Sunday, October 07, 2012

Blessing In The Form Of A Power Cut


 In the NGO project near Bangalore which I frequently visit, nights spent without power are not only not a hindrance they are considered almost romantic. This must be one of the few places on earth  where to this day, we use solar lanturns or candle power for illumination after dark - unless someone with shining teeth who has been using Colgate whitening toothpaste agrees to sit smiling for us for two to three hours in the dark in order that we might see each other.

Contrast this with Bombay where we are blessed with so much more electricity than our fair share and so spoiled, that each sudden power failure catches us unawares and has us swearing at the government as we go scrabbling in the dark for candles and torches. But this Saturday evening was an exception.

The sudden power failure in our area on Saturday night was one of those rare occasions which actually had me smiling.  I had returned home towards half past eight, from a music session round the corner, to find a loud dhoom dhoom teenage party in full swing on the building lawn. One of the juvenile brats of an older grey haired and equally brattish resident of the building was apparently celebrating his eighteenth, nineteenth or twentieth birthday. Somebody had said it was his engagement party but that was hard to believe because like, who would want to marry this noisy, spoiled rotten, lumpy looking kid who was so good at exercising his lung power and generally throwing his weight around?

Whoever was not part of the party was compelled into silence as nobody could make themselves heard above the deafening roar. Glancing down at the lawn from the balcony I saw a little groups of youngsters in jeans and mini skirts, dancing self consciously to the yucky music occasionally stopping in their tracks to answer a mobile phone or tap out an sms before carrying on. So when relief came in the form of a sudden blackout and the noise unwound to a jerky stop, my normal inclination to curse and sigh was replaced by a triumphant, “Oh goody goody goody.”

I spent the next hour alternating between wry, ironic short stories by Dorothy Parker and Pema Chodron on my Ipad, using the latter  to try and balance out the aggressively triumphant feeling which had surfaced, almost the kind that members of Hindu fascist groups must feel when something bad happens to their secular and equally evil opponents.

By the time the lights popped on again it was too late for the party to continue. Only the yowling of a couple of tomcats was audible. Maybe the blackout  was not such a bad thing for the young ones too, maybe they discovered the kind of togetherness that lies beyond noise.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What Really Happens In The Silence :)

The apathetic silence in the blog during the last months if not the last year, hardly reflects what we’ve been up to. As usual there have been guests. Unseasonal ones like Dwight who turned up in the middle of the monsoon for three weeks and who came in very handy during our September workshop for which a whole lot of arrangements needed to be made. The groups have been going on, notably the Thursday “Dialogue group” in which we learn to express ourselves in relationship, honestly but with respect for the others. This particular group appears to have brought benefits all round, providing both an arena for self exploration and for looking at relationships as well as mastering the art of effective dialogue.

Our last workshop as well, in the first week of September, brought up some essential questions concerning life and relationships and left everyone feeling more grounded, and connected with each other. And the best part was as usual was when, in between sessions we got a chance to cool off on the verandah, gazing at soothing shades of green with things flitting in and out – birds and squirrels and one morning, when Sudha and I were chilling on the balcony of our house, a big fat chameleon climbing a tree, which seemed transfixed at seeing us and then went and hid behind the tree trunk preventing me from getting some good front shots.

Chameleon playing hide and seek

Meanwhile, the weather in Bombay has been most unlike its usual punitive self. Maybe it’s our proximity to the sea that does it but in spite of the fact that the monsoon is slowly edging its way out, it remains cool and pleasant most of the time. There have been a few muggy intervals but these have been rare.

Among the fun developments have been our monthly informal Saturday evening sessions combining work and dinner. At the last one just before leaving for the workshop, newcomer Kunal among other things, led us through a singing meditation which turned out to be quite soothing and meditative.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Path on the Herren Insel

The weather in Germany is going through decided mood swings which no psychiatrist could even begin to address. The first few days were sunny and wonderfully warm – the right kind of warm, not the kind of thing where you feel yourself melting like cubes of ice left out too long. Then the sky began to cloud over and overnight the temperatures dropped to below 15 degrees C or at least it felt like it. I found myself huddled on the patio facing the garden, in coats and sweaters with a shawl flung over my shoulders and still not warm enough. Then a few days of sun and cloud and rain playing hide and seek with each other, followed by a really scorching hot day which my friend Angela and I spent romping about on a nearby island. Nice weather to sit in the shade outdoors and read a book. I was just beginning to relax when the next day began sunny but turned cloudy again and the sky turned the waterworks on. Brrrrr. And now as I write this it is turning fine again so when I’m through with blogging I’ll make myself comfortable outdoors again.

 Friends Bibsi and Regina on our trip to the Herren Insel


Last night Ariela, with whom I’m staying, mulling over her long drawn out tooth operation which was to take place the next morning, which is right now. Knocking back red wine. Incidentally I was introduced recently by Günter, to a marvellous Spanish red wine – Grand Reserva 2005, Valdepenos – which is also marvellously inexpensive. For € 3 a bottle it’s a steal. We were joined by hundreds of visitors, tiny specs hopping and flying about and frequently falling into the wine. Fruit flies said Ariela. My glass had at least fifteen of them floating about. I finally decided to lump it and to swallow the whole lot with the wine.


                                                                                Houses on the Frauen Insel


 So finally after years of visiting Prien I finally made it to the two islands across the Chiemsee from Prien – peculiarly named the “Herren Insel” (Men’s island) and the “Frauen Insel” (Women’s island). Actually the Frauen Insel was the hideout of the nuns who inhabited the Benedictine convent whereas the Herren Insel is known for its monastery founded in 782 by the Duke of Bavaria. Going around the Frauen Insel we bumped into a group of little old nuns clad in black habits who happily pointed in our direction and stood still for us to take photos. Angela and I figured that they’re probably trotted out every now and then for people to photograph though by far the biggest attraction on the island are the beer bars and cafes, many of which have a brilliant lake view. We  had lunch at one of them. I've got to the stage when I feel constrained to order "senior citizen portions" (they call them "senioren portionen) which to me seem just about as much as I can handle. But at least I can still handle the beer.

                                                                                Small church on the island

                                                                One of the numerous restaurants on the island

 Prien jetty


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Tales from Turkey and Switzerland

An unexpected beginning and an equally startling end marked our recent three week trip to Turkey and Europe. The training group had been preparing for this adventure for at least a year and a half, if not more, so although our departure was scheduled at the unearthly hour of 5 am, sleep was the last thing on our minds. Half past one at night. (Or you could say early in the morning). George and I await the driver Murugan who is supposed to help us get the luggage downstairs and reach us to the airport. Not only does he not appear at the appointed hour but several phone calls only confirm that his mobile phone has been switched off and that he is most unlikely to make an appearance in the next few minutes. We’re already marginally delayed, so George and I call for a cab and dash off. It’s only a couple of days later that we discover the reason for Murugan’s absence. The Enfant Terrible who has been working for us for a bit over a year, and seems like a somewhat older Indianised version of Denis the Menace, had apparently decided to take a sleeping tablet to help him relax a bit. Good thing he didn’t answer the phone, George said when we got the news in Cappadocia. What would have happened, if he had turned up and fallen asleep at the wheel!

Luckily the rest of the journey, in spite of some hiccups at Istanbul airport on account of a few people in our group having decided to get their visas on arrival, unfolded quite smoothly. The eight hour wait at the airport to catch our flight to Nevesehir in Cappadocia, was less harrowing than I expected though by the end of the day I have to confess I was half dead and felt that way most of the next day as well.
Waiting at Istanbul airport
But the magnificent scenery which greeted us on the bus ride from the airport kind of made up for everything and when we landed at our hotel and found ourselves surrounded by our Turkish friends, ready to show us up to our rooms, it felt like a real home coming.
Meditation room at Cappadocia
The workshop was a great bonding experience and there was a sense of two countries, two cultures having merged into one. What we need is a new politics,  we all I felt. The politics of friendship and freedom

Dilek, Uma, Ayse, Selva at the barbecue on our last evening at Cappadocia

The meals were splendid and I always looked forward to the breakfasts – hot coffee which Ayse or one of the others would bring up for me, shortly before a tray arrived filled with freshly baked bread, different kinds of cheeses, olives, wedges of tomato and cucumber, and an occasional slice of sausage or piece of omelet. It was so hard to stop eating, and the result is several extra kilos which have made my tummy their home which I am now trying hard to send back where they came from.
The bus journey through Cappadocia was spectacular – the weird natural rock formations in the shape of cones and ridges had all of us gaping most of the time.

The "camel" of Cappadocia

A ten hour bus ride from Nevsehir brought us to Izmir which was our next halt, and where about seven of us crashed Indian style at Aysegul’s two bedroom apartment. The day after we arrived we looked through the colourful market at Izmir, stopped at a roadside eatery for plates heaped with the most mouth watering kababs, shopped around, stopped once again, this time for coffee and ended the evening at a café on the seaside boulevard, where we relaxed with glasses of Raki, a bagful of mussels which Ful had bought at the market which was now passed around, along with an apple flavoured hookah.
Izmir market

Coffee stop with Aysegul, Venky, Sudha
Our last riotous evening in Turkey was spent at an outdoor restaurant which our Turkish friends had especially chosen for us, with Turkish folk music and dancing. Once the evening got underway nobody wanted to leave and maybe we would have stayed there till morning had it not been for the flight we had to catch to Zurich early the next day.

Farewell Izmir and Turkey
Switzerland was more peaceful and meditative in comparison, providing us with enough opportunity to truly chill, surrounded by green fields, gently mooing cows and the tinkle of cow bells. The workshop which we attended is something we wont forget in a hurry, once again serving to bond us with the Swiss and German people who attended it.
Chandran receives his certificate
Last afternoon in Solothurn
Three weeks later we found ourselves on our way back, tired, happy, full of memories but looking forward to the noise and filth of home. At Istanbul airport where we once again had to wait a few hours we lounged around an internet café, assuming that in a few hours time we would be able to crawl into bed and catch up on some sleep.

The THUD with which the Turkish airlines plane landed took us by surprise. Even when I heard it I presumed we had just landed a bit badly though realizing that the plane had come to a complete stop instead of taxiing forward to the gate, made me wonder. It was only three quarters of an hour later that we were officially told that we had made an emergency landing, that the plane had buried a part of itself in a patch of mud on the runway and that we would have to leave the aircraft from the exit at the back via a chute. And no bags allowed please, the airhostess waggled her finger at us.

So saying goodbye to all my precious belongings including an Ipod, an Ipad, my camera (a temporary goodbye as it luckily turned out) I got ready to whoosh down the chute and was mighty relieved at the end of it, to find myself in the arms of a burly, comforting member of the airport staff who saved me from sliding down into a puddle of wet mud and helped me into the bus waiting for us nearby.
Four hours later we were home surrounded by exclamations of relief. It had been fun. A fitting end to our trip, it seemed to me in retrospect.
For more photos: Facebook Pics

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Gray Skies Warm The Heart

In Bombay (or should I say in India) gray skies have a different connotation than in Europe. Just as the sun in London, or in Frankfurt or Paris makes your heart sing after a spell of wet and cloudy weather, in Bombay gray skies in the wake of the sweltering heat bring a huge sense of relief. The whole of the last week it's been raining, hopefully the lakes are filling up (and not only our potholed roads) and we wont find ourselves in the agonising throes of a waterless existence, as the newspapers had been predicting just a couple of weeks back.

Rupert and Brigitte came and went, and the Bodywork workshop we had planned for months also went by in a flash. S was in great spirits throughout and on the last day had the entire group giggling hysterically for no particular reason other than the sound of her maniacal giggle and laughter. I told her maybe it was her mission in life to start a laughter club in Bombay.

Following the workshop, Sid, S, Jyotsna and I landed up in Neredu where we caught up with various friends. Ravi P from Vizag joined us too and together we visited the 7 acres of land which we've jointly bought between us, in order to put up a centre for workshops and which will serve as a retreat.

Luckily it didn't pour during our stay at our retreat in A.P. It rained or rather drizzled just enough to cool down the place and we were able to go out quite a bit. Got quite a lot of work done, regarding what has now come to be known as the "Neu Anfang" project (in German this means New Beginning).

And one of the highlights was the fact that it was S's first plane ride. She was bursting with excitement throughout and has now concluded that she will travel with me only if I take her by plane.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happy Endings Lead To New And Happier Beginnings

Celebrating Chandran's birthday during the workshop

Last Sunday we concluded our three year training course with a week long stint in Deolali. The atmosphere though festive was unavoidably tinged with sadness at the thought of three years of togetherness seasoned with occasional bouts of verbal sparring, pretty much the way a bunch of older querulous siblings is prone to do, three intense years of learning from and with each other, slowly drew to an end.

Happy George

And even happier Venky
The centre at Deolali where the workshop was conducted, turned out to be an ideal spot for us. With the mornings and evenings being pleasantly cool we somehow managed to work our way around the rather warm afternoons (mostly with looong afternoon naps).

Relaxing on the verandah

The first couple of days of Deepak's culinary efforts (the young cook who had been hired this time round) left us a bit depressed at the thought of having to battle our way for seven days, through food drowned in masala, chilli and oily gravy. Until we could no longer stomach his fare, and protested by more or less by going on a hunger strike. Sudha then diplomatically got him to cook with less oil and spices, though the very thought made him cringe. However the delighted look on our faces and extravagant compliments he received, at what he labelled "tasteless food" seemed to compensate for this sacrilege.

Deepak sharing a joke

Ma-ji proudly observing her children

Maruti, our Man Friday in charge of the guest house, was his usual warm, calm, helpful self, perpetually bustling around getting things done and tending to our needs.

Maruti - unchanged for decades

Deep contemplation at Temple Hill

Evenings we would pile into the two cars we'd brought along and drive up to Temple Hill where we spent a pleasant hour gazing at the hills and the sky before returning for dinner.

Chandran lost in thought

Temple Hill

Now we're all back home, hopefully geared to transform the world.

Free up blocked avenues, clear the route for self expression and generally help each other to enjoy life

The training group - a happy end leading to a new beginning

Friday, March 04, 2011

Chilling in Pune

The two most impressive things I found about Pune this time were: the banyan trees and the mosquitoes. The rows of banyans especially in Koregaon Park, with their huge clusters of roots dangling down the sides of the trees are apt to make your jaw drop. The mosquitoes too for that matter. You spray the room, you coat yourself with mosquito repellent and they still come at you in droves, humming and buzzing around your face, nipping you every now and then leaving behind a trail of spots and bumps. Maybe these are the mutant kind, who thrive on Autan, you figure, like a mutant Dracula who loves garlic.

Jyotsna relaxing on her favourite sofa

Apart from the mossies though, Pune was fun. Jyotsna and Ravi's spacious apartment is the right place to unwind in, and with the rows of travel books, novels, and other delectable reading material you're all set to chill for a couple of days, nursing your coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening.

My brother Vishnu was visiting the city after several decades while Peg, his wife, was there for the first time. So we circled the cantonement area the first evening, and all around Koregaon park, landing up at some point on Main street for bread and juicy mutton samosas available on a side street for pre-dinner snacks. Vish and I who had often visited Pune in the old days, spent a lot of time reminiscing on the laidback air of Pune at that time and the many changes which have since then, taken place, including some new, very yucky looking bungalows at Koregaon Park.

The next day I decided to work at home and finish off some editing while Jyotsna, Vish and Peg braved the morning heat in the name of some sight- seeing which included the Aga Khan palace and Raja Kelkars museum - which I had visited over twenty years ago when Raja Kelkar himself, overflowing with enthusiasm,had shown us around, elaborating on the history of almost every object he had showcased.

Jyotsna's daughter Devika who spent an evening with us

Needless to say like all holidays, the food added at least a couple of needless kilos. Jyotsna, gourmet chef that she is, what with her cooking blog and all, turned out an elaborate meal the first night, with chicken, steamed brocoli with anchovy sauce, roast potatoes and a wonderful low calory cheesecake (is there really such a thing?) which she claimed was made not out of cream but yoghurt. Add to that lunch the next day at Ramakrishna's restaurant and dinner at Malaka Spice the usual chicken satay and fish in green thai gravy, it was a wonder that anyone was able to fall asleep that night. (I didn't quite, but then it was the mossies that kept me awake :(

Vish and Peg poring over the menu at Malaka Spice

Vishnu and Peg back in Bombay