So I have a book coming out sometime in the near future.
Read about it here
So I have a book coming out sometime in the near future.
Read about it here
This could have easily been a photo feature.
FIRST PUBLISHED: SAT, DEC 20 2014. 12 46 AM ISTHOME» LEISURE» THE GOOD LIFE
The best gifting ideas from 2014
A list of objects that you could consider buying for your near and dear for Christmas
It is just before Christmas. You are probably in the throes of figuring out what to buy for family, friends and co-workers. Here is a list of objects that you could consider buying for your near and dear. The logic of choosing these objects was simply this: I saw them during the course of this past year and they stuck in my head—because they are unique, innovatively designed, and beautiful.
Perrin Paris: Glove Clutch Eiffel How many of us wrap our hands around a clutch? Now imagine if we could slip our hands into a glove-clutch. I saw this on Instagram and wanted it instantly. The Perrin Paris glove clutch has turned the hand into an ornament. Prices start at $1,850 (around Rs.1.17 lakh). http://www.perrinparis.com/en
The Perrin Paris glove clutch;
Sophie Hulme box tote in raspberry Because it has cute animal eyes on it. At $700 a bag, it is reasonably priced compared to what you have to shell out for, say, Dior’s stunning Be Dior Flap bag, which costs about $4,400; or LVMH’s Capucines bag, without the littered logo thankfully, that costs $5,600. http://www.sophiehulme.com
Dibbern China, Black Forest pattern, designed by Bodo Sperlein Dibbern China by Bodo Sperlein I saw this collection at the home of a woman who is part of my book club. It has haunted me since. Of course, at €28 (around Rs.2,200) a teacup, it is likely to remain in my dreams. But what a collection! German precision mixed with Japanese minimalism and a bit of Fornasetti’s whimsy. http://www.bodosperlein.com
Lee Broom’s light bulbs Cut lead crystal bulbs by Lee Broom I saw these light bulbs in a magazine and loved them. They are made of cut lead crystal and the beauty is that you can do away with those ugly lamp shades that we use to hide incandescent bulbs at homes. These are perfect for India because all you need to clean is just the bulb itself. I thought they were made by designer Tom Dixon, but they are not. I discovered the name of the designer by typing in “crystal light bulbs” on the Internet. Lee Broom, take a bow. They are priced at £109 (around Rs.10,900) each. http://www.leebroom.com
Akris I don’t own anything by Akris. I don’t know anyone who wears Akris. Actually, not true. I know of a Baltimore, US, based CEO of an Indian pharma company who wears Akris. But I wish I lived in colder climes so I could wear their winter coats. Their summer line doesn’t bust my cockles, but fittingly for a Swiss company, they know their wool. Just buy one of their wool coats and you can very well wear rags inside. You won’t take off the coat and nobody will have eyes for anything else. http://www.akris.ch/en
Fountain pens I love fountain pens. I own a Ratnam pen, a Lamy and a Parker Sonnet, all gifts. Were I to buy one, I would buy the Monteverde, because it is black, sleek and costs Rs.5,600 at William Penn—a far cry from the Rs.100 Camlin pen I used to write with but cheaper than the cult retractable Pilot fountain pen which retails at around Rs.12,000 on eBay.in. http://www.williampenn.net
Champ de Rêves pinot noir 2011 A bottle of Champ de Reves pinot noir 2011 I bought this at a wine store in Washington, DC because the winemaker had signed it. At $45 for a bottle, it is a luscious aromatic wine, particularly if you are one of those who was charmed by that famous monologue in the film, Sideways, about the “haunting” primitive beauty of a good pinot. This winery makes only one type of wine—pinot noir—and they make it well. Eric Johannsen, I have a bottle signed by you and it’s a keeper. http://www.champderevesvineyards.com
F Pettinaroli, Milano If I lived in Europe I would be writing these words on Pettinaroli’s papers. I tried ordering their Mignon organizers online and had a devil of a time. I satisfied myself with a Moleskine and our own Rubberband Paint Box series notebooks instead. http://www.fpettinaroli.it/ and http://www.rubberbandproducts.com
Javadhu-scented powder I bought this powder at the Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan in Kumbakonam. It is made in a small town called Mukkudal in Tamil Nadu. It retails in colourfully packaged 5g bottles for the magnificent sum of Rs.55 each. If you are done with khus, vetiver and rose, try javadhu. http://www.theammashop.org
Coloured gems and jewellery The Bulgari Sapphire Flower ring Bulgari, Graff, Van Cleef & Arpels, you name it. They are selling jewellery that would match the jewel tones of our Kanjeevarams and Banarasi weaves nicely. Maybe start with a Bulgari Sapphire Flower ring. http://en.bulgari.com
Shoba Narayan plans to buy a lovely teapot this Christmas season. Suggestions are welcome. Write to her at email@example.com
A simple email I got some time ago.
On Oct 13, 2014, at 10:22 PM, Vikram Rajaram wrote:
We have, in the past, been in touch re the possibility of getting you to speak at the Bangalore Club. Your father-in-law was unwell then and I did not feel it was opportune to push it.
Can we pick up the threads again?
Would a slot in the third week of November work for you?
Please let me know.
With kind regards,
Man, I love trains!!
Why do so few people talk to their fellow travellers on planes and why do some many talk to their neighbours on trains? I think it is because we view planes as mobile offices while train travel is time away from work; more like a vacation; a time to exhale and take stock; a time for diffused thought rather than focus; a time to relax. Planes produce the opposite effect. With no interruptions from colleagues or relatives, we pull out our computers and phones and get work done. Why is this? What is it about trains that promote community and conversation and what is it about planes that doesn’t?
I think it is the physical space and its design. Seats face each other on trains, engendering conversation. In planes, we are crammed like in a school bus, all facing the stewardesses in front, who point their hands left and right to demonstrate what could well be theorems or equations. Train compartments are ecosystems that force you to engage with your neighbours. Babies—and bananas– get passed around. Health tips are freely dispensed along with roti-sabzi or idli-chutney. Information and opinions are shared. People get drawn into conversation. Here’s how it happens.
I am returning from Kumbakonam to Bangalore– tapping away at my computer and listening desultorily to the conversation around me. The elderly gent sitting beside me is chatting with the elderly couple across us. The lady has a round face and a pleasant smile. Her husband is aquiline and thoughtful. They carry a blue Estee Lauder canvas bag that their niece has brought “from foreign.” The man beside me is travelling alone to visit grandchildren in Bangalore. They have been talking for an hour. I hear random phrases as I type.
“I had an angiogram last year. Lost 10 kgs.” Trains are like group therapy. You offer details of your life to perfect strangers with impunity. You take comfort from the knowledge that you’ll never see them again. Until you do and become friends.
Some time later: “What is the point of building canals if there is no water? No wonder farmers are committing suicide.”
Mostly, the two men talk. The woman smiles and nods. She looks maternal and comforting. The toddler with jingling anklets gravitates towards her. She is wearing a pink sari and has flowers in her hair but no bindi. She reminds me of my childhood doctor, Almas Rasheed, who had “white skin and black, black hair,” as my grandmother said. Indian women of the previous generation exude a certain contentment; a lack of bitterness certainly; an acceptance of life. They have their priorities right. They may not comment on world affairs but they know how to make a toddler smile.
The irony, I think. Here I am writing about community and conversation, and behaving exactly as I would in a plane. I am retreating behind a computer screen.
Suddenly the gent beside me asks, “What is the purpose of cursive, Madam?” He looks to be about sixty. “My grandson is in first standard and they are torturing him with cursive.”
“Heh?” I blink. The elderly couple sitting opposite us smile gently. They have been exchanging notes about grandchildren and await my answer. “Cursive?” I repeat stupidly.
“In my day, there was capital letters and small letters,” continues the man who asked the question. “Nowadays, the school says to write in cursive. What is cursive?” He knows what cursive writing is, of course. His fingers draw cursive letters in the air. His question is rhetorical so I don’t answer it.
“I know,” I agree. “Too much homework for little kids these days. Too much competition.”
“Tooooo much competition,” he agrees, drawing out the “ooo” for emphasis.
We complain congenially about how difficult schools are these days; and how many books children have to carry; and how their grandchildren have to go from tuition to tuition; and how there is no time for play. We close the topic with no resolution because more immediate concerns take over: specifically, our stomachs. It is 7:30 and dinner is discussed. They have both brought their dinner.
“I bought it from Ganesh Bhavan in Thanjavur station,” says the man beside me.
“That has become very expensive. You should stick to Krishna Bhavan,” says the man opposite us. “Our son is bringing us dinner at Trichy station. Call Rukhsana and tell her the train is running late,” he instructs his wife.
She calls her daughter-in-law. They advise me to buy biriyani packets in Trichy. The train stops. We all get out. Rukhsana is wearing a red salwar kameez. There is hugging and smiles. This time, it is the mother-in-law who talks, leaning forward animatedly. Devoid of discussions about world affairs, her husband stands there smiling and nodding—just as she had done in the train.
The family spots me staring at them from the door of the compartment. They wave. I wave back and return to my seat. Soon, the grandfather comes in with his grandsons. One is called Aatish and is at “Alpha School in Class 2 Section B.” His elder brother is Ahmed. They stare with frank curiosity at my vegetable biriyani. I offer some. They shake their head. They offer me idlis and garlic chutney, neatly packed by the daughter-in-law in a stainless steel tiffin box. I accept the chutney, which smells of mint and garlic. The horn sounds. They all rush out of the train. The grandparents peer out of the window, smiling and waving. The train gains speed. Half an hour passes.
Memories of train journeys are made through granular interactions such as this. Spend 36 hours on a train with someone as you travel from Kanyakumari to Kathgodam and you might as well marry into their family. After all, you have broken bread together; met their relatives at various stations; and have displayed the products and goods that make up your home—that have now been transformed into water bottles, food containers, and paan-daanis or paan holders. What else do good relationships need?
Shoba Narayan carries saunf (fennel) in sample-sized containers of Crème de la Mer.
This one’s for you, Mahen-uncle and Vina-aunty.
I left Kashmir on September 1st after attending a 75th birthday celebration in Srinagar. The event was held near the Dal Lake and the famed Chinar trees (Platanus Orietalis) were resplendent. Kashmiris clad in saris and pashmina shawls gathered to reminisce about the land that they called home. It was raining as my plane took off from Srinagar. I remember worrying about whether that would cause flight delays. The rain continued the next day. At that time, I told my friend that when good events happen, the rain Gods would send their benevolent blessing with a shower. In the Carnatic music tradition, which I belong to, there is a raga called Amritavarshini that brings rain to parched tropical earth when sung. It was this that I had in mind when I made the comment about auspicious rain. I didn’t realize then that this was no gentle shower. The heavens were unleashing their fury; and this, combined with the global warming that caused surface temperatures to rise by a degree and glaciers to break out into water, would result in an apocalyptic flood, the likes of which the Kashmir valley had not seen in over a century.
Two weeks hence, the floods are slowly receding but the numbers keep growing. The Indian government has to spend an estimated 6000-crore for rebuilding efforts in Kashmir. Thanks to the speed with which this natural catastrophe overtook the state, there has been no concerted coordination of international relief and response to the disaster. Instead, there are terrific grassroots efforts by organizations such as JKfloodrelief.org, run by volunteers; Uber, the global taxi service that uses its cars to pick up medicines and other relief material from Delhi; Goonj, an NGO that collects and distributes vaccines, blankets, and other rehabilitation materials; Uday Foundation and several others. The state government, which was overwhelmed at the scale of the disaster, is now limping back into action. And questions are being asked. Why did the floods happen? Who is to blame? How can this be prevented?
One of the reasons is staring at Kashmiris quite literally in the face: the Himalayan mountains. Thanks to climate change, Himalayan glaciers are shattering and spooling downwards into the valley, causing its rivers to overflow. Combine this with poor urban planning and a disregard for the environment, and the Kashmir floods, as some experts say, were a “disaster waiting to happen.” Rains proved to be the tipping point and rampant construction was the chief culprit. Comparisons to our neighbor across the border didn’t help either.
In India, it is fashionable to say that we have to focus on growth above all. China is viewed as the model when it comes to infrastructure and growth. Environmental sustainability is seen as old fashioned and slow. Some builders dismiss talk of sustainability as a “rich country’s problem that India must only tackle after we have provided a roof over every citizen’s head.” As the Kashmir and Uttarakhand floods have shown, this approach is short-sighted and economically unviable.
Part of the reason why over 500,000 people were left stranded without homes was because of rampant construction in river embankments, bed, and flood zones. Massive deforestation on the mountains increased the flow of water down to the valley. Kashmir’s countless lakes that were once catchment areas for water are now choked with human waste and filth. Nature, normally an ally against natural disasters was dismissed and run roughshod over. This week, the government stated that the construction on river beds would be under scrutiny. This is an important first step in moving Kashmir to the paradise that it once was.
Kashmir occupies a conflicted yet sacred place in the Indian imagination. Much of Indian philosophy came from the Hindu scholars who populated Kashmir from the 8th to the 12th centuries. This beauteous land inspired numerous Mughal emperors, including Jahangir who called it paradise on earth. Even today, the land inspires fierce loyalty. My friend’s father flew thousands of miles to spend his 75th birthday in the land that nurtured him. Had he known how much the floods would ravage his beloved land, I imagine that he and his wife would never had left Srinagar.
Shoba Narayan is the author of “Return to India: a memoir.”
Train diary No.1: We’re all in it together Trains, along with cricket, Bollywood and food, are cultural touchstones. They are part of our collective subconscious and define us as Indians
I am on the Mysore-Mayiladuthurai Express, a long and rather wonderful royal-blue train that cuts through interior Karnataka and Tamilnadu. Mysore, where it originates, is like the humanities department of a great university, churning out stalwarts in multiple areas: R.K. Narayan the writer; R.K. Laxman the cartoonist; T.S. Satyan the photographer; Thirumalai Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois, and B.K.S. Iyengar the yoga masters; the Mysore school of musicians including Mysore Vasudevachar and Veena Doraiswamy Iyenger among others. What is it about that gentle city that churns out such creativity? Is it the pace of life or some additive in the water?
The final destination is Mayiladu-thurai, which means the “place/port in which peacocks dance.” I am getting off in Kumbakonam however, because it is the gateway to the great Chola temples of Tamilnadu.
There is no easy way to get to Kumbakonam from Bangalore. Red Bus is the best option but my parents are dead against me travelling overnight by bus. They don’t bother much when I travel by planes except to get broad date of travel and return. Trains and buses, they understand. So they’ve jumped in and pulled me back to the time I was a 16-year-old. The waitlist clears on the train and the advice pours out. “If you get a side berth, make friends with the T.T. and shift to an inside berth,” says my mother. “Upper berth is better than lower.” “Don’t wear jewelry.” “Take a metal chain and bolt your bag to the berth.” “Lock your bag.” I inhale deeply and try to enjoy the parental concern.
Trains, along with cricket, Bollywood and food are cultural touchstones. They are part of our collective unconscious and define us as Indians. The farther we go, the more we long for the trains of our childhood. I know an executive who works at Louis Vuitton. He wants to take his children on trains “third class or unreserved, just like we used to as kids.” What is it about trains that produces this yearning?
Perhaps it is the commonality of experience. Perhaps it is memories of childhood trips with parents who are relaxed and expectant about joys to come. Perhaps it is memories of quarrelling for a seat in the unreserved compartment to get to a marriage of people you didn’t like and spending a sleepless night stuffed beside strangers who turned out to be not so bad after all. Or perhaps it is simply the comforting chug of the engine, the toot of the horn into the night sky, and the rhythmic click-clack of the wheels. No other mode of transport save trains can duplicate an experience that offers the best and worst of travel. Planes in contrast are anemic, sanitized and soul-less. Take my own trip on this ordinary train, no different from those plying Punjab and stopping at Bhatinda; or those in Rajasthan between Jodhpur and Dungarpur. Trains connect India. Want to go to Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh from Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh? No better way than to catch a train. Want to get to nearby Kumbakonam from Bangalore? Train it is.
The rituals surrounding train travel are both universal and specific. You buy your Patrika, Dainik Jagran, or Dinamalar newspaper from the railway stall; throw in a bottle of water and maybe a zarda-paan or two. Depending on the station, vendors will walk by with regional specialties: hot milk in Erode station; matka dahi or curds; chikki; samosa or packaged idlis. You buy your tiffin, lunch or dinner in case you haven’t brought it from home and await the train. The chugging in is always a thrilling sight. I think it has to do with perspective and proportion. Train engines are designed for the human eye: not as large or ungainly as an airplane. The rectangular blue box that is the engine appears in the distance, usually rounding a curve. Then it pulls in and everyone rushes to board—bag, baggage or suitcase in hand. In the old days, my family travelled with a magnificent contraption that we called a “hold-all.” It held some razais or dhurries to cushion us on the metal berths in second-class; and held clothes, towels, shoes and assorted travel accouterments. Today, everyone pulls along a wheelie and the red-uniformed porters stare at their waning business bereft.
Indians react to train departures like no other nation. We stand around, holding hands across the window and passing food. We are a culture of prolonged goodbyes. Our boundaries are porous, whether it is between people (no concept of ‘personal space’ in India); or spaces (inside and the outside merge in our psyche). We pass food and drink to relatives through train windows. My friend, Shelja Rathore, still does this in Jodhpur, arriving at the station at all hours of day and night to hand over homemade kachoris or rotis to travelling relatives as a token of love and concern. We ask routine questions: are you okay, how was the journey, pass on my inquiries to bhaiyya/bhabhi/nana/chachi/insert honorific. Perhaps that is all we need to connect: food and a porous train window.
Nothing matches the high drama of a train departure. Where else can you run beside the train, holding on to hand, finger, then little finger, then scarf, before letting go and waving till the train disappears. You certainly cannot run after an airline; and you’d bump into the passing cow if you tried this stunt in inter-city buses. Trains are designed for our sort of goodbye. Everyone is running, sobbing, yelling out instructions, and then frantically waving goodbyes and asking the traveller to call the moment the train reaches destination.
Shoba Narayan runs besides trains and buys banana leaf packets of hot steaming idlis at every possible station.
Great headline. The Mecca of cross-country driving vacations is of course, America. Growing up in India, we can go on too many driving trips. Our childhood memories were built around train travel.
A driving vacation in New Zealand taught us that being cooped up in a car for hours at a stretch wasn’t all that bad.
Within the first hour of picking up our rental car in Auckland, New Zealand, both my daughters puked. We were at the beginning of a 10-day vacation in New Zealand. The plan was to drive to Christchurch and then Queenstown before looping back up to Auckland. Except that the car was smelling to high heaven. We stopped off at a grocery store and bought cleaning supplies, wondering if we were doing the right thing by driving so many miles with two active young children. Then came the first surprise. “We’ll help you clean up,” said my elder daughter, Ranju. After steadying ourselves, we decided to take up her offer. And so it began, this bonding trip that took us so far from home.
A driving vacation requires proper planning. We had to make sure that there were tasty snacks and drinks, particularly in those long sections where there was no rest area for miles. We brought along games and listened to audiobooks. What was surprising was how much we discovered about each other. There’s something about a moving vehicle and beautiful scenery that brings out the poet and philosopher in travelers. So it was with our family. Our younger daughter, Malu, had always been interested in geography. The vast expanses of New Zealand gave full play to her imagination. Except with a twist. Rather than asking questions as children do, we discovered that Malu ended up answering questions. She had studied quite a lot about the land and its geology. She could point out specific rocks, and tell us about the age of the continent. For any parent, discovering the depth of your child’s knowledge is a particular pleasure. It often doesn’t happen at home, when one is caught up in the routine of homework and extracurricular activities. It took a country at the tip of the earth and driving for hours at a stretch to bring out the teacher in 10-year-old Malu.
It was a little different with our elder daughter, Ranju, 15. She was a practical sort and helped her father deal with changing automobile oil, filling up gas, and examining the spare tire. Ever the diplomat, she even mediated a quarrel between my husband and I while our younger one slept. We were shocked and mortified to discover that not only had we failed in our resolve never to fight in front of the kids but that our child was mature enough to mediate our petty quarrel and that she was good at it. We had little choice, we told ourselves later. How long could one bottle up simmering resentments while cooped up in a vehicle?
Ten days later, ww returned the car to the rental agency, hoping that it still didn’t smell. We giggled and chuckled amongst ourselves as we stood in line to hand over the papers. We had explored a beautiful land and had wonderful experiences. Best of all, we had gotten to know each other in a way that we wouldn’t have at home. That alone made the vacation worth it.
To understand India, you need to have ridden on a train. One more plug for this fab book. Okay, so I have a piece in it, so not entirely a dispassionate observation.
But cricket, Bollywood, food and trains are (so far) the things that are common to the “India experience.” At least, so far as I can tell.
I am so mad. I woke up at 3 AM and surfed the Internet for two hours, looking at Hermes and Louis Vuitton bags.
Fell asleep at 5 AM and woke up at 630 again.
I could’ve meditated but I didn’t.
Instead the day has gone.
I have just sat down from 330 to 345.
I can feel myself slipping back to my old mode again.
If it weren’t for this damn log, I doubt that I would be meditating even.
So what did I do today? I breathed in and out 45 times. My mind was swirling the entire time. I need to find an architect to get the quote for an article. I was thinking about deadlines. Was thinking about what I would write in the stupid log. Mostly, I was mad at myself.
I don’t even know why I’m doing this. I am really looking forward to the yoga class in an hour. At least there, I will be doing something.