Sunday, December 21, 2008

Inane Exchange

Most fellow passengers usually do not impinge upon your consciousness for more than a brief moment. When there is some kind of interaction, the effect lasts longer. When the exchange is negative, it becomes hard to forget!
On our return from Delhi on the 8th morning, we were sitting in the aisle and middle seats of the ninth row. We had some cabin luggage stowed above in the locker. Once the plane landed, there was the usual rapid, almost instant filling of the aisle. The plane was going ahead to the Andamans.
When there seemed a large enough gap between my seat and the onslaught of passengers down the aisle, I stood up and retrieved my bag, and was making my way when a man in a cap, carrying two bags, rudely pushed past me. I refuse to be shoved around, and asked him why he was pushing me. He said that if you don't get off in sequence you should wait till all the other passengers get off. Which doesn't seem to be a valid reason to push anyone around.
What a moron. I cursed him under my breath, and moved ahead.
On our way to Delhi we were in the first row, and even then it's difficult to disembark in seat order- there are always people in a terrific hurry who will charge down the passage even before the ramp is near the plane.
Anyway- the SRE caught up with me and we reached the baggage claim belt. Even though it was a short, weekend trip, we had needed to check in one suitcase. The nasty man was on the opposite side. I looked daggers at him, and yet felt annoyed at this negative behaviour of mine.
I sincerely hoped that we would get our luggage before he did, and we actually did! A tiny little vengeance was mine. And it felt good.
(Cheap thrills, said the youngest kid, peering over my shoulder as I write. You bet!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Delhi, 6th and 7th December

Travelling on the 6th of December seemed particularly fraught this year.
I was touched by our driver saying, "God bless you" when he dropped us at the airport in Kolkata. Security checks were most stringent- proof of identity was shown along with the ticket at the entrance gate itself, and all hand luggage went through the x-ray machines before check-in. Most people were at the airport with plenty of time for the security checks.
When we landed, it seemed that Delhi Airport had more commandos than passengers!
We were on a morning flight, and were trying to fit in a family reunion lunch with a wedding.
As we were the hosts for our family gathering, we were hoping to get to our destination in time for me to change into a hostly saree! The SRE's office had arranged a car for us. ( I have always loved the thought of being received by someone carrying a placard with our names on it- alright, the SRE's name- yes, I'm still very kiddish about some things.) The driver seemed pleasant enough, and the SRE asked him a fairly innocuous question about the general climate in Delhi after the Mumbai attacks. The man responded with such a virulent anti-Muslim tirade that we were both rather stunned. (Yes, we are both naive and idealistic, I know). After trying to talk some sense into the man, we gave up, and the SRE got busy on his phone in order to shut him up. What is frightening is not the lack of tolerance of a single, not particularly educated individual. It is the fairly widespread lack of tolerance across the board, the assumption of the guilt of an entire community, most members of which are, like most of us, trying to earn a living and bring up their families to the best of their abilities. How do we get people to focus more on the common issues of being human rather than on the purely personal issues of whom they worship and how?
The driver thought that it would be best if everyone worshipped Lord Shiva, who, according to him, was the most powerful of all gods. (We did try telling him that even among the followers of different brands of Hinduism there was tremendous dissent.) A friend told us later that this wasn't an uncommon response- post 9/11, an American she'd met thought that the world's problems would be solved if everyone decided, once and for all, to worship Jesus. Some people!
On this particular trip we were staying at the India Habitat Centre, instead of with either of our daughters, as we usually do. We checked in, and had our suitcases opened and examined behind a discreet screen before we were taken to our room. I changed quickly, telling my saree to behave itself, and we rushed to the lunch venue. We actually managed to get there three minutes before our first guests arrived! The SRE's sister and niece and her family were visiting from Atlanta, and we had called most of the extended family from the NCR so that we could all meet the NRIs and each other. It was a lovely occasion, meeting family members after varying lengths of time, and having them all meet each other.
Are you familiar with 'kaanji'? Not the rice gruel, but the particularly North Indian preparation made with either the deep purple carrots, or red carrots and beetroot, or daal vadas, with lots of water and crushed mustard seeds and spices, which is fermented for a few days in the sun and consumed in early winter and spring. This is something which the SRE is very fond of, and I like too, but usually forget to make! He'd been telling our daughters that he'd been missing it. I'd been feeling guilty about not having made it in the last few years, I last remember having made it on Holi in Noida in 2004, but I still wasn't getting round to making it!
Our intrepid daughters actually lugged along a huge jar of kaanji for us, and all our guests enjoyed this unexpected touch of home in the unlikely environs of the IHC!
After a stupendous lunch and lots of family bonding and photographs, we took a well needed rest- we'd been up at 4 a.m to catch our flight.

The evening programme was at Oberoi Intercontinental. Once again, a thorough security check before the car could drive up to the hotel, for which we were most thankful!
At least we felt safer. The event was a Sangeet and cocktails hosted by a school friend of the SRE in honour of his son's wedding that was to take place the next evening. The SRE had a blast meeting several old school friends of his. I met people some of whom I'd last met decades ago, some for the first time. Some bonding with some of the friends' wives happened, and it was generally fun, apart from really loud music which seems rather antithetical to good conversation.
I also tend to get very confused with too many varieties of food on offer, so I end up feeling rather full but not very satisfied. Hard to please, that's me.
By the time we were ready to leave our host and his family were merrily dancing away, and the SRE and the friend who was leaving us at the IHC were roped in. (We had dismissed our fundamentalist driver after he'd dropped us- it was too near to justify our keeping him waiting till all hours.) I sat it out because by then my feet were killing me in their unaccustomed heels and I was longing to get 'home' to our room.

Sunday morning was lovely. We had a different, younger driver, and did not engage in any kind of political discussions with him. This was the SRE's first visit to the Mad Momma's pad. Where, besides the Mad family, we were also able to meet Bird's Eye View and family minus the littlest one, and Raising T and her adorable son. Chandni and her Boy were expected, but were held up by the electricity department, which had decided, in its infinite wisdom, to change the meter just as they were about to leave their place. Chandu, I guess we are destined to meet in Kolkata! Soon, I hope. We spent a marvellous morning there, and then went over to our elder daughter's home in Noida. The dogs, of course, went completely mad. A quick lunch with some friends who were visiting, and we set off to a birthday party in a park! It was the birthday of the child of very dear friends of my eldest daughter and son-in-law, and they were really so pleased that we were able to make it. Their belonging to a minority community is not relevant to any of us, but I did wish that our original Delhi driver had been around, to show him that parenthood and it's joys and celebrations are not community specific, neither are love, affection and respect. Our younger daughter was already there, and our son-in-law arrived as we were leaving, so we were able to meet him.
Before we knew it, it was time to get dressed for the wedding. We had dropped in at he groom's house with our gift, and had decided not to attend the sehrabandi, but meet the baraat at the designated venue, a 'farmhouse' on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon road. The bride's family had made excellent arrangements for the assembly of the baraat. There was a professional turban expert, and soon the SRE was in official baraati headgear- a lovely orange kota material with a narrow zari trim. The assembled baraati men looked like a bouquet of auspicious marigolds! The drummers and shehnai player assembled, as did the baraat, and although this wasn't the typical wedding music band, it was as noisy. The procession had to traverse maybe two hundred metres or so, within the same farmhouse compound. It was painfully slow progress as the drummers stopped every ten yards or so, the shehnai player would lead into a new tune and be drowned in drumbeats, and some people danced and other people tipped the musicians. It took an NRI friend's eyes to notice how poor the petromax lamp holders looked. There were several of them lighting our way, each carrying a lampstand with five or six branches, some on their heads, some on their shoulders. They were not performers like the musicians, not likely to get a paisa beyond the fixed charges. Who would tip them, and why? In the meantime, we were were suffering the slow walk in high heels and wishing that we could sit down somewhere! We were also being plied with snacks and drinks, and the social disparities seemed more glaring than ever. The groom looked like a young prince, mounted on his mare. The family was dancing with joyous abandon, especially the groom's only sister, with her husband, parents and infant son. Their joy was truly infectious, and made the aching feet seem worthwhile. It seemed as though it took hours for us to get to the beautifully decorated entrance to the venue. The entire passage was decorated with strings of tuberoses and twinkling earthen diyas hanging in rows- really lovely.
Sitting down was the ultimate relief. Four of us wives had bonded big time the previous evening, and decided to let our husbands catch up with all the school friends they wanted to. It felt as though we'd known each other for a long time, though I'd only met one of them before this, and we enjoyed each others company as well as the excellent food.
Since we had to catch an early morning flight, we left soon after the men had their dinner, which was fairly late. The driver said he would pick us up at 4a.m. I packed most of our things at night, and we settled down for about three hours of slumber before we checked out.

The airport was as busy as ever. Security was still tight. Proof of identity was still required at the entrance itself. Hand luggage wasn't X-rayed prior to check in, though.The lines were long and slow. It was a relief to get through Security and doze off till our boarding call was announced. I slept practically through the flight, and was glad of an uneventful journey home.

It was a simple, short weekend trip full of love and laughter. Reaching home safe and sound seemed like a great achievement, something to be eminently thankful for. Life these days seems to underline the fact that each breath we take is a blessing from our Maker. May He continue to bless us and keep us all.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Weekend Away

The SRE and I are leaving for a weekend in Delhi, early tomorrow morning. On the 6th December, a day that is sadly commemorated in Indian history as the day the Babri Masjid was destroyed.
This is also a day of high security alerts, and following the recent mayhem in Mumbai, I am personally willing to undergo the most stringent of security procedures if our safety is enhanced.
I have earlier left my parents alone over short weekend trips. This is the first time I will be leaving
them in the care of the home nurse. I think she is almost as nervous as I am!
My youngest is off on a trip to Chandipur-on-Sea with some friends.

I hope that all goes well on all fronts, both for the travellers and for those who stay at home.
The times are tough. Stay safe, everyone.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

In mourning

for the tragic times we live in
for those who never got home
for those who lost their loved ones
for those whose bodies are injured,
(perhaps beyond repair)
for those whose beloved cities
have been desecrated
for livelihoods destroyed
breadwinners lost
orphaned families
bereft, shocked survivors
for innocence shattered yet again
for my children
who have grown up
in an era of escalating violence
the mourning cannot cease
and yet, inexorably,
life goes on.......

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Second Lady

The sad young woman disappeared from our lives after taking her first salary. (This particular Centre presents you with a bill every ten days). When she left last Thursday evening, I actually had a very strong feeling that she would not come in the next day. The next morning I received a call from her sister saying that she was ill and couldn't come. My mother and I struggled through Friday with some difficulty, after telling the Centre manager of this second absence in twelve days. It may sound very unkind, but home nurses, like housewives, do not have a weekly day off. Since they deal with patients with conditions of varying complexity, they are supposed to arrange for a substitute whenever they take time off. I think that she found it very difficult to deal with an almost completely bed ridden patient who can no longer walk to the toilet. She had also reported for work on Thursday morning along with a cousin of hers whom she had received at our local station, and wanted her to stay in my house the whole day till she finished work in the evening. I asked her to finish off with my father's morning routine, go and leave the cousin at her mother's house, and then come back. It all seemed very strange to me. On Saturday I called the manager again, and said that I'd prefer to have someone else, since I would not like someone with a recent illness taking care of such a frail patient. He promised to send a highly experienced, older person the next morning.

Home Nurse Number Two is tall and well built. She was widowed when her son was one and a half years old. She lives alone. Her son and his wife and child live separately. She is forty-five years old. She speaks some Hindi, though not as fluently as the first one. She is very punctual, and walks here from her home. In the four days that she has been here, she has come across as very sincere and dedicated. My father was getting sick of having his meals in the bedroom. Some years ago I had had a high cane chair made for him, as he found it easier to sit at chair higher than our dining chairs. He used to walk till the chair, sit on it and I'd push him close to the table.
Now that he can hardly walk, the chair goes to the room, and the nurse pushes him to the table, and back. He enjoyed his lunch, with my mother and me for company, and enjoyed some good music with his dinner- Ustad Bismillah Khan and Vilayat Khan playing Raga Nand Kalyan, on good old Worldspace. (This is an amazing piece, by the way. I love Raga Nand)

My parents are trying to get used to having a 'stranger' tend to them. She is slowly becoming less of a stranger. I'm trying to explain to them that this is a symbiotic relationship which benefits everyone concerned. I think they are getting the point.
Now I just hope that our symbiosis with this home nurse continues successfully.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gold Coast views

We were fascinated by the shells on the tree guard, intrigued by the Condom Kingdom, and I was totally in love with the beach. I love the sea, and would love to spend hours watching its various moods.

There were a couple of wide awake koalas, and kangaroos which don't stay still enough for a non-blurred picture, at the farm we'd visited!

More Oz!

Apart from Sea World, we were touristy enough to also visit Movie World. I went up on something called the Batwing which accelerates at such speed that you are actually lifted off your seat. Hence the harness. A photograph with Shrek. A Wild West kind of ghost town. A trip to an Australian farm, where we also managed to see koalas, (which are notoriously shy, and sleep twenty hours a day), kangaroos, Ozzie cowboys and sheep dogs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Some more Oz

The lazy blogger resorts to photographs! We haven't finished with Oz yet- there is still lots to share. While we were at the Gold Coast we had visited a theme park called Sea World, which had beautiful dolphins and a dolphin show, a great aquarium, dugongs, polar bears, little blue penguins, pelicans, ibis and water skiers!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The more things change

the more they remain the same.

The last ten days have been busy. My parents are back in Kolkata after five months or so in Delhi.
My sister took care of them there, while I recovered from typhoid and then galumphed off to Australia.

But at eighty plus, changes are difficult to adapt to. I find both parents frailer than before. My father is now practically bedridden. My sister came with us to Kolkata to help settle them in, as it was no longer practical for me to manage both of them alone on the journey. (Indigo Airlines has excellent ramps for boarding and disembarking from their planes- a great help to the wheelchair-bound.)
We had great teamwork and coordination in both cities, thanks to my kids using their initiative and resources. The SRE, poor man, had been stuck in Durgapur, came home a little before we'd landed in Kolkata, and discovered that the Aquaguard RO system had broken down and the entire kitchen was flooded. ( He'd got very annoyed when he learned that the annual maintenance contract cost a whopping 25% of the cost of the machine, which fact the sales person had not acquainted us with, so he didn't renew the contract. I was in Delhi for my mother's birthday, at the time.) Wet floors annoy me and frighten me- there have been enough fractures in our family. He cleaned it up so well, and also stopped the leak- I wouldn't known about the disaster if he hadn't told me. So my usually domestically challenged husband proved his worth!

Getting my exhausted parents into their room felt like a great achievement- it took around seven hours, door to door. My new computer chair served as a wheelchair for my father, who had walked the long distance to the lift when they had left.

The home nurse came in the next morning. I had told my mother that this time she and my father would have to adapt to having a caregiver, at least from morning to evening.

The home nurse looks and is very young, though she is married and has a young child. She takes excellent care of my father, though he's still getting used to having an 'outsider' look after him. She also massages my mother's aching knees. She cleans methi leaves and coriander leaves and cuts vegetables for me in her spare time. She speaks Hindi, which was a basic requirement for us.

Her husband beats her.

She may or may not have have provoked him. He's about twenty years older than she is.
I'm sure he has problems of his own.
Last night she stayed at her parents' home. Her father works outside the state. She has a younger brother and sister.
What options does she have?
She works hard all day at a difficult job, leaves our house after 8 p.m., gets home and cooks and does various chores, and sleeps after midnight. Deals with various chores before coming to work.

On my morning walk yesterday, I saw a cat up a tree. There were three bristling street dogs below the peepul tree, waiting for her to come down. I tried to chase the dogs away, threw some clods of earth at them, but they refused to budge. I felt quite helpless, and moved on.
I feel the same way about this girl- helpless.

What can one do?

This is my hundredth post. I had hoped to write something light and celebratory, but reality impinged, and my incomplete fluff posts may or may not see the light of day. Despite the futility of many things, I'm so glad that I blog. I hope you are also glad that I do, gentle readers!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Now how did this happen?

I've been too busy to write, so I thought I'd post one of my favourite photographs instead!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The SRE's Response to India is my country, but......


Ma gayee, Baba gaye,
Mein aaj jaoon ya kal,
Kya pharak padta hai?
Ma Baba ne Partition ka taandav dekha tha.
Mera ghar sab insaanon ke liye khula hai.
Har taraf nafrat kee aandhi hai
Par ek ummeed ka diya hai
jo jalta hi ja raha hai.

meri beti ka dharm-bhai doosrey dharm ka hai
beta na jaaney kis mazhab ki bahu laayega

yeh pahli diwali thi
jab bacchon ne mujhe
ek bhi pataaka nahin jalaaaney diya
naye yug ki soch alag hai.

woh subah zaroor aayegi
jab nafrat kee aag se door
bomb ke dhamaakey sunayee nahin dengey.

us subah ke intezaar mein,
mein chalta ja raha hoon.

India is my country, but......

I'm not liking a lot of what is happening in my motherland. The bomb blasts in Assam were very kindly scheduled post-Diwali. No one knows when and where the next lot of bomb explosions will happen- but it seems certain that they will. People are drawing further and further away from one another. Religious and communal identities affect where you live, where you study, your employability, what you earn, how you are perceived.

We seem to be deliberately negating Rabindranath Tagore's immortal lines:

Where The Mind is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow
domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the
dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought
and action--
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

My beloved country, what is happening to you? Respect for others, courtesy to all, tolerance, acceptance of different ways of life and religious beliefs, where have they all gone?

The minorities have always enriched our lives. India has assimilated many many cultural and social mores from them, and, despite the homogeneity projected by the media today, Hinduism itself is far more nuanced than they'd have us believe. There are so many sects and sub-sects of Hinduism, all following their own particular practices.
There are also amazing syncretic sites of worship, like Firoze Shah Kotla, where people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds leave missives of appeal to the resident djinns, and there are Ramayanas staged wherein the lead players are all Muslims. We suffer many cliched representations of minorities as well, unfortunately, especially in Hindi films. But even though there are cliches, the right of the 'other' to be part of the nation was never questioned. The Christian padre, the Muslim tailor, the Sikh taxi driver- they have been part of the landscape of our country . And it is not important how many centuries their ancestors have been here either- being a citizen of a secular nation grants all its citizens their fundamental rights.

When a loved one is ill, it doesn't matter whether he is treated in a Christian missionary hospital or in Mata Amritanandamayi's hospital or a government hospital. You are looking for the best available treatment that you can afford. You do not ask for the religious or caste antecedents of the blood donor, the doctors, or the nurses. It simply doesn't matter. Why, then, in our daily lives, does something as personal as religion become a reason for conflict?

In our daily lives, so many of us shun 'the other'.
The 'other' is as human as we are.
If he or she worships differently, eats differently, speaks differently from us, why is it a problem?
Why should the 'other' be evicted or killed?
Is this person not a citizen of India?
With the inalienable rights of an Indian citizen?
Why does he or she need to constantly 'prove' his Indianness?

Have you ever been in a situation where you feel threatened because of your religious beliefs, or your name, or the presence or absence of a foreskin, or the presence or absence of a turban, beard and long hair?
When neighbourhood watches ensure that you aren't garlanded with burning tyres?
Where renting an apartment is difficult if your name is either Christian or Muslim?
Where you live in an industrial township, and are expected to participate in unfamiliar rituals of temple worship just because it is assumed that all Hindus do observe these rituals?
Where any form of noise pollution is tolerated because it is being done in the name of religion?

Many women would be able to understand the following concept with ease: that of having to prove your commitment and loyalty to your husband and his family even after years and years of marriage. It hurts, doesn't it? Our fellow citizens, who happen to have their own particular religious or community identity, why must they prove their loyalty to India again and again?
Why should anyone feel insecure in his/her own country?

Terrorism and fundamentalism both need to be eradicated. Both flourish only in a climate of suspicion and intolerance. Neither seem to have anything to do with any kind of religious tenets.
Let us, once again, learn to care for our countrymen and women as human beings belonging to a single great country. Else we may end up with several disparate states and no country.

Together, we can make India a country to be proud of.
She belongs to all of us. There can be no 'buts.'

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Diwali to Remember-2

We last had a child at home on Diwali in 2006, when the youngest son came home from boarding school for a few days. That Diwali was memorable for our stupidity- he came home with his return train ticket, which he promptly handed to me for safe-keeping. We both looked at it, and forgot about it. On the Sunday afternoon he was to leave, we reach the station around three in the afternoon, well in time for the four something Rajdhani, only to discover that on Sunday it has a different route and leaves at one in the afternoon. We recovered whatever cash we could, and then headed straight for the airport. The ticket was booked on the SRE's phone (no, he didn't get mad at us- he's very sweet when you're already dying of guilt and feeling like a complete moron, and not making any excuses whatsoever. Yes, with him you can plead guilty and get off free!) and a photo was required, which I happened to have in my purse. Luckily the son had his school ID card with him. We had to find a place to photocopy the SRE's credit card. The eldest daughter was phoned, and asked to receive him earlier than expected. And no, I did not tell my parents when we finally got home- I would never have heard the last of it if I had!
Before that, we had been in Gummidipoondi, with no kids able to visit us in 2004 and 2005. This year the youngest kid is resident in Kolkata, and so we all felt festive. We put flowers and alpanas (water colours, not our traditional geru and khadiya) in various places. These are largely things that I grew up doing, and have become part of Diwali in our house. The son would like to continue with them in his own adulthood (I do hope his wife likes the idea - she may have more interesting traditions of her own.)
Our son had invited a number of his hostel friends over for Diwali dinner. The only problem was that we didn't know how many were actually turning up- the possible range was from four to fourteen! I decided to make lots of rajmah- the excess freezes and keeps well. The maid made a lot of parathis, which aren't bad even if they aren't piping hot. I decided to make the rice and raita once the kids were actually here. We did our puja, an important part of which is the SRE's annual review. The kids tease him about this unmercifully, but miss it all the same, and have even insisted on the annual review over the phone.
A couple of little kids from the building wandered in and charmed us totally. A hitherto unknown neighbour came following his daughter, and we felt very festive. Our son was trying to direct his friends to our place- I finally took over the phone, instructed the cabbie, and got them on track. They'd been taken for a ride, alright, but one that was not too long.
The final headcount was seven youngsters, the SRE and I.
Chatting, eating, card games. Lots of noise, arguments, discussions of rules. Dinner is assembled and finally served. Two youngsters want to get back to the hostel, as they have the first period next morning. We drive down to the corner, but no cab is vacant. We come home and put down the spare mattresses so that everyone has a bed to sleep on.
The SRE had insisted on buying some crackers, though the son is no longer keen on them, especially noisy ones, as he sees how much dogs suffer because of the noise. All the budding lawyers were very conscious of the environment and there was so much noise and smoke all around that we didn't even light a ritual sparkler.
The kids carry on and we sleep. I wake up the ones who have to go to college, while the rest are still fast asleep. They wake up around lunchtime, have brunch, and are out for a movie. Two more join them for the movie, one goes home, and we are seven for dinner. We think about going out for a meal, but the kids are all so busy playing cards again, that we decide to have daal-chaawal and salad, everyone's comfort food. (The SRE does not approve of arhar/tur daal. I make alu matar for him, which no one else finds particularly interesting). After two meals with rajmah, daal chaawal is most satisfying. The kitchen is cleared, and the kids invite us to play with them, but it's been a long long day......
We go to sleep, and wake up to find that the kids have pulled an all-nighter, with strange pizza-like concoctions (with bread) being made in the middle of the night. Two decide to leave bright and early, and get some work done. Three sleep in.
It's been great. Like old times, with the older kids. The youngest one is enjoying his 'official' adulthood. They'd gone to see 'Fashion', which is an adult movie. He was asked to show proof of age, and proudly pulled out his driver's licence. The guy says, 'Your age is not mentioned here.'
The son says, 'You can only get a driver's licence if you are eighteen.'

My dear youngest child, may your brand new adulthood bring you the very best of Life. May all your Diwalis be happy. You made this one very special for us. Thank you.

A Diwali to Remember-1

Diwali is a time of new beginnings, and for me, an excuse to change the colours in my house. So beyond the regular cleaning of desh ki maati, assorted cobwebs and changing some curtains, I indulged in a few decor changes. I actually washed and ironed the cream sofa covers with my own (aching) hands since I was too impatient to wait for the dhobi to do them. And a friend in Bangkok gave me beautiful cushion covers, with my favourite pachyderms on them, so once more we have elephants on my bed. The green rug that was last seen in our bedroom made it to the sitting room, a few accessories were bought, and voila, its a whole new room. (Or so I like to think).
The SRE comes home from work and appreciates the new look. It's a happy Diwali!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Lot of Hot Air-3

I admit I'm dumb- I realise now that Blogger uploads the pictures in the reverse order! We landed near a patch of pretty purple weeds. (See middle picture.) Anyway, once the balloon had landed and I had made my way out of the basket, the canopy had to be flattened and repacked, no small task, given that the balloon is made up of over three hundred and fifty kilograms of material. Well, the air was squeezed out, it was first rolled lengthwise, and then into a large ball which had to be packed into its bag. It was quite a job. Once we had packed up the balloon and helped get the basket back onto its trailer, we bade farewell to the pilot and the van driver, and loaded ourselves into the bus again. We were now headed for a champagne breakfast at a winery! This is part of Australian ballooning tradition!
It was an elegant house with exquisite decor, with fruit, juice, cereal and champagne laid out on the verandah, waiting for us. Eggs and sausages and toast followed. As the sole vegetarian, I was given baked beans, mushrooms and scrambled eggs. I ignored the eggs, which most of the Western world seems to consider vegetarian since they are not meat or fish or fowl. (I admit to double standards here- I used to eat eggs, and do eat cakes even now- a friend of similar habits describes herself as a 'caketarian'.) The SRE doesn't drink now, but a few sips of champagne seemed de rigeur. I had a sip from his glass, and found it, as ever, quite horrible. Though I did enjoy the mystique and celebratory aura surrounding it. We had a quick stroll in the garden, and then, ballooning mission accomplished and replete, slept our way back to the hotel,

A Lot of Hot Air-2

Climbing into the basket was a bit tricky, given my size, and the fact that my wrist had been troublesome and didn't want to bear any weight. I clumsily managed to get in- there are footholds on the sides of the basket. It had five sections- a central one with the gas cylinders and equipment, from where the pilot did his steering, and two divided ones on each side. So three sections bore a couple each, and the fourth a lone Japanese tourist. The flames above your head are a bit disconcerting, at first! And the top of your head feels hot when the pilot turns up the flames. You go up rather rapidly, wondering at the sudden mist when you go through the clouds.
And then the clouds are below you! The tiny creatures in the topmost pictures are kangaroos.
I'm ashamed to admit that I dozed off for a bit, as we'd got up so early. (I can truly claim to have the ability to sleep anywhere, and standing up at that !) The countryside was breathtaking- farms and forests and roads and trees. And clouds below you at times, and a magnificent play of light. Although you have a pilot, the air currents play a great role in your ballooning journey. The pilot and bus driver were in communication, so that we would all 'land' up in the same place! We had started our descent and the tree tops seemed uncomfortably close. Whoosh- more flames, more height, some clever steering and we found a convenient field to land in. What was supposed to be a half-hour joyride had lasted for more than an hour. We bumped onto the selected field, but had to go up a bit again and manually pushed into place by the drivers so that the canopy had enough place to collapse onto.

A Lot of Hot Air-1

Blogger hasn't put the pictures in the order I'd entered them, but anyway!
As soon as we reached our hotel at the Gold Coast, which is a couple of hours away from Brisbane, the SRE tried to book a sky-diving session for me, but they were already booked for the days we were there. And so he decided that we could both go up in a hot air balloon instead. You get the best conditions for ballooning early in the morning, and so on the appointed day we were up at three in the morning, and picked up at 4 a.m., in the colourful bus shown above.
We picked up a couple of Japanese tourists from a nearby hotel, and a couple of Aussies at our last halt before the site. After coordinating conditions with the balloon crew, our driver took us to the site where the balloon was unloaded and inflated. It is one of those things that you may have read about or seen on TV a million times, but is absolutely different when you are actually there!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Many Splendoured Vacation-3

On our final day in Melbourne, a friend of the SRE's took us on a wonderful drive to the Dandenong Ranges, about an hour away from Melboune. Mount Dandenong is 633 metres high, and from the top there's a wonderful view of Melbourne and its suburbs. The first and last pictures here are of Puffing Billy, Australia's more than a century old train, which takes a scenic route through alpine forests. The second picture is a view from Mount Dandenong- endless beautiful countryside. The third and fourth pictures were taken in the William Ricketts Sanctuary, which is a moving collection of clay sculptures of Aboriginal figures; the sculptures blend in artistically within the nearby forest. It was a truly awe-inspiring place. The sculptures seemed to be growing out of the trees, and seemed to be part of Nature. Cool and green and mossy, with the original kiln still in place. The late Mr. Ricketts was a remarkable person and artist.
The trees and plants were all lush and green. We drove through roads lined with rhododendrons in full bloom. We had an excellent lunch at a restaurant called Lillypilly, which is the name of a local flower ( Acmena smithii). After more long drives, wonderful music in the car and a visit to our friend's home for tea, he drove us to our next halt in Melbourne, the home of a young cousin of mine. She used to live in Chennai while we were in Gummidipoondi, so we had been in recent contact. Her daughter was born in August, and her parents were with her for the delivery. And so I met my aunt in Melbourne, after nearly twenty-five years of not being able to meet her in India! We had a lovely evening with them, and enjoyed the gurgles and coos of my tiny infant niece.
Next morning we were off to Brisbane.

Puffing Billy, Australia's Favourite Steam Train runs daily (exc