Garam Hava- a review

Set in the post-Partition era of 1948, ‘Garam Hava’ which released in 1973 is a film which sensitively portrays the travails of a family that chooses to not ‘Go to Pakistan’ but prefers to stay on in India.

Although shot in Eastmancolor, most of the film seems to be in shades of grey; there is very little actual colour. Perhaps the lack of colour is symbolic of the lives of the characters.

The Partition is over, Mahatma Gandhi has been assassinated and people on both sides of the border are trying to come to terms with the trauma inflicted on them and its repercussions that widen and spread like ripples into every aspect of their lives.

At the centre of this story is Salim Mirza, the owner of a successful shoe factory in Agra. Salim Mirza has just seen off his sister on the train to Pakistan. Although he is unhappy that she has chosen to leave her country and family, he is equally determined not to follow suit. But the deadly combination of politics, religion and social constraints are factors that are beyond his control. One by one his family members get on that train to Pakistan, compelled either by fear of persecution or lured by the prospect of a better, safer life. It’s only his aged mother who is firm about not leaving the home of her forefathers.

We watch how his family starts falling apart; slowly but inexorably. The elder brother is the next to leave; which is a jolt since the ancestral haveli is in his name. The shoe factory is already in a bad way with most of the workers having left for Pakistan and banks refusing to give loans to a Muslim who might at any moment do the same. Years of association and friendships have now become meaningless. Mirza and his elder son struggle to keep the factory running but are assailed from all sides by strikes, cancelled orders, lack of finances. Soon they have to vacate their haveli since the legal owner has left the country. The elder son is the next to give up the struggle get on the train to Pakistan.

As the large family of Salim Mirza disintegrates, the space that they occupy also shrinks. From a sprawling haveli, they are now forced to live in a much smaller house, and the number of people who sit down at the family dinner keeps reducing. The aged mother breathes her last, the younger sister, along with her scheming husband also departs. His shoe factory was set on fire during clashes between the two communities and Salim Mirza is forced to ‘work from home’ to keep the home fires burning. Alongside all this is Amina, his daughter, who is anxiously waiting for the man she loves, to return from Pakistan and marry her, as he promised. It doesn’t happen and she turns to another for comfort. He too leaves, promising to send for her, but doesn’t. Heartbroken and distraught, one night, Amina locks herself in her room and quietly takes her life. For Salim Mirza, this is the final blow and the most cruel of them all.

Mere words cannot do justice to Balraj Sahani’s portrayal of Salim Mirza. It is an impeccable performance, nuanced, restrained and completely spot on. There is also a very young Farooque Shaikh in the role of Sikandar, Mirza’s spirited younger son who refuses to leave the country but prefers to stay on and join his friends in the movement for jobs and a better life. Each character in the story is perfectly cast and the story itself is shown without any melodrama whatsoever. There is no moralizing or preaching, no grand speeches and no taking sides. The viewer is allowed to absorb, reflect and reach a conclusion. Or not. What does stay with the viewer is the poignant verse composed and recited by Kaifi Azmi at the start and end of the film:
Taqseem hua mulk toh dil ho gaye tukde,
Har seene mein toofan wahan bhi tha, yahan bhi
Har ghar mein chita jalti thi, lehrate they shole,
Har sheher mein shamshaan wahan bhi tha,yahan bhi
Gita ki koi sunta na aur na hi Quran ki
Hairaan imaan wahan bhi tha aur yahan bhi;

Jo door se toofan ka karte hain nazara,
Unke liye toofan wahan bhi hai,yahan bhi,
Dhaarey mein Jo mil jao toh ban jaoge dhaara,
Yeh waqt ka elaan wahan bhi hai aur yahan bhi..”-

Classic.

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Mr & Mrs 55

‘Light, ‘breezy’ ‘musical caper’ are hardly the terms one would associate with a film that stars Guru Dutt, Madhubala and Lalita Pawar. The film is also directed by Guru Dutt who once again is chiefly remembered as the doomed hero of films like ‘Pyaasa’ and ‘Kagaz ke Phool’

But surprisingly ‘Mr and Mrs 55’ which released in – you guessed it- 1955, is all of that. It also has some memorable foot-tapping numbers, barring the wailing strains of ‘Pritam aan milo’ which, given as the hero’s name is Pritam; should make sense, I suppose.

To resume, the film opens with a very sophisticated looking Lalita Pawar -in sleeveless blouse, primped hair and silk sari- celebrating the announcement of the Divorce Bill (in 1955, remember?!). She firmly believes that marriage puts an end to the ‘azaadi’ of a woman and must be avoided at any cost. Yes, we’re still in 1955, in case you were wondering.

Seeta Devi aka Lalita Pawar lives with her niece Anita, ( the lovely Madhubala) who is to inherit vast sums of money from her late father, on her 21st birthday. Unfortunately, they find out that Anita’s father has cunningly included a condition that must be fulfilled if she is to come into possession of all those lakhs: she must get married within a month of her 21st birthday. This, as a fuming Seeta Devi reads in a letter addressed to her, is because he knows her views on holy matrimony and fears that Anita too will remain unmarried for the rest of her life. Ok, this is 1955, so…

The determined Seeta Devi gets hold of impoverished cartoonist Guru Dutt and they sign a contract according to which he will marry Madhubala; and after a few months, once her inheritance is secure, will divorce her without creating any trouble. For this, he will receive the princely sum of 250/- every month. Guru Dutt agrees, not because he is stony broke but because he met Madhubala once and was completely smitten. And who can blame him for that?! Madhubala is unaware of his sentiments and scorns him because he has sold himself to her aunt.

The film is full of snappy dialogues and crackling repartee. All the characters get to deliver witty lines and stinging comebacks. Get this-
Seeta Devi; Tum itni choti si kholi mein kaise rehlete ho?
The hero: Badi aasani se.
Or this-
Seeta Devi: Tum communist toh nahin ho?
The hero: Nahin, cartoonist hoon.
And this-
The hero: (after their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere) Miyan-biwi aaram se iss gaadi mein raat kaat denge.
The heroine: Tumhara sar kaat denge.

The film proceeds in this manner but takes a regressive turn towards the end. The proud princess has to be shown that for a ‘hindustani nari’, true happiness lies in getting married, having many children and taking care of her husband and family. And that all these notions of ‘azaadi’ are western, thus evil and must therefore be shunned. Yup, very 1955.

The songs are refreshingly easy on the ear. Be it Thandi hawa, kaali ghaata or Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji, or Dil par hua aisa jaadoo, they all work their jaadoo on the listener.

And the cherry, the topping, the sprinkles, the frosting on this treat is the alluring, the captivating, the ravishing Madhubala. She looks enchanting from every angle, in every outfit and in every scene. She is bubbly, arrogant, comical, tragic and altogether lovable. The story is slanted in favour of the male characters as is made clear by the ending, but it really deserves to be called Ms and Mrs 55. Take that, patriarchy!!

Parichay- a review

Many Bollywood films can qualify for the tag of a ‘musical’ so I always found it a bit unfair that the one I watched recently- Parichay- should be remembered as a rip-off of an all-time classic ‘The Sound of Music’

Now, I’ve watched The Sound of Music so many times that I probably know the script by heart, and I DO know the songs well enough to sing them in my sleep (very badly, but the lyrics will be spot on). And when I watched ‘Parichay’ I felt more than ever that it was a very skilful adaptation of the former, not a mere ‘copy’

After all, Gulzar is a highly prolific lyricist, poet, script writer and director in his own right. Why would the creator of such insightful, path-breaking films like Koshish, Khushboo, Aandhi, Ijazat and many more, need to plagiarize a Hollywood musical?

To begin with, the stern disciplinarian Captain with seven children in the original is the retired Col. Rai Bahadur (Pran with a military moustache) and grandfather of five in Parichay. The governess Maria from The Sound of Music is the desperately-seeking-employment Ravi (Jeetendra in a toned-down and much improved version of himself) who agrees to tutor these five unruly children. The sweet sixteen Liesl from the musical is the equally sweet though rebellious Didi (Jaya Bhaduri, always a delight to watch). Mother Superior and the nuns are replaced by Ravi’s loving and supportive Mamaji and Mami. And there end the similarities.

The story trots along perkily, the children try various tactics to shake off this latest ‘Masterji’ in a long line of tutors to no avail. He wins them over by laughing at their tricks, telling them stories of a ‘langda bhoot’ and generally spending time getting to know and understand them. The action is lightly laced with humour all through and even the back story of how the children were orphaned and rescued from dire poverty by their grandfather, whom they resent for having turned his back on their father doesn’t weigh down the narrative.

The romance between Masterji and Didi is shown mainly through glances and gentle by-mistake touch of the hands. They do not waltz in the moonlight or sing about having done something good to deserve this.

There are several scenes that make one smile, chuckle and laugh and what I found refreshing was that the children are just children, not precocious little adults, they sulk, rebel and get up to all sorts of mischief.

One must hand it to Gulzar for extracting such a sober yet pleasant performance from Jumping Jack Jeetendra who was at best an average actor. In fact, the only time he does jump in the film is at the end, from a train moving out of the station. Even then he stumbles, falls and has to be helped to his feet by the heroine!

It’s a musical so how can the music be far behind? In place of Maria singing ‘I have confidence in me’ as she makes her way to the Captain’s house, we have Kishore Kumar singing ‘Musafir hoon yaroon’ in perfect time and rythm to the tonga as it takes Ravi to his Mamaji’s house.

The classic ‘Do- a deer’ is skillfully transformed into the very hummable ‘Saare ke saare’ by Gulzar. It’s proof of the mastery Gulzar has over the medium of words. Listen to this: pa-pa nahin hai, dha-ni-si di-di, Didi ke saath hain saa-re…. Sheer genius. The verdant slopes of the Alps are replaced by the plains of Table Land in Panchgani but by then the viewer is so engrossed in the story that any thoughts of Maria and the Von Trapp family are as elusive as the edelweiss in the mountains.

The only melody that lingers in the mind is ‘mujhe chalte jaana hai, bas chalte jaana’

Sujata- a review

On my way to work,I was listening to a CD of S.D Burman’s songs, when Talat Mehmood’s soulful voice poured out of the speakers.The song was ‘Jalte hain jiss ke liye, teri aankhon ke diye’. After which it was easy to select my movie of the day.

‘Sujata’ released in 1959 but the topic that it so sensitively dealt with, is just as relevant today as it was 60 years ago. The tender story of a lower-caste, rather untouchable (as they were called then) girl, who is brought up in an upper-caste family is touchingly portrayed by Nutan. When her adoptive ‘ammi’ introduces her to visitors as ‘hamari beti jaisi’ but never ‘hamari beti’ we feel her pain. When she confesses to the very upper-caste man who is in love with her, that she is ‘achoot, bilkul achoot’ we weep with her. When she yearns for the happiness that is so tantalisingly within her grasp, but from which she has to turn away, the heart-break is not just hers alone.

The name Sujata means ‘of good family or jaat, as in- caste’ and the irony is made apparent in numerous ways. Her adoptive mother is always conflicted between accepting her as a loving daughter and pushing her away because of her low caste. The fiercely orthodox ‘buaji’ who refuses to even be in the same room as her, the smug pandit who leaves the house because there is an untouchable residing there, Sujata’s very existence is defined by what others think and how they behave around her. The issue of caste is bound not just by beliefs and tradition but also the monster called ‘What Will Society Think?’

The movie is like watching a poem that is breathed into life by its characters, its music and its imagery. The best part is that Sujata is not rescued from the shackles of her birth and situation by her upper-caste lover, but by her own actions.

I also liked the warmth and affection that existed between the bubbly, chirpy ‘beti’ Rama and the ‘beti jaisi’ Sujata. Shashikala almost steals the show with her infectious smile and teasing manner.The grace with which she accepts that the hero prefers her quiet, plain sister instead of being smitten by her lively charms, is truly endearing.

A salute to Sunil Dutt for accepting a role in which he plays second fiddle to not just the heroine but to all the female characters in the story. He seemed to me more symbolic than anything- he represented the educated, enlightened and progressive face of society, willing to forsake all to stand by his beliefs.

And finally- the music. Each one an unforgettable gem that stays with you long after the movie ends. From the lilting melody of ‘Bachpan ke din bhi kya din the’ to the evocative ‘Kaali ghata chaye’ and the universal birthday favourite ‘Tum jiyo hazaaron saal’, it’s a playlist that can be listened to on a loop.

As Talat Mehmood crooned ‘Geet naazuk hai mera sheeshe sey bhi, toote na kahin…’ So, play on!

Saudagar- a review

My watching-one-movie-a-day binge is well on track. Today, the moving finger, rather thumb; while scrolling; landed on an old favourite- Saudagar. And NO, NOT the 1991 one in which Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar prance around singing ‘Iss jungle mein hum do sher’ (cringe, cringe). This ‘Saudagar’ came out in 1973 and starred a young Amitabh Bachchan and an older Nutan. An unusual pair, but what remarkable performances! Wish they had made more such movies together.

Okay, to begin with, the viewer needs to get over the sight of Amitabh in a lungi; hitched way, Waaay up his thighs, as he clambers up and down palm trees to tap and collect their juice. But once you’re past that, you get caught up in the story as it unfolds and takes you along at its leisurely, unhurried pace.

Moti (Amitabh) is a rasiya- he taps the palm tree trunks for their nectar, which he then takes to this widow in the village (Nutan); who makes the best ‘gur’ out of it. This is also how she ekes out a living.
Moti is not just a ‘rasiya’ known for selling the best ‘gur’ in the market, he also has an eye for the ladies, and is prepared to pay for what he wants. Hence the title- Saudagar.

So, Moti has his eye on Phoolbanu, whose father wants 500 rupees ‘meher’ from Moti before he can marry her. Moti therefore comes up with the devious plan to first marry Nutan, so that he can save the money he has to pay her to make the ‘gur’ for him. And once he has the required amount in his pocket, he boots her out by using the Triple T mantra, marries Phoolbanu and brings her home.

Moti Miyan was obviously not thinking very far ahead, because he soon discovers that the lovely, luscious Phoolbanu makes lousy, god-awful ‘gur’ which no-one buys and soon he’s left with no money, debts and a mounting frustration and despair that his beloved ‘ras’ is not getting lovingly transformed into ‘gur’ the way it deserves, by his beloved Phoolbanu. The Saudagar’s sauda has rebounded on him.

It’s a pleasure to watch Amitabh in the role of an arrogant, opportunistic, manipulative, Grade-A jerk, who also briefly turns into a wife-beater ( with poor Phoolbanu at the receiving end). It’s also a credit to his talent that you still can’t dislike him. In fact, you actually feel his agony that the ‘ras’ which is his passion can be made into the best ‘gur’ only by this older woman who’s past the first flush of youth and is a widow to boot. Whereas his beautiful, young bride, whom he mistakenly thought would make ‘gur’ as sweet as she was; makes a mess of it.

The songs are melodious and beautifully rendered, especially the title song. But my favourite is the haunting ‘Door hai kinara’ sung by Manna Dey and one of its verses:
“Aandhi kabhi, toofan kabhi, kabhi majhdhar
Jeet hai usi ki jisne maani nahi haar
Maajhi khete jao re, door hai kinara ho”

This Saudagar is certainly a good deal!

Gumrah- a review

If it’s true that films mirror reality then life couldn’t have been easy for women in the 1960s. I’m saying this after watching an old Hindi film on Youtube. The film- Gumrah. Directed by BR Chopra. It was said to tackle a bold theme (infidelity) and was also called a film that was ahead of its time.

Setting apart the moral and ethical conundrum of a married woman in love with another man (a situation for which there is no easy way out), the plight of the heroine did make me realise that we women really have made great strides since then..

The way the heroine was passed around from one man (her father) to another (her husband, previously the husband of her dead sister) for the simple reason that two motherless kids needed someone to take care of them, and who better than a loving aunt instead of an unknown ‘stepmother’. Never mind that she was in love with another man.

Well, off she goes and settles down to a life of marital bliss, because that’s what a woman is expected to do, right? Unfortunately, a year later she meets the former love of her life again (a very handsome and intense Sunil Dutt) And she gets Gumrah (led astray) because she had no mind or will of her own, right?

The clandestine meetings, the emotional dilemma, the longing, the denial are glossed over. What is dwelled upon are the heavy-handed platitudes, steeped in patriarchy.
– a woman can be given ‘azaadi’ but she has no right to leave the four walls of her father’s/husband’s house.
– If she does so, she will end up ‘be-izzat’ and ‘badnaam’ for the rest of her life. Doomed to live in disgrace forever and ever. Amen
– the husband who plays a cruel cat-and-mouse game to test her loyalties, by sending a vampish stranger (Shashikala at her evil best) to pretend to blackmail her is actually the good guy. Why? Because when she breaks down and confesses, he nobly forgives her and even offers to ‘take her’ to the man she loves. How very magnanimous.

Of course, predictably, the heroine slams the door shut in the face of her former love and falls in the arms and at the feet of her generously forgiving husband. All’s well that ends well.

As a member of the generation who’s grown up seeing one side and living it too, but now having crossed over successfully to the other, better side; I can safely say that… ‘We’ve come a long way, ladies!!!”

With Gumrah and some of its now out-dated notions, there is one thing however; that stays as true today as it was 56 years ago; the last verse of that haunting melody so beautifully rendered by Mahendra Kapoor.
” Woh afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin
Usse ik khoobsurat mod dekar chod na acchha…”

And so be it.

Same thing differently.

Another perspective to a familiar place

So, we were off again to Mahabaleshwar but this time accompanied by some very special visitors. My school was hosting a group of students from France for an Exchange Program and we had decided to take their three teachers for a visit to Mahabaleshwar.

As usual, we set out bright and early, bubbling with excitement, full of plans for the day. It was all about what we could show them and where we would take them.

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First stop- Mapro outlet at Shendurjane.

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It was beautiful weather for a Ladies Day out (7 of us!) and the day stretched ahead, invitingly and full of promise.

Our first stop was the ancient PanchGanga temple, tucked away in the hills. It marks the convergence of five rivers – Krishna, Venna, Koyna, Savitri and Gayatri, with the waters of all five pouring out of a ‘gaumukhi’ inside the temple. There is the usual narrow lane lined with shops on both sides, leading to the temple. We realised that our visitors were interested in everything that they saw.  The sights and smells that we would have passed by without a second glance, they found colourful and exotic. It was quite a challenge to try and explain (in French!) what a tamarind is, its taste and uses to someone who has never seen such a fruit before. Even the slices of raw mango that were being sold outside the temple looked tempting. As did the ‘nimbu-paani’ and the ‘bhel’ Obviously, neither of them are available in France, so there was no point of reference from where to start explaining.

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We wandered around the temple premises, visited another ancient Shiv temple nearby and even persuaded our visitors to sample some of the mango slices.

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Just noticed that the three ladies (L-R: Annie, Anne-Laure and Katell) are standing straight, while my colleague and I are leaning, with legs crossed at the ankles!

We headed out to one of the many ‘Points’ that Mahabaleshwar is famous for, and which we avoid because of the swarms of tourists that flock there. But this was our lucky day, because we were able to enjoy the beauty of ‘Elphinstone Point’ without having to weave our way through selfie-clicking hordes. And take a few selfies ourselves, hehe.

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Annie and Anne-Laure at Elphinstone Point

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Mother and Daughter at Elphinstone Point

We did the usual circuit taken by visitors to Mahabaleshwar, but the old, familiar places seemed different, because we were seeing it from their perspective now. The local ladies who beamingly posed for a picture because their saris looked so colourful, the vendor who tried to tempt our visitors with ‘lassi’ (also a bit tricky to explain to them!), the shops with interesting looking stuff displayed inside (how does one explain what a ‘mithai’ is?!), even the local barber going about his daily business, it felt like I was seeing all this for the first time myself.

But my absolute favorite picture is the one taken by one of the visitors on the way to Panchaganga Temple. It was of a little girl sitting by herself on one of the ledges, having her lunch.

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‘Varan-bhath’  and who are these ladies smiling at me and why do they want to take my picture??

There was so much to see and discover in Mahabaleshwar. Some things made us cringe- like the group of creeps who trailed us around and even made hostile comments when we refused to allow them pics with our visitors. Some had us sighing in despair- like the god-awful traffic jam that held us up for an hour on the way back. But Mahabaleshwar never disappoints. The market-place, the  juicy strawberries with cream, the spicy chanas and of course, the beauty of the Western Ghats, ravaged by time and tourists, but still managing to hold up in the face of it all.

Un grand merci à nos amies françaises: for this chance to re-visit and re-discover Mahabaleshwar!

 

TalaKaveri- the Original Spring.

High up in the Brahmagiri hills, along the Western Ghats, is the origin of the Kaveri river. A tank has been constructed at this place and a small temple, which is the worship place of the Kodavas (Coorgs).

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We saw people wade across the tank to the other side, duck thrice into the waters of the spring, after which the priests then splashed more holy water on them. What amused me was that the ladies were fully clad in saris or salwar suits, while the men went in mostly bare-chested. It couldn’t have been easy to walk in the water with all those layers of fabric but they did it anyway.

The water is then directed into a little outlet from where it is allowed to find its way down the hills and across the plains, till it finally pours into the Bay of Bengal.

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We met the river again on our way down from the hills, this time at the town of Bhagamandala. It had now grown from a spring into a stream and flowed in a leisurely manner towards the Triveni Sangam where it met up with another river- the Kannike, and the mythical river Sujyothi.

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Triveni Sangam

The third time we encountered the Kaveri was when we visited the Elephant Camp which is situated on its banks, thus providing the inmates with a convenient spot for taking a dip.

Now the river had widened considerably but was still flowing peaceably along. There were forests on either side, greening the waters, while the sky above found its reflection in the blue depths. One could sit for hours by the water’s edge and listen to the waves lapping at the shore.

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We filled our minds and senses with the beauty of the river. Any river, big or small, has a live-giving bounty that deserves to be worshiped. It saddens me how thoughtlessly we can desecrate and exploit our rivers, when we so devoutly worship them at their origin.

 

‘Ban’ana republic bans porn sites!

So, it’s happened. The government has banned porn sites. Not all of them, mind you. There must be hundreds of thousands of porn sites out there in cyberspace. But only 857 have been banned. Which got me thinking- who decided on these 857 and how? We know how government offices work; even the simplest procedure is tied up in yards of red tape and reams of paperwork. Then, how was this decision taken? Was a committee set up? The ‘Ashleel Sahitya Pratibandh Samiti’ perhaps? I can imagine grim-faced officials, huddled over their laptops; surfing scores of sites and making notes as they went. Maybe they had forms with those little boxes to tick and columns to fill. A porn-rating scale perhaps- going from ‘mildly titillating’ to ‘offensive’, ‘graphic’ and ‘perverted’. Did they meet regularly to discuss their findings and file reports? I hope their ‘Adhyaksh Mahoday’ didn’t give them a rough time if they missed some deadlines.

And finally, after short-listing these 857 sites, did the Samiti have to send the list for approval? If so, to whom? They probably had to make a presentation in one of those conference rooms where all important meetings are held and decisions taken. The presentation would have to contain clippings from those sites, and bullet points detailing why it was necessary to ban them. And after much debate and consultation, the final proposal would be drawn up and the Adhyaksh Mahoday would give it the stamp of approval.

Whatever. Regardless of how this came about, I for one am hugely relieved. And grateful to the Samiti for all its efforts on our behalf. The world is now a better, safer place. Our daughters can now dress as they please and stay out late at night. Travel alone. Visit pubs. On second thoughts…better not. The Samiti might ban them next!

Market @ Mahabaleshwar

A trip to Mahabaleshwar is never complete without bingeing on fresh strawberries and cream, yummy corn patties, crunchy, roasted ‘chana’ and of course, raiding the market for footwear!

But this time we arrived on the day of the weekly bazaar: when the narrow lanes around the market place are lined with the local people and those from nearby villages, selling all household needs. Right from fresh vegetables (large juicy tomatoes at Rs 10/- a kg), fruits, lentils, grains and pulses, to clothes, accessories stacked alongside detergents and brooms. There were quantities of snacks, sweets and savouries, cheek by jowl with piles of goodies from local bakeries. It was a tempting sight.

Accustomed as we are to hurriedly shopping for essentials amidst doing a dozen other chores, it was a delightful experience to wander these lanes, among crowds of people who seemed to have come there to make a day of it. There were young women comparing purchases and giggling, village women carrying sacks on their heads, families out for their weekly shopping and my friend and I, the only two obvious city-dwellers!

It was a pleasant change from buying pre-packaged, sorted veggies in air conditioned supermarkets. Here we breathed in the fresh air of the hill-station, chatted with those simple, smiling vendors while a cool breeze and the bright sun accompanied us as we wandered along.

Ahhh…the simple pleasures of life. We need to discover them and relish them more often.