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Monday, January 26, 2015

The Ordinary Life of a Maharani

A couple of months ago, I came across this striking photograph on http://www.oldindianphotos.in/
 and wondered about the lovely Indian lady in formal Victorian court attire. The short description below the photo indicated that this was Maharani Suniti Devi of Cooch-Behar, in a photo dated to 1902 when she travelled to England and was presented at the court of Queen Victoria.
Curious to read more about her, I looked for the Wikipedia entry and also came across her autobiography which can be either read online or downloaded.

She started with a fairly ordinary life as a child, till her father, Brahmo luminary Keshab Chandra Sen, decided to take off on his own tangent and start his own variant of the Brahmos and a school for young women. His daughters were well educated, and consequently sought after as brides for leading princes, of whom the Maharaja of Cooch-Behar Nripendranarayan was one. Suniti was married to him at a young age and went to live with him after she came of age.
An unremarkable person, made remarkable by the circumstances, she describes a life of conjugal happiness, much love and lightness, a large family with many children, a faithful and loving husband. She dwells at large upon her stays in England and seems to have been the toast of the English court. She has never a cross or unkind word for the majority of her acquaintances, life sailed a smooth keel till the passing of her husband, followed by the shock of losing the beloved son who briefly took over the kingship.
Life went on, and she passed on in due course, but not before taking the time to author her own story as well as another booklet of Grandma's tales.
Here she is in widows weeds, as photographed shortly after her husband passed away. Her hair is greyed, but her eyes still have the clear serenity that they had in her heyday, despite the sorrow that now shades them.

(Photo credits:"Her Highness Maharani Suniti Devi of Cooch Behar" by Pinewood Studios - V&A Picture Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
"Suniti Devi, Maharani of Cooch Behar" by Photographs from the Lafayette Studio Archive of the V&A, London - http://www.rvondeh.dircon.co.uk/cooch2.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A word of advice

To all those spammers who 'love my writing' and are desperately trying to get their comments with links to their websites, please come up with actual decent readable content on your sites ( a personal blog similar to mine, with tons of actual stories and/or experiences would be ideal), and I might even condescend to publish your comments. Supplements and hacking tools infomercial sites, not so much.
Think about it! Repent and turn into bloggers, all ye spammers, and the Great AntiSpambot shall relent and graciously allow your comments to come through the Eye of the Needle...err...Spam Filter.





Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Police Encounter

She was big, burly in her cop's uniform and heavy-duty blue jacket, embroidered with her last name. Her hair was neatly tied up in a short bun, her blue eyes gazed sharply about as she stood  at the entrance to the theater. Officer E was the off-duty policewoman who was providing security at the theater in a seedier district of uptown where M was performing with her dance troupe.

There had been another cop on the previous night's show, but I had noticed little of him, beyond noting that he pulled up a chair near the coathangers and sat for the hour during which I manned one of the ticket tables. 

This day's cop was different. She declined offers from us to supply her with a chair. She stood there quietly, swaying back and forth a bit occasionally, shuffling back and forth over the length of a few feet. One of the volunteers brought her a box of samosa and pakoras, as they started boxing the snacks which were to be sold during the intermission. She took it with murmured thanks and placed it on a newspaper rack next to her standing place.

After the rush of main arrivals had slowed down to a trickle of latecomers, a  couple of last stragglers came in to buy tickets. "Has the show started yet? It's only 4:30!" I handed them the tickets noting, "The show started on time at 4."  They had missed practically three-quarters of the first half.
"Indian Standard Time", I said apologetically to the policewoman, as she raised her eyebrows over the exchange. A tiny smile passed her lips.

"Parking is really hard to find in this area, isn't it?" I inquired in a conversational tone as I settled down into a chair at the table near her. "I parked near the library and walked down here, couldn't find on-street parking in the afternoon when I arrived."
"I couldn't find parking either,"she admitted."I'm parked in a no-parking zone near a dumpster."
"That shouldn't be a problem, seeing that you are a policewoman, I guess."
"Nope, they know me around here."
 Next, assorted casual chitchat, in which I learned that she lives with her elderly parents and is going there for dinner without having to change out of uniform, that she works 4 ten-hour shifts every week and the police department will be moving to 5 eight-hour shifts that she isn't sure she will like.
'But think of how much better it will be for your health to be able to maintain more normal hours!" Her expression tells me that she is  unimpressed by my attempt to highlight its advantages.
"Don't you get tired standing all the time?"
"I'm afraid that I wouldn't be able to get up if I sat down." Yes,she does look tired, inspite of the alert stance.
Around this time, one of the other ladies came over to ask if she would like a cup of masala tea, which she gratefully accepted and sipped, commenting on how she liked its gingery flavor.

Soon after, I was called inside, and stayed to watch the second half of the show. Officer E had vanished by the time I got outside again, off to dinner with her family. The lobby was crowded with the exiting audience, excited cast and their family members.

The next day, I remembered the embroidered name and idly googled it to see to which police station she might have been attached, and came across articles about allegations of violence and intimidation by a female cop dating back to the 1990's and another incident  in 2007(both involving other cops, not regular citizens).
Was this the same policewoman who was at the theater? I can't say for sure, but the age and name do seem to match up. Maybe the 'harmless' lady cop that I had been chatting with so casually was more than she seemed, a flaming temper kept under control until an excuse came up to unleash it.

Rather like Ma Durga, I suppose, and appropriate enough, since one of the show's themes was about the Devi and her destructive as well as protective capacity!

(On a side note, I really ought give up googling people. Sometimes, it leads you down rabbit holes down which you shouldn't have gone! )







Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Walking in the early morning...

Walking by rosy dawnlight,
Walking by bright sunlight,
Walking by inky starlight,
Walking by bright moonlight
Walking by baleful eclipselight.


















Actually, it was quite a thrilling sight to be watching the 'Blood Moon' of 2014 as the earth's shadow moved across the moon. The moon looked much larger than the pitiful photos that my phone's camera was capable of representing with any accuracy. The final 5 minutes of my walk home were presided over a baleful orange red eye, with the peaceful creamy white having turned to a Martian red.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Vignettes from Across the Pond

The natives are not friendly.

I could count on my hand the number of friendly smiles that I might have received as I walked around for the span of three weeks. The feeling of being constantly evaluated as in 'What class is this person from?' pervades every little transaction, no matter how insignificant.

Though there was a gorgeously dressed black lady who smiled without hesitation at me as I exited the sports camp building. Must have been of Caribbean extraction.

They are polite and business-like when you have dealings with them. But there is no sense of joy in interactions with them, just a fatigued tension.

The one day that I received more than an average share of 'Mornings' from the other walkers was the day I trudged home with two Sainsbury plastic bags in hand, carrying a couple of quarts of milk.  Maybe they thought that I was a local, accounting for the friendlier attitudes.
 Maybe that's what it takes to crack the serious facades.

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My brightly colored sneakers must have seemed quite odd.
 An tiny grey-haired lady wearing a violent magenta blazer paired with a bright orange skirt passed by as I escorted my toddler nephew to his sports camp.
"I love your trainers', she offered with a smile.
'They're nice, aren't they?' I replied, glancing automatically at my nephew's shoes, white with green accents, flashing red with mini lights.
Then I thought, maybe she was referring to my shoes, a bright violet and lime combination, whose main attraction for me had been the cheap price for a decent brand name.
I do not like the current year's fashions of horrendously bright color contrasts and neon shades, but wear them, nevertheless.

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Slugs and snails come out in droves when it rains.

We reached there during a relatively sunny and dry spell, so the green turf of the park was starting to dry out. But then the rain kicked in, with no warning other than a greyish light at dawn. It was a steady rain, falling in large drops over several hours.
The next morning, I saw a huge snail, bigger than any I had ever seen in my life, crawling across the glass door, leaving slimy streak in its wake. It must have been at least 3 inches long.
I stepped out for my morning walk and nearly squished something  that looked disgustingly like dog feces, but on closer examination, was actually moving. A big fat slug, bigger than the miniscule ones I have seen in my garden in the US, was crossing the footpath.
A few steps later, another snail with a reddish brown shell, another pair of slugs making merry.
I spent the whole walk watching for snails and slugs, and hope that I didn't squish any. There were the messy results of a few more careless walkers ahead of me to provide an 'ick' element to the walk. Poor squished slugs, unlovely though they might have been.


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The British museum with its collections of treasures from far and wide, collected over the centuries of dominion.
 Assyrian reliefs, no doubt saved from the horrors of bombing of Iraq and Lebanon in the current era, massive pillars and statues lifted wholesale from ancient temples of  Nineveh and Nimrud.
In the Asian section, a Chola bronze Nataraja took center stage, and there was an impressive, five faced Vinayaka. Provenance, anyone? Will those statues be ever returned to India, as Australia did recently? I think probably not. The British museum doesn't recognize claims made for art and artifacts that were removed from India prior to 1947.
The privileges of being an empire, I suppose.

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We sit exhausted in the train after the museum outing, our stop is still about 10 minutes away. I notice a man on the opposite side staring at M, or rather, leering at her. Kohl on his eyes, bearded. What a wacko! I glare at him as best as I can manage for a few seconds before I resume gazing at the Tube map above the seats, thankful that we get off shortly.
No further weird characters on the next train we hop on for the trip home. 
Now in light of the Rotherham scandal and worse, I suppress a shudder.Things that seem unimportant take a more ominous significance, as the casual leerer in the train, or the little girl who toddles away from her 'home' with noone apparently watching her.

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