India

All posts written about places in India and all posts related to India will be published under this category. It may include photo essays, musings and the like from the road during the author’s journey to explore incredible India.

Kambala

Kambala originated as a rural sport. After the harvest was done, the slushy  paddy fields were filled with water. It served as a race track for farmers to race their buffaloes.

A decade ago when Kambala was still just a rural sport, the sport had an added advantage. The racing of the  buffaloes was used to till the land. Today Kambala is far from that. Buffaloes are now bred with the single intention of racing. . The winning pair receives a few grams of gold which by no stretch balances the money that goes into their diet which consists of  a litre of coconut oil and kilos of fodder a day.

Every team has two buffaloes(of course) yoked together, a runner who either holds the yoke and runs behind the pair or stands on a platform between the pair and a about half a dozen men just to hold the buffaloes.

But whatever anyone says, those lumps of lard can run! I saw a pair of seniors ( age greater than 6 years)  a 100 mts in less than 16 seconds.

Getting ready with a wash

Getting ready with a wash

The yoke

The yoke

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The race track

The race track

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A pair of seniors

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Categories: India | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The gods of the thin places

On our trip to Amritsar I knew I would be photographing the Golden Temple from many angles and at different times of the day. I knew I would get a picture of the reflection of the temple on the water, of the fishes in the pond and every other building around it. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Eric Weiner in an article in the New York times describes ‘thin places’ as places where the distance between heaven and earth collapse. In all my travels I have never gone looking for  thin places nor have I found them by chance.  I cannot imagine finding a god  waiting for me amidst all the superficial devoutness of the tourists and the pretend piety of the touts. To me god comes silently in places that I am most familiar with.

But the photographs I took at the Golden temple assure me that while I may not believe in the gods of the thin places that does not mean that they do not exist.

 

 

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Categories: India | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Orchha

A stone’s throw from Jhansi in the heart of incredible India lies Orchha, a  forgotten old town  founded by Rudra Pratap Singh  of the Bundela Dynasty. Situated on the banks of the river Betwa , it was once one of the most prosperous states in pre independence India.   But today remnants of it’s former glory lie scattered around the town weathering  years of abandon, its bricks laid bare to the mercy of the elements and stifled by overgrown by weeds.  

Since it’s merger with the Indian Union in 1950 fate has not been kind to Orchha nor her residents. A town which was once surrounded by temples, palaces and even boasted of a 21 gun salute  is now withdrawn, hidden from view. The people once subjects of great and generous rulers today struggle to make a living.  Ironically Orccha means ‘hidden’. Perhaps it’s fate was decided at inception.

I stayed with a family of 6 while in Orchha – a grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, daughter and son. The home stay was arranged by the grassroots organization called Friends of Orchha. The NGO gave financial support to the families to build guest rooms and clean toilets. The families then charged guests  a very nominal fee for bed and food.

I sat with the mother on the raised mud platform that functioned as a kitchen beside a  small fire fueled  by cakes of cow dung . She was making roti and dal. That was to be our dinner.

” You use lots of coconut in Kerala, correct?” she asked.

“Yes.”

With that we started an exchange of culture and information. I asked her all about Orchha. What she thought about the neglect and abandon of the buildings. She didn’t seem too worried about that. People who could not afford houses had moved into some of the better maintained ruins. You can see their laundry hanging from the towers she said. In her world this was alright. But I had a good laugh imagining the gun towers which once sounded a 21 gun salute to the visiting  emperor Jehangir now  used as a laundry line.

All she wanted to know in return was why I unmarried well past the prime age of 20. I changed the subject complimenting her on her perfect circular rotis.

To which she replied ” It’s a shame if I don’t make perfect rotis. This is all I have done my whole life. But my daughter is going to study. Doctor she will become”.

According to the 2001 census the population of Orchha was 8501 with a  literacy rate of 54% lower than the national average of 59.5%.

Recently a guest had agreed to sponsor the children’s education. The mother was thrilled about it. She told me of her hopes for her children. She wanted them to have different lives than their parents. She wanted them to go to big cities and work.

” You use coconut oil in cooking”  She asked me coming back to the subject of my culture.

“Please don’t mind my questions. All this I read in my daughter’s books otherwise I don’t know. I have been in Orchha all my life”.

The jehangir Mahal

The jehangir Mahal

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A view of the Betwa river

A view of the Betwa river

The home stay family

The home stay family

Categories: Asia, India | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Haleem in Hyderabad

A pudgy man whose red t-shirt ended a good way above his  well rounded belly dips a steel jug into a large bucket. He bends his torso so much  that his tummy is inside the bucket. He stretches his hands down scraping the bottom of the bucket,the steel jug disappearing from view. When he straightens his torso  the steel jug emerges, rich yellow ghee dripping from the sides down to his t shirt and settling on his tummy before dripping down to his brown pants and onto the floor.

He walks  towards a series of wood fired  kilns built along a short lone brick wall shifting his weight from side to side snaking his way around a dozen men dressed in similar red t shirts. The  steel jug and  yellow ghee leaving a trail behind him. He pours the ghee into a cauldron enclosed within the first kiln.

He snaps his fingers and barks orders to the dozen unhappy men gathered around. In answer to his bidding two men walk up to the kiln, each pick up a large heavy wooden mallet with a 2 feet long  handle, raise it over their heads, steady themselves under its weight and then start pounding the contents of the cauldron in tandem.

The calls to prayer from a nearby mosque sounds  against the backdrop of the setting sun. It is  Ramzan in Hyderabad,India  and the day’s fast has officially ended and the smell of Haleem comes wafting through the air.

Haleem is a meaty stew consumed during the month of Ramzan. During the week leading to the start of Ramzan wood fired kilns spring up like mushrooms around the city. Meat, either mutton or chicken, wheat, barley, lentils and spices are mixed in a cauldron which is sealed inside a wood fired kiln. The cauldron is sealed and  kiln is fired in the morning. The heat cooks the meat until evening. Once the seal is broken the cauldron has a pasty mix.

Additions like ghee, dry fruits and nuts are added to the mixture.The bones which remain are pulverised by constant pounding.

The men pounding the mixture begin to sweat after a couple of swings. The muscles of their hands are  flexed, the veins in their arms standing out. Every ten minutes the men are  replaced. The tired men drop the mallet on the floor huffing and puffing.

There are a total of six kilns, of which 2 are already empty, possibly long before the fast was up. Haleem is popular with the non muslim community as well and it sells like hot cakes in Hyderabad.

There are 3 sealed kilns which have Haleem being cooked. Before the night is done they will be empty.

At the break of dawn the kilns  will again be filled with cauldrons of meat, wheat and the other ingredients then sealed and fired. There they will cook in its juices until just before the first customer arrives in the evening.

The Hyderabadi Haleem is famous and is exported to different parts of world by special couriers.  Some restaurants serve only Haleem during the Ramzan season and resume normal service only after the 40 days of fasting.It is a very lucrative business, so much so that there are some matchbox sized single shuttered stores along an important arterial road in the heart of the city which open for business only for 40 days in a year. The monthly rent on these places is of astronomical figures and yet they make enough money in the 40 days to meet the rent and take home a huge profit.

 

There are different varieties of Haleem. There is the regular Haleem with the generous amount of ghee that floats on the top. Then there is the special Haleem which comes with a boiled egg, some dry fruits and nuts and in some cases with rich cream. For someone fasting the entire day this is indeed a wholesome meal. But for someone like me who has had my four square meals already this just means that my waist, bottom and thighs are not going to see a decrease in inches despite my daily aerobics routine.

 In the old city of Hyderabad a muslim dominated area has no dearth of Haleem shops.Many restaurants compete for the prestigious Best Haleem award. Each have their own secret recipe.

 

You can go from shop to shop  tasting Haleem and yet find it difficult to conclude which one tastes better and then wake up mornings after mornings trying to shed the extra calories.But  believe me it is totally worth it.

 

Categories: India | Tags: , | 1 Comment

You need patience to understand India

[It is unfair to judge an entire play by a single act. I feel the same is true of India.
Lately I have come across a lot of articles in different travel magazines portraying the abject poverty and backwardness of India. While I do not deny this is, this is only one side of the coin. India is different and you cannot roam the streets of Varanasi or be herded to the Taj Mahal and back to understand the very essence of India.
Here is my latest article on Matador network
.]

You need patience to understand India (via Matador Network)

I AM AN Indian by birth and by upbringing. I understand my country is not perfect. We have very hot summers. We have cities which have two seasons, a hot season and a hotter season. We have our generous share of millionaires and we have the largest…

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