I first visited Bikaner in February 2013 as part of a larger tour of Rajasthan with a group. Bikaner, the fourth-largest city of Rajasthan, was our first stop and it turned out to be the perfect introduction to the state as well as the perfect beginning to what turned out to be a great trip.
In the day-and-a-half that we had in Bikaner, our group was able to visit Junagarh Fort, the camel research station and the royal centotaphs at Devi Kund Sagar. We even managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Bhandasar Jain Temple, but could not explore the city’s famed havelis and markets.
Five years later (and almost to the day in February 2018), I was back in Bikaner courtesy an invitation from Narendra Bhawan. And this time around, thanks to their curated trails, I was able to explore new places — the havelis and markets of Bikaner — and re-visit old ones like the royal cenotaphs. In addition, I also visited the Laxmi Niwas Palace and Bikaji ki Tekree, the site of the first fortified settlement in Bikaner. I also got the opportunity to travel out of the city into the desert one evening for a sundowner and a special dinner. An unexpected bonus of this trip was getting introduced to two master artists of Bikaner and an opportunity to see their work (more about this in a separate blogpost!).
Presenting my “Bikaner Revisited” experiences, beginning with a brief history of the city.
Continue reading “Bikaner revisted: Something old, something new” →
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.
My maternal Paati (grandmother in Tamil) had only one request for relatives visiting Madurai — to bring back Captain Sandal Face Powder that was only available at the M.K. Azeez and Sons shop located in the West Tower Street outside the Meenakshi Temple. Once or twice a year, a few small tins of the face powder would be handed over to my thrilled grandmother by obliging relatives returning from Madurai.
Paati would get to work immediately. A newspaper would be spread out and the little tins of Sandal face powder would be emptied on it. Some ‘normal’ face powder (Ponds, Lakme, or whatever was available) would be added and then mixed and filled in 4 silver powder boxes — one each for my mother, her two sisters and my Paati herself.
Paati and her three daughters used only this face powder and each had her own silver powder box. When the powder box got empty, it would return to Paati for refilling. After Paati passed away in 1980, Amma took over the role of preparing the powder mix for her younger sisters and herself till they passed away, and then she would do it just for herself.
Continue reading “Stories from my home – 6: Captain Sandal Face powder” →
At first glance, the red sandstone structure that is Narendra Bhawan Bikaner doesn’t stand out or give any indication to the luxury boutique hotel that it claims to be. In fact, it looks more like a haveli or mansion of a merchant rather than the one-time residence or palace of Narendra Singhji, the former king of Bikaner.
Once past the rather modest entrance gates, you will cross a small courtyard covered with paving made from the same deep red sandstone, that Narendra Bhawan is constructed from — the local building stone. You will then pass through an arched entrance and climb up a few steps clad with golden yellow Jaisalmeri stone. And that’s when the change happens !
The floor tiles change to colourful vintage tiles. Carefully curated artefacts fill your sight, and deep and luxurious furniture beckon you to sit down and take it all in… But, wait for there is more to see and explore. You pass through a door and enter the very bold and beautiful foyer where large black and white tiles create a chequered floor pattern. Glass cabinets with the most interesting curios twinkle in the light reflected from the art deco lamps on the ceiling. At one end of the long foyer is a bright red piano…
You look around in wonder and accept the welcome drink offered to you by the ever smiling and friendly staff of the hotel and let it all sink in. This is how my Narendra Bhawan Experience began.
Continue reading “The Narendra Bhawan experience” →
This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge where one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the fifth of the 36 books — the book from Rajasthan — in this literary journey across India.
Padma Shri Komal Kothari (1929–2004) was an authority on Rajasthani folk traditions and oral history. Though his academic training was in Hindi literature, his interest in oral narratives and traditions led him to examine local epics, songs, riddles, music, drama, religious beliefs and practices, caste compositions, economics, village power structures, agricultural practices, land and water use, migration, etc. leading to an understanding beyond established paradigms. Kothari was not just interested in exploring the traditional ways of understanding the world; he was more interested in the process by which oral knowledge was learnt, remembered and passed from generation to generation.
Kothari is, perhaps, best known for the documentation, preservation and development of folk music by working with traditional musicians of Rajasthan, especially the Manganiyars and the Langas, and putting them on the world map. So great and pioneering was his work that he attracted scores of scholars of ethnomusicology, folklore and cultural studies from across world and India.
Rajasthan: An Oral History — Conversations with Komal Kothari (Penguin Books, pp. 358, 2003) by Rustom Bharucha is an attempt to document “Komalda’s intimate knowledge of Rajasthan through extended conversations and dialogue” (p.2). The book is the outcome of such conversations with Kothari on the cultural geography of Rajasthan over a two-year period. As Bharucha says in the “Introduction” to the book:
Continue reading “Book Review: Rajasthan — An Oral History” →
About 10 days back, Mumbai Metro’s 2B Dream Line arrived right outside my workplace — or to be more specific, the groundwork for the Metro line — bringing disruption in its wake. The barriers used to cordon off the road proclaimed that the Metro was for the “bright future of the citizens”, and that Mumbai Metro was “Our Metro”.
But is it really? Let’s see.
Will the 20-odd shopkeepers who have lost their jobs and their livelihoods due to the Metro really consider it theirs? What future are they going to dream of when their present is destroyed?
What about the kaali peeli taxi stand who were unceremoniously asked to close down overnight? Already facing competition from the Olas and the Ubers, this would have been like the final nail in the coffin.
What about the number of trees that have already been cut and the many others that are awaiting the axe — all in the name of development? What about the birds and animals for whom these trees were home? An entire colony of bats that vanished overnight when their tree was cut.
These few instances are only from the short stretch of the road outside my workplace. When If one were to consider the entire city of Mumbai and the effect and cost of the Metro work, the mind boggles and leads to many questions.
Continue reading “Mumbai Lens: The 2B Dream Line” →
It all started off with me spotting Lord Ganesha in a dragonboat, sitting pretty on the dashboard of the Uber I got into on a September morning in 2018. That’s a rather unusual Ganesha you have, I mentioned to the cab driver.
That was all it needed to get the driver talking. Appasaheb, that was his name, liked unusual designs and was very particular about what he surrounded himself with. Like the Ganesha in the dragonboat he had picked up from a shop in central Mumbai — he knew it would be perfect to adorn his cab dashboard. The conversation flowed and when I arrived at my destination, I was surprised to find that 40 minutes had elapsed.
A few days later, I was in a cab again and the first thing I noticed was the Ganesha on the dashboard, this time with a mini parasol. Like with Appasaheb, I got chatting with Sanjay, the cab driver. Thereafter, it became a habit to look at the dashboard as soon as I got into a cab and chat with the cab driver about the God placed there.
Little did I realise about the significance of that conversation with Appasaheb. What began as a series of fun capture about the Gods on cab dashboards soon turned to random shares on Instagram Stories. But over weeks and then months, these shares turned into an entire series with its own hashtag called #DashboardGod and conversations which I did not share.
Continue reading “The #DashboardGods of Mumbai” →