Getting plastered on Holi

Getting plastered on Holi

This Holi our ten-year-old son A got plastered. After just one shot he virtually passed out on the cold metal table in the X-ray room. The plaster went onto his left leg – all the way from his toes to his thigh. It was a pain in the tibia.

The evening before holi, he was out swinging – literally – just like any healthy, active, outdoorsy child. The rope of the swing snapped and he came down on his left leg. We did not rush to the ER because the nearest one is over an hour’s drive, and we don’t trust it much. Having heard the horror stories that emanate from most city hospitals, I believe the nearest decent ER is probably a six-hour flight from Delhi. A sleep-deprived intern in an Almora hospital on the night before Holi was not our idea of medical care.

We preferred to trust our neighborhood hospital run by the NGO Aarohi, but it was shut that evening so we planned to go there the next morning. That night was painful on multiple levels. The child endured physical pain and we parents flagellated ourselves for not checking the rope knowing fully well it was an old swing. The next morning –  the morning of Holi – we picked up Pandey ji, the X-ray technician, and reached the Aarohi Hospital. The key was traced out and the hospital unlocked especially for us. The very senior Dr. Sushil – the founder of Aarohi – was waiting for us. A doctor waiting for a patient was a first for me. The X-ray was impossible given the pain A was in, so they anesthetized him and then did the X-ray.

The shin bone a.k.a the tibia was fractured but fortunately still in place so it did not need setting. We were there for over 3 hours while Pandeyji and Dr. Sushil laboured over A’s leg. Finally the cast was spelled. Happy Holi.

The hospital bill was well below the 2000 rupee note I had on me. That included IMG_20170324_115417_HDR the X-ray, the plaster, the anaesthesia injection and the pain medication. In response to my not having change, a face smiled back and informed me that I could pay later. In the high-end resorts around our house we sometimes meet important people who are on the boards of big hospitals, and they talk about how ethics are important but sales targets for doctors are a reality. I’m not sure when these guys went from Hippocratic to Hypocritical. I hope science soon comes up with some treatment for regenerating a conscience.

It’s been two weeks and our son has learnt to live with the plaster. In these two weeks we again realized what a community really is. Worried neighbours brought food. As word spread in the local community, comic books, movies, and friends have turned up to visit. The principal of A’s school called us full of concern and workbooks and tests have been arranged in the house.

Instead of the world going on its way ignoring the hurt little child, it seems to have changed course just a little to provide him solace and company.  It is beautiful to live amongst a few people who care instead of a few million who don’t.

My nostalgia is better than yours. It’s the latest.

My nostalgia is better than yours. It’s the latest.

Having left the city, we have time for long, relaxed family conversations in our Himalayan village home. Yesterday my two kids – my daughter is 8 & my son 10 –  asked “What are the things from your childhood that are not around anymore?”

“Well, we had transistor radios.” I replied

“What’s that?” came the question.

“Oh, you listen to music and stuff on them. They are typically battery powered and my grandfather used to listen to them all the time.”

“Isn’t that the same thing Mohan da listens to? You know, when he is gardening and doing stuff.” My son asked.

Mohan da (da is big brother in Kumaoni, our local language) is our landlord, neighbour, go to person and an amazingly nice guy. He loves gardening and doing other little house stuff around the place – lighting the open chulha (wood-fired hearth) to heat water, sweeping the fallen leaves and so on. As he potters around, his constant companion is a battery-powered transistor radio tuned to All India Radio Almora, playing hindi film songs from the Palaeolithic era.

“Yes, that is a transistor radio.” I replied, somewhat sheepish.

“What else did you have?” They asked.

“Well, we had electric heaters with coils that turned red and hot to cook on. And white stone bases” said the wife.

My 8 year old daughter looked at her with some disdain this time “Mama, there’s nothing old about that. I’ve seen it in Kuku’s house – her mother cooks on it.” She went on to describe what could only be an old-world electric heater.

“Well, we had cassette players and cassettes.” I continued.

“What’s that?”

I described a tape recorder, and this one passed muster.  Phew!

“And we had kerosene stoves to cook on. We had to pump the stove, and had a pointy little metal thingy with a pin to clear the fuel flow. They made a mess and one helluva racket.”

After the two imps were done imitating my “helluva” my son exclaimed “Isn’t that what he uses in the tea-shop in Sitla?”

“BT Costa.” A voice inside my head says. I have christened the three village tea-shops in the neighbourhood BT Costa, BT Starbucks and BT Barista. Each has a nicer view, ambience, and character than any of their namesakes. And much simpler menus. BT stands for “Better Than.”

“Yes, actually he does use a kerosene stove.” I remember.

The kids push for more. I am feeling less and less sure of myself. Next, I hesitantly mentioned Black and White TVs that were too big & fat to hang from any wall. Even that had been seen by my kids. We go on, talking about Kerosene lamps and rotary telephones and so on. Then the topic switches to all the things that exist now that did not exist 3 decades back.

It was a revelation that so many of the things I considered obsolete are very much in use in our little village. Was it poverty? In a few cases, maybe. But many people around could afford better. Was it habit? Conscious choice?

I remember a conversation I had with Mohan Da. He doesn’t own a television, and we had arrived from the city lugging truckloads of stuff including a 32 inch Sony TV, a satellite dish and two set-top boxes. Having forsaken television, we offered the whole thing to him free.

He declined. He didn’t need to think. It was a simple choice of what he thought was important to him. Pottering around and gardening probably won over television for Mohan da.

This whole conversation made me questions my assumptions about obsolescence. Why do we continuously buy new stuff? And does it really make us happier? “Happiness doesn’t come from what you have, it comes from who you are.” I had read somewhere. And Vicki Robin, the author of “Your Money or your life” says “If you live for having it all, what you have is never enough.”

The critical word is “enough”. Enough to Mohan Da is a defined set of things that make him happy and keep him happy. The same enough is constantly changed, pushed, altered and moved for most people exposed to media and its motor – advertising. John Kenneth Galbraith once famously said “A person buying ordinary products in a supermarket is in touch with his deepest emotions.” That doesn’t say much about how deep those emotions run.

Everytime I visit the city, the advertising barrage overwhelms: the new car model, that new phone, sales, clothes – just so much stuff. It is all about bigger better faster more. And I want all this stuff. And then I go back to my little Himalayan village, and suddenly that desire fades.

I think I need to travel less to the city. That way I always have so much more.

_______________________

About Chetan Mahajan:  Chetan is a full-time author who lives in a village in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas. He published his first book with Penguin, and is working on his next one – a novel. The amazing creative influence of the Himalayas inspired him to start the Himalayan Writing Retreats: writing getaways for both novice and advanced writers. You can learn more about these retreats at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com .  He also writes and edits this blog.

Uncity in the City

Uncity in the City

Contributor : Mariam Karim Ahlawat (reprinted)

I was to wait outside a school which was hosting a competitive exam in RK Puram New Delhi. Hot dusty April, the hottest in decades, swirled about. This school is in one of the narrow old lanes of the colony built years and years ago. I got out of the car to look for the gate the children were to use. Many other parents stood about with anxious faces. Suddenly a fragrance I had known as a child assailed my nostrils..the sweet, all too sweet fragrance of wild figs. An orchestra of chirpings and chirruppings and cheepings seemed to be playing—I looked up to see an immense, goolar tree, the ficus indica, spreading its long boughs laden with the ripening fruit . And in the branches there was nearly every species of bird that inhabits the trees of New Delhi: parrots, mynahs, brahminy mynahs, white-eyes, pigeons, green pigeons, bulbuls, sunbirds, babblers, and even kingfishers ! And of course there were the squirrels running up and down the branches, bobbing their tails, going from fruit to fruit, testing  their ripeness!  The cool shade offered by the old spreading tree and the delicacies of the wild fruit along with the insects they attract provided a heavenly arbor for all these creatures –  a rarity in the city today. I can say the wait outside the school was a wonderful treat indeed. Yet I found few people looking up, caring if there was a sweet orchestra of birds playing, noticing that here in real life was a programme in progression which they might watch with interest on Discovery or Animal Planet… in fact there was a man in a long expensive car parked under the tree, windows up, AC switched on, chatting away on his cell-phone. The air around the car was getting extremely hot because of the AC.

He opened his window for a moment to look out and see if the exam time was over and if any children were emerging from the gate. I took the opportunity to approach him – I told him it was very cool under the shade of the tree, there was no need to keep the AC on, and it was in any case adding to the heat all around. I pointed out to him the variety of birds in the tree. I said “Your child will go to a premier Institute of Technology, so at least a little awareness of the environment on your part won’t go amiss”.  He looked nonplussed for a minute, but luckily for me he smiled, and agreed that he shouldn’t be using his AC.

I realize that our day to day lives do not include awareness of our immediate surroundings any more. We think about the traffic, the petrol we spend, the time taken to get from one place to another, the movie we must watch in the evening, the contacts we must make for our various businesses,  the money we owe or someone owes us, the mobile bill…anything at all. It is obviously foolish and without profit to look up into a bird-filled tree. What good will that do us? Leave it to ornithologists.

We are no longer excited by the life that exists around us, and that is why we are losing it so quickly. A grown woman watching birds and squirrels? When her son is sitting for such an important exam on which his entire future may depend? She must certainly be soft in the head!

No, we do not live in the world any longer, we live in flats and cars and malls and

27mptbmariam
Mariam Karim-Ahlawat – co-host of the Himalayan Writing Week, April 2017.

restaurants and keep the world out. We are afraid of the heat and the cold and the dust and we shut ourselves in cocoons and refuse to live each moment. When we feel spiritless and hollow inside of ourselves, we run to gurus and babas and chanting groups and kirtans and samagams…now even psychotherapists—when just around the corner, Nature provides beauty, harmony, melody, joy, relief from stress, in little pockets that still exist in the teeming cities.

 

We look desperately for God in human gatherings and we ignore, neglect and abuse the world God created. Spirituality can lie only in the preservation of Nature and all creatures great and small, with the lives of which our lives are intimately linked; otherwise search where we may, inner peace and harmony will always elude us.

About the contributor: Mariam Karim-Ahlawat is a published author and playwright and will be co-hosting the Himalayan Writing Week in the Kumaon Himalayas in April 2017. To learn more about her, please visit www.himalayanwritingretreat.com/#facilitators . Mariam lived in Delhi.

This article was originally printed in the Times of India Supplement under a different title, and is republished with the author’s permission.

The meta scent of spring

The meta scent of spring

Contributor : Chicu Lokgariwar

Spring. It is here. Time for buds to unfurl themselves, for bees to emerge hungrily from their homes, and for the farmer to dust off the household can of  ‘Meta’. There’s something very wrong with this picture here.

All around the Chatola-Sitla area (and beyond), farmers are getting ready to spray their peach trees with what is called ‘Meta’. This is done to prevent leaf curl, which all the peach trees in the area are plagued by. Sadly, spraying is not only ineffective but also counterproductive. The spring spraying is also possibly the worst thing we can do for our orchards.

Here’s why.

Know thy enemy: The first thing to know about the infestation of leaf curl is that it’s not. An infestation, that is.  It is a fungal disease. We first see it when the leaves turn red and

infected-peach-leaf
A peach leaf with the fungal  curl

unsightly. That is when it is too late to do anything about it. Germination of the spores happens in autumn, which is when we need to act.  These spores are released when the cell walls of the infected leaves rupture and they then settle on the surfaces of the tree.

 

Here is more (a lot more) about peach curl: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7426.html

Managing curl: This is a two-step process. First, we need to stop the spores from spreading, and then we need to control any that have already spread.

To stop them from spreading, ideally we would pluck off diseased leaves and burn them. This is the best option because we destroy the spores while they are still contained within the leaves. Given the scale of the problem, though, it is near-impossible to do it at the orchard level. At the least we need to rake up and burn (not compost!) any fallen peach leaves. This is an important step for controlling the spread.

Secondly, we need to spray. A copper-based fungicide is the only effective measure against peach curl.  Spraying is done as soon as the leaves fall, before the new leaf buds set. Several copper-based fungicides are available on the market (for us, the closest I’ve found is Kaladhungi Chauraha, Haldwani). While not entirely safe for wildlife (especially earthworms), copper fungicides are less toxic than insecticides. Even better, since it’s toxicity levels are low enough for the treatment to qualify as ‘organic’, is Bordeaux mixture.

Here’s how to make it: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7481.html .

Incidentally, for those of you who are frustrated by black spot on your Old Roses, that too is a fungus, and these measures work well for that too.

Know thy other enemy: This comes disguised as our old friend ‘Meta’. Officially known as ‘Metasystox’, the preparation is an insecticide and a miticide. In other words, it is absolutely ineffective against peach curl. It is effective against aphids, but it inflicts so much collateral damage that I would not use it at all.

Because Metasystox is toxic.

It is toxic to humans and needs to be handled with extreme care, which almost no one practices here. Here is more about it: http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/insect-mite/mevinphos-propargite/oxydemeton-methyl/insect-prof-oxydem-methyl.html

Further,  Metasystox is harmful to pollinators. The ‘quick knockdown effects’ that they have mentioned in the article? We see it every year in the form of dead bees. While this is terrible from a biodiversity point of view, it is also bad orchard management. Pollinators, as we all know, are indispensable allies to enable fruit-set. A mass-scale killing of bees and other pollinators, while poisoning ourselves, during flowering seasons, is so misguided that it is tragic.  Please don’t.

About Chicu Lokgariwar

Chicu has been working on sustainable resource management, especially water, since 2000. Uncity Chicu presently lives in Chatola with her husband, dog and ever-increasing flock of chickens. Chicu writes about water for the India Water Portal and blogs about the gardening life.

The Difficulty of being Sexy

The Difficulty of being Sexy

Contributor : Gurcharan Das Chetan Mahajan

I always had this belief that I was really good-looking. Somehow, the world at large seemed to disagree.  Until now.

The call from the casting company changed everything. It started with a facebook post looking for a 45+ marathon runner for an ad film, went on to an online audition and finally culminated in me sitting in the airport lounge typing out this post, en route to Mumbai and the beautiful world beyond.

The moment the casting company confirmed the assignment, I felt an overwheming urge to end world hunger single-handedly based on my fabulous good looks. I now notice my ridiculously handsome reflection in every mirror and glass I walk past. And am seriously considering launching my own line of fragrances and deodorants. I can’t wait for my name to be in every underarm in the world.

The village is no place for a budding model – the supply of beauty and skin-care products is so limited. But I went to our local store and bought an exfoliating scrub, the age defying cream and some other random cosmetics – even though I couldn’t read much of what was written on the labels (reading glasses really don’t fit in this new world you see). The other stuff was okay but I really didn’t like the age defying cream. It tasted horrible, which was shocking given it was more expensive than a whole tandoori chicken. Of course the next stop was the salon to have my hair styled.

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Irfaan ki Dukaan. The best (and only) Salon in our Village.

Many other cosmetic concerns emerged. Will I have to start using skin lightening cream? But the mirror told me sex appeal oozed from my dusky hue, so I decided against it. The casting guy had loved me just the way I was. And will I have to shave off my chest hair and stop eating puris? I hate shaving even my face. Then I remember Sean Connery with relief – at least for the chest hair. I wonder what the Hollywood Scottish do for Puris, though.

I am really looking forward to being at the shoot, although I guess I won’t have much to do but hang around and look pretty.

Letting such raw sexuality loose in a rural setting, however, is not without risk.  The other day as I caught my own reflection in the window pane, I pouted. I noticed some movement outside the window and heard a crashing sound. I rushed outside to find a cow had fallen over outside the glass I was pouting at.  As I bent down to take a closer look at the cow, the bovine beauty made a sudden jerking movement. I swear she was trying to kiss me. I guess it was just my irresistible animal magnetism.

The cow will eventually get over it and return to normal quite quickly. But I wonder how long it will take me.

The guy who wrote this post, along with his more talented but less good-looking colleagues host the Himalayan Writing Retreats – a variety of events on writing, blogging and podcasting at gorgeous Himalayan locales. You can learn more at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com.

Time is precious. Waste it wisely.

Time is precious. Waste it wisely.

Heartstrings. The word is meaningless unless you have a pacemaker. I always thought of it as one of those unnecessary words writers make up – until I heard that voice yesterday.

It was the sing-song of her typical Kumaoni way of speaking that made me smile. It was the sound of simplicity, of an unhurried, uncomplicated life. It was the sound of home. I did not ask her name, but I did will her to speak some more. She did, asking the price of the bhindi, and asking why the beans weren’t fresh. I then caught the shopkeeper staring at me and I realized I was staring at the cabbage with a big smile plastered on my face. He looked carefully at the cabbage and then back at me.

I was at a vegetable store in Bhimtal, headed back home after many more days than were

road-neo
The road home.

necessary. And hearing the lyrical Kumaoni lilt of her voice triggered a joyful jangle inside me that I could almost physically hear. It was like some latent thing inside me was suddenly awakened, resonating with the music of beautiful memories. And suddenly “heartstrings” made perfect sense.

 

Maybe 38 days in the land of pubs, imported custom kitchens and business conversations was too much. Maybe it was just the knowledge that many of the meals I had with friends in the city cost more than a month’s salary for my friends in the village. Maybe the fast-talking, deal seeking “fame, success, money” types were just way too much work for my rustic soul. I pined for the land where speedpost takes 5 days, and no other courier works. A place where it isn’t strange to sit and have tea and a conversation with the postman when he brings your mail.

I missed the land of rustic familiarity. And the woman’s beautiful Kumaoni song-voice started the journey of my return, triggering the feeling of being back home. Everyone along way was a friend.  After the vegetable store my next stop was the grocery store in Bhowali – the man there asked me about my prolonged absence. I then drove further on, and at one point crossed my contractor and architect headed in the opposite direction. We both stopped our cars, stepped out, shook hands, and talked briefly. They weren’t just helping me build my new home, but we shared a strange kinship. Like we were the few that knew the secret of the mountains.

I remember the look of envy on the faces of city people who see pictures of my home. And a few lines form in my head:

You chose the huge car, the massive house

Take pleasure in that hi-tech Bluetooth mouse

Why then, the Famous Grouse?

Village folks along the way ask for a lift. I give a ride to everybody who asks till my car is full. As I chat with them, I can feel the city with its 100 rupee teacups slowly peel off me and fall away like unwanted dead skin.

I feel new again. And I wonder, why did I ever leave?

Tha above video is the dawn I came back to.

Dark spots on the Himalayan sun

Dark spots on the Himalayan sun

Contributor : Vandita Dubey

The dark spots on our bright Himalayan sun began to appear rather suddenly, well over a year after we moved to Kumaon. One instant, everything was idyllic –  the clouds floating in and out of the valleys – and our house – during the monsoons, the snow covered Himalayan ghosts hover in the clear blue winter skies across the horizon. In the aftermath of city life, people of the villages also seemed kinder, gentler, more honest. Then like unwelcome guests, a series of unfortunate incidents in the neighbourhood left us all feeling uncomfortable. The picture is still the same but with the soft, diffused light gone, the sharp, jagged edges have become more obvious.

This year, between the end of summer and beginning of winter, our small community witnessed three unnatural deaths.  A young man from a neighbouring village was found dead with wounds on his body. An amorous couple’s extra marital sex videos made it to the cell phones of a bunch of village folk. And the following day, which happened to be the festival of Rakshabandhan, ended with the wife consuming poison. This resulted in the husband being sent to jail and three teenaged children left to fend for themselves. Diwali eve brought the most heartbreaking news of all – a young 7-year-old boy, an only child who studied in the same school as our kids, was killed instantaneously in an accident. The motorcycle he was riding on with his parents was thrown over the cliff by a pickup truck driven by three drunk youth from the same district who also did not survive this accident. What are the chances that the one vehicle you come across on these empty, winding roads should be the one that takes your life!

All these events have been shocking for us, but are barely news worthy for a big city. I have struggled to make sense of why these incidents have caused us so much distress. We have lived in various big cities in India and abroad and have heard of all kinds of crime, but why do these incidents seem more jarring? Maybe it is because incidents of violence in the city are treated as accepted, expected parts of life – perhaps because the victims are often unknown individuals or exposure to such incidents is so great that one becomes numb towards them. In addition, one is always on guard and watchful so that one does not become a victim oneself. In a small mountain village like our’s however, the same kind of events shake one up. Maybe because they involve individuals who are known or perhaps because one has lowered one’s defences, lulled by the seemingly idyllic, peaceful nature of life. I don’t think it is the end of our innocence: I still don’t feel threatened in any way. What has ended, though, is the apathy and indifference that one learns to wear in the city. There is also an acute awareness that each crime has many victims – multiple lives are affected, not just one.

Our gentle Kumaoni village is not free of crime or sorrow, but here each victim is mourned and each story is heard countless times.

About the contributor :

An urban migrant, Dr. Vandita Dubey is a resident of the Kumaoni village of Satkhol. A US licensed psychologist, she is the author of the book “Parenting in the age of Sexposure”. She also co-hosts the Himalayan Writing Retreats. You can learn more about her at www.vanditadubey.com and about the writing retreats at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com .