All sights are possible on a train journey in India, but not this one. Grooming was essential for this railway staff, who would not want to face a new day with unruly stubbles. A generous application of shaving foam was more for a facial massage than for a smooth shave, I thought. The shaving brush must have moved up and down his face a thousand times; not in the next thousand train journey would I get to witness such a rare spectacle, I guessed. The best part was his shaving tool – the age old type where one loads a razor blade – in most countries these are now museum pieces.
Picking up conversation with a Train Ticket Examiner the following day, I was told that Indian Military men who travel by train are able to shave holding naked blade in their hand, and that too without any mirror. I may be able to take courage and attempt a similar feat. But not on a moving train.
5 Aug 2012. Train journey from Goa to Mangalore. Poorna Express.
Sitting precariously near the fast moving train, i have been waiting for more than an hour to freeze a good moving scene. The train was fast. The sun was calling it a day. My patience was fading. Just as i decided to wind up waiting, unexpectedly this train staff’s rictual caught my attention. Click, said my Nikon. Wow, said I.
28 Aug 2012
Making kites and scarecrow was something I learned well, while growing up in Borneo. Creating scarecrows was more of sculpture to me than anything else. Some of the scarecrows I made were so beautiful that I found birds enjoying sitting on them!
A scarecrow is nothing but a decoy. Traditionally, it is a mannequin dressed in old clothes and placed in fields by farmers to discourage (shoooo) birds such as crows or sparrows from disturbing and feeding on recently cast seed and growing crops.
The first scarecrows in recorded history were made along the Nile River to protect wheat fields from flocks of quail. Egyptian farmers put wooden frames in their fields and covered them with nets. The farmers hid in the fields and scared the quail into the nets. Then they took them home and ate them for dinner!
Twenty-five hundred years ago Greek farmers carved wooden scarecrows to look like ‘Priapus’, the son of the god ‘Dionysus and the goddess ‘Aphrodite’. Priapus lived with some vineyard keepers and it is said that he was very ugly. The vineyard keepers noticed that when Priapus played in the vineyards the birds stayed away from the grapes and the harvest was the best ever. Other farmers decided to make statues that looked like Priapus to use in their vineyards. They painted the figures purple and put a club in one hand to make the statue look more dangerous and a sickle in the other for a good harvest.
9th August 2012. Travelling to Moonar (Kerala, India), we stopped for nature’s call and tea. While rest of the family was busy with their tea, I took a walk to find a spot to ease my bladder. What I spotted was this scarecrow like I never have seen before – with a crash helmet. Smiles escaped from me as I spotted yet another one with a metal pot that served as the head. Even funnier was the fact that all the scarecrows wore ‘nighties’.
Dubbed as the Scotland of India, Coorg (state of Karnataka, India) is a hill station 4000 feet above sea level, is also a paradise for adventure junkies. Forget for a moment that Coorg contributes to 30% of India’s coffee production. Its hills are perfect for adventure activities like trekking, rock climbing, biking and white water rafting. Yes, white water rafting we did at the river Cauveri.
August 7, 2012. They say it is the journey and not the destination that should be more enjoyed. What we remember most is rather the destination. When we completed the thrill, the organisers guided us to a small house by the river bank to have our clothes changed to fresh and dry ones. This family makes some extra money from allowing adventure seekers to use their modest toilets.
It was raining. As soon as some of us changed, the lady of the house brought us tea. The best tasting tea I should say. Freshly brewed tea, soothing aroma, the right amount of sugar, and plenty of love were the combinations that warmed our hearts. We took an instant liking to this modest and warmhearted family.
Muslims they were, we guessed from the lady’s headscarf. There were two kids inside, a girl and a young lad, who made brief and shy appearances, and greeted their ephemeral guests with even warmer smiles than their tea. Even more cautiously shy was the man of the house, who made fleeting appearances, like a bird testing its safety amidst strange visitors. We returned smiles and ‘Assalamualaikum’, and soon Mr. A.A. Mohamed came out into the verandah and offered his warm handshakes, albeit with timid reluctance. Soon enough we all became friends. We introduced ourselves and furnished everyone with our background and history.
Mr Mohammed’s family, who have come originally from the state of Kerala, have been living in this same house for 80 long years, and the house has been renovated three times ever since. Mohammed got married and lives in the same house that had sheltered three generations. He makes his income from the Autorikshaw that he rides. Sometimes a bountiful catch of fish from the river Cauveri also gives the family some financial relief. Overall, this was a happy family with limited wants and desires. They had the best thing in the world – Love.
We took photographs. Exchanged more smiles. We talked more.
I took down the postal address of the family. I would want to send them the photographs I took. Some years down the road, I like to visit this family, drink more warming tea, and take photographs.
My parting thoughts: A simple meal with my family, a good book on a rainy day, a walk in the park, time with friends, playing with my kids, making tea for uninvited visitors; these are the things that are peaceful and fulfilling. These are the things that bring joy, or as the French say, ‘joie de vivre’ (joy of life.)
Should you visit Coorg during the monsoon, take the rafting trip and alight for some warm tea and plenty of love at this address:
s/o B.K. Abdulla,
26 Aug 2012
Tibet, the name itself conjures up exotic images and tales; this country is least explored by outsiders, and is surprisingly, still out of bounds for most of the world! Fortunately however, one does not need to travel all the way to Tibet to get a taste of what it is like. Close to Kushalnagar in Coorg (Karnataka) is Bylakuppe, the second largest Tibetan settlement in India.
Bylakuppe comprises of two Tibetan refugee settlements that were setup – Lugsum Samdupling in 1961 and Dickyi Larsoe in 1969, both of which has now grown into a full-fledged town housing the largest Tibetan population outside of Dharamsala in India. These peaceful Tibetans are no more refugees, for they have become part and parcel of the Indian society and history.
Golden Temple is the main tourist attraction in Bylakuppe. Tourists are welcomed to visit the monasteries and temples. Photography is allowed even inside the temple.
On 7th Aug 2012, together with my family and friend Sunil Crasto, I visited this settlement and spend some valuable time at the Golden Temple. Though I went trigger-happy with my camera, I felt a sense of guilt photographing the monks. Though tourists are welcome and photography is allowed, vacationers (including me) were insatiably aiming our cameras at these monks, as if they were some zoo creatures. I could see a sense of discomfort in some of the faces of the young monks. As a solace, can we all then take back these photographs and in return leave behind our respect and admiration for these Tibetans and their way of life.
One final thought. When some nations occupied neighboring countries, or civil disturbances occurred, the world cried foul. They banded together and sent armies and tanks to ‘bring peace’, while tactfully taking care of their personal interest. What did the world do when China occupied Tibet in 1949? An estimated 1.2 million Tibetans have perished as a result of more than 40 years of occupation and the cultural genocide in Tibet continues unabated, as the world’s governments stand by, virtually without action. Why oh why? Because the Tibetans are peace loving people, or is it because there is no oil in Tibet?
15 August 2012
The more I understand other religions, the more I discover my own. Whatever differences there are between us, we are all, at the very center, the same: we love, we laugh, we hug, we kiss, we cry, and we bleed. We all worship and want to go back to the same Almighty.
7 August 2012. Visited the Golden Temple (Bailkuppe) in Coorg (near Kushalnagar). This is one of the largest Tibetan settlements in south India. I was awe inspired by the intricate art, the hues of saffron, the serenity and the solemnity; and for a moment I thought I was in Tibet. Just as I was listening to the prayer bells, I saw this group of Christian nuns enter the temple. The two thoughts that came to my mind were ‘Tolerance’ and ‘Similarity in our differences’.
25 August 2012
With the naughty assistance of the clouds and fog, it seems that the hills of Munnar are playing hide and seek with the rest of the nature. You will unknowingly become a part of this game when you visit this picturesque destination that is situated in the Indian state of Kerala. Whether you focus your eyes on the background or the foreground, there is beauty still. Is it not surprising that most of Kerala’s great literature is about what the eye sees and not what the mind sees.
23 August 2012. Goa. It was not the ‘sun, sea, sand & sex’ that I remember of my much enjoyed holiday. Among many other recollections of Goa are the images of two living beings that still remain fresh in my mind. I went for a walk early one morning, as soon as I saw that the rain had stopped since the previous night. With camera in hand and a half-liter vodka still lodged in my head, I went for a long stroll along Varca Beach.
Many groups of dogs were out very early to enjoy their playing time while venturing into other dog group’s territories. This one particular happy band of dogs caught my attention. Among the band members was this one dog that had one leg less. Must have been a horrible accident, where a 4WD tire must have dismembered this dog. Watching them for quite some time, I could not help but notice how the 3-legged canine had a faithful ‘buddy’ who was always in the lead guiding his decapitated friend, always waiting for his friend to catch up, while the others uncaringly moved on ahead.
Just a day before this we had gone to Panjim, the capital city of Goa. There while we were enjoying the sights and sounds (after a luxurious meal), was this man who had one leg, which was unserviceable. Polio. “Hello Buddy” I called him. He spoke to me in English and gave me directions to places I wanted to visit in Panjim.
The first half of the 20th century was plagued by the poliomyelitis epidemic. I remember that Franklin Roosevelt was the highest-profile victim and did much to publicize the plight of polio victims, most of whom were children. The effects of polio have been known since prehistory; Egyptian paintings and carvings depict otherwise healthy people with withered limbs, and children walking with canes at a young age.
Are we not the blessed ones with all intact?