Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Ravans of Titarpur – Walking Delhi

October 2015

Over the years you have vaguely heard of a village in West Delhi that churns out effigies of Ravan. And in this turning out to be an incredible October 2015 you find yourself in Titarpur, not once but twice in the space of ten days.

Najafgarh Road going all Psychedelic

The Procession of fluorescent Ravan and his family members stretching from Rajouri Garden Metro Station to Tagore Garden and beyond - This is us styling

On the busy Najafgarh Road that straddles the West Delhi Colonies of Rajouri Garden and Tagore Garden, there is a long procession of garish dismembered Ravan parts sitting on every available space: on either side of the road, on the divider over which the metro whizzes by and even on parked buses!

Matching Matching

You start walking from the Rajouri Garden metro station towards Tagore Garden. The fluorescent faces soon make their appearance. You have just tripped into Ravanworld. Ravans seem to have mushroomed everywhere. Konkan had ferns growing out of walls; Najafgarh Road here is sprouting Ravans. And they are all in neon colours – yellow, green, orange, magenta, black and silver.

'My name is Ravan' - Any Questions?

Gotta love Ravan's moustache stylists

It is the moustaches that give Ravan the character. They are huge and twirling. In some, they meander over vast real estate. But they are all designed to send shiver down the enemy's trembling spine. You can visualise Ravan being pampered on his gold plated saloon chair as his moustache stylists apply gel and then train the whiskers to go around in these impossible spirals. What a splendid life!

The spaced out No. 1 Don

Can Ravan foresee his last rites already?

The eyes are mostly wide open; almost spaced out. It seems by now Ravan has understood what is going to happen in a few days; so instead of fretting and losing hair, he sits there nonchalantly, spaced out. Sometimes it seems he is plain snarling at the passerbys. He is annoyed and he has a good reason to. So you are evil, but then even evil people need respect. And painting your face magenta, pink and yellow is not respect. There was a time Ravan had a gilded palace. Now he sits in the middle of road with face painted orange and inhaling diesel fumes. He has every right to look annoyed.

I am itchy and I have conjunctivitis - this is the worst day of my life

Okay here is where they are hiding the limbs

Work that will make Kinari Bazaar proud

It is about to get worse. There is this itch just below the ear but Ravan, try as much, can’t scratch it. There is a technical hitch - his dismembered limbs are piled up in a corner. Those arms and legs will be assembled later. But then there will be more important things to worry about than an itch behind the ear. Like arrowheads spewing fire hurtling towards the torso.  Wait a minute – where is his torso. Oh no, the torso is getting the Kinari Bazaar treatment. Now how much humiliation can Ravan take!

Dude get some shades alright, I think I just caught conjunctivitis from you

Just few days are left for Dusshera and the body parts are getting last minute touches. Silver foils as gnashing teeth are being pasted in red gummed mouths; moustaches are getting christened with names like Don No 1; eyes are getting red treatment – you are not sure but then this is viral season and maybe the Ravans have conjunctivitis. In some cases, to dispel any doubts, the head and chin has horns growing in demonic glory.

Ravanas for all budgets under Tagore Garden Metro Station, Delhi

Junior Ravans

Customers negotiate prices for the smaller Ravans. The workers inform that most of the big ones have already been sold; you can overhear customers share their preferences in terms of decoration. The real large ones are made to order. Soon they will be loaded up and delivered to customer locations. The effigies will be armed with crackers during assembly and installation.

This is where and how it all starts

Torso Frames covered with cloth

Cloth covered frames being glued with brown wrapping - Job for Superman. Photography is hazardous on the road divider here - again job for a superman!

Work in Progress - Ravana Making at Titarpur Delhi


You had come a week before. Apparently, you were too early to see any colour. Then the assembly line of Ravans was just beginning to hum. Building of an effigy happens in stages. First bamboo sticks are split and tied together with metal wire to form the skeleton or the frames of face, crown, torso and limbs. Old sarees are then wrapped around the frames. On this brown paper is pasted to give shape to the forms. Now the brown coloured shell is ready to get its colours.

Fluorescent Fare

And the makers go crazy with the radioactive colours.

Before & After - notice the cool eye-lashes, gothic deal going on!

Titarpur has always been making effigies. Fifty years ago, the revered Ravan Baba, a businessman who sold funereal items, started making the ten-headed Ravan, King of Lanka. He would make only ten of them. Kids watching him learned the art. The skill passed from generation to generation. So while the Titarpur artisans work as drivers, mechanics, painters and carpentars in other months, they transform into ravan makers during this period preceding Dusshera. Ravan Baba has turned Titarpur into a factory that probably produces largest number of effigies.

My Labour of Love

OK Tata Bye Bye Alvida - Until Next Year - Titarpur is blessed with Ravan's presence and they want him back 

And like any artisan who wants to see his work to live forever, the people of Titarpur hate to see their work of passion go up in flames. Ravan maybe the chief antagonist in Ramayan who is killed by Lord Ram in a triumph of good over evil but in Titarpur he is worshipped because to people of Titarpur he is a blessing and who provides them livelihood every year.

But then rest of the world considers Ravan evil and evil has to go. As we joyfully watch the effigies of Ravan, Meghnad and Kumbhkaran go up in flames, do spare a thought for the Ravan makers of Titarpur. Through their work, they want us to purge the Ravan within us. The burning Ravan will ask the crowd – ‘Is there a Ram out there?’

Travel Tips
Visit like three to four days before Dusshera when most of the effigies are ready and the entire stretch is a riot of colour. But yes if you want to see the entire transformation from a bundle of bamboo sticks to the 'ready to ignite' stage, then an additional visit about 15 days before Dusshera is recommended. 


Monday, 19 October 2015

Pink Paradise in New Delhi - Floss Silk Flowers

October 2015

Trees will be everywhere, in every garden however small it be, and along the sides of every roadway, and Imperial Delhi will be in the main a sea of foliage. It may be called a city, but it is going to be quite different from any city that the world has known...

Captain George Swinton, Chairman of the Town-Planning Committee for the new capital of New Delhi

You love New Delhi. You love the city for the spaces, the grid of broad avenues, the colonial bungalows, the roundabouts, and yes, the trees. It is the trees that announce the arrival of New Delhi as your shredded senses are balmed over by the shade and greenery. Even the honking seems to fade away and you seem to be drifting in this zone of bliss. No wonder Delhi has more trees per square km than any other big city. It is because of this dense canopy that Delhi is a paradise for bird lovers and the foliage keeps the city cooler by a couple of degrees during the unforgiving summers. Yes New Delhi is different from any other city.

While the builders were giving shape to Edwin Lutyens’ blueprints of the newest city of Delhi, saplings were being grown in Sunder Nursery to be soon planted across the newly laid out roads. By design, massive and shade-giving trees were chosen – neem, arjun, imli, jamun, sausage tree, baheda, peepal, and pilkhan. Trees that grow slow and live long. It is possible that the trees chosen were non-floweringkind and did not shed in the same season and therefore it would have been easier to keep the roads clean and the entire city would not look barren at the same time. Also, there was an attempt to ensure that the trees did not obscure sights that were meant to be unhidden.

But during later years as Diplomatic Enclave, and government and private colonies came up, the choice of trees was broadened to include trees that flowered and grew faster. So now, the city witnesses an annual floral cycle that begins with silk cottons and is followed by corals, flame of the forest, amaltas and gulmohar.

Willingdon Crescent, the road where you grew up, had an interesting mix of peepal, jamun, imli and khirni trees that would keep us busy across the year while the NDMC gardeners chased us over the Rashtrapati Bhawan walls. Playing cricket among gently tended flower beds and throwing stones at khinni trees would get any gardener worth his clippers mad.

You remember while cycling your way to school by Nehru Park, entire Niti Marg would explode in red as the semals or silk cotton trees (Bombax ceiba) start to flower in early spring. In a few days, white puffy cotton would cloud the entire road even as you tried to catch the drifting fibres.

Until all these years you had noticed only these red flowers besides the gulmohars and amaltashes. You always assumed October to be a quiet month as trees busy themselves growing leaves and hunkering down for the winters.

The Magnificent Floss Silk Flowers

Well until now. Driving around the government colonies you come to the Laxmibai Nagar Lake Park. You love this area and have childhood memories by loadfuls. And there by the side of the road you see this majestic sight. You can’t believe it. Yes you are pretty blind to birds and flowers but good influence of friends and you seem to be slowly developing an eye for nature.

The Lakshmi Bai Nagar Lake Park, New Delhi

Inside the Lake Garden, you see the marvel. Two trees laden with such exquisite flowers coloured with shades of pink and magenta greet you. It seems like a miracle. You have never seen such flowers in Delhi. Why is nature so kind to you – first Valley of Flowers and now these beautiful trees?

The splendid sight belongs to Floss Silk trees, which in the process of shedding their green leaves have put up a spectacular display just for you. The five-petalled flowers are large and seem to have shades of pink, magenta, purple and even ivory.

The ground below is draped with fallen flowers. The flowers look so real and alive as if even the ground is nurturing them and is not willing to let them fade away.

Magenta Magic in Sector 39 Noida

Floss Silk on Copernicus Marg

The Spiny Trunk

Floss Silk tree (now isn’t that a lovely name?) or Ceiba speciosa is a deciduous tree native to tropical forests of South America. The tree endearingly called Resham Rui is regarded as one of the most beautiful trees in the world. Now these trees are grown as ornamental trees in other parts of the world. A unique feature of the tree is that its entire trunk and stems is covered with thorns or conical spines. The flower yield vegetable silk that is used in stuffing soft pillows. But we are more interested in those divine looking flowers.

Pink Paradise on Shanti Path

Sea of Pink Foliage

The next day you find more trees – this time in another Delhi’s piece of heaven – Shanti Path. It is the familiar road you took when you went to school by bus and when you visited Rail Museum and when you went to visit relatives in Moti Bagh and Vasant Vihar. Every time you come back to Chanakya Puri to relieve memories it seems you turn back the clock and are back in your childhood. You feel happy here. And this place gets prettier and prettier.

Silk Floss Flowers in New Delhi

On one of these pretty roundabouts that you visited on Holi, it seems Holi has come early here. The place is brimming with Floss Silk trees. What a sight! You feel loved by Nature here. This is your own little paradise right here.

The Nehru Park mounds where you rolled down feeling the cool grass on your face
Sangharsh Sthal, near Raj Ghat - 2016

The Last Floss Silk - Lodhi Gardens 2016

Floss Silk bloom in Nehru Park

Your own island of Pink Paradise - Shanti Path

Now what to say about these roundabouts? They are like islands where you can maroon yourself in the middle of this megacity - a place, in words of a friend, where you can spend a lazy afternoon. You can just sit under the beautiful flower-laden trees, reminisce, write, dream, or just talk to yourself.

Delhi is full of surprises – whether in its monuments, or people or bazaars and now here in nature. In these wonderful October days as you discover more of Delhi, you are falling in love with your city all over again.

Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide by Pradip Krishen
City Improbable – Writings on Delhi edited by Khushwant Singh

Monday, 5 October 2015

Udupi – What’s on the Menu?

Day 1 – First Half: Malpe Fishing Harbour, Malpe Beach, Krishna Matha & Coin Museum

Konkan Railway offers a full course menu of exotic places that you can partake as the train makes its way through one of the most scenic routes our beautiful country has to offer. The finger-licking dishes keep coming as the train goes south from Madgaon to Mangalore. Karwar with its beaches and Naval Base is the hors-d’oeuvre. Gokarna with its beautiful laid back beaches is the undiscovered Goa and hope it stays that way. Honnavar, visited by Ibn Battuta, provides gateway to the mighty Jog Falls that are an hour away. Murudeshwar is the entree with the huge Shiv temple and Gopura that towers over the sea. Bhatkal with its beaches will whet your appetite.

The Technicolour Malpe Fishing Harbour

The main course is Udupi.  The first time you encountered Udupi was the time when you lived in Mumbai and there were these vegetarian Udupi restaurants serving cheap, hygienic South Indian cuisine of idli and dosa on every street corner. The name Udupi sounded interesting and it would be fifteen years before you find yourself alighting from the train in the night to spend almost two days in a place full of surprises. It seems people of Udupi are quite enterprising. Apart from taking the Udupi style of restaurants across India, Udupi is an education centre. Manipal, few kms away, packed with colleges is pilgrimage for students from across the country. Manipal finally got its place under the sun when one of its students, Satya Nadella, became Microsoft's CEO.  Couple of days later as you take a bus from Udupi to Mangalore, it seems you are in a DTC bus. The bus is full of boisterous Delhi students who yearning for good old McDonalds burgers after weeks of Udupi food, are on a mission to raid the malls of Mangalore sixty kms away. Besides food and education, Udupi has another surprise waiting.

In the Konkan, grass grows on everything during the monsoons. Here fishes have grass growing on them as they announce the entry to Malpe Fishing Harbour

You are on your way to the fishing harbour by the Malpe Beach. The boats to St Mary’s Islands leave from Malpe fishing harbour. Due to the rains, the boat services are stopped for few months and would begin again in September. This is the only disappointment in Udupi. St Mary’s Islands, discovered and named by Vasco da Gama, is a group of four islands that have unique geological formation of columnar basaltic lava. St Mary Islands are one of the 26 Geological Monuments of India. Looks like the islands will have to wait.

The Malpe Fishing Harbour in Udupi Karnataka

But there is plenty going on in the Malpe fishing harbour. Fishing villages are one of the most interesting places to be. Before Udupi, you had chance to just watch the ongoings in the fishing village in Kakinada on the eastern coast in AP. Just like a beehive, there is intense activity going all around. The only difference is while Kakinada had smaller boats, Udupi here has trawlers. 

The colourful Fishing Nets get the most pampering

Everybody is busy - some shovel, some clean, some check supplies. There is constant buzz of voices and sounds.. It is the activities around the nets that are most intriguing. It seems there is some science around the way the nets are getting attention - after all it is the net that brings in the catch. Teams of specialized workers go about their business – some mend the nets, some are packing the nets in a certain way while another team loads the nets into waiting boats. You could walk around here all day and not tire of the spectacle.

Full House at Malpe Fishing Harbour Udupi

The trawlers fuel up on diesel and ice

The harbour is witnessing a traffic jam on the waters. As on the roads, despite the traffic jam, all boats are in motion. Some are being leashed to the jetties even as they bob on the water; on other boats, engines sputter to life, as they begin to make their way out even as more boats come in. Some make their way to the petrol pumps. Trucks drive in, full of shredded ice that is dumped into the innards of the boat. The boats probably remain in the water for days and the ice keeps the catch from spoiling.

Of  course the boats need eyes to see where they are going and they have every colour on them

The harbour is a riot of colours. On the Indian roads it is the trucks that fill the roads with colour. Here the technicolour boats colour the harbour bohemian. The nets, the ropes, the crates, all are neon coloured. The harbour is like a living canvas that keeps changing its colours – colours are painted, the scene changes, the colours painted over and so it goes on.

It has been raining intermittently all morning. Sometimes the sun comes out and the air begins to swelter. Another bout of rain is on the way. So why not enjoy the rain on the beach?

Enjoying the view at Malpe Harbour - few minutes ago it was grey and raining

The Geological Monument of St Mary's Islands in the distance - will come back to Udupi to see them

Malpe Beach is a few yards away as you make your way beyond the harbour and a ship-building yard. As with most beaches close to fishing village, the beach needs cleaning up. Also, a temple here means everything is dumped on the sand. You are sure if you walk up a little north, the sands would become cleaner. But right now the dark clouds move in. People scamper away looking for shelter. You take out your umbrella. The umbrella is coming very handy these days. It has seen more action in few days in Konkan than its entire life. It is your last day with your umbrella. Few hours later you will forget it in the bus to Karkala!

Dark Clouds rolling over Malpe Beach

The rain comes out hard. Some people take refuge under the upturned boats on the beach. Beyond you, the Malpe Beach disappears. The entire horizon turns grey; sea, rain and sky, all have dissolved into each other.

Celebrating Independence Day 2015 in Udupi

The intense rain is threatening to pummel your umbrella down. You walk into the sanctuary offered by the Hanuman Temple. It is Independence Day. The kids have made some props for a function later during the day. The rain stops and the sun comes out. The land, the sea, the houses begin to take shape again. You walk back to the bus stop.

Different Mathas in the Krishna Temple complex - yes the visitors are extremely well dressed

You make your way to the old part of the city to see Udupi’s famous Krishna Temple. You walk through the streets of the older city. The old city is surprisingly clean and open and not overrun by people and vehicles. There is a smattering of old buildings and residences even as newer buildings and shops with glitzy interiors make inroads. Udupi is called the Temple City and it gets the epithet from the Krishna Temple taking the place of pride in the centre of the city.

Sri Krishna Matha in Udupi

Sri Krishna Math was founded by Vaishnavite saint Madhvacharya in the 13th century. The Krishna idol is believed to have been made by Vishwakarma. Later Shri Madhvacharya handed the puja and administration to his eight disciples. Each of the disciples set their own temples around the Krishna Mutt. The complex came to be called Ashta Mathas. The complex is clean and airy with the different math buildings lined up around the main shrine.

The Divine Madhva Sarovar at Krishna Temple Udupi

Green tinged water of the Madhva Sarovar forms a beautiful setting for the temple and the complex. Rain starts once again. You wait in the walkway built around the sarovar. The rain comes down gently on the green waters. Devotees are dressed in their best. Lord Krishna smiles mischievously somewhere above. 

The dark clouds, rain, green water of the sarovar add atmospherics to the entire setting. Ashta Math is a lovely place to be in the rains. 

Shri Anantheshwara Temple opposite Krishna Temple

As you walk back from Krishna Temple to the bus stand, you come across a typical official looking building saying Corporation Bank. This is the Founders Branch Complex of Corporation Bank on Mosque Road. The signs announce that this is a Coin Museum or the Numismatics and Notaphily Museum, a part of the Corporation Bank Heritage Museum. A gate in the rear brings you to into a building with tiled roof that was the former residence of the bank’s founder.

Here is Udipi serving you another surprise. After its vegetarian cuisine that has spread across the country and its colleges that bring students from across the country to Manipal, Udupi is known for its banks and is called the cradle of banking in India. Five banks – Corporation Bank, Canara Bank, Syndicate Bank, Vijaya Bank and Karnataka Bank were founded in Udupi!

The Coin Museum of Corporation Bank in Udupi

And the Coin Museum has a heart warming story like several you have seen across the country in your travels.

Khan Bahadur Khan Haji Abdullah Haji Kasim Saheb Bahadur, the founder of Corporation Bank established the bank to fulfil the long felt needs of banking of the people and to inculcate the habit of saving. It is said that Saheb Bahadur would donate his wealth – a little every day – to the poor. And when there was nothing left to give, he chose to take his life. The founder’s lofty ideals and ethos seem to echo as you step barefoot into the museum halls.

A gentleman, Mr MK Krishnayya appears and takes you around the exhibits explaining how money came into being as we walked through the interesting history of coins and currency. Mr Krishnayya, the curator of the museum, is a numismatics expert and a thematic philatelist. His interest is in collecting stamps that have flags on them. The museum too has some exhibits on flags and how the Tricolour evolved through the years. The museum has coins dating back from 400 BC to the current times. Listening to the nuances, and with different mints leaving clues on the coins will make you appreciate the coins and currency notes you carry in your wallet.

An Udupi Street
The exhibit rooms have an old world charm. The displays, the lighting, the feel, everything is amazing. All the exhibits are painstakingly researched, designed and displayed. Passion of the curator is to be seen to be believed. After the incredible Dharohar Crafts Museum in Kurukshetra University, the Udupi Coin Museum has put love back into museums especially when you skipped going to the museum in Goa after depressing experiences visiting several lifeless and dark government-run Archaeology museums across the country.

It is your first day in Udupi and you have already discovered so much about a city you knew nothing about few hours before.  There are more surprises as you work through the menu.

Getting There
Udupi is 60 kms north of Mangalore on the west coast of Karnataka. Best way to get to Udupi is by Konkan Railways either from Mangalore or Goa. Western Ghats are best enjoyed travelling from Goa to Udupi.

Travel Tips
·         Boat Service to St Mary's Islands is suspended during monsoons. Please check in advance

·         Photography is not allowed inside the Coin Museum