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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Who can question the beauty of the (Mum)Taj Mahal, the crown of palaces, built in the memory of Shah Jahan‘s wife, Arjumand Banu Begum?

img_3397I will definitively not be the one to do so. Seeing the Taj in the sunrise, before the heat of the day and the hordes of tourists take over, is not an ordinary experience.

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I do not by any means want to belittle the magnificence of this gem of Mughal architecture that took more than twenty years and thousands of workers, artisans and craftsmen to build.

Nor do I doubt the love of the Shah for his Mumtaz who perished at the age of 38, while giving birth for the fourteenth time.

img_3428I must confess though, that the reason for which it was built does not impress me much, to quote Shania Twain. This bombastic token of love, is not my cup of chai.

The fact that the king was sequestrated by his own son – and son of Banu Begum – may not tarnish the whiteness of the shining marble, or the beauty of the walls inlaid with semi-precious stones, but it does cast a shadow of sadness over the opulent magnificence of the Taj and its surrounding gardens and satellite buildings.

img_3434Real love does defy time, whether it is monumental or not.

Every love relationship has its own undecipherable language and codes. The feelings that flourish between lovers are the subject of myth and urban legends. They are as impenetrable as a tomb made of solid marble, destined to stay the eternal secret  shared by two loving souls.

It is beyond doubt that love can sweep you off your feet, whether you are a sandwich maker at Subway or  the King of Jordan.

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Outside the subcontinent, Bangalore is quite well known for its business climate. Within India however, the city is also reputed for its pleasant weather patterns. The two of them  together have probably conspired for putting the city on the global map.

Many Tamilian acquaintances tell tales of how, during their childhood, Bangalore used to be a favourite summer destination and refuge from the humid heat of Chennai.

In the meantime, the city of respite and recreation has grown immensely in the span of the past thirty years. The journey from a population of  three million in 1981 to ten million and counting at present must have been a story of  growing pain and urban headaches.

Electronic city,  construction frenzy and generous commuting times.  Less parks and more concrete. Promises of a better future. Everything it takes and more to turn a haven of peaceful  summer promenades into a polluted, dusty and sweaty oversized urban maze.

NGMAThe first reaction of Icannotbebotheredtolearnhowtocrossbusystreets when I first set my foot in the centre of Bangalore, changed to  Icannotbebotheredtobebotheredaboutthetraffic.  And then I discovered that this city is,  remarkably enough, full of leafy streets and shaded boulevards, despite the  traffic jams and fair dose of chaos.

LeafyboulevardIf you just close out the eternal sound of honking and take the time to walk around the hoods, you discover a great variety of  microcosms: Indiranagar and Koramangala, Sanjaynagar and  HSR Layout, Malleswaram and Shivajinagar.

MaleshwaramBy virtue of letting impressions naturally fall into place, the image of a lush city of gardens, lakes and digital dreams emerges. An image that does not compete with reality, but that belongs solely to the eye of the beholder.

Just some hours before taking a night-train to the cost of Karnataka, I am sharing some small things that have been making my day(s) these past few weeks in the subcontinent:

My morning cup of tea and the times I get out for a morning walk around the park.

My fruit platters for breakfast. I have never relished in so much (frozen) fruit…I must be consuming one small water melon a day.

My afternoon frozen non-dairy milkshakes. I am in love with the freezer.

coolerThe ceiling fan over the kitchen table where I have my home office and the hair pin that graciously keeps my tangled hair off my neck.

The breakfast escapades we plan with N. on weekdays and our morning and evening discussions at the dinner table. coffehallimaneGetting on  a bus, or taking a rickshaw somewhere and just  walking around, aimlessly or purposefully.

Exposing my taste buds to new flavours, or just good old ones.

Catching up with family and friends and having 3G internet on my phone. Turns out it’s a great thing.

DoglifeBeing a bit useful, as in having dinner ready for a working woman when she gets home.

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Weekend discovery tours. Be it in Bangalore, Chennai, or like now, the Karnataka coast.

What are your coolers, breathers and mood-lifters right now? I would very much like to know

Wishing you a Happy and Joyful Easter, wherever and however you have decided to spend it.

 

 

Grandfather Dear,

It has been two months since you went away. Now and then you have been a visitor in our sleep. Just a few days ago, sister said that she had been talking to you in her dream. You told her that being dead was not that fun, but then you jokingly added that you could both sing and dance.

Maybe days are long and tedious up there in heaven. How can an active person like you deal with idleness? And it sounds exactly just like a problem you would have, because do you ever need to shovel snow in heaven? Do they have grocers that you can walk to for your daily provisions?

Does heaven come inclusive of garages and sheds with all sorts of tools for serious do-it-yourself projects for practical engineers?

Do they have grandchildren who amazingly enough grow older and children – the apple of your eyes? Do they have wives with violet eyes and pink lips shimmering like mother of pearl? Do they have ice-cold beers like in Alexandria?

No, I didn’t think so.

But grandfather, wherever you are we all want you to be well and happy. I don’t know what those things really mean on the other side, but somehow I am sure that you will find your way. You are not the kind of person to be deterred by challenges.

Do not worry about us. We are doing fine. Please take time to settle wherever you are.  But when you do and if it does not pain you, do come by once in a while and say hallo.

Like a soft whisper in a dream.

And then came  a downpour of off-seasonal rain. I had felt it in the morning air and had scoured the sky for signs – can there  really be rain in early April Karnataka?

And yes, apparently there can. When I went out for an evening walk, big drops of celestial water were leaving their imprints on the thin layer of dust covering the asphalted streets. Then, while I was paying for a new pair of shoes, the rain  got serious…

In April two years ago we were visiting the huge Sree Menakshi temple complex in Madurai when the skies decided to open up. The loudspeakers were playing “Om NamaShivaya” time and time again and the courtyard looked like a  water tank.

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We were trying to find the East exit, but everyone we asked, including the temple Brahmins, seemed a bit unsure. Finally, we managed to find our way out, wading barefoot in the water. We crossed the small street and entered the souvenir cum jewellery shop where we had left our shoes. A clever move of the shopkeeper to give refuge to our footwear. We walked out with shopping.

Although Madurai itself is not a particularly interesting place, the thunderstorm at the majestic temple to the sound of chanting was a magic experience.

Two years later, I was caught up by the rain at a less breath-taking spot. A butterfly was fluttering over my head as I was standing on the porch of the shoe store. It looked totally confused and lost. Maybe it was desperately looking for the East exit.

centralmarketAt some point I decided I could start walking back home. The rain had receded. I was wrong in my judgment – I made it back under thunder, lightning and buckets of rain. But once you are wet, you cannot get any wetter, so you just end up accepting the situation and enjoying it.

And that is probably the zest of this past week. Accepting and enjoying. Accepting my body rhythm. Accepting the differences around me, enjoying everything I can enjoy.

Overall, I think that allowing oneself to get side-tracked is an important part of discovering. Usually, when I  set out to explore a new place, I make lists of things I want to do – wear comfortable shoes – and then just start ticking them off.

wallpaintingSpending a longer time in a place though, requires a different strategy with less focus on  racing and more on embracing.

So I chose my small missions. Visiting Malleshwaram by bus. Getting off, strolling around in the look out for a pastry shop I had read about in the newspaper. The Higher Taste, as it was called became an excuse to wonder around, discover the covered market of fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables and catch the pulse of the neighbourhood.

I like how seemingly random elements have the power of becoming pertinent.

I have also been on 20 km taxi drives to areas such as CV Ramanagar and HSR Layout to interview companies as part of my marketing thesis.  I took the opportunity to make a pitch-stop in Indiranagar and had a delicious Punjabi dinner at a place I discovered by asking some friendly bypassers.

So this is it, between intention and gamble, interviews, newly establishing routines, home-cooking and eating out, tours on BMTC buses and shopping for comfortable summer gear, another week has gone by, saved in the log of time passed.

This is an, already vintage, interview with Nithya, young architect from Chennai. At the time, in the first week of April 2012, she was living in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, where she was working on a large-scale urban design project, unique in its kind in India.

I served Nithya breakfast on a working day, before going to the office.

How does your day start?

My alarm clock goes off at 07.30 and I snooze for another 30 minutes before I get up.

I would like to be an early riser – wake up and do some exercise and cook lunch before leaving to work. But I am a night-bird. If I could, I would wake up between 9 and 10 o’clock.

What is currently your main source of happiness?

Planning holidays and occasions to meet my family and boyfriend. I am always looking forward to what is planned for next month.

BreakfastwithNithya

I also enjoy cooking a lot. It has a de-stressing effect on me.

When did you first start cooking?

I started when I was doing my Masters in Glasgow. That is when I started making my own full meals. Before I might give a hand in the kitchen, or bake…

Why did you choose to study in Glasgow?

Well, I was looking for an international experience and I did not want to go to the US.

I think that Europe has a greater experience of urban design. So I short-listed three English-speaking schools. Two in London and one in Glasgow.

Glasgow was cheaper both in terms of tuition fees and subsistence costs. On the other hand, the city of Glasgow was working closely together with the University. The whole city was like an urban lab.

What did you find most challenging academically speaking?

We had to perform an urban design analysis choosing a subject from our hometown, an area in Glasgow and Europe and present our results.

How did you actually choose to specialise in urban design?

It was when I was an undergraduate student. I had never thought of urban planning and design before.

While I was studying I was very interested in eco-friendly architecture and creating housing for poor people.

Nowadays, I am less idealistic.

What would your dream work project look like?

I would like to live in a smaller place, and create a sustainable village model.

Where does your interest in sustainability come from?

Sustainability was a horizontal element at the school I went to, until 10th standard: KFI, Jay Krishna Murti school.

We could run around barefoot in the school yard and climb on trees.

After 10th grade I decided to shift to a state board secondary school, as I belong to a forward caste and would need grades of 98% to get into university.

I found the new system unchallenging.

Generally speaking, I must say that today’s children are not really allowed to be children.

Parents put their children to accent training and other meaningless courses. India is very competitive.

Was there something that shocked you when you arrived in Glasgow?

Actually, being around so many Indians. I had so much looked forward to the international experience.

I also liked how I could walk everywhere, how safe it was for pedestrians.

Did you miss anything in particular?

Well, sometimes the sunshine, but not too much. The food once in a while.

I was vegan back then and it was really easy to find food. There would be special sections in the supermarket.

What did you find shocking when coming back to India?

The noise and the dust. I had to get used to tuning out the noise.

What do you like about Ahmedabad?

I like  the small scale. That I can get around easily on foot. The variety of Gujarati vegetarian food and the fact that people here celebrate even the small things in life. In the South people are more stoic.

I like the street-food in Ahmedabad. In the South you do not see much of it. It is considered to be food for poor people.

And on the negative side?

The dry summer heat, the fact that people stare and the new unknown language.

Well, I guess the difference between Ahmedabad and Chennai are a bit like London and Athens.

Ahmedabad is a safe city. I would not want to work in N. Delhi where women cannot walk around alone at night.

What do you like the most about your job?

The project itself….

It is a first time initiative in India. Looking out of the window I can see the river-front.

The project started ten years ago. It took time to clean the sewage, drain it and clean it. Sabarmati is not a flowing river.

The project is of a total of 11 km on both ends.

I cannot get any satisfaction out of designing somebody’s house when I can work on a public project.

What would you change in Chennai if you could?

Chennai has a good coastline.

I would opt for better public spaces and promote a walking culture.

India is a developing country. What does that mean to you?

There is the financial aspect. We are developing headlessly. I think we need to take a breath and think about where we are heading to. If we aspire to be where the West is now.

sofiawise

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

The Chick on a Pea

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

Buttercupgoeswest

Buttercup is a newborn and we are taking her on a 5000 KM journey from Ahmedabad to Kanyakumari

Sadness Theory

Music with passion for the environment

zee pause café

taking a moment, having a coffee, writing down some thoughts