Friday, October 31, 2008

Our Cha Bagan Diwali

The first sign of Diwali in the Dooars is the sight of Mt.Kanchenjunga against clear blue skies.
Diwali is a fusion of many elements in the Dooars. The Dooars is like a mini- India, and the political climate is not exactly idyllic these days. Yet, its people have a long-standing history of harmonious coexistence, and that has survived here through turbulent times in past years.
Diwali celebrations in the Dooars are spread out over four to five days. What I find most charming about a tea garden Diwali is the quiet atmosphere in all the bustle of activity, and the total darkness against which Diwali lamps and lights sparkle.
It is customary to clean out and spruce up the house before Diwali lights are lit. Our bungalow gets a small face-lift every year, and every worker in the garden gets some 'choona' - lime - and a day off, to whitewash his house. It is the time when we are in the frenzy of sowing seeds for winter vegetables and flowers as well.
When our children are home for Diwali, we get to see a fine Rangoli like this one, over which they slave for a few hours, and very happily, too.

The rangoli all lit up on Diwali night, and below, in detail.

Diwali night invariably coincides with Kali Puja. The Kali Mandir is filled with worshippers, and often the Puja goes on through the night.
For most people in India, the second day of the new moon is Bhai Dooj. Here, it is celebrated as Bhai Phota by Bengalis and Nepalis. Sisters felicitate their brothers, and put a 'tika' on their foreheads, and pray for their long lives. The traditional Nepali goodie at this time is the 'Sil Roti', which is made from rice paste. If Durga Puja brings Bhog Khichdi to mind, Kali Puja means warm sil roti and spicy chutney on chilly evenings. And this, after we've eaten Diwali sweets and mixture, is a welcome change of taste!
For the Adivasi residents of tea gardens, it is the time for 'Jatra'; a song and dance celebration. Groups of men, women and children go around the garden after nightfall, singing, dancing and playing drums.

The groups traditionally visit the Bara Saab and Chhota Saabs at their bungalows, perform for them and pull them in to dance with them, as they did with us.

Below, a video which our elder daughter took of one of the energetic dances, while we tried to keep pace with the dancers. The drum beats are wonderful!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Two Silhouettes

SkyWatch Friday

Sunrise on the Morning of the Harvest Moon

Samtse Sunset

One evening, we went for a ramble in the little town of Samtse, Bhutan. Up in those hills, the sky seemed so much closer.

Please click on each picture for an enlarged view.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Brownie Points!

Gone are the days when every tea Bara Bungalow had a cook who would bake all the bread its occupants needed. Even so, we had dear old Baruah baking all our bread for us less than fifteen years ago. Baruah and his contemporaries are no more, but I do know of some chai memsaabs who turn out very good bread at parties or club 'do's. I've tried many times, with fresh yeast, dried yeast, and ready to use powdered yeast. And realised that bread making was great, but it was not for me.

When my younger daughter started saying she wouldn't eat any refined flour (or Maida, as we call it in any number of Indian languages), I had to start substituting it with wholemeal, or atta. We can't get brown bread anywhere in the Dooars, and we can only find it once in a while in Siliguri. Even then, it isn’t convincingly brown - it looks as if it's been coloured!

I started turning out simple breads from 'The Good Housekeeping Cookbook' and 'Woman's Weekly Magazine' recipes to fulfil this new demand for brown bread. Here I should make something very clear. I'm not a very industrious or self-sacrificing person. A recipe has to be quick and simple if I'm to try it out. No one ever tells my family how lucky they are to have this earth-mother-goddess turning out amazing food for them all the time. And there is no danger of it ever happening either. Wholemeal scone rounds and wholemeal picnic lunch loaves have simple, two-step recipes. I wouldn’t touch them if they didn't. The breads are all baked with baking powder as the leavening agent, and though delicious (if the recipe is followed correctly), they tend to be a little heavier than yeast breads.

And then Jayati, a friend who is much younger than me, said they'd been baking their own brown bread, with fresh yeast bought in small quantities from the bakery in Hamiltonganj, a town close to their garden. Her enthusiasm infected me. Should I try, just one more time? I bought 100 grams of fresh yeast from the bakery in Banarhat town, and opened the 'Good Housekeeping Cookbook' again. I found a wholemeal bread recipe that doesn't call for the dough being 'proved', or allowed to rise, twice. It is all done in one shot. Mix, knead, prove, rest, and bake. Hmm. Right up my street - and there's even a 'rest' thrown in there. So I went at it with great energy. Kneading and pumelling the dough was a fantastic stress buster. To my delight, we got lovely, soft, delicious brown loaves. See the picture? The husband said that he would no longer worry about what to do if the tea industry came upon bad times - he could run his wife's bakery shop.

Friday, October 17, 2008

SkyWatch Football

Last week, I put my sunrise and sunset pictures aside for the time being, and went to a football match with camera in hand. The match had some exciting moments, but we found time to look at these lovely skies as well.

Centre Field


Word Games


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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Top of the Morning to you!

Wonder what this little guy is called. He was sitting so still; he didn't even disturb the dewdrops on the blades of grass. This is my frist time with a camera critter. The subject posed most obligingly. You'll find many shots of camera critters here.

Camera Critters

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October's Excesses

Mitkoo is not making a model of the Himalayas. He has spread out an old cotton saree over stakes to protect young gerbera plants in the flowerbed! The October sun will scorch these plants if they're exposed to it so soon after they've been planted. The cool nights and the morning dew are helping them come along nicely, though!

'There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad, she was horrid.'

The last three lines of this rhyme were often quoted at home when I was a little girl. I always hated them, because they applied to the only little girl in a house full of grown ups and older children: me. And why did it have to be a girl in the poem anyway? I just found that out. The poet Longfellow composed and sang these lines to his baby girl as he held her in his arms!
This poem is what comes to my mind every day in this month of contrasts, October.

The mornings are chilly and clear, and they seem to promise that the cold weather is on its way. By eleven, the sun is scorching down from clear post-monsoon skies, and the heat, glare and humidity are enervating. By four-thirty or so in the evening, it is pleasant and the daylightlight is soothing, almost golden. Within the hour, the sun has already set, and it is pitch dark! 
The early sunset is because of our  eastern location. We're by no means the furthest east in the country, and in those places the sun must set even earlier. Tea gardens in Assam, the first state to the East of us, have worked their way around this problem and they have followed something called 'Garden Time' for years, which is one hour ahead of Indian Standard Time. 

These flowers from our garden are themselves an embodiment of contrasts. This arangement of bamboo orchids and ixoras echoes the colour schemes of the paper flowers my mother would make and string up for her 'Kolu'. See how dark the shadows are in the second picture?

And this lovely flower which we value more for its scent than its appearance is called Coral Jasmine -- 'Pavazha Malli' in Tamil, and 'Sheuli' in Bengali. The two colours do seem to stand for the heat and cold that the flower's blooming season brings!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Himalayan Sky Watch

One of the things that makes the place where we live special is that it is just below the Himalayas. We cant go very far North without climbing them. This picture was taken near a little stream that flows into the Teesta River. It is as if the monsoon doesn't want to leave us - we had a rainy morning and it was a cloudy, breezy afternoon when this picture was taken.

This picture was taken the same afternoon, and it shows the Eastern skies. It is one of my favourite vistas - of the Teesta River as it leaves the mountains and flows into the plains. Below, a close up of the same view.
Please click on each picture for an enlarged view.

Site for the retirement home of our dreams!

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Durga Puja in the Tea Garden - 3

Thakur Moshai conducting Saptami Puja

At this time of year, three forms of the Goddess are worshipped in Bengal, and at three different phases of the moon. Durga Puja is at the time of the growing moon. Ma Durga is both mother and daughter. On the day of the new moon, Mahalaya, she leaves her husband's home for a visit to her parents, with her four children, Ganesha, Kartikeya, Lakshmi and Saraswati. She arrives on Shashti, the sixth day of the moon, and that is the day when her image is installed. Puja is conducted between the sixth and the tenth day of the growing moon.

This month's full moon is called Sharad Purnima. It is the brightest full moon of the year, and the Goddess is worshipped as Lakshmi, the embodiment of fulfilment and prosperity in every sense.

The dark night of the new moon that follows is the night of Kali Puja. The Goddess takes on her most fearful and powerful form as the destroyer.

The Colourful Puja Pandal - with the inevitable tea garden water tanker parked nearby!
Wishing everyone a very Happy Puja!

Get the Puja atmosphere - watch this video, hear the drum beats!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Durga Puja in the Tea Garden - 2

Puja Arrives - Shortly after the images were installed on Shashti evening,5 October 2008, Moraghat Tea Estate

Legend connects Durga Puja to Dusshera, when Rama killed Ravana. It is said that before leaving for Lanka to fight Ravana, Rama felt he needed the blessings of the Goddess, who is the embodiment of Shakti, the powerful female principle. He performed Durga Puja.

It was,the legend goes, the first time that Durga Puja was performed in the 'sharad' or autumn season, and ever since that time, Durga Puja has become a 'sharad utsav' - an autumn festival. Another little story is connected to the puja performed by Rama. One hundred and eight lotuses are needed for Durga Puja. Rama searched high and low and got the lotuses with some difficulty. The Goddess decided to test his faith. When he counted the flowers, it always appeared that he was one short. Rama took out his bow and arrow and prepared to shoot out one of his eyes to make up the number. The Goddess relented, and accepting that his faith was true, she appeared before him and blessed him.

The 'Dhak' Player Wecomes the Goddess
Ma Durga arrives on different forms of transport every year.This year, we are told, she arrives on an elephant - an auspicious omen, but departs in a palanquin, which symbolises conflict and unrest everywhere. That's nothing new in these troubled times.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Durga Puja in the Tea Garden - 1

Durga Puja at Moraghat Tea Estate, 2007

Pomelo at the breakfast table is a sure sign that Puja is here! It's the size of a smallish football, and has a sweet-sour-mildly bitter taste. This fruit is one of the many offerings that is made at Durga Puja, and it is among the food items that are given out as prasad after being consecrated. In all these years, the pomelo tree in the compound has followed the Indian calendar accurately - if Puja is late, the fruits ripen late, and if it is early, then the fruits are ready early as well! This year's Puja starts on Sunday, 5 October.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Light Moment

Searchlight : After the Rain

On some evenings there are moments which are sheer drama : fleeting and spectacular, they leave you with a sense of having been a part of some celestial phenomenon. It is a matter of timing; you have to be on the spot, and it has to be one of those 'happening' days.

Soul Searching

The second picture is about evenings when nothing happens. Nothing, that is, other than the daily marvel of day turing into night. The silence lingers as the world slows down, and the pensive soul can gather its thoughts and feel the presence of another, deeper, silence within. These are moments in time and yet out of time, for time itself seems to stand still, and the moment can last forever in a memory.

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