The Naga Hornbill festival, a visit to a war memorial and eating a worm.

We’re sitting at a table and passing around the silk worms. They’re deep fried dust-coloured maggots the size of my index finger. Should I…? What the hell. I pop one into my mouth and bite down. Squelch. Something gooey shoots out and I gulp it down. Quickly.

It’s Day No. 1 at the Hornbill Festival at Kohima, Nagaland, and we’re loving it. The festival is everything all festivals are not nowadays – it’s for the people and by the people; it small, it’s accessible, it’s not over-hyped.

What it is, is spectacular.

We’re in Nagaland thanks to a dear friend – our very own Dora the explorer, who’s planned this exotic trip – and an unexpected bonus is The India trail, an adventure tour company who have recently launched an off-the-beaten-track set of tours – they currently specialise in the North Eastern part of India – and have promised to show as the ‘real’ Nagaland.

And so we sit for 2-3 delicious hours in a large open amphitheatre every day, letting the sun soak into our cold bones – Kohima has a nice chill in the air during the day and the nights are cold…temperatures fall to around 10 degrees celsius – as we watch the many Naga tribes celebrate their old head-hunting days, when the men stalked off to scalp a few heads every once in a while and the women stayed back and spun yarn and sung songs and collected grain (and did all the rest of the work as well).

We’re surrounded by other happy locals, who like us are also soaking in the warm sunshine: grandfathers explaining the nuances of a harvest dance to their rosy plump-cheeked grandchildren, pretty young Naga women giggling away at an inside joke (probably something to do with the fine gluteal muscles on display a few yards away); a young performer texting as he waits for his turn – it’s all untouched and fresh and raw, speaking of which, India trail were the ones responsible for an authentic Naga spread which included the worms; I must say though, that bamboo worms are rather nice: this time, mine were nice and crunchy.

Nagaland - a snapshot

Nagaland – a snapshot

The Performers

The Performers.

The next day we set off for a visit to the Kohima War Cemetery – it’s the only place in India where any fighting ever took place during World War II, and Rohan and David, the (very handsome) young men behind India trails take us back in time, along with the help of an old gardener who’s been in charge of the memorial for the past twenty-five years, and who tells me that in the old days, when the memorial was open  at night, he  often heard the sounds of hooves and horses neighing – the fighting had included a large cavalry regiment – and that ghosts were an open secret. As we walk past row upon row of head stones – many of them mere boys of 18 and 19 – the sun begins to set, and I say a prayer: Rest in peace brave soldiers. Be with God.

@ the War Cemetery

@ the War Cemetery

"When you go home Tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow, We gave our today."

“When you go home Tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow, We gave our today.”

The next day we do a walk through the night market, where a friend wins a duck! – yes a duck! – on a street-side roulette, and then we take in a choir competition by the local Kohima church groups and then it’s finally time to head back home, but not without a pit stop at Kaziranga national park, where we have an intimate view of the one-horned rhino on the most amazing elephant safari ever, and we promise ourselves that we’ll be back.

With Dora.

And India Trails.

Thank you guys 🙂

I can’t sleep!

It’s three o clock in the morning
And I wake up with a thirst
My head feels all achy
And I’m also wide-awakey

It’s this new project I’ve been stuck on
It’s consuming my entire life
Sucking up every precious moment
Everything new goes under the knife

So I lie awake and go thru
All the things I gotta do
And I’m tossing and I’m turning
And it’s fun and kind of cool.

Then I think of my dear husband
And I feel a pang of guilt
Go to bed, I’m known to tell him
Go to sleep, get forty winks
Go to bed, I badger bully
I can’t sleep! he’s known to wail
Don’t be silly, is my response
Just close your eyes and let yourself sail
Is it the coffee? (I ask meanly)
I’m sure you’ve had too much to drink!
He swears he’s off it, says he was working
That its his mind that’s gone on a blink

And now i lie awake in the morning
It’s turning four and I’m writing this
And I hope I can go back to sleep now
Just after I take my fourth piss.

And so for sometime after tonight
I think l’ll hold my tongue awhile
And cross my fingers and hope this passes
And earn a couple of sleeping miles

My kids are always well-dressed. (In bed.)

Fatcat KidsI love to buy kiddy night suits.

Little bodies togged out in – preferably matching – rainbow-drenched cotton checks or wispy cool-as-a-cucumber mul-mul make my day (or rather my evening).

My kids have always been able to boast some pretty smart nightwear (what they wear otherwise is another story!) and so I decided to bring Fatcat back – we used to make the cutest kiddy quilts alive but had to shut shop for many a reason. *Sigh*

Anyway, we’re back now, and Fatcat will now focus on…PJ’s 🙂

Check out my cutesy-pie pamphlet for more details. And come join the fun.

We’re looking for you…please say yes :)

A bunch of volunteers at the school at the Association for People with Disability are putting together a fun Reading event on the 6th of March 2013 for the Nursery and Prep kids.

Click on the link below for more details.

And please go ahead and spread the good word.


The Bundh

kids chillingThe Bundh

Have the holidays begun today?

No? Then it’s a Sunday?

No it’s not? Today’s a bundh-day?

No wonder it’s feeling like a Fun Day!

No noisy autos, no honking buses

Lets sleep in late Sis, no morning rushes.

No scheduled homework

No painful tuition

We can all just chill now

In a sort-of-nice lazy fusion.

The maid’s not turned up

The driver’s absent

But who cares when Domino’s… is ever present?

I’m off to play now; I just watched a movie

My friends are calling; my life is groovy.

So thank you people for this bonus Fun day

Tomorrow is another one?

Another Bundh day?

What can I say but?


Ajmer Sharif

In the 12th century, two sultans marched on India.

One, sword in hand and fire in his eyes was Sultan Mohammed Ghori, who laid the foundation for the Muslim domination of India for the next few centuries and who was known as the ‘flashing fire of religion’ for his brutal interpretation and enforcement of Islam.

The other was Moinuddin Chisti, a young Sufi from Afghanistan, who legend has it was instructed by Prophet Mohammed to leave for India at around the same time, and who then went on to spend the rest of his life in a sleepy little town called Ajmer in western India.

Today, Mohammed Ghori lies forgotten in an unknown deserted grave somewhere in Pakistan.

The real Emperor: Sultan-e-Hind as Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti came to be known, rests under a marbled dome around which hundreds of people from all faiths – Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh and many many more – flock to pay their respects, and seek refuge from the sadness and despair of a world that can sometimes be rather overwhelming.

And so it happened that on my first visit to the Jaipur literature festival in 2010, I had toyed with the idea of visiting Ajmer.

Then things got really busy and I pushed it to the back of my mind.

I got the call when we were eating dinner at the fabulous Rambagh Palace. Rohaan had to be hospitalised for symptoms that had the doctor worried; the kids were at home and I was miles away.

I got into a cab at five-o-clock the next morning and headed to Ajmer. It takes about two and a half hours one way, and I hardly spent more than an hour in the shrine: worrying, praying, hoping.

How nice if Rohaan could be out of hospital by the time I’m back in Jaipur, I thought to myself, as I got back into the car.

(Rohaan had insisted that I stay on in Jaipur till the doctors actually diagnosed the problem, so there was nothing to do but wait.)

By the time the cab drove into the hotel two hours later and dropped me off, Rohaan was discharged and on his way home.

There is a great power in faith.

It may not solve every problem, it may not make everything better instantly (as happened this time), but it makes it a little easier to live and love and laugh and go on when it seems like you’ve reached the end of the road.

And I can live with that.

woman and rosary

It’s good to be back! JLF ’13

Ishaan and Laila love this book.

Ishaan and Laila love this book.

Mahasweta Devi sits scratching her head absently while a documentary about her life unfolds on a big screen beside her.

Then it is question time and a young girl in a navy blue school blazer wants to know ‘which language to write in?’

‘The language you dream in,’ is the answer.

Mahasweta Devi is hitting 90 and the grand old dame of Bengali literature has no patience for long-winded replies.

The diminutive old lady with white dishevelled hair and a harsh loud voice (the cold hard voice of truth?) has a wry look on her face as she answers another question, this time about the female characters of the Mahabharata.

‘Go into the real world – not the middle class world you live in – and there you will find these women – Draupadi, Kunti, Gandhari – who are our contemporaries even today; you will find women leading similar lives, with similar stories.

We’ve arrived slap bang in the middle of things (our flight was delayed for a few hours), but we’re home now and that’s all that matters.

Pico Iyer in coversation with The Dalai Lama

Pico Iyer in conversation with The Dalai Lama

Too much miracle stories I don’t like,’ the Dalai Lama guffaws heartily at his own joke. A couple of thousand people laugh along.

Ishaan would have liked this man who says his tutor had a ‘stern face’ and that as a little boy of eight his mind was ‘always running to go play.’

He’s the exact opposite of the man I thought he’d be (stoic, calm, a little serious). Instead, like my friend pointed out, he’s got a childlike innocence and a sense of merriment and glee that is delightful; but just as quickly he can turn dead serious.

‘Indians are very religious,’ he says, grinning at a few ladies in the front row. ‘I’m sure you must get up in the morning and do your puja, pray a little, burn a little incense. But sometimes, I think, Indians are praying to God to let them carry on corrupted life.’

‘It can’t go together’, he says, looking questioningly at us (the crowd quietens down).

‘Religious life or corrupted mind. You must choose.’

He spoke about how he saw some poor children in Bombay recently, playing half-naked on the road alongside a hall where a huge wedding ceremony was in progress. He wished the ceremony could have been about distributing bread, cheese and fruit to the poor instead.

‘How to rid oneself of fear when you may not know what the fear is about?’ asked someone in the audience (a good question, I thought).

‘If you are  struck by lightning – or there is an earthquake – then you have no time to think,’ he answered smiling at the man, as the crowd burst out laughing. ‘But otherwise, analyse, question, try to find out about this fear.’

Then with a bigger smile: ‘And if it’s not in your control, just accept it.’

My (naughty) friend Anaheeta and a suave, not-easily-surprised Mr Verghese :)

My (naughty) friend Anaheeta and a suave, not-easily-surprised Mr Verghese 🙂

Abraham Verghese, author of ‘Cutting for Stone’ had an audience that comprised almost exclusively of women (yes, he’s quite gorgeous).

‘Geography is destiny,’ he said. (Napoleon’s words, he added) and said that this statement intrigues him as it reflects his own life (he is an Indian who was born in Ethiopia, and moved to the US when the war broke out) and is probably also the reason why his book shifts from country to country; the geography is such an integral part of the story – almost like another character.

‘John Irving told me that if you don’t know the whole book in advance – the story, down to every detail, like he does – than I’m just an ‘ordinary liar,’ he revealed to peals of laughter. ‘Whereas Michael Ondaatje says that the pleasure in writing is not knowing what’s in store next – especially for the writer.’

The Book of the Day!

The Book of the Day!

One of the last sessions was on photography. Posing for Posterity: Royal Indian Portraits is a book by Pramod Kumar that is a little gem in its own right.

We learnt many things during this riveting session: The earliest photography started in India from 1840; A picture of a woman in total purdah (Afghan style)  turns out to be an interesting dichotomy: you cannot see her, yet she must still be photographed.

However, as against the popular idea that the Indian Princes never allowed their women folk to be photographed as they maintained strict purdah, there are many hundreds of women from the royal zenana (especially from the state of Hyderabad) who have been photographed without purdah, as this was considered an educated ‘forward’ thing to do. Painted photography was big and is now considered an art form.

But the funniest anecdote was of a king who was afraid to have his photo taken (he thought his soul would be sucked up by the camera), so he got all his courtiers photographed instead! Nice guy.

And so, at the end of another day – smaller, more intimate, more ‘serious’ than the previous year – it’s full paisa vasool.

p.s. Sharmila Tagore’s ‘friend’

Sharmila Tagore on her way to a session. Check out the guy behind her with his arm around her. Even poor Sharmila isn't safe from the average lech. (She turned on him a second after I took this picture and screamed at him. He slunk away.)

Sharmila Tagore on her way to a session. Check out the guy behind her with his arm around her. Even poor Sharmila isn’t safe from the average lech. (She turned on him a second after I took this picture and screamed at him. He slunk away.)

Sharing is caring.

Image‘Sharing is caring,’ someone reminded K, my friend’s five-year old moppet for the tenth time that day.  

‘Ya, sharing is caring…and caring is daring…and daring is bearing!’ he declared (and closed that topic once and for all).

And there is truth in that wise little man’s version: to share we must care; but to share, we must also dare. Dare to share our stories, our cup cakes and biryanis, our homes and our selves, even as we secretly wonder: ‘Who cares?’

The Right to Write, a book by Julia Cameron, found its way into my life just at the time when I was convinced that I had absolutely nothing worth writing about on my blog. Then I read this line:

“I believe that if one of us cares enough to write something, someone else will care enough to read it. We are all in this together, I believe, and our writing and reading one another is a powerful comfort to us all.”

And it gave me courage to start writing again. (For anyone who has wanted to put pen to paper, this is the book to read.)

And on that note, there’s some good news on the home front: Ishaan has started to eat pizza – with cheese (he’s hated cheese till now) and is also progressing to eat a stray burger every once in a while.

(I know, I know, I should be thrilled that he’s not into junk food…but hey, every once in a way, it makes life so easy!)

But of course, as this conversation shows, he still has a long way to go.

Ishaan is enjoying his burger, hitherto a rare sight.
‘Like it’  we ask.
‘It’s the second best burger I’ve eaten…ever,’ he declares.
‘Good! And which is the first?’
‘I haven’t eaten that yet,’ he announces (still thankfully, eating).