Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Indian Travels

My computer has been in a complete mess of late. No order to my files whatsoever. So, I decided to sort things out, only to open up my 'My Photos' file and spend the entire day going through all the pictures I have on my hard disk. And once that was done I started playing around with Flickrs mosaic maker so that I could put some up here. (And to think I should have been working!!).

Looking at all the photos I have clicked while travelling around India made me somewhat sad about the non eventful holidays I had this time I went back. I have almost always wiggled my way out of Delhi on my previous vacations to make a trip somewhere. Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra. I had hoped to visit Varanasi this time but somehow things didn’t work out.

I always maintain that travelling in India is absolutely fantastic. There is just so much to see, and I don’t mean that just in terms of the diversity in art, culture, clothes, food, religions and what have you but also in terms of just literally seeing and watching people. There are just so many people everywhere that observing them on the sly is so easy. To see them in the midst of their daily routines not really caring about your presence is such joy.
People in processions, in gullis, just sitting around or even children in school.

Then there is India’s spirituality that everyone talks about; everyone from the west comes searching for. Some find the idea itself ridiculous. How can one find spirituality in the midst of dust, dirt and scores of people?? Some can’t see it and come away disappointed, demanding a refund. But there is a spirituality that is inherent in India and her people. You only need to look a bit closely to spot it. In between the hustle and bustle and crowds. A lone man offering his prayers to the Lake Pushkar. A lone Llama boy in a secluded monastery in Ladakh. A woman reading namaz in a corner of the durgah at Ajmer. I haven’t failed to find a oneness with nature, a oneness with ones self.

Of course travelling in India is not easy by any means. The roads aren’t always in the best condition. It’s hot for a large part of the year. It’s crowded with people and cows. And there’s the perpetual possibility of being ripped off. But in spite of all of that the rewards of travelling in India are so rich, that even the worst situation possible becomes bearable. Because there’s hope that there is always something wonderful, something special right around the corner.
Isn’t that how travel should be?

P.S: In a shameless bit of self promotion am linking some of my previous photo posts on travel in Kashmir, Ladakh, Agra. Say nice things, will you?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Great Artists Muse: Lump, The Daschund

Today’s New York Times has an article on one of Picassos muses. Not one of the many women in his life, but a little daschund called Lump.

Lumps owner, the photographer David Douglas Duncan is not only considered one of the last century’s most outstanding photojournalists (he is renowned for his war photographs, especially those taken during the Korean war) but also probably the only photographer to have had free access to Picassos home and studio and to have had the chance to photograph the artist at work.

The article reminded me of my visit to Luzern earlier this year. In addition to Picasso’s sketches and paintings from the private collection of the Rosengarts, The Picasso Museum houses some 200 pictures, by Duncan, of the artist at work, relaxing, with his family, with his pets. And well, I remembered Lump as well! The photo on the left was one of my favourites on display at the museum.

The Times writes:
That very day, he did his first portrait of Lump, a signed and dated portrait of the dog that he painted on a plate while having lunch with Jacqueline Roque, his new partner, whom he would marry four years later.
In so many ways it shows the human face of the artist. One who was entranced by the little daschund, one who happily painted him his very own plate. It also hints at why Picasso is considered one of the most prolific artists of all time, what with some quarter of a million pieces of artwork to his credit. Almost everything Picasso touched has some artistic value, I’d be curious as to how much Lumps plate would cost at an auction.

I also think I wouldn’t mind trading places with Lump. Can you imagine being immortalized in Picasso’s paintings? Being called one of his muses? Having him paint you your very own plate? (The closest I come is having M.F. Hussain gift me a sketch of his signature horses).

All of this also brings to mind the fact that this year we celebrate Picasso’s 125th birth anniversary. It’s also been 25 year since the "Guernica" arrived in Spain. The Prado and the Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Museu Picasso in Barcelona are celebrating.
Another reason to visit Spain this year, isn’t it?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sweet-Bitter Thoughts

So holidays are over. And, well, my quite long work stint is over as well. So am back in school, which is surprisingly not bad. I do feel sort of lost though. Given that I took the last term off and the new freshman have invaded campus, I keep thinking "Wow, I seem to know so few people" and "Why are these new students everywhere and creating such a ruckus?” It’s irritating and distracting. I guess it’s a sign of being a senior.

It’s nice to have a student’s routine again though. Work meant getting up really early and slogging till really late - everyday. Now I have a four day weekend.....whee.....and though all my classes are the early morning ones I don’t really mind as they are terribly interesting. It’s kinda nice to be a student, there’s so much to learn and I always feel I know so little that there’s a perpetual motivation to read more, learn more, discuss, debate and I love that. It was something I missed while working. I also love the fact that I have some absolutely wonderful professors this term, even though I often feel incredibly dumb around them!

Also, after my month at home, where reading was negligible, I now have access to the library and gazillion books. That makes me happy. Am currently reading Calvino and Shakespeare.
So, everything’s rosy right now. But given the super heavy courses I am taking this term I guess it’s only a matter of time before the work load turns nightmarish. Anyway, till then everything’s good.

Leaving home was bitter sweet. The stay was good in the sense of sleeping till late and eating till I felt my stomach would burst, but non eventful otherwise.
It was also frustrating in terms of what was happening in the country. The Bombay blasts had just happened. Mulayam Singh Yadav gave SIMI a clean chit which was further affirmation (if we really needed any) of the fact that the politics in the country is reaching new levels of utter rot. Then the blog ban - such idiocy. Opening the newspapers and reading of Naxalite violence almost everyday. The security threats around Independence Day. I think it was the first time I actually had to think twice before going out to a crowded market place. It was startling that I was thinking that way and terribly upsetting.

Given the situation within the country (and I have to say here that though I do have tremendous respect for our PM, I feel the current government has fallen woefully short of any expectations I had from it) not mention the madness that’s going on in the world I think things are going to get much worse before they get better. That makes me sound pessimistic and cynical and I hate that, but it is what I feel. And I really hope that I am utterly wrong.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Absurd indeed

George Bush's choice of holiday reading that is.
Albert Camus' L'Etranger.
Oh well, the symbolism is absolutely precious. As Maureen Dowd writes in her New York Times column:
''The Stranger'' is about the emotionally detached Meursault, who makes a lot of bad decisions and pre-emptively kills an Arab in the sand. Get it? Camus's protagonist moves through an opaque, obscure and violent world that is indifferent to his beliefs and desires. Get it?

I generally feel a sense of camaraderie with people who have read and liked, nay, loved Camus' books. And as the Guardian points out finding out about W reading Camus isn't perhaps the most comforting news. Oh dear. Perhaps, chaps, George is one of us.
Or perhaps he is as daft as we imagine and didn't get the book at all. Contrary to what Bush thinks the book is after all more absurdist than existentialist.

And what's more absurd than George W reading L'Etranger?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Destination Next

should have been Israel (via Istanbul).
I had planned to visit in July, but given the heat during the summer decided to postpone the trip till the winter break. Which in hindsight was a good thing.
Given the current situation in the Middle East though, visiting Israel seems, well, not the best idea. Things might (should) calm down by November end (if not much earlier and i really hope that they do), but still. And planning a trip just to visit Turkey doesn't make much sense as December is generally rainy around the coast and freezing in Anatolia.

I am of course terribly, terribly sad about having to scrap this entire plan. Considering i spent eons reading up on the countries, sites, planning the routes, blah, blah.... and of course, considering i was and still am obsessed with visiting Turkey. Go there i will, but there's still a long list of countries that i am dying to visit and the current plan of action is to land up in Europe - again. And alone - again. Wonder why i always end up travelling alone in Europe.

Anyway, given that i don't want to be stuck in negative temperatures and snow (i don't really mind the cold but packing and luggage become a pain!), i have happily settled on Italy (most definitely) and Spain (maybe, still working out the details).
So i am now back to doing what i love and do best. Planning a trip. Spending hours on the net, reading books and travel guides, deciding where to go, how to go, what to see. I am traveling in my imagination (well i do that perpetually), but planning for a trip is absolutely fantastic. Even if like my planned middle east jaunt it doesn't work out, what you learn in the process is invaluable.

As of now the plan for Italy is to visit Rome and Florence (and places nearby such as Pisa, Sienna, Pompeii). Have also added Venice to the list, even though the weather is fickle and cold in winter, but what's the points of flying half way across the globe and not visiting?
Spain is still iffy but i really, really want to go. The shorlist is Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada.

Lets see what works out. There's still time and i don't want to get over enthusiatic and jinx my plan. The only thing i know for sure is that i shall be totally broke if this trip works out. But what have i been saving for eh?
Oh well, given my yet to mature plans, all ideas, feedback, tips are very welcome =D

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I am vegetarian. I am selfish?!

Well, apparently yes. According to my sister. Because i am the only vegetarian in my family.
I decided to turn veg last year as some sort of birthday resolution. I am always asked "Why?" and it’s a question i struggle to answer. I come from a family that loves its meat and it’s not an exaggeration to say that i was probably the biggest carnivore of the lot. I have never been fussy about food, have always open to experiments and have tried pretty much all kinds of meat and seafood - cooked, uncooked, marinated, what have you.

The change came slowly. Over the past few years i pretty much stopped eating red meat primarily because i stopped enjoying it. This slowly spread to chicken as well and i became pretty much a fishitarian for about a year. Somewhere down the road i started thinking about turning vegetarian, first just in passing and then more seriously. I also wondered whether this was something i could even do. Sure i had pretty much given up on meat but I could always eat it if i really wanted to. Could i really go without non veg indefinitely? Well, anyway i decided to try and it’s been 9 months now.
If i really have to think of one, i think the most straight forward answer as to why i decided to turn veg is linked to yoga. The entire process started with yoga and the more i read about yoga, spirituality and food the greater the pull towards actually turning vegetarian became. In any case, despite living abroad i haven't really felt that turning veg has meant a drab choice of food to eat - of course it's lucky that i love tofu and rarely tire of it.

Coming back to India is of course wonderful. I don't think any other country can boast the variety of vegetarian fare that we have. Not to mention the sweets, which i have a terrible weakness for. While i have been eating yummy food and kheers and halwas (i must have put on a ridiculous amount of weight in the process, i haven't confirmed my suspicion as i am too scared to step on the weighing machine), my sister has been eating my head about the fact that my turning vegetarian is the most selfish decision i have taken. Ever. Her reason? Well since I've turned veg every time we go out for a meal we ending up eating basically veg food with perhaps one non veg dish for everyone else to dig into. All this of course in keeping with the fact that i am pampered silly when i come home for a break. And also because earlier this would mean a month of happy non veg gorging for my sister as well and doesn't any more.
She grumbled "Just because you have eaten enough non veg food to last a life time why do i have to suffer and be forced to eat ridiculous amounts of paneer tikka? How selfish can you be!"
Now, how to respond to that?!