uppermost level, as she made some purchases and paid for them, I decided to wait outside the store and look around.
As I leaned over the banisters into the atrium, beautiful floor patterns created from different types of polished stone looked back at me.
I first came across Mahaveer Swami’s art at Narendra Bhawan Bikaner when I was exploring the hotel on my first evening there. In a narrow space, not unlike a gallery, I came across some exquisite framed works of art.
These were paintings with detailing like miniatures, but with a completely different colour palette — predominantly pastels, instead of the bright saturated colours usually identified with such paintings. A closer look also revealed quirky details in some of the paintings like two women using a computer or a man with a telephone, among others.
Intrigued by the art, I enquired about the artist at the hotel. “That is Mahaveer Swami ji, a Bikaneri artist”, was the reply. “He’s a National Award winner.”
“Is it possible to meet him?” I enquire.
“I’m sure that can be arranged,” comes the enigmatic reply.
Pondicherry, on the southern coast was under French colonial rule. In 1962, it merged with India.
French Citizenship was offered to local Tamils; 6,200 opted for French Nationality.
In Apr’ 2017, 4,600 were eligible to vote for the French Presidential elections.
These statements flash on the screen at the very beginning of Two Flags, a documentary film directed by Pankaj Rishi Kumar, outlining its theme and focus clearly. The film follows the small community of the Tamil French (who are not Indian, but French Nationals) living in Pondicherry and their engagement with the 2017 Presidential election in France.
The film, which is mainly in Tamil and French (with English subtitles) and some English, introduces you — the viewer — to the Tamil French community on the occasion of French National Day celebrations in Pondicherry before diving into the main narrative of the 2017 French Presidential elections. The viewer watches community leaders discuss the merits of different Presidential candidates and predict the percentage of votes their preferred candidates will get. You visit the houses of other members of the Tamil French community, as the leaders exhort them to vote in the elections, sometimes even telling them who they should vote for. You realise with a start that if not for the French-sounding names of the candidates and the occasional French spoken, one could very well be watching the campaigning for elections in India.
Just when you are settling into the film and French election politics, parallel narratives on French language and culture, and another on French citizenship is introduced. And suddenly, Two Flags is not about the 2017 French Presidential elections anymore.