Helping Heritage with INTACH

Did you know that beneath that luminous marble, is a core of bricks?

Seriously? The Taj Mahal? This fact about the most familiar monument to Indians, and many more such nuggets about our heritage took me by surprise. But then, I should have expected as much since I was at a workshop by INTACH or the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage of the Nilgiris Chapter. The location – the YWCA building opposite the Race Course in Ooty – was itself imbued with historical and architectural significance as Dr. Suresh, convenor of Tamil Nadu INTACH, explained in the end.

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The newly restored Reference Section of the Nilgiri Library

Conducted over two days, 13th and 14 July,  the workshop sought to acquaint school teachers with the need of and skills for starting heritage clubs in their institutions with the ultimate goal of protecting national heritage.On the first day Ms. Purnima Dutt, the resource person conducting the workshop, used an interesting mix of talk, audio-visual media and games to give an overview on the goals, aspects and methodology of running a heritage club while the second day passed in a whirl of activities including a much-anticipated visit to Ooty’s heritage buildings like St Stephens Church, the Nilgiri Library and the Stone House built by John Sullivan, the first Englishman to arrive in Ooty and hence the founder of modern history of the famous hill station. The warmth and bonhomie evoked at the workshop venue served a cheerful counterpoint to the chilly breeze and slate grey Nilgiri sky outside.

 

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Exquisite Stained Glass Paintings at the St. Stephens Church, Ooty

 

Satiated by a hearty lunch, as we began walking out of the dining room, hitherto unnoticed details like a jade green gravy boat on the  sideboard and a piano with candle-holders on decorative hinges caught our attention, taking us back to dining and partying ways of decades ago. This new heightened awareness of heritage took a while to sink in and as we left on our own ways, I am certain many of us were already thinking of how best to pass it on to the younger generation.

 

 

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Lessons In Letting Go

Can it happen already?

I remember the first post written after I settled down in my cosy nook here, in the Nilgiris. There I had reflected on difficulty of uprooting oneself and changing homes ever so often.

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And almost exactly a year later, I am back facing the same questions. Freshly moved to another house though still in these sylvan surroundings, here I go planning wall decor even as my half-awake mind seeks the familiar door handle at 3 in the morning when I have to let out my dog.

But most of all, my heart searches for the colours and blooms of the garden I have left behind. The burst of colours on the flower-beds, grass so green it would hurt the eyes and the perpetual humming of bees as they hovered over the hedges.

And yet I find myself embracing my new surroundings with some equanimity now. I roam its expansive grounds, feel the silken warmth of gladioli petals that bloom here in abundance and admire the gorgeous bougainvillea that embraces the porch.

But curiously I feel no desire to do more. No compulsion to impose my ideas of Beauty on these grounds, no need to recreate what I have left behind. I sit in the filigreed shade of the pine trees and watch my dog chase squirrels and rats. I know the boundary is secure but thankfully I have no more exotic flowerbeds to obsess over.

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Am I moving towards the Nirvanic ideal of detachment? I’d like to think so…and turn towards an ancient Australian Aboriginal proverb for understanding,

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. We are here to observe, to learn, to grow, to love, and then we return home.”

Awash in Purple

It is that time of the year when the verdant horizon glows with splashes of purple!

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That’s right – Jacaranda trees are aflame now in the Nilgiris, painting the landscape a deep mauve in places. The Wikipedia informs that Jacaranda is technically a genus of flowering tree that includes as many as 49 species of plants, bearing the signature bluish-purple blossoms. The variety most common in Asia and the one most blooming all around is the Jacaranda mimosifolia.

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After a gusty night, the paths appear to be covered in a rich violet carpet. Indeed if you happen to walk through an avenue of jacaranda trees on a breezy day, you are likely to be greeted by a shower of delicate lilac-coloured petals – enough to make you feel as though receiving the most vivacious coloured benedictions from the heavens.

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Jacaranda has lent its name to many a bungalow, lifestyle outlet and road in these parts. The visual extravagance of its blossoming draws tourists from the plains and in fact places like Grafton and Brisbane in Australia have their own Jacaranda festivals.

A good idea for the Nilgiris, really – and yet another opportunity to ruminate at length how these Blue Hills got their name…

The Mystery of the Missing Flower

I am not a little proud of my garden.

This little patch of paradise in the Nilgiris shines with so many jewel colours on a sunny morning – beds of impatience unfurl their many shades of reds and pinks while nasturtiums climb in vibrant shots of yellow and orange. White and cream geraniums raise their bunched heads and crimson salvia looks confidently around. Fragile angel wings glow in pale ivories and peaches, glossy begonias beam even as the stalks of lily wait to burst into hundred small starry petals.

Then there are my potted plants – graceful ferns, elegant palms, proud ficus, slender bamboo and a luxurious Christmas fir all blink awake to the morning sun. Not before long, these lose my attention to ruby azaleas and gorgeous fuchias which hang like so many jewelled ‘jhumkas’ or drop earrings.

But what is this?

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Where is yesterday’s double-flowering fuchsia that had bloomed in twin layers – a pearly core surrounded by overlapping magenta petals! I look around the base of the pot to see if dropped in last night’s gusty rains? And then half-suspiciously at Ginger to see if she has been bounding across the garden causing the flower to fall from the delicate stalk? Even if that happened, it should have fallen somewhere around!

Unwillingly I make way for a less-than-pleasant alternative – could someone have stolen into my garden at the crack of dawn to pluck this solitary flower? Unlikely, considering that the rose shrub is still showing off its blooms and rows of succulents sit primly in all their miniature glory.

As my family wakes up and one by one, they stream into the lawn still glistening with diamond dew drops; I ask them about the missing flower – they evoke polite interest before transferring their attention variously to the newspaper, phone, dog or coffee.

I am left wondering at this curious incident…my eyelids droop lulled by the humming of bees on the honeysuckle hedge and the streaming warmth of golden sun…at the very edge of my hazy vision, a graceful figure wearing a flowered wreath wafts past fragrantly just as my daughter’s voice jolts me back to wakefulness, “Did you know Mum, according to this blog, Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and gardens is said to have helped herself to whatever blossom caught her fancy from a garden – isn’t that sneaky…?”

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Now, I know…!

Cry for Nature

It had been quite some time since I had read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. So when I came across another title by the Lebanese poet, at a friend’s place, I asked if I could borrow it. The Storm turned out to be a modern translation of Gibran’s prose poems as well as a couple of short stories. Narrated in his distinct style – soaked in mysticism and lyricism – so many of his central themes reached out to me : like the essential isolation of the human condition, the shackles of organized religion, the hollow materialism of the world and so on. The one theme however that spoke to me with the greatest urgency was the beauty of Nature and its inevitable degradation by humans.

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Aurore, ‘The Dawn’ by Kahlil Gibran

‘ ” Sweet Brook,” I asked, “why do you mourn?”

“Because I go unwillingly toward the City”, it answered, “where Man will spurn me. Instead of me, he will drink the juice of the grape and use me to carry away his filth. How shall I not weep when soon my purity become foul?” ‘

– From ‘A Lamentation in the Field’

Recently back from a trek through the Niligiris, I could not but help obsessing over the muck and mess human habitation spawns all around it. Towns looking like an ugly heap of tin roofs, sewage drains spilling on roads, traffic forced to a stand-still by reckless parking, vehicles belching out black fumes despite ban on unclean fuel – I could go on…

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concrete jungles

As we climbed higher into the hills, the air became purer and the surroundings cleaner. But then, we hardly saw any people around – slopes of tea plantations eventually gave way to forests and then to steep slippery narrow paths to the summit, known here as the Bakasura-malai. Why should one have to compromise on human company if one wishes to live amidst beautiful natural surroundings? How do other countries, societies manage to retain picture-postcard appearances despite having thriving communities?

I am aware these questions lead me deeper into issues of population, poverty, exploitation, corruption and many deeply inextricable civic matters. At this moment, however, I rue my limited time in this corner of paradise here and dread going back down to the madding crowds!

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Bakasura-malai peak

An Uninvited guest

Apparently my dog and I are not the only ones that like basking in the Nilgiris afternoon sun that streams into our front garden. As I headed out today for my usual post-lunch newspaper perusal I was arrested in my tracks by the sight of an uninvited guest. Though I have known them to reside in the neighbourhood and even spotted by the odd passer-by, this was the first time one had dropped in to share my patch of green and the sun.

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Painting by Otto Marseus van Schriek

 

My afternoon siesta had gone for a six and the whole time – with my dog securely under my blanket now – I kept wondering how D H Lawrence divined their beauty and mystique as evident in the famous poem, Snake…how it

“…looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face…”

Lawrence was known for his intuitive understanding of the primal beauty of the creatures of Nature. This poem in particular reveals how men goaded by the voices of their “accursed human education” have not only failed to recognize this beauty but indeed done their very best to stamp it out of the face of the earth.

But tonight when my dog wakes me up to be taken out, will I have the heart to step forth in the dark…knowing that somewhere around, quite near, resides my black, serpentine neighbour?!

Ooty Literary Festival 2017

On a Saturday morning pleasantly refreshed by a light drizzle, I drove down the winding hill roads towards Ooty. My destination was the Nilgiris District Library which over two days was hosting the Ooty Literary Fest. Just in its second year, the Fest had already attracted several famous literary names from various parts of India, especially the southern states.

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As I parked my car in a corner of the ample Library compound, I could not but help but admire the elegant colonial structure before me. Though founded in 1858, the Nilgiri Library moved into its present building in 1869 which continues to impress with its high Gothic arches and stately Victorian architecture. Its striking red and white exterior conceals a warm interior boasting of wooden flooring and several pieces of claw-footed antique, dark teak furniture.

I proceeded towards the central reading room where a panel discussion on “Feminisms of India” was scheduled to begin shortly and found myself a comfortable chair. The hall soon came alive with discussions of various strands of Indian feminism, expressed through stories, mythology and art. Maharashtrian writer Urmila Pawar described how Dalit women suffer double discrimination while Bama recounted how gendered constructs like “mothering” and “maternal” affection actually shackle women to weakness. Samhita Arni on the other hand talked about various lesser-known versions of Ramayana which explored the predicament of characters like ‘Angad’ and ‘Mandodari’ who bear the brunt of the King Rama’s war on Lanka.

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What emerged was the realization how Feminism can be more than a cry for women’s equality – a tool to chisel away at other forms of discrimination like casteism just as it can liberate men from equally oppressive gendered expectations, of “macho-ness” and “masculinity”.

As bell hooks, says

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