In March 2019, I had travelled to India after a gap of two years. In this post I am going to share some of the photographs and anecdotes from the trip and from my memories. I am not sure if these are very touristy, but they most certainly have a nostalgic value for me. India is a vast country, with diverse natural beauty, food, culture and architecture, with lots of history. I have often seen photos and write ups about India in magazines and travel videos, I have never been able to relate to them. I understand that, living in a place and experiencing it , is completely different to visiting a place as a tourist, the perspective is completely different. We see what we seek, perhaps I am seeking something different. This time like every time around when I am back in India, I went seeking the place that I grew up in, the one which is in my heart and mind, like the courtyard where I have played hide and seek with my cousins. the mango tree at my maternal grandparents house that I have climbed up and jumped down from, the garden that I have sat with my mother and aunts, while they sunned the pickles,stringing the jasmine and other flowers in to garlands, their hands deftly garlanding the flowers while gossiping away to glory, the temple courtyards where I would occasionally see peacocks and elephants. sleeping on the terrace gazing at the starry night and falling asleep and waking up to an orange sky with the Sun about to rise, looking at tiled orange roof tops from the terrace of my paternal grandmother s home, then to lie down flat on the hot surface of the terrace, peering down the small sun roof in to the kitchen watching my grandmother and mother stirring the pots , clanging the vessels, cutting vegetables, and garnishing,which often reminded me of symphony. Why? Because they would always move in perfect sync with each other, if my mother added tomatoes, my grandmother would add salt, one would add coriander, the other would add turmeric . Believe me I could never function that way, there would be all round chaos in the kitchen, followed by a serious meltdown. I firmly believe in too many cooks spoil the broth, but apparently it did not hold true for them. I love to walk back in the memory lane, trying to conjure up the past from my memories, with the present colliding with it and creating a mishmash of new memories.
I will begin with some of the photographs of the airports. We flew from Mumbai in to Chennai . The travel in my younger days were predominantly by trains, planes were taken only during emergency or was meant for celebrities and very rich. I love trains and travelling by train, I do understand the ease and rapidity of an air travel,but I personally prefer travelling by train. It makes the journey more interesting and becomes the part of the travelling adventure. When my husband and I were growing up the cities were called Bombay and Madras and remained to be called as such , very much in to our adult lives. So sometimes I do refer to the cities as Bombay and Madras instead of their current names Mumbai and Chennai. I love the Mumbai International Airport’s architecture and various artefacts and objects displayed. The displays reflect and represent the diverse and varying cultures of different states and provinces of India. As I mentioned India is a very vibrant country, no two states are alike, they have different culture, food, and also different language. That’s what made India so unique ,wonderful and adventurous as a child. The city that I lived and studied in had a different language than my mother tongue and it was culturally different to where my parents originated. At home I would speak in my mother tongue (an Indian language ) with my parents, at school and with my friends I spoke a different Indian language and when I went to my grandparents home , I was exposed to a third Indian language, which for some reason I did not pick up that very well as the other two. It may sound a bit daunting, but believe me I found it all very much fun, the exposure to different languages and cultures, all the holiday train travel it involved to go to visit my grandparents, the food on the train, the books that we used to read on the way, the outings at my grandparents to cinemas, walks to beaches ,escapades to parks and circus, trying out different kind of street food, then being told off by my parents for not eating healthy home cooked food. It was the delightful part of growing up in India. India is colourful, chaotic, overwhelming, beautiful, land of spices and a cacophony of noises.
Ancient buildings, architecture, and historical monuments are another aspect of India, which are very close to my heart. There are many buildings and monuments of historical importance all over India, they are in form of forts, castles, manors or Caves with paintings and sculptures. I am not talking about the obvious and famous monuments,like Taj Mahal, Qutab Minar or Hawa Mahal. There are many hidden gems in India which are worth exploring , some I know, some I have visited, some which I have read about, some I have been introduced to by my friends, and many more which I am yet to discover. And then there are Temples of India, which have huge religious value associated to them. Yet they are also historic monuments and a cultural heritage, with beautiful sculptures, architecture and craftsmanship. I had visited the temples of Tamil Nadu with my friends in my early twenties as a student, which had left a very indelible impression on me and altered the way I viewed temples. And it was for the very first time I had viewed temples for its architecture splendour and the historical relevance it held. I am sharing a few photos which I took on this current trip. Its worth mentioning, that temples in the Southern India are working and practising temples and some of them have strict rules that they adhere to. Many of these do not allow non Hindus to the inner Sanctum of the temple and near the deity. You can still go to the temple s outer wall perimeter, which is referred to as prakaram, but there are some that would not allow even allow entry in to outer walls too. I would recommend looking up on the website or google for the information before visiting the temple. There are lists of temples available on the internet which do not allow non Hindu tourists. It is something to be mindful of when venturing out to explore a temple.And another point to be mindful of is to dress taking in to account the local sentiments when visiting the temples, avoid shorts, skirts and sleeveless dresses.
Besides the architecture, I love the markets around the temples, it sells some of the unique and colourful items, offerings for God , jasmine and rose garlands. The market will also house some of the traditional food joints serving authentic South Indian food. These cater only vegetarian food, given that they are in close proximity to the temple. The food is served on banana leaf and is usually freshly prepared hot food. India I think is a sensory overload , some might even consider it overwhelming, and on these little alleyways just outside the temples, it is a riot of sight, sound and smell. There are hawkers selling garlands of jasmine and roses, coconut and bananas being sold, each hawker trying to grab your attention., devotees singing and chanting praise of god, people chattering along, there is a clamour all around, aroma of food, mingling with flowers and fruits and a vibrant coloured site. I personally love the fragrance of temples, the smell of jasmine wafting through the temples mingling with the smell of camphor.
Another favourite of mine in the Tamil Nadu especially in Kumbakonam is the coffee culture. The city of Kumbakonam is renowned for its coffee or as called in this part of the world ‘ a degree Kaapi. For any south Indian, especially the ones hailing from the Tamil Nadu, Kaapi is an emotion as well as a ritual, is almost part of a cultural heritage, and my parents have instilled that cultural emotion very strongly in to me. I am a coffee aficionado and I love a degree Kaapi. It is traditionally served in a brass tumbler, placed in a bowl, referred as Dabra. Now a days it is served in a stainless steel Tumbler and Dabra. So a kaapi is always served in a Tumbler Dabra not in a cup. There is a generation that would be offended if offered a kaapi in a cup instead of Tumbler Dabra, I have few sets of Tumbler Dabra at home in London, for my mother, who drinks her Kaapi only traditional way, in a tumbler and dabra. The one who serves her a Kaapi in cup, will have to endure her wrath until eternity.
Nalli Chinnasami Chetty, in Chennai, is an iconic location and holds a special place in my heart. The shop is fondly referred as Temple of silk sarees, is synonymous with Kanchipuram silk sarees. It is a traditional silk weave , and is weaved by special artisan weavers from the region of Kanchipuram, woven from pure mulberry silk. The shop sells other kinds of Sarees too, but it’s renowned for its Kanchipuram silk saree. Kanchipuram silk is a beautiful weave, is a mark of tradition and culture in every South Indian wedding and special occasion. I remember as a little girl watching my aunts, my grandmothers and my mother elegantly draped in beautiful brocaded Kanchivaram silk sarees, on any given special occasion, with jasmine twirled around their braided hairs, and beaming in joy. All I wished for was to grow up , drape sarees and look elegant like them. I have fond memories of shopping in Nallis for my wedding with my grandmother, Aunts and mother. Nallis for me is not only synonymous with sarees, but with tradition, culture, elegance and nostalgia.
These three photos are my personal favourite of this trip. They have no touristic value or attraction, but are of great value for me. These photos remind me of what India means to me and what I seek out when I land in India. My travels to India often takes me on to different places , wonderful overwhelming journeys , beautiful monuments with historical value, but it always leads me back to my two friends, whereby we always start with roaming around the city, shopping, sitting and chatting about mundane things, clothes, movies, books, to our never ending trials and tribulations of our life, and end up sitting in silence, revering in the comfort of each other’s company, sipping our Masala Chai. This time ended up watching a beautiful Sun set over the city while sipping our chai, suddenly there is a sense of order in the disorder, a little island of our own in this chaotic sea of noise. I finally found what I was seeking out, while watching a Sun Set in silence, over a city which never sleeps, a city which is often referred as The Maximum City, Mumbai.
“I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.”- Rumi