Tuesday, November 15, 2005

In Haarlem, last year...

Here are some pictures from my last trip to Europe. The first set are from Haarlem, which incidentally was the first station to be constructed after Amsterdam Central. This railway connection enabled the rich to set up their homes in Harleem. Considering the high property taxes, many of these stately houses are now converted into office space with any alterations.

I hope that many of you may know that New York had its origins as New Amsterdam and the Dutch language lost by a single vote to be the official language of the new world.

Haarlem is about 15 minutes away in a non-stop train. It is a nice quaint place with nice streets and a lovely old church. It was around this church a friend (an aeronautical engg) tells me that the first plane ride ever took place in the Netherlands. It also housed the aeronautical engineering college until the Fokker company went bankrupt.

Since he lived there for five years and since I have never been there, both of us decided to visit it for a day. Considering the proximity to Amsterdam, we were there even before we could take off our coats, backpacks and get comfortable.

The station was nice. The only place where I have seen a Third class waiting room! The station master's room is all wood and there is a small plank for him to stand on and wave his flag.

Although there were no canals and no trade, some of the houses still looked like in the ones in Amsterdam: narrow and gabled.

Like in Amsterdam, there were many houses being repaired. Most of the houses close to the coast in the Netherlands are built on piles. The older ones have wooden piles and many of these need replacement. So lot of construction activity going on in and around the Church, which was the centre of the town. The view of the street was from my lunch table. A lunch consisting of a Bagel and a coffee in a old cobbled stoned street.

Wanted to write about Flensburg, a nice quaint city off Baltic Sea. Would keep that for the next blog installment.


The original one

The stationmaster's room

The Harlem church

One of the shopping streets

Entrance to an old age home

Monday, September 19, 2005

George Town Heritage walk (Madras day 2)

The George Town heritage walk started opposite the High Court on NSC Bose Road. It took a while for K to find out where the road is on the Eicher Chennai Map book. It was her first major exercise in navigation. Since we were late entries who where let in because we promised to take our own car around, when I finally spotted the two mini buses I had mixed feelings. The crowd was small, which meant that we could sneak into the bus without taking our car but then was disapointed to see that only a handful of people are interested in Heritage: the same small crowd that can be seen at various heritage related functions. Maybe in future there will be a larger crowd and maybe in future I will enroll on time.

The High court turrents lit by morning sun

The walk started at prompt 6.30 AM by which time, about 24 people turned up. Considering that it was V.Sriram who was leading the walk, he mentioned up-front that there will be few stops that have Carnatic heritage in them.

A newly restored heritage building

The first stop was just around the corner on Armenian Street, the Armenian Church. This was built somewhere in the early part of the 18th Century when there were many rich Armenian merchants in Chennai. The current population of Armenians is a grand total of 1. We could not enter the church as it opens only at 9.30 AM

The Armenian Church complex

The Church entrance

We walked past the St.Mary co-cathedral as it is called now, past the large white-washed Binny's building to get to Gokale's Hall in Young Men Indian Association. This hall was an outcome of the friendship between Annie Besant and Sir C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer. Actually, Sir CP and AB were bitter adversaries for many years and were on the opposite sides on a legal case involving J.Krishnamurty. After the case was won by Sir CP, both of them became very good friends since both of them felt that the youth of the country was becoming decadent. In order to stem the decadence, both of them started YMIA to teach oratory skills and body building. Here is a link to some history of Gokhale Hall

The blue dome inside Gokhale Hall

After visiting the YMIA, we walked back to the main road to get onto the mini bus and go to a street called Bunder street just past the YMCA building. This was a extra narrow lane filled with many small enterprises. Not too far into the street was the house of one of the 'dubash' (people who mediated between the locals and the Europeans) Kovvuru Sundara Mudaliar. One of the important visitors to this house was Saint-Composer Tyagaraja. He was here for few days in a room overlooking the street before he left for Kovvur and Tirupati. At Kovvur he composed the Kovvur Pancharatna kirtana in praise of Lord Sunderesa. This room was later purchased by historian of Carnatic music, Prof. Sambamoorthy.

Room where Saint ComposerTyagaraja stayed (with blue windows)

An interesting building along the road

After visiting the Flower market area, we then entered the Sowcarpet area and into Govindappan Naicken street. Both the stops in this area were related to carnatic music. First was the place where Manali mansion once stood. This was built by the dubash Muthukrishna Mudaliar who after listening to Ramaswamy Diskshitar request him and his three sons to come and live with him in Manali and Madras. One of the three sons was Muthuswamy Dikshitar. The son of Muthukrishna Mudaliar, Venkatakrishna had several opportunities to listen the western music played the English Band at the Fort. He then made arrangement for the three boys to learn these new instruments. These boys were also given permission to write Sanskrit texts to the English Tunes. I don't remember which songs but Sriram sang the Carnatic songs that were composed to the music of God save the Queen. An important outcome of this interaction was that of the brothers learnt the Violin and soon afterwards, it was introduced into the Carnatic music stream. It is sad that nothing remains of the Manali Mansion. The last part of it, that was surviving until few months ago was knocked down and is currently a parking lot.

Streetscape 1

Streetscape 2

The house where Veena Dhanammal lived on Tambu Chetty Street was the second last stop on the walk. This lady, one of the greatest veena player lived here for her last phase of life. Her style, which was later on popularised by Brinda-Mukta has come to be known as Dhanammal Bani, could be said to be the only Gharana kind of school in Carnatic music. She gave a concert (attendance by-invitation only) at her home every friday for which people like G.Kasturi of Hindu, T.T.Krishnamachari, etc. frequently attended. Like every other heritage structure, this house has been purchased by one Mr.Jain for Rs. 27 Lakhs. He intends to knock it over and construct a new house. Sriram was surprised that the house was still intact as it was scheduled to be knocked over few days earlier. Since it may be his chance to be at the house, he decided to sit on the steps of the building while he narrated many stories related to Danammal and the house.

Tambu Chetty street

The house

The last stop on the walk was the Wall Tax road. British planned to construct a wall around the city of Madras so that octroi could be easily collected. However the project had to be stopped half way since the city was expanding too fast, it would have been futile to have a wall in the middle of the city. It was on this road that many theatres set up their shop. We tried to find if there were any remnants of these old theatres but we had no such luck.

We were taken back to the high court where we had a picture taken. I purchased a Namma Chennai T-shirt and headed back home. Both of us liked the walk very much and are looking forward to the Mylapore Festival in January where few more such walks will be conducted.

Madras Rediscovered by S.Muthiah
Great Masters of Carnatic Music, by Indira Menon
Website of V.Sriram and Sanjay Subramanyan: Sangeetham

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Madras Day celebrations (Part 1)

While it may be inaccurate to commemorate the start of a city to a piece of paper that exchanged hands since there may have been some small settlement around this area but then one needs to start somewhere. It was on 22 August, 1639, East India Company purchased a small piece of land from the local Nayaks and started to build a fortified area which later became Fort St. George. To support the activities of the company, which were primarily textile and spice related exports, a bunch of handloom related workers from what is now coastal Andhra were asked to set up residence in what was later known as the "Black town" (as against the White town inside the fort). So the place grew and grew to be what it is now: a hot-humid-water-depleted city called Chennai.

The first (and only) talk that I could attend during this 'Madras day' week was on the 'Sabha culture of Chennai'. It was given by V.Sriram, the same person who wrote the book 'The Carnatic Summer'. The book elaborated on the lives of 20 great carnatic musicians of the past. The venue of the talk was Anokhi on Chamiers road. For some reason, I was under the impression that the talk was to be held at Amethyst and it was only in the last minute when a social call I made to someone did I realise that the talk was elsewhere.

For those who do not know, Anokhi is a chain of small boutique stores across the country as well as in few other coutries. Those who find themselves in Jaipur could visit their Hand printing museum . In Chennai, they have renovated an old house and the garden doubles up as a small restaurant. Just as we entered, we were told that the talk would be on the first floor. It was a small hall with about 30 chairs, all of them were taken already. The speaker was all set to start. However since few more people poured in, arrangements had to be made in the form of more chairs and a small dhurrie was placed in the front. Devika and Ranvir Shah of Prakriti Foundation promptly got up and sat on the dhurrie making two extra seats available to the latecomers.

The talk started with an introduction to the Madras Day by Vincent D'Souza who runs Mylapore Times, Adyar Times and Pondicherry Times. He is also involved with Namma Mylapore an organisation working towards heritage in Mylapore.

V.Sriram started his talk after Devika gave a brief introduction. The sabha culture in Chennai can be traced back to the second half of the 19th Century, thanks to the collapse of the Tanjavur court. Since most of the city's music lovers were in North Chennai, the concerts took place in small halls around that area. It was for the first time in 1890s that a fee was sought for the concert and it was promptly met with lot of opposition.

Considering the fact that most of the music lovers were lawyers and who predominantly lived in Mylapore regions, some of the sabhas started moving southwards and the most important outcome of this audience was that when few organisers wanted to have a festival, it had to be during the court holidays. The first few festivals were during the Easter. Later on, it was shifted to the Christmas holidays as it was longer. Hence, the December music season had nothing got to do with Dhanurmasam or Andal Thiruppavai.

The talk also touched on the political issues that shaped the sabha culture like the Telugu people spinning off from Music Academy to start their own festival, the Tamil Isai movement where Telugu and Sanskrit songs were prohibited from being sung, which lead to the start of another organisation (Tamil Isai Sangam) with a different festival. It was not the birth of these organisation that troubled people but the fact that all these organisations had festivals during the same time. Emminent eople like Kalki Krishnamurti (who supported the Tamil Isai movement) appealed to the various organisations that they should have festivals at different times since he felt that there will not be enough audience for every sabha but it had no effect. Organisation continued to spring up and all of them had their festival at the same time. Currently there exists over 70 organisation and all of them have their festival (over 2000 concerts) during the December/January months. There are any number of people who stream into Chennai from all over the world to take part in these festivals.

On the whole the talk was extremely interesting with Sriram interspersing his talk with intertesting anecdotes. The question answer session at the end was also very lively with the audience asking some in depth questions for which Sriram had to give few more anecdotes.

After the talk was over, the first thing I did was to run out to see if the car had any wheel locks as I parked on the side of the main road itself. Thankfully there werent any. To end this lovely evening, we had a nice dinner (but alas with small helpings) at a well-designed Mediterranean restaurant called 'Cedars' in Kotturpuram.

In the second part, I will talk about the Georgetown Heritage Walk that took place on Sunday morning.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Swahili tale contd...

Here are Part 1 , Part 2 and Part 3 of the Travelogue
Lamu is a kind of place where one just relaxed and did nothing but then surprisingly, even with such minimal activity, one does get hungry. Eager to start my day with yet another traditional breakfast, I was keen to wake up early in the morning and get to the eating joints just after the morning prayers. Although the muezzin’s call did wake me up, better senses prevailed and I just turned around continued sleeping.

I don’t exactly remember when we got up but then soon after hitting the streets, I had my first fill of passion fruit, even though it tasted funny thanks to the toothpaste flavour that was still in my mouth. Our first task of the day was to get hold of Kieron’s sister. We were sure they would still be sleeping by the time we got there, even after a slow breakfast.

It took a long time for the inhabitants of the Swahili house to come up to the door and open it for us. As expected, Kieron’s sister and her gang were still sleeping. Now that we touched base with them and since they would take a long while before they can come out into the streets, we wanted to go for a walk on the northern part of the island. On the sea facing side, there was a bank (lone bank in this place and it also dealt in foreign exchange) and on the street behind was a large mosque. This part of the town had more open area than the southern part; also there are fewer tourists staying here since the houses are mostly thatched.

By the time we got to the Hapa Hapa joint for lunch after a long languid walk, Kieron’s sister gang was already there. While I had ordered for the only veg 'item' on the menu: vegetables with coconut rice; Kieran wanted to eat a lobster. Since I never had anyone eating a lobster before me I had all kinds of thought running through me until that it was served. To eat this creature, I thought one has to break its shell with a small hammer and the insides sucked. At least it wasn’t so bad when it was served; the insides were scooped and made into a kind of curry and stuffed back into the lobster. So technically it was a stuffed lobster!! Kieron was disappointed with how it was served (since it costs a bomb) but I was happy that I did not have to go through someone break open a lobster and suck its meat right in front of me.

Later in the evening we hired a dhow once again to visit Shela, a small village about 8 Km away. Slighter upper end tourists hang out in this village. This place had few restaurants on the beach and had many beach boys playing football in the sand, showing all the skill they have and hoping some middle aged European tourist would call them for their services. The more successful ones were walking around in the sand (or sitting in a dhow) with a woman in their arms.. Kieron said that these women, mostly in their middle ages, are probably divorced and are happy with the kind of attention they get here.

Since there was nothing much to do in this place, after a beer we headed back to Lamu where Kieron bumps into a old friend of his from Mombassa. He was with a young Arab chap; who had a very clear reason for being in Lamu: to get a Muslim prostitute. His father was in the foreign services department and this chap had diplomatic immunity to do whatever pleases him. Later in the night, just after our dinner, a man came up to strike a deal with him. It seems a young Muslim widow was available but he cautioned the price she wanted was high. I guess nothing was too expensive for our lover-boy. He went into the darkness with this chap. I never met him again to listen to his story (I was hoping that this widow was a hoax that that he, after being taken into the darkness gets mugged), since at around 10 in the night we had someone at the door that a dhow would be going out for three days early next morning and that if we are interested we could be a part of this ‘dhow safari’.

The next morning we wake up early and get to the wharf. The dhow was to be manned by two young boys, one of whom introduced himself as the captain. In the dhow were three people: two young women and a young chap. All tourists. We shook hands, told them that we did not have time to prepare for this trip due to the short notice and hence we did not have any water. They had plenty and promised to share it with us. When Kieron asked where they were from, the chap instead wanted Kieron to guess. He guessed right about the chap but couldn’t place the girls. The chap was from Aawstraalia. The girls said they were from Canada. They met each other during their overland trip from Johannesburg to Nairobi. Meanwhile a little local chap came up to one of these girls, stretched out his hand and said “give me colour”. Little kids usually got some coloured pencils and crayons as gifts from tourists and this little fellow wanted his share. When he did not get ‘colour’ from his girl, he went away in anger saying “mzungu bitch!” (mzungu: foreigner). We couldn’t control our laughter. Soon after making a mock attempt to get the little fellow, who ran away to his mother; we sailed out of Lamu.

It was a lovely day to be out in the sea, the sun was not very hot. With the wind coming in from behind us, it did not take us long to get to the open sea. I think when one is on a dhow, with a gentle wind coming from behind; it is magical how one moves. The boat with a slight bobbing motion is propelled forward with just the sounds of water lapping around. They were many fishermen coming back in small boats with eyes painted on the front of the boat and they did not liked to be photographed (so said Kieron). Our captain stops one of the boats and takes a few fish in.

After a few hours, we hit a sand bank and everyone had to jump of the boat and had to push it into the sea once again. Although I barely knew how to swim, I was so happy to jump out and do my bit. It was such a lovely day with blue sky and blue sea and the last thing on my mind was fear. The water felt cool and we splashed around a bit before jumping back on the boat.

In the afternoon we stop at an island called Manda and have our lunch. The captain and his mate are now our cooks. While I had plain rice and a mango, the rest had fried fish to go with their rice. Later in the evening we go for a long walk in search of some civilisation and some tea. Surprisingly we got both, that too a ‘masala chai’. Although there are few inhabitants on this island, it seems some hundreds of years ago, three flourishing town existed on this island. Excavations have shown that extensive trade existed between this island and Iran. By the time we walked back to the group, it was quite dark and I was getting jumpy with every little noise in the bush. To add to my fears, the landscape was queer with silhouettes of 'upside down looking' boabab trees against the darkening sky. Before long we made it to the camp and after a yet another dinner of plain rice for me (with fish for rest), we hit the sack... thereby ending the first day of our dhow trip.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Yesterday: A long ramble

*** Posting a blog written elsewhere long time ago***

Yesterday was quite fruitful. So fruitful that I went to sleep humming a tune. Not that something great happened; it was just akin to a day in one's childhood after winning a small prize at the school fete. Nothing much in the physical sense but a lot in the meta physical realms.

It started like any normal day. Or on second thoughts, it was different from the start. The maid turned up at 7 AM. First of all she actually turned up and then it was at a time we always wanted her to come. Now that am the lone guardian of the house as wife is spending some quiet moments at Ramana Ashram, had to quiz the maid regarding her irregular appearances. As I couldn’t catch a word of the rapid-fire Tamil response of hers, I scooted into the balcony to read the morning papers.

In the evening decided that I could combine a trip to the post office (a task that my wife has been sms-ing lest I forget) and a walk. I had to inform them about our change of address. Somewhere between St. John's church and R.A.Puram Post office I decided to take a long walk to Kapaleswara Temple. Started walking past the Mandavelli bus depot along R.K.Mutt road and at Mandavelli post office, which incidentally is celebrating its 100 year of service, turned right. The lane was nicer and had lesser traffic. Walked as far as a temple that sat at a bifurcation on the road. Took the left ford and turned left into Adam street. Promptly I was transported into another century. Atleast on and off. The houses were from another era when Chennapatnam was a fledgling town. People may have been surprised to see someone gawking over these ancient structures while swank (or atleast in comparison) ones were right next. There a lovely building that now housed a matriculation school, a small house with a large enamel board saying "XYZ Export quality agarbatti"... Few lawyers here and there.

This lane led me to the part of Kapileswara Tank in front of Vasanta Bhavan. As I reached the end, the smell of coffee (Leo and few others) and lovely sambar made me hungry. Instead of succumbing to my desires immediately, decided to walk around the temple, so I walked past Rasi where large shelters were being constructed for some puja in the coming days, and into Ambika Appalam Depot. At Ambika, purchased Vatalkozhambu mix, garlic powder and Hot Madras Onion pickle (777 Brand). Then purchased 8 delicious jackfruit fruitlets for Rs. 10. Delicious since I sampled the ware before the purchase. Walked onto the road that comes from Luz corner.

In the beginning of this street, few weeks ago I saw a tiny board that just said 'Cook and See' and in the next line Meenakshi ammal. I was excited since many years ago someone told me about this book that it is a veritable storehouse of south indian recipes. Bit of googling tells me that three volumes (originally called Samaithu par) written by this lady in the early sixties contain over thousand recipes. Since the place is always locked, I have to imagine that this amazing lady lived here.

Little ahead on this road is my coffee place: sarvana sweets. It is right behind the bus stop where scores of people stop by and savour the elixir. It was an accidental discovery. The coffee costs rs.3 and is worth every paisa of it and much more. The process of the exchange is a bit bureaucratic though. One has to purchase a computer printed coupon inside and then hand it over to a cool dude who has his radio plugged through earphones. I normally ask for extra strong and so I did. This time I even ventured to purchase a tiny buttered paper packet of savouries to go with my coffee. The pack, also costing Rs.3, had five tiny samosas. Each had a filling of less than a teaspoon. Imagine, a tiny tiffin break for rs. six!! no wonder the place is teeming with people. The coffee was great and so were the samosas.

While walking back, I stopped over at a puffed rice shop. They were roasting peanuts and the aroma was wafting all around. For some strange reason, even after sampling the warm peanuts, I decided to purchase poha. Poha made from red rice for breakfast. With a content look, I then walk back home. This got me thinking that I really need to take a heritage walk of Mylapore that has been recently started. As soon as I reach home, Wife called and had a long chat with her.

The good feeling was not coming to an end yet. Later in the night, Bilbo put up her amazing pictures of Japan, one of my dream destinations. Later on, Topkapi wrote an equally amazing blog about Istanbul!!! my other dream destination. So by the time I got to the bed, the good feeling totally got to my head and as a result, I was humming as I hit the pillow. Had someone else written about Greece or Morocco, I could have died peacefully in my sleep with a real content expression!!!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Cities in the mind

When ever I enter a city for the first time, I tend to take in up as much as possible during the first few days when everything seems new and unfamiliar. In case I get to stay in that particular city for longer some of these images will start becoming more familiar. Thereby giving me an opportunity, when I have no better things to do, to juxtapose the image of what has now become a familiar site to that of my early images. By doing so I tend to get the same kind of avuncular feeling that is not too different from the feelings I have when I see a young relative whom I last remember was a tiny little fellow.

Few of the early such stored-images I have are that of Pune. I did not travel much before that. I was there for a short stopover in 1987 and was kind of enamoured by the range of stuff that was available – food and otherwise – on the station road. Coming from Vizag, which has nothing in front of the station, this road was far more exciting and we did not do much in the few hours that we had in that city other than hang near the station. Year later when I got to spend three and half years there, even though the station road was the worst road that there is in that city, I did stop to eat or to purchase something on that station road but that was only to revoke those first few memories I had of that place; especially, eating at Sri Krishna restaurant, one of the many below average joints that are found close to many stations.

Similarly when I went back to Flensburg, a small city on the Baltic Sea in Germany last year after many years I was kind of sad looking at the bus stop, which has in the mean time has become swankier. In 1995, when I first went to that city, which incidentally was my first trip abroad, the toughest part of the whole journey from my home in Visakhapatnam was getting to the university from this bus stop.

What had happened was that in the excitement of finally going abroad, I forgot the instruction leaflet that explained how to get to the university from Hamburg airport. (Actually I even forgot my original fellowship letter but that I came to know much after this incident.) It was only after I reached Hamburg that I realized I did not have the instruction sheet but years of such faux pas made me prepare for such situations. I went to the airport help desk and asked them directions to go to Flensburg. I had to hop skip and jump few buses and a train to finally get to Flensburg station. Getting to the bus stand from here was also easy since only one bus comes here. Then the trouble started.

On the station platform I met two other men who were also headed for the same course that I was attending. They were from Liberia and they did not have the instruction sheet as well. Atleast they were justified in leaving it behind: someone was to be at the airport to pick them up but they missed this person. Since they had the phone numbers, I tried to call the univ but the operator did not speak any English. The dept phone was not being picked up. At the bus-stop no one seems to know where the university was; neither the passengers nor the drivers. We where stranded there for two hours until one of the two Liberians opened his suitcase and took out the invitation letter from somewhere inside. I took this to one of the drivers who looked at it said “ah Pe Ha” then guided us to the correct bus, told that driver where we are supposed to go. It took another few hours of phone calls before someone from the department come over with the keys to our room. Unfortunately for the Liberians they had to go back to the place we started as they had rooms in another hostel. Years ago, it seems that this univ was a Teacher training school and the people in the city still call by its old name ‘Pedagogishe Hochshule’

Last year, we were booked in a hotel that has come up over an old newspaper office but was bang in front of this bus stop. I woke up early to find the rest of the crowd still sleeping, so I opened my window and spent time looking at the buses come by and go as those old images came flashing by. Wondering if Micheal and Marakka remember our first day in Germany as well?

I am waiting to go back to Kenya to look at the area that I frequented: Westlands, Ngara, Kilimani, River road … would certainly try to visit Lamu, Mombasa and Kisumu (on the banks of lake Victoria). I am not sure if that is possible but I can certainly go to Pune to see what has become of Main street, East street, Rastapeth, Kalyani nagar, Deccan area, Bund garden …to drink sugarcane juice in front of Blue Nile, eat at Poona Coffee House, Marz-o-Rin and Madhuban (near Bund Garden)… (I know Dorabjees (the departmental) store has been knocked over. Maybe the restaurant is still around)… pick up Shrewsbury not from Kayanis but from Royal Bakery at the end of MG Road and have a chat with the eccentric Parsi owner… and mostly to eat lovely Maharastrian food.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The trip route

In this map the route is marked in pink. Not all places are on this map but atleast it would indicate the rough coordinates of the places visited.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

nearing end of the travel (or atleast so it seems...)

Need to finish this travel story real quickly. There are too many things that are close to completion but then the end seems no where in sight...

In the last leg of the tour, I would take you'll through, Pedanna, Machilipatnam, Kuchipudi, Ghantasala and Vijayawada. I would be very proud of myself if I can say all that I want to say about these places in one eloquent blog but then eloquence is bit beyond me right now. So would have to be bore and tell you'll everything.

After making a quick get away from Kaikalur, we were in no mood to stop and look. What was there to look in West Godavari (WG) anyway? While on the way, RJ was in pain due to his cramps and we did not engage in any small talk. I was looking forward to reaching Machilipatnam and so was he. The driver after few trial and errors found the right route to get there. We went past through Narsapur, Palakol, Amalapuram (perhaps) and onto Pedanna. Though we were supposed to visit this village the next day, since it pleasantly appeared on our radar we decided to stop and finish our work here.

Pedana is a town famous for Kalamkari. Actually block type Kalamkari. The other version is free hand Kalamkari, an art that is still thriving in Kalahasti. Unlike the block printing of Rajasthan, artisan here use natural colours. This was my first trip here. Unlike many craft villages, P is large and could almost be a town. However, it was not difficult for us to find out where the block maker we wanted to visit lived. He apparently is the only block maker in the village which made our job easy. Most of the large merchants in Pedana in the past had their blocks made in Gujarat. Our man is from Telangana and so is careful not to step on local merchants’ feet by starting his own block printing unit even though he was tempted. He mostly makes blocks and trains people in block making. As he was given the 'master craftsmen' award from the centre, the handicraft department supports training about 20 local youth in block making.

Youth being trained in block making

Block printing in progress

In the last 5-6 years there has been a great setback to the Kalamkari industry due to markets drying up but this year export orders have started picking up and the demand for blocks is going up. With this rather positive news, he shows us how blocks are made and also shows us the block that clinched him the award. It was an exquisitely carved piece that would print a paisley design. However, what caught my eye was a print on his wall that resembled an Escher mosaic. The work was not as intricate as an Escher but then the patterns were the same: various pictures that gel into one and another. The blocks for that print were sent to some client long ago but before he sent them, he printed them on a sheet of paper, framed it and put it up on his wall.

Anyway, in short he is doing well and would like to have more local youth joining him as he has large number of orders. To finish them he hired help from Rajasthan but then he says they pack up and leave the minute they feel homesick and hence the look out for the local youth.

One of the block maker from Rajasthan at work

Contended that something went well that afternoon, we set out to Machilipatnam. I have always wanted to go to this town as it is brimming with history. British, French and Dutch had their establishments here and for years, this town was one of the main ports on the East coast. I was expecting a lot of heritage buildings, narrow streets full of character, old restaurants but then I was disappointed on all fronts. This place was just like any small town. However, unlike the rest of small towns, the roads were very wide. Also, Machilipatnam is where Andhra Bank was founded but then founder branch was no great shakes. It seemed like any other branch only exception is that it has a statue of Pattabi Seetaramayya, the man who started it and a set of steps in iron grill right next to it.

There were hardly any decent hotels in this town to add to it we could not find any good restaurants close by. Instead of hunting for one, we decided to eat early at a tiffin joint not far away. While we were eating, one of the local chaps in the next table came up to RJ and said ‘I know some lines in your language’. RJ looked up and said, tell me... and this person rattled some lines that did seem like any European language. RJ asked him to repeat them. Still no idea what it was. So I asked him about what the lines meant. He said, these lines were in some Telugu novel he read many year ago which the protagonist says to a European woman meaning 'I want to kiss you' (or something in similar lines). He memorised the words and waited for a day when he could put them to use or at least surprise some European woman. Although I told him that I appreciated the effort he took to keep these lines in his memory for years, his friends however had a good laugh at his expense.

After dinner, we went for a walk along the main road to hunt for a cyber cafe. We were directed to one close to a cinema hall. It was place where one had to enter after removing one's footwear. There were many such places during the early days of cyber cafes but then the establishment of this venture likes to uphold traditional values. On our way back, we had a long chat with few local at a Tea centre to find out if there were any forts in the neighbourhood. We were told that there aren’t any in this town but there is one in a village not far away. We immediately decided to stop there the first thing in the morning.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Riverbanks and aqua ponds....

After I managed to get hold of RJ and after he finished his photo session, we had breakfast in a small local ‘parlour’. While we ate, we tried to chart out a route on a not too precise tourist map. The map showed a line across Godavari next to Kotipalli Reevu. I have heard that it is a beautiful spot so wanted to head there.

After going past more green fields, we get to this small village Kotipalli with flashes of Godavari between houses. At the end of the village, a small road leads to a small ghat with steps leading to the river. On the left part of the Ghat was a large Banyan tree with a raised platform all around it that seated some men, animals and gods. The idols were smeared with turmeric and kunkum. A tiny path circling the banyan tree leads to a small jetty. From this jetty, a ferry transported people and vehicles on to the other bank. There was no bridge. So yet another mistake on the map. All around the Ghat were small shops selling assorted ware: from Telugu song books to batteries to 'cool drinks' to bakery products.

While we were looking around, the driver found out that the ferry could transport the car even. However, we were keen on finding a bridge across the river. The locals said that the only bridge close by is Yanam Bridge. We looked at the map and it showed no signs of this bridge. The bridge has apparently been renamed after the erstwhile Lok Sabha speaker Balayogi. (Yanam is a small town close to Kakinada, which is a part of the Union territory of Pondicherry).

Instead of taking the main route, we decided to take the road that ran alongside the river. The road was all along a raised bund that separated the land from the high flood levels of the river. Though the road very narrow and absolutely lousy, the scenes it provided us were fantastic: green paddy fields on our left and a lovely river on our right that was shimmering in almost mid day light, that was brought down to a manageable level by the tinted windows of the car. After a while when opportunity presented us a larger and smoother road that would take us to the bridge quicker, we took it. But not without stopping by and clicking few photos.

In no time, we crossed the river, went past some nice quaint places like Razole and normal dusty towns like Bhimavaram, Narsapur, etc. only to reach one of the most horrible places - Kaikalur - for lunch.

We entered West Godavari somewhere after Razole.There is marked differences between the two Godavari districts. While East Godavari is full of lush green paddy fields, West Godavari (or atleast the part that we were travelling through) is full of aqua ponds with nets hanging over them to protect the cash rich aqua products from being eaten by birds. It was depressing to see these rich fertile lands being converted into irreversible aqua ponds. These ponds are filled with brackish water to grow shrimp, prawns etc. In Vizag district, most of the aqua crop had a virus attack due to excessive farming. This outbreak not only ruined that particular crop but also the reputation of the whole industry. This lead to many companies going bankrupt or loosing lakhs of rupees. The farmers who leased out their lands to aqua companies cannot till the land anymore so, in certain parts of Vizag has large tracts of lands that are lying wasted.

Getting back to the West Godavari aqua farming, Kaikalur seemed to be the centre all the activity. It seems that Kolleru lake, the largest freshwater lake in AP has been encroached all around by aqua ponds, Kaikalur being the largest town in the vicinity seems to have taken this development in its stride. Just about every business is related to this aqua culture. So much so for the chapter in our school telugu book “Kolleti Kongalu” (literally it would mean cranes of Kolleru but it was basically on pelicans, which are in large number in this lake). We actually took this route in hope of finding a restaurant or a place overlooking the lake. Perhaps there is but we were in no mood to search.

To add to the woes (RJ had stomach cramps), I did not feel like eating at all the Veg-Non Veg joints but wanted to look for a pure Veg place. Don’t know why but just did not feel like being a part of the system around. Normally, I tend not to be too emotional about things but then in Kaikalur, the discomfort of travel and my thought may played up on my mind and I refused to eat at any other place. We had to travel up and down the main road at least two times, before we did manage to find a small thatch roofed joint serving Veg Andhra meals. RJ decided to skip a meal.

After the meal both RJ and I were happily to get out of this depressing town and be as far away from Kaikalur as possible.

Some pics here

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

of a temple (the road trip contd...)

Considering that we were to travel from Kakinada to Machilipatnam in one day with an intention of covering as many interesting places in between as possible, we wanted to start early and have breakfast somewhere along the road. The fact that I've never travelled beyond Kakinada into the Konaseema (Godavari delta) region and the realisation that I would finally be seeing the towns that have always seemed to roll nicely off my tongue: Amalapuram, Ravvulapalem, Bhimavaram, etc. has certainly excited me.

East Godavari is a magical place with lush green paddy fields, more or less blue watered canals and to top it all the people have a lovely sing song way of speaking Telugu. I could just stay there and keep listening to people talk in EG. The wonderful feeling of mine was further enhanced with the mist still hanging over the fields. It was nice cool way to start this tour of magical mystery.

Even before I could finish sighing, which is more of an indicator of my long sigh than short distance, we reached Draksharamam, a Shiva temple. The temple had a small entrance that leads to a very large square complex. All around the main temple was a wide raised path that was Cuddapah stone topped. Instead of going into the temple, we decided to walk around the complex first.

When we reached the other side of the temple, as some puja to an open air deity was completed and the priests were giving everyone theertham and bananas to all those who attended it. As there were few more bananas left, we were called out. After being blessed on accepting the prasadam, we walked back to the front.

I then noticed that some restoration work was being done with the help of Archeological Society of India (as the large board said). I further noticed that most of the workers were Muslims perhaps from UP who were happily chatting in chaste Hindi/Urdu as they chipped the edges of the stone slabs, which would later be placed just around the plinth of the main temple. Perhaps to stop seepage of rain water along the temple foundation. RJ and I had to stop our romantic chat about this inter-religious interaction as we came to a large banyan tree with a circular platform around it. All around the platform there were idols that had entwined snakes carved on them. People were walking around the platform, hands folded and in silent reverence.

From this platform, a path on the right leads to the main temple in the centre. When we entered, what we thought was the main temple was infact another square complex. The temple was in the middle of this smaller complex. The complex had a pillared hall that ran all around the temple, where few puja were being done and few more were in the process of being initiated.

One part of the hall had another floor to it with an iron ramp that leads to another level of the main temple. I realised main temple has two levels and the ramp connects the first floor of the hall to the first floor of the temple.

The main deity was a tall lingam, which could have been a part of a Buddhist monastery. I have a feeling that many Buddhist stupas in this area could have been converted into Hindu temples. Amaravati and Annavaram are two temples that I visited which had Buddhist activity around and have tall structures that are said to be Shiva lingams, with a lovely story as to why this Lingam is taller than the usual ones. So, Draksharamam could also be one such entity. Before I get flamed, I would have to say that this is my theory or rather my hunch and has no academic support to it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Of food, looms and boats.

I am always interested in finding out nice small places to eat, where ever I am. I usually ask the local people while drinking tea at a tiny roadside joint or when I am travelling in an auto or even when I make a call from the local STD booth. Even if I don't eat at this place, this piece of info could be of use at some other point to time. More often than not, I am never disappointed with the recos. Few years ago, I stumbled upon Raja Rajeswari Palghat Mess opposite the Pithapuram railway station. The local auto driver recommended this place, said it is run by Palghat Iyers who came to P few decades ago and that it is a nice place to eat. So both of us decided to have our lunch there, as I hired the auto for the whole day.

This was a place in a typical 'shopping complex' that are becoming popular in many small towns. They are a series of shops mostly running parallel to the main street of that place and the main gutter. At times, the shopping complex could also be perpendicular to the main street in which case the shops are on either side of a long corridor with the entrance being on the main street. Usually, there are two wheelers both motorised and non-motorised parked haphazardly in front of these complexes. Of the two I like those running parallel to the main street, it has more light coming in; although there would be more dust. The other kind of shopping complex are dingy and damp. Well, dust can build up immune system.

Coming back to our RRPM, it is a two floored venture in a 'parallel' kind of shopping complex. On the ground floor was the 'tiffin' section. The first floor was the 'meals' section. The kitchen was on the ground floor just after the steps. Around the payment counter was a large display that contained various ' hot and sweet specialities'. Both the driver and I went straight to the first floor. The meal was served on a plantain leaf and was ok. It has the usual dal, one fried curry, one masala curry, ..... but then the lime pickle was great. So, while paying the bill, I asked if they sold pickle. They did and I purchased 5 quarter kilo packs that I wanted to distribute among my cousins. That did not happen as my mother who rarely eats pickle wanted all of them and I gave them to her. Though I have tried to get back to this place over the next few months of my data collection, there was never an opportunity to do so.

Considering this past, I was looking forward to be at RRPM once again. This time, the plantain leaf was no long there but a green plastised paper cut into a leaf form was put in front of us. I did not like it but RJ liked this very much; he said it would make nice dinner plates back home if he had to serve Indian food. So the first thing on my menu was the pickle. I asked the waiter to bring sample of as many pickles as he can. Considering that they were being sold at Rs. 50 per kg, for 120 Rs. I had a wide variety of quarter kilos by the time we left.

We went to three hotels in Kakinada before deciding on Jaya International. The place was small and functional and was extremely well run. RJ decided to look for cyber cafe to send a mail to his wife and I wanted to catch up on some sleep that has eluded me through the Sankranti period. At 4 we start towards Uppada.

Uppada, as I mentioned earlier is a weaving village that is right next to the sea and so has a sizeable fishermen population. The handloom cluster of Uppada consists of only four or five villages. For years, these sarees were known in north Andhra as cheap but good ones. However, few years ago, the Weavers Service Centre in Vijayawada decided to teach these weavers how to weave Jamdani. This is a special weave due to which both the side of the saree look the same. There is no right side. The processes requiring three people is painstakingly slow and for some reasons this cluster quickly adopted this new weaving technique and some local weavers have started producing saree that are well into the Rs. 15,000 to 25,000 ranges with pure gold zari. However, one can find good Jamdani sarees for around 3000. Due to this new technique the whole cluster is prospering.

The road to Uppada from Kakinada is all along the sea and is very picturesque. As we approach Uppada, we have to travel past the many boats that are anchored close to the shore and few that are on the beach.

Here in Uppada, we had a long chat with the local entrepreneur who is into handloom business. He showed some of his new Jamdani products which he gets made in Venkatagiri near Tirupati as the labour is cheaper there. The weavers in Uppada have formed a union due to which they can negotiate increases in wages when necessary and this has prompted some people like KVR to start some contract weaving operation in Venkatagiri.

The production process in the cluster has been stopped due to the festival and would commence after 26th, said KVR. Otherwise, one would have to walk past meters of warp being sized in the street and the whole area would be filled with the thuds of wooden shuttle hitting the sides of the wooden loom as the sarees are being made.

Here are some more pics

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The road trip contd....

As we travelled to 'Koppaka, as the locals call Etikoppaka, some the chicken that were to make the day's delicacies were being plucked and roasted on fires made from hay in the fields along the road. This road would take us to Narsipatnam but to go to Koppaka, we had to turn right to go to Daarapudi village. As I was not sure where exactly to turn right, we stopped some where along the road to ask direction. Though I have travelled many times to Koppaka but normally we take another route. As we had to eat at Adda Road, we had to give that route amiss.

This village being the location of a cooperative sugar factory, soon we started encountering bullock carts loaded with sugar cane. On large roads these are fine but when one is on a narrow road with a long line of carts, it could be a test of ones patience. Luckily for us even in the tiny village lanes we did not encounter any carts. Koppaka is on the other side of the river Sarada (I think). As we were heading towards the low bridge that connects the two high banks, RJ asked why these two villages have always remained extremely dusty. For some reason these two villages have remained dusty through the years. Thick layer of extremely fine dust is always on and by the side of the road. Initially I thought the villagers must be cursing us for travelling in a car. Years ago it may be true that the inhabitants may have said nasty things at the occasional vehicles that raised the dust but with the amount of traffic growing, I am sure they must have stopped thinking about it and must have resigned themselves to this feature of nature.

When we reached CVRaju house we were told that he is with his in-laws in Vijayanagaram. However, the centre (as the craft shop is referred by the family) would be open. By few trials and errors we reach the centre. It was not yet open. A young woman who made lovely breakfast for RJ and me last year was waiting for the gumasta (clerk) to come and open the door. The day’s newspapers were by the side of the door on the steps. I sat down to read the paper, as RJ decided to go for a short walk. The woman went to bring the clerk.

The clerk came but RJ did not. I went in to see the stock of new toys and to enquire if the telephone was not working. I tried to reach them before we left Vizag but the automated voice said the phone was out of order. The phone was working just that I was trying an old number. As I was talking to the gumasta about their recent exhibitions and about how a part of the centre collapsed, RJ came in. Soon he was making the gumasta run around with new toys and was making notes in his books so that he could decide on how many products he could order. I sat on the floor next to the toys and continued to read the newspaper.

I guess a word must have been sent to Raju's partner as he turned up saying nice hellos to both of us. Normally I would enquire about his political activities as he was he local Telugu Desam party office bearer. But since they received a drubbing in the last election, I decided to enquire about the collapsed roof. This centre was made many years ago with the help of potters from Nalgonda. The roof was made using Guna tiles. These are hollow tapering cylinders of burnt terracotta. These are then stacked one on top of another until they form a complete semicircle. Once the semi circle is formed the support underneath is taken off, and the next layer is made next to this one. By placing one layer next to another, the whole roof could be covered. To fill in the gaps between these layers, cement mortar is used until the top surface is even all over. This is one of the many alternative building technologies that are available. In the case of the part of the roof that collapsed, the analysis was that it was due to non existence of a concrete beam underneath the guna tiled structure to stabilise the forces that are acting to push the wall away. Few months ago, thankfully during the night, the wall could not take the load from the roof and gave way. No one was hurt.

Just as RJ was almost through with his ordering, I remembered that I should rather buy these products here than in Chennai, where they would be two to three times the price. Also, perhaps, I could send a basket full of toy to my two little nieces in Vizag with the driver of the taxi since he seems very nice and his office was in the lane next to my parent’s house. But then I asked him after I purchased the products, thankfully he said yes without much fuss. Also, while purchasing, I remembered that I have not taken any photos. So asked one of the helpers to go and purchase batteries for the ones I had were exhausted during the rampant photo sessions at the Bhogi festival two days earlier.

After I finished the purchases and photographing the products we set off to Kakinada. Actually we wanted to go to Uppada, a small weaving cluster that made Jamdani and butta (or butti) sarees, and then to Kakinda but considering the fact that we would reach around 1 PM, we decided to eat lunch at Pithapuram and then go to Kakinda, check into a hotel and later in the afternoon around 4 set out to Uppada.

few pics at the other blog site

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The road trip (Part 1)

Last week I went on a three day trip from Visakhapatnam to Vijayawada. The deal was to visit some interesting places between these two cities so that they could be a part of tour that a friend of mine - RJ was planning to organise in Jan 2007. He made a short trip last year along this area but this time he wanted to do a bit more research about the hotels to stay and eat along the way. Tentatively the plan was to stay one night in Kakinada and another in Machilipatnam and use the days to visit nearby town and villages. We decided to start at 6 in the morning on 16th and eat breakfast somewhere after Ellamanchili.

The day started off well, we managed to leave by 6.30, even though I slept for few hours the previous night (my extended family was in sankranti revelry mode that mainly constituted of playing three cards and visiting a 24 hour coffee shop of a local hotel into the wee hours of the morning). The new highway was smooth and empty, in no time we reached the steel plant zone where we took the "Anakapalle and Ellamanchilli" by-pass. Over the years, a detour through the steel plant has been the favourite route for many non commercial travellers considering the fact that heavy duty lorries avoided this route as it involved paying toll twice.

The area beyond the steel plant was completely god forsaken until NTPC decided to set up a thermal power unit. Even as recent as 1997, the land rates here were about Rs.30, 000 an acre. NTPC gave a compensation of 1.2 lakhs an acre without the guarantee of a job in the unit (while acquiring land for steel plant the govt gave local rates but also gave a job per family) ever since then, fuelled by the previous government's mode of sanctioning large tracts of land for various industrial zones, the land rates are touching the roof (Rs. 25 lakhs an acre for a road side plot and the price tapers down proportional to the distance from the road) and are showing no signs of abating. Imagine how financially brilliant I am, when in 1997, I purchased a motor bike for Rs. 45,000 (my savings in Germany) even as some people were trying to sell me a piece of land in this zone for 25K an acre.

Anyway, getting back to the road trip, the first intended stop was Etikopakka, the wooden toy village. In this village for over hundred years, craftsmen have been producing lacquered finished wooden products that were sold mostly at fairs and temple in the local region. Some of you may have heard the term lakka pidatalu, little wooden kitchen set that is still very popular in spite of the plastic variations available in the market. However, due to difficulties in production due to the hindrance of the forest department as the wood was a forest produce and due to difficulties in making the products, the whole industry was on the verge of disappearing. It was due to some NGOs in the vicinity that the industry was revived. Once certain critical mass of trained craftsmen were available, few of the local persons got involved in the trade and have started making some wonderful products using natural colours. (pics posted in this blog)

I thought there should be some decent places to eat on the highway after Ellamanchili but then the day was being celebrated as mu-kanumu (which incidentally was the previous day but since it was a Saturday, a day when most of the north andhrites restrain from eating meat) and most of the local markets like Paravada, Achutapuram, which normally are vegetable markets, were filled with chicken and mutton sellers. None of the shops or eating places were open. However, I was sure that some places near Adda Road (an intersection on NH 5 that connected the tribal areas on Eastern Ghats behind Narsipatnam and the coastal areas beyond S.Rayavaram) but that was not the case, most of the shops were closed and the meat sellers were having a field day. Adda Road is a settlement that developed only along the junction, so by going left... u-turn... left... u-turn... left... u-turn and left one would complete the trip of the settlement and reach the starting point. We found a small place with a typical aluminum idli vessel on a smoke-less chula (a coal fired stove with a smoke chimney) but the idlis weren’t done as yet. While the driver and I went to relive ourselves 'around the corner' (which in real terms did not exist in this place), RJ plonked himself on the wooden bench inside the 'hotel'. By the time I came back, RJ had a plate of three steaming idli's in front of him. In no time, the place was filled with people either eating or taking a 'parcel'. With our hunger satiated, we headed to Etikopakka.

actually wanted to end the first part after Etikoppaka but considering that it would be part of the next blog, I decided to put up two pictures as a bait to read my next part :)

wooden products

wooden products 2

Friday, January 07, 2005

swahili experiences...

Now that we were on land again, that too without getting wet, we decided to celebrate by getting something to eat at the best shack in front of the sea. It was while the food was being prepared, which took a long time as no one was in a hurry, I said we should plan a bit on what we should be doing; more importantly on where we should be staying. However, the first thing Kieron wanted to do was to find his sister.

His sister and her friend were with their two African boyfriends. Who, in true Hindi filmi style became their b.f. after they 'saved' these girls from certain pestering creatures in the lanes of Old Mombassa. However, normally it would have been easy to stalk out two white girls with their local boyfriends as everyone would have been talking about them, but then Lamu is another place.

Somehow, the hippies of the seventies (or was it the sixties?) 'found' Lamu. I say somehow as it beats me how on earth did they get to this piece of island in Indian Ocean, close to Somalia border, of all the places in the world. So since the time Lamu and the islands around it have been 'found', the locals have seen many 'romances' that end up nowhere. Well in these case its the means that matter not the ends. I am not saying that person A should fall in love with someone of his or her own ilk but then one can easily see that these romances, considering the discrepancies between the two parties, have rather short lives. Which in many cases is mutually beneficial. Few days later I met an artist who lovingly showed me a picture of his daughter living in Sweden. His ex, he said, sends the daughter once in a while to Lamu. He went to Sweden once, the lady paid.

Anyway getting back to the story, our meal took a long time to come and longer time to finish. If this meal was the sign of things to come, I could see that it is going to be one unhurried holiday. After we stepped out, Kieron caught hold of couple of 'beach boys' who can give assistance for many 'tourist activities' that are offered here. He soon found out where his sister was staying and that they went out on a dhow to someplace to swim. Instead of waiting for them to find out if they had a room for us, we decided to look for one ourselves.

Lamu, has one long sea facing road, which is the only road where a vehicle could move. The rest of the town is lost in a flurry of small lanes. After the first row of sea facing buildings which include a bank and a museum, is the next widest lane. On this lane one could find many interesting buildings including few mosques and a small fort.

Right after the small square in front of the fort was a small movie hall which to my surprise was playing an Amitabh movie. Even more surprising was that it was a all woman show. Until then I never realised the potential of Bollywood to transcend the barriers of language and culture. After all it is just not us who like our hero to float with his lady love like a butterfly and sting a few baddies like a bee. Would have like to see a movie in this theater but considering the fact that a Sanjay Dutt movie was to be shown next, I decided against it.

With no difficulty, we found a room in one of the houses close to the fort. This was a large room on the first floor of a Swahili house with two separate four post beds on which mosquito nets were hanging. Two small windows overlook the street and into the house on the opposite side. After having a wash in a open roof bathroom with a tin door, we set out again.

While walking on the sea front, Kieron stopped once in a while to greet and catch up with old friends. We also wanted to 'charter' a dhow the next day for a swim at one of the nice beach of an island close by. Lamu does not have a beach, the island ends and the sea begins, with lot of concrete blocks to stop the soil erosion.

Next day, it was my first trip on a dhow. Dhow is a traditional sail boat with two or more sails. It is wonderful to be on one of these with wind coming from behind and the boat effortless sailing over the water, without the sound of a motor. Just the swoosh of the water being cut by the stern of the boat. It is worth the experience. However, life on dhows is not always poetic. If the wind is too strong, it may tilt the boat dangerously. I have never seen it but Kieron tells me that to counter balance the force from the wind, a helper is literally made to 'walk the plank' and sit at the edge. However the boat I was in did tilt about 10- 20 degrees but not too dangerously. By the time we headed back, it was late in the evening and the dusk was falling and it was good to be sailing smoothly into the Lamu, with the lights turning on as we approached.

It was on this trip that we were told that some chaps organise a three day island hopping trip on a dhow with food included for the price. After Kieron translated that, I told him I was on. However, instead of we having the whole dhow to ourselves, we wanted to share it with some others.

After reaching Lamu, we went in search of a place to eat. When I was told that I could eat coconut rice with vegetable curry, little did I realise that this was all that I could get to eat on this island. The rest was sea food. Each time I asked is there anything veg, I would be replied "can I give some coconut rice with vegetable curry?" in a tone that kind of got to me after few days.

Thus our fist day at Lamu came to an end. Though we did nothing, we were unbelievably tired.

Chaps I thought it would be three part series. It is already the third part and still someway to go. So, I have a request. Folks could you tell me which of the parts could have been culled to make it an interesting read?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Chronicles of a spanish village as 'voices of the old sea'

In one of my earlier rambles, long time ago, I made some empty promises to review this book. Nonetheless, like a true person of modern times, I broke the promise and went on to start writing another series of blog. Which, incidentally, is yet to reach its final stop. Anyway, in a attempt to straighten up the matters, here is my first try to start the review process. I say review process since, before I start, I would like to take you'll on a slight detour as to how I got hold of this book. It is quite likely that this detour itself would fill up a blog by itself.
*(coming back from future, i can say: it did)*

This book was recommended to me by Robert, when I told him what kind of travel books I was looking for. R had a book stall at the weekly second hand book market at Spui (said Spow) in Amsterdam. Spui is a tiny square just off the main shopping street (Kalvestraat) of Amsterdam. Incidentally, this street few centuries ago was one of the first commodity market of the world, in addition to doubling up as the red light area once darkness fell. Years later, the authorities moved it around 'nieumarkt' area, where it still located. The red light area I mean. I have no idea where the current stock market is but then who wants to know that piece of information.

I was told by everyone, before I visited Spuii, that the second hand market has only Dutch books and old maps. To justify my trip to spui on a friday afternoon, I told everyone in the dept that I wanted to get myself an old Dutch map of S.India. Well, that was infact true since I wanted to get hold of an old map where Bhimipatnam and Mausilipatnam are in larger and in bolder letters than their neighbouring cities Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada.

However a tiny hitch was that I did not know the exact way to Spui, though I did know it is somewhere close to the famous Indonesian restaurant "Kantijl and de Tijger" and Amsterdam Historical museum. I was also sure I will reach there by few trials and errors. One doesnt get lost in Amsterdam, if you know roughly which direction your destination is from your starting point. I would have loved to talk of the cycle route from my room to spui, on which I traversed many a time after this trip, but I will leave that for another blog. So getting back, I did make it to Spuii and to the book market.

I started with the first stall on my left and then zig-zagged my way through the market. To say that all books in the market are dutch is not true. Each stall had a small row of books in various foreign languages, mostly European. Some put them in the front, others put them at the back and some other put them on one side. So, after few stalls, I started looking for a row of books that were away from the rest and nothing else. By this time, I also stopped looking for maps as the first few shops mostly had European cities and towns; the ones of S.Asia were British and by then 'Vizagapatnam' and 'Bezawada' were already prominant. Also, it was too painfull to flip through the large pile of maps, packed inside plastic covers.

In the second last stall on the right hand side, I noticed all books were in English. This made me look out for the owner: he was sitting on a long stool in front of the shop with a book in his hand as people were milling around him, looking up once in a while to take stock of the people in his shop, with a hand-rolled cigarette in his mouth.

To say that I spent a long time in his shop would be misleading. I spent so much time looking at the books that when I went to pay for some books I picked up,
he said "so, you have seen them all?".
"Yes, I replied but I could not get my hands onto any travel books", I said.
"oh, what kind of travel books? guides?"
"no, i am interesting in travelogues but I couldnt find any here", i replied
"travelogues?, i have many at my regular shop" and went on to dig a business card from his pocket.
that was when he said "I am Robert and this is my shop", while giving me his card.
I looked into it, it said "Timbuctoo Antiquarian Books: Travel, History, Literature"
and as I was reading it he said, "now that you have told me, I will bring some next week"
"that would be nice", i replied.

I could not go to Spui for about 15 days. Next time when I went, I went straight to R's stall. He had some travel books. though not as many as he brought the previous weeks he told me. As I was looking the collection, he comes over and started asking me about the travel books I read and authors I know. Then he started picking up some books and said, "I would recommend these". As I started to look at the books, he explained about each of them. I kept some and put some back. Among the ones I kept is this book: 'Voices of the Old Sea'.

The author, Norman Lewis lived for some time in a Spanish village on the coast right after the war. He indulges in the same activities as the men in that area did- all related to fishing- in ways that have not changed for centuries. He then goes back for two successive summers to participate in the 'sardine catches'.

Next time he visits it, 25 years later, he experience a drastically changed topography. There is only tourism industry and the place was certainly not the Spain he knew. The moneyed from northern Europe seem to have completely destroyed the old life style and now, things are all "tourist centered".

He then sits down to write a chronicle of the three summers he spent in that village. The name of the book comes from a coversation he had with an old fisherman. He asked the fisherman on how the 'recent' changes were likely to affect his future. for which the fisherman replied: "how can anyone say? One thing is certain. here we have always been, and here, whatever happens, we shall remain, listening to the voices of the old sea"

In what seemingly seems to be my behaviour on DSS - write blog in parts that are spaced out from one an another - I will put up the actual review in the next part.

Meanwhile, here are two pictures of Spui


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