Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Most old cities have a khao galli. Don’t they?
Set in older parts, with glorious food served from tiny shops or glitzy laaris.
Ahmedabad has not one, several khao gallis, creeping outwards as the city spreads.

When I came to Ahmedabad more than 40 years ago, Khao galli was Khaas bazaar. Khass because it was stoutly non-veg in a city dominated by Gandhian vegetarians.  It existed a couple hundred yards down from the old fort and its mata na mandir.   Several decades later, a new branch of that Khaas bazaar has made itself permanent on the S G Highway’s Sarkhej stretch, offering economic meals, desi style and American magic Chicken style too.

Khaas bazaar was an all day affair; its vegetarian counterpart in the chowk ruled only at night, crowds milling on the footpaths off the downed shutters of silversmiths and the stock exchange and others, for a selection of sandwiches topped with grated cheese and a dash of desi spice along with other desi vegetarian street foods.

Cut to a couple of decades and many bureaucratic battles later, new Ahmedabad got its own Khao galli. Set in the lane next to the centrally placed Law Garden, it sported laaris offering a variety of gujjuized cuisines: gujarati, Punjabi, South Indian, Chinese, now even Thai and Mexican, pizzas and pastas, all bastardised with desi masalas and topped with Ahmedabad’s eternal favorite: Ashrafi kulfi.

What looked glitzy and new then looks sad today.  No one has upgraded either hygiene or presentation…… neither owners nor the municipality that created the market for them.  Since customers come anyway, no one bothers.

Now a new Upmarket Khao galli is in the making.  The 100 ft road that some call Anandnagar Road and some Prahladnagar road is on its way to becoming a couple of kilometer long Khao galli, strung with a bouquet with restaurants, from Subway, Macdonalds and Coffee CafĂ© day to fine dine places and even a cute Varie tea  tucked way in a basement, with all the ‘in’ cuisines in between.

Even as this Khao galli is still at expansion stage, new ones are appearing on the horizon.  Long life Khao galli.   WHERE ELSE HAS THIS HAPPENED?


Now I’m waiting for a book on Radha,  to view  her through a brand new prism.
We’ve had Irawati Karve on Kunti.  Devdutt Patnaik on a new free spirited Sita.  Amish Tripathi on a transformed Parvati with her twin Kali. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni on Draupadi in the Palace of Illusions.   Did I miss out on any major one?

Our ancients are a discovery for me.  At my mother’s knee, I learnt very abbreviated versions of the Ramayan and the Mahabharat.  No grandmas abroad in those days.
My first interaction with the ancients was when my children sat around my knees for bedtime stories from that wonderful Amar Chitra Katha series. Could any civilization survive millennia with petty minded women and such brutes of men?

Then I discovered modern prisms ton history and the scenario stood transformed. I even wrote my own historical novel, MASTANI:  from the rumored dancing girl of old text books, she emerged as a true blue Bundela Kshtrani, daughter of Maharaj Chhatrasaal Bundela, whose dowry paved the road of the Marathas into Delhi.  

Karve’s Kunti hinted at different relationships, outside the realms of the ‘gods’.  More human and believable.  Why should surrogates be chosen by someone else?  Why not by the woman concerned? Like “Kunti’s Daughter” in my forthcoming anthology.

Devdutt’s Sita was a joy to make friends with: a woman who could enjoy her own company as much as that of the creatures of Nature ….. better than those sullen followers of Raghukul’s rules and regulations for kingdom.  A woman who combined the wisdom of philosophy with that of homespun domesticity, never mind if it was homespun in forests.  One had to admire the person and her convictions.

I waded through Tripathi’s Parvati and Kali with great glee to come to Chitra’s Draupadi/ Paanchali/Krishnaa. Please note that extra ‘a’, to differentiate her from Krishna, her first love, confidante, fellow conspirator, what have you.  Here was a woman, proud in her womanhood.  No goddess or saint. Born for vengeance and lived with it.  Her two loves permeated her soul, never acknowledged aloud.
She lived burdened with not one but Five husbands who claimed to love her, but would not raise a little finger for her, sitting paralyzed by – again - manmade rules & regulations when she was being stripped in public.  Any wonder why she gave them their due in marriage, through all their adversities but did not ‘love’ them?   
Incidentally those adversities were inevitably brought on by the violation of some manmade rule or regulation, and accepted stoically ---- was it because the violation was by males, of males, for males? 
Where a female came into the picture, men became honor bound to dishonor her? Witness the Pandavas and the Maryada Prushottam…..

Now we need a brand new prism for Radha…one more candidate for Maa dom.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Did he?

Have often wondered whether Peshwa Baji Rao's younger brother, Chimaji Appa died within six months of the death of Baji and Mastani out of sheer sorrow and penitence.
The two brothers were long heralded as Ram Lakhan;  until the beautiful, intelligent Mastani appeared on the scene, or rather in the arms of Baji Rao, while poor Appa was saddled with child brides twice, leaving no recourse but the attractive experienced arms of others.
Did the sight of his illustrious brother's second wife and the knowledge of her worth --- after all he was the household Comptroller and knew the accounts coming in from Bundelkhand  finally tip the balance as his favorite protege, Nana Saheb, eldest son of Baji Rao from his first wife, Kashibai came of age? 

What was the role played by younger brother Appa in the tragic deaths of  Mastani and Peshwa Baji Rao in rapid succession?

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Magic of Bach Remedies

Alternate remedies can be life savers for many ailments, especially emotional ones.
listen to this:

I wonder if my brain would have done alright in moments of misery,
If flowers hadn't come to the rescue,
If the chemicals hadn't been put in perfect milligram balance
By Bach remedies.

The sort of balance that Nature has
The magnum opus of roots and pollens.
Every scent for a purpose.
Every color for a cause.
Somehow aiding the equilibrium of Life.

Steadying the wobble of the heart
When a molecule spins out of control
Or when an atom parades out of turn.
Emotions are elements and compounds.
They feed onus to survive.
And we survive to feed them.

Perhaps Mother wouldn't have had that
Fatal lump in her breast
Had I known of Bach remedies then....
Agrimony and Gentian would have shouldered
Her crushing despair like dutiful sons.

Harsh words would not have scraped her insides hollow
Giving space for tumors to flourish. Perhaps.
The earth speaks to us through its breeze,
Lifts us through its flora.
Chestnuts, Pines, Cherry Plums and more
Are in our reach
Even if love is not.
Nature knows how much the mind endures...
Countryisde stands up well
To unflinching steel and concrete grey.
                                                                Vinita Agrawal

Purposeful Rehab in Flooded Kashmir

"When the floods struck,  
people watched their dreams

Swim like champions, b
ut drown like fledgling sparrows

The horror entered their pillows every night

Like black seeds in silk cotton."

Vinita Agrawal
Doesn't that create a goose bump raising picture of rising floods, just when India is in the throes of the Vadodara, Bihar and the Kashmir floods, now bleeding into Jammu too?
For days now, the floods in J&K  have flooded the media with loud outcries. As a matter of fact, rescue is still underway. The army itself has yet to examine what it has lost by way of arms, ammunition, supplies and family in the flood. 
The situation in the whole state too has yet to be assessed thoroughly for damage, what is retrievable and what gone forever. News reports trash Omar Abdullah and his government, but also raise a weary doubt:
How much of these anti stories are planted in anticipation of next year's assembly elections?    Politicians will make use of every opportunity to score points, just as the infiltrators are already doing no doubt.
That leaves the security forces stretched thin between border security and rescue operations. Rescue is vital and life saving, but induction of more uniforms may just raise howls of protest from the hitherto shouting lobbies of the Geelanis etc etc.  That would paralyze everything. Both security and rescue need SOS attention just now.

Perhaps I am again thinking too far ahead. But, may be, just may be, this will prompt someone who knows someone who can make a difference to make that call for a more calliberated, focused and forward thinking to rehab, which will consume thousands of crores.

The messes left behind by receding water will need to be cleaned up, need both citizens and officials to work in tandem. Perhaps many buildings may have to be brought down for safety reasons.

Is this then, not the time to work on those reports of INTACH, not only on environment issues but also on restoration...... of the ethnic Kashmiri style of buildings; the rehabilitation of the three shrines in Shrinagar itself;  the area also boasts of what is purported to be the grave of Jesus Christ.

An aesthetic restoration with the type of modern tourists facilities modeled  on that which spins billions in Mecca and Medina.  
Combined with a Buddhist monastery or two, and Vaishnavo Devi in Jammu next door, it would form an entire new tourist circuit that would work wonders in resurrecting J&K's economy that has been shattered by the floods.

Come, Kashmir, you can do it. Build up the will!

Have been reading about a UP village where Hindus and Muslims not only live in harmony but also intermarry uninhibited by regulations of either side. They were  forcibly converted by Aurangzeb but have learnt to live happily with each other ever since.
My historical novel MASTANI detailed the brahmin and kshtriya roots of both Peshwa Baji Rao I and his second wife Mastani. Tragically, their offspring were railroaded into Islam because her mother was Muslim, for political reasons.... succession and the reigning Muslims at that time. It took three generations for them to actually assimilate Islam. 

Two centuries down the line, none other than Lokmanya Tilak invited the Muslim branch to Pune to suggest a return to the family fold. The attempt floundered on familiar Brahmin rocks demanding : Will they become brahmins or ksytriyas? Who will marry their children?

It took another century for my MASTANI to release and bring about a rapprochement between the two branches of the Peshwa family --- on an as is, where is basis with common roots. 

Another case somewhere in Rajasthan, which again spoke of forced conversion. When they later tried to go back to their roots, the Brahmins put a spoke in the wheel.  Is that not ridiculous?
It is the religions of the Book that believe in conversions, forced or other wise. Hinduism believes in assimilation....has since Time Immemorial, which is what makes it such a wonderful religion, were it not for our lunatic fringe elements who just love love jihad!


Yesterday, on Facebook, I saw a sentence that struck a chord in me.

“No matter what the situation is,
Remind yourself     
‘I have a choice’”

This sentence resonated with me as that is sounds exactly the spirit of my forthcoming anthology titled  NIRBHAYA & OTHERS WHO DARED.

It tells the stories of women who make their choices, good, bad or indifferent and dare to lead their lives in their own way;  the stories of innumerable relationships --- those that women have with themselves and each other, with husbands, brothers, sauts, jamais, sisters, lovers, fathers, offspring, colleagues …. You name the relationship and you have it.

What it boils down to is thinking out of the box and making a choice to live Life