A cup of tea

I love short stories and it is my preferred form of fiction. So, its not surprising that the very first post I wrote for “The Sunday Book Club’s Blog” in July 2013 was on short stories. Actually, it was on one short story and one of my favourites, in particular. I reproduce that post here with some minor modifications.

A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield was first published in 1992, and it remains one of Mansfield’s best known stories today. The plot is fairly simple:

It is a cold and wet day in London. After a visit to the shops, Rosemary Fell is about to get into her chauffeur-driven car, when she is approached by a penniless young girl, Miss Smith, for money that would buy her a cup of tea.

‘… It’s a cup of tea I want, madam.’ And she burst into tears.

Rosemary is intrigued as she cannot believe that a person cannot have money to buy a cup of tea. Inspired to do more — she persuades the young Ms. Smith to come home with her  — she visualises transforming the poor girl’s life, and becoming the talk of the high society she moves in. When she reaches home, Philip, Rosemary’s husband, is surprised to see Ms. Smith and also hear about Rosemary’s plans for the girl’s future. He leaves Rosemary and Ms. Smith, but not before mentioning to Rosemary that the girl was

‘…so astonishingly pretty.’

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The magic of the Peony Pavilion

There was a buzz at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre of the NCPA in South Mumbai when I arrived there shortly before 7 pm on Tuesday, earlier this week.

There was the swish of silks, satins and chiffons, the aroma of different perfumes, the glint of pearls and diamonds… There were celebrities, socialites, office-goers, aficionados, students, first-timers, regulars, critics, cynics, the-eager-for-a-new-experience… There were air kisses, handshakes, shoulder hugs, backslaps and some tinkling laughter too.

And then there was anticipation in the air. An anticipation of attending my very first Chinese Opera, which also happened to be the Indian première of the legendary Kunqu Opera, The Peony Pavilion, staged by the Beijing-based Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre. This was an anticipation that had built up and grown from the moment I received an invitation, along with some background information and some photographs, to attend the Opera from Sadir Theater Festival, two weeks ago.

The Peony Pavilion, Chinese Kunqu Opera, Shao Zheng as Liu Mengmei, Zhang Yuanyuan as Du Liniang

(L) Zhang Yuanyuan as Du Liniang and (R) Shao Zheng as Liu Mengmei, the principal characters in “The Peony Pavilion”

It was a good that I received the background information as my knowledge about Chinese Opera could be summed up in one word: Zilch! Accepting the invitation and beginning the countdown to the actual event was the first step towards remedying that ! :)
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Aurangabad: Rock-cut caves, Bibi ka Maqbara, Panchakki

“Do you want to go left first or right?” the auto-rickshaw driver asks me as we approach a T-junction.

“I don’t know. Whichever takes me to Aurangabad Caves“, I reply, a little confused by the question.

“Both turns will take you to the Caves. Part of the Caves is on the left and part is on the right. I asked since you have to begin somewhere.”

“Umm… in that case, take the left.”

About 10 minutes later, I’m at the foot of a flight of steps that will lead me to the Westernmost part of the Aurangabad Caves.

Aurangabad Caves, Aurangabad, Buddhist Rock Cut Caves

I have very carefully stowed the entry ticket away in my backpack as I will need it to visit the other, Eastern, set of Aurangabad Caves, which is over a kilometre away according to the ticket clerk. There aren’t too many visitors around on that pleasantly warm December afternoon of 2013. The few who are there are Buddhist devotees dressed in white and carrying offerings of white flowers. The climb is an easy one and I reach the entrance to the first of the Caves in no time. Continue reading

Mumbai Lens: The Sri Aurobindo Memorial Tower

If you’re travelling towards Chembur or beyond from Navi Mumbai by the Sion-Panvel Highway, look left as the road curves right into V.N. Purav Marg (also known as the  Sion-Trombay Road). You will see this white tower standing tall in the shade of trees against the BARC boundary wall.

Aurobindo Me orial Tower, Mumbai, DeonarThis is the Sri Aurobindo Memorial Tower, which I have been seeing every day on my commute to work for the last 19 years. And every day I would look at the Memorial Tower with curiosity and tell myself that I would stop by one day to have a closer look at it. That day finally happened to be yesterday !

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The ‘mysterious’ step-well at Lonar

Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. ~ Lawrence Block

I first saw the step-well on my way to the hotel from Lonar bus stand from the auto rickshaw.

A sunken structure in black basalt, I think I was lucky to notice it in the first place as the step-well is not on the road itself, but a little inside. I also think I noticed it because of the sudden break between the rather drab looking houses on the road and because it was so different from everything around it. From the quick look that I had in a passing rickshaw, I guessed it to be a water body of some sort. Maybe a step-well or at least an old  water tank?

I immediately asked the driver of the auto rickshaw I was travelling in. “What’s that place we passed just now?”

“What place?”

“The place with the black coloured stone and the one that looks really old.” (Yeah, I know, a very clever and lucid description indeed :-P).

“That thing? It’s a water tank. Nobody uses it or goes there.” These words were uttered with such a tone of finality that I didn’t dare ask him anything more.

Later that evening, after a day spent exploring Lonar, I told the guide about the step-well  / water tank that I had seen earlier that day. The guide was equally dismissive saying that it was a broken down structure, and not really interesting and why should I want to see something as boring as that?

That did it. The word “boring”. I decided that I wouldn’t leave Lonar till I had paid a visit to the step-well / water tank. So next morning, before I left for Aurangabad (my next destination), that’s what I did.

And the first thing I realised when I saw it is that it was not a water tank, but a step-well. Not an elaborate one, but a step-well nevertheless.

Lonar, Maharashtra, Stepwell, water tank, Ancient, Limbi Barav Continue reading

Lonar: Geology, mythology, history and today

I eye the steep and stony descent with some trepidation. The trail, or what passes off as one, appears to be made for goats, not humans.

“It’s okay. The path is perfectly safe. Nothing will happen to you,” says Rajesh, my guide.

“That’s easy for you to say,” I tell him, as I place my camera in its protective case and put it in my backpack. As an afterthought, I put my cellphone in as well, not willing to take any chances with it while climbing down..

“Are you sure this trail is safe?” I ask.

“Not only is it safe, it is also the quickest way to descend.”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” I mutter to myself, as I look around to see the vista spread out before me. Beyond the goat trail that is.

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake

The orange flags of the Kamalja Mata Temple can be seen as a speck

An almost circular lake, tranquil and pretty as a picture, is stretches out below me ringed with a thick green cover and dotted with temples around its periphery. This is the Lonar Crater Lake, which was created when a high-speed meteorite slammed into the basaltic lava flows about 52,000 years ago. The meteorite is believed to be buried deep within the lake.

Though the Lonar Crater was ‘discovered’ in 1823 by a British military officer, C.G. Alexander, it wasn’t until 1973 that it was found that the Lonar Crater was a one-of-its-kind. It remains the only meteorite impact crater in basalt in the world.

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