The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Connaught Place: Whither the Cycle Begins? Part-IV


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IV
There were more to see and gather, all for knowledge’s sake.
I found the open-air bhujiyawalas of good old days still not out of business. The pushcarts selling refrigerated water in Delhi could be pushed out of business by the ubiquitous presence of bottled water but not these ancient bhujiyawalas of Connaught Place. And I concluded: if they had been able to withstand the onslaught of the first wave of liberalization, they would survive many more years alongside Starbuck and McDonald. So far so good!
Relish the Taste Eternal
And I saw the fruit vendors selling their super polished pomegranates and stuff. Felt like asking one of them as to the provenance of his fruits. ‘From Kabul,’ came the prompt reply. ‘Kabul? From that far?’ I wondered. ‘If apples could come from the US why not pomegranates from Kabul?’ quipped the vendor. That is the level of knowledge everybody at Connaught Place possesses, including the wayside fruit seller. The fruit vendor was selling not only the fruit to enjoy; he had the entire geography on the tip of his tongue. Connaught Place—a visit is a must for one’s knowledgebase.

Knowing Before Showing
And more than the knowledge there was a tone of protest in what he said. I understood it readily, for while going round the neighbourhood of where I stay during my sojourn, I had seen many posters of protest against the threat of complete liberalization. That’s why the fellow was so particular in taking the name of apples from the US. As if he remembered the days of PL-480, the days of India’s dependence on imported wheat. Wall Mart would take away their source of income from the street corner selling of fruits—that was the fear working behind his so emphatic words.
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Don't Disturb, I'm Asleep!

At Connaught Circus it was a workaday world but then that was not all about it. For me knowledge was the byproduct, and fun was also to be a spin-off too. In fact there was a lot of it, not necessarily in the shape of the sponsored shows. Look, how the shoes are rotating as if inside a griller! Look at the happy dog and his antics. And look at the men at work: they were to rhyme their efforts. Yeah, it’s musical coordination of muscles. Why no musician or the lyricist, for that matter, taking idea from these workers to create a hit song? I mused. They were setting the cables right, the cable that took the image of my Costa Coffee to my kids staying thousands of kilometers away from me and elicited their sweet responses: Aaahahaaaaa!!!! Poor daddy!
What's There in a Good Book?
And there was a bookstore again—Oxford Bookstore. And I had to go upstairs for browsing and if something appealed for purchasing too. Impulsive purchase? Oh no, I should be kind to me, for all the footwork and a series of sustained self-denial. And what was inside the upstairs? Oh, it was not a bookstore alone; it was with a restaurant—well laid-out and reasonably frequented. I inquired if the shop had a copy of the illustrated dictionary jointly published by Oxford and DK, and ‘no’ came the reply. ‘How come the official outlet of Oxford University Press doesn’t keep a copy of its own publication whereas books published by other publishers were available here?’ I enquired. And a surprising reply was in store for me. The shop was Oxford Bookstore that had nothing to do with Oxford University Press. And the place I was looking for would be, as the shop fellow told, at Daryaganj.
At a Book Nook

Anyway, this time I rewarded myself. The title I purchased was Ruskin Bond—the Mussoorie Years by Ganesh Saili. It is a coffee table book of sorts, amply illustrated and interestingly annotated. It is a fascinating one as I found going through the content of its initial few pages and now on a book on my favourite author Ruskin Bond is going to get a pride of place on my bookshelf. Had I purchased the copy of Geetanjali from that English Book Store I would have supplied two great things both to myself and my shelf.
It was fifteen minutes past two in the afternoon and time I took my lunch. I was in half a mind to sit in the restaurant of Oxford Bookstore but thought better of it. Let me explore another place—and that was the mood. Then the restaurant I entered was one Ardor by name. Sometimes second thoughts are not the better thoughts—I realized it to my horror as I found paneer butter masala garishly yellow and missi roti even more yellow than that. No amount of turmeric powder would make the stuff so yellow! And the culinary secret might be found in some chemical colours—and who could deny that? But it was too late. And I continued to munch the stuff. The service fellow asked me for a feedback and I did not mince a word while saying as I felt. There was a book with me, the one on Ruskin Bond that I had bought a little while ago, and that helped me to concentrate on something really interesting rather than griping about the deplorable food. But look at the temerity! I was presented a card to record my feedback!
There was another moment of self-discovery awaiting me. That I have an instinct of a ticket collector in finding the ticketless travellers was not known to me. The waiter brought the change due after the bill was settled. And it was twenty rupees short! At a glance I knew that there was the mischief. I don’t usually count the change, primarily because I assume that this is an honest world and also owing to the fact that while paying I regulate the amount so that very little change is returned. Counting change amounting to more than hundred is tedious and less than hundred is not necessary, for nobody in this age of inflation would shortchange that small amount. There is yet another reason: If change comes in the shape of coins, I need to wear my specs to see and distinguish between coins of five rupees and those of ten and, more particularly, between those of ones and twos, since all of them now look alike…and weigh alike. But despite my inability of and disinclination to counting changes, I knew that I was being shortchanged just at a glance. Was it an honest mistake on the part of the cashier? I’m not bothered if it was really so; nonetheless it was a vindication of my instinct—a ticket collector’s instinct. As far as I know instinct really helps those who cannot help themselves. Very much like God helps those who help themselves!   
And now was the time to return. There came a light drizzle but I had the umbrella to assure me. Strangely, very few people in Delhi carry umbrella. There must be some reason behind this. One day I have to make my research as to why people here choose such a hand-free status, even in the monsoon. And then I opened my umbrella as I walked. Sometimes umbrellas frighten clouds to behave and now the weak-willed clouds of Delhi firmament sheepishly withdrew their threat. On my way back I saw a brave person enjoying his siesta—somebody was sleeping on the footpath in front of NDMC building unmindful of the fact that a rain had come in the meanwhile but got frightened after seeing my umbrella. Anyway he deserved the best. Only the brave ones enjoy their beauty sleep. 
I remembered about the key; it was time I made it sure that it was not lost. And I probed my trouser pocket. Oh no, I had forgotten something. I was to get a set of buttons for my blazer and it was the real purpose of my visiting the place, Connaught Place. All these ramblings about updating my knowledge or waging a mini war against my obsolescence were nothing—I had just been tricked into the feared domain of forgetfulness. And now I had reached where I started. Should I go back to Connaught Place for my real job? Next time: I would visit the place for a set of buttons and a few nuggets of new knowledge.
Concluded
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By
A N Nanda
Shimla
30-08-2013
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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Connaught Place: Whither the Cycle Begins? Part III


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III
I got drifted inside the shops: my window shopping jaunt seemed to have hit the limit of its possibilities.
At Mont Blanc the girl in charge of the stuff had no smile for me unlike the one at Costa coffee. However, she opened her showcase but only reluctantly, in unenthusiastic compliance of my request to show me her products. A self-styled pen lover that is me wanted her to show me that particular pen lying inside the lighted window behind her. Honestly, I may not have many expensive pens in my receptacle but they are all in my dreams—and always. My pen-dreams are the extension of my literary ambition, whether I qualify for it or not. As if owning a good pen would make me a good writer just like that! Anyway she did not open that but instead opened the cabinet below her desk. And then she showed me a pen, not the exact one but something akin to that. As if I were a customer at the cell phone outlet being shown one out of the bunch of dummy cases to choose from! Somehow I sensed that I was subjecting the salesgirl to unnecessary pain: the pen pain! Then I spared her the hassle of showing me further models and asked her a straight question, ‘What does it cost?’ And happily she replied, ‘It’s more than one lakh and fifty thousand rupees.’ I knew why she was so happy to answer that question, for in her answer she had hidden her words of real import, ‘Go away, man, it is way too expensive for you.’ I knew why she did not say me the exact price—simply because I failed to satisfy her that I would buy one. And it was true. I would have been happy had she replied me even quoting a Bata price of yesteryear—rupees some thousand some hundred ninety-nine and ninety-five paise only! At the end of the day, I did not mind her attitude at all. She was a Mont Blanc girl and she was supposed to behave like that. I was told by somebody in a different context that Ferrari makes a rigorous background check of the prospective owner of its product. Possibly the counter girl at Mont Blanc was trained in that way. My only doubt that begged to be cleared was how much would the company be paying to the girl that was selling a pen which cost more than one and half lakh rupees? I didn’t ask her to help me with the answer, for it was a question too personal one and would have sounded awfully offensive too. Guess, can I hazard one now? Well, it could be five thousand rupees a month, less than the government pays these days to the labourers under Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme!
Not that only at Mont Blanc I proved myself an unfit enquirer. Even at Titan where I ventured beyond its glass windows, I drew blank. What I saw underneath their glass-topped show-desk was a cute motorcycle alongside the watches. Obviously they were not offering toy motorcycles for sale leaving their business of jewellery and watches. It appeared as if they were up to some kind of surrogate advertising. Don’t these whisky companies advertise soda and cut-glass tumblers instead of their alcoholic beverages? I felt I should take a photograph of that showcase and sought their permission. Lo! The answer was a curt ‘no’. As if they meant to say it, ‘If you people take the photographs but not the real watches we’ll soon be out of business. So we say a no, an emphatic no.’ I was not prepared to receive a no for an answer. Jilted as I got in the process, I comforted myself recalling the episodes from the Japanese history. Yes, the history is that before Japan was opened up to the westerners, there were people in that society who believed that if their photographs were taken their soul would be sucked out! Can you match this joke? Titan fellows could. Maybe that is why no photograph is allowed to be taken of what is so innovatively showcased there. Well, there was no issue of any kind, and I came out. Connaught Place had many more things to offer, all for my knowledge’s sake.
Then I loitered more with no fixed destination. I would have to go on like that until it was my lunch time. I had hardly covered three blocks by now. A bookshop attracted my attention, The English Book Store. Aha! The right place was in front of me—this was where I could go now. For the sake of my curiosity I must know what was so English about it. There could be English books or maybe that an Englishman owned it. If not an Englishman, he could be a Parsee but never a pure desi. And I went inside. Lo! It was a bookstore dealing in books of Air Force and aeronautics and stuff like armament, war, helicopter, a model of an aircraft carrier—but not an English book. I enquired the shopkeeper who was a pure desi in appearance and in his choice of the language for communicating with me. And he directed me upstairs where I would find all English books. And I went upstairs to find more of those books on armament and warfare…and only a few books in English. I can name them now. Name of the authors—any guess? Aha! You’re right: Amish Patel of Shiva Triology fame and Amrita Preetam and Robin Sharma and his Monk Ferrari. There was one book that I instantly thought of buying, but then refrained from doing that. These days I am against any impulsive purchase. Maybe the next visit I’ll buy that one. And now let me disclose the name: the book was Rabindra Nath Tagore’s Geetanjali, its English rendering. Thus I found the reason why it is so called The English Book Store—doesn’t it offer an English version of Geetanjali for sale?  
Window-shopping…and nothing more than window-shopping—I should now apply myself to doing exactly that. Shame on me! Again and again I was getting diverted from the course of my knowledge gathering. Entering a shop never meant the same as passing by its windows and acquiring knowledge. A nature lover passing through the jungle should inhale the fragrance of the forest flowers and enjoy their iridescent colorations. In no case he should try to pluck one and own it—no, never. Here, by doing that, he would prove only one thing: his greed. Connaught Place had so much knowledge to disseminate; so many pleasures to give, and not necessarily the pleasure of buying a thing. I should be content with my window-shopping cum knowledge-gathering pursuits.
[To be continued…]
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By
A N Nanda
Shimla
20-08-2013
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Connaught Place: Whither the Cycle Begins? Part II


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II
Why do I remember the event even after a year has passed?
Well, precisely there is a context now—as I try to find meaning of all that I did during my day-long loitering about Connaught Place, I suddenly discover that. After all, it was not an unqualified wastage of time; I was doing something useful as I kept wandering. Certainly, it was not an answer to my wanderlust. It was my self-test: how compatible I am to the setting that has developed without my consent, yet to my supposed benefit, nevertheless. I just tried to find out if I understood the place in the changed context, no less than the others crowding there did. I should make it sure that Connaught Place, with its changed merchandise and clientele, itself struggling to retain its old primacy in the economic and commercial map of the metropolis, trying hard to withstand the ravages of time, continues to have something to offer me. I just wanted to be sure that I had not grown irrelevant, even at an old and familiar place of mine. Oh yes, I know this place since 1978, the lovely old spot of commerce and culture, knowledge and progress, even before a market could come into being under the ground.
And that is why I visited Connaught Place: to wage a mini war against my obsolescence, against my irrelevance! And to win a victory for my reassurance…and for a new bounce in my steps. Such wars must be fought every once in a while to keep one’s receptiveness intact, to administer a maintenance dose of sorts for one’s knowledgebase. After all, window shopping has not done anybody poorer, never ever! If it does anything, it takes the shopper nearer to the street culture, the phrase my sympathetic friend probably coined that day in Chennai for my benefit.
The Coloured Path
From Sardar Patel Chowk to CP—going there by walking continues to be a choice, very much available even today, for Delhi as of now has not been so crowded as to frighten the pedestrians. As I say this I have the scary images of other crowded cities of India in my mind, be it Chowranghee of Kolkatta or Anna Salai of Chennai or even Dak Bangla Chowk of Patna. But then again, why walk when the world-class Delhi Metro Rail is in place? Am I afraid of using the facility? Do I fear that the barricade would close even before I entered the station or came out of it? Does the escalator threaten me to jettison me overboard when in motion? No, I should prove that I’m not afraid. Delhi might have grown more sophisticated but so have I. I have used metro trains in Frankfurt, Paris, Lausanne, Bangkok and Netherland. I’ve also used the escalators at the airports, the ones that not only take one vertically up to a higher level without effort but move one horizontally ahead making walk totally unnecessary. So I’m trained to make use of Delhi Metro now, even though the distance does not qualify. Using any other transport is out of question, neither the Vinoba Express nor the Flight Number 11. Oh yes, what I mean by all these epithets is walking again. Doesn’t a pair of shapely legs liken the number 11? Didn’t our beloved Vinoba Bhave cover India by walking to beg land for the landless? Oh all these are old stories, forgotten glories. The new version of progress is metro: only eight rupees for reaching the next stop. So, as a modern fellow using a modern facility with ease, I travelled from Patel Chowk to Rajiv Chowk by metro. No issue.
Hold it: there was an issue though. While trying to come out of Rajiv Chowk, I dropped the token into the contraption at the entrance barricade, but the blessed gargantuan of thingummy did not let me go. Oops! What should I do? Was it not too embarrassing? Was it not going to prove me a ticketless traveller? Would it not lead me to cough up a fine of god only knew what amount? Of course I had read the instructions written on the notice boards on the amount of fine to be slapped under a similar situation, but then completely forgotten that by then. Very sheepishly I contacted the ticketing staff to help me go out. And lo! He agreed to help me without a murmur, let alone ask me to cough up fine. Probably he knew that exit barricade had asserted its independence throwing the rules of automation to winds. So it had behaved inimical to an unfriendly traveler like me.
Out of the tube, I had nothing in particular to do except walking. My first stop was the open air bookshop, a few steps before the movie hall Plaza. After a copious morning shower the bookseller was trying to rebuild his stack—his Book Manhattan. The person behind the stack was invisible—so lofty was the stack! I wondered who would buy them and when would he finish his stock. Is anybody reading books these days? The last euphoria that visited us was when J K Rowling wrote about her Harry Potter character. And she went on repeating it for a decade or even more with different magical episodes and became one of the rich and the famous of the world. Writing brought her riches. There was a rare bonhomie between goddess Lakshmi and Saraswati in her case. That is gone now. Even Ms Rowling has herself changed to one Robert Something, a nom de plume. Choosing a penname after such a great literary and commercial success? I don’t think changing name will bring her the same magic once her magic character Harry Potter cast on her readers.
God! My attention was riveted by the instability of the Book Manhattan. It was as unstable as a house of cards! Nay it was like the cardboard house in an earthquake-prone land. I warned the bookseller, ‘Watch out! Your book stack is going to crumble.’ And the confident fellow (a fellow resigned to fate?) replied, ‘Don’t worry. They won’t fall.’ I understood what it meant. ‘Even if it gets flat and the books get wet in the process, what difference is it going to make? The unsalable books are otherwise destined to meet their fateful end someday just like that. This one is merely the last stop in their final journey to nothingness!’ 
Coffee in a Soup Bowl
    
The coffee shop then: Costa—a big name for big people. Suddenly I felt thirsty. At other moment my thirst would have meant the deficit of water in my body, indicating the need for buying a bottle of water, but now it meant the deficiency of caffeine. And I knew it for sure. The counter girl welcomed me, without bothering to mind how I looked. I was adamantly attired to look like somebody who would not spend 166 for a cup of coffee, and to add to that, I had nonchalantly kept the folded umbrella under my armpit, a style a rustic farmer would have liked to adopt just to frighten the clouds to behave friendly. With a smile that was the only reason of her attractiveness in my reckoning, she went on asking me question after question: whether I’d like coffee or cappuccino; whether I’d like it with a lot of milk or black; would it be a cold one or hot; a full cup or half; what would be the flavor of my choice and so forth. Oh god, one would have to answer so many questions before deserving a cup of coffee! Only one’s willingness to pay was not enough; the fellow must possess the ability to answer questions too. It was like the famous proverb: Money is not everything in life.
She had not finished asking all her questions. Smilingly I pleaded her to spare me the questions. I was ready to drink whatever she gave and I was sure she would give me the best. She had already discovered the lovably naive spot in me. Aha! A Simple Simon met a pie man…. While waiting for the coffee-ccino or whatever to reach me I sent the message to my children narrating my Q&A session with the not-so-critical coffee girl and then came the reply: Aaahahaaaaa!!!! Poor daddy! And then I had to send the result of my coffee expedition—a photo via whatsApp.
There was also one more activity—a rewarding one though—at the coffee table. I read the content of the two pouches: one was sugar and the other one was demerara. Demerera? What on earth was that? A sugarfree sweetener or what? Quickly I searched for the word in my mobile apps. One app had no such word in its database but the other one helped me. Demerara means a light brown raw cane sugar from Guyana. It tasted sweet but, as for me, the sweeter was the taste of achievement, adding a further word to my already unmanageable vocabulary.
[To be continued…]
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By
A N Nanda
Shimla
18-08-2013
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