A Royal Retreat

The magnificence of the forts, the dazzle of the glittering ‘sheesh mahals’ and flamboyant palace-hotels, the rustic beauty of the villages, the inner calmness even in the thick crowds at Ajmer Shareef, the staggering queues of the devout at Pushkar, the clambering of hawkers in the old city and the mouth-watering mithai and food. My recent escapade to Jaipur was visual, soulful and a gourmet treat.

I am in love with Rajasthan. My winter visit of Udaipur (Palaces, Lakes and Memories) this year made me a fan of this State. Udaipur was laid-back and Jaipur is comparatively fast-paced. The action, for tourists especially, is in the old city-also known as the Pink city where all the buildings are painted in pink (a welcoming colour). Needless to say, we spent all our waking hours discovering this part of the city on foot and cycle rickshaws. The famed Hawa Mahal is located here. We jostled past the crowds to go all the way up for some ‘hawa’ (air), but alas! On this particularly sweltering day, there was none. However, the unique architecture of the building and the views of the surrounding monuments from here, made up for the lack of breeze.

Forts and Palaces

Amer Fort and Nahargargh Fort were our ‘must-sees’. Both located about 11 kms from the city on top of a hill are visual marvels. Amer Fort is huge, covering the surrounding hills to protect the town of Amer. Moats, ponds, gardens and a long curving pebbled walkway led us to the palace atop this fort.  The Rajput maharajas and their families lived in this opulent palace with its large open courtyards and the ‘sheesh mahal’ (section made entirely of glass). The Nahargarh Fort located at the edge of the Aravalli hills offered beautiful vistas of Jaipur city from its very interestingly made roof-top. It is said to have been a retreat palace for the Maharajas. The fresco paintings and their many baaris (windows) made for picture-postcard pictures.

We drove up to the Samode village (about 40 kms) which has a magnificent palace converted into a hotel-Samode Palace (What-e-‘Numa). The drive up to this palace traverses through the quaint village where artisans were busy at work in their shops. Blacksmiths were hammering hot iron on their anvils, while families of bangle (lac) makers were busy moulding pieces of designer bangles. They made us some new bangles as well. The palace is beautiful, with guards standing sentry.

Spiritual

Our ziyarat (Bonding- Spiritual, Social, Cultural) to Ajmer Shareef (135 kms) was a spiritual experience. Even in the midst of the multitudes of people, this resting place of the benevolent saint Moinuddin Chisti (Gharib Nawaz-Benefactor of the poor) had an eerily calming effect on us. We offered a customary chaadar (embroidered sheet) and flowers to the saint’s tomb and the custodian of the Dargah (Dr. Syed Irfan) offered prayers for us. The lyrical sound of the qawwali (Sufi devotional music) outside was divine.

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In the dargah

We took a trip to Pushkar town (Mysticism and the Kumbh) from Ajmer (16 kms) where the only Brahma temple in the world exists. While crowds of people lined to enter the temple, many others, like us, walked to the ghats (series of steps leading to the holy water) where priests performed pujas and did aartis to the chants of shlokas.

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At the ghat

Food

After our spiritual interlude, we were back to discover the rest of Jaipur. We took a food walk by YoTours in the old city and it was a gastronomical adventure of local snack food of kachoris, masala chai, malai kulfis, ghewar,sutarfini and our favourite-different kinds of paan. The Rajasthani food looks simple, but is deviously rich and laden with ghee. The famed vegetarian thaali with daal baati churma and a variety of curries and rotis we could only attempt to eat once. The non-vegetarian delicacy, laal maas, is not to be missed. We had it at ITC’s Rajputana and it was very worth it. We also had Continental and Chinese food at Niros and at Taruveda in the new part of the city.

Shopping

The hawkers and shop owners strike a hard bargain. The city is famous for its blankets, durries and bed sheets. Bandhini prints, bangles, fashion jewellery, footwear, different types of mukhwas (digestive mouth-fresheners) and bhujias (snacks), the roads were teeming with people selling all these and much more. Needless to say, just like my trip to Udaipur,(Palaces, Lakes and Memories) we came away with extra baggage!

Jaipur is a royal city. The people are courteous, helpful and surprisingly, humourous. Everyone is a guide here and has their own story to share about the forts and palaces. This city’s unique mix of the old and the new made it a memorable and delightful journey for us.

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At Samode Palace…Until next time…

Location:

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and is well-connected by air from metros. It has a good road network and a train station. Ajmer is well-connected to Jaipur by road and train. Pushkar is accessed by road.

Climate:

Average temperature in August is 35 C.

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Vaaji

“It is hard to forget someone who gave you so much to remember”.

It has been exactly a month since the passing away of my dear Vaaji, my paternal grandmother. And there hasn’t been a single day since that I don’t remember her. I have been meaning to write my thoughts about her for a while, but a part of me still can’t believe she has left us for her heavenly abode.

Both my grandmothers (Nani and Dadi) left no stone unturned in going over-board in showering us, their grandchildren, with unbridled affection, love and support. Both of them exuded with their strong presence a sense of invincibility which I thought would extend till eternity. Losing them both within a span of just 6 months (My Dear Nani) has been a tragic loss.

Even today, I expect to see Vaaji smiling at me, from her seat by the window in the masjid or from her favourite chair in her bedroom. She had a habit of selecting a place to make it her own wherever she stayed and that habit extended to her place in the car as well. Happily I treasure the last few months that she stayed with us and the sight of her favourite spot in our home reminds me of her daily.

Vaaji was born in Nagpur and as a young bride moved to Vizag after her marriage to Mr. Hussain Safi Mehdi, my grand-father. Living in a joint family, as my aunt reminiscences to me-“she was the favourite daughter and sister-in-law of the family”. Always willing and ready to share and give anything she was asked of. She was a pillar of support to my grand-father and to my father, uncle and aunts at all times.

She was a very determined woman. Quiet, but had immense strength and will-power. Her disarming smile carefully hid all her emotional and physical pains. She had a will to live and make the most of her life. She lost her eldest teen aged son whom she doted on, to cancer. But this did not break her. She became even more determined to give the rest of her children the best that she could offer. She herself was a cancer survivor and through her months of recovery, she smiled and bore the pain, never complaining.

She was also fiercely independent, right up till the end. She calmly went about doing her own chores even though she was frail and getting on in years and even helped with prepping vegetables in the kitchen. She would chide my two little naughty nephews, (her great grand-children) when they did not clear up their toys after playing, but would readily pick up after them when they left for their home each evening. I know she did the same for us as well when we were kids.

As most grand-mothers are, she was a fantastic cook and had some interesting multi-cuisine recipes of her own. My dad recalls how his friends loved to eat her version of the French toast (a fusion of sweet and savoury flavours) and they even renamed it ‘Vaaji’s French toast’. She enjoyed reading, and I remember the Manorama magazine subscriptions she looked forward to every month. She was a devout and spiritual person and like my Nani (My Dear Nani) had a progressive and modern outlook to life. She liked the outdoors, loved travelling, especially going on long road-trips. At the drop of a hat she was ready to accompany us on our many long distance road trips all over India. I especially remember as a child, how much I enjoyed the cycle rickshaw rides she took me on every evening.

As in health as in sickness, she was never a burden on anyone. Her spirit for life and her kindness towards everyone was such that even while she was seriously ill, she would ask about our health, and inquire about our day or whether we had eaten on time. She was a humorous and witty person, and despite her discomfort took part in and enjoyed all our chatter when we visited her at the hospital.

She was loved by one and all as was evident by all the well-wishers who came to meet her at the hospital. She was born in a large family and was the eldest of the many siblings she had. When she breathed her last, a few months shy of her 91st birthday, she was surrounded by all her children, grand-children, great grand-children and her sisters.

I miss her at all times, especially during this month of Ramzan, as I daily read the duas she helped me translate many years back. I can vividly remember that day, as if it was only yesterday. May she Rest in Peace and may Allah grant Heaven for my dear Vaaji. Ameen!

“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure”.

09Mrs Asma Hussain Mehdi- 21st November 1926 – 10th May, 2017

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

My Dear Nani

Just the other day I was saying to a friend, “why do people wait for a person to die to say good things about them?” (Dear Vaaji)

My Nani- she often told me I was her favourite grandchild, but I am sure she said that to all my cousins because she loved all of us equally (I was certainly the most troublesome for her) 😉

Even though my Nani was born in 1932, she had a plethora of knowledge and her thoughts were more progressive than most of us now. Growing up in an age of no Google and with little means of education at her disposal, she nevertheless utilized every opportunity that came her way and completed school. She was a modern thinker and used technology to keep in touch with her siblings, children, in-laws, grand-children and her great grand-children.

A master at languages-she was fluent in English, Gujarati, Urdu and Arabic. Her lucidity in thoughts were clear from her many writings and poems in both English and Gujarati. She was praised by one and all for her well-thought out writings in her free-flowing style.  She read everything I wrote and listened to all the audio and video clippings I sent to her and critiqued, appreciated and encouraged me to nurture my talent.

A voracious reader, she read everything in her sight-magazines, novels, newspapers from cover to cover. Her favourite past-time was solving crosswords and one of her most valued possessions was an old tattered Webster dictionary that she would constantly update with new words in her clear handwriting. (I think she mentioned that she had won that as a prize in some contest at a time when she could not afford to buy one for herself). She was very possessive about it and I remember many a time she chided me for taking it without her permission. 🙂

As a teacher for many years at school, my Nani was loved by all her students. She would often tell me stories from her school days and about her students. She had great oratory skills and me, my sister, brother and cousins have grown up on the very many stories she would tell us.

She was truly a multi-talented personality. She was a good artist as well. She water-coloured, sketched, did embroidery, stitched clothes… She loved trying different cuisines and was also an excellent cook- taught me a thing or two about cooking. She also had a very graceful and keen style sense. Loved colours and enjoyed accessorizing with her clothes. She pottered around her garden as well. She was very Victorian in a way- an era when ladies knew how to do everything. She not only knew how to do everything but did it well. While I don’t paint or stitch, but I think I get my other creative bursts come from her.

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Nani with her grand daughters Afshan and Alwina

She had so many facets to her life. All her very many different talents and certain quirks 😉 live on through her children, us her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. All of us have some part of her living through us.

This year for my birthday she gave me her most cherished possession, a silver pendant with a design made with tree sap that her favourite uncle had given to her as a child. I will always deeply cherish this kind gesture of hers towards me.

She was a devout person and it was her desire to visit Najaf and Karbala and pay obeisance to Moulana Ali and Moulana Hussain and other revered figures. I am glad she could do it. She now rests eternally in the holy land of Najaf. My dear Nani, we will all miss you. May your soul rest in peace and you look over all of us from above.

Perhaps this is why we talk about them after they leave us- so that we can forever remember them.

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Mrs. Zehra Hussain- 26th September 1932-26th December, 2016

-Forever yours, Tamanna

Mysticism and the Kumbh

The term ‘Kumbh Mela’, nostalgically reminds me of all those Hindi movies where children separated in the ‘Kumbh’ only to be reunited years later, and hence I burst in giggles when my parents inquired if I wanted to see the ‘Kumbh’ at Ujjain with them last month. (A Royal Retreat)

A succor for travel, the travel bug in me couldn’t pass this fantastic opportunity. Notwithstanding 40C+ temperatures, we set out daily to tour the many grand ‘akhadas’ (pandals) where swamis and sadhvis along with their disciples from all across the  country and the world have congregated for this month-long religious communion called ‘Simhasth 2016’ on the banks of the Shipra river at Ujjain.

What made the trip more memorable was being in the company of the religious head of our Mahdi Bagh community, His Holiness Sydena and Moulana Amiruddin Malak Saheb who was especially invited by Swami Avdheshanand Giri (head or mandaleshwar of the Juna Akhada and the Chief Head of the Simhasth) to inaugurate the nine-day ‘Ram Katha’ discourse by Murari Bapu.

Every akhada where Moulana Amiruddin Malak Saheb visited, He was accorded the utmost respect and was immediately invited for a personal audience with the swami. It was indeed a ‘divine’ example of tolerance and communal harmony. As we, about 100 of us accompanied Him, we were also made equally welcomed and got invited to partake in their ‘bhandara’ (prasad) which comprised of basic but extremely hygienic and tasty vegetarian food.

We were the cynosure of all, when we hired about 25 e-rickshaws  (A Royal Retreat) one evening and moved in a kind of convoy touring the many akhadas (some big, some small). Many motorists and bystanders curiously kept looking at the lot of us as we passed by babas with fancy titles like ‘Environement baba’, ‘Pilot baba’, the tantriks, the aghoris (they engage in post-mortem rituals), the kinners(transgenders) and the naga babas. There were some babas that have been standing on one leg for many years or some with one arm in the air.

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We also walked around the many ‘ghats’. ‘Ram Ghat’ on the Shipra River is where the ‘shahi snaan’ takes place on the first day of the Simhasth and is considered the most holy. To divert the devout and the many crowds of curious tourists and onlookers, many such ‘ghats’ are made along the river, so all can take a dip in the river. Temporary bridges are made connecting the banks of this wide river to facilitate quick movement of people. Strategically made fountains in the middle of the river and water spraying from the bridge, created a kind of a mist, keeping the place cool, despite the bright sun and high temperatures during the day. At night, the whole river was brightly lit up with colorful lights adding to the festive atmosphere.

In the four days of my trip to Ujjain this time, I can honestly say, that this unique experience is going to last with me for a life time. As a tourist at this grand event, to see the magnanimity of it and the bhakti of people from all walks of life- it is definitely to be seen to be felt. Religious harmony in India indicates there is love and affection between different religions in India and these past few days symbolized the best example of living in harmony in our pluralistic country.

The Kumbh Mela is held in Ujjain once every twelve years when Jupiter “enters” Leo, or simha. Hence, the Ujjain mela is known as the Simhasth Kumbh Mela and is being held from 22nd April to 6th May, 2016 this time.

Ujjain city

Apart from this current significance, the city itself has a large population of people from all religious communities living in harmony. The narrow by-lanes of the city are famous for its old architecture with intricately carved doorways and windows.

There is also a huge bangles market. A wide array of food, both sumptuous vegetarian and non-vegetarian are widely available. The sight of the big ‘kadahi’ with gulab jamus simmering away is a sight for a connoisseur.

Connectivity

Indore is the closest airport about 55 kms from Ujjain and is connected by flights from major cities. There is also a railway station at Ujjain.

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

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