Time Passages

“It was late in December…
I felt the beat of my mind go
Drifting into time passages
Years go falling in the fading light
Time passages
The years run too short and the days too fast…”

Remembering, this morning, the words from Al Stewart, one of my favourite singers in the nineteen eighties, and wondering where the years have flown… As most of us will be doing this week, looking back, and perhaps wishing we had had more of that elusive TIME…here is something to pause and ponder over.

“Without time nothing is possible. Everything requires time. Time is the only permanent and absolute ruler in the universe. But she is a scrupulously fair ruler. She treats every living person exactly alike each day. Time is one great leveller. Everyone has the same amount of time to spend every day.

The next time you feel you haven’t the time to do what you really want to do it may be worthwhile for you to remember that you have as much time as anyone else—twenty-four hours a day. How you spend the twenty-four hours is up to you.” (William J. Reilly)

Before we turn the page, and greet a new year with renewed resolutions, remember…

peanuts time.jpg
source: Google

Busy is a decision…you don’t have to find the time to do things—you make the time to do things.




Cleaning up the Abode of Gods

Lessons on Sustainable Tourism: Sudha Priscilla, continues..

Yuksom currently serves as the gateway to many of India’s most beautiful and difficult treks. Recognised as the ancient capital of Sikkim, the town is of historical importance as the first Chogyal (king) of Sikkim was crowned here in 1642 AD.

IMG_20181101_154529On our drive to Yuksom from the airport, I noticed a garbage bag provided in the taxi. This gave us our first insight into their environmentally conscious mind-set. Despite the invasion of visitors, Yuksom has retained an abundance of green spaces and public spaces are all remarkably clean. Every street is equipped with a well-placed litter bin.

Through my travel, I tried to find out more, and here is some of what I learnt. Truly inspiring

In order to thwart degradation of the fragile ecosystem caused by increased tourism, the community formed the Khanchendzonga Conservation Committee in the ‘90s. KCC played an instrumental role in banning the use of firewood previously used for cooking, heating and camp-fires. They also run a garbage management centre that segregates garbage collected on the trekking trails and recycles it.

IMG_20181102_122801The local gram panchayat has also formed an informal association of shopkeepers known as the ‘Bazaar Association’. One of the activities they undertake is sending a family member each week to collect trash from the streets of Yuksom.

During the off-season, members of the Yuksom Tourism Development Committee comprising of stakeholders from the tourism industry, trudge back along various trek routes to collect trash that may have been left behind by travellers. Most of the collected waste is then recycled, thereby reducing pollution.

Additionally, most reputable tour agencies offer clients portable pop-up toilet tents that act as pit latrines. The tent and toilet seat is pitched on a flat surface and placed over a shallow pit with a hump of mud outside. The pit is then used by the client who in turn covers it with mud ensuring that the waste seeps into the ground.  This prevents trekkers from defecating near water bodies.

The town is truly at the helm of the movement promoting sustainable tourism.


A Christmas Guest Longread from a friend and colleague, Sudha Priscilla . This should get you planning your 2019 Autumn break now!

When G and I met in 2014, we quickly bonded over our passion for the Himalayas. He had just completed the Leh-Ladakh bikers’ circuit on his KTM Duke 390, and I had backpacked across Nepal with a close friend.

Fast forward to 2018 and we’re now married, having shared many adventures along the way. Most recently we formulated an ambitious plan that included trekking and camping for 8 days in West Sikkim and then exploring East and North Sikkim on an Enfield.

Putting plan into action, we got in touch with Mingma Sherpa, proprietor of ‘Mountain Tours, Treks & Travels’. His family has a rich legacy in the field of mountaineering. His grandfather, Namgyal Sherpa was part of the first successful Everest expedition in 1953 alongside Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. He was the expedition companion of the then expedition leader, Sir John Hunt. The dynamic duo played a critical role in opening the route towards the summit of Everest.

Faced with many options, we zeroed in on the ‘Goechala’ trek. The steep trail allows one to view Mt. Kanchenjunga from up close. Having finalised the itinerary with Mingma, we were left with three months to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for the trek.

We got our first glimpse of the mighty Himalayan range as the flight prepared to land in Bagdogra. At the airport, we met Manzil, a young lad who drove us to Yuksom which serves as the gateway to many of India’s most beautiful and difficult treks.


The next day, we met Mingma who was busy planning the return journey, for a client who suffered from Altitude Sickness The client in question was an experienced trekker who has even summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, he was struck by AMS halfway through the Goechala trek, and had to be carried down the mountain by his team on a stretcher. The oxygen tanks that his team members carried made a huge difference to his life. Once in Yuksom he was rushed to a nearby hospital where his health improved.

This episode left me worried. On observing this, Mingma handed me a strip of ‘Diamox’ tablets, which is commonly used by mountaineers and trekkers a few days before their steep ascent in order to prevent AMS. He also went through the gear we brought along and offered me a down jacket, which was insulated with soft, warm feathers.

Early next morning, we were introduced to our experienced guide. He was accompanied by a very capable team which included a cook, cook’s helper, porter, Yak herder and 4 beautiful Dzos.  Dzos are a hybrid between yak and domestic cattle, possessing the desirable characteristics of each animal. Our heavier backpacks were mounted on the Dzos along with food supplies and the required logistics. This included a two person A-shape sleeping tent, toilet tent, dining tent, kitchen tent, dining table and sleeping bags.

Before we set off, Mingma presented us with beautiful silk scarves to wish us good luck. We were filled with excitement as we exited Yuksom and entered Kanchenjunga National Park.

Day 1- The first day of the trek was long and arduous. We had to reach Tshoka  13 kms away and perched at approx. 3050 metres. The trail was picturesque but steep. Lunch consisted of a boiled egg, potato slices, juice and chocolate, aimed towards restoring depleted strength. Enroute we met a couple of dejected trekkers who were headed back to Yuksom. They were exasperated at not being able to get a clear view of Mt. Kanchenjunga due to inclement weather.


An hour before arriving at Tshoka, Ashok signalled us to remain quiet. We heard what sounded like a bark coming from inside the jungle. ‘Barking Deer’, said a gleaming Ashok. Though tired, this incident propelled us along.

By the time we reached Tshoka, it was around 8 pm. The rest of our team members who reached a few hours earlier, greeted us with a heart-warming dinner consisting of vegetable soup, rice, dal, sabzi, rayosag fry (local type of spinach), papad, ginger tea and a banana.

Day 2- We headed out to Phedang (Approx. 3550 metres), only 5 hours away. The trail was laid with pine wood logs, and meandered through Rhododendron forests. During April and May, the trail is apparently set ablaze by colourful Rhododendron blooms. G spent most of the day spotting birds such as the Himalayan Magpie and the Himalayan Eagle through his binoculars.

At the campsite, we were greeted by our team who offered us hot orange juice and pakoda. The treat was laid out neatly on a dining table surrounded by the glorious views of the Himalayas and the Rhododendron forest.

On Day 3-After a hearty breakfast that included muesli, ginger tea, steamed banana and toast with peanut butter, we left for our upward march towards Dzongri. Perched at approx. 4300 metres, it is surrounded by the mighty peaks of the Himalayan range. The landscape changed dramatically from forest trails to open mountain meadows rich in juniper shrubs. The plant is mostly used as incense in Buddhist monasteries, in order to purify the air of any negativities ahead of a puja or arrival of an important guest. We reached our campsite by noon.

Since we were not surrounded by trees, our tents lay exposed to winds that seemed to strengthen as time went by. G and I took a walk around, but we didn’t get too far since oxygen levels were much lower at this point and every step felt tedious. Lunch that day included boiled apples.

The night sky was lit by a million stars, but we were unable to fully enjoy it as temperatures plummeted.

Day 4- It was just about 4:00 am when Ashok woke us. After snacking on ginger tea, biscuits and popcorn, we set off for Dzongri Top. Popcorn also known as ‘Natural Diamox’, is said to increase one’s oxygen capacity. It was a constant snack throughout our trek.

We braved the heavy winds to reach Dzongri top at around 5:30 am, just as the amber sun rays hit the top of Mt. Kanchenjunga and its surrounding peaks such as Mt. Pandim and Mt. Kabru Dome. The magnificent view injected our tired souls with much needed energy. As the winds picked up, we headed down to the valley for yet another breakfast and then headed out to Thangsing.

Situated at 3,930 mtrs, Thangsing is a beautiful valley that can be reached via a short climb to a ridge followed by a rapid steep descent through yet another Rhododendron forest. The highlight of the day was the apple pie that our remarkable cook, Purna, served us for dinner.

Day 5- We took a gentle 3 hour walk to Lamuney (Approx. 4,200 metres) alongside the Prekchu River. The trail goes past stunted rhododendron bushes, azaleas and a Buddhist prayer wall. According to legend, years ago, a trekker of foreign descent was passing through when he ran into a lady. He repeatedly asked her the name of the place, when she answered ‘Lamuney’ meaning ‘Female Monk’. Not knowing English, the monk thought he was asking her name.


This campsite was by far my favourite. It had the best views of Mt. Pandim, Mt. Kanchenjunga, and Mt. Tenchenkhang.

Day 6- The ever conscientious Ashok woke us at 2:45 am. We quickly got ready and met our team members who fed us biscuits, popcorn and loads of ginger tea. Armed with head torches and flashlights, we headed out in the dark to Goechala (Approx. 4,950 mtrs). Temperatures had dipped to -15 degrees, but the down jacket coupled with a shawl made of yak wool kept me warm. We trudged upward along the moraine path by the side of Samiti Lake to view the East face of Mt. Kanchenjunga. Towering at 8586 metres, the sunrays hit Mt. Kanchenjunga peak first, and slowly spread across the peaks of Kobru, Tenchenkhang, Pandim, Jupono and Rathong. We munched on popcorn and drank hot chai as this scene played out before us.

Ashok explained to us that as a gesture of respect for the religious sensitivities of the local people who regard the mountain as a deity, the Indian govt. banned expeditions to Kanchenjunga and seven others sacred peaks surrounding it.

Trekkers were earlier allowed to proceed to a second viewpoint, which now remains closed due to sightings of the elusive snow leopard. After basking in the sun for an hour, we headed back to Lamuney for breakfast. On our way down, Ashok pointed out towards the upward ridge, where we could see the silhouette of a Bharal, commonly known as the Himalayan Blue Sheep.

After yet another hearty breakfast, we headed down to Kockchurung campsite (Approx. 3700 metres). We slept at the trekker’s hut that night instead of pitching our tents by the riverside. Purna managed to make us pizza for dinner, which he aptly christened ‘Mountain Pizza’.

Day 7- We headed back to Tshoka, our final campsite. We enjoyed going at a slower pace choosing to spend more time with our team members. Lucky for us, we also stumbled upon a flock of ‘Blood Pheasants’ (the state bird of Sikkim), scurrying through the tree lines.

As it was our final night together, the team surprised us with a steamed cake that said ‘Thank you Visit Again’. This gesture reflected how we were cared for by our team. They were patient, kind, humble, witty and understanding of us throughout the trek.

Day 8- The following day we were escorted back to Yuksom, by a young guide named ‘Buddhist’, as Ashok had to accompany a couple from Canada back to Goechala. His introductory line was ‘My name is Buddhist but I’m a Hindu’. He was a jovial lad, who hoped to visit Goa someday.

The day ended with G and me rushing into the hotel and competing to hit the bathroom first. Our first shower in many days!

The next day we headed to Gangtok and met with Tsewang, owner of ‘Biker’s Hub’. He advised us to rent the Enfield 500 cc for the second leg of our journey.

Over the next few days, we rode to many touristy places such as the high altitude lake of Gurodongmar (Approx. 5180 metres) and zero point situated close to the Indo-China border.

The highlight of our ride was visiting Nathang valley. Located at approx. 4100 metres, the valley is located along the old Silk Route. The Silk Route in Sikkim is an offshoot of an ancient trade route which originated in Lhasa, Tibet and ended in the sea ports of Bengal. Interestingly, horses and tea were the most treasured items traded in this part of the route and not silk.

What was supposed to be a 3 hour ride from Gangtok, ended up being 8 hours due to snowfall and ice covered roads. I spent half of the time walking since it was impossible for G to manoeuvre the slithering roads with a pillion. We stopped midway in a guesthouse for a hot cup of chai and Maggi noodles. The friendly owner, led us to the bukhari in her house so we could warm ourselves. The bukhari seen in many homes here, is a traditional wood burning stoves that act as a radiator and a cooker.

We also passed a lot of army camps along the way, as the route ran along the border of China. At one point, I was even offered a lift by an Army officer in a jeep. He obviously took pity on the scrawny figure who was waddling through the snow just moments earlier. I would like to mention that the army officers we met in Sikkim were extremely helpful. Apart from helping us tweak our bike when we had trouble with the headlights, we saw a couple of bikers take shelter in an army camp as one of them unexpectedly suffered from AMS.

We finally reached Nathang valley around dusk and took shelter at a local homestay, where we were treated to a hot plate of rice and chicken curry. Rest of the night, we chatted away with the owner on the history of Nathang and my hopes of collecting a yak bell on this trip.

The next morning, the owner promptly greeted me with an antique yak bell that was just lying around as scrap in his home. I was beyond thrilled!

We then returned to Gangtok via Dzuluk, which has approximately 32 sharp hairpin bends. This was the perfect end to our adventurous tour.


Merry Christmas to all our Readers!


As an “arts” student with two “science type” sisters I was always somewhat awed by the way they used to reel off the scientific names of plants, animals, and later in medicine. The names sounded like tongue twisters and I was most impressed at how they managed to remember these.

In a later avatar as environmental educator, I myself had to explore and discover the until-then mysterious realm of taxonomy and nomenclature. Over time I found that I was myself as easily saying Azadirachta indica and Phyllanthus emblica instead of neem and amla!

As an explorer of words I found it equally, if not more, fascinating to find out just how and why the flora and fauna got their scientific names. It appears that the first person to name, describe, and put an example of the species into a museum gets to name it. The name only gets changed if scientists learn something about the species evolutionary history to make them change the name.

How does this work? The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) founded in 1895, provides the standard framework, and regulates a uniform system of zoological nomenclature ensuring that every animal has a unique and universally accepted scientific name. As long as it is within the guidelines of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature and with no offensive wording, we can even have insects and butterflies named after our favourite teacher or parent! There are similar commissions for other areas like Botany and Entomology.

Since the scientist who discovers a species gets the right to name it, some scientists try to follow the traditional practice of incorporating an organism’s characteristics into its name, others give up and try something else. Scientists may be serious people, engaged in the pursuit of objective truth. But when it comes to naming species, they often let their hair down. There are species named for body parts and bodily functions, for celebrities, painters and writers, for cartoon characters and favourite sports. There are the literal as in Egretta egrettoides (literally, “egret that looks like an egret.”) There are creatures from Aa to Zyzzyx. There are the palindromic names Ababa and Xela alex.

Here are some really fun ones!

Aha ha: An Australian wasp named by entomologist Arnold Menke The story goes, Menke was in a debate with another research group over the validity of the species, and when he finally provided the definitive evidence, he exclaimed, “Aha ha!”

Ba humbugi: When scientists discovered this snail on the remote Pacific island, they opted to name him after the crankiest man in literature, Ebeneezer Scrooge whose trademark sneer was “Bah humbug”.

Ittibitium: Bittium is well-known genus of small sea snails and mollusks that are found all across the globe. So what name did scientists choose when they discovered a genus of mollusks even tinier than these? Ittibitium!

Ekrixinatosaurus calvo named “explosion-born lizard”because its bones were discovered during construction-related blasting.

 Kamera lens: Although its discovery goes back to 1773, little was known about this  single celled organism until 1991 when scientists must have thought, “Hey, we should use a camera lens to see this species better.”

It’s not scientists who have all the fun! Sometimes the naming rights for a new species are auctioned for a cause. Most recently the naming rights for a newly-discovered 10 cm amphibian were auctioned to raise money for the Rainforest Trust. The slippery little creature, found in the rainforests of Panama is blind, and likes to bury its head in the ground. Aidan Bell, co-founder of EnviroBuild, a sustainable building company, paid $25,000 for the right to name the creature after no other than President Donald Trump!

And what was his choice? Dermophis donaldtrumpi!

“Burrowing [his] head underground helps Trump when avoiding scientific consensus on anthropomorphic climate change […] Dermophis donaldtrumpi is particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change and is therefore in danger of becoming extinct as a  direct result of its namesake’s climate policies.”

The scientists who made the discovery have agreed to use the name Dermophis donaldtrumpi when they officially publish the discovery in scientific literature.





Navigating a Book

It has probably happened to all of us at some time. We read a book, and we love it. We urge our friends to read it, but when they do, they react to it in a very different way—find it unreadable even. I had always attributed this to different tastes. And then, sometimes a book by an author that I know and like just does not hold my attention, and I don’t quite ‘get into it’ as it were. I attribute this to my ‘mood’ or state of mind.

Interestingly, I recently came across a piece by the famous German author Herman Hesse that helps to explain why this happens. In an essay titled On Reading Books written in 1920, Hesse describes what could be called the ‘taxonomy’ of readers. He argues that just as people have different temperaments and attitudes towards anything in the world, these also affect our personality as readers. He outlines three key types of reader personalities, which can coexist within a single reader over the course of a lifetime.

The first type he calls the naive reader—“one who assumes that a book is there simply and solely to be read faithfully and attentively and who experiences a book merely as content.” Such a reader consumes a book as he consumes a loaf of bread, or sleeps because there is a bed.

The second type of reader is one “who is endowed with childlike wonderment, who sees past the superficialities of content to plumb the depths of the writer’s creative impulse. This reader treasures neither the substance nor the form of a book as its single most important value. He knows, in the way children know, that every object can have ten or a hundred meanings for the mind. For such a mind the bread becomes a mountain to bore tunnels into, and the bed a cave, a garden, a snow field.” This kind of reader may be described as an imaginative investigator.

Next comes the final type of reader, who is really a non-reader but rather a dreamer and interpreter: “He is so completely an individual, so very much himself, that he confronts his reading matter with complete freedom. He wishes neither to educate nor to entertain himself, he uses a book exactly like any other object in the world, for him it is simply a point of departure and a stimulus. Essentially it makes no difference to him what he reads. He does not need a philosopher in order to learn from him, to adopt his teaching, or to attack or criticize him. He does not read a poet to accept his interpretation of the world; he interprets it for himself. He is, if you like, completely a child. He plays with everything — and from one point of view there is nothing more fruitful and rewarding than to play with everything. If this reader finds a beautiful sentence in a book, a truth, a word of wisdom, he begins by experimentally turning it upside down.”

“This reader is able, or rather each one of us is able, at the hour in which he is at this stage, to read whatever he likes, a novel or grammar, a railroad timetable, a galley proof from the printer. At the hour when our imagination and our ability to associate are at their height, we really no longer read what is printed on the paper but swim in a stream of impulses and inspirations that reach us from what we are reading. They may come out of the text, they may simply emerge from the type face. An advertisement in a newspaper can become a revelation; the most exhilarating, the most affirmative thoughts can spring from a completely irrelevant word if one turns it about, playing with its letters as with a jigsaw puzzle. In this stage one can …play with the words, letters, and sounds, and thereby take a tour through the hundred kingdoms of knowledge, memory, and thought”.

Before we begin to analyse where we fit into this taxonomy, Hesse reminds us that “no one of us need belong permanently to any one of these types. Each mode of reading is necessary for a full life, but it is insufficient in and of itself.”

He goes on to urge “For just once in your life remain for an hour, a day at the third stage, the stage of not-reading-any-more. You will thereafter (it’s so easy to slip back) be that much better a reader, that much better a listener and interpreter of everything written.”


Take the Time to Look at the Squirrels

I had the good fortune to work for two decades at Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad. Apart from the work and the work environment, the campus itself was a boon. 14 acres of both ‘groomed’ and ‘wild’ spaces. A variety of trees, undergrowth, lawns, water-body and the attendant birds, snakes, small mammals, rodents, butterflies, etc. etc.
IMG_20181217_114832We were an earnest and idealistic bunch. We had the benefit of mentoring by some of the wisest of people. One of them was Dr.PR Pisharoty, Father of Indian Meteorology and Remote Sensing. On one of his visits in the early days, he listened to all of us presenting our work and holding forth. With a gentle twinkle in his eyes, he told us: ‘You are all doing wonderful work. But I hope you don’t forget to take time off to look at the squirrels.’

We took that lesson to heart. Being immersed in nature at the workplace is a luxury few have today. But I think, looking back, that this made a difference to our work, our interactions and us as people and an organization. Being ‘distracted’ by a bird call in the middle of a meeting and the whole group rushing to look through the window or refer to ‘the Book’ (Salim Ali of course), broke up many a tension. Waiting for a monitor lizard to amble across the path as one rushed from one dept. to another was a good way to get a sense of ‘Nothing is that urgent. They have survived without rushing for millennia’. When ideas dried up, gazing out of the window at the squirrels chasing each other usually did the trick and the brain got unclogged. Feeding the fish at lunch brought people from unconnected work spaces together.

Did the campus make us more creative? More strongly bonded as teams? More lateral-thinking? More empathetic as people? I like to think so!

Business case for green campuses made! After all, today nothing can get approved without a business case! And by green campus, I don’t mean manicured lawns and potted plants. But a bit of wildness and a bit of wildlife!


Illustration credit: CEE

Weaving Beautiful Tales

25 years ago, our friend Darshan Shah began a journey—a journey called Weavers Studio, a business set up with the aim of supporting and contemporising textile-based handcrafts in India. Today, as it celebrates its Silver Jubilee, it is an iconic brand.


But even more important than Darshan’s success as an entrepreneur, may be her contribution to the knowledge and skill revival in India’s textile traditions, and the promotion of arts and crafts. Weaver Studio Archives are one of the finest collection of old Indian textiles, housing over 1200 rare and old samples. Their Centre for the Arts promotes performing and non-performing arts, and presents over a 100 events every year.

One of the significant contributions of Weavers Studio has been to the revival of interest in Baluchari.  Baluchari saris (and shawls and textiles) take their name from the village of Baluchar, from the Murshidabad region of Bengal. The village itself no longer exists. Probably washed away in some flood at some time. The weaving of these special saris is thought to have flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries, and was generally done on silk, though cotton Balucharis were also woven. They are known to have been exhibited in the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London.

The distinguishing feature of Baluchari is the quirkiness of the motifs. Imagine having a hookah-smoking sahib reclining in an armchair on your pallu! Or an elephant bearing an Englishman and his wife walking across it. Or men on a steamer floating across it. Or a courtesan in a dance pose. You could also have scenes from Ramayana or Mahabharata of course.

Balucharis are fun, quirky and works of art. They are an invaluable part of our craft and textile tradition. Buy a Baluchari, own a treasure!

I am the proud possessor of a Baluchari which I bought in a Bengal State Emporium about 25 years ago (in pic). But it was a rare and lucky find, because when I went out again looking for another such, I could, for almost two decades not find one.



True Grit

Winter is the season of Doctor’s conferences in my city, when super specialists of many branches of medicine meet to discuss professional research and new developments. Among these are many women who are working shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts. It is difficult to imagine that just over 150 years ago, a woman doctor was unheard and undreamt of. This reminder was strongly communicated in a recent performance that traced the life of India’s first female doctor–Anandibai Joshi.

Anandibai Joshi is known to be the first woman of Indian origin to graduate with a degree in medicine in the US.  Her story of grit and determination is an inspiration, and a trailblazer.

Born in 1865 as Yamuna, the third unwanted daughter, she was married off at the age of nine to a widower postal clerk 20 years her senior. Her husband Gopalrao took charge of her life by first changing her name to Anandi; but also encouraged her to study, which was unusual for that time. Anandi was a bright and curious girl-child, balancing between her innocence, her thirst for learning and her expected chores and role as ‘wife’. She became a mother at the age of 14, but lost her 10-day old child due to lack of medical care and facilities. Traumatised by this event, she began to dream the undreamable– to become a doctor so that she can help other women like herself. In a time when a girl going to school was spat at, and looked upon with intense disapproval, Anandi was supported to some extent by her husband.

Even more unusual is the story of how she reached America. A letter written by Gopalrao to an American missionary asking if Anandi could study medicine in America, was published in some American magazines, where a woman called Theodicia Carpenter read it and wrote to the young girl with an offer of a home and support if she were to go to New York. Against opposition from all quarters in India, Anandi embarked upon this journey into the unknown, reaching New York after an arduous two-month ship voyage. Once she reached, with support from her mentor Theodicia, Anandi Gopal Joshi applied to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and was granted admission at the age of 19. Medical school and life in an alien land was extremely difficult; but Anandi met the challenges head on—the extreme cold weather (she changed her attire from the traditional nine-yard sari to the six-yard one), the food (at one point she became so nutritionally deficient she had to start eating eggs), very poor health, loneliness, hostile classmates and neighbours, and nasty letters from her suspicious husband. Anandi persevered towards her goal and got through medical school, graduating in 1886. She returned to India the same year and was appointed as the physician-in-charge at the Albert Edward Hospital in the then princely state of Kohlapur (in present day Maharashtra).

Tragically, before she could finally make her childhood dream come true, by practising as a doctor, Dr Anandi Joshi died of TB in 1887, just over a month before her 22nd birthday. As per her wish, her ashes were sent to Theodicia Carpenter, who placed them in her family cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York.

The true-grit story of Yamuna/Anandi was brought to life in a solo performance by Manasi Prabhakar Joshi. Titled Dr Anandibai this powerfully transposed the story of the path breaker in the context of the challenges that women face even today—reminding us that while on the one hand much has changed, on the other, much remains the same. Anandibai’s story continues to remain an inspiration and a beacon.




Moon Tiger

“On the bedside is a Moon Tiger. The Moon Tiger is a green coil IMG_20181211_082936 (1).jpgthat burns slowly all night, repelling mosquitoes, dropping away into lengths of green ash, its glowing red eye a companion of the hot insect-rasping darkness. She lies there thinking of nothing, simply being, her whole body content. Another inch of Moon Tiger feathers down into the saucer.”

When I read these words my eyes fell on the Good Knight coil by my bedside…and I looked at it with completely new eyes.  Imagine, this taken-for-granted necessity being described so eloquently. Even more interesting was the fact that this description refers to the period of the first World War II in Egypt when mosquito repellent coils were widely used and sold under the name of Moon Tiger. So much for my thinking that Good Knight was a very desi product of our times!

The revelation came as I was recently reading a book by the same name. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively was published in 1987 and won the Booker Prize that year.

Moon Tiger is the tale told by Claudia Hampton, a beautiful, once-famous writer of history books, who lies dying in hospital. As she lies there she is conjuring in her mind ‘a history of the world … and in the process, my own’. Gradually she re-creates the rich mosaic of her life and times peopled with those near and dear to her. In doing so she confronts her own, personal history, unearthing the passions and pains that have defined her life.

The most poignant of these is her memories of her time in Egypt as a war correspondent and her brief affair with her one great love, both found and lost in wartime Egypt. The description of the Moon Tiger that burns all night, slowly dropping its coil into ash, forms both the central image of the story and its structure.

Penelope Lively, an acclaimed novelist and children’s writer was herself born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1933 and brought up there. In this novel she weaves an exquisite mesh of memories, flashbacks and shifting voices, in a haunting story of loss and desire. Moon Tiger is also about the ways in which we are connected to people, places, and history.

I have always enjoyed reading Penelope Lively, but this book soars above them all in terms of the language, the flow and the sensitive journey through the landscape of the mind.  The title itself is ‘a metaphor for the persistence of some experiences and the burning present-ness of some memories’.

Coincidentally I discovered this book this year—2018—the same year that the Golden Man Booker list, which chose one book for each of the five decades that the Booker Prize has been running, announced that Moon Tiger was the chosen book for the decade of the 1980s.


Warp and Weft

I love textiles. Over the years I have enjoyed wearing, and finding out about fabrics, designs, and unique characteristics of these. Living in a country with its incredible and rich variety of textiles means that the journey of exploring and discovering never ends.

The journey has been further enriched in the past few years when I have had the opportunity to learn about the textile traditions of the Northeast of India. Weaving is such an integral and important part of every tribe here; each part of their life and culture is closely interwoven with the fabrics they weave. Traditionally every girl learnt how to weave as naturally as she learned to walk and talk and carry out the daily life functions. No house would be without a loom, and the women wove all the garments for the family. The threads were not just the intermeshing of warp and weft, but carried in them a wonderful repertoire of narratives.

The folklore of every tribe has a wealth of tales around weaving. A tale from one of the tribes in Assam relates this to the web-spinning spider.

Once upon a time, there was a competition between the women from heaven and the women from earth. The women from earth were very


confident of their weaving skills, and accepted the challenge. When both the teams were ready, the women from heaven came down to the earth and the competition began. With their great wonderful skills, the women from earth won the contest. After weaving the fabric of required length, the Earth women began to fill bobbins by moving the spinning wheel and clearing the knots in between. The women from heaven could not accept their loss and cursed the ladies of the earth, “From now your life shall always be tangled between yarns and forever you shall be busy spinning them for yourself.” It is believed that as a result of this curse the ladies were transformed into spiders that keep weaving cobwebs around themselves.

Many of these tales are still passed on through the oral tradition, but there is an urgent need to document and share these before they are lost with the tradition of loom weaving itself. A recent book has done just this. Banyan Tree’s new book The World of the Weaver –Five Stories and a Prayer compiles some of the stories from different parts of the country. As the jacket says they are ‘Tales of imagination woven around the weaver’s looms. Though they are fables, the stories highlight the value of hand weaving in a harmonious society.’

The beautifully illustrated book is available in Hindi, English and Telugu. For more contact banyantreebookstore@gmail.com>