The forgotten…

Ever since I was in school, I had a fascination for places I read about in my history text books. To think that some of these places still existed, even as a shadow of what they were made me want to go there and somehow be a part of that history. When we were taken to old monuments or forts or temples, as part of school field trips or family vacations, I almost always ran my hand along the walls, along the sculptures (where I could) and imagined that at some point of time long long ago, someone probably did the exact same thing. Maybe it was it wide eyed, dreamy child in me but I thought about how different their lives at the time would’ve been, the things that were important to them, their problems back then. Though life has steered me towards a career in engineering and science, this is a part of me that I’ve always missed and am starting to now rediscover. Being away from India for a while has in way encouraged me to start looking a history in a different way, look at the details in some cases and the big picture in others. Realizing what India has to offer, I can’t wait to start exploring these forgotten and celebrated remnants of history.

I decided to start small and some digging around (both online and otherwise) led me to neglected Jain temples at Panchakuta Basadi, in the village of Kambadahalli, around 150 Kms from Bangalore. Some more reading led to me to the fact that Sravanabelagola , the site of the massive Gomateswara statue (another Jain heritage site) was around 20 Km away from here – that sealed the deal and a road trip was planned. We planned to leave around late morning but as things turned out we hit the road after an early lunch around 1230PM. The roads were fairly well maintained almost all the way (the route we took was Bangalore – Nelamangala – Kunigal – Bellur Cross – Nagamangala – Kambadahalli ) except for the last 20-25 kms which were through single lane tar roads through small villages. It was a nice change from driving through the city though and we got to see the simple and wholesome ways of rural living. Most of the smaller roads were coconut lined and it weren’t for the unseasonably high temperatures, driving with the windows down would have been added to the experience.

IMG_20140417_142303

Reaching Kambadahalli was in itself fairly simple after asking a few people for directions (Google maps was getting a little mixed-up and also the network signal was spotty) but surprisingly few people knew Panchakuta Basadi itself. I remember reading that the village was named after the Bramhadeva Manastambha (a lofty pillar) which has a Bramha Yaksha and bells on the top – legend has it that the bells on the pillar never ring by themselves even during the strongest winds, if they ever do, it is to signal the death of someone in the village. The entire complex of the shrines that make up Panchakuta Basadi are all said to be oriented to the north, towards this pillar. There are about seven shrines which now remain (almost all made of granite) while it is said that there were around 72 temples in the vicinity when Jainism was at its prime in the area. The temple itself is made of trikuta that share a common navaranga (a pillared hypostyle hall), and a dwikuta. The central and main garba griha of this temple complex has a four-foot high black coloured stone idol of Lord Adinatha in padmasana as its main deity (Ref – http://www.newindianexpress.com/lifestyle/travel/article205964.ece) .  Upon reaching there and looking around it was easy to see why few people were able to direct us to the site – the village has in a way grown up around the temple. We saw calves and roosters freely roaming in and around the compound while there were tiny kaccha housing abutting the periphery wall of the temple that people used to dry their laundry. Given the age and condition of the temple and the sculptures, it definitely deserves better care.

IMG_20140417_151746_1 IMG_20140417_152348 IMG_20140417_152218 IMG_20140417_152208 IMG_20140417_152112 IMG_20140417_152014 IMG_20140417_151928

IMG_20140417_152508 IMG_20140417_154307 IMG_20140417_154023_1

After looking around for a while, we set off for Sravanabelagola – which was a special part of the trip for me, after being awed by the grainy black and white picture in my textbooks. The drive of 20 Kms took almost an hour or so owing to the dirt roads in parts. When we finally got there, we could see the top of the statue from the ground but realized that we’d have to climb around 650 steps along the side of the steep Vindhyagiri hill on which the statue was, to actually see the whole sculpture. We did have some incentive since this was the largest monolithic stone statue in the world but there was also a time crunch since we had to make it to the top of the hill and back in about an hour’s time (before everything around shut down). Starting the climb was the hardest ! some steps were almost a foot high as since it just started spritzing they were also slippery. The hill itself is around 438 feet high and faces another smaller hill called the Chandragiri (around 200 feet high, which also has a temple complex on top of it). The recorded history of Jainism surrounding the hills dates back to around 300 BC and it is said the Chandragupta Maurya was one of the first to live and meditate on Chandragiri , hence the name.

IMG_20140417_165459IMG_20140417_165336

IMG_20140417_170106

The climb, though tiring, allows for amazing panoramic views of the city around with a few storm clouds rolling in, we got an unbeatable view. There are a few smaller shrines along the way and also inscriptions in both Kannada and Devanagiri which are fairly well preserved. Getting to the top and finally catching a glimpse of the statue is an experience almost like no other and it makes the climb completely worth it. Everything I’ve read, all the pictures I’ve seen do not really compare to seeing it in person – it was almost a surreal experience and to think that this was built around 978-993 A.D. is almost impossible to fathom. After a few moments of prayer and enjoying the view from the top, we started the long climb down which wasn’t as bad as climbing up but still took a good deal of effort. We finished off the trip with a quick bite to eat at one of the hotels on the highway and reached home still talking about all that we saw.

IMG_20140417_171837 IMG_20140417_171018

 

THE essentially me…

Restarting this blog after a long, long time. I thought it would be apt to give it a new lease of life by starting off with what I intended this blog to represent. Here’s a guest post by my husband, someone whom I’ve had many conversations with about the topic and who I think has am amazing knack for ‘looking at the big picture’ and obtaining the essence of life…

I am honored to have been given the opportunity to reboot this blog, one belonging to the person whom I have always admired, one I consider myself lucky to have eventually got married to. I am going to do so by writing about what I perceive as the concept of ‘essentially me’ in a generic sense. In some sense, this article is about reclaiming oneself but in a different way to what the term in often used.

I have noticed that regardless of whatever we may do for a living, we are all likely to experience times of existential crisis. Especially when we are forced to engage in seemingly boring, repetitive, mundane tasks, a part of us feels that there ought to be a dreamy alternate profession awaiting us on the other side of the pasture.

During such times, we tend to take motivation from various real or fictional personalities we come across – Chandler Bing from the TV show ‘Friends’ who, one fine day quits his boring job as a statistical analyst to start afresh as an advertiser; a girl who quit her banking job and became a travel blogger; someone from the extended family who quit her dentistry to take up dancing. We feel that we need to reclaim our life. There is a part of us that wants to rebel against the society that forces us to stick to our chosen paths for stability. We want to break free and start a fresh…. while there are a very few whom I know who actually end up doing that, most of us live with that dream of that greener pasture and with the regret of the existence we have chosen.
I am by no means an ardent movie watcher. But there is a thing or two I learnt from movies – sometimes from ones I didn’t quite expect.

“No (wo)man can walk away from (her/)his own story”

is a quote from the 2011animation film ‘Rango’. While I don’t wish to provide spoilers for the plot, it is essential to know the outline to appreciate the line in reference to the discussion above. A pet chameleon who loves acting gets separated from its owner to end up in a desert town. He creates and starts living as ‘Rango’ – a gunslinger. This not only helps him blend in, but turns him into an important character – one that has the potential to save the town. At a crucial juncture, Rango is confronted by one of the villains and forced to admit to everyone, most importantly to himself that his life has been a lie. Dejected, he leaves behind his ‘story’ and seeks the truth from ‘the spirit of the wild west’. It is there, the spirit tells him that ‘No man can walk away from his own story’. How this changes things and how Rango reclaims his honor and saves the town is the rest of the movie.

The essence was that, even though it might have appeared to Rango that his life was what it was not meant to be, the spirit reminded him that it was indeed ‘his story’. Some things in life may be chosen by chance or destiny, but most are indeed our own choices, often not only well thought but also a reflection of our inner self and passions. It is worth reminding ourselves, especially during ‘our existential crises’, “what exactly is my story?”. We are likely to discover that it is indeed the very thing we think we are stuck in – the very thing we passionately chose.

All this is not to say that we all should be forever stuck with what we do. We all take our time to discover our passions and even after we feel we have done so, we and our passions continue to evolve. Also, when our path has been forced by constraints that can be overcome, it is imperative that we go back to where our passion leads us. Life is a journey and change can be a good thing. Places we get to see and things we get to do make us complete.

But the important thing to realize is that such a change needs to be driven by thought & passion and not by rebellion for the sake of rebellion. The seemingly greener pastures on the other side may just appear green because we are comparing the worst of what we do with the best of what might be out there. We need to remind ourselves that while many a career that might seem like a fairy tale when thought about from outside, it almost always involves hours of hard work and ‘mundane’ activity.

For example, as children, most of us would have dreamt of wearing that uniform, climbing aboard a jumbo jet, flying high and conquering the vast distances at transonic speeds. But reality is that training to be a pilot involves years of hard work and dedication… and at the reward at the end is often flying the same route every day; between systematic take – off and landing, it is all autopilot. Often the only ‘interesting’ part is saving the day with a safe landing when something goes awry – ironically a situation one would hope no one would ever be in. So in reality, being a pilot is not for all of us, only for those amongst us who are truly passionate about it.

Sometimes enduring uninteresting but necessary parts of our job is just a cost for the reward of following our passion. Let’s remember our big picture – our story. Let’s reclaim ourselves by discovering ‘The essentially me’ in us.

Noire…

Image
The reading that got me thinking…

Black, the color of absence, of contrast with light, and the way I know it, one of the classiest colors to wear. The Vogue anniversary issue last year revolved around just that – black, as it is used in fashion. There were features talking about black in American, French ,Italian and British fashion and that got me thinking, how does black relate to Indian fashion, or does it at all? Professing my love for all things Indian again, I deciding to do some digging around. The first thing that came to my mind when I thought of black and India was kohl – though most sources are kind of vague about its origin, its generally attributed to the Egypt, the Middle East and India. For those still wondering , it is a black eye cosmetic that usually lines the lower waterline but could also be used as an eyeliner (especially if you are going for a smoky eye). In India kohl, or kajal, as it is better known is one of the few mom approved cosmetics that you got to wear before you were a young adult. In fact mothers even use it on young infants because its believed to be “good” for their eyes and also, according to old wives tales using kajal wards off evil eyes.  

I for one love dramatic eyes, and so kohl has been a part of my makeup kit (sometimes the only thing in there!) for a long time. Although I loved using it sparingly for a barely there look and lightly lined eyes, I’ve gotten a little bolder of late and am using thicker lines. I also love the idea of using it as an eyeliner (on the top lid, i.e. and smudging it out a bit) and there’s a great tutorial on the different ways you can do that here . Being from the Nizam’s land (Hyderabad 🙂 ) which has an Islamic influence in dressing, it’s also common to see men wearing surma , which is another name for kohl. I do admit I’m not a fan of the look but I know that there are quite a few women who associate it with smoldering good looks (case in point – Jack Sparrow?) .

Image
An ancient kohl holder and the applicator
Image
A classic smoky eye look using kohl

In terms of clothing, black is seen usually as the color of inauspiciousness and it’s considered to be bad luck to wear black on happy occasions. Surprisingly, the same color is also used to ward off evil! Though things have changed with the times, it is still common to see young children or even adults with black cotton strings tied on the wrist for the same purpose. Further, the mangalsutra, which is a chain worn by married women as a symbol of wedlock has black beads on a gold chain “to ward off the evil and uphold the sanctity of the institution of marriage.”

With all the changes happening thought, most of this symbolism is slowly making way for black to be seen as an elegant, classy color choice. This is what a saree company’s blog says on the subject “Black is an all time favourite that represents power. Acting as a representation of elegance and versatility, this colour can easily sail in all functions.  Black colour sarees are evergreen and they look great for evening wear. Black was considered the colour of grief and sadness in the past days but at present, black is the most preferred colour for evening parties.”  

Image
We can’t all be in bollywood but its nice to pretend sometimes!

As for me, I love black, in every way, from the kohl, to Onyx jewellery, to the LBD to the black and gold silk saree (which I had to bully people to make a part of the wedding shopping :)). It is one of the most elegant colors, probably one of the easiest to wear and of course it helps you look slimmer than you are! Here’s to you couleur noire, one of my ever favorites …

Shoes my way

I am yet to meet a woman (ok, and some men) who is not picky about what she puts on her feet everyday. These things we call shoes had humble beginnings but can be easily be the priciest thing and most exquisite thing in an outfit – case in point, Jimmy Choo! I’ve always had a thing for them and have sure come a long way from mom picking the one pair of canvas flats that I’d wear the rest of the year when I was five. Although a part of me knew that there HAD to be a post on shoes, what set me thinking was, what’s different?
That’s when I started thinking of the kind of footwear I wore a little before I left India for grad school ; the kind I bought over and over (in different colors / patterns) ; the kind I wore and ended up with badly tanned feet under the Texas sun; the kind I’d need to have atleast one ‘back-up’ of, just in case. Well ok, maybe I exaggerate a little, but you get the point! Anyway, I was talking about mojris (or jootis or any of the other names they go by) which I think could be loosely thought of as the Indian version of ballet flats(?). That’s what made me ask about shoes specific to India. There were a few like mojris and kolhapuris that quickly came to mind but it made me want to look and see if I’d left anything out…

Let me start with the ones I’ve been raving about…mojris. I think I first saw a friend wearing them some time in high school and when I tried them out, I knew they were it! I loved the fact that they were flat, yes, completely! (ok, I admit I was  am a little wobbly in heels :D) and you could easily find neutral ones that just went with everything or bold, over the top ones that just stood out. From what I gather, these are shoes that can be worn by both men and women, and started off as something only the Mughals and then the Nizams would wear, back in the day. I just wore out my last pair a couple of months ago and am on the lookout for new ones!! (BTW, could’nt resist bullying hubby to get one for the wedding! They went really well with the sherwani J)
  
So the next ones are the kind I’ve been cheating on my mojiris with ; Saw these on a trip to Rajasthan and I had to have them! I’m not too sure what they’re called, I think they’re just known as Jaipuri chappal. These are usually worn as slippers (like the one on the right) but of late they have been revamped a little bit and look something like the ones on the left- you can still find the slipper kind though. I love the colors and the phulkari embroidery on these and they look absolutely amazing on outfits that are kinda neutral and need that pop of color. I also like pairing them with outfits that are noticeably not Indian and bringing in that inclusive vibe.

The third ones I have are a perennial favorite – I’ve heard a collaborator (who is in her 50s) talk about how they were the rage when she was in college and everyone who was ‘cool’ wore them the same way (i.e with a white kurta and jeans adding in anklets and a toe-ring !!). Kolhapuri’s are still seen all over but the difference being we pair them with shorts and palazzo pants. I’ll admit I’m not particularly comfortable with them yet but it may be time to give this one another try since I found some more fun ways to try them here 
          

Now this was something I came across while doing some research for this post –  padukas. According to Wikipedia these are ‘ India’s oldest, most quintessential footwear’ , and yes, here’s some evidence!
 I’m not trying to say we should try and start wearing them like they used to but I really like the overhauled version like the ones seen below.



All of this googling led me to this book that I one day hope to get my hands on – it’s called ‘Feet and Footwear in Indian Culture’  and although it is a coffee table book I think it would make for an interesting read and a great collectable. Here’s a review of this book that was published a few years ago .  There are quite a few other types of Indian shoes mentioned in the book that I couldn’t really get anything on but hey, isn’t looking for something half the fun? Until next time…
P.S – All images were from image searches on Google – No copyright infringement intended.

What’s new?

 Of late, I’ve been into a lot of fashion blogs, magazines, vlogs and the like…there’s something about the creativity that you can express that really got be hooked. I see that there aren’t too many amateur fashion bloggers from India and although the crazy part of me said  ‘You know what, lets quit all this and start a fashion blog !!’ I’m not quite doing that! Thought I could at least start with a blog.

I really didn’t want to do the typical thing and start with the five fashion staples or defining my style but more of just things I thought look interesting and are actually wearable (i.e by me :D). I’ve been looking at a lot of skirts of late…I don’t know if its the putting on weight thing but I’ve been mainly looking at maxi skirts or any full length skirts for that matter and fun ways (read without looking like a nun!) to style them. These are from a quick Google search but I think it kinda gives the feel I was looking for – something casual, maybe a little sheer and worn with something a little unexpected….I actually saw an amazing tie-die yellow and white skirt on Limeroad but by the time I felt brave enough to buy it, it was gone 😦

The other thing that I’ve been seeing all over is the peter pan collar…saw it first on a DIY YouTube thingy (yes, I do subscribe to a bunch of ‘beauty gurus’ :D) and realized it could be a really fun thing to add to an outfit….I mainly like the really embellished ones- either pearls or lace, ’cause I feel like they’d add a touch of vintage/ whimsy to an otherwise casual outfit. Collar necklaces in general are supposedly in and I can see why! Saw a few of these in at Claire’s but they were pretty pricey…maybe a DIY??


Of late, I’ve been digging in unsuspecting places (read hubby’s closet, clothes from when I was 15, etc) to try and find something that I could refashion. Found this old crochet waistcoat from a really long time ago that was in surprisingly great shape. I know , I know, don’t give up on me yet!!  I’ve been wearing it something like this – 
but then I found this while looking for other ways to style it…I think this one might be something fun to work with and I’m going to try out some more interesting things with it!

                             
I also tried finding something to show how I wear hubby’s tshirts but I didn’t have a pic of me in one and all I could find when I googled were suggestive looking women in bed, so I think that one will have to wait! Until next time….

Misplaced?? or not….

Finding myself in one of the seldom used floors in the library, stacked with journals from the early 1900s wasn’t exactly the start I wanted on a Friday morning. Turns out there was a long forgotten paper that could help with my research and the prospect of getting my hands on it with just a walk to my library got me there. I found what I was looking for and then some. As I was randomly flipping through a collection of technical papers from 1985 I came across Indian authors more than once and this got me pumped. There were quite a few of them I found but the work they’d done was at foreign institutions, in the US more often than not and a couple of them from Germany. I kept turning pages until I found what I was looking for in the form of a tiny asterisk next to the name of an author, elaborated in the foot note as – ‘Presently at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay’.

It was then that I began to actually deliberate about the prospects of working as a full-fledged researcher in India. A few months ago, there was a debate on NDTV about whether India and the US are finally on par. This was conducted at Stanford and among the many students and people from India, there were also a few Indians who were professors at US universities. I remember commenting to my dad right then that it would help so much if these people where actually working for universities in India and doing all that they do there, right here. This entitled me to a reality check – “They know they can’t do that here and that’s why they choose to be there”, was dad’s immediate response. True? Maybe but that doesn’t make it any better.

There were comments made on that show that as much as I hate to admit, were probably right. One was that if u did want to genuinely work on a PhD in India, IISC was probably the only place left where you could go, and that is not very encouraging. I know for a fact that engineering colleges today do not even try to encourage students to do something apart from going from year to year with an “all clear” and any hope of the IITs being better was crushed when a professor himself admitted that they have been reduced to “undergraduate factories”. This is my theory – it all starts young; these professors probably like thousands of others went abroad to get a better graduate education. It is not just the money that keeps them there; it’s the chance to actually work on something that they’re passionate about.

It is no hidden fact that the country needs its people working for it now more than ever but for this to happen and satisfy everyone, as in every case the government needs to wake up. Its about time they realize that the pittances that people in education are paid are not going to help anyone. Its about time they realized that by trying to save money by not investing it in science and research at the elementary levels they’re just preparing to spend a lot more buying technology from elsewhere. Its not just the government that is to blame, people who have the desire to do research need to believe they can do it here. If you think you need to then yes, go out get a degree and learn all that you want to but let your country take credit for what it is entitled to. Maybe initially it won’t be rewarding or even satisfying but as in the case of ‘was the egg first or was the chicken first’ its got to start somewhere, and the sooner, the better.

Deal ya no deal?

Over a leisurely breakfast this morning, I had the opportunity to watch “The Nuclear Endgame” on CNN-IBN and I must say I was amused. It seemed more of a political game of tennis than anything else! The interesting thing was that leading to every commercial break, the opinion of quite a few ‘common’ people was shown and there was a clarity there that was hard to find in the arguments of the political hot-shots. I admit I’ve never been an avid follower of the political scenario, in fact the only times I even follow who’s doing what is when there are issues like this. At the risk of sounding naïve, there are faces of this decision making process that I simply don’t get. At times it seems like there are two different deals that are being debated about!

The way I look at it, it’s simple – the cards have been laid out, you either decide you are in the game, or you are not. I’ll admit this is a huge step and does require deliberation but the sole reason for the deal to go thru or not should be India and only India. The people analyzing and discussing the deal first should be the scientists and before anything else happens it should be made clear as to what is in the best interest of the people. The UPA seems to have established (after albeit a long long time!) that the deal must go through, which considering the present state does seem to be the way to go. What makes the entire stand so shaky is the attitude of the Left, who seem to be opposing the deal in nothing but the spirit of opposing the govt. In the lighter vein, it has gone to the extent of adopting ‘filmi’ tactics like giving deadlines and using implicit blackmail!

To add to the entire ‘deal ya no deal’ 1 confusion, the Samajwadi Party is suddenly getting cozy with the UPA and when asked why – “It’s not at all opportunistic…” says Mr. Amar Singh2. How else are we supposed to take it? If it is in the best interest in the country why hasn’t it gone thru yet? Why is it being turned into another political tamasha 3? There was a point the debate when Mr. Kapil Sibal 4 said the deal was advantageous for the country and should go through. Then what are we waiting for? For once can’t our politicians think beyond parties and power and think for the country? The Left will probably go ahead and withdraw support but at the risk of being hopelessly idealistic, is that too much a price to pay for the benefit of the entire country?

1 deal ya no deal – deal or no deal

2 Mr. Amar Singh – the General Secretary of the Samajwadi Party

3 tamasha – show or commotion

4 Mr. Kapil Sibal – the Union Minister for Science and Technology