Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Great Deal More Than Aloo Parathas and Balle-Balle!

Punjab is a country in itself. Or so they would like to believe :P

Not an attack, not at all. But after a visit that offered a peek into their culture, customs and history, I come back all amazed, and whirring with the colours that the city flashes at you.

So it was a one day visit to Amritsar. We had an amazing localite for a guide. Babbu aka Devender Singh. We dropped the bags off at a hotel and headed straight to a Dhaba for breakfast. Kulchas and Parathas. dripping with ghee, with a hundred flavours that tantalize your tastebuds..Heavenly is the word. We stuffed ourselves till we could eat no more.

Amritsar is a small city, it still has this old world charm about it. You see ancient arch ways and spires that do not look the least out of place next to neon lit dhabas and crowded market places bustling with denim and sneakers clad men going about their businesses. But what hits you more is the colour! Bright hues, all around you. Like butterflies flitting around, and not restricted to gender. The men sport colourful pagris and the women, as always, have no dearth of choice.

We visited a couple of temples in the morning. Their temples allow photography! And they are worth being clicked too, I should say. Their idols are nothing like the stone sculptures we see in the south- they are neatly chiseled, decked and ornamented- such a feast to the eyes. 

We visited two such temples- One called the Vaishno Devi, which is a simulation of the real Vaishno Devi temple, with all its caves and corridors. The other was the Ram Tirath temple, which is, according to legend, the place where devi Sita lived, and raised her twin sons Luv and Kush, after she was banished from his kingdom by  Lord Ram. When he performed the Ashwamedha yagna, this was where his sons intercepted the horse, and this was where the Lord had reunited with his family.

Around lunch Babbu took us to the Golden Temple. The temple itself, its ambience, cleanliness, the seva, the sanctity and the reverence that the place held to the Sikhs cannot be put to words. We had the langar, (food served to all visitors at all Gurudwara), which is touted to be very tasty, but for some reason I felt it was overrated. We visited the museum- and then is when the gravity of the great Sikh heritage hits you. Their valour, sacrifices and inherent greatness is out there for all to see- and then you wonder who ever came up with all those irritating Sardaji jokes.

 We troop into the Jallianwala Bagh which is next door. We all know the history. Some pics that would give you an idea of the horror.

Finally we head to the much written about, much heard of Wagha Border for the famous Retreat ceremony. Forgive me, but it was sheer madness. A 3500-strong crowd sits in the gallery, with a mere 200-300 odd, from the Pakistan side of the gallery, a few metres away. The impeccable march and ceremonial closure of the gate is marred by the crowds jostling for space, pushing and pulling around, with absolutely no respect for the National flag. Add to it some lathi charge from the police men, trying to keep the crowd in check. And an army officer who mistakenly tries to spice up the sober ceremony by egging the already fanatical crowd to shout ‘Bharat Mata ki..JAI’, ‘Bhande..MATARAM’ and the like.  No, not my style.

And then, there is nothing else of touristic importance. We find time to shop. Jutis, patialas, and suits with amazing phulkari work- that I cannot wait to show off. Babbu buys us Aam papad and takes us to this local pani puri wala who offers us- for 20 bucks- 6 puris, each dipped in a different flavor of pani. I forget the flavours, but I remember grinning through the whole episode. And there ends my first, and probably only taste of Punjab, but, to sum it all up in a word- Respect!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Summer Nightmares

   I have always had a love-hate relationship with the month of May. All through school, you longingly wait for the long vacation where days are supposed to be longer, but in truth, fly by faster- still the heat turns you off so much, and you can literally feel the fluids being sucked out of yourself.

   Out of school and college, still there is no dramatic change to the situation now. And this May is so screwed up- I am at a loss as to how I can sail through it.

   For those who are not from around here- the following would give you an idea of our state. 
   I work with a company where travel and location shift is commonplace. So it is not unusual to see new faces swimming around the corridors every other week. So one not-so-fine April morning I walk into the ladies rest room, and run into this cute thing who I remember, was from Dehra Dun, fanning her sweaty herself vigorously.

“So HOT isn’t it?”

   I gave her a sympathetic nod. I wanted to tell her that this was just the beginning, and that the sun was going to act crazier with every passing day. I shut up. She did not.

“I have become so BLACK, you know. HOW do you people survive here?!!”

   I have faced this question from I-know-not-how-many people. The snide joke that I got from a friend from Pune was that Chennai has only 2 weather conditions. Either it is hot. Or very hot. Nothing else.

   Maybe we have just got accustomed to it. Acclimatization’s new definition: staying sane at 45 degrees C.
The ironic truth is that all the to-do things on my bucket list-which I would have been finding ways and means to achieve, would spring out from nowhere only during the infamous ‘Summer Vacation’ time. The already-did items that I ticked off my list in the past couple of weeks were- the sea-floating adventure, with the CTC (I used to gloat about it, calling it sea-diving, but there are too many smart people around these days), visiting the Chennai museum (which is still the same- more dusty, probably) and kick starting my German class (Guten Tag!).

   The yet to be initiated list includes- Kung-fu class at the YMCA (self defense is the mantra), a snake hunt expedition with the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (yes, I get a high out of digging snakes out and brandishing them, like Steve Irwin), a bikers expedition with the CTC (no, I would just ride pillion and look pretty). And. The crowning glory of the big list- A trip. To Delhi. And from there to Amritsar.

A Punjabi friend asked me if I left my brain at the museum.

   Delhi is going to be a furnace, he told me. And Amritsar is going to be worse. A week in the blazing heat is directly proportional to the intensity of the tan that I will proudly showcase on my return. Just in time for my dear cousin’s wedding. South Indian weddings, for the uninitiated, are occasions where random uncles and aunts walk up to eligible looking girls, and shoot a standard set questions.
  1. What is your name? (erm. Stranger?!)
  2. Who is your dad/mum? “Ah, you are her daughter!! You have grown so big! I remember seeing you when you were this small!” (Midget size. Did they hope I would be stuck in time?)
  3. So are you in college? What, you finished college? You are working?!(just when you are reveling in the unsaid compliment…)
  4. How much salary do you get in hand? (gasp*)
   You are still in shock. By then the snoopy aunty has gone over to interrogate some other unsuspecting girl.
So, evidently the mum is very anxious for me. Because weddings such as these are breeding grounds for future marriage proposals, and given the fetish for “tall, fair, beautiful” girls in the marriage market, she is very wary about the impending tan. And though I might not give a second thought about scoring high ratings in the marriage market, who does like a tan, pray? So, I would probably give some good old sunscreen a shot.
Watch out this space for pictures- sans the tan. A Mid-summer night’s dream- no more nightmares!