The painter of murals

Every traveller has a story or two or maybe more about chance happenings that led to something more, something interesting. This is one such story. :)


I had just finished my tour of the Dr. Ramnath A. Podar Haveli Museum at Nawalgarh and had walked out of the main door. Unlike other havelis, the entrance to the Podar Haveli Museum is not level with the road and is situated about 15-20 feet above ground. From where I stood, I had the advantage of height and could look around and into the compounds of neighbouring havelis.

One such pastel-coloured haveli caught my attention. Located opposite the Podar Haveli Museum, its architecture exhibited colonial influences. It also had a large painting on one of its walls which, from where I stood, looked pretty interesting. But the high walls, closed gate and the freshly painted look of the haveli indicated that it was perhaps inhabited. I decided to check with the Museum staff if they knew anything about that haveli and if it would be possible for me to visit it.

Podar Haveli, Private House, Nawalgarh, Painter of Murals, SwarnkarTurned out that the Museum staff knew quite a bit. The haveli was the private residence of the Podars, the very family that owned the Museum. This was where the family members and their friends stayed whenever they visited Nawalgarh. Currently, the haveli was undergoing repairs and renovation and was, therefore, unoccupied. And yes, I could go and see the haveli if I wished to.

Of course I wished to ! I didn’t need any further encouragement and off I went. :)

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The woman priest at Daulatabad Fort

It is mid-morning on a December day in 2013 at Daulatabad Fort. I have been climbing for about an hour or so in an attempt to reach the top of the hill Fort, pausing only to take photographs or sips of water to keep myself hydrated. It has been a never-ending climb; every time I think I have negotiated the final set of steps and reached the top, another set appears almost as if by magic ! It doesn’t help that the access way is built in such a way that only part of the route is visible !

Daullatabad FortWhen I spot a dome as I negotiate yet another set of steps (see photo on the left), I think I have reached the summit. I am so happy and relieved that I run up the “last” few steps.

But no ! Another set of stairs looms ahead ! I am so breathless and winded by then that I can’t even cuss in frustration.

Ganesh Temple, Daulatabad FortI decide to take a longer break before resuming with the climb and move to the shade of some trees. I notice a middle-aged woman sweeping the area outside the domed structure.

Before I can ask her about the structure, I get distracted by the antics of a squirrel, and then by the requests of a group of school children who want their photographs taken, when they see my camera.

“Would you like some water? It is from a spring close by and very refreshing, ” a soft voice asks.

It is the woman who had been sweeping earlier and she is holding a bottle of water. Even though I have water, I don’t want to offend her by saying no. The water is as refreshing as the woman promised and surprisingly sweet as well.

“What is this?” I ask, pointing towards the domed structure.

“It’s a Ganesha Temple.”

“I saw you cleaning the temple and its premises. Are you the caretaker?”

“I guess you could call me that. But locally, I am known as this temple’s priest.” Continue reading

There’s a Tablet in the house – Part 2

“How could you be so careless?” Amma glares at me.

“Well… you know, I just forgot.” I try to look nonchalant and cool; needless to say, I fail miserably.

“Forgot? How can you forget your mobile in the office? You have it attached to you like an appendage at other times !”

“I do not !” I protest.

“Amma, don’t exaggerate,” pipes in my brother, who’s visiting from Pune and is busy surfing on my Dell Venue Tablet. “This is not the first time your daughter has forgotten her mobile in office. You should know by now that she does it quite regularly.”

I glare at my brother and he grins back cheerfully. Really ! Is this the time to bring up this habit of mine?

“Yes. But is this the time to forget? What are we supposed to do now? How will we know what time Dr. Shashank’s coming? Or even if he’s coming today.” Amma is, to put it politely, in a flap.

“Of course, he’s coming, Amma. Dr. Shashank did say the last time he was here that he would be here today at 8.00 am,” I say soothingly

“He also said that he will confirm with you,” Amma snaps at me. “And in case you haven’t realised, it is 8.30 am and he isn’t here yet. He must have sent a text message to you about today’s session.”

I wisely keep quiet.

In case you’re wondering who Dr. Shashank is, and why my mother is in such a dither over him at 8.00 8.30 am that morning, read on.

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There’s a Tablet in the house – Part 1

“Can you play the tanpura before you go?”, Amma (my mother) asks. I have just settled her in bed for the night and have switched on the night-light when she makes this request.

“Of course,” I say, reaching for the Tablet kept on the nightstand. I switch on the Tanpura App and within seconds a soft, sonorous drone fills the room. Amma smiles with pleasure and within minutes she’s fast asleep. I wait for a little while before leaving the room, reducing the volume a bit.

“Paati’s (Tamil word for grandmother) asleep?” asks AA, my niece, as I pass her on the way to the kitchen.

“Yes. Let the tanpura play for another 10 minutes or so and then you can use the Tablet if you want to,” I tell her.

“Okayyyyyy, ” AA drawls out her thanks.

“And after you finish, AA, I’d like to use it for a while. I want to catch up with the news,” calls out her mother and my sister-in-law, SV.

“Okayyyyyy. I won’t take more than 10 minutes; just want to check my FB and mail,” AA replies.

When I look in to say goodnight to SV and AA about half-an-hour later, I find that they are sharing earphones and watching something on the Tablet intently. I smile and head for bed thinking how quickly a device that everyone in my family had not shown any interest in, had suddenly become the most convenient and coveted thing in the household.

That device was a 8″ x 5″, book-sized, Dell Venue Tablet sent to me last month as part of the Dell blogger review programme.

Dell Venue Tablet, Product Review

The Dell Venue Tablet

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Meeting “Eskay”

It all started with a DM (Direct Message on Twitter) from Gitanjali Sriram that I received about a month back. Actually, there were 3 of them.

Hey! My dad published a book last yr ‘Indira Gandhi: The Final Chapter’ which chronicles her story from the Emergency to her assassination

The story is told thru the political cartoons he was doing for the Indian Express during those year. It’s a fab book.

Would you like a few signed copies to give away during one of the TSBC sessions?

(Note: #TSBC or The Sunday Book Club is a book chat on twitter. For more details please click here.)

Ahem… Would I like a few signed copies…? ;-) Once I had conferred with Raghav and Rahul, my #TSBC co-founders, I sent a DM to Gitanjali accepting her offer. She, in turn, sent me the email address of Suraj ‘Eskay’ Sriram, her father and author of the book giveaway, to work out the formalities involved. And a few emails later we were set.

I am embarrassed to admit now that, at that time, I had not heard of the book or the author. A quick online search revealed that Indira Gandhi: The Final Chapter (Niyogi Books, 2011, pp.176) was a glimpse of the Indian political and social scene through Eskay’s cartoons and illustrations, during the last few years of Indira Gandhi’s political regime. I also asked my older brothers and Amma if they had heard of Eskay. To which I received an immediate “Of course !” followed by a “Why do you ask?” When I gave them the background details, I was told by all of them that I don’t read enough ! :-(

But I digress from the main topic of this post: Meeting “Eskay”, which happened last Saturday in Pune. And what a meeting it was !

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A tryst with Mirabai and Narayan Surve @ the FD Zone

What comes to your mind when you think of Mirabai (or Meerabai, depending on your choice of spelling)?

Mirabai, Meerabai, Amar Chitra KathaThe 16th century princess-turned-poet from Rajasthan who was a devotee of Krishna? The rebellious Rajput princess who refused to worship any other god, but Krishna? The widow who was harassed by her in-laws because she refused to become a sati? The pious saint whose soulful compositions we hear now and then through the renditions of Lata Mangeshkar, Kishori Amonkar, M.S. Subbalakshmi, and others? An incident from Mirabai’s life in a school text-book? The Amar Chitra Katha comic book that narrates her entire “life story”?

I am thinking about all this as I wait for a documentary on Mirabai to begin at the RR Theatre of Films Division (FD) at Peddar Road in Mumbai. An initiative of The FD Zone, this screening is part of a curated two-film package: the first is the film on Mirabai titled A Few Things I Know About Her and the second film is Narayan Gangaram Surve.

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