December 23, 2013

The garden celebrates Christmas!

December is when the Indian Clock Vine (Thunbergia mysorensis) blooms. The buds are seen around October and by December, the flowers drop down in maroon-orange showers...what a feast to one's eyes this sight makes! The clock vine in our garden has climbed on to the Sampenga tree and has completely robbed it of its personality! Here are a few pictures from this season. Click to enlarge, for better viewing.


December 10, 2013

Truth or a matter of perception?

I had planted a Nandivardanam (Crape jasmine, Tabernaemontana divaricata) shrub in our garden, and characteristic of this species, it is full of flowers most of the year, and a pleasure to look at every morning. These flowers are supposed to be 'sacred' and used for puja.

I noticed recently that the plant suddenly stopped flowering, and began worrying about it, especially since I lost a precious Cordia this summer.

And then I noticed a man diligently plucking the flowers one by one till not a single flower was left on the plant. However, by the time I went downstairs, he had disappeared. And then I saw him again a few days later. All my sleepiness disappeared instantly, and I dressed up and rushed down to the garden and confronted him.

He looked sincerely and innocently at me and said, "But they are for god". I told him politely that if he wanted flowers to adorn his gods, he should grow a plant in his balcony, water it every day, and then pluck its flowers. This one was meant for people of our apartment complex to see and enjoy, and certainly not for plucking.

His assumption that flowers are meant to adorn gods made me wonder at the conditioning of the human mind. Most human beings believe that it is okay to pluck flowers from a plant, which is god in my opinion, to adorn a human-made idol, which they believe, is god.

A lifeless idol in a puja room, or a living plant filled with flowers. Which could be god? 

November 18, 2013

18th International Children's Film Festival, Hyderabad

We are fortunate to be in Hyderabad for one other reason apart from several good ones -- the International Children's Film Festival is held here every two years. Every time it happens, I manage to see at least a few films, because this is one chance when we get to see films from all over the world. Apart from this, I love the ambience of the festival at Prasads.

Here is a list of films I saw this year, with a brief description.

Buzkashi boys (Afghanistan)
Synopsis: Set against the dramatic landscape of contemporary Afghanistan and the National sport of Buzkashi - a brutal game of horse polo played with a dead goat - Buzkashi Boys tells the coming of age story of two best friends, a charismatic street urchin and a defiant blacksmith's son, who struggle to realize their dreams as they make their way to manhood in one of the most war-torn countries on Earth. Shot on location in Kabul city by an alliance of Afghan and international film makers, Buzkashi Boys is a look at the life that continues beyond the headlines of war in Afghanistan.

I was touched by this film. The stark images of a torn and battered Kabul, the sheer hopelessness, and the underlying anger in people is heart wrenching. The two child actors are really good, as also the script, photography and direction. 

Bajo a Almohada (Under the pillow). Spain. 2012.


English and Spanish with English subtitles
This warm but moving animated documentary allows the voices and drawings of a group of children who live in a clinic in India to tell us about some of the treasures and dreams they keep hidden under their pillows.
Very cute film, yet serious. Animation using children's drawings was very well done. 

Pilipka. Belarus.

Language: Belarusian
Subtitles: English
Directed by: Tatiana Kublitskaya
The little boy Pilipka shows up at the log hut of the evil Baba-Yaga. He tries to escape, but the surrounding forest is bewitched...
Fabulous illustrations! Reminded me of the Russian books we read as children. 

Noodle fish. Japan. 'To be a grown-up, you've got to get out of the water.' With this, the tadpoles disappear. Noodle Fish, a friend of them begins his journey for the world outside the water. Cute story. Animation uses noodles!
A small ant and its big dream. Our very own Taj Mahal is the hero here! Animation uses tea leaves of various colours. Lovely!You can watch Chinti here
(On the last day, it turned out that Chinti and Noodle fish won the best animated short films...lucky me, for getting to see them!)

Kanta, firewood and grandpa. Japan. 
DirectorTakeshi Yashiro (Taiyo Kikaku Co., Ltd.)
Very touching story of the relationship between a grandfather and his little grandson, and about the three things firewood does to human being -- drives away the cold and brings warmth inside the body when you are chopping it; brings warmth outside the body when lit; and improves makes/relationships when the warmth is shared by people you love and care for.  

Goopy gawaiya, Bagha bajaaiyaa: India

The things that struck me were the brilliant, detailed illustrations in this animated film, the deep deep colours and the wonderful songs. The illustrations reminded me of the illustrations in Russian books that we used to read when we were children.Associate professor at IIT, animator and illustrator Shilpa Ranade's ambitious project Goopi Gawaiyaa Bagha Bajaiyaa, is based on Satyajit Ray's acclaimed children's movie. 

I had a choice of a South African animated film, a Japanese film about a dog that went missing, and this Iranian film. I chose to see it because I has seen and found Iranian films to have a lot of depth. Oh my god! This one just took me along with it deep into Bardou's tumultous journey. A very disturbing film. 

Directed by Seyed Hadi Mohaghegh, it is about Bardou, a 16-year-old teenager who has recently lost his father. He lives in arid lands along with his sick mother and his younger brother. He tries to convince his mother to leave their home and the grave of his father in order to move to the village in order to have access to medical care. To do this they need money and Bardou has to get back the money his father had lent to Nasir, who lives on the other side of the desert and is unwilling to pay off his debt. During this journey he encounters a young policeman who accompanies him. "Bardou" is a story about a teenager who, in order to get what's his by right and to deal with difficulties, has to become a man.

October 21, 2013

The story of a pond...the story of our lives

In the 92-acre Sanjeeviah Park in Hyderabad, this was the only pond. I called it the lotus pond or the duck pond for obvious reasons. Anyone taking a walk down the path along the Hussainsagar side of the park would definitely stop to enjoy the beauty of this pond. When I saw the colours of this pond, I understood what might have inspired artists like Suryaprakash or Milind Naik or Claude Monet. 

I often stopped here, beneath the Kadamb trees, just to sit and not think, just to stare and wonder at how many shades green has, and to experience the serenity and the life in the pond. I watched a pair of coots busy making a nest amidst the grasses of the pond, and was hugely excited to see them with their family of five some weeks later!  

Quiet and serene... 

 ...the lotus pond

A cormorant drying its feathers 

 The greens...

That moment when I wished I could paint...

...and the joy when I spotted the coot family!

Then, rude shock.

In September this year, I saw that the pond had been cordoned off, and seemed like land-reclamation activity. I saw the state of the pond and was horrified. The water level had risen destroying the lotuses and the grasses, and the birds were nowhere to be seen. I asked around and was told that they were going to make a garden in place of the pond. Why?...Why?

This is what it looked like, after the human interference. 

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.” ― Baba Dioum (Senegalese poet and naturalist)

I have no other words. Just memories of something beautiful.

Did it have to be this way - HMDA?

Photos: Sadhana Ramchander; do use them to help the cause, but credit them to me.

Read this update on this story in November 2014

October 18, 2013

Random thoughts on turning 7 on blogosphere

I missed writing about this blog turning 7 in August. I remembered when I saw Bishwanath Ghosh's post about his own blog turning was he and a few others who had inspired me to start this blog.

As the words on my masthead say, Lens and Sensibility is "a meander up and down the lanes and bylanes that map my world..." The journey through these gallis, small and big, have been bitter-sweet, like most people's, but tremendously interesting, and I have tried on and off, to trek on paths I have never taken, simply to make my own life more interesting. I have not been able to record all these journeys here, because of constraints of time and sometimes, inhibition. The lack of privacy on the net is daunting, and I have sometimes felt like just disappearing from all social media. But I bounce back because I like sharing my life and experiences.  

I think people still read my blog...I am pleasantly surprised on and off by proof of this, such as Prince Rama Varma writing to me after reading my post about him. Sometimes, I 'advertise' on Facebook when I feel that a post is worth sharing with my gets a few eyeballs. No one seems to have the time to read anything more than a post on FB, and even that is only 'liked' and very rarely commented upon! This is is just the time we are in. But I must say people are sharing lives like never before, thanks to the ease with which this sharing can be done.  

On the 7th birthday of Lens and Sensibility, I gift this blog a photo I took, during a road trip across Himachal Pradesh with my cousins Harsha and Prabha, and a quote to go with it.

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be 
to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time. 
 T.S Eliot

If not for anything else, this blog, which has begun feeling like home, is a record of my wanderings, and for this reason, it is worth keeping and maintaining. And if anyone is still coming here, need I to tell you how happy that makes me feel?!

October 16, 2013

Mail from Prince Rama Varma!

More proof of Prince Rama Varma's sense of humour. And humility. 

I got this email from him (yes!). He is referring to this post. Do check out the links he sent. 

Some Cute Telugu Songs :-)

Rama Varma 
Sep 20
to me
Namaste from Varma.

A friend of mine surprised me by sending a link to your
blog which had a photo of my concert at Saptaparni

So I thought I would surprise you in turn by sending
you these Cute Telugu songs sung and taught by this
Malayali guy, to Tamils, Kannadigas and so on :-)
Hope you will enjoy them :-)

Please feel welcome to share these with your Telugu loving
and/or Music loving friends if you like :-)

Bye for now and have a beautiful day!

Kind regards and good wishes,


September 26, 2013

Good teacher in search of good student in search of good teacher... search of good student.

Is there an end to this quest in an academic situation? Good teachers complain that most students don't apply themselves the way they should; good students find that most teachers are not up to the mark. Good teachers spend long hours researching, and are disappointed at the indifference among students. Enthusiastic and idealistic students soon discover mediocrity.

A good student needs an inspiring teacher needs a good student. Is it just chance that the twain sometimes meet?

August 13, 2013

The gentle Prince Rama Varma and his 'percussion lions'

He can be described as an intelligent musician with a great sense of humour. Prince Rama Varma sang at Saptaparni on 13 August (his birthday). He was accompanied by delightful S.R.Vinu on the violin, and the "percussion lions"-- B Hari Kumar on the Mridangam, and  Dr S.Karthik on Ghatam. 

As always, Prince Rama Varma's concert was very pleasant, and the camaraderie between the artistes was so beautiful that it restored one's faith in humanity -- for one evening, at least!

Here's a link to a concert, where he begins with a Bengali song! This is also a great example of the Prince's sense of humour.

July 27, 2013

160 years of Indian Railways

I went to a photo exhibition marking 160 glorious years of Indian Railways, and was overwhelmed by what I saw there. I realised that the railways are such an intrinsic part of the history of India.  There were beautiful black and white photos of the milestones in the life of Indian Railways. What an achievement it was, creating this amazing network of trains! How much work had gone into building this incredible institution that is one of the largest employers in the world!

I did not take my camera, but felt compelled to take pictures with my Blackberry to show Vijay, who is a big time train-lover. Here are a few images. Even now, each time I look at them, inside me, kuch kuch hota hai.

A steam engine bearing the national emblem, underlining the importance of the national transporter.
An 1860 photo showing a bullock-drawn train
Elephants being used to push wagons
A photo of a fireman inside a steam engine brought back memories of the smells, sounds and taste (yes!) of a train journey, and the soot in one's eyes and hands at the end of it. Also on display were old train guides and time tables from the 1940s, costing 2 annas and 4 annas!

 A 1947 railway time table 

One photo showed the construction of a bridge on a hilly terrain. There was a huge net below the construction area, which showed the immense dangers involved in the task. Another showed separate tea stalls for Hindus and Muslims. A note said there were also separate water points -- 'Hindu pani' and 'Muslim pani', although, apparently there were rumours that the same person served the same water to both, only changing his robe to suit the religion he was serving!

Mohamedan tea stall
Hindu tea stall
Ads of Murphy radio on the majestic edifice of the Madras railway station, and that of Capstan cigarettes on Churchgate station, the lack of crowds outside the railway stations, with rickshaws waiting for passengers brought back memories of a time long gone by.  

Rickshaws waiting for passengers at Patna railway station
Godrej ads on trains
I need to make a special mention of a sepia print of a train carrying refugees from Pakistan after the partition. There were people spilling out of the train, and a whole lot sitting on top of the train.
A monumental event in the history of India. Refugee special train from Ambala, 
overflowing with people who risked their lives, sitting on top of the train
This train brought construction material right to the site of construction of the Parliament House! One of the steam engines is the Fairy Queen, the oldest running engine.
Construction of the Parliament
I have to post this one...rain or shine, they'll take you, if not to your destination, somewhere!
No adversity has ever stopped the Indian Railways from being an all-weather transport system. 
There were precious photos of Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, and other important people's train journeys

During one of his journeys across India
There was a series on railway stations from all over India, the ornate and classy ones for the important places, and the simpler ones in other places, but most of them reflecting the architecture of the place. Here is a view of the Srinagar railway station.
Srinagar railway station
These are just a dozen among the many gems that we saw at the exhibition, held in Salar Jung museum. It was thanks to a good friend that I went to see this well-curated show. I am so glad I did.

The thought I came away with was that if after every train journey, if we invariably came away with interesting memories, how many memorable moments must there have been in 160 years of Indian Railways!

My sincere thanks to the Railways for putting this incredible show together. Now, why don't they make a commemorative volume to mark the 160?

Please also see Deccan Chronicle's selection of photos here:

July 21, 2013

Monsoon watch 2013

Rains began a week early this year. While the normal date for the onset of monsoon is 7 June, in 2013, rains started on 1 June itself. In fact, in the last several years the first rains fell only in August or September. We spent our days looking at the sky, worrying and praying for it to rain. See monsoon watch of 2012.

In June, there were devastating floods in Uttarakhand and parts of Himachal Pradesh. More than 5700 people were presumed dead and several missing. This was India's worst disaster since the 2004 tsunami.

 In Hyderabad and the rest of AP also, there have been copious rains. It has been cloudy and raining continuously since the last one week. Hussainsagar is up to its brim, and people in the low-lying areas (Domalguda, Ashoknagar, Himayatnagar, etc) have been warned about this.

Yes, this year it is different.

27 July 2013: The damp phase is now over, and it is now sunny. But it still rains on and off. Woke up this morning to see puddles everywhere.

17 August 2013: It is raining still. We have had many many damp and wet days. Yesterday's paper reported a tragic story of a baby falling into the swirling waters of the Musi. She slipped from the arms of her father (an NRI doctor) and was swept away. Now, we have never associated Musi with water before...if anything, all we saw was a trickle. Earlier, in July, Hotel City Light in Secunderabad collapsed killing and injuring several people...dampened by rain, perhaps, among other factors.

This year is certainly different.

26 September 2013: Finally looks like the rains have stopped. It certainly has been a heavy-monsoon year. Yet it is only now they are saying that the catchment areas are filling up.

17 October 2013: It rained again today. Last week, just before Cyclone Phailin in Odisha and parts of AP, there was a downpour like entire lakes were being emptied from the sky. Today's Hindu has this article on the delayed end to the rains in several parts of India: When the rains don’t go away

June 30, 2013

Surabhi back from France!

Yes, they are back after performing at the Passages International Theatre Festival in Metz, France, and now they have a blog and a Facebook page!

Read about their trip to France here. Love these lines from the writeup: "All these fantasies coexist with the wonderful naiveté of this eminently popular form of theatre. Surabhi does not forget its roots: on the stage there is a small plate with some sand, which the family carries with them everywhere, from the village of Surabhi.” 

I am ecstatic! Sometimes, the right thing happens. These guys have the most genuine theatre going, and it had to work for them. It was in the 1980s that Mohan mama first told me about the greatness of Surabhi. He said, "Don't ever miss an opportunity to see Surabhi theatre. It is fantastic." It is, Mohan mama, it is. Thank you for telling me about it. 

My first writeup on Surabhi was written on 27 October 2006. You can read it here. They have come a long way, haven't they? Way to go, guys, there's no looking back now. 

June 24, 2013

LIFE AS I LIVE IT 1: Beneath the blue sky, some peace

I often take walks in the park, and the objective of my walks is to keep in shape and to spend time amidst trees. No closed gym spaces for me. I have been doing this for years, and enjoying it, discovering birds, insects and trees, chancing upon a pair of wrestling snakes one day and a boisterous grey hornbill couple on another. My walk was rewarded the other day by a peacock flying low against the bright blue of the sky -- a rare sight because there were no peacocks around that area! I was happy the rest of the day!

I go for walks at peak-housewife-activity the mornings, around 8 am, after dropping my daughter off at school. It is also a time when the thousands of morning walkers are out of the park and on their way to their busy worlds. My walks are timed because I need to get back and get on with my day after the luxury of a morning outing. So I walk briskly and try to take in as much as I can of a new day in the park, because, more than in human lives, each day in nature invariably brings something new. Suddenly the Rain trees begin to bloom, generously spreading their perfume, suddenly the ground is covered with weeds with the prettiest of flowers.

Like in most people's lives, my life too has its stresses. Tired and disgusted, I recently walked into Sanjeeviah Park in the afternoon because I felt the need for some peace and quiet. Instead of my usual brisk walk, I just sat on the grass, the cool breeze blowing against my face. I looked up at the blue sky and the monsoon clouds; I listened to a variety of bird song, I listened to the sweet music of rustling peepal leaves. And I slowly felt myself relax, and breathe better, and before I knew it, the world seemed like a better place. I returned home in peace.

It was such a simple thing to do...why hadn't I done this before, I wondered later. I realised I hadn't done it because I always felt I didn't have the time to simply sit and do nothing. My time had to be spent meaningfully at all times; it had to result in something. Walk was exercise and so justified. How wrong I was! And how happy I am to have discovered this simple truth!    

June 06, 2013

Sri Lanka -- lanterns, elephants, tuk-tuks and shades of green and blue

While on travel, I cherish those moments when you exclaim, "Wow...look!" As soon as we reached Colombo, we saw the spectacular paper lanterns and Buddhist flags that adorned streets and houses everywhere, beginning with the airport to the countryside, on the occasion of Vesak Poya ( the day on which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment). We were fortunate to be in Sri Lanka on this day.

Other 'wow, look!' moments included sightings of autorickshaws (tuk tuks) of different colours --  fiery reds, landscape greens, mustards and oranges, dark blues and violets, Ceylon ironwood pinks...we even found a metallic copper! Malini tried to capture quite a few of them.

We loved the tuk tuks so much that we came back with these miniatures!

It was a treat to see the elephants at Pinnawala elephant orphanage, and the babies Nilgala and Varuna stole our hearts. One of the larger elephants had one short leg because it was in a landmine accident, and it was heartbreaking to see this crippled animal. Pinnawala has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world, and is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants.

Nilgala and Varuna having a bath

Being bottlefed! Ragini had the privelege.

The elephant walk down the street to the river :)

Pinnewala gave us some gyan too, on how elephant poo paper is is easy!

Before the "EAT", I would add, "BUY ELEPHANT", which I have been wanting to do since I was 4, but that's another story!

While the tooth relic temple, the gem factory, the batik making unit at Kandy were interesting in a touristy kind of way, the trees in the Royal botanical gardens, Peradeniya, took our breath away. Here are a few of them.

The Kauri pine

I don't know the name of this spectacular species

Nor this
The Ceylon Ironwood tree or Indian rose chestnut. 
This is Sri Lanka's national tree. They also call it NA.

In Nuwara Eliya, apart from the picturesque terraced tea gardens, there was a very special highlight -- we went to the Seeta temple with ancient vigrahas of Rama-Lakshmana-Seeta and Hanuman. They showed us the place where Ravana was supposed to have held Seeta captive, and the tree under which she sat, with a giant footprint of Hanuman nearby! AND, there is a hill near this temple, which looks like Hanuman's face! I want to believe every bit of this :). If they hadn't shown us this temple with all its stories, our trip would have felt incomplete! 


Green and blue would be the colours of Sri Lanka, with its lush green foliage, the bright blue sky and the blue-green of the sea at Beruwala, where we enjoyed the drama of the twilight and early morning skies, with the cloud bundles and the rainbow performing a special item number, with the sea providing the background score!

If we felt stressed out, it was in Colombo, a typical growing city, complete with a White House and twin towers (+1). Odel is a shopping mall much like our Shopper's Stop, and we stepped in and wondered why Gamini (our guide) had taken us there. The Dutch hospital, converted into a shopping/eating place is charming, but is unfortunately surrounded by the eerie, spaceship-like twin towers(+1). See for yourself.

The Seema Malaka temple floating on the Beira lake was designed by Sri Lanka's famous architect Geoffrey Bawa in the 1970s after the original temple had sunk into the lake. It is elegant and serene. We spotted pelicans here.

One of the pleasures of travel is to meet friends who live in the country you visit. We met our old friend Mrs Prasanna Lakshmi who works in Colombo, and we are so glad we managed to do this.

Being one of the main economic sectors of the country, Sri Lankan tourism is well packaged. However, everything is very expensive, despite the value of Sri Lankan rupee being half that of the Indian rupee. People are simple and friendly, and Vijay sincerely practised "Ayu Bowan" (namaste) and "Istuti" (thank you) on them! I did not find the country as clean as people told me it would be, but it is orderly and people don't use the horn much. If there was one refrain we heard, it was, "Now LTTE, no problem!"

It turned out that we were at Sri Lanka when Hyderabad was at its hottest (22-29 May), and returned to a cooled down, rainy city...oh, what a kick that gave us!