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We Aren’t a Country of Just Snake Charmers

We Aren’t a Country of Just Snake Charmers

My family was excited. The “cousin” in the household was to wed a beautiful French damsel. The youngster had left the country to pursue his masters in the United States, and seek greener pastures in corporate America. It was here that love blossomed between the two and after a whirlwind courtship they decided to get married.

The family in India took it all easy. They were happy that their son had finally decided to “settle” down, and were excited at the prospect of interacting with a family that was not only foreign to them but also spoke a language that was fairly new. For some strange reason, the French side wasn’t too happy with the alliance. To them India was nothing but a land of snake charmers, a poor country where people weren’t all educated. But let’s face it. Isn’t this the common thought that exists among many in the West? India to them is the land of the Taj, where Maharajas ruled and a country from where you pick up elephants as souvenirs. Theres nothing more to it. Or is there?

India is a country of snake charmers
But the practice long left the country

Snake Charming is the practice of pretending to hypnotize a snake, thereby making it dance to the tunes that are emitted from a wind instrument called pungi or bansuri. Commonly a street performance, the practice has been prevalent not only in India, but also in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, the North African countries of Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. Today the practice has been prohibited under the Wildlife Act. The few who remain can be found in destinations such as Rajasthan, solely to attract tourists.

Indians aren’t educated
Come on now, how do you explain the increasing number of professional colleges that come out in dozens every year?

The fact is that a large percentage of our population today seeks education. Every year, the country churns out in thousands, doctors, engineers, management professionals etc… Doesn’t this go to show that we do place importance on our population being educated? Of course rural India still may seem way behind. But hey, this doesn’t qualify India as an uneducated country.

India is unsafe
Well, it is as safe (or unsafe) as any other country in Europe, Asia or America

Oh well! The typical stereotype. We sure have had terror attacks, rape cases or sexual assaults in the past. But these are issues that are present on a global level too. Parts of the country, though are far more sensitive, such as Kashmir, but when you look at the broader picture, the country is as safe as most other countries.

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We have other shades too! 

If you have seen the Taj, you have seen India. And aren’t all souvenirs in India elephants?
It surely has the Taj. But, the country has this and much more too

Of course we are proud of the Taj. And we are also proud of its pristine mountains, rivers, plains, beaches, temples and palaces. The art and handicrafts greatly vary from place to place. You need to travel its vastness to pick up souvenirs that are anything but elephants.

All Indians are in customer support
Indians are in customer support and other things too

It would be rather surprising if one didn’t speak to an Indian customer care executive over phone, when living in the US, Canada or even for that matter Europe. For these countries, it is just a job that has been outsourced. For many in India, it is an opportunity. Look at it this way, customer care, technical support, call center or software support, you name it and we have surely left a mark. Indian’s have the skill in technical jobs as well as in various other fields. There is a large number of Indians in the medical field too across the globe.

The country today sure has surpassed the tag of being one of snake charmers and tantric. Of course, like the two sides of a coin, the country has a side of despair, some not so nice social practices and a population that’s on the brink of explosion. But look onto the other side of the coin and you see that the country is well into the road of development.

It depends on which side you place upwards!

The family’s “Indo-French” wedding was a success, with its cross cultural ceremonies. There were exchange of vows between the couple and exchange of gifts between the families. We ensured the French took back with them India’s true picture and a goodie bag that was loaded- well not with elephants this time!

Featured image source: pinterest
Life Across the Sand Dunes

Life Across the Sand Dunes

I wasn’t too happy to do the camel safari on a recent trip to Jaisalmer. It seemed pretty in-human to be mounted on an animal and being dragged around in one of the most difficult terrains- the desert. Before I began my journey to Jaisalmer- the Golden City of India, I was gently advised by a dear friend of mine, who probably knew my eccentricities, that if you are going to the Thar Desert, there is no way you are to miss the camel safari.

The Sam sand dunes, an odd 60 kms inland from the Indo-Pak border, are a major tourist attraction, especially in the winter months where thousands throng to ride and “navigate” across the dunes of the desert. Sam has a vast expanse of dunes and you could practically get lost here if you don’t have a local to guide you around. And I soon realized that, despite me not wanting to burden an already, burdened animal called the ship of the desert, the best way to get around the desert was only on a camel back. The presence of sparse vegetation, extremities in weather and lack of proper civil habitation around meant, you are dependent on that one man and the camel he pulls along with him.

So here they were – Khan and his camel Sultan- my knight in not so shining armor and his dear animal friend. When I first saw Khan standing outside my tent with his partner in crime Sultan, the first thing that caught my eyes where there teeth. I didn’t know camel teeth could be so white, and I didn’t know chewing pan could stain your teeth so much, because Khan’s teeth were a dark red.

Despite Khan being overly-friendly(well everyone in Rajasthan is), I managed to convince him that I won’t mount on to the camel, and would prefer to walk by its side, with Khan serving as my guide. And Khan agreed, just making a casual remark that I should later on blame him for anything.  But here I was all proud of myself. Proud that I would  not be troubling an animal.

My first few steps were comfortable. But soon I realized something wasn’t. What was it? Hmmm my shoes. You don’t walk in the desert with shoes. I noticed Khan and Sultan were bare foot. And anyways it was December and the sand felt cool. So I slipped out of my shoes and walked barefoot. Up and down the dunes took me. I ran gleefully like a little girl. As we navigated through the desert, the dunes just got bigger. And it just got tougher. I huffed and puffed and within twenty minutes, I was exhausted. I suddenly felt parched and dehydrated. I gulped down those precious drops of water, when Khan said, “Madam please listen to me and sit on the camel. Sultan won’t mind it. You aren’t used to the desert sand and it’s getting dark. We have a long way to go”. Panting, I saw no option. I just let my principle of not  troubling an animal fly away in the cold December breeze.

From upon the hump of the camel as I stared into the vastness of the desert, I realized the truth. No one can navigate through this terrain better than the camel. I casually asked Khan at that moment what he made for a living. He replied back, “Around  8,000-10,000 during the season months between November to March. Other months I farm Jowar. The harvest I get is meager and I just manage to make ends meet.”

“What does Sultan do in these months?” I asked. Khan smiled and said, “He just sleeps all day and in the evenings he comes along with me to the market. It is only when you big people grace the desert does Sultan and me get to eat well.

I heard Khan out that day and realized the coarse lives lived by people in such harsh terrains. I didn’t feel like protesting anymore. I just watched the sun set across the desert sand from the humps of the camel and hoped Khan and Sultan would someday see a better life.

*All photographs have been clicked with my personal camera 🙂.. Aint I done a good job?

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

What Did I Carry Back From Rajasthan?

What Did I Carry Back From Rajasthan?

During my recent trip to Rajasthan, I realized how important music is to them and, the integral part it plays in their culture. Whether it is the somber tones that are emanated from the seventeen-string “Kamaicha”(instrument made out of mango wood and a round resonator, covered in goat leather) or the soulful voices of the local tribes, Rajasthan music will fill your heart with a feeling that cannot be described.

As a tourist, I walked on the dusty lanes of Jaisalmer, to be greeted by sounds of music at practically every nook and corner. From the sounds of anklets that the local women wore, to the bells that adorned their “ghagras”, there was a resonance of music everywhere. One particular song that caught my attention is the traditional folk song  “Kesariya Balam Aao Ni”. I had heard this song earlier in the Bollywood movie “DOR”. The music in this movie was amazing and I always thought this particular song was indeed an original composition of its music directors. Little did I know that it was in fact a folk song of Rajasthan that has been passed on from generation to generation.

I stayed in a desert camp hotel on the Sam deserts in Jaisalmer. As I reached there on a pleasant December afternoon, the staff welcomed me by singing this song. Women in the traditional attire danced and the men in “Pagadis and Dhoti”, sang this song. Despite their voices being unusually coarse, there was something in it that tugged at my heart. Was it the landscape around, or the music, I was really not able to tell.

On the dusty road to the forts in Jaisalmer, the next day I sported this really old looking man. He sat crossed legged with his instrument, eyes transfixed on it, singing away as though there was no tomorrow. It was the same song yet again. I had to stop my tracks, and despite a tight sightseeing schedule, I stayed for a good half an hour, soaking in the music that emanated from his instrument.

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On the narrow lane outside the Fort

Forts of Rajasthan are huge and could often take you a day to completely see it. As I explored the yellow sandstone structures, I spotted yet again a duo, seated on a platform. Smiling at every tourist who passed by, they sang in a pretty loud voice,” Kesariya…”. They did take occasional breaks from their singing. But that was only when they didn’t really spot a tourist around. There were no microphones to resonate their voices. The walls of the forts were powerful enough to echo the music across the fort.

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Music without a microphone inside the fort

So intrigued was I by this particular song that I decided to speak to the locals around there to gather more information about it. I was told that the song “Kesariya Balam Aao Ni.. “ is a folk song of the Manganiyar community of Rajasthan. The song is sung in Mand singing style( a style that is not a full- fledged raag, pretty similar to the Indian Thumri or Ghazal). The words of the song are the thoughts of a young girl who is calling out to the love of her life, welcoming him home.

My holiday in Rajasthan came to an end. And despite my suitcase load of souvenirs, my heart was full of the melodies that floated in the air. They would stay with me longer than the physical things I carried back with me from Rajasthan.

*All photographs have been clicked with my personal camera :).. Aint I done a good job?

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

The Ghost Town Of India- Kuldhara, Rajasthan

The Ghost Town Of India- Kuldhara, Rajasthan


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About 20 odd kilometers from the desert town of Jaisalmer lies Kuldhara. As I took to the dusty road that led to this ancient town of Rajasthan, I noticed the scant presence of humans around. The sun was at its fiery best and an unusual silence prevailed. I reached Kuldhara, eerie and desolate. I had heard it had been abandoned by its people more than 200 years ago.

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The Abondened Village

 I spotted a few villagers grazing goats nearby. What really was the story of Kuldhara?

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Jeetendar and Ramesh- Boys from the neighbouring Manpiya village who served as my guide

For a paltry amount of Rs. 10/- two little boys came up to me to narrate the tale. It seemed Salim Singh the Minister of the Kingdom; fell in love with a girl from the village. He was absolutely obstinate that he wanted to marry her, and if the villagers came in his way, he would levy huge taxes on them. Overnight the entire village abandoned their homes and fled. No one knows where they went. And before they left, a curse was placed by them on Kuldhara that no one will ever be able to settle in their village thereafter.

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The Stretch of Eeriness

Probably the curse stays true till date; cause the town still remains barren and uninhabited. The houses remain intact in the same way it had been left behind by its inhabitants.

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What Lies Behind The Station Wall?

What Lies Behind The Station Wall?

Have you ever wondered what lies behind the walls of those small railway stations that we come across on long journeys? As I sit travelling from New Delhi to Jaisalmer by train, I am reminded of  a story- ” Time stops at Shamili” -written by Ruskin Bond, in which he expresses his curiosity about how life would be outside the railway station.
My train  traversed through bigger known cities -Alwar, Jaipur, Jodhpur. And some towns I had never really heard off- Marwar Mathanya, Phalodi,Ashapura Gomat…

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A town new to me…

A ghost station it seemed, for not a single vendor I spotted, just a couple of turbaned lone travellers. The station master sat in a small little room, peeping occassionaly to check if all was right around. Behind the single structure of the station, I spotted women in coulourful sarees with veiled faces. In those few minutes before the train could chug along once again, it seemed to me the town was veiled by the station building.

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Delicious pakodas at Pokhran station

I chanced upon the remote station of Pokran where India did its nuclear test. I got down to soak in a bit of sun and stretch my muscles a bit. I munched on hot pakodas that was packed in newspapers and sold at the station. Not sure if it was because i was hungry, but they were the tastiest pakodas I have ever eaten.

You know the best way to feel, see and experience India is by doing a long distance rail journey. Its an amazing feeling.
When was the last time you did a long train journey? What were your observations? Would love to hear about it.