Covid19: Fight Back

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China, Iran and then France…

I am in self quarantine in South of Paris, once a happening place with hundreds of eateries and revelers that lighted up not just the streets but life as well. But all that is past. Today, I am locked up in my apartment. It’s been one week now, I haven’t even ventured on to my balcony which is now sporting an inch layer of dust. I am watching the streets from behind the glass window of my bedroom. The street, one of the main throughways of Paris which at all times is full of not just cars and motorcycles but bicycles and pedestrians jostling for space. Where the vehicles used to screech to a halt paving way for the pedestrian and cross traffic to pass as the signals turned red from amber, today is completely deserted. I am trying to see trace of any life form but alas not a single soul on the streets since morning. The shops are all closed. Just across the road is the railway station which was always a hustle bustle of the crowd on the move is now deserted.

There are a few men and women walking by with their faces covered in mask and they too are not acknowledging the existence of the fellow walker, something unthinkable on the streets of Paris. Then there are few vehicles, either ambulance or Police cars probably carrying the very ill to the nearest hospitals. In short the canvas is like a disaster movie from Hollywood. Till last week the guy who was working hard to save his/her job, the love of his/her love and/or planning for the summer vacation, today they are just busy saving their lives.

The French Govt has declared wartime emergency. Only the daily essential time stores and pharmacies are open. Anyone venturing out is required to fill up govt specified forms stating clearly the intended visit to the pharmacy or to the daily needs stores. There are policemen checking the documents and if answers are not satisfactory, the person can be fined Euro 135 or put behind bars for 6 months.

In the morning only two passengers alighted from a taxi, mother and her teenage son; both covered in face mask but their eyes depicted ghostly fear. They must be inhabitants of our building which is now sans the concierge at the entrance. Some of the apartments have been vacated but no one has come forward to lock them up or sanitize.

The neighboring state of Italy is in dire situation, everyday people are dying exponentially. There is extreme pressure on the administration to bury the dead and at the same time provide medical treatment to the critically ill. In Iran, they have dug up mass grave to bury the dead. Till the time, this deadly virus was confined to Wuhan province in China, sitting in the confines of our homes in Europe, India; we have only provided the lip service by expressing our sympathies. Now, in just over a months’ time, the deadly virus has reached at our very own doorsteps. It has infected the people, the air and the surfaces that we touch, all without our reckoning. The Europe today stands devastated.

Well I am not into fear mongering but trying to alert you all. Let us not spread misinformation through Facebook or WhatsApp but the bare facts and ways to combat the virus scientifically. Let us not repeat the mistakes of Italy or Iran or France. We in India still have time to overcome the threat posed by the Corona Virus. We have precisely TWO WEEKS in hand to defeat this monster and banish it forever. Let us resolve to postpone all non essential purchases and activities for next two weeks. Let us not venture out even to the Nukkad ke Dukan to buy errands. Let us not meet friends and relatives for next two weeks, there’s a telephone that can confirm the well beings of our friends and relations. Let us stay put in the confines of home and enjoy this forced holiday. For once, let us enjoy the solitude of our homes, may be we have to let go of three/ five course meals, let us be satisfied with only Dal-Roti for next two weeks. If we sacrifice this two weeks, probably the virus will meet its end or else there’s no guarantee that you won’t get infected sitting at your office or home.

Let’s just follow three things in the next two weeks…

  1. Let us stay put in our homes. No going out even for smallest of the reasons. No going out to meet friends or brothers or sisters and also not let anyone come enter your homes. It is total isolation from the outside world. Have simplistic food these days, it will not only be easy on your digestive system but perhaps can help you lose those extra kilos. Biriyanis and Kebabs can wait for another day. And you can always stay connected through electronic media.
  2. Let us maintain personal hygiene through a regimen of washing our hands at least once every hour. Sanitize our hands if we touch any suspected surface. Let go of the habit of touching your face, nose or any exposed body part.
  3. Get out of the mindset of “What can I do alone?” Yes you can do hell of a lot for your loved ones just by following the above and inspiring others to do too. You may be young, you may be strong and feel that the virus can’t harm you but remember back home there are your parents, your children who are highly vulnerable to this virus. Keep in mind that the older people with chronic history of high BP, Asthma, Heart Condition or Diabetic are likely to be fatally affected by this monstrous Covid19. Let you be not the cause of their discomfort or illness or even death.

Out of the above three points, the most important one is self quarantine. The question is how long? Well, if you can stay indoors in the coming two weeks then that is all it would be otherwise who knows how it will take to get rid of this Covid19.

Therefore, let’s show the world that through strong resolve and willpower India can win over this virus in the coming TWO WEEKS.

JAI HIND. VANDE MATARAM.

Inspired by Shri Sourav Mukherjee…

On the Roads… 2

Our Delhi visit was exactly for 4 weeks and how it passed out so quickly is beyond comprehension. We had just one day (Navami) of Durga Puja to celebrate. We went to Durgabari, Kailash Colony for Deepika to offer Pushpanjali and from there to Dakshinayan, GK-2 M-Block Market to have Bhog. Both places are important itinerary on our Durga Puja circuit. The day temperature being hot and humid, we planned to go to New Delhi Kalibari, Minto Road and some other pandals in the evening. However, after walking Rolf in the evening, I simply crashed out and slept till late evening.

Next few days we met few relations and prepared for the big in-house event of Kojagori Laxmi Puja, the tradition being carried on for generations for 100+ years as far as I remember my mother telling me. I am not a ritualistic person but have been facilitating the Laxmi Puja since my father passed away, first for my mother and now for my wife, Deepika.

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Earlier in my childhood, there used to be considerable gathering at our home for the puja with few Delhi based relations and large number of neighbors including non-Bengalis coming for Prasad & Bhog. But now the gathering is limited to my sisters, few friends and next door neighbors. The quantity of Bhog has reduced but the overall cost has gone up manifolds. But as Deepika says with some conviction that the show must go on till either of us are alive. This year the gathering was even smaller as two of my sisters couldn’t make due to ill health. Among the friends, Santanu Basu was the first to arrive and he reconfirmed to give me company on my return journey to Hyderabad. A pleasant visit was by my nephew, Ritam Bhattacharya (my maternal cousin Oli’s son) who is now based in Noida working with a tech company having finished college recently. The day had started very early for us and by the time the last guest left we were exhausted completely. It showed that age is catching up with us.

The other highlight of this visit was the get-together of my school classmates. Some 10 years or so back and after a gap of almost 3 decades we had managed to group together once again courtesy the Facebook. Most of us are based out of Delhi+NCR but still a sizeable number are scattered all over the world. We had tried to include all in the group but few of them after joining our WhatsApp group called Mastans of RBHS80 had quit for personal reasons. We communicate everyday on varied subjects like politics, entertainment and religion etc. We do not have homogenous thoughts but it seems the contradictions have created a strong bond amongst us. Among this group is Indrajit Roychowdhury whose school nickname used to be Pantua after the Bengali sweet version of Gulab Jamun for large eyes and round face. Just like the nickname, he is sweet inside out and is full of humor which prompted us to bond immediately. I call him Indrobodon, the face of Lord Indra. He is based in Baghdad as Advisor at Trade Bank of Iraq, a very senior post but he remains humble to the core. Coincidentally he was visiting home in Ranchi and promised to spend an evening on his return leg. We decided to have our get together (G2G) on Friday 18th October when Indrobodon lands in Delhi on his return journey. There was a bit of confusion on the menu, my friend Gora wanted treat us for his son’s graduation from High School and at the same time I wanted to show my culinary skills to my friends. After some hard negotiation, it was decided that I will make one main course and a salad while Gora would arrange for the rest. He insisted on paying me for the dishes to which I told him “You can pay for the raw material but what price will you put on the love and care that goes into the making of the final dish”!!

We had a grand successful party with 12 out of 16 guys making it possible to attend. I had made Butter Chicken and Salsa Salad… I don’t want to pat my own back but the empty containers at the end was proof enough for deliciousness of the dishes besides the huge compliments that my friends poured on me. I have always maintained that nothing is more satisfactory in life than feeding others and in the process if you are appreciated then that’s extraordinary, save it for lifetime.

One of the tasks I had decided on this visit was to sell of my SUV Duster which we had it parked in Delhi hoping to use it as frequently as we visit but in reality our Delhi visits quite infrequent and the vehicle was lying idle. Moreover, it was a six years old diesel vehicle and recent govt mandate had reduced the life of such vehicles to 10 years from earlier 15 years. I placed an advt. on OLX app and within few hours queries started pouring in, most of which were mere time-pass where they quoted ridiculous counter offer. I politely turned them down. One guy who had recently got transferred to Delhi wanted to buy in a hurry as he had sold his vehicle in Pune before coming but the negotiation failed as I had decided on a benchmark price tag and had decided not to go below that even if the vehicle remained unsold. Then a gentleman from Rohini introduced himself as some sort of lawyer and requested to hold the vehicle till following evening when he would come to buy. This guy was absolutely certain to buy and came next day evening with his full family including his octogenarian mother who kept sitting in their car. After hard negotiation, he finally agreed at my threshold price and paid an advance with the promise to pay up the balance next day and pick up the vehicle. I was honest with him and clearly told him that he will have to change the tyres and get the clutch overhauled. I had not done these jobs done because no one would have paid extra for these. Duster was a good vehicle but I had opted for this after driving Scorpio for good 7 years and frankly Duster was no match to Scorpio.

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Ayush came on 25th and we began our Diwali preparation of gift buying and planning a card party at our home. We had picked up most the give-away gifts from IKEA Hyderabad. Some were decorative while some had very practical use and the recipients loved them. This year Diwali, perhaps was the quietest one because of ban on crackers; however there was no letting down on lightening up the households with both electric as well as candles and earthen lamps. For the first time Rolf had a stress free Diwali and we loved it.

The next was the Bhai Duj Lunch at our home when all my siblings along with their children gather. This has been going on since my father passed away and I separated out from my brother’s dwelling along with my mother. It was one occasion when she could meet all her children in one go and she thoroughly enjoyed the day. Again the tradition continues but for how long, I don’t know!!

Deepika along with our housekeeper left for Hyderabad a day after the Bhai Duj. Ayush was to leave on Sunday and I decided to start for Hyderabad on Monday early morning. In between we had 3 days to do our stuff as father-son. We had a good fun time together along with Rolf whom I got checked up and had his de-worming shot as well. His Vet was happy to see him in good health. I thanked him for giving the most effective medicine BravEcto for tics and flea that had bogged him down for many years. We also picked up few bottles of Single Malts from L1 Lakeforest Wine Warehouse at practically duty free prices. I dropped off Ayush at the airport on Sunday evening; Rolf also went with us to see off his hooman bro and got a bit acclimatized of car ride. As agreed, Santanu came over to our home around 9pm by which time I had packed off most of the house leaving just about space for us to sit and enjoy our drinks and dinner.

Following day, Santanu was ready even before me and had made coffee for himself. I took Rolf out for walk hoping that he would do his job without much fuss which he did and we came back. I fed him boiled eggs and plain lassi knowing that he will only have his next meal when we reach our night-halt at Pench. We had targeted to start by 5:15 am as latest but were 15 minutes delayed. However, I knew if the roads are good, I will make up the time and should reach Go Flamingo Resort, Pench by 9:00pm.

I did not switch on the Google Map immediately knowing well that it will guide me to the Yamuna Expressway and I had decided to take NH19 via Faridabad-Mathura-Agra Bypass to Dholpur. Once we got into the Agra bypass I switched on the Google Map which confirmed that we are on the right direction. We crossed Dholpur on way to Morena around 8:30 am which meant that I had covered up the delayed start. I told Santanu to keep a look out for a Dhaba or eatery where we can have our breakfast and also let Rolf stretch his legs. As we approached Morena, I realized that in one month, the scene had changed a lot; the construction was in full swing resulting in traffic diversion to the service roads which slowed us down. Though there were eateries in Morena, there was no parking space due to the construction activities. We decided to try our luck nearer to Jhansi and meanwhile we had the butter toast and boiled eggs that I made at the last minute and was the cause for delayed start.

We finally found a dhaba nearer to Jhansi, at a place called Dabra. We stopped at Ashirwad Hotel Family Restaurant which was decently spacious and clean. It had opened couple of hours back for business and therefore the food was still fresh. Otherwise also, it is safe to eat at a running dhaba while you are on the road because they keep making fresh items throughout the day. We had Aloo Parantha and tea. Rolf stretched his legs, relieved himself and attracted lot of interest with the strangers around. The Aloo Paranthas were quite filling so we decided to skip lunch and probably stop in the evening for tea if such a place can be found.

We soon reached the district of Jhansi and directed by Google Map skirted the city and again got on to NH 44 heading towards Lalitpur via Babina, Talbeit and some other small hamlets. As the day progressed, we could feel the heat as well as the glow of the sun. The NH 44 at this juncture is very straight with minor curves and it does make one sleepy. I put on the music a bit loud and told Santanu that he can doze off if he felt so but he refused. I used to think that Lalitpur is part of MP but as we were crossing, realized it is very much in UP (the auto-rickshaws on the road had UP registration). But it was the last township of UP before you cross into MP somewhere after Gona, a small hamlet.

As we entered MP, the road became much better but at the same time, the cattle menace started which would continue till we reached Maharashtra. The cattle menace was less infuriating because it was afternoon and most of the cows were sitting or grazing on the side. Since one cannot predict the sudden movement of these beasts, it was prudent to drive at a sedate pace so that the vehicle can be maneuvered at the last moment. However, this meant delayed arrival at Pench. Santanu said, “Slow and steady wins the race. At least we will reach in one piece rather than colliding with the cows”. I agreed with him.

As we were passing through Sagar, I pointed out the Pathways Retreat on the highway itself and told Santanu how that particular place had played dirty by giving away our room to someone else even after confirming a day before the first time we were going to Delhi from Hyderabad.

The road from Sagar to Narsinghpur is curvaceous and keeps the driver on alert specially when there are enough bovines on the road that can suddenly decide to cross. Moreover, there were quite a few villages and these people have a particular liking for the highways to sit around which I had noticed during our road trip to Khajuraho from Bandhavgarh.

The sun was on the western horizon by the time we reached Lakhnadon on way to Seoni, the last township of MP that shares the Pench National Park with Maharashtra. It was dark when we reached the point of NH 44 that signals the start of Wildlife sanctuary. There were no street lights on highways but you do get scattered lights from the roadside dhabas or the scattered hamlets now and then. On this stretch of NH 44 there are jungles on either side therefore no dhabas or villages which made the outside pitch dark. I had put the headlights in full beam just in case we come across any wild creature!!

We were doing good speed even though it was dark because the highway was very well marked with reflector lights at the curves as well as on the sides which were guiding us smoothly. Then, as we reached the limits of Pench Wildlife Park, diversions started and continued for next 15 odd km. Once the hilly tracks ended, we had to take service roads which because of the use by heavy vehicles have turned into muddy patches with potholes every now and then. This continued for next 20-25 km with occasional reliefs in the form of newly laid portions.

Once we crossed the “under construction” patch on NH-44, I knew that our destination was just about 10-15 km away and this was confirmed by the Google Map too. The outside was pitch dark barring the occasional lights from on-coming vehicles. However, we were able to do good speed as the road was really good and practically no traffic on our side of the road. After a while, the Google Map started indicating a left turn ahead but there were no exit to be found. I slowed down and tried to look through the black darkness and found an exit for u-turn but we ended up with a dead end. I remembered last time too we had gone ahead and taken a u-turn to right just before the toll plaza. It had made us drive extra for almost 20 km but in this darkness it was the best option available.

We took the u-turn just before the toll plaza and kept driving towards Delhi once again and about 20 minutes later saw the first sign of Go Flamingo Resort. Thereafter, I knew how to reach the resort taking the service lane. When we finally checked in it was 9:35 pm on the clock and all three of us were famished. I ordered boiled chicken and rice for Rolf and Chapati with Chicken Curry & Egg Curry and salad for us. I had carried “Elixir of Life” in miniature bottles which came handy in rejuvenating ourselves as well as a sound sleep through the night.

I was up at 5 am and completed my morning chores, washed up and was ready to move. Santanu too got up and while he was getting ready, I took Rolf out for a walk. The main gate of the resort was locked and there were no signs of any soul. I knew Rolf being much disciplined, won’t poop inside the complex, so I looked for the security guard and found him at the back of the reception cum dining hall. He opened up the gate and we out for a stroll in the jungle environment. I kept thinking if we encounter any wild cat what will happen; will the hard rubber stick I am carrying be a deterrent? But, fortunately, no such sighting happened, few stray dogs started barking but retreated when Rolf and I walked straight on towards them.

For some reason occupancy at Go Flamingo Resort was low in fact we were the only occupant that morning with the other group having left even before us. As a result, the cook had taken it easy and decided to start the kitchen after 8 am. If we wait for the breakfast, we won’t make it to Hyderabad by 5:00 pm (our target). So we decided to leave early and try our luck on the way.

First thing we needed to do was to tank up the car at the first available gas station. We found one after about 25 km on our side of the road, although there were 2-3 on the other side that we skipped because of long detours. Once again we cruised on and turned on to our way to Nagpur bypass. There are two toll plazas within a span of less than 1 km but if you have paid at the first one, all you have to do is to show the receipt and they pass you through. We passed the second one and sped up to around 80 kmph when we saw a posse of Police with barricades, we slowed down and one them approached and asked for the documents. I showed him the RC, Insurance and my DL. He was almost returning them back to when he seemed to remember something and asked for PUC certificate. Sadly, I didn’t have that and told him I had forgotten it at Delhi but get it done again when I reach Hyderabad. I had to pay 500 bucks to make him happy on an otherwise scant traffic road where their earnings won’t bring smiles.

The next thought was to find a nice eatery to have our breakfast. We had almost missed it but managed to stop and reverse in the nick of time to Doon Punjabi Family Dhaba which is run by a Sikh ex-Army person. The place turned out to be very clean including the kitchen which one can see through the glass panels. The manager-cum-steward was from Haryana and also an ex-soldier of Indian Army and spoke good English. He was from Ambala, Haryana and was delighted to see our Haryana (Gurugram) registered car. We ordered for Aloo Parantha which came with curd and pickles. This Aloo Parantha was far better than what we had yesterday and we decided to pack two more for the road. We had two cups of tea, the first one was the regular masala chai and then black tea without milk and sugar. Both were of very good quality; will surely stop by this place on our next journey from Delhi to Hyderabad.

We continued our journey towards Hyderabad with renewed vigor having fed ourselves and stretched our legs including Rolf. As I had mentioned in my earlier post, the NH 44 in Maharashtra after the limits of Nagpur districts tends to become bad to worse. Because of my knowledge about the potholes right in the middle of the road, I drove cautiously but at a good speed negotiating the mid-road surprises. The good thing was that the cattle menace was way behind us now. Around 1:30 pm, we entered the state of Telengana and soon the road surface became very nice and I pressed on the gas to cover up the lost time. Moreover, I wanted to reach the city of Hyderabad before evening rushes of traffic hits the road.

Once we passed through Hinganghat, I knew that we will be shortly crossing over to Telengana and soon we reached the Penganga Bridge over the river by the same name that effectively separates the two states. On Maharashtra side, Pimpalkhuti is the last township and on Telengana it is Dollara, more of a village than town. I told Santanu that I have seen Mini Malls at most of the toll plazas in the southern states of Telengana, Andhra and Karnataka and we stop there for tea or coffee. The morning breakfast was too filling and I wasn’t hungry at all.

At the Dollara toll plaza, we stopped after paying the toll fee, at the Mini Mall. While Santanu lighted his second cigarette of the day, I walked Rolf for leg stretch as well as peeing. It was quite hot outside, so I fed him water and put him back in the car with the air-conditioner switched on. We finished our coffee which was quite lousy, full of sugar and milk, complete disappointment for a South Indian Filter Coffee, and hit the highway once again. The sugar in the coffee had given some extra energy and kept the speedometer at constant 100 kmph thereafter, slowing down only when we were passing through any township or hamlet.

As we neared the Adilabad, the road became picturesque with greenery on both sides and the hills in the distant horizon. The scenic view is so good that one forgets the time and we soon saw the signboard declaring that the Exit to Nirmal was only 500 metres ahead. I told Santanu that we would soon be crossing the mighty Godavari River after Soanpet. The monsoon had been quite good in the state and therefore the River Godavari too was flowing at full capacity. As we drove on, Nizamabad, Ramayapet, Narsingi besides many smaller township or hamlets could be seen on the signage only because the NH44 at this juncture has steered clear of the populous areas and at each point provided exit option with service road to the respective towns. That’s how the Highways should be built.

When we reached Medchal at the outskirts of Hyderabad, I told Santanu that we are almost home and should reach in next 35-45 minutes. At Medchal, we took the Nehru Outer Ring Road popularly called ORR that rings the city of Hyderabad and perhaps the best thing to have happened to the city. The credit for this must be given to Mr. Chandrababu Naidu who was the CM of undivided Andhra Pradesh when the idea was floated by him. The 158 km 8 lane Expressway was built between 2005 & 2012. My classmate Alok, a Civil Engineer with a large construction firm was involved in building the part of ORR that we have used most of time in last two years… Nanakramguda/ Gachibowli to Shamsabad for airport commute.

The best part of the 8 lane ORR is that one can maintain a steady speed of 100 kmph (permissible) constantly which we did and soon reached our exit (19) to Nanakramguda/ Gachibowli. The clock inside the car said 4:10 pm and we finally reached home 20 minutes later. It had been a exhilarating journey for two days and both of us needed a strong cup of tea. I showed Santanu the guest room and took Rolf out for his evening walk. It was good to see that even after a month’s absence from here; he knew exactly where he can walk and do his peeing and pooping!!

Santanu had planned for week stay in Hyderabad, meeting his friends from BHEL days. The following day he went to meet his friend for lunch while I unpacked and settled down to the routine. Santanu came back in the evening visibly happy meeting his friend after long time. They had gone to a place called Autumn Leaf for lunch and had excellent food in nice ambiance. I made it a point to visit the place as soon as possible. He also said that he would go over to his friend’s place next day evening for overnight stay and shall be back on Friday evening. They had to go over to another of their mutual friend’s place for dinner. Since he had told me in the very beginning that the purpose of his taking the road trip was to meet up with his Hyderabadi friends, I couldn’t stop him. Then on Friday morning he called up to say that he would be staying over as they have to visit another friend in the evening and he would surely be at our place by Saturday morning before breakfast. Initially I didn’t think much about it but in the evening when I saw the bottle of Monkey Shoulder still more than half full, I was a bit peeved.

On Saturday morning around 8:30 am he called up to say that he is running a bit late and that we shouldn’t wait for him but have our breakfast. I told him that he should reach by 10/10:30 as we have to go for grocery & veggies shopping and I wanted him to show the Spar’s Hypermarket from where we do our weekly shopping.

I was taking bath when I heard voices from the drawing room and thought that Santanu had come and talking to Deepika. But when I came out of the bathroom, I saw a new suitcase in the room and immediately realized that Sangeeta has made a surprise visit. Actually, we had discussed her visit but she refused saying that she can’t make it owing to her job. They wanted to surprise us but it wasn’t to be; because Deepika had seen them coming from the balcony as they had left the cab at the gate instead of bringing it to the basement parking, not knowing the way through. Secondly, I having seen the suitcase knew of her presence. Anyways, it was a happy reunion and we started planning for the activities ahead. We decided to visit Falaknuma Palace which is a Taj Hotel property and limited number of non-resident guests are allowed during Lunch, Tea & Dinner time at price that can easily be classified as exorbitant. Deepika, using her Epicura membership (of Taj) made the booking for the evening tea along with a guided tour of the palace.

Falaknuma Palace is built on a hillock and covers a 32-acre area, 5 km from Charminar. It was built by Nawab Sir Viqar-ul-Umra, Prime Minister of Hyderabad and the uncle & brother-in-law of the sixth Nizam. Falak-numa means “Mirror of Sky” in Urdu.

An English architect William Ward Marret designed the palace. Sir Vicar’s monogram “VO” is on the furniture, walls and ceiling of the palace. It is made completely with Italian marble with stained-glass windows and covers an area of 1,011,500 square feet. The palace was built in the shape of a scorpion with two stings spread out as wings in the north. The middle part is occupied by the main building and the kitchen, Gol Bangla, Zenana Mehal, and harem quarters stretch to the south. The Nawab was an avid traveller, and his influences show in the architecture, which combines Italian and Tudor influences.

One of the highlights of the palace is the state reception room, where the ceiling is decorated with frescoes. The ballroom contains a two-ton manually operated organ said to be the only one of its kind in the world but is now non-functional. The palace has 60 rooms and 22 halls. It has considerable collections of the Nizam’s artifacts including paintings, statues, furniture, manuscripts, books, an extensive jade collection, and Venetian chandeliers.

The library has a carved walnut roof, a replica of the one at Windsor Castle and houses more than five thousand books. It has an extensive collection of English, Urdu and Persian books as well as copies of the Quran, and rare first editions.

The dining hall can seat 101 guests. The chairs are made of carved rosewood with green leather upholstery. Burroughs and Watts from England designed two identical billiards tables, one of which is in Buckingham Palace and the other in the palace’s billiards room. 

[Source: Wikipedia]

In 2000, Taj Hotels started renovating and restoring the palace and opened the renovated hotel in November 2010.

While returning from Falaknuma, I switched on the Google Map and it made us take rounds of the PVN Expressway 4 times before I disobeyed it and took a road that I had taken in an earlier occasion to reach the Nehru ORR and reached home an hour late than the usual.

Following day I had booked 3 tickets to watch BALA in the evening not knowing the program of Sangeeta. I wanted to cancel the tickets but she insisted that we must carry on and that she will take a cab to reach airport.

In the morning, we went to Chutney’s for a south Indian breakfast and from there to the IKEA showroom which incidentally has become a tourist attraction in Hyderabad now. For lunch we ordered MANDI, a pullaw or biriyani dish but the unlike biriyani, the meat and rice are cooked separately. And I had cooked mutton curry on Saturday but had remained untouched. The quantity of one portion MANDI was too much and it got finished only by Monday lunches.

On Tuesday, post lunch, I dropped off Santanu at the airport for his onward journey to Kolkata. The 10 days since starting my journey from Delhi whizzed past like dream.

I got busy in the daily chores of life in Hyderabad and wasn’t sure if I would like to pen down the experience and therefore kept postponing. Now while writing it, realized that few details may have been erased from my memory completely.

On the Roads… 1

This year we had decided to spend the Durga Puja in Hyderabad and go to Delhi around Diwali only. This would mean leaving behind Rolf with our Housekeeper in Hyderabad for those days which was okay as long as there’s someone to walk him twice a day, morning and evening. We had engaged a person earlier named Ishwar for walking Rolf and he had diligently done the job but in the month of June when we went for a very short trip to Vizag, he simply ditched us even after confirming just a day before. Notwithstanding his previous strange behavior I tried to contact him over phone and WhatsApp but he did not respond. His attitude was puzzling as we had paid him whatever price he had quoted and walking Rolf is not such a tedious job as the boy is quite obedient and adjusting dog.

The non-availability of a dog walker made us change our plans and we decided to take the road once again to Delhi. This time, however, we arranged for our housekeeper to travel by train (Duronto Express) and asked my nephew to pick her up from Nizamuddin station and drop at our Delhi home. The idea was that she along with the other maid gets the apartment livable by the time we reach two days apart.

So, on 5th October, Deepika & I along with Rolf left for Delhi. As always we had planned to leave by 5:30 am but the clock in the car said 6:45 am as we hit the road. Last time Google Map had taken us through the city to NH44 and it was quite exhausting going through the narrow and often crowded roads and lanes, so we decided to take the Nehru ORR (Outer Ring Road) albeit it was longer by few kilometers but much cleaner route.

We were carrying Aloo Parantha and boiled eggs so as not to have a extended stoppage for breakfast. We stopped at a Mini Mart, a new concept by the Transport Ministry to have public convenience and eatery at all Toll Plazas, for tea and also allow Rolf to stretch his legs.

The NH44 of Telengana sector is really good, mostly 4 lanes with divider in place. However, the moment we crossed into Maharashtra, the road quality deteriorated with sudden potholes in the middle of the road, some of them big enough to breakdown a vehicle. The speed with which we started came down substantially to negotiate the stretch till Nagpur where the surface improved a bit and we could cruise at 100kmph.

We had planned to take a break at Go Flamingo Resort, Pench (Maharashtra) for lunch and also confirm my bookings for return. Deepika was using the map on her phone to navigate to Go Flamingo while I had kept mine locked for the hotel at Sagar, MP. As luck would have it, she missed the exit and by the time we realized the mistake, we had travelled around 70 km beyond, in fact, we had crossed into Madhya Pradesh. There was no point in turning back, so we looked for another alternative and Google suggested Kiplings Court. It was almost 10-12 km inside the Pench National Park, owned and managed by Madhya Pradesh Tourism. By the time we reached the place, their kitchen was closed and only sandwiches and pakodas were available. We settled for veg sandwiches and assorted pakodas. As Deepika was taking care of food ordering, I took Rolf for a walk and fed him two boiled eggs and Pedigree Gravy Chicken.

It was still another 400 km to our night halt at Sagar MP, so we revved up as soon as we hit the NH44 after negotiating the diversions for under construction highway. I calculated that if there’s no further slowing down, we will reach our destination by 9pm. Deepika had booked a small hotel called R-One Inn situated on Railway Station Road, Sagar. I was in the impression that it will be somewhere close to where we stayed last time, a mere 2km inside from the NH44 but we were taken through the often narrow winding streets of Sagar to the Railway Station and then inside a lane where we found the place. It was just like the mushrooming hotels of Paharganj or Karol Bagh but we were there just to sleepover the night and more importantly, Rolf was welcomed warmly.

Delhi was approx. 700km or 12 hours of drive away, so we decided to start our journey early. We checked on the availability of breakfast and were informed that the earliest it will be ready is 8:00 am. It was too late for us, so we left for Delhi at sharp 7:00 am. Unknown to us for next 200+ km that a great mishap has happened…

In the early morning, the hotel had served us the tea which we consumed with the Karachi Bakery Cookies that we were carrying. I fed Rolf the balance two boiled eggs and a pack of Pedigree Gravy Chicken. Then washed up his bowls and packed them in a polythene bag. Thereafter, I took the two bags that we had brought in the previous evening and loaded them in the car. Lastly, I took Rolf out for a walk hoping that he will do his job in the new environment (he is really very fussy in these matters) and at the same time asked Deepika to carry the packet of bowls with her and also settle the accounts with the hotel.

As expected, Rolf only sprayed at few places to put his mark but refused to do anything more, being distracted by few local strays which kept barking at him from a safe distance. I saw Deepika coming down to the Reception so I helped Rolf get inside the car and started the engine as also the Google Map for the final destination. We tanked up the car at the first gas station before hitting the NH44 and thereafter it was a smooth drive in the sparse traffic of early Sunday morning.

Around 9:45 am we crossed over to the state of UP (Bundelkhand) towards Jhansi. We were feeling hungry so Deepika started looking for a breakfast joint and we followed the Google Map into a town (forgot the name) and hunted for the elusive but famous shop. We couldn’t see any eatery where Google said it was but a few meters down the road was a shop selling Kachauri & Samosa. We checked with them if they have anything more filling which was not but one of the customers gave us the direction to Pathak Ji’s shop that serves lip smacking Puri-Sabzi. We kept the car parked there with the windows slightly down for airflow as Rolf was inside and walked down to the directed shop. But as luck would have it, Pathak Ji said it would take at least 30 minutes as the sabzi has just started cooking. We came back to the first shop and picked up the samosa and kachauri and retreated towards the highway.

The samosa & the kachauri were fresh and excellent in terms of taste. I found a patch where it was safe to let Rolf stretch his legs and have some water to keep him hydrated. Once he was ready to step back into the car, I thought of feeding him some water but to my utter dismay, the bowls were nowhere to be found. We searched every nook and corner of the car but those were not there. Deepika had forgotten them at the hotel reception. I was filled with rage and frustration… the first for her callousness and the second because there are no cities on the route where we can get bowls for the Pet. I kept quiet for some time and took a decision that we will now drive non-stop to Delhi, avoiding lunch or tea breaks and try to reach as early as possible. Deepika was feeling guilty and pleaded to stop at any of the Dhaba’s to check if they have any bowl or like utensil that can be bought. About another 100 km later we saw a Dhaba but had nothing that could be useful. I had taken out Rolf for stretching his legs and as usual he immediately attracted a handful of crowd who started taking his snaps. They, like many others have never seen such a dog breed. One young boy amongst the crowd took piety and rushed to his home and got us a small thermocole bowl. It wasn’t sufficient but worked at that moment and Rolf took few sips of water. It was clear that we have no option but to drive non-stop to Delhi now.

The roads till Jhansi were good and we covered the distance in good time. Last time the road from Jhansi to Gwalior was horrible, not only there were diversions every few 100 meters but the road was broken at most places. This time a major portion of the road was completed but still there were many diversions and narrow single file stretches that slowed us down considerably.

Google Map always recommends or rather insists that we take the Yamuna Expressway from Agra to Greater Noida to reach Delhi but I decided to take the NH19 via Agra Bypass as it was shorter though has more traffic. However, as we were approaching Mathura, suddenly the Google Map voice literally started screaming “Turn right… Turn right”. And I turned only to be taken through the lanes and roads of the Mathura outskirts to the Yamuna Expressway.

On reaching Delhi, my first stop was at the Pet Shop to buy the bowls for Rolf before going home. Rolf climbed the stairs a bit hesitatingly which was expected because of dehydration. And then he drank 2 litre of water before settling down at his favourite spot near the kitchen. Even with the stoppages we made it to home 5 minutes before 7 pm. Less than 12 hours beating Google Map’s initial prediction of 14:15 hours by over 2 hours….

… to be continued with return journey…

A Farm Vacation

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This was second year in a row that we thought we will spend the Christmas holidays in isolation at Hyderabad, especially when Ayush said he won’t be able to take any holidays as he had already planned a trip to Delhi for his roommate and close friend’s (of 4 years of college) sister’s wedding in the first week of January. However, Sangeeta Basu, our very dear and expert in organizing vacations had other ideas. She worked out a program for 3 nights 4 days at a place called Vanvasa Resort near Lansdowne. I checked the place and it happened to be in the midst of Corbett Jungles. We were elated to be in the lap of nature and possibility of meeting some wild friends.

Sadly, we had to cancel that keeping in mind the high voltage dramas enacted by the opposition parties across the country in the name of citizenship amendment bill which actually is simply to accommodate the persecuted minority population from the three neighboring (declared) Islamic Countries and does not affect any existing citizens of this country irrespective of their religious faith. The surprising part of this agitation was that it all happened in the BJP ruled states; the states where Congress is in power were absolutely calm!! Anyways, we decided to explore alternatives in the peaceful areas and Sangeeta came up with Prakriti Farms, an hour drive from Chandigarh in Ropar or Roop Nagar, Punjab.

Deepika and I left for Delhi on 25th morning. As we came out of the Indigo aircraft, the chilly air of Delhi gave us a warm welcome; we have been missing this winter air for last 2 years…

 Our home was quite clean and livable, courtesy Deepika’s friend Sumita, who had graciously agreed to get the place cleaned as often as she can and had it cleaned just a couple of days before we reached. There was a marked difference in the weather from 24 degrees of Hyderabad and around 8-10 degrees in Delhi. I was wearing my jacket after 2 years!!

In my last visit to Delhi in October, I had sold my car, Duster which was a diesel vehicle of 6 years old having only 4 years of life left as per the new motor vehicle laws. Therefore, I had booked a Hyundai Creta from Zoom Cars for our upcoming trip to Prakriti Farms, Roop Nagar and I went to fetch it from the pick-up point. This was the first time that I was using Zoom vehicle and was bit apprehensive about “no human interface pick-up”. But to my delight it was very smooth and took me less than 20 minutes to go through the formalities using their Mobile App and soon I was driving the Creta.

We, (Deepika, I and Sumita) left for Prakriti Farms around 7:30 am on 26th December with trusted Google Maps as our guide and it predicted approx 5:30 hours to the destination. We met up with Basus & Dutts at our favourite meeting point at the Bharat Petroleum Station at Moolchand crossing. In all my previous road trips, notably 5 trips between Delhi-Hyderabad, I had comprehensively beaten Google Map by at least an hour, so I was confident it will be same this time too. What I had not considered are 2 things – (1) I was driving a commercial vehicle & (2) the new system of paying Toll through FasTag and resultant long queues at the “Cash Booths”. The Creta was registered in Punjab and I knew that I will have to pay “Entry Tax” to Haryana RTA. However, we couldn’t make out when and at what point we crossed into Haryana as there was no RTO Toll Collection Booths to be seen.

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We stopped over at Garam Dharam Dhaba at Murthal for breakfast. Apparently the great bollywood actor Dharmendra had inspired the owners so much that they have named it after him. The place was huge hall with counters for different kind of street foods both savory and sweet besides thirst quenchers like tea, coffee, sodas and lassi. The food was decent (at least my Amritsari Kulchas), the Paranthas looked appetizing. However, the tea wasn’t to the standard we are used to.

The first Toll Gate came after about 5 km and we experienced the first of many “toll gate jams”. The private vehicles with FasTags sailed through the gates smoothly while all the commercial vehicles including cars, autos and trucks jostled at the cash only gates numbering just 2 against 8 gates for the tagged vehicles. This I found a bit ridiculous because since the tagged vehicle doesn’t have to stop at the gate, the lesser number would have worked just as well. The commercial vehicles are not going to put the FasTag and shall continue to suffer, going forward.

Hardly a kilometer after the Toll Plaza, I was stopped by a posse of Police. A young constable came and asked for the papers which I promptly showed him. He flipped through the document file and asked for the Haryana Entry Tax receipt. I told him with full honesty that even though I looked for the tax collection booth but couldn’t find it. He said the fine is INR 10000 for illegal entry. I pleaded with him that it was the first time travel for us in a commercial car and we will pay the tax at the next available booth. After lot of haggling and negotiation, I settled it for INR500 for his Chai-Samosa in the December Chill. He was courteous enough to provide the details of the next RTO but it was not very clear. In the hunt for the RTO, a bus brushed passed the rear right door but luckily there was no dent. We found the RTO just before Panipat on a side street and paid the tax for 5 days. We lost an hour in the process while Basus & Dutts in their own vehicle plus FasTag had moved on and was at least 50-60km ahead of us. There was also a speed restriction on all Zoom Cars, my limit was 126kmph but I kept the speed at 100-112kmph and finally caught up with them on the Chandigarh By-pass road. Now, we were in Punjab, so no more state tax issue and all three vehicles cruised along together. We reached Prakriti Farms around 3:30pm, a clear 2 hours later than Google Map prediction.

Prakriti Farms is situated inside the village Rail Majra in the district Shahid Bhagat Singh, 7 km from Ropar city. It does provide a slice of Punjab (village) as you take the narrow patch of earthen road from the NH 205 and cross the village to get to the farm. It is nestled in the foothills of Shivalik and about 15 minutes drive away from the Ropar wetlands. The accommodation is basic but comfortable. We were housed in three cottages, 2 of which had 3 beds and the other double bed. The 3-bedded rooms were really big and needed 2 heaters to warm up with outside temperature plunging to almost 0 degrees at night. However, to our charging the moment we switched on the second heater in our room, the power went off but fortunately the bed lamps worked. There was no intercom phone in the room to call the housekeeping, so I went out with my phone torch to hunt for the MCB switch but couldn’t find one. It was around 10:30 pm but the place looked as if it was midnight. We were very tired and slept wearing the woolens.

I normally get up around 5:30 am in the morning after finishing my morning chores, looked through the window to the outside still in midnight mode, dark and silent. I returned to my bed and slept till I could hear voices outside. It was 7:30 am and both Deepika and Sumita still in deep slumber. I went out to find the bonfire has been lighted and tea is about to be served. Normally, in these kinds of places they serve readymade tea which is prepared in milk and lots of sugar. Since most of us are averse to taking sugar in our tea, we had asked for tea with separate serving of milk and sugar. Sunil, the Man Friday at the Farm was efficiently arranging the cups n saucer and got two thermoses full of tea and milk. Santanu was there with Princess Chewbacca (adorable Shih tzu) as was (Dutt) Uncle and soon the ladies joined us at the bonfire which was lighted up every day of our stay in the early morning and kept alive till we called it a day. Sipping the hot tea (must mention that the tea was excellently brewed with some special herbs as per Sunil), we discussed the course of the day and finalized on visiting Bhakra Dam and Anandpur Sahib Gurdwara which were roughly 2 hours drive from the farm, after breakfast.

The breakfast consisted of 2 kinds of Paranthas – Aloo and Gobi with farm made fresh curd and achaars besides toast and egg. The paranthas were out-of-this-world kind, at least ten notches above what we had at Garam Dharam, Murthal. Till about 15 days prior to our visit, the farm had over 50 chickens and the eggs used to come from there but due to age issue, those were sold off and the new batch was yet to come, so they relied on the commercial supplies when we visited. However, the food preparation was so good that foodies like Santanu and myself couldn’t find anything to crib!!! Santanu even conceded that the Coffee made with normal Nescafe was too good and he could never get the flavor even from the Nescafe Gold (superior version) coffee at home. We concluded that it was because of the unadulterated fresh milk that boosted the taste of the coffee.

 Post breakfast we quickly took our bath got ready for Bhakra via Anandpur Sahib. While on the road, we changed plans and decided to go to Bhakra first which needed permit to visit and that office closes around 3pm for public. Sangeeta went inside to get the permit while Santanu cleverly utilized the break to smoke and I tried the “Pocket Kulcha” from a street vendor. It is the same “Matar-Kulcha” with a different presentation but couldn’t match the taste with the Delhi variety.

Though we associate Bhakra-Nangal as one and with Punjab, the reality is they are 2 different dams; Bhakra is in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh while Nangal is in Punjab. The latter is inaccessible to tourists.

Bhakra Dam is a concrete gravity dam on the Sutlej River in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh in northern India and forms the Gobind Sagar reservoir.

The dam, located at a gorge near the (now submerged) upstream Bhakra village in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh of height 226 m. The length of the dam (measured from the road above) is 518.25 m and the width is 9.1 m. It’s reservoir known as “Gobind Sagar” stores up to 9.34 billion cubic metres of water. The 90 km long reservoir created by the Bhakra Dam is spread over an area of 168.35 km. In terms of quantity of water, it is the third largest reservoir in India, the first being Indira Sagar dam in Madhya Pradesh with capacity of 12.22 billion cu m and second Nagarjunasagar Dam in Telengana State.

Described as “New Temple of Resurgent India” by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, the dam attracts tourists from all over India. Bhakra dam is 15 km from Nangal city and 20 km from Naina Devi town.

Nangal Dam is another dam in Punjab downstream of Bhakra Dam. However, sometimes both the dams together are called Bhakra-Nangal Dam though they are two separate dams.

As we approached check-post, I asked the policeman where to pay the “entry tax” for Himachal Pradesh. He had a incredible look in his face and laughed at me saying not to bother about it as the permit itself is what is required. I was still apprehensive as the INR 10000 challan still rang on my head but I couldn’t see a single booth for toll collection. There was a checkpoint nearer to Bhakra manned by Indian Army but even they had cursory look inside the 2 vehicles and the permit and let us proceed.

Since our childhood right from the text books to other pictures, Bhakra dam had seemed to be a gigantic structure however, in reality it looked like a “wall of a fort” that spread across two hills. All along the route, signage said “No Photography” so we refrained from taking any but saw many others stopping and taking selfies at will. The Govind Sagar Lake was awesomely huge, one couldn’t see the other side even with Sun shining bright. The water was clear blue and I am sure if we were any closer, we could have seen the fishes swimming. There were steps to go down to the banks and Deepika, Sumita and Sangeeta went down to click some pictures. I calculated the steps to be at least 70-80 if not more; going down is not a problem but climbing up would have been a big challenge especially when one has to drive. We drove up further on the road to capture more panoramic view before making our return journey.

There were kiosks selling Fish Fries, Santanu and Sangeeta being Fish Lovers, decided to pick up some for evening snacks with the drinks. The supplies came from the Govind Sagar itself so the fishes are always fresh catch of the day.

As we approached Anandpur Sahib, it was already 4:30 pm and I told Deepika that she has only 15-20 minutes to complete her “darshan” as it would get dark by the time we are anywhere near to Prakriti Farms and it would be challenging to negotiate the narrow rough village roads in the darkness. We parked our vehicles and followed the sparse evening crowd to the Gurdwara. I and Shenjit stayed out on the courtyard guarding the footwear and purses while Santanu accompanied the ladies inside. I had expected them to come out in 20 minutes or so but they came out within 5 minutes. They were obviously disappointed by the size of the Gurdwara and lamented as to why it is so famous? Even the “kada Prasad” was neither good in quantity nor in taste (having been to many Gurdwaras, I can safely say that the helpings are large and tastes heavenly).

On our way out to the parking, we tried the “Stick Kulfi” from “Verka”, it tasted more of “desi ghee” than “malai”. Once upon a time, Verka used to be what Amul is to Gujarat but because of management failure or even political neglect has remained a local brand while Amul is now an international brand.

Santanu had parked at a place from where he could easily take the first exit from the parkinf lot but our car was parked a little ahead and we had to go some 300 meters ahead to take the u-turn. As I was negotiating the turn, I noticed a large structure on my left and casually asked Deepika to see it. Deepika immediately screamed “Oh shit, we went to the wrong Gurdwara. This is the real Anandpur Sahib”. By that time my turning back was complete and Santanu’s vehicle was at least half a kilometer ahead of us and more importantly, darkness was falling rapidly on the horizon. After a teleconferencing with Basu’s, it was decided to let go of real Anandpur Sahib as all homes of the Almighty are equal!!!

While going to Bhakhra, we observed lots of vendors selling Kinnows also called Tangerine so we stopped by at one such vendor to have Kinnow juice to quench our thirst. We also picked up some “moomphalee” and “gajjak” from the vendor next to it.

As I had expected, it was completely dark when we reached the Prakriti Farms after missing a couple of turns and taking detours through harrowing roads of the villages. But we all agreed that it was overall a great experience that we shall remember for a long time.

In the evening, we devoured the fried fish from Bhakra along with farm fresh pakodas with our scotch and wine. The dinner was simple (as per our wish) consisting of yellow tadka dal, aloo-gobi sabji with chapatti and jeera rice.

Though we had planned for a few rounds of TwentyNine (card game invented by Bongs) but the main players including me were exhausted and we called it a day. The darkness was so deep that you will feel you are in the middle of nowhere, one could see the stars twinkling in between the light cloud and could hear the howls of dogs in the distance. We guessed the temperature to be near zero and quickly entered in the warmth of our room. Deepika & Sumita wanted play cards (Rummy without money) and invited which I politely declined and went inside the heavy razaai.

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Early in the morning, I woke with a feeling that it’s raining heavily probably a thunderstorm. I got up with an effort to look through the window but there was no rain, only a thick layer of fog. It was 5 am and still a long time for others to wake up, I decided to freshen first and then dive back under my razaai once more.

Mr. Kaushal, the owner of the farm, joined us at the morning tea around the bonfire and suggested we take a guided tour of the estate with Sunil which we promptly agreed. The estate included a hill in the distant along with a large spread of jungle. Sunil said that till about couple years ago, leopards were present in the jungle and would visit the farm for food. Now only some deer and wild boars are remaining other than birds. We did see the poop of both on our way to the Kinnow Orchard inside the jungle. We were warned by Sunil to avoid the thick shrubbery as pythons might be waiting there to strike the unsuspecting prey. There has been incidence of python slithering in the bird cage to devour the chicks during the monsoon.

On our way back we saw the guava orchard and the organic farming of vegetables besides the cattle shed from where the freshest milk comes for tea/coffee, desi ghee and curd.

This day, we had decided to visit another resort nearby (approx 50 km away) called Kikar Lodge for our lunch. Post breakfast we lazed around and played with Chewbacca and realized I do not have the stamina to match the one year old Shih tzu. I also missed Rolf who would have loved to roam around in the cool chimes of the farm. There were some 7 dogs of mixed breed, friendly with humans but Mr. Kaushal had put them in the kennel because of Chewbacca.

In the afternoon we left for Kikar Lodge and this time Uncle-Aunty and Chewbacca also joined us. We religiously followed Google Maps through the winding roads of interior Punjab till it took us to a point of nothing-ahead!! Luckily we found a local guy who guided us back to a more drivable road and Google Map too picked up the cue and guided us to the Kikar Lodge which was at the edge of village Kangar, Nurpur Bedi, Punjab spread over 1800 acres of forest and luscious green splendor. It offered activities like swimming, horse-riding, outdoor games and quad-bike rides for the residents. We had booked for lunch and proceeded straight to the poolside where tables were set for guest dining. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon which prompted us to discard the jackets and scarves and order for chilled beer. The food was quite good but restaurant quality unlike the homely food at Prakriti Farms. We took some snaps with the quad bikes as prop before leaving for the farm.

We checked with Kikar Lodge people if there is any better route and they guided us to the highway that would take us to our destination. We switched on the Google Map once we hit the highway and this time it showed us the right directions. Closer to the Prakriti Farms, about 5-6 km away we stopped at the roadside vendor selling Kinnow juice. As we were waiting for the juice, we noticed some commotion next to the piles of kinnow and realized one of the guy was pulling out something with the help of a bamboo stick that had a kind of blunt sickle at one end. When it came out in the open, we remained open mouthed looking at the huge, at least 8-10 ft long python. Fortunately for the poor thing, they did not kill it but pulled and dragged it to the other side of the road which had a marshland and forest where it slithered off. We were happy having met at least of the wild friends during the trip.

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It was our last evening at the farm; we decided to play Dumb Charade, our favorite evening activity whenever we go out in large group. We were joined by Mr. Balvinder Singh with his wife and two children besides their handsome Labrador called Bolt (named after Usain Bolt). Mr. Singh had checked-in during the afternoon when we had gone to the Kikar Lodge. Quite amiable person and soon we became friends and they were more than happy to join us in the game of Dumb Charade. It was a sweet coincidence that his daughter was in the same school that of Shenjit Basu aka Mingo. It turned out to be a memorable evening with lots fun and merriment around the bonfire which was kept alive with regular supply of wood and the expert handling by Sumita.

After dinner, Deepika, Sumita and I played few rounds of Rummy and needless to say I lost hands down.

We had decided to start early for our return journey to Delhi but the weather god had thought otherwise and we woke to a dense fog all around the place. I have driven on NH1 (now NH44) earlier under dense fog and know how nightmarish it can be!! We were having our tea when Mr. Kaushal came over and suggested that we should wait a while and leave around 10:30/11:00 am by which time the weather will clear up. We agreed but decided to get ready and load up the car so we don’t waste any time once the fog lifts.

We left Prakriti Farms around 11:30 am and all three vehicles were cruising in tandem till we reached the first toll plaza from where Basu’s and Dutt’s moved ahead courtesy the FasTag while we had to clear the long line of vehicles at the cash lane. Then came the inevitable twist in our journey, Deepika was navigating when we reached a fork where the right lane was taking curving flyover and the left going straight and she read the Google Map wrong and we took the left lane to enter the very crowded and potholed city road instead of the bypass. There was no option but to go forward and took the road to Mohali city and after lots of left-right turns finally hit the NH205 once again.

While going we had noticed makeshift shops on the highway selling fresh jaggery and had decided to pick up some on our way back. We stopped at one such shop where Sumita picked up 5kg and Deepika 2kg and I bought 500gm of freshly made peanut-jaggery gajjak.

Rest of the journey back was uneventful barring the fact that if Google Map decides to take you through a particular route, howsoever you may try to avoid, it will surely guide you to that route only. Upon entering Delhi, I wanted to take the eastern side of the Ring Road via Alipur-ISBT-Kashmere Gate-Rajghat while Google wanted us to take the western part of the road through Ashok Vihar-Wazirpur-Punjabi Bagh-Dhaulakuan and it smartly managed to do that eventually as in the darkness of wintery night I did not wanted to do any bravado and be lost in the foggy weather.

We reached home around 7:30pm and even after much cajoling Sumita didn’t stay back and left for her home in Gurugram. Deepika & I went to see her ailing uncle residing nearby who was delighted to see us and after spending an hour there we came back totally exhausted but happy holidaying with friends.

It was good that Sumita left for her home in the evening itself because the following morning fog descended with a vengeance!!!

Matangini Hazra – The Unsung Revolutionary

The first bullet hit her on the left arm making her whole body shiver in pain but she would not let the flag of her beloved motherland touch the ground. She dropped the bugle from her right hand to take hold of the flag and raised it as high as she could and shouted at the top of her voice, “Vande Mataram”. The next bullet hit her right arm… she sat down and hugged the flag post as if she was holding her child to her bosom. The coward police officer of British India Govt. Anil Bhattacharya aimed his gun at her temple and pulled the trigger. As the bullet hit her to take her life away from the body, her dying voice once again said “Vande Mataram” almost whispering. Then everything became dark… the red blood of Matangini Hazra, the revolutionary was soaked up by mother earth.

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She was the youngest daughter of Thakurdas Maity & Bhagawati Devi (they shared the name of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s parents!), born on 17th November 1869 (the date is disputed, though)in village Hogla near Tamluk town.

At the age of only 12 years, Thakurdas married her off to the wealthy farmer Trilochan Hazra of the neighboring village, Alinaan. At the time of marriage, Trilochan was 60 years old and this was his second marriage. Six years into the marriage, Trilochan passed away leaving a large family from his first marriage and a young widow of 18 years. The family of Trilochan threw her out of the house forcing her take shelter in a hut in the nearby field. She started working in the field as a laborer to make ends meet.

Matangini started living a life of ascetic in a Spartan surrounding. She was touched by the words of Swami Vivekananda… “From now to the next 50 years, the only God you should pray to is your Motherland… you should eat, drink and live for the Motherland and die for her as well”. Matangini Hazra started with social service living amidst the poorest of the poor and trying alleviating their pain and discomfort. While at this, she came in contact with the Congress Leader of Shiuri village, Gunadhar Bhowmick and he in turn introduced her to the senior Congress Leaders Ajoy Mukhopadhyay and Satish Samanta. They told her about the preaching of Mahatma Gandhi and the non-violent agitation that Congess under his leadership was carrying out. She was influenced by the teaching of Gandhiji and started spreading the words as she travelled from village to village for her social work. She was fondly called “Gandhi-Buri” or Old Woman Gandhi. Matangini Hazra realized that only a free nation can bring happiness and prosperity to its subjects.

From 1920 to 1942, she became a regular participant in the meetings and agitation that Congress campaigned against the British Govt of India. She was a Keynote Speaker at many of the Conventions. From Salt Satyagraha to Taxation Banning Agitation or raising the Indian Flag at the British Govt establishments like the courthouse or showing the black flag to the Governor-General, she was always at the forefront of the movement. And in the process she had to face the police brutality and torture many a times. Once after the Judge pronounced her guilty and served her a jail term she said, “There is no better glory than to be punished for loving your country and serving the downtrodden.” She spent 6 months in the jail of Behrampur (Murshidabad) and another 2 months in Hijli jail.

It’s a pity that in our school history books, there is only a passing mention of Matangini Hazra and other freedom fighters. She was a member of the Indian National Congress but was not part of any revolutionary or social reformist group; her motto was to fight against the British rule and make the country independent. She was one of the fearless fighters up against the mighty British Empire. Although she was a follower of Gandhi and his non-violent movement, she never shied from participating in armed conflict with the authorities. Therefore, there was no melodrama in her death but the final culmination of love for the country and the fellow countrymen. She led the mob of freedom fighters to take control of the Tamluk Police Station and the when the police opened fire to disperse the crowd, she said, “March forward… the police station is up ahead and not behind… don’t retreat my friends… I will move forward only and that means the death waits for me, so be it… Vande Mataram.”

A popper and uneducated village woman had shown us that with WILL and DETERMINATION one can do wonders. Her martyrdom on 29th September 1942 had an impact on the fight for independence that finally paved way for the Independent India on 15th August 1947, almost five years after Matangini Hazra laid down her life for Mother India.

Image Courtesy: Google Images

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar

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Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, a name every Bong child knows from the heart. Because of him, I am able to read, write and speak in Bengali as did my parents and their parents. The Bornoporichoy Part 1 & 2 (Introduction to Alphabets) is an essential book that’s every Bengali child’s first book, penned by Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar.

There are many stories about him that floats around including how he studied under the lamppost during the night or he learnt counting seeing the milestones etc. I am not going to repeat them here but tell you about his last days.

The sunset years of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar wasn’t a very happy one. He was visibly upset with the behavior of his eldest and only son Narayanchandra and in 1872, disowned him severing all relations with him. A few days later his wife too passed away and he was all alone. He wanted to have solitude and moved back to his village from Kolkata. However, peace eluded him even in the village and he became restless.

He travelled to the west and reached a small non-descriptive sleepy town called Kamartand in now Jharkhand state. There he bought a villa with garden spread over 5.6 acres at a (then) princely sum of Rs.500/- from a recently widowed British lady. After renovating the building, he named it Nandankanan. It had a large hall for the night school and a bedroom and a study besides kitchen etc. He planted saplings of Kishanbhog Mango right at the entrance of the gated villa and another sapling of Bhagalpuri Mango at another corner. He kept a gardener called Kali Mandal to look after the garden. He checked the proof of Bornoporichoy Part 3 as well as of Sita’r Bonobas while living there.

According to legendary Bengali author Shri Sunil Gangopadhyay, the Bongs pronounced the name as Kormata but actually it is KORMATAND which means raised land (tand) of a certain Santhal Boatman named Korma, that does not get flooded ever. Karmatand happens to be in Jamtara District of Jharkhand in the border of West Bengal, a Santhal dominated area popularly known as Santhal Pargana and Vidyasagar was very happy and enjoyed the company of the locals. He used say that the Santhals are very innocent people and always speak the truth. He had decided to spend the rest of his life at Kamartand but that did not happen. He had to travel to Kolkata quite a few times on work or for health reasons and ultimately died in Kolkata.

Ishwarchandra became friends with the simple and innocent Santhals within a short time of his setting up of residence in Kormatand. Large number of Santhals would come to him in the morning to sell him corns from their field and he would buy them in lots. In the evening while returning from the days labour at the field, the Santhals would come to him ask to be fed and Vidyasagar would bring out the corns that he bought from them in the morning. All would enjoy the roasted corns as the Sun would hide behind the distant hills.

Ishwarchandra would provide homeopathic treatment to the poor Santhals and became their life savior in a short period of time. He would spend time with the cholera patient and treat them to health again. He was very impressed with the Santhals, the people of the soil who were without any cunning and complexities. He would buy new clothes for them around the festival time like Durga Puja and provide blankets and warm clothing to them during the winters.

His brother, Shambhucharan, once said, “Ishwarchandra would treat the patients through Homeopathic medicine and also provide basic food like fruits, sabudana, sugar-crystals etc starting early morning till about 10 am. Then in the afternoon, he would go to their huts to see their progress. The Santhal’s would be delighted to see him and share their food with him.”

According to Shambhucharan, Vidyasagar loved the simple and frugal food offered by the Santhal’s than the elaborate banquette presented by the rich landlords of Bengal in his honor. He wanted to spend the rest of his life in the bountiful natural greens of Kormatand among the simple hearted Santhals. He was overwhelmed by their simplicity and complex free life just like Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay.

Ishwarchandra spent almost 17 years in Kormatand but due to falling health had to return to Kolkata in 1890. There are lot of memories attached to the Karmatand Railway Station as well. Once a traveler upon disembarking at the station started shouting for a porter to carry his luggage. The small station did not have any porter at that time, so Vidyasagar acted as porter and carried the luggage of the harried traveler. When the person got to know the real identity of Vidyasagar, he was profusely apologetic and asked for his mercy. Vidyasagar assured him that he has not taken any offence rather was pleased to be of his help.

Kamartand Railway Station along with the town has been named as Vidyasagar in honor of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and has helped in the development in keeping with stature of the person that he was. The railway authorities, recently painted the entire station with the life story of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar to commemorate his stay in Komartand.

After the death of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, his estranged son, Narayanchandra sold the Nandankanan to a businessman of Kolkata named Mr. Mullick who never bothered to either visit the place or keep it in good stead. As a result, the house started crumbling down in the face of non-maintenance. Then in 1938, a group of Bengali influential gentry formed Bengal Association of Bihar (Bihar Bangali Samiti) and repurchased Nandankanan from the Mullicks for Rs.24000/- and restored the place back to its old glory. They started a school for the girls in the name Vidyasagar’s mother Bhagawati Devi.

In 2001, when Jharkhand state was curved out of Bihar, the association was renamed as Jharkhand Bengali Association and they formed a 11 member committee for Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar Memorial. Though the old dispensary of Vidyasagar does not exist anymore, there is now a well equipped full fledged hospital called Vidyasagar Homeo Chikitsalaya. Every year, the association celebrate 3 events in the life of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, 29th March as Gurudakshina Divas, 29th July his Mahaprayan Divas and 26th September, his birth anniversary. The celebrations are very simple without any fanfare, away from the hustle bustle of the city in the midst of the nature and amongst the simple hearted innocent Santhals, just what Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar would have loved.

Content courtesy: ABP (Bengali) Net Version

Naming of Kolkata Streets & Places

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I have very thin line of linkage with the so-called city of joy – Kolkata with few connected relations and friends. My parents moved to the north long before the partition and were happily settled in Delhi where I was born and raised. Therefore, when I got this piece in a messaging app, it intrigued me and I decided to spread it further to my non-Bengali friends…

There is always some intriguing story behind the old names of the streets or localities across the world based on some anecdotes and Kolkata is no different in this regard…

Bagbazaar

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The name probably derives from the bend (or BAANK in Bengali) that river Ganges takes at that point. The vast unoccupied land used to have Haat or Bazaar which was popularly called Baankbazaar later became Bagbazaar.

Shyambazaar

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Long ago there used to be a famous market in what is currently known as Shyambazaar. John Jefania Hallwell renamed it as Charles Bazaar sometime in the 19th century. The Seths and Basaks were the original settlers of Sutanuti (one of three villages that form Kolkata) and Shobharam Basak used to be a rich landlord of the area in the 18th century Bengal. He was a devout of Shyamray (Shri Krishna) and named the area after his Lord as Shyambazaar.

Hatibagan

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When Nawab Shiraj Ud Dawla attacked the British forces in Kolkata, his Elephant Brigade had their tents in the area which was named as Hatibagan.

However, there’s another story as well… Raja Nabakrishna Deb’s land holding was spread beyond the Shobhabazaar (his seat of power and residence) and his herd of elephants used live in the area that’s now called Hatibagan.

Chitpur

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There is a temple called Aadi Chitteshwari Durga Mandir in Chitpur area of the Kashipur. The Chitpur Road is one of the prime streets of modern day Kolkata. It was the early days of Kolkata, the city was taking shape slowly, the river Ganges (or Hoogly) used to flow through the area that is now Stand Road. It is said that a bandit called Chitte Dakat made the idol of the Durga using a Neem Log that came floating on the river Hoogly from some unknown place. Later, Manohar Ghosh, a rich person of the area built the Aadi Chitteshwari Durga Temple which is how the area came to be known as Chitpur.

Sonagachhi

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The area that come alive after Sun down with the whiff of Rajanigandha or Tuberose flowers mingled with aroma of the different kinds of cutlets from the street shops and the queens of the night come out in their best livery to scout for the clients was named after the Pir (or Fakir) called Sona Ullah Ghazi.

However, another narrative suggests that the area was famous for the nightly adventures of the well to do gentlemen and there was another location nearby where the proletariat crowd used to frequent after sun down. The former was called Sonagachhi and the latter came to be known as Rupogachhi to differentiate between the clientele.

Kumortuli

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When the tradition of Durga Puja was started by Shobhabazaar Rajbari (or the Zamindar of Shobhabazaar), the sculpters or the Kumor’s were brought in and settled near the zamindari which came to be known as Kumortuli.

Thanthania

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It is said that in the bygone years, many ironsmiths used to live and work there and the constant sound of “Thanthan” as they would work on the iron pieces made the place famous as Thanthania. Alternative narration suggests that to warn of the impending attacks by the dacoits, the temple bell would be rung and the “Thanthan” sound would echo in the area. Whatever it is, the name of the place is due to the sound of metal meeting metal.

Baithakkhana

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The map made by Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wood refers to the area east of Lalbazaar, then called Maratha Khat, later renamed as Circular Road and now called Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road, as Boytaconnah Street. It derives basically from the term Baithakkhana. There used to be a very old Banyan tree under which the traders from different places would assemble and do business or simply exchange ideas. It is said that even Job Charnock used to frequent this place when he made Calcutta (Kolkata) his trading headquarters. In 1794, Aron Upjohn created a map of the region which describes the Banyan Tree and refers the place as Baithakkhana.

Even today, the street between Boubazaar to Mahatma Gandhi Road is referred as Baithakkhana Road and the market thereof is called Baithakkhana Bazaar.

Boubazaar

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The road stretching from Binoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh (earlier Dalhousie Square) to Shealdah is called Boubazaar Street. There are two opinions around the naming of the place popularly known as Boubazaar. According to one, the Marwari businessman Bishwanath Motilal bequeathed a Bazaar to his daughter-in-law (in Hindi Bahu means Son’s Wife or daughter-in-law) and that Bazaar became “Bahubazaar” and later colloquially came to be known as BOUBAZAAR. However, historians could not establish any linkage or whereabout of this particular businessman.

The other and perhaps more likely reason is that there were many bazaars scattered in that area selling a variety (Bohu or many) of items which prompted people to refer this place as BOHUBAZAAR.

Much later, sometime in the 70’s the Boubazaar Street was rechristened as Bipin Bihari Ganguly Street after the freedom fighter who spent a long 24 years in the British jail and later joined Indian National Congress after independence.

Ultodanga

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In the bygone days, the area had a big Canal probably called Vidyadhari on whose banks the boats would kept upturned to clean the hull and apply tar to prevent decay. In Bengali the boat is called “Dingi Nouka” therefore the place was called Ultodingi and later came to be known as Ultodanga.

Now, the canal does not exist but once upon a time people used take the boat ride to cross the canal. There is also a story of bamboo & wood trading associated with the place but that’s not relevant to the current topic.

Laldeeghi

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Long before Job Charnock set his foot in Kolkata, Laldeeghi existed in the village of Kolikata. The court and the Mandir of Roy Choudhuri’s were in close vicinity of Laldeeghi (Red Lake). It is said that while playing with colors during HOLI (festival of Colors), the lake would turn Red and that’s how the name Laldeeghi came about. However, historian Prankrishna Dutt gives the name of Mukundran Seth and family for creating this lake and having his office-cum-residences on the bank of the lake. The family used play the festival of colors in the lake and the lake would turn red for few days afterwards which prompted the locals to call it Laldeeghi.

Some others say that the image of the adjacent Red Old Mission Church created an illusion of red water from which popularized it as Laldeeghi. Yet, some others say that certain Lal Chand Basak created the lake and therefore it was named after him.

Malanga Lane

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Once upon a time there used to be a salt making plant in this area. The Salt Traders were called “Malangi” in Bengali from which came the name Malanga Lane.

Santosh Mitra Square

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Earlier it was Nebutalar Math and even before that it was known as St. James Square. But at the very beginning this was called Hazurimal Tank, after the Punjabi Businessman who arranged to dug up 22 acres of land to create a lake. Later, the lake was filled up and Muchipara Police Station and residential quarters of Portugese Clerks of British Empire was established which was called Keranibagan (Clerk’s Garden). Later, the name was changed to Nebutala (because of huge number of lemon trees in the area, Lemon=Nebu or Lebu in Bengali) and it is known as Santosh Mitra Square after the freedom Shaheed Santosh Mitra.

Tallygaunge

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In 1775-76, Major William Tally started the digging and dredging of a canal that would link Assam with Bengal. East India Company gave permission to Major Tally to charge Toll from the boats that would use the canal and through the area. They also permitted him to create a market place around the area which was duly completed in 1776 and came to be known as Tallygaunge and canal was called Tally Canal. Today, it is one the most popular area of South Kolkata.

I have put across some of the more popular localities but surely there are many more stories floating around for many other places, after all, Kolkata is a very old city and still has many untold stories hidden somewhere. I appreciate if anyone would like to contribute with their stories about places that hasn’t been included here. Thank you.

All Images Are Taken From The Internet…