Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sweet Thoughts

Boy Wonder
This little roadside stall was positioned outside the Raash Mela in Cooch Behar. The boy must have been adding a special finishing touch to the sweets!

'Sweety' is the name of the sweet shop in Falakata where we saw these irresistible little gems. It is a well known haunt for sweet-crazy folks. The shop does great Channa Bhatura on Sunday mornings, too. We asked these two gentlemen who run the place what the sweet is called. It doesn't have any name, apparently. It is a sort of cham-cham, that's very spongy and sugary. And it tastes every bit as good as it looks.

See many Worlds here!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In the Nursery

Buying flower and vegetable seeds and seedlings for the cold weather necessitates a long road trip to Siliguri or to Mal Bazaar. It’s a bit like an annual pilgrimage. We (women) obsess and worry about whether we'll be too late in the year to plant, whether we'll get seeds, whether the seeds we do get will germinate, and what the weather will be like. A friend's husband asked us why we did it at all if it was so painful. Men never understand that we love to complain to them about the things that we really like doing. We enjoy the whining as much as we do the planning, purchasing, and the planting itself.

I like visiting the Paul Nursery in Mal Bazaar to pick up seedlings and seeds. It’s a favourite haunt with most tea garden people. I first visited the nursery in 1988, and have been a regular there ever since.

Paul Nursery was established in 1957 by Mr. Jyotirmoy Paul. He is in his late seventies now, but is actively involved in the daily business of running the nursery.
He remembers every one of his regular customers. It is obvious that his family reveres him. They all pitch in and work there, collecting and packing seedlings for customers, watering and tending the plants, writing out bills and so on. No one ever rushes around in a hurry or talks loudly. They answer all the customers’ questions about plant care patiently. Mr. Paul has given me some great tips over the years. This time I met his young grandson (in the picture, with his parents and grandfather), who was home on leave from his army posting, and helping the old folks out. The nursery’s a good place to spend some time in, just walking about and looking around. It isn’t a ‘garden’ but it fits my idea of what a garden should be like – it soothes and relaxes the spirit. There’s a sense of order and of peace. The courteous welcome, the presence of the family, and the old world atmosphere make each visit a happy experience.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jalpaiguri : Jurassic Park and Lost World

Sitting on a Park Bench


This Was : The Jalpaiguri Club

Sunset over the Teesta River

Three Friends

These are pictures I took on a visit to Jalpaiguri town. This town came up when tea was planted in the region in the nineteenth century. It was almost destroyed when the Teesta River flooded it in 1968. Businesses moved out and relocated to Siliguri. Jalpaiguri is still the headquarters of the district administration, and the 'official' quarter of the town is full of colonial buildings. The Teesta flows to its south now, behind an embankment.

This is my SkyWatch Friday entry this week.
See other people's skies from all over the world!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sick of Life? Try Well of Death!

The 'Well of Death', when I saw it in my childhood, was a part of the circus. It was a huge hollow globe made of stout iron wire mesh. A man would drive a motorcyle all around it, speeding up in no time to a dizzying momentum. He'd ride circles in all directions while the motocycle roared like an angry lion, and everything around it shook and rattled terrifyingly.

A favourite story in our family is about our mother's youngest brother disappearing from home one evening when he was a college student. He went along to the circus and rode the motorbike around the Well of Death, and then came back casually as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened! He must have had a deep understanding of the physics of it all, and such guts too!

These four handsome young men are daredevils if I ever saw any. Between them they rode two Maruti cars and two motorcycles in this Well of Death (picture below), which was the biggest draw at the Mela that was here recently.

This structure is made up of boards, which in turn are made of wooden planks nailed together. It didnt look too solid to me. See the gaps between the planks, and lights shining through from little holes here and there? The structure, which includes staircases, and a gallery with a railing around the top, is assembled at every location that the travelling fair visits. It takes four to five days to set it all up at each venue, said the organiser of the show.

Here's what it looked like from outside.

Took some courage even to climb this staircase of angle iron - but I didn't let on!
They must be doing a thorough job of setting it up; the boys drove without a fear. Two of them, I was told, were the sons of the owner of the show. Well that was an act of good faith! But I didn't care what my husband said about it being a simple matter of centripetal and centrifugal forces, and of the chances of an accident being close to nil. I was terrified throughout. The boys started up their cars and bikes, and climbed easily on to the wooden surface, which was almost perpendicular to the ground. They then raced madly around in circles, climbing higher and higher, until everything was shaking and rattling deafeningly like a high intensity earthquake. They were so close you could have reached out and touched them from the viewers' gallery right on top. That was about forty feet from the ground up.

As if all that weren't enough, one of the bike riders casually let go of the handlebars, and moved his frame so that he was sitting side saddle. He crossed his legs and studied his nails in a great show of nonchalance. The crowd loved it. Then the boys driving the cars opened their doors, drove side by side, and held hands. The next act - of unnecessary cheek - was the car drivers standing up, with only their feet inside the car. They rested their heads on their arms on the tops of the cars, feigning bored sleep!! I found myself wondering what could ever give them a high after this experience.

Not for the faint hearted! But no wonder the show was such a draw - see how eagerly these young girls climbed up to the gallery!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fair and Lovely : The Mela

The Mela arrives in Banarhat town every October, in time for Durga Puja. This travelling fair has around four hundred and fifty people moving with it. Before Diwali, the Mela moves east to the town of Hamiltonganj. Its next stop is the Raas Mela in Cooch Behar. In Banarhat, the Mela is located in the extensive grounds of the Bengali High School. The area is roughly the size of two football fields!

The Mela includes a Meena Bazaar, which features stalls selling pickles and preserves, bangles and trinkets, toys, ceramics and household stuff like plastic containers, cast-iron garden and kitchen tools, handbags and carrybags. There were more than a hundred and fifty stalls there this year. It is the biggest attraction in the region for tea garden workers and their families, and for the people who live in small towns nearby.

This youngster barely noticed that I was taking his picture - he was lost in his own world. All these pictures were taken with my husband's Sony Ericsson phone. In all the excitement of going to the Mela, I forgot to pick up my camera. No regrets, though. The phone camera doesn't have a flash, and so all the pictures are lit with whatever light there was - sometimes bright and white, sometimes yellow.

This young man above insisted on seeing his picture, and said he liked it!

What an array of munchies. They were absolutely delicious.

I loved the long-handled spoon which this man used to make his 'special mixture'.

The umbrella repair man is hard at work! These little figurines are made of clay. They are so realistic and so colourful. I noticed my face in the picture, later - reflected in a mirror while I was clicking!

Mouthwatering. Bamboo shoots, limes, mangoes, berries like 'ber' and 'karaunda', chillies, garlic and ginger - hot pickles, sweet pickles and tangy chutneys - these boys had everything in their stall. All these pickles, I was told, are made in village homes. The buyers include customers like us who buy small quantities, as well as firms who buy in bulk, then bottle and market them.

The little boy was so happy he was being photographed. On my second visit, he greeted me with a delighted, 'Oye!'

The gentleman above is a Lifestyle Guru of sorts. A real fairground character, he seemed to exercise some power over us all - his patter had us standing at his stall for so long. He had crystals, magnets, feng shui charms, and gizmos to massage aching limbs.

A stall that actually admits to imitation!

The Mela had several food stalls, a number of rides and games, and a dance show by performers dancing to Bollywood music, which I heard was a huge hit!

This Magic Show tent is a regular feature. It used to be a great favourite when the girls were little. The magician not only sells you tricks, he takes you into a little partitioned section of his tent, and teaches you how they're done!

Chief organiser Barun Babu - ever smiling!

My WorldTuesday showcases many worlds. See them here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Free Some Day

Burning eyes and the excitement of catching the American election news on CNN early this morning brought back memories of another election, one which took place more than twenty-one years ago.

New Delhi, March 20th, 1977, early morning:
My Dad sitting with his ear close to the old Pye Radio, on which the BBC newsreader's crackling shortwave voice announced the unbelievable, all the way from London. The Emergency was over. Indira Gandhi had lost the election and resigned.
My brother, telling us he'd gone to the University everyday during the Emergency singing, 'Free some day, yeah, free some day, yeah, we'll all be free some day.'
Now we were. Never mind that All India Radio did not make any announcements until much later in the day.
No election has roused as much enthusiasm and spirit in me as that one did. My father was wise enough to realise that the revocation of the Emergency in the last minutes of her rule had been Indira Gandhi's cleverest move. He still looked thoughtful while we rejoiced.

Watching Americans weeping with joy after the election results were announced, my elder daughter asked, 'Why cant we feel so much patriotism?’ to which her Dad replied, 'It takes a war or a cricket match to make us feel patriotic.' I like to think that a day will come when a young person will lead our country, too. That day, I am sure our politicians will not be dressed in sleepwear, as they are today.