Discovering Roman Britain

I was introduced to Roman Britain quite unexpectedly on a cold, windy day in October 2008 in London. I had been in London for about 3 weeks then and was already head over heels in love with this beautiful city. Each day was a new day of exploration and between settling into a new city and classes at the university, there was always something wonderful to discover and delight over.

That afternoon, I took a path leading off from Tower Bridge Tube station, a path that led me past a hotel and then, quite suddenly into a walled dead-end. I was about to turn back, when I saw an information board there and walked over to read it. Good thing I did that as this turned out to be the most interesting dead-end !

Part of the original wall surrounding the Roman city of Londinium or London

Part of the original wall surrounding the Roman city of Londinium or London

The information board announced that this was no ordinary wall, but a slice of London’s history. Built by the Romans in 190–220 AD, this wall used to run around the city of Londinium, the Roman name for London. About 9 ft thick at the base and about 20 ft. in height, it was one of the most important and expensive developments in the city at that time. (By medieval times, the height of the wall was increased and though it is not evident in the photograph, the colour of the mortar distinguishes the two sections of the wall.)

My first reaction was, “Wow! So Asterix and Obelix wasn’t an exaggeration; the Romans were really here. Dear old Julius Caesar was really here !” For the rest of the day, I walked around in a kind of daze as the Roman fever took hold. It was a fever that refused to go away and one that I had great pleasure in indulging when I visited erstwhile Roman cities in the UK and explored a part of history that I thought only existed in comic books ! :-)

So join me on my journey of discovering Roman Britain through visits to Camulodunum (present day Colchester), Aquae Sulis (present day Bath), and Verulamium (present day St. Albans) in England. (Strangely, the wall remained my only encounter with Roman Britain in London.) It was a journey that left me breathless, awestruck, and delighted in turn, but always richer in having gained knowledge of something new, and of having discovered a whole new world.

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Serendipity and a second-hand book

Serendipity. I can sum up my day today with this one word.

It was a day that began very simply with my camera and I setting out to do a bit of exploration of my city. We first went to Sion, clicked some impressions and recorded some memories. And then to Matunga to have some hot filter kaapi. Happy and satisfied with the morning’s efforts and eager to see the results of my  photography, I turned homeward.

As I walked towards my bus stop, I came across this sight of booksellers setting up their stalls on the pavement at King’s Circle.

Pavement Bookstalls

Booksellers setting up their stalls on the pavement at King’s Circle in Mumbai

The late morning winter sunlight created beautiful patterns of light and shadows amongst the piles of National Geographic, Home & Garden, travel magazines, self-help books, classics, Mills & Boon, pirated copies of best sellers… It was delightful to see the books being dusted and lovingly laid out. Since, I had already packed my camera away, it was my cell phone camera that had the honour of capturing this sight.

As my eyes skimmed the book piles, the magazine stacks, and the neatly laid out rows of books, there came that little heart-stopping moment of the beautiful kind. The one where you see an unexpected treasure in the form of a book. One that lights up your eyes in anticipation, and quickens your breath just that little bit. And as you savour that moment, the world slows down just for you.

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Pregnant pauses: Conversations in a doctor’s waiting room

Few things terrify me or make me as self-conscious as walking into my doctor’s waiting room.

No, no, it’s not because of my doctor. Dr. V, who is my GP is an absolute darling and I am half in love with him. He’s punctual. He’s thorough. He listens to what I have to say, does not medicate unless absolutely essential. And whenever I’m not well, he calls me up to check on how I’m doing. And never once, in the 15 years that I have known him, has he given me an injection :-) So if my doctor is such a nice guy, why am I so scared of walking into his waiting room? Read on…

One of the places that Dr. V consults from is a clinic near my house. It is not a particularly well-managed clinic, but since the timings and location are convenient for me this is where I go. Dr. V’s consulting hours at this clinic overlaps with that of Dr. K, a hugely popular consulting gynaecologist and a fertility expert. To give you an estimate of her popularity, let us assume that for every patient of Dr. V, there are 30 for Dr. K ! While the former’s patients are mostly elderly men and women, the latter’s patients are women in various stages of pregnancy.

Source: Microsoft Clipart

Now imagine walking into a room full of pregnant women and their accompanying family member/friend and feeling every eye on you. I don’t know about you, but I feel very self-conscious. I didn’t always feel like this, but my visits to the clinic and interactions I’ve had at the waiting room over the years, has made me so.

These have been interactions based on certain assumptions on the other person’s part. Assumptions made automatically, and perhaps even unconsciously, because I am a woman in the reproductive age range, and who is visiting a clinic where a gynaecologist is consulting. Assumptions played out at the clinic in a tragi-comic way, and navigating which has been quite a task as I have found out, starting with the reception desk.

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Travel Shot: 50 shades of grey

I don’t like grey as a colour to wear.

But grey as a colour elsewhere is a different story altogether. I love using grey while doing a page layout for a report or a book or even a cover design. I love the greys that one can see in a cloud covered, rain-soaked monsoon sea in Mumbai. I love it if I can bring in a touch of grey into the frame while photographing.

One day, I managed to capture not a touch of grey but a whole range of greys from a dark stormy grey to a light wispy grey, with about 50 shades of grey separating these two.

Canary Wharf, London

This photograph was taken almost at the end of a great day spent exploring the Docklands of London and travelling by the DLR. This was at Canary Wharf the heart of London’s financial district and also its central business district. The steel and glass and the moody grey skies put up a great show for photo-ops. I took quite a few, but this one remains my favourite. I find it interesting how the grey dominates the frame, but does not overwhelm or depress. And I love that little touch of red and glassy green from the windows, which adds that something special to the picture. It’s almost like poetry !

Don’t you think these different shades of grey convey power, business, purpose and beauty all at the same time?

Museum Treasure: Ulugh Beg’s cup

What if I were to tell that there exists a cup so mystical and magical that it has the power of detecting poison. Would you believe me? No? I thought not, and honestly I wouldn’t believe it if someone had told me about this.

But nevertheless, such a cup did exist about six centuries ago in Central Asia. It was a time of great upheaval and power struggle in the region when old dynasties were giving way to the new. Often caught in the crossfire of the conflict between the East and the West, it was also a time of great suspicion, prejudice and uncertainties in this region. Such an atmosphere was perfect for beliefs in charms and talismans to take root and grow. And the belief in protection was vested in Jade, a compact, opaque gemstone ranging in color from dark green to almost white. According to Central Asian belief, jade could detect poison and could also protect one from illness, earthquakes and lightning. Soldiers from this region often decorated their swords, belts and saddles with jade.

So, to get back our the story of the cup with the power to detect poison… it is made of jade and once belonged to the mathematician, astronomer and prince of the Timurid Empire, Ulugh Beg. Today, that jade cup is an exhibit in the Islāmic Room of the British Museum in London.

Ulugh Beg’s Jade Cup

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Roses and dancing girls

Have you ever seen a painting, a picture, a poster, a photograph… or any work of art and instantly felt a connection to it? Not the janam janam ka rishta type, but a connection where that piece of art is communicating with you? Talking only to you? And everything around just fades into the background and it’s just you and that work of art. This happens to me sometimes and it’s quite inexplicable, really, as to why I feel a connection that particular piece of art only !

This post is about one such connection. A connection forged while viewing it on a computer screen. It happened something like this…

It was a dull day at work. One of those days when everything moved sluggishly — papers,  people, the internet connection, thoughts …. The humid weather didn’t help and by the time tea break came around I was ready to go to sleep. Of course, I couldn’t being at work and all that. So I did the next best thing — armed with nice cup of Assam tea, some biscuits, and piano music in the background, I decided to do some blog surfing. And, serendipitiously, stumbled across this painting by Monishikha:

“Roses” by Monishika Roy-Choudhury. Watercolour on art paper

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