Friday, December 28, 2012

Part 2 - The Street Food of Jammu - Gastronomical Gallis

The day of resurrection arrived. I had never planned for the feast I was about to experience that day but as the famous Grand Master Oogway from Kung FU Panda quotes, “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it” Mine was not an exact situation but I felt like quoting that line here. J We had shifted our base temporarily to Amphalla for the wedding. Hence, I got ample time to explore the nearby area on my own and once again, I was sifting through the crowd and the busy streets of Parade and Kachhi Chavani. However, I seriously had no intentions to try the street food.
On the way, I met my better half and my sis-in-law who were there to get the henna designs on their hand. (Remember the ladies market). We decided to take a casual walk towards Pucca Danga. I don’t know if it was my destiny that we stumbled upon this guy called Suresh (or Prakash..normally the guys with these two names can cook very good food!) who was dishing out the ‘kulchas’ swiftly, bang opposite to ‘Taj Boutique’ in the ladies market.
My first encounter with Kulchas as I mentioned in the first part was not so good. There was a difference The guy I met earlier was a ‘Kulcha Seller’ and this guy looked like a ‘Kulcha Artist’. So I didn’t waste time and ordered a chole kulcha there. The same old combination – a warmed circular bread split open (kulcha), chopped onion, chopped tomato, the delicious green chutney of mint and coriander and lovely tasty stuffing of chickpeas. My first bite….mmmmmm….this is how kulcha should be made. The first flavor explosion I experienced in Jammu. With my next bite, I had already ordered another chole kulcha. Things start to flow and look amazingly seamless when you are ready to go.
After finishing off four chole kulchas, I spotted an interesting thing on the artist’s pan. A luscious, white stuff but still interestingly elastic. Those three discs getting heat treatment on the sides so that they can become deliciously brown. I wondered what it was and curiously asked. The answer was, “Kaladi” Eureka…..Ohhoy…Yay…I was face to face with the king of street foods of Jammu. I had seen the NDTV Good Times Show, Chakh Le India where the host Aditya Bal while wandering at Patnitop near Jammu caught hold of this amazing cheese.
Kalari is a traditional ripened cheese also known as Maish Krej in Kashmir and prepared from cow’s or goat’s milk. This is an exclusive cheese available in the hilly areas of JK and nowhere else. Extremely soft and yet dense and spellbindingly tasty! I have been mentioning it a lot on almost all my social media platforms that it beats the mozzarella cheese by miles. I really wish that Will Studd (the cheese expert and host of TLC Program ‘Cheese Slices’) must come here and talk about it. I never thought India could provide a contender in the elaborate list of variety of cheeses across the globe.
So, it was a no brainer that I asked for one ‘kalari kulcha’. Rest of the things remaining same, the stuffing is replaced by this lovely block of kalari cheese. And I can’t write about my experience. Don’t have words! I can swear by the kalari kulcha and can fight with anybody for its superiority over other street foods anywhere else in India. J
So actually, even after gorging 4 chole kulchas, the lovely smell and magical taste of kalari prompted me to finish off another kalari kulcha. All I wanted was to keep on eating them but I had a dinner to attend that evening. I promised Suresh that I would be there tomorrow to eat more kalari kulchas. With a beaming smile and a satisfied belly, I proceeded. The kalari kulchas had restored my confidence in the Jammu street food and I saw positively everywhere.
The next stop was a Gol Gappa vendor few meters away from the Kalari Kulcha vendor. The Pani Puris which are known as Gol Gappas in North India are slightly different in taste and I believe shape also. The Gol Gappas are more rotund capable of bearing more amount of the spiced concoction hence being more flavourful than its rest of India counterpart. No wonder I finished 20 Gol Gappas in one go (after eating 4 chole kulchas and 2 kalari kulchas). I was on rampage in the ladies market of Jammu. J
Momos on a cold evening are nothing less than bliss. A cousin of the Chinese dumplings, loved in Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and the Hilly States of India. Made of fine flour with finely chopped veggies like cabbage, potato and for non-veggies, meat of course! I have always wondered it’s similarity to modaks in Maharashtra which are made in a similar way but with rice flour and sweet stuffing of coconut, jaggery  and other ingredients like poppy seeds. Interestingly, both the names also start with ‘Mo’. This I must say a healthier option since it is steamed and not fried and has no excessive usage of butter or cheese. Generally, it is served with hot soup to start with. We had the luxury of enjoying them on a cold evening of December when the temperature had dropped to 8 degree Celsius. I remember three of us finishing 120 momos on that evening. J
Since I have mentioned about healthier option, the discussion cannot be finished without the mention of ‘Kachalu’ and ‘Masala Mooli’. So kachalu are colocasia corms (and has got nothing to do with potato J) which are sliced and diced and marinated in spices. Colocasia in local dialect is also known as arbi, arvi, alu. Gujaratis can relate their ‘patra’ where the leaf is used to prepare the savoury dish and Maharashtrians also prepare ‘Alu Wadi’ in a slightly similar fashion. The garadu (yam chunks) available in Indore during the winter look similar to Jammu’s kachalu preparation but I am yet to taste garadu. So no comments!
Masala mooli (spiced radishes) is a simpler and yet a tasty and healthy option. A baby white radish is simply split open and doused with spices but to an optimal level so we don’t lose the actual spiciness of fresh radish.
I have concluded that Jammu’s food is all about the ethnic food. The swanky restaurants are no match for the street food. I had been to Falak, the revolving restaurant set atop the KC Residency in the Raghunath Bazaar. All I can say is the experience was terribly disappointing. Jaw dropping low service standards and zero value for money, I would advise people to stick to kachhi chavani and make most of it. J   Few other tips are – Lassi at Pehalwan di Hatti in Gandhi Nagar and freshly baked breads at any Kashmiri Bakery!
Surely, I had started my Jammu food exploration on a wrong note but what matters is the end. It was fabulous. I am slightly surprised that Kalari hasn’t got its fair share of popularity. Or may be things are expected to remain as they are and taste great! J I don’t know. But I know for sure that at least I have found multiple reasons to come back to Jammu. The street food is just awesome!  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Part 1 - The Street Food of Jammu - Gatronomical Gallis

Jammu enjoys a fair distinctness from the rest of the states as well as its beautiful cousin, Kashmir, in almost all aspects. Essentially a Dogra stronghold, the street food here in Jammu epitomizes it. It seems inspired by the perennial (and delectable) north Indian street food you generally start finding in Delhi and north of it. However, the beauty lies in the originality. And I’ve explored this when I was in Jammu.
Being a foodie at heart (and a traveler too), I generally tend to explore the food in a particular region wherever I go. So a trip to Himachal meant that I would have prying eyes for babru, shidu or chana madra. Going to Rajasthan lead to me devouring pyaaz kachoris, mirchi vada, mawa kachoris, makhaniya lassis. I am all set for my trip again to Rajasthan along with exploring part of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. All I am looking for is Garadu and Jalebi in MP and the awesome kutchi stuff in Bhuj. Guys, please start sending your inputs and girls, you also!
Ideally, being in Jammu during winters automatically opens various options for the street food and the best thing about it is, the weather, which is so conducive that whatever you eat, you are bound to digest it. In my view, the foodie’s den in Jammu is Kachchi Chavani area along with the Parade and Pucca Danga. There are many institutions in other areas but ideally a street food is served best in the busy bazaars where you almost keep on bumping into people.
Exactly two days after I reached Jammu this time (27th November 2012 to be precise), I got an opportunity to visit Kachchi Chavani in Central Jammu under the guise of shopping. Yep, the responsibilities were divided. My wife did the shopping and I did all the eating. J. The first restaurant we entered looked like a swanky street food joint glamorously named as ‘Casino’, bang opposite to the Hanuman Temple. Of course, you are taking all the risk of paying and losing it all if you are disappointed with the taste of food. Something similar happened to me.

We entered with great expectations but somehow we had a very limited choice of aloo tikkis, chole bhature and the ubiquitous chowmein (or Chinese noodles for not so North Indian people). We were hungry so we actually went easy over aloo tikkis (potato patties marinated with spices and deeply fried). It appeared tempting with chole (white chickpea) gravy, curd and red onion but was terribly bland for my palette. Street food should actually bring an explosion of flavours in your oral cavity.  This never happened. It was like a star batsman getting out on a first ball of the innings which was a fulltoss. Even the chole bhature at Casino couldn’t save the day. Again a similar chole gravy, onion and a pale pickle. Was not happy paying the bill.

The extra bit of oil in the bhaturas (a deep fried Indian bread made of fine flour) made me conscious and I decided to walk while doing the shopping for wedding of my brother-in-law. My heart was also heavy. I had been waiting for this opportunity to devour street food of Jammu for months and such a disappointment! Anita, my better half, was also feeling bad for me.
 And…lo and behold…suddenly we spotted the ‘Kulchawala’ (A ‘Kulcha’ vendor, kulcha is a typical bread baked in an oven). Jammu is famous for it’s kulchas. So when I say Kulchas, it actually points towards the stuffing the kulcha has. So it can have a potato stuffing (Aloo Kulcha), chickpea stuffing (Chole Kulcha), soya chunk stuffing (Nutri Kulcha), paneer kulcha (cottage cheese stuffing) and K…. ahh…wait, good things never come easy! I’ll divulge the details exclusively in the next part of this exquisite and king of street food in Jammu.
Spotting kulchawala was a big relief. We thought we would grab a bite and ordered two chole kulchas. Preparation looked good. The kulcha was stuffed with white chickpeas, finely chopped onions and tomatoes, green chutney made up of mint leaves (pudina) and coariander leaves (dhaniya). The guy handed it over to me and déjà vu.. I was in a similar situation at the swanky Italian/Mexican Restaurant called Quattro in Mumbai, struggling with the huge stuffing in the tacos. The stuffing was oozing out of the kulcha. I took a bite. It was better than the Casino’s spread but again was not upto the expectations. Now, I started to feel uncomfortable. It was 2 o’clock but still the weather was cooler. This is one of the things I love about Jammu. What a fabulous weather (exclusively for winters J)!
We had almost reached in the last phase of our shopping and the possibility of tasting the ‘flavour explosion’ was getting dim. We walked towards the direction of ladies market. Ahh..what a place! So many pretty girls and women beaming with smile as they are there to purchase their favourite stuff. Okay..lets get back to the main subject. J  So exactly at the entry of the Fathu Chugan/Laxmi Bazaar, there was a newly opened snack baar and what it serving was only one item on its elaborate menu…The Lachcha Kulfi. (For the uninitiated, Kulfi is the cousin of ice-cream from the Indian subcontinent)

I had earlier heard about the lachcha paratha and even heard somebody talking about lachchedar biryani but never thought of hearing about lachcha kulfis. We have had enough of the tikkis, bhaturas and kulchas… and worse..we didn’t like any of them. Lachcha kulfi was bound to save the grace. And it was fairly good. I was not overjoyed though since the kulfi was not as sweet as it should be and was not flavourful..guess these are the two essential qualities of a kulfi. The noodles dabbled in little amount of rose syrup (or rooh-afza) was a good accompaniment but was still falling short of expectations. I was getting critical about Jammu’s street food…..
And then…. I will divulge the details in the second part which led to finding the gems of Jammu street food and resurrection of my belief in Jammu’s street food. Keep salivating   

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Part 5 - Story of a Kashmiri Wedding - An Affair to Remember

The rain god looked very anxious to attend the wedding. The heavy showers were actually lashing the whole area. Barnai and Patouli are relatively cooler areas due to the Chinab’s water flowing through the canals there. It was the last week of November. These three factors caused severe drop in the temperature and tea scored heavily over cold drinks on that day. J
I along with few other members retired from the scene early and had the comfort of enjoying the hospitality of Meenu’s maternal aunty (Maasi). However, no description of kashmiri wedding is complete without the mention of ‘Posh Puza’. Posh Puza literally means worshipping with flowers. Here the bride and the groom are considered to be Goddess Parvati and God Shiva. This remains probably the most distinct ritual of a kashmiri wedding. A red shawl or cloth covers the silhouette of both groom and bride and the married couples from the bride’s side shower the petals (again of marigold). It generally creates a heap of petals on the heads of the newly married.
I had been through this ritual. Though we got compliments for the heap of petals on our heads, I was about to cry loudly at the end of it. J My back was hurting so much due to an inclined position and eyes were red and puffed due to constant exposure to the holy smoke. But Amit told me that it was fairly comfortable for him.  Good for him.
By the time we got back to the scene, the posh puza was already over. The eyes were heavy for most of the Meenu’s relatives. It was the time for Bidaai or saying farewell to the bride as she is now the part of new home. Yes, everybody knows that the boys is good, her in-laws are nice, the relatives (especially like me…okay…that’s too much of footage…I better 3/4th) are cool but still, it is an expected world of unknown. The girl who has spent so many years suddenly leaves the place, suddenly she belongs to other home. It is indeed tough for the parents especially and the girl too. The emptiness in the house haunts the parents and the exposure to absolute novel stuff dazes the girl. I think it must be made compulsory for the groom also to at least spend a month at his in-laws sans all the luxuries of a ‘damaad’(Gosh..somehow the split of this hindi word throws English words like ‘Damn’ and ‘Mad’) and cook food….. J
Somehow, things were good for Meenu. She never felt alienated in the new set up since we people were not new to her. We had been very good friends. So this was a big comforting factor. So after Bidaai, we drove her to her Maasi’s home for the ritual of ‘firtur’ (I don’t know what is repeating here…can’t connect the dots like ‘firsaal’). Here, the aunt normally doesn’t allow the entry of newly-weds in a funny mood until the groom assures to fulfill her wish. I don’t know when Anita became the ‘aunt’ and was unruly demanding a Merc to Amit. Eww…common Anita…we stay in Mumbai…come off the age…demand Audi or Porsche! (Izzat ka Falooda!)
After entering the home, the newly-wed couple makes way to kitchen and again fed with the same menu. Now you know the names of the food items. Here, the association of ‘dyejhur’ with the ‘aath’ (the golden chains replacing the red threads the bride is wearing in her ears) starts. God, save the girl child! Here, the groom changes his clothes (undeniably suit..yes!) Time to drive to Meenu’s home. We were being eagerly awaited (I mean Meenu and Amit..we were the sidies) It was serious congregation at Meenu’s home. After we settled at our place, it was bit difficult to look up as everybody’s eyes were still on us as I was sitting next to Meenu and Anita sitting next to Amit.
Amit and Meenu had their fair share of food again. Rest of the group was happy with milk enriched with dry fruits. Time to change the clothes for the groom and bride again. Superstars, superstars! So finally, we were all ready along with loads of gifts which includes the tasty roth (a flatbread with poppy seeds and coconut), goes well with milk as well as tea. J A final goodbye and our SUV whizzed towards Amphalla. A traditional welcome at KPS and finally the bride became the Bahu of the Bhats (Bahu-e-Bhat).
A vote of thanks – Generally, an inspiration leads to creativity. The purer the inspiration is, the better the creativity. I have always been enamored by the distinctness of Kashmiri Pandits and no wonder, I am their son-in-law. The people, the food, the clothing, the rituals are different but also similar to rest of India. The watershed development of KPs migrating to Jammu and other parts of India from the valley has also had a deep impact on the lifestyle as well as the rituals. Mine was a creative effort to touch upon these facts on an occasion of a kashmiri wedding by being honest yet tickling your funny bone. This is pure inspiration which leads me to write and nobody pushes me to do it and I don’t get any monetary reward for it. You readers liking it, remains the biggest reward. Still my special thanks to all the members of Bhat and Raina family who undertook this cumbersome and herculean task of a kashmiri wedding and executed it in a very successful way. Thanks! J

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Part 4 - Story of a Kashmiri Wedding – An Affair to Remember

A special mention for Krul and Vyoog before I start describing the wedding day. ‘Krul’ are the paintings done on the walls of the home signifying the start of ‘wanvun’ meaning the celebration period. Last time, in 2009, I had the privilege of painting the krul on the walls of Meenu’s (this is not our Raina girl but the Bhat girl and Anita’s cousine). This time however, we had pitched in a professional painter with whom I had a gala time listening to his love story while he painted the walls. ‘Vyoog’ is the rangoli and generally has a coarse design in Kashmiri weddings. But Anita was determined to make this event special, had bought the stencils in advance and made the most of it.
The Big Day. We got up well before the others as we were expecting since most of them had a late night entertaining session. I also had a responsibility of driving the groom, Amit all the way to Jagati to get ready in the morning and get him back in time in Amphalla. And yes, we did that efficiently. We left at 6.45 am from Amphalla and came back by 8.45 am. Can somebody please give me a pat on my back? But the scene at Amphalla was a pure shocker. Almost 70% of the population was as expected bleary eyed and dazed. And worse than this, nobody was making an attempt to get ready hurriedly and loved chitchatting in their cosy blankets over simmering cups of tea. J
I and Arun (he’s the cousin of Amit and son of Ashok Uncle whose Wagon R I was driving in Jammu), somehow fled the spot undertaking an important responsibility of decorating the SUV in which the groom would arrive at bride’s place and would drive her back to his place. As per the suggestion of our driver, we preferred to go to Gandhi Nagar which is one of the up market areas of Jammu. We reached at a decent floral shop which is popular for decorating vehicles for special events.
In the meanwhile, the groom was getting ready in KPS , Amphalla. Of the whole attire a KP (I have been using this abbreviation for Kashmiri Pandits and not for Kevin Pietersen, my intelligent readers must have understood this) groom wears is not the suit, the shirt, the tie or the trouser but the ‘Dastaar’. Dastaar is a special headgear worn by the groom on his wedding day. It’s a saffron colored cotton cloth tied in a specific manner fixed with pins so that the hair of the groom are not visible. It is also a tradition to pass it on to the grooms in the family from the elders. So the ‘dastaar’ worn by me during my wedding was supposedly worn by Anita’s grand-father in his wedding and probably, Amit was also wearing the same one.
Even today, I get compliments for the ‘dastaar’ which was perfectly tied around my skull, thanks to the guy who took the efforts. However, my heart was sinking since probably one of my best appeals, my scalp hair were made invisible. The ‘dastaar’ actually resembles the ‘Mysore Pagari’ worn in South India, another similarity amongst KPs and South Indians along with their affection to rice.
As per the tradition, the groom changes his clothes twice means he wears three different attires within the day. However, the suit he wears in the morning forms the majority part of the pictures as the part of the wedding album. The other two suits are worn only after leaving the venue of wedding with limited audience. At my wedding, I wore the most dull suit throughout and my 2 other relatively better suits were worn when the electricity was cut off in the area in the evening. Nobody even saw them. L What an irony!    
Coming back to the scene in Amphalla as we returned from Gandi Nagar, I also had an additional responsibility of tying knot for Amit’s tie in a Samosa style with elliptical groove. No..i didn’t do that. I didn’t have time for wearing my own clothes. I was wearing a graphite colored mandarin suit with Chinese collared white shirt and I know what tough times I faced while wearing that attire in the store room of KPS, Amphalla. My honest advice to the wedding planners (within home or outsiders is) – kindly make an arrangement for changing rooms. Boys can’t change clothes in the store room while couple of aunties are busy finding the barfi (a sweet) and get frustrated over finding rosogullas instead of Barfi in the same place.
By the time, I managed to wear clothes, Amit’s baraat was getting momentum with people garlanding him at a hefty pace. I feel for the groom at this moment. I felt that at my time also for myself. The poor chap is weighed down by the garlands. The flowers start spoiling the possible white collar of his shirt and he is unable to rotate his neck along the atlas vertebra. Further, most of the ladies hold the groom’s ‘dastaar’ to kiss his forehead making the dastaar go loose. An unusual thing happened though when the dastaar was being tied around Amit’s head. A gentle sprinkling started which unusual in the month of November.
A visit to Shiv Mandir is a must before the groom arrives at the wedding venue. Fortunately, KPS had a big Shiv Temple (obviously) at a 50 meter distance from the gate of the community hall and saved herculean efforts of many aunties for gyrating more than the stated distance. We were though running terribly behind the schedule. As per the earlier schedule, we were supposed to reach the wedding venue in Barnai by 10.15-10.30 a.m. and we were still at Amphalla at 11 a.m. Amphalla and Barnai, by no means are near to each other (remember..Director of Tourism..huh?). We had to have the engagement ceremony also before rituals of wedding start.
Meenu had called me twice asking about our whereabouts and all I could answer was our GPS telling Amphalla. I don’t know if the maxim ‘whatever happens, happens for good’ stands good hear. I hear that the delay actually gave people at Unique Resorts some leverage to shift the arrangement from the park to the wall before the place was lashed with super showers. We finally made the move and were en route to Unique Resorts, Barnai. We managed to lessen some of Amit’s garland burden in the SUV itself. By 12 noon, we managed to reach the gates of Unique Resorts and well, what a congregation eagerly waiting for Amit’s arrival! J
You really turn up to be a star on your wedding day (if you already are not a star). The garlands of marigolds were waiting for Amit. Soon, he was in a similar situation of non rotating neck but with lot of excitement as he could see Meenu after a long time. Draped in a stunning red lehanga choli, she personified the Indian bride. From this point, we passed the responsibilities to Mr. Shadilal Sharma, the official ‘Bramhaji’ of the Bhat camp. However, we had one more important ritual to complete – the engagement!

Amit and Meenu made a beeline to the stage which was very well decorated. Raina camp had a very good army of youngsters well led by Neha and ably supported by Anil. Coming back to the engagement ceremony, the ring exchange took as expected. As I mentioned earlier, me and Arun had kept few roses inside the SUV while decorating the vehicle in the morning. Amit stealthily had picked one and had hidden it in his suit. And it was a Kodak moment when he produced the rose out of nowhere and presented it to Meenu. Thank God, finally he gave the red least official records say so! Meenu was surprised and bowled over too.
Time was ripe and right. Guts had been experiencing a cascade of gastric juices. Time to go for the elaborate spread of the Waza. “Wazwan” is generally a term used for a feast and includes the more popular non-veg cousins like rogan josh, goshtaba, tabaknat, yakhni, risht, kali and machch. I just know them by names and seen them. I am a veggie. In Kashmiri Pandit wedding, the non-veg items are strictly prohibited since the wedding is associated with some sacred rituals like havan. However, the non-veg connoisseurs can actually look forward for ‘firsaal’ (fir ek baar saal – the feast, once more) at the bride’s home where all these delicacies are served. So I had my portion of rice along with our regular friends like dum aloo, rajma, paneer, nadru yakhni etc.
By the time, I finished my lunch, Meenu and Amit came back to the stage to perform the Jay Mala ritual. This turned out to be probably the liveliest ritual in the all 7 days. It was an impromptu idea of Amit to make this moment a bit funny by making it difficult for Meenu to garland him. However, the Youth Army in Raina camp had already planned for it. What they didn’t know was the sheer physical advantage the Bhat camp had got. It was me, 179 cm (5’11”) and Arun who is 182 cm (6’) who were standing guard for Amit. When Meenu stepped to garland Amit, he first stood on his toes indicating it’s the time. In a rush, I lifted him from the back though the alert Raina camp were quick to lift Meenu also. The second part was even more interesting. It was Amit’s turn to garland Meenu and Meenu was lifted in advance by her cousins. This time, it was a double effort by me and Arun and we raised Amit to such a hight that his Dastaar was touching the top. And Amit lunged forward to garland Meenu and was almost horizontal in the air while me and Arun balancing his weight. It was indeed a Kodak moment and has been well captured by the camera.
This was followed by a brief session of shutterbugging. At a point, I felt like James Bond is getting married in an Indian way. The poses given by them were new and unique (and not the typical boring style). Just the bond didn’t have a gun in his hand and the bond girl was extremely well dressed (not that the normal bond girls are badly dressed.. ;))
The couple was now ready for the serious part of the lagan (wedding) and proceeded to the place where Mr. Shadilal was waiting anxiously for them.     

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Part 3 -Story of a Kashmiri Wedding - An Affair to Remember

So the day before the wedding came. It was the day of the maenzraat. Generally, in a KP wedding, another ritual of sacred thread is combined with the main event, especially for the groom and if not groom then some close relative. In the Bhat camp, it was the miniature devil, Akshit, Amit’s cousin and in the Raina camp, Meenu’s Rockstar younger sibling Anil (aka Amit aka A1) who were all set to give up the scalp hair in the next 2-3 days. The maenzraat was combined for Amit and Akshit on the same evening.

I guess that a bride’s mehandi raat is more elaborate than a groom’s. Having attended Meenu’s mehandi raat a couple of days ago, I had no doubt about it. First of all, applying henna design on palms and feet is a feminine trait and now-a-days brides are very curious about the henna designs since they form the major part of their wedding albums. When we arrived for Meenu’s mehandi raat, she was all in for the intricate henna designs by the artist and when we left, yes, she was still in for the designs. Further, Raina camp had 3 luxuries at that time. The Bachkot performance, performance by Anil Raina on his guitar (oh I remember he being conservative about applying henna on fingers so that he can play his guitar) and a gap of 2 days before wedding
The Bhat camp didn’t have the luxury of a rockstar playing a guitar and a gap of 2 days. I constantly heard that guests would be arriving by afternoon and we would have to be ready for it. I was still wondering who the guests were. After a little inquiry, I came to know that they were the maternal relatives of Akshit who would be bringing milk (why??...that is an old tradition, dude!).  So somehow I was also made the part of the company who would be facing the guests at the gates. Never in my life, I have hugged so many strangers but that happens in Kashmiri wedding. Never in my life I have got so many pecks on my cheeks but that happens in Kashmiri Wedding.
Test of my character was waiting for me as I myself presented for the service. It was Kodak moment when a son-in-law of a KP family was seen with two plates in two hands full of sweets serving the guests with a smile on his face. Generally, it should not be happening – kind of a protocol. And I am the nemesis of protocols. Another protocol I was breaking was that of an attire. The last week of November is bound to be chilly in Jammu. While everybody else were clinging to their sweaters, coats and phirans (the traditional kashmiri overcoat), I stuck to a black lycra t-shirt with a half sleeve jacket flaunting non existing deltoids. J
As the evening approached, the environment became more lively. One of the best things about Kashmiri wedding is the abundance of tea (sweet- called as Lipton chai and salted known as sheer/nun chai) as well as cold-drinks along with munchings like breads like crip. It is the groom’s (as well as bride’s) paternal aunt who has the responsibility (and privilege) of applying mehandi and again gets handsomely paid. So if any of the paternal aunts (buaa)  are thinking about belittling this relation then I vouch for the KP Buaa…she gets the attention and money, both! JThe groom’s mehandi is not as elaborate as the bride’s and for obvious reasons. The relatives are also adored with some henna on their hands by the paternal aunt and you have to reward her for that. J
The maenzraat celebration asks for a similar spread of food as of wedding day since this is the biggest feast from the groom’s side as the wedding takes place (or is arranged by) as per the Bride camp. The typical and popular menu is dum aloo (deep fried perforated potato cooked in spices), wazul chaman (paneer chunks in red gravy), lyadur chaman (paneer chunks in yellow gravy), nadroo yakhni (lotus stem in spicy yoghurt gravy), rajma (kidney beans in red gravy) and chok wangun (tangy brinjals/aubergine/eggplant…did you know all these names?) and the ubiquitous BATTA (or steamed white rice). I am always fascinated by the fact of rice being the most essential item on the platter and can be easily compared to penchant of Bengalis and South Indians. It’s slightly unusual to see the rice being consumed so heavily in this part of India, just after the mighty Paratha Kingdom of Punjab. I am writing a separate article on food so no more discussion here.
After this ordeal, there is another ordeal of Devgone (Nothing to do with Ajay or your Devgan). It is quite an elaborative process signifying the advent of Grihasthashram for the groom giving up his Bramhacharya stage. The curious bunch may again google for it. I personally was not attending this part but couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the video footage because of the cameos of Akshit. He was enraged with cold water being poured on him and his mobile toy phone getting drenched. J
After the sumptuous meal, all are set for the much awaited celebrations of dance and music. It is now becoming a common practice to invite Bachkot. Bachkot is the dancer who accompanies the singing group and entertains the audience for a considerable part of the night. So Bachkot’s popularity is inching new high every wedding season due to high demand. In Kashmir, this was never a trend where the womenfolk amongst themselves used to sing and dance. The bachkot and party plays traditional kashmiri songs and people gyrate on these. Now-a-days, Sunny Paji would be very happy to hear “Main Nikala Gaddi Leke” being one of the popular numbers and dubbed in Kashmiri too. However, having mehandi raat on the eve of wedding has its repercussions.  
Due to being awake for a long time in the night, most of the baratis wake up puffed and bleary eyed, too dazed to come to the terms of making hurry. I, after having brief sessions of dancing with Bachkot and others, stealthily made my way to the beddings. My better 3/4th played a pivotal role in this. Though she, I could see was getting clearly stressed. With good meal and some exercise, it was not difficult for me and others to sleep even in the blaring output of the loudspeakers where the bachkot and party was playing songs. We were all set for the big day the next morning

Friday, December 14, 2012

Part 2 -Story of a Kashmiri Wedding : An Affair to Remember

Gold, the yellow metal has always been a matter of obsession, possession and frustration for the mankind, especially for the fairer sex. Kashmiri female folks are no exception for this and rather most of them can actually represent an organization smitten with gold. ‘Dyej hur’ is the most important and an interesting ornament worn by married kashmiri pandit women. It is KP answer to ‘mangalsutra’ for the rest of India. So the tradition of wearing Dyej Hur was supposedly started by the Kashmiri Saint, Lalleshwari or popularly known as Lal Ded. It still gives me jitters to see women wearing such a heavy ornament dangling from the ears. The provision for it is generally made in the childhood and well, must have to be done with local anaesthesia. It takes a considerable skill and long time for the women folk on the wedding day to make the bride wear her dyej hur. It must be painful for the bride too. Or is it just a small gesture to signify…welcome girl, welcome to the new world of pain and responsibilities! Whatever!  
My sincere advice to the father of an unmarried kashmiri girl – You must start accumulating gold as soon as a daughter is born to you if this crazy obsession with gold is not to see any waning in future. Such an undeterring consciousness amongst the elderly women about what and how much gold the bride is wearing!
Let us come to the main event now. A few days before the wedding the ‘saath’ has to be taken to prepare the mehandi for the maenzraat (Mehandi Raat). This is generally a responsibility of Paternal Aunt of the bride and groom. So she prepares the mehandi for the maenzraat on the day of saath with the womenfolk of the house singing the songs in appreciation of the Ganesh, the god of all auspicious events. The recurrent ‘Om Shree Ganeshay Namah’ sounds like ‘Omshrew Ganeshayen Maha’ after repetitive hearings. The aunt gets handsomely paid for this job though.
 Amit’s aunt, Shanno who is probably one of the most enthusiastic persons I have ever come across takes utmost pleasure in these proceedings. And yes, nobody is match for her when it comes to dancing on any kashmiri song. So actually Anita (my better half) and Shanno managed to dance for a while on the tune of Omshrew Ganeshayen Maha! J 
Co-operation of womenfolk in relatives and neighbours (and strictly in this order otherwise most of the relatives will be holding grudge which is generally known as ‘vaar’ in Kashmiri) is of prime importance. They play an important role in tasks like cleaning of rice and vegetables. They keep on singing traditional songs while doing the tasks. It all adds to the vibrancy of the atmosphere and beacons that the wedding is approaching.
A ‘Satsang’ was arranged on the evening a day before the shifting. It overlapped with Meenu’s mehandi raat. So me and Anita made a brief appearance for the Mehandi Raat before travelling back to attend the …hold your breath.. (me and..??) Satsang! Before I go ahead, kudos to your ‘Waza’, Raina Camp, the food was fabulous…loved every bite of every item prepared. Initially, I had my reservations for attending the satsang but I attended it and tried my hand at ‘Tumbaknaer’, a typical kashmiri instrument, which was appreciated. For the curious people, please google ‘Tumbaknaer’.
Shifting of people and goods to the venue of wedding remains a challenging task. This emanates from the earlier luxury of availability of resources in Kashmir. Now in Jammu (or anywhere else) few have the privilege of having an open space within the fences of home to conduct a marriage. So it is imminent that you book the marriage hall right in advance. Generally, winter (say November and December) are the preferred months for weddings. Hence, the wedding halls are bound to be booked well in advance and  if by luck (good or bad), any hall is available, the management will show all efficiency to loot the customer by charging stratospheric sums. In Jammu, the halls are generally called Resorts/Palaces or Banquet Halls but not just halls. J
Due to the wedding of Amit and Meenu planned in November, my father-in-law and his younger sibling had some sleepless nights over booking of the wedding hall. Some were asking rent of Rs.2 lakh per day and all we wanted was minimal stay of 5 days (Read as a cash outflow of Rs.10 lakh) So somehow good luck prevailed and out of nowhere, my in laws were able to book hall in Kashmiri Pandit Sabha (KPS) in Amphalla in central part of the city at a meager fee.
On Tuesday, 27th November, we started the shifting process in the morning. This is similar to establishing a new house. You carry almost everything with you rendering your house empty and thus, less vulnerable to theft. Three rooms were available with one main hall at the KPS. One was declared as the store room which can be entrusted with a very reliable person only. It is the holy grail for all your requirements during the wedding. The most reliable (as well as slightly unfortunate) souls selected for this task was my better half (actually a better 3/4th), Anita from the Bhats and Meenu’s younger sister (and Amit’s sis-in-law), Neha from the Rainas.
Rainas had camped at Unique Resorts in Barnai (Ahh..those wonderful memories of Barnai…Me in nuptial ties with Anita….at Durga Nag Trust, Barnai….4 years…hello, come back!) which is fairly near from their residence in Patouli. For the uninitiated, Barnai and Patouli are parts of Jammu on Akhnoor Road and the road lined with chilled water from Chinab in the canal (How good of me…I can become a driver of a matador bus in Jammu.. he he he…) On the other hand, Bhats had chosen (or were coerced with this fair option of) KPS which is 22km away from their residence in Jagati Mini Township, near Nagrota (on the way to Sri Nagar and Katra…yay…qualified as the guide of Jammu now…) But the advantage of being at KPS – it was situated in Amphalla in the central part and hence was accessible easily from everywhere. Guess I was the guy who made the most of it due to its proximity to Kachchi Chavani, Parade and Pucca Danga! (Ahh…Director of Tourism, now!)
In KPS, Amphalla, along with the main hall, we had three rooms to do everything from chatting to relaxing to sleeping to keeping our luggage to changing clothes. No..not three I mentioned earlier, one was labeled as store room with restricted entry. Hence, 2 rooms were available, a fairly open space for tents (I don’t know what the thorny tree was doing there and why was it allowed to grow so big?) and a temple with arrangement for Yagna (or holy fire) for the sake of all the ceremonies. And…well no…nothing…that’s it…!
Being the only guy in the Bhat camp who knows four wheeler driving, I automatically got the responsibility of driving the brand new Wagon R vxi on the roads of Jammu. The Wagon R was recently bought by Amit’s uncle and gave me the much needed experience of driving on the roads of Jammu. The vehicle came very handy for all the mornings that we didn’t spend at Amphalla. Oh yes, skills are essential and necessary. We youngsters had the luxury of travelling all the way to Jagti to get ready and other folks fought a hard battle at KPS which I don’t want to describe.
Now the wedding feeling was sinking. The relatives had arrived and all of us were ready for maenzraat (known as Mehandi Raat elsewhere).

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Part 1 - Story of a Kashmiri Wedding - An Affair to Remember

Having attended 3 kashmiri weddings (including my own) in a short span of 4 years and all set in the vibrant city of Jammu, puts me in a fairly comfortable position to write a detailed account of this very complex yet highly co-ordinated event in every Kashmiri Pandit’s life. May God be with you if you happen to be the bride’s father! Now, I am back after attending my brother-in-law’s wedding, all I can do is to start burning the extra fat I must have accumulated by gorging on the dum aloos, chaaman (paneer for the uninitiated), rajma, nadru….. Now you know what I am gonna write about but hold on….it is not about only food…let’s talk!!!
So as it begins with every Indian wedding, exchange of horoscopes (which are known as ‘teknis’ in kashmiri dialect) happens and then the kundalis are calibrated if the girl and boy are a good match. Generally, 18 gunas need to be matched to declare that the kundlis are matching. There are total 36 gunas which are   which are calibrated for the match. Even matching of all 36 gunas is not considered good. The same was the case for Ram and Sita from the magnum opus ‘Ramayana’ and almost everybody in India (I am not too sure about Justin Bieber and Hannah Montana fans) knows the fate of this protagonist couple of the Ramayana.
Every event related to wedding has to be done on an auspicious day which beacons the smoothness and seamlessness of all the processes in the future. This particular day amongst the KPs is known as ‘saath’. It has its own significance and will be repetitive in my elaboration of different events of the wedding. The other repetitive term is ‘vaar’ but let us discuss it specifically as it is a common human trait. In Kashmir, or specifically in Sri Nagar, the elders used to find a ‘saath’ so that all the family members (of course along with the boy and girl) can meet and decide upon the future proceedings. The meetings in Sri Nagar generally took place in the gardens near the revered shrine of the Kheer Bhawani Temple. I heard that people used to carry tiffins in hot cases and used to make merry at the venue.
Being in Pune, our own couple, Amit (the docile and good looking Bhat and my brother in law) and Meenu (his beautiful and universal friendly wife and the eldest daughter of the Rainas) decided to meet at the Pune’s version of Kheer Bhawani, The Chatushrungi Temple. I was not surprised when I heard that.  The talks went well and Amit and my in laws quest for the best girl ended. And here again, I was not surprised. J
Boy (and his family) liking the girl (and her family) and vice versa initiates the preparation of the wedding. In my view, Kashmiri wedding is one of the complex weddings I have ever came across. Rather, it is the most complex wedding ceremony. Kashmiri Pandits (at least the generation which is enthusiastically undertaking the responsibility of this ceremony for their kids in late 20’s) don’t believe in outsourcing. They take responsibility of even minute commodities like spices (uh…ohhh…some eyebrows almost touched the scalp hair…did I use the word minute for spices?....Thousand apologies!)
 The origin of this trait probably lies here. Most of the KPs have been owners of large farms across Kashmir and preferred to stay near farms. Sri Nagar could officially be regarded as the city of office goers otherwise not. There was no concept like nuclear families and almost everywhere were joint families in the hinterland of Kashmir. So there were many brains to think and many hands to work. Neighbours were always at disposal for any kind of work and when it came to a wedding, they used to work as if it was the event in their own home. Families of KPs stayed in multi-storied buildings and almost every home had a huge open space in front of the home and fenced. What an ideal arrangement for wedding!
The elders in the home took responsibility of almost everything. The toughest in my view is the purchase and procurement of vegetables. I am sure that McDonald’s or other fast food chain restaurants employees can get a crash course in procurement of vegetables if asked to be the part of the preparations of the wedding. For example, for preparation of dum aloo (which is the king of the ‘saal’), you need to have potatoes of specific variety and of specific size. If dum aloo goes wrong in the wedding then your ‘izzat’ is lost forever (No matter how many ‘firsaals’ you may come up with). Every member of the family had something to do and something to answer for. This trait is still intact in the elder KPs though I see a bleak future for it.
‘Poshpilnavan’ officially marks the beginning of the wedding festivities in both the houses. Poshpilnavan can be roughly translated as the exchange of flowers in a temple by the families of the groom and the bride. I have witnessed a single Poshpilnavan ceremony which was kinda modified as per the circumstances. It happened in the Ganesh Temple of my colony. My parents and relatives were clueless as they were facing it for the first time. My in laws must be heavy hearted as the place where Poshpilnavan took place was not Jammu and probably on account of the counterparty being absolutely clueless of such an important ceremony. J All I can recount was a hearty exchange of two bouquets of gerberas and sweets. My KP friends need not necessary relate their Poshpilnavan with the narrated one. In fact, Poshpilnavan is an event of jubilation. Food is an integral part of the jubilation.
We couldn’t participate in the Poshpilnavan ceremony for Amit and Meenu. So no details on the original kashmiri ceremony. Guess I need to wait for another wedding to happen!     
Poshpilnavan is considered to be as good as an engagement. The concept of engagement ceremony though is catching strong grounds after most of the KPs have left the valley. Haven’t heard many though talking about engagement as enthusiastically as Poshpilnavan. J Amit and Meenu though were determined  to make it happen. And…well it actually happened on the day of wedding itself. But it happened. The rose trick at the engagement ceremony was interesting though myself and Arvind had arranged for the resources. I will talk in detail about it later.
After Poshpilnavan, people in both the houses get extremely busy. Booking of the wedding hall, shopping for the clothes and gold, making arrangements for the guests and the toughest challenge – food. ‘Saath’ has to be taken for every act mentioned above. You need to make it sure that you don’t start the process on a wrong foot and yes, this is applicable to the close relatives also. I’ll discuss in detail regarding the proceedings in second part.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Foodtrails : Oli Bhel (A delicious and original version of Bhel from Western Mahrashtra)

Every region has a distinct cuisine to offer. And this becomes very obvious in a country like India which has 28 states which are loosely based on language spoken in the region. The cuisine suffers a labeling syndrome. For instance, the UP is mainly associated with Awadhi cuisine and the lesser known cousins like Kumaoni (though the platter offered by them is certainly not as exquisite as Awadhi) never get a fair share of recognition. In a similar manner, a single tag for Maharashtrian cuisine is unjust (like a single tag of ‘Lavani’ for Maharashtrian culture.. how pathetic!)
So Maharshtra itself has a variety of cuisine to offer (and hello…MODAKS are not everyday item in Maharashtra!). There is Malwani, Khandeshi, Marathwada, Nagpuri, Mawal. Even in the Western Maharshtra, Kolhapur and Satara have distinct stuff to offer in your plate. Geographically, Sangli which is sandwiched between these two districts seems to be more influenced by the garrulous Kolhapuri cuisine due to its proximity and has nothing special to offer. But one motley mix which can set your gastric juice on fire at any time in a day (as well as night) is the ‘Oli Bhel’ available throughout the district.
A word of caution- the Oli Bhel must not be confused with the Geela Bhel, an insipid and slimy version of Sukha Bhel, in which Mumbaikars take pleasure in digging their teeth and feel that it is the best bhel they can have. Its true…Everything sells in Mumbai! J
So coming back to my homeland, Oli Bhel remains the most sought after snack on the streets overpowering the contenders like Vada Pav and Bhajiyas. Essentially enjoyed on a hand pulled cart, stay away from the restaurant version unless you are a hygiene freak (and hence, low on immunity he he he). Some of the bhel carts have almost turned into institutions over the years. The famous ones like the Golden Special or Mahesh in my town are situated in the heart of it as well as the legendary Rajabhau Bhel in Kolhapur
The sight for all carts is same and typical. A small tube light enlightening the menu in bold type inscribed on a small plastic façade. More of a similar menu for everybody. But the institutions are thronged by its patrons. The finely chopped onions, tomatoes and the deep fried green chilies make it a visual fest before you actually dig your teeth into it. As compared to other famous snacks like Potato Vada, Samosa, Kachori or other fried items, this snack lacks the ‘waft factor’. Hence, is totally dependent on visual appetizing and mouth publicity.

So what are the basic ingredients in the oli bhel – There are kurmuras (puffed rice) and that special version is available here in Western Maharashtra and not in Mumbai, the mixed farsaan (including gaanthiya, papadi, khari boondi, sev- not the nylon version- genuine chickpea flour), little amount of red chilli powder, chopped onion, tomatoes, coriander. The important ingredient is the khatta and meetha paani, made up of tamarind and jaggery with slight hint of mint. This is added after the all the ingredients are mixed in a large bowl. The amount of this special broth (khatta and meetha paani) is sufficient enough to provide tasty coating to other ingredients. Some enthusiasts demand additional dose of this broth but this makes the bhel slightly slimy and leading to imbalance of other tastes. This also kills the crunchiness of other ingredients. Though an oli (wet) bhel, crunchiness is also an essential quality of a good bhel.
Oli Bhel has also turned out to be a major employment provider for the youth I this area. However, it is also important to understand the gimmick of providing those sublime tastes through this motley mixture. Blessings of foodies like me, otherwise are always there for the people who actually make money by feeding other people. What could be another good deed, indeed!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Diary of a Traveller - Himachal Pradesh - Day 5 - White Water Rafting and Trek to Apple Orchard @ Kullu

Skipping the Rohatang Pass visit on the earlier day provided us the leverage to explore Manali on the 1st day only. We were suddenly open at the prospectus of designing our own itinerary for that day. So we decided that we will spend our day at Kullu which is 40 km away from Manali.

Anita was very keen to visit Trishla Shawls again. She looked like enamored by the shop and she had to cut short her shopping last time since I was tired. Hence, we headed towards Kullu in the morning at around 10 AM. Needless to say it is one of the picturesque drive as Beas accompanies all the way. The water is always gushing, brown and frothy in monsoon increasing the thrill of white water rafting which I was about to experience.

A 40 km drive does eat at least an hour and another hour was spent at Trishla Shawls. So just after 12 noon, we headed towards banks of Beas where the rafting was available. Normally, during monsoons, rafting is avoided; but the old economic theory always works practically in such situation. I had to shell out a premium amount to get into that brown frothy flow of Beas. After a lot of negotiation, we settled for 1400 bucks with overstated commitment of rafting time. Anita, as usual was spearheading the negotiation (like a true investment banker) and I was quiet with a smile on my face.

I put on the rafting gear i.e. life jacket and helmet. We inflated our raft with the help of the pump and lifted it to put it in the water. Anita was constantly asking my guide about the safety measures and he was prompt is responding every query very efficiently.

I was very happy that I was the only guy who had boarded the raft along with the guide. The water however didn’t look challenging at all. At least not for me. The rapids probably belonged to max 2 degree. Finally, I settled in the raft sitting in the front while the guide sat in the back guiding the raft in the proper direction. Honestly, I underestimated the power of this river. I could feel the pace with which water was flowing. Sitting in the front of the raft gave me an amazing view of the river. There was also a twist in the way we were riding. The raft is capable of carrying 8 people and hence there are least chances that the raft going turtle in the mid of the water. The probability here was pretty high with one pillion and one guide. And this was told to me in the mid of the water. I think that further peppered the challenging task. Go turtle, how exciting!

However, nothing like that happened in those 7-8 minutes amidst the flow of Beas. I took a plunge in the ice cold water couple of times as the raft riding on a high wave and then crashing in the water groove. That was fun! So that ride came to end very swiftly as the flow of water. Sometimes I feel that Anita had a better view when I check the videos she had shot while I was on raft. She also had a ride in an open jeep for almost the same time.

By the time, I had got out of the raft, I was fully drenched. What I needed was a quick change and something to eat! We headed for Chandu Thakur’s shop for both purposes. As I have mentioned that on the day we entered Kullu, we had pondered over the possibility of trying an authentic Himachali cuisine. Chandu Thakur looked like an angel with a plate full of Himachali delicacies at that time. I thought that by the time we reached Chandu’s shop, he should have made the arrangements. Needless to say, money was not a big issue here and it was clarified earlier too.

To all my disgust and shock, when I asked Chandu if we are ready for the Himachali treat, he dialed a number and asked,”Aray, aaj ho sakta hain kya?” (Is it possible today?) What the heck? Then what was he doing till this moment? And further opening vent of an inflammable gas, he said “Well, the guy says that you need at least 50 people eating to do cooking” Damn you! So the possibility of Himachali delicacies was written off instantaneously. So yesterday was Rohtang Pass and today was Himachali Cuisine. And it was 1.30 pm and getting back to Manali for food was also not a good idea. Mr. Thakur was generous here. He offered us momos and maggi. We had no choice. Anita entered in the kitchen to have a crash course on preparing momos.

Momos is a staple food in Himachal. The pahadi people are able to digest finely ground wheat flour (maida) preparations on daily basis without any problem. So you get to see momos almost everywhere here being sold like Pani Puri or Chat stalls elsewhere in India. Steamed wheat flour dumplings with assortment of finely grated vegetables inside makes a hearty meal. Most of the labourers working in the apple orchards nearby come to Chandu’s place to have maggi and momos for lunch. We had our momos. Maggi with vegetables plus Chandu Thakur’s secret spices was not something which I liked. It was slightly pungent too. But 40 km away from Manali, on the banks of Beas and without proper studies of available restaurants in Kullu, we ate maggi too. 
After finishing our lunch, we were ready for another mission – a trek to Chandu Thakur’s apple orchards situated atop a hill. The trek started just after crossing the highway in front of Chandu’s Tea Shop. It was 3 in the afternoon however the atmosphere was very pleasant. The Sun was struggling to come out of the clouds and remarkable coolness in the air saved us from sweating a lot. This was further accompanied by beautiful wildflowers, greenery, crystal clear water streams and local village women carrying loads of apple in their backpacks. Chandu was giving us information about specific trees and bushes we came across while doing the trek. I will skip the details here. You may contact me separately for the details of bushes and trees. So, out trek lasted for 40-45 minutes till we reached the top of the hill. We were definitely tired but the view from the hilltop was just mind blowing. I just felt like stretching in that 2 foot high grass and taking a short nap. But was not necessary since I was just living my dream. I thought I should rather be capturing these moments in camera than taking nap.

And well, on the other side, there was on apple orchard in full bloom. Apples everywhere! I had written about it earlier too…but this was up, close and personal. We couldn’t contain our excitement and rushed towards apple trees. Anita was very happy to relive her childhood days plucking apples from the trees itself .

This apple mania blowed a big hole in my pocket but that was by the end of our journey in Amritsar, Punjab. I will provide the details in the chapter related to Amritsar only. For the time being, we were just concentrated on plucking as many apples as possible so that we can take them back to home. Sometimes we behave silly..but how many times do you like it? This was one of them. JJJ

So we spent half an hour plucking apples and enjoying the breathtaking beauty of Kullu. I am not surprised that Kullu-Manali has always been the choicest of the destinations for most of the newly married Indian couples for their honeymoon. By the way, now-a-days, the definition is changing. Especially in metros! Some people find India to be too boring to go for honeymoon. And where do they end up..? Ok, I won’t mention this. It will look like a personal scathing attack on all the honeymooners who have actually ENJOYED their stay abroad. But yes, high disposable income means more access and too much crowd. I take this point. I was fortunate enough to be here in low season, but peak season is something you should always keep yourself off from such places. How ironic! Keep off during peak seasons!

Now, we were ready to go back to our base camp. So we started our descent. I had earlier mentioned while describing paragliding at Solang that descent from the hills is a difficult thing than ascending. Chandu is an everyday guy and he had no problems. But the uncontrollable run on the slope was putting lot of pressure on thigh muscles. On the way down, we came across apricot trees, persimmon (the Japanese apple which looks like tomato) trees and a very unique herb which is used to clean teeth just by chewing and not brushing.

So finally we reached our destination- again Chandu’s famous restaurant cum shop. We got a much deserved cup of refreshingly hot tea. It is heaven! We were slightly nervous also as it was our last day in Manali and next day morning, we would be starting our journey to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj. But we decided to live the moment. Shimla was just a start and I had fallen in love with Kullu and Manali. I was serious enough to inquire about the purchase price of an apple orchard and possibly a bungalow in Kullu. I was also in touch with Chandu for quite some time after returning from HP to understand the possible acquisition targets (back to work effect!) But I didn’t pursue it for too long as it was looking unviable to me to maintain it from Mumbai. I must move to HP at some stage of life (that’s a great idea!)

We drove back to Manali. We thought of visiting Mall Road again that evening. But we were too tired. Hence, we gave up and instead preferred to watch television in our cosy room. Most of the visitors in River Country Inn had left by that day and frankly, me and Anita were the only people partaking food in the restaurant. We had to get up early in the morning as this was supposed to be another long day extended by a possible detour to Jwala Ji Temple. We had no option but to go to bed early while listening to Beas flowing alongside. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fantasies of Freedom

As a human being, we tend to possess some fundamental qualities which are in sync with the animal kingdom itself. There is hunger, there is thirst, there is curiosity, there is fear, there is defense. As a human being grows, the form of the qualities changes. Hunger for food turns into a hunger for money when you grow up, thirst for the water flowing from the tap turns into a thirst for power and position in the complex society (ok! thirst for knowledge is also considered but that is not bound by the phase of life), curiosity regarding blooming of the flower is taken over by the curiosity over what other people think about us (especially of the opposite sex!), fear of not completing the homework is replaced by fear of the consequences.

I feel that all these emotions are inter-related and very basic to any animal. But what makes me wonder is that these emotions are fundamentally functions of the very basic nature of any mind (not necessarily just human but the whole animal kingdom) I feel that all these emotions focus on achieving a single target, irrespective of the phase of mind, cultures, religion, country and natural form. The target is - FREEDOM

Freedom has always caught the fancy of a gibberish as well as the most sophisticated mind. Being an Indian, the word freedom was in my face through the details of our history books in school. India’s history is all about fighting for freedom. So has been for the world. The sense of freedom or liberty so subtle in every act that we actually don’t understand that we are doing this or that to achieve some kind of independence or some kind of freedom. The mankind always has had the fantasies of freedom!

We define the sense of freedom in our own way. For a baby*, may be walking on its own legs without a support could give happiness which could be as good as a young woman (let’s be feminist for  a while) getting an appointment letter for her dream job. However, the sense of freedom in such achievements is pretty fragile. Because the individual is not aware about the path which he/she is going to trot in the future. It is just a momentary jubilance of achieving a milestone; but is normally confused with freedom.

(*I won’t talk too much about the baby’s independence after learning to walk; but can’t resist from sharing a wonderful joke making rounds of facebook these days. It depicts a picture where a cat is telling a baby – the baby is yet to learn to stand – that the moment he/she will stand on its two legs, he/she will be dispatched to school. And the baby had a horrific look on its face asking,”Really??” J)

Say, the girl in the above given example may take huge pride in calling herself as an ‘independent’ woman for a while, keeping her head high (Oh yes! That is the way to do it!), the sense mellows down for many people (and women) when the reality sinks in.

Suddenly, one starts feeling the pang for going to work. You find it difficult to get up. Though you drag yourself in front of the mirror in the bathroom, your eyes refuse to open wide. You don’t find the breakfast tasty though prepared with best ingredients. Then the regular dialogues start visiting your vocal chords regularly “Oh, I’m stuck here!” “God, please help me!” God must have shot back,”Oh dear, I thought you were living your dream!”

I guess the problem is our confusion of freedom with living other person’s life. We always tend to get inspired by the people who you may know or you may not. In a way, it is good that your life gets a direction through inspiration. But the problem is destination. We really don’t know what the person is seeking from the life when he/she is doing something which excites and inspires us. In this process, we give up being ourselves and try to adopt a lifestyle which is entirely not ours. We refuse to find our own destination and confuse it with the path of other people, the destination of which is not known to us. We in a way are sacrificing our freedom to lead someone else’s life. That is an initiation of misery and 90% of you must have understood it if you would have shown the patience to go through this torturous text
By any means, I am not saying that the process of understanding self is simple. Our mind is enthralled and captured by so many secondary experiences that it is difficult to come out of that thick burden. Remember Uma Thurman digging out of her way through coffin while being buried in the grave in “KILL BILL”? Life may not be that unkind though and will keep on giving multiple signals to understand who you are. You just have to be either smart or fortunate to capture them. The day we realize our goal is the day you may celebrate the freedom and give up the fantasies…
I want to end this note with a beautiful thought from the film ‘Asoka’(Yes, I watched it!) – It says that the destiny of a traveler is nobler than anybody else, even than the kings and monarchs. You just need to know the destination….
Best of luck for your journey…..