UFO in a Punjabi wedding

This article first appeared in Hindustan Times.

Imagine my reaction when a middle-aged man with a most straight face told me that the flying machine – a UFO? – I just saw with my horrified eyes descending from the sky was actually the escort vehicle for the bride and the groom. Whoa! These rich Punjabis are certainly out of the planet, I thought.

Standing in the sprawling, well-lit farmhouse, I gave the alien vehicle a harder look, and noticed the flashing laser lights and the accompanying music. The huge blue-black thingy landed on the ground and all eyes, that until then were reserved only for the next round of Tandoori Chicken, turned to the fascinating scene unfolding a few meters away.

Half-expecting a few gray creatures with long-necks, large heads and almond-shaped eyes to appear at the gate, I swear I was the happiest when I saw two beautiful, dressed-in-their-blingest-best humans jump out and wave at all of us.

Marriages they say are made in heaven, and the two just seemed to reiterate the saying, flying as they probably were straight from the place.

Much was made of the grand entry and, with cries of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, the couple was greeted, hugged and fussed over while I wondered if what I just saw matched any of the quite bizarre wedding entries I had seen in my life. Nah! No stretch limo or a royal carriage came anywhere close to this spectacle that was, well, simply out of the world.

Which made me ponder over a growing trend in nuptial celebrations these days: the fascination with putting the couple on a higher pedestal than the public, literally. Hydraulic stages themed as moon, hearts, royal palkis or stars lifting the couple high up in the air to a thousand eyes craned eyes and gingerly returning them to the ground to wild applause aren’t uncommon.

Within minutes, my mind, wandering away thus, was rudely brought back to the wedding. It was the couple again, this time spiraling up and up on what seemed to me a revolving stage. All of s sudden, the bride went a bit dizzy and almost collapsed into the arms of the groom while the onlookers roared with hoots and cheers. Finally, the stage stopped some twenty feet above the ground. With me, the couple too seemed to heave a sigh of relief. Chants from the holy scriptures set to music reverberated the air and a rain of flower petals was pumped out from a machine. As I soon realized, it was the perfect setting for the Jaimala ceremony.

Advertisements

A 3800 years old history and no takers!

This piece was first published in Hindustan Times.

It’s been more than two years of my stay in Ludhiana and there is a certain route I traverse almost daily. Lined up on the kilometre-long stretch are beauty salons, department stores, a single-screen theatre, gurdwaras, a gym and various small eateries dishing out pizzas, ice creams and momos.

Recently, I chanced upon a newspaper story on the internet and discovered that a huge fenced ground at a turn on that route – that barely catches the attention and looks like a piece of commercial real-estate property waiting for construction – has underneath it the remnants of a civilisation that existed 3,800 years ago!

The story said that during excavations at Ludhiana’s Sunet village, carried out by the Punjab archaeology department in 1984, thousands of coins and seals from the times of ancient kings such as Hermaeus, Gondophernes, Chandragupta and Samudragupta were found. The land was subsequently declared protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, the instruction announced by a small rust-eaten board in a corner.

This was incredulous to me. I wondered how a site of such massive historical importance could lie in total disregard. No friend who accompanied me to that area for evening strolls had mentioned it. To my shock, it emerged that they had no clue and, in fact, didn’t show much interest either. Those few who did know had only a vague idea about the excavations and rubbished my curiosity with, “Yeah, there was some talk of rare coins back then”

In this city of flashy cars, deep pockets, colossal houses and a long roster of successful homegrown industries, history is neither preserved nor bothered about.

A woman showing her finds; the picture is taken from a newspaper

A woman showing her finds; the picture is taken from a newspaper

Curious to dig more, I met a family   with the help of a local resident   which has been inhabiting the area for more than 60 years. The eldest member, a smiling Sikh, though hard of hearing, chatted with me happily and offered me eye-popping glimpses into the land’s recent history. It was 1965 and the family began construction of a new pucca house in the area, moving from a rundown tenement nearby. As the masons dug the earth, the family discovered at a depth of 7 ft a pot (matka) buried underneath. As the digging continued, they found 11 similar pots hidden underneath in a row!

What did they do with the pots? “One or two were cracked, so we broke them down. The ones that were in good shape, we used them to store grains. But they burst. Until a year ago, I had one of those pots,” he said with childlike excitement. While I sat stunned, regretting it all, he saw my disappointment. “Nobody like you ever came to me asking anything about those things. My children and grandchildren never valued them and eventually I, too, began to think little of them.

Anyway, he showed me three coins he had saved over the years. Interestingly, people from faraway places in the country used to visit the village, asking residents about the rare coins and artefacts. The innocent villagers would barter the rare possessions for what they thought was a princely sum. There are quite a few elderly people in the village who have safeguarded these artefacts in cupboards, he said, but with little hope that their children will take care of their prized possessions. Not that they understand their real value either.

Sadly, owing to uninhibited commercial activity in the village, the historical site has been reduced to the fenced ground spread over 10-12 acres. Further excavation work on the site has not commenced since 1984, with the archaeological department blaming the inactivity on the lack of requisite technology.

This village has the potential of being declared a tourism site. If only the city wakes up to its roots.

Seen a pet bat?

Have you seen something like this before? I never had.

I met this bird lover in my city today who has, of all beings, rescued a baby bat. He has been taking care of it for the past 20 days.

Vipan 1

Now, a bat is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when talking of pets. In fact, a lot of people are averse to this most prolific mammal on the planet.

Vipan Bhatia, the rescuer, says he found the baby bat lying snugly in his son’s trousers’ pocket one morning. “I have no prior experience of bats but decided that I could not let it die,” he told me. Just for added information, Vipan has rescued over 3000 birds so far. Pigeons, parrots, sparrows, kites and eagles, but never a bat.

With borrowed knowledge from friends and Discovery Channel, Bhatia has been taking care of the bat in his own way. Four times a day, the baby bat is fed a mixture of milk and water with a dropper and is kept in a spacious box, wrapped with a black cloth.

“I just know that it needs a dark environment, hence the arrangement,” he said, while showing me the baby bat placed on his finger.

2

The bird lover finds the baby bat “cute” and adds he doesn’t care about popular beliefs that petting a bat may be inauspicious. However, Vipan is sensitive to several health advisories for keeping a bat.

“I know it can infect people with rabies. But I have no time to search on the Internet for further information nor have I been able to find an expert who could guide me how to keep this,” he told me, adding that he is also waiting for information about the bat’s growth in the coming days.

So I am just going to browse a bit on the Internet for him and provide him the information he needs. 🙂

A Fountain of Joy

This piece was first published in Hindustan Times.

It was through a fountain pen that I recently discovered my moment of peace. The long, sinuous lines it created on paper were pure bliss, carrying none of the boorishness of the ball pen or the detachment of the keyboard. They seemed patient and honest, and utterly, utterly personal.Image

For most friends of my generation, fountain pens incite long-lost memories of school days with inky fingers, smudged notebooks and ruined shirt pockets. But they are also the stuff of good luck at examinations, graduation gifts and among the first signs of turning adults.

Why, my first memory of joining the honorary list of grown-ups at school is directly linked to a fountain pen. “No more pencils, the teacher says we are big enough to use the pen now,” I had announced at home with great pride as I fussed over entering the sixth grade.

Out my father emerged from his room carrying an elegant silver box, and opened it to reveal a sparkling silver-and-black fountain pen. To me, the delicately engraved marvel placed over a lustrous black fabric seemed a piece of art, displayed like jewellery in an adorned case. It was a treasured item, a wedding gift from a dear uncle. My father seemed both proud and apprehensive when handing over the responsibility to me. He would inquire about the pen’s well being several times in the coming months.

Those were the days when a talent to write beautifully attracted admirers. And I was often in demand when a need to elegantly write on cards or invitations arose. Writing with the pen brought me artistic fulfillment and kept a check on my rhythm and consistency. The ritual involved in filling the pens with ink tamed me; it even transported me to a momentary Zen-like state.

Then came a remorseless rival in the form of ballpoint pen that, despite its annoying habit to leave pasty blobs of ink here and there in the text, won hands down for its sheer pace and productivity. For the price at which they came, losing ’em wasn’t a big deal. One couldn’t part with a pricey fountain pen that easily; one had to be careful and responsible.

Just as the fountain pens began to prepare for the technological graveyard, the advent of email and other electronic messaging types ruthlessly shook the very existence of manual writing. Today, doing the little writing on paper forms in government offices gives us a shiver.

But while one may expect that email and the ballpoint pen have killed the fountain pen, they have survived. Transformed from an archaic working to an accessory, a bulky Montblanc or a shining Parker is a treasured item for many.

So, after nearby a decade, as I scribbled away with such as a borrowed treasure, the experience left me nostalgic and calm.

This week has been hectic and, to beat stress, I plan to gift myself a fountain pen.

A Taste of Korean Tradition

A few months ago, I got a chance to enjoy a Korean folk music and dance performance by artists from the land. I love folk dances and music. They are so original and fresh! I hate it when they do not get their due in these times when pop culture rules.

This performance was electrifying. And I was heartbroken to learn from the Korean Director of this group later that folk in Korea, as everywhere, dying a silent death and nobody is bothering.

With their colourful attires, impressive techniques and lively music, this ensemble of 10 Korean artists, four men and six women, had me totally thrilled. They performed in a mall in the evening.

The artists belonged to a performing group named Hata, founded in 1995 and known for their fusion Korean folk.

In one music performance named Samul Nori (Samul: four and nori: to play), said to be the farmers’ band music, four artists seated on the ground, sporting hats with white feathers, each playing a different Korean traditional percussion instrument namely the Kkwaenggwari (small hand-held gong), Jing (large hand-held gong), Janggo (hourglass drum), and Buk (barrel drum). Played simultaneously and in impeccable synchronization, the instruments created an exciting music that rapidly shifted from frantically loud to deep sonority. The visible delight with which the artists played only added to the magic.

A dance segment, Pan Gut, defined by the group as a “rite of exorcism”, was amazing. Male artists donning Sangmo, a specially designed hat with a flowing long ribbon, danced skillfully to the rhythmic beat of drum. The men performed breathtaking acrobatics as they swirled and squatted with technique, spinning their heads as if to create mysterious designs in the air. Koreans believe that the ribbons snaking through the air chase away evil spirits.

Apache Chum Being Performed by Korean Women

Also captivating was a skillful dance named Apache Chum by a troupe of Korean women, dressed in flowing, colouful costumes named Hanbok and sporting crowns. The women held large floral fans in their hands, opening and closing them gracefully to a soft rhythm, complimented by beautiful smiles. It was a sheer delight to see the women sway and flow and create exuberant symmetrical patterns with fans such as a flower in full bloom and butterfly. I later found out that this dance was traditionally performed in the royal courts of Korea and that the fans find space in a number of rituals and dances in the land, and are used widely for decorative purposes.

Next time, if any of you ( though I doubt this piece is being read) gets a chance to witness this magic, please don’t miss!

Hello Blogging!

Having harboured a secret wish during school days to see my writing in print and a couple of stints as a reporter and a copyeditor later, I finally open a blog of mine. Part of the reason for not doing it earlier was that I have always found blogs to be quite self-indulgent in nature. But then, wasn’t it self-indulgence in the first place that inspired me to choose this career path? A black, emboldened, important-looking by-line gives me a kick like nothing else does, almost making me forget the impending gloom at the month end when I receive my slim paycheck.

As a journalist, the glory attached to this fancy title seems miles away. But the good news is that despite being a graduate in Science (and Honors in Physics no less!) I was able to get a foot in the door of the world of journalism. A losing decision, some might think. While a degree in, say, engineering wins you a six-figure salary, office provided cab, foreign trips and two offs in a week, one in journalism results in initial offers to write for free (sometimes even making you pay from your pocket to meet the traveling and telephone expenses) and eventually a paid job with a pay matching a clerk’s.

Nevertheless, I didn’t go for engineering for reasons other than the fact that no college really offered to take me in; I was fascinated by the world of printed words. But today, having collected a couple of hundred bylines, I wonder if I am doing the right job. Sometimes I am gargling out the nonsense taken from Bollywood actors on the paper, at other times I am pretending to take the views of 20-somethings on national budget seriously. While the rest of the learned world sits in swanky air-conditioned offices, I am out on the streets under the scorching sun and choking on road dust. The constant doomsday predictions of print journalism don’t help either.

Despite all this, I know there is nothing else I would rather do. I love my work, I don’t want this fun to end. My job expects and pays me for travel, meet all sorts of people and do what I love doing – write. This is one job that allows me go to office in pajamas or skirts and high-five my colleagues when I show up in office only at six in the evening. Facebooking, Tweeting, generally Googling and even mindless chatting over the phone are perfectly acceptable. And people around me find it really cool to know a journalist.

Convinced that I chose well, I hope to make this blog interesting enough for somebody to read.