Robin & a biscuit 

I remember the first time I laid eyes on a dog. I was in love. Though the thought of having this monster approach me with a mesmerizing gaze in her eyes, did send chills up my spine enough to shudder a bit, I stood still. She towered over me- a Great Dane of course and my frame maxing out at a 1 foot nothing (all of 3 years I was told) was enough to look right into the drool that was about to accumulate high above. Much like a American Bomber about to deploy a weapon of mass destruction.  

But what did eventually follow after what seemed like forever, was a sniff and a nudge which sent me plonking to the ground accompanied by a light whimper and a tear rolling down the corner of my eye. What followed was magic. A reassurance of a slobber laid kiss, (the way one would lick a postage stamp)to say ‘I’m sorry, little one’.  

From then on, began my love affair with dogs and carries on till date. I have a loveable, oaf of a mutt- Mojo, who I dote over with,unabashed, unconditional love and every now and then I’m the Pied piper about town with numerous strays being befriended along the way. I find myself in the land of royalty- Jaipur, for a quick meeting and chance upon an old post office. I decide to write a hand written letter to a special someone. The art of being a purist. I’m old school that way. 

Outside this old torn down post office, I hear a few whimpers under a broke down scooter, only to see a litter of mutts cowered together away from the heat. It is hot here. Scorching to put it lightly. So what needs to be done? Water to rescue, which was welcomed by these pups. And this one inquisitive fellow I christened -Robin (for the mask like Batmans sidekick) followed me around and waited with me while I stood in line without a care in the world. He kept staring up at me the exact same way I did all those years to Laika, the Great Dane and I felt that instant connection of life having come around a full circle. We played a bit, devoured a packet of glucose biscuits (mashed in water) while I sipped on my cuppa. The solace and gratefulness of having this creature next to me was an unparalleled experience. No spas, no reviews, no restaurants, no fancy hotel rooms- just me and Robin exchanging thoughts through the desert sun. I was tempted to take him back with me and inquired about their well being. The guard happened to mention the mother was nearby and right before I departed made her way to her litter. The joy and happiness seen in their faces when they saw mommy dearest approach. The simple things in life. 

And right then before I left, Robin arrested my senses and gave me a look. The look of a thousand words that conveyed one simple message, ‘We are your best friend’. 

A packet of biscuits and a pup- was exactly what the doctor ordered to realign me with purpose. Thank you Jaipur and much love Robin. Till we cross each other’s paths again someday. 

 Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

The Maharaja & the Camel 

This is a tale of a time, long ago when I went dune bashing on a bully camel that help aid the digestion of one delicious dish. That would be my explanation of my trip to Rajasthan- the land of Maharajas.

A place filled with rich culture around every turn – Rajasthani’s are known for their love of food and it’s quite evident in their preparations. I have a bucket list – one was to ride a camel in the desert which i wanted to complete before my back gave way later on in life ( I’ve been told it was bumpy and by George were they right!!!)

Being the history buff I am I love everything antique and troll for stories on culture. My day started like every normal day. I woke up early (in this case to stand in line at the house I was residing in to ensure i got a bucket of hot water- the temperature was averaging between 7 to 11 degrees, something which my Mediterranean hot blooded body is not equipped to handle)

After a heavy breakfast I head out by bike with guide in tow to witness Bada Bagh- whose literal translation means Big Garden. It’s a garden complex ( not much of a garden now due to poor maintenance) 6kms north of Jaisalmer that contains a set of royal cenotaphs (a word derived from the Greek language kenos- empty / taphos-tomb these are empty tombs erected in honor of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere) of Maharajas of the state of Jaisalmer way back from 1743.

Bada Bagh (Big Garden)    With the morning well spent in these peaceful dusty tombs with a sense of the souls chanting from ages past it was time for lunch. I read up on dishes to savour and asked for the Dal Baati Churma as I was warned never to leave the state without trying it. The Baati (Rajasthani name given) is a hard unleavened bread with high nutritional content prepared in dry areas where water is scarce. It is traditionally prepared by coarsely mashing Baati and pouring ghee on top of it. It is served with dal (lentils) and a spicy garlic chutney or with besan (gram flour). Churma is a sweet side dish that accompanies the Dal Baati and has various ingredients ranging from dry fruits like Cashew almonds or raisins. This depends on the social status of the family at host.

Now while I’m sure your salivating at the description no one bothered to mention the minuscule fact that it takes a while for this to digest given how heavy the ingredients are.

Unassuming me gorged as if this was my last supper. After all it was an experience to savor. Right about the time when I was gearing up for my siesta my bubbly guide alerted me that my camel ride was due shortly.

My ride post the churma. 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

Camels. Have I mentioned before -I love camels and horses. However I’m petrified of them.Mind you they are NOT comfortable. Much like a lumpy saggy undulated mattress. Quite the pain in the a*^*, literally!!

And here’s the kicker. My churma was churning. And not in a good way. Speeding across atop a camel across the dunes on an undigested stomach is definitely a bad idea. Not advisable. Luckily for both our sakes I managed to retain my inners – I’m sure the camel was grateful.  The plains of the dessert are beautiful and hollow. So much tranquility in such a harsh space. Beauty at play indeed.

All said and done it was a wonderful trip. Definitely if you long to live amongst the halls of royalty in an era past.

Time for that digestive. Over and out.

The heav’y’enly -Dal Bati Churma   Pic courtesy: Anchal Kandpal 

The Porter of Palanpur 

It’s 7:45a.m. The slow churning wheels come to a halt at the platform with a hiss of fatigue in the air. There’s a window of opportunity for one to ply their trade. From coffee vendors to hawkers selling wares to sleepy passengers aboard. 

It’s quite the wake up alarm indeed. The hustle bustle of the famously dubbed ‘breakfast stop’. In the distance I glance at this figure in all his stature. Calm and composed with a dead pan chiseled look on his face which would give Michaelangelos creations a re-look see back home in the Vatican.  Each line and crevice on his drawn face with a story to tell. His hands firm as steel. He is Bahadur (in Hindi means ‘brave’). And with his ‘pagdi’ is a feature of regal elegance. (For those who wonder what a ‘pagdi’ is -a term for a turban in the Indian subcontinent- a headdress that is worn by men which has to be manually tied. It  signifies a symbol of honour and respect in all the regions where it is a practice to wear one.)

Business was slow. So I wander across with a conversation in mind. He is obliging to the extent of not being rude and brash. It’s obvious he’s not a talker but I prod at my own risk. I return back with a plate of pakoras and two cups of tea (chai).The flood gates opened with a pleasing smile on his face. Eureka!!

Bahadur and his family natives from Rajasthan had so far worked five jobs from being a retired army personnel to a sweeper on the streets. At the golden age of 75 he probably could bench press my body weight at ease (No your not going to get that information that easy, let’s just say I have heavy bones and leave it at that). A proud man at that with a family of 6 to support which included a wife 2 daughters and a couple of grand children to support working minimum daily wage being $10 on a good day of porting luggage across his shoulders was indeed heart warming and awe inspiring to say the least. And this man with stories to tell of the long lineage of fighters pre India’s independence et all. 

The one thing I wished was for time to pause just to grasp tales as much as I could ,but this 10 minute pit stop imprinted a deep sense of pride of work irrespective of blue or white collar jobs we covet. It does put things into retrospect. As they say a Man’s gotta do what a man’s got to do. 

We at best scratch the tip of the iceberg in the life of others to unearth a majority of what lies beneath which is never told. People tend to put on facades as we move on so rapidly in life. However sleepy towns have a different story to tell. No one said it better than the bard himself- “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits…..” 

Thank you for the memories over a 10 min cuppa. 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography