Category Archives: Culture

My tryst with a villager family who was once a stranger

Madam, yeh ek choota sa gaon hai, aap yahan adjust nahi ho paaogi.  Aakhir Aap sheher se hain, said a person on the other end of the phone.”(Madam, this is a small village. You won’t be able to adjust here. You are from a city.)

I smiled and said, do not worry, I like to travel to places like these. He seemed astonished. The man on the other end of the phone was a person, I never met.

I got in touch with him over a conversation on a Facebook community back in 2012.  However, he was right. My travel destination was neither a sight for beautiful mountains nor was it a place anywhere near the sea. I was also speaking in broken Marathi, thanks to my schooling in Mumbai. Hence, I definitely did not seem a person from another country who wanted to explore a local place so unheard off.  The guy on the other end connected to a villager who was to host me for the days I wished to be at the village.

My backpack in my room. That is some rustic living.
My backpack in my room. That is some rustic living.

Living with strangers and that too as a girl is something that gave me those rolling eyebrows from people who even knew me. In those, were also my friends, who perhaps, knew me  closely. Back then, it did sound adventurous. However, in hindsight the experiences made me travel more often and trust people in the villages.

Going with my gut, I set off to learn to live with a tribal community in Maharashtra.

My tryst to learn Warli Art

I like the tribal art –Warli done by the adhivasis of the North Sahyadri range in India. The Warli tirbe is found in the belts of Dahanu, Talasari, Jawhar, Palghar, Mokhada, and Vikramgadh of Maharashtra. The art is the part of their everydayness and every house has a traditional warli painting.

The tribal warli art found in the house
The tribal warli art found in the house in Veeti

With the quest to learn the art from the adhivasis themselves, I choose to go to Veti in Dahanu located 130 kms from Mumbai.  After finalising my plan and coaxing my friends to accompany me for a day, they were more than willing to tag along. All though my gut told me I would be safe, I needed the assurance.

Once I reached Veeti, I got to know the meaning of the phase Atithi Devo Bhavo– Guest is God. The entire family was excited to host me and my friends. Sandeep Dada (Dada means  brother in Marathi) climbed a tadi tree, a tree similar to a coconut tree and gave us the fresh fruits. We ate the delicious radishes from the farm.

Then Sandeep Dada, showed us the Warli art that he had hand painted. He was passionate about his art, however, marketing and selling it to cities was always a struggle.

Sandeep Dada, was going to be my teacher for the next four days.

My day with the Sandeep Dada and his family

Every morning would start with getting up and listening to his stories about his life in the village. Then, he would give me something to draw and teach me the art and would always encourage me to draw. I still think, I cannot draw!

My teacher gave me good grades
My teacher gave me good grades

Some days were about learning the art, while other days were about talking to the children or doing nothing at all. Yes, gazing at the night sky and seeing the stars was always on the agenda. I also visited the nearby dam which was a beautiful sight.

The nearby dam

I never realised when I was called tai which meant sister in Marathi. Isn’t it amazing that the people you really do not know, who were once strangers become close to you and you share an emotional bond?

In my four days with the family, I ate fresh food and had a clean air to breathe. It seemed a bit odd that the family would serve me first and then eat. I tried to tell them to eat with me, however, it was their hospitality and the culture and they wanted to serve the guest first.

Sandeeo Dada and his family
Sandeeo Dada and his family

A wedding at the village

Sandeep Dada and his family took me to a traditional tribal wedding. While the men were drinking the local drink – Neera and got high, the women were busy running around with the work. Out of nowhere, the bride’s mother hugged me and gifted me a saree.

The warli art which was also a part of the wedding
The warli art which was also a part of the wedding

There was an old grandfather who was dancing with this stick and was enjoying the wedding.

While I came to learn the warli art, I got much more in return. I was filled with gratitude. It made me think:  Nobody had a reason to be nice. This is the love of the villages, I seek for. This is how my faith in humanity is restored. Hence, I say, “I am a city girl whose heart is in the villages of India.”

As I write this, it makes me feel sad that I am not in touch with Sandeep Dada as I lost my phone and eventually changed my number.

However, I want to go back to the village and trace the family and show him this story that I shared with you, dear fellow traveller.

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Bursting stereotypes in a city already stereotyped : Varanasi (Part 1)

“In the city of chaos, there are pockets of saneness. They are right in front of you. You must know where to look for it, ” said my walking tour  guide Aayush Rathi , co-founder of Roobaroo walks in Varanasi.

This was my fifth trip to Varanasi and in my head, I laughed at this statement. Here was the loud honking with tuk-tuks and cars moving around  with no lane discipline whatsoever, and the 26-something guy was talking about finding sanity. “Good luck to that, I told myself with a tinge of sarcasm.

Little did I know that not only the three hours would break my stereotypes of the city, my entire trip would turn out about breaking these notions I had formed about the city. Not my fault totally. This is the how the city is portrayed  in the media and the movies glorify it.

We started the walking tour with a 17th-century old church in Varanasi- St Thomas Chruch.  Now, this may not sound odd, but we Indians have always known Varanasi as a center for Hinduism, and starting the tour from a church for the very same reason was my first myth busted about Varanasi.

The group who were along with me in the walking tour of the city

The group who were along with me on the walking tour of the city

Where else would you find a colourful toilet?
Where else would you find a colourful toilet?

I was told Varanasi has about 3000 temples.  I bumped into Tom from  Dublin while I was enjoying lassi in a kulhad. I was surprised to hear him converse in Hindi with the shopkeeper. I think, I was the only one amazed with this. I struck a conversation with him and learnt that he has been travelling to Varanasi for about 5 years. Tom  was working on the cause of human trafficking in the city.  He had enrolled himself for Hindi  tuitions and loved the colours of the city.

He  said, “You see the number of temples here? There are as many pubs in Dublin when compared. I love the insanity of the city. The city has its own rhythm and that is what I like about this place.”

My fascination with the city had just begun where I was still finding meaning in the chaos.  In the same walking tour, when we reached in thatheri gali, I was taken to the house of the revered poet Bhartendu Harishchandra,  the father of modern Hindi literature. The transition from a narrow lane which was dimly light to an ancient house with a pretty looking a courtyard, this juxtaposition was something one should witness when in the city.

Courtyard of Bhartendu Harishchandra

They say, every lane in Varanasi has a story waiting to be heard.  Now I know what it meant. While passing through another lane, we saw a group of old people who had gathered to play chess. Not very far away, I heard the old news being played by All India Radio while  people were busy with their business.  It did seem like I was transported to a different era altogether.  For a city girl like me, these experiences were a rare occurrence.

The men and the barber shop.
The men and the barber shop.
Join them in the game of chess, will you?
Join them in the game of chess, will you?

It is also easy to get lost in the lanes and for someone like me, who does not remember directions this can be one of the biggest challenges.

There is so much to the city and I have not even got talking about the beautiful ghats, the music, art, and food of the city. I need to spend a good one month to just soak and understand the many sides of Varanasi.

A few crazy things to do in Varanasi 

  • Get a haircut from the guy sitting on the street.  (Varanasi is famous for the local barbers on the street)
  • Participate in a local gym called akhada
  • Have bhang, magic cookies and get high as hell
  • Have weed with the babas of Varanasi in one of the ghats.
  • Try playing hide and seek in the lanes of Varanasi Ha-ha.
  • Be-friend a person who has a hand-rowed boat and listen to his perspective of the city.
  • Learn the recipe and make a Banaransi paan at the local paan shops

 

 

 

My fifth visit to Varanasi: On a mission to find meaning to the chaos

Why people prefer travelling to Varanasi

Varanasi, the 3000 -old -city is one of the oldest city in the world. It is known to be the cultural and spiritual  hub of the India with its traditional music, Sanskrit, Ayurveda, Indian astrology, poetry and stories.

The ancient city has the ghats, the river Ganges, the mesmerising sunrise, religion, Hinduism and the Ganga aarti which is artistic and poetic. There is a variety in the cities food,  bhang- the local drink that makes one high as hell, religion, god-fearing people so and so forth. On the surface, this is what someone has an idea when in the city.

Sunrise at Assi ghat, Varanasi

Sunrise

 


On a mission to like the city

I must admit, I never liked the city. When I had a full-time job, I travelled to this city often.I could not understand the chaos and the contrast the city had to offer. I used to always wonder why travellers who were coming to India for the first time had this city a must visit. This time, I wanted to travel for travel’s sake.

My fifth trip to this ancient city had a mission-  to decipher meaning behind the chaos.  A friend once told me -“A lot of how you see a place depends on how you travel to the place. If you travel by air and are picked up by a cab driver, you will experience the different side of the city.  She added, “If you travel by train, you will see the maddening crowd, the peculiar people of the city. You will observe the narrow bylanes, chaos  more closely” This was true for Varanasi as well.  The mood had already set in with my train travel.


My tryst with a 26-hour train journey from Mumbai to Varanasi

While I love Indian trains and have even lived in a train for 15 days, this was my first time alone in a 26- hour long train journey.  My co-passengers were busy discussing politics and the prime minister of the country. There was a woman travelling with her infant and her husband. The couple had occupied much of my seat on the train as well. When I happened to give them the dreadful looks, they would say- But umm.. we are travelling with an infant. I, who was perhaps the only one in a jeans and t-shirt, was being judged. A woman in her late 50s told me, “You are educated but still, why are you quiet? I smiled and got back to reading a book.

While I was done dealing with this, on the other end of the boogie was a man fighting with a fruit vendor.  The man paid for the fruits but wanted the money back as he felt they were not worth the money.  In that argument, the man started threatening the street vendor and started speaking in broken English. It was irritating  but in hindsight if I look at it this was funny. He started speaking about the country and the problems in India.  Thrice, the railways policemen had come to our boogie. I also experienced this being peculiar to the trains heading to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Well, I do not want to generalise people from few states, I know I am doing this here.


Moving on to booking my stay

In the middle of all of this, while I  observed people and conversations around me, I realised I had not booked my hotel yet at Varanasi. A friend, who was in touch with me, said she had it all sorted!

She put me in touch with a person who ran a travel company- Serenity routes in Varanasi. Now, I have been  away from tour companies, because I have been an independent traveller that way. However, something about serenity routes told me they were different.

My phone conversation with the founder of Serenity routes went like this. “You know, I have been to Varanasi before. However, I have never really liked the place.”

His reply, “Let me show you the city- as never before. Perhaps then, you can decide for yourself. ”

I could rely on them, I thought. They were not the kind of tour company who were trying to sell off a package to me. A few exchange of WhatsApp texts and a backpackers hostel was booked for me and a bunk was booked for me. It was situated 100 mts away from Assi Ghat, one of the places in Varanasi to just be. It is also away from the otherwise chaotic city.


First impressions of the city

While I got off the-the railway station, I had rickshaw drivers or the tuk-tuk as they are called to take me to the backpackers hostel-blox hostel.

The traffic was not moving. Cycle rickshaws were ringing the bells asking the tuk-tuk wallahs to make way.  It was noisy. I wasn’t able to see a traffic signal anywhere! Ah no, being an Indian does not mean one is  used to these things!

This is perhaps the only city where traffic can be caused even while you are walking. As the lanes are narrow and on one end you have two bikes passing by and at other times, you are obstructed by a bull or a cow!

I was asking myself this question- Did I make the right decision to travel to Varanasi? I mean what more the city had to offer?

I saw a religious rally, which had made the traffic of the city slower and chaotic than usual. At the same time, I saw a funeral procession passing by.

Not a little far away, I saw the Taj Hotel in Varanasi.  I just smiled to myself and the delicious ironies the city had to offer. I told myself- This trip would be an eventful one.

To be continued in the next post.

 

When doorways and narrow bylanes of Varanasi have a story waiting to be captured

Varanasi,the 3000-year-old ancient city of India has many stories waiting to be heard. The essence of the city can be best captured through it’s doorways and narrow bylanes.

For the first time, I participated in a walking tour that helped me see a different side of the city. I was fascinated to experience what I saw.

Here is the hobo’s attempt to bring to light what I saw.

When the doorways have a story to say.
When the doorways have a story to say.

 

 

What I saw as a traveller at the Kalaghoda festival in Mumbai

Perhaps, the best way to explore a city is to observe it through the lens of art, theater and culture and the social movements deeply rooted in the history. 

One such event which is synonymous to the city where I am born and brought up- Mumbai is the Kalaghoda Arts  Festival which takes place every year in the month of February.


What does Kalaghoda mean?

Kalaghoda literally means ‘Black Horse’ . A black stone statue was built by a Jewish philanthropist David Sasson and King Edward 7 was mounted on the statue.

The area at Kalaghoda has art galleries, museums and libraries. This part of the town, is also one my favourite places to just be.

I leave you with wandering pictures that I could relate to.

Somewhere is always a good place to arrive.
Somewhere is always a good place to arrive!
Preserve not perish
Preserve not perish. The world is indeed a beautiful place to explore, see and discover.
Hello Bastar
Hello Bastar

Bastar, is a district in Chattisgargh, a state in central India. Many Indians assume that the place is unsafe and it is labeled to breed Naxalisim. The hobo feels that at times, you have to look beyond the obvious to do justice to the rich art and cultural heritage.

 Bastar artifacts are made by the tribal’s and many of them depict the rural lifestyle of the tribals.  These artifacts are prepared from Dhokra technique and use cow dung, paddy husk and beeswax and red soil to prepare the handicraft. The process to see these being made  is worth a watch and calls for a visit!


I saw a poster -‘Lost? Learn Geography’ with a world map  and this led me to one of the stalls. After a bit of interaction with the owner, I learnt BrownBox Toys created some interesting illustrations related to travel. It makes books and toys which take children on ‘trips’ to exciting destinations around the world.

What an interesting way to teach children  about Geography through some fun activities. I really wish when I was a child, I had these things to learn from.

For all you armchair travellers and children alike
For all you armchair travellers and children alike.

Event: Kalaghoda Arts Festival

Where: Kalaghoda, south Mumbai

When: February 6-February 14

Websitehttp://www.kalaghodaassociation.com

Mumbai http://www.kalaghodaassociation.com/cat.aspx?Id=349

Entry: Free

Disclaimer: There is a lot to the festival apart from the travel things I spoke about. The festival is worth a visit to see the vibrant side of Mumbai.


When the hobo gets nostalgic

While these were some of the travel related things, some of the iconic places at Kalaghoda have shut down or on the verge of shutting down. Simply because they are not able to keep up with the competition of commercialisation or have had management squabbles. For instance, the iconic Samovar Cafe located inside the Jehangir Art Gallery that shut down after five decades.

Rhythm house, another iconic shop for music lovers shut soon and has a goodbye sale going on.

Feels odd to see these iconic places to shut down which were once the heart of the city.

The goodbye sale at they Rhythm House
The goodbye sale at they Rhythm House

Do you have some art and cultural stories to share? I would love to hear them.

Love,

Nostalgic Hobo

 

 

 

 

 

One festival. Different legends. Different states. Diwali.

One festival. One country. Different legends. Different states. Diwali. The festival of lights.

While elsewhere in the country, Diwali is celebrated by welcoming the goddess of wealth and celebrating Lord’s Rama’s home coming  after winning the battle in Lanka, Diwali has many legends attached to it.

I have my reservations attached to some of the legends as Ramayana portrayed Sita-a woman who was considered an epitome of sacrifice. If you look at mythology, the role of woman is shown as a giver, nurturer. These are then re-instated in our society and become norms, values and our beliefs.  A good woman is one who sacrifices. So in other words, a bad woman is one who lives her life according to her own whim?

I am not questioning the Ramayana, but I have a problem with the way women are portrayed in it. Continue reading One festival. Different legends. Different states. Diwali.