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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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  TRAVEL  
     
 
   
 
  Learning from Germany
  By Simi Thambi  
  MY joy knew no bounds when in June last I was invited to take part in a model United Nations Conference hosted by Duisburg University at Duisburg in the Northern Rhine region of Germany. To cut down the cost, the university students had volunteered to host international delegates like me at their homes. Thus we got a first-hand experience of the German way of life. With me was another girl, a doctoral student from the Political Science Department of Delhi University.

When we arrived at the Düsseldorf airport, we were informed that our host Ines Ulmn, a bachelor's student at the university, would pick us up. Though I knew her through e-mails, it would not be truthful if I say I was not surprised when we met at the airport. She was much older than what I had expected her to be, a tall woman in her early fifties.

The bewilderment caused me to blurt out, quite unexpectedly, "So you are Ines?" She smiled and answered in the affirmative adding, "Yeah yeah, much older than you must have thought!" Saying this she escorted us to her Mercedes Benz.

Duisburg is an industrial centre of North Rhine region, most renowned for its steel industry. The Duisburg harbour is the largest inland harbour in the world. Given the industrial base, it is considered to be among the 'not so pretty places' to see in Germany. But coming from India even the 'not so pretty' was a delight to watch.

Our host Ines stayed at Mulheim, a posh city, 10 minutes drive from Duisburg. After reaching her house, we didn't have much time on hand to chat as we had to leave immediately for a global village party. These parties, ubiquitous in Model United Nations Conferences, are an informal way to get to know the fellow delegates of the Conference.

Each delegate had to represent and present something (in terms of food or performance) of his/her home country or the country he/she is representing at the conference. Some of the highlights of that evening that I can recollect now are the traditional Pashto dance from Afghanistan, bhangra from Pakistan, the rhythmic sway from China, a Bollywood number from India (sung by me given the great fan base of Bollywood abroad), chanting of Love Verses from Egypt, tribal dance from South Africa, Opera from Canada and recital of national anthem by Bangladesh and the Netherlands.

The fact that everything was so impromptu added to the excitement. Diversity in the world has fascinated me since I was a little child, but watching it so closely was a different experience altogether. The Goosebumps on my arms with every performance was how my body reacted to this great feeling.

Another thing that fascinated me was that we the delegates from Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh became pals in just an instant, quite unlike our national diplomatic circles. Much because we had so much in common: Hindi/Urdu, Bollywood, Shayeri to name a few. It was a great experience to bond with fellow Asians in the West.

From the next day onwards, we had rigorous committee sessions, namely UN Security Council, UN General Assembly, UN Economic and Security Council, European Union and G-20. We had to role play the heads of State and their position at these committees. From then on we were no longer delegates from our home country but of the country we were representing at the Model United Nations. I had chosen to represent Japan in G-20. So I had to behave like the Japanese Prime Minister. We had to address each other as fellow heads of State with due respect and in the formal lexicon. After four days of grueling sessions we arrived at two leaders' statements for each topic, at which all heads of state unanimously agreed. The sessions were challenging but at the same time great fun.

Each day after coming back from the committee sessions to Ines's House we went for sight-seeing to nearby places. One day we went for a night walk followed by dinner at Duisburg inner harbor, next day Ines took us to Düsseldorf, the fashion hub of North Rhine, then another day she treated us with a wonderful dinner over the North Rhine River.

But the best of them was when she took us to a restaurant in the woods. That day Germany was playing against Australia. A group of people were watching the match together. When we reached, they offered us to join them and suddenly we became one huge group of people shouting loud "GO Deutschland". Each time Germany scored a goal the guys rushed to hug/kiss the TV; it was hilarious and truly a delight to watch.

As the Mastercards advertisement says, there are some things which money can't buy... That day cheering at the restaurant I realized that the world is such a beautiful place to live in. We came from different continents but there are always things which bond us all together breaking all barriers. Among other things I was also bowled over by the German hospitality.

In most restaurants we went to, the Chef seeing that we were foreigners gave us some free drinks -- at a Turkish restaurant where I went with my university pals, I was offered an extra cup of Turkish black coffee, at the restaurant in the woods each day we were offered a chocolate and an extra drink. I don't know whether in general the people were like that or whether the people I met were extra nice. But the experience was relishable. This made me think of foreigners in India where the Indian shopkeepers try to make maximum profits from them, so much for the ostentatious slogans of "Atithi Devo bhav".

As for Ines, she was a woman who I will admire for the rest of my life. She had been a physiotherapist by profession but now that she was getting old she had decided to pursue her other areas of interest, so she decided to study political science at the University. On our long evening jogs together, she often told me of the hardships they had to face under the authoritative Communist regime.

She and her husband were originally from East Germany but came to this part of West Germany after the fall of Berlin Wall. She was now super rich; her husband was the CEO of a major software hub in Germany. She told me she didn't believe in religion or God. Her faith lay in the ability of the government to direct welfare. But somehow I felt that though she was a no-believer, she was a better Christian than many of us, through her humility and nobleness. I had the privilege to chat with her husband as well, and loved every bit of those long conversations. Not for an instant did I feel I was talking to a high-profile person. He talked with such an unpretentious demeanor, rare to find these days.

On the last day of my stay in Germany, we decided to go to Amsterdam, which was two hours drive away. It was Sunday and technically it was an off day for shops but the city still appeared to be in a carnival mood. The best thing about Amsterdam was its highly liberal culture -- everything from drugs, prostitution to LGBT is legalized.

They sell marijuana, weed etc like coffee at coffee shops (different from cafes) and they make money from sex at the red light district area where scantily-clad prostitutes stand behind window panes ready to be bought like groceries with their rates put outside like on a menu card. It was definitely a grave culture shock coming from a land where these things are a big taboo. Whether their culture was good or bad, I don't know. I do not wish to judge. But they surely have lower cases of rape, illegal prostitution and human trafficking.

In retrospect, my German tour was definitely a unique experience. Most of all, I admired Germany for the fact that each citizen felt a sense of moral responsibility towards the city. For simple things like keeping the city clean they were so diligent. In India even in Delhi University where everyone is educated, so to say, the students lack this moral sense. No doubt, India is special and unmatchable. If only these loopholes could be taken care of, it would be a paradise to live in.
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Photo caption: The writer (in the front row wearing black dress) with some of the delegates
 
   
   
 
  Kashmiriyat revisited
  By Ram Puniyani  
  THIS June 18, 2010, thousands of Kashmiri Pandits, including women and children, visited the temple of Mata Kheer Bhavani in Tullamula, 20 kms from Srinagar. It was the sacred day of Zyeshtha Ashthami.

Most of the Pandits were visiting the Valley after nearly 20 years, since the time they left Kashmir due to various reasons like the separatist militancy and the way the whole thing was handled by the authorities concerned.

The spiritual zest to worship Goddess Ragnya Devi, to whom this temple is dedicated, was in the air. There was a big congregation of local Muslims who greeted the visiting Pandits with cold drinks and kheer (a dessert made of milk and rice). Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and many other ministers also turned up on this emotional occasion.

The local Muslims and the ministers said that everyone in authority should work for the return of the Pandits to the Valley, as Kashmiriyat is incomplete without the Pandits, who are an integral part of Kashmir's culture and life.

Many a Pandit also promised to work towards such a goal, to overcome the divides created by the militants and political forces. The return of the Pandits to the Valley has already begun, though it is a trickle at the moment.

The Kashmir issue has been seen by Pakistan and India as an issue of 'real estate' only. Kashmir has been treated as the territory which has to be won over by any means. The Government of Pakistan has regularly used the 'Kashmir' issue to retain their hold on the political power in Kashmir, while in India, for far too long the Central Government ignored the aspirations of the local population.

In this scenario the real essence of Kashmir -- Kashmiriyat -- got undermined and the issue started being presented as a communal one and as the site of dispute between two neighboring countries.

The soul of Kashmir's culture has been a thick interaction between different religious traditions, teachings of Buddha, Vedanta, and the Sufi tradition of Islam. Kashmir was the place where Buddhism spread widely. Most of the population, except the upper caste, embraced Buddhism. With attacks on Buddhism in the 8th Century the tide turned.

Later many Sufis came to Kashmir and preached their version of Islam. The most famous of them was Nooruddin Noorani, popularly known as Nund Rishi. He was influenced by Lal Dedh, who herself was influenced by the earlier Sufis. Her mystical verses have a Shaivite form. Today both Hindus and Muslims regard her as their own. Like the great Bhakti saint, Kabir, there is a story that when she died her body turned into a heap of flowers, half of which were consigned to flames by Hindus, while the remaining half was buried by Muslims.

Nund Rishi wrote in appreciation of Lal Dedh, about her syncretic spiritual values which taught that one should not differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim, one should realize one's own self and that's what God is. On similar lines, Nund Rishi focused on purification of soul. He bitterly criticised Mullahs and Brahmins whose focus is more on rituals than on spirituality and morality of the religions. Nund Rishi's was a sort of mass movement in Kashmir, which affected many Kashmiris and they embraced Islam as taught by him.

Such a rich heritage has come under threat, particularly during the last three decades. The vexed Kashmir issue got the communal slant due to the intrusion of Al Qaeda-type elements, once their work of driving away Russian forces from Afghanistan was over. The Kashmiri militancy assumed a different form during the 1990s and it became communalised.

Amongst many factors contributing to the worsening of the Kashmir situation, one was the worsening communal scenario in India in the 80's which added fuel to the fire of terrorism in Kashmir. Meanwhile, a communal angle was being given to the harmony prevalent between Kashmiri Pandits and the local Muslim population. Terrorists took advantage of that distortion.

Due to the local dissatisfaction of people, their feeling of alienation, the evil designs of the Pakistan Mullah-Military complex, totally backed by US imperialist goals, the militants changed their tune and Kashmiri Pandits started being targeted.

The matter worsened due to the policies of Jagmohan, who was Governor of the state. While the delegation of Kashmir people was preparing to call upon the Pandits to request them not to leave the Valley, the state Governor provided them the transport to leave the Valley. Most local leaders of the Muslim community opposed the move of sending the Pandits away from Kashmir, but encouraged by Jagmohan, the Pandits left the Valley. Essentially a problem between two neighboring countries assumed a communal color.

The condition of the Pandits, living in refugee camps has been quite pitiable. Surely, apart from Pandits many a Kashmiri Muslim also had to leave the Valley due to the twin attack from the terrorist groups and the high-handedness of the Indian military, which behaved more like an occupation army. Its heavy presence coupled with long years of stay in the Valley totally distorted the civic life in Kashmir.

The communal forces in India selectively harped on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits while the other victims of Kashmir violence were totally left out of their scheme of propaganda. The tragedy is that while communal forces kept talking of the plight of Pandits, during the six years of the BJP-led NDA rule hardly anything different was done for the victims of militancy, and the lop-sided policies of the leadership, dominated by the policies of the Central Government continued.

The present developments are a very healthy one. While army highhandedness and militancy are still visible, the local political leadership is increasingly coming out to express the Kashmiri people's aspirations. This is partly due to the change in the policies of the US. Peace seems to be slowly returning to Kashmir. This Kheer Temple congregation is a signal of the revival of the spirit of Kashmiriyat, the heart and soul of Kashmir. (Courtesy: www.pluralindia.com)
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Photo caption: Pandits worshipping at Tullamula -- Photo by Amin War
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The writer can be reached at ram.puniyani@gmail.com
 
   
   
 
  American odyssey - 1
  By Anand Muttungal  
  MY friends and well-wishers organised a very memorable farewell party, a day before my departure to take part in the International Visitor Leadership Programme organized by the United States of America.

I was overwhelmed by the large turnout of people at the Bhopal airport to see me off early in the morning. I was eagerly looking forward to visiting the US. It was in Mumbai that I came to know about the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

The American Consulate in Mumbai informed me that many airports in Europe were closed and many flights to Europe and America were cancelled. Fortunately, the lady told me, our flight was not cancelled.

It was with this good news that I reached the Mumbai airport in the wee hours of April 17, 2010. But at the airport I was told that my flight to Washington was postponed indefinitely. The time was 12.30 am. As instructed by the American Consulate in Mumbai, I called up the programme in-charge. She advised me to stay in Mumbai till the morning.

In the morning I was told I would be accommodated in a flight leaving for the US via Dubai two days later. She made arrangements for my stay in Mumbai. I did not seek any allowance but the Consulate provided an allowance for the period I remained in Mumbai.

After a long waiting of 12 hours at the Dubai Airport, I was shocked to learn that the volcanic eruption had affected our route to Washington too.

The airlines announced that the volcanic ash could affect the journey. They requested 62 passengers to opt out voluntarily from flying and wait in Dubai for another flight the next day.

In a short time they got sufficient passengers who opted to go the next day. After a long flight we finally reached Washington. It was definitely shocking news for me that my luggage did not reach.

To be frank, it did not sadden me even though I was left with only one pair of extra dress. Of course, my travel documents were with me. This was because I was happy that the passengers were all safe.

I came to know from someone at the airport that the aircraft had to fly above the normal height to avoid the volcanic ash. So the flight did not carry many luggage pieces.

While I was waiting for my luggage to reach my hotel, the US Department of the State arranged money and a person to buy me necessary things including dress. This was also done without my request. I realised that hospitality and courtesy were part of their culture.

All through, I received smiles and heard soft words and polite expressions. I experienced this at the shops I went to buy things and from the driver who drove us to different destinations, the people who served us at the hotels and the persons whom I met to learn about the different working systems of American society.

I noticed a very good thing -- everyone stands in the queue to get his work done. The queue system is followed everywhere -- in markets and in offices. So we find order everywhere. People do not crowd around for their work to be done.

I wondered how these people have become so polite and courteous. When I visited a lower primary school, I got an answer to my query. The children were coming in lines to take part in a book distribution ceremony. The teacher kept telling them, "keep smiling and speak soft." I noticed it at all the centers I visited.

I understood that the training children receive at a very young age is what characterises a society. Of course, there are exceptions but they are negligible. I believe good hospitality, soft talking with natural blooming smiles and courteous words are the stepping stones to success. No one knows this better than the Americans. (To be concluded)
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Photo caption: The writer is the third from the right
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The writer is PRO and spokesperson, Catholic Council of Bishops, M.P, and Director, Vishwa Kalyan Ashram
 
   
   
 
  Issue of survival
  By Meetu Tewari  
  THE Dongria Kondh is a tribe living in the Niyamgiri Hills in the state of Orissa. At present, there are about 8000 members of this tribe living in various villages around the Niyamgiri Hills. Over the years, they have become high-grade fruit farmers and horticulturists, growing a wide variety of fruits like pineapples, oranges, papaya etc.

The Dongria Kondh people begin their day by praying to their mountain God before going to their fields where they grow a variety of beans, roots, bananas and other fruits and vegetables. If their water supply dries up, they will be unable to continue farming. The wonderful forests of Niyamgiri Hills are not only home to these ancient folks but also to a number of endangered species like the Giant Squirrel and Golden Gecko.

However, recent years have revealed another precious commodity, bauxite, an important aluminium ore. This has drawn to the region a British mining corporation, Vedanta Resources. The company has set up an aluminium refinery in neighboring Lanjigarh. According to the villagers, they were duped, offered money for their land which they accepted but did not know it would lead to their water sources drying up. They claim that those who were not willing were roughed up and made to sell their land.

Vedanta Resources believes that there is 17 million tonnes of bauxite in the mountain and is keen to start mining, but the people of Dongria Kondh are ready to fight for their rights, even if it means a fight to death.

The open pit mine which Vedanta plans would mean a disruption to the rivers, destruction of the vast forests, danger to the already endangered species of animals so varied as tigers, bears, wild boars and also an end of this peaceful tribe and their way of living.

The life of these simple people revolves around the mountain, which they believe to be a God, protecting them and providing for them. However, after seeing the troubles brought upon Lanjigarh by Vedanta, the people are determined not to give up. Theirs is a fight to preserve their right to an ancient way of living which embraces nature. It is a fight to preserve the forests and against corporate greed.

In 2010 the Church of England withdrew its investments from Vedanta concerned by the firm's poor record for respecting human rights. The Norwegian firm Martin Currie has also sold its shares in the firm.

Pressure is mounting on Vedanta as the story of the struggle of these people is spread internationally, especially using the Internet as a means of informing others about the plight of Dongria Kondh. Joanna Lumley, along with Survival International, has been vocal in her support for the tribe. However, this inspiring story of struggle is little known within India itself, with few if any media coverage. Surprisingly, most of the media attention has been given by international newspapers and news organisations rather than the Indian media.

After the stupendous success of Avatar, Dongria Kondh appealed to James Cameron for help. For them the choice is simple, it is either the company or them.

Vedanta Resources has failed in its duty to society in pursuit of profits. In this day and age when CSR and good business are the mantras which help firms survive, Vedanta is clearly generating a lot of bad publicity which will be detrimental to it. Their actions have brought international attention to the region and to the vociferous protests of the tribals.

The Dongria Kondh want our help in stopping mining in Niyamgiri. Their struggle is not only for their way of life but also for the wonderfully rich forests, for the beauty and serenity of the green expanses, for the voiceless inhabitants of their depths. There is much we can learn from the Dongria Kondh, how they live at peace with the wild animals, their farming techniques and how a peaceful tribe living in huts was driven into a corner but found the strength to stand up together for their rights.
 
   
   
 
  A miniature India
  By Amy Yee  
  WITH its fluorescent lights and laminate tables, the little restaurant near the shuttered Chanakya Cinema looked like any no-frills canteen found throughout the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Diners bought copies of the Daily Thanthi newspaper, written in the curlicue script of Tamil. A small statue of Balaji, a deity worshiped in southern India, sat snugly on the counter. And the food was rich with the crepe-like dosas for which the region is known.

Young families and hungry bachelors were digging into uttapam, a kind of Tamil pancake flecked with coconut and green chili; paratha, a flaky and buttery bread served on a stainless steel plate; and lamb biryani, a mound of spicy rice topped with a shiny boiled egg.

But the Tamil Nadu House, a ziggurat-shaped concrete building where this 18-table restaurant is located, is nowhere near the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal. Rather, it is tucked in an affluent neighborhood of New Delhi where it's possible to sample India's entire culinary landscape by taxi.

Each of India's 28 states has its own government-run house for state affairs, known as a bhavan, in the bustling capital city of New Delhi. And most of the bhavans have a canteen that specializes in regional cuisine, whether it's the coconut-infused dishes of the southwest state of Kerala, or the Chinese-style momos, or dumplings, of Sikkim in the northeast.

Nearly all the bhavans are clustered in the leafy streets of Chanakyapuri, the capital's diplomatic area, so an adventurous eater can embark on a gastronomic survey of India without leaving the neighborhood. While not all the canteens are open to the public, most welcome walk-ins. An even bigger draw is the price: in a city that is expensive by Indian standards, a meal for two at a bhavan rarely exceeds 300 rupees, or about $7.

Among the most popular is the Andhra Pradesh Bhavan, which serves the fiery fare that this southern Indian state is known for. Situated in a squat, white plaster building near the triumphant India Gate, the bhavan is a minor attraction in its own right.

On a cool Sunday evening last month, the two-level cafeteria was packed. The boisterous chatter of families, couples and young friends echoed off the white-tiled walls. The 200 seats were filled, except for two granite-topped tables upstairs, reserved for members of parliament from Andhra Pradesh.

Dinner in this fluorescent-lighted space was a loud and harried affair. Men in white shirts and black pants directed new customers with the efficiency of traffic cops, shepherding them to tables as soon as they became vacant. There is a set meal, along with à la carte dishes that can be ordered from roving servers.

A thali, or sampling of dishes, was served on a metal platter with indentations that resembled a painter's palette, as well as in small metal bowls. They included a curry of miniature eggplant smothered in a piquant gravy; a pale groundnut chutney reminiscent of peanut butter; sambar, a watery lentil broth; rasam, a tangy tomato broth flavored with tamarind; cooling yogurt; and a double ka meeta, a special Andhra bread pudding soaked in cream, sugar and ghee.

Andhra Pradesh is also famous for its biryani: basmati rice cooked with spices and a choice of mutton, chicken, vegetables or egg. The waiters circled the cafeteria, serving generous mounds of plain white rice, chapati and crispy round papad.

The best part of the meal may be the end: the all-you-can-eat dinner is just 80 rupees a person, about $1.80 at 45 rupees to the dollar.

While the rice dishes of Andhra Pradesh may be familiar, the food of Jammu and Kashmir -- the northernmost state of India situated in the Himalaya mountains -- is less so. It is also India's only state with a Muslim majority, and spicy kebabs and lamb dishes are its signature.

Jammu and Kashmir House occupies a small compound on a tree-lined road near the Samrat Hotel in Chanakyapuri, with several three-story red brick buildings. Its driveway is lined with the white Ambassador sedans used by government officials.

One building holds the dining room, which has tile floors and white walls that are sparsely decorated with faded pictures of Kashmir’s snow-capped mountains. Curtains were drawn over large floor-to-ceiling windows. On a Thursday night, the six big wooden tables were occupied by men in taqiyahs, the caps worn by some Muslims.

There is no menu, so customers simply eat what the kitchen has prepared that day. On a recent visit, that included tender seekh kebabs, made with lamb and roasted with cumin and chili; moist lamb kofta in an oily pool of tomato and chili sauce; and haak saag, a dark, leafy green popular in Kashmir that was simply stir-fried.

It's not hard to find kebabs in Delhi, but dining at Jammu and Kashmir House offers the special treat of eating from a ceramic plate with the state seal: a lotus and two swans. Still, the no-frills canteen is a far cry from the idyllic landscapes of Kashmir.

Not all the bhavans are so utilitarian. Nagaland in northeast India is one of the country's smallest and most remote states -- so it was surprising that the dining room at Nagaland House was relatively formal. Housed in a three-story white villa with green trim on Aurangzeb Road, a fancy boulevard lined with expensive homes and government residences, the canteen had five tables that were covered with white tablecloths and lavender place mats laid with cutlery and ceramic plates.

Nagaland is known for its green mountains and the folk traditions of the Naga people. But tourists need permits to visit -- the state is plagued by rebel insurgencies -- so a visit to the canteen may be the closest that many people will ever get to tasting Naga specialties like smoked pork stir-fried with bamboo shoots, and pork stewed with nushi, the leaf of a local yam. Unlike in most of India, pork is eaten with zeal in Nagaland.

On a recent Monday evening, a waiter in a gray uniform attended to a largely empty dining room. Tourist photos of Nagaland hung in the lobby. Outside, there were no green mountains, just an endless stream of traffic to remind diners they were still in Delhi.
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Andhra Pradesh Bhavan (1 Ashoka Road, near India Gate; 91-11-2338-7499 ; aponline.gov.in/apportal/apbhavandotcom/Location.htm) is among the most popular spots. Open daily 7:30 to 10 a.m.; noon to 3 p.m.; 7:30 to 10 p.m. Dinner for two, about 160 rupees, or about $3.65.

Assam Bhavan (1 Sardar Patel Marg, Chanakyapuri; 91-11-2687-7111 ), in a small basement, serves fish and unusual vegetarian dishes like custard apple curry. Daily 1 to 2:30 p.m.; 8:30 to 10 p.m. Meal for two, about 120 rupees.

Jammu and Kashmir House (9 Kautilya Marg, Chanakyapuri; 91-11-2611-2021 ) is known for its lamb kebabs. Not to be confused with Jammu and Kashmir Bhavan. Daily 7 to 9 a.m.; noon to 2 p.m.; 7 to 10 p.m. Meal for two, about 180 rupees.

Kerala House (3 Jantar Mantar Road, near Jantar Mantar; 91-11-3041-1411 ) serves coconut-infused dishes in a peaceful setting. Though it is not officially open to the public, walk-ins are welcome. Daily 8 to 9:30 a.m.; 1 to 2:30 p.m.; 8 to 9:30 p.m. Meal for two, 80 rupees.

Nagaland House (29 Aurangzeb Road, near Delhi Race Course; 91-11-2301-5638 ) serves unusual pork dishes favored in this remote northeast state. Daily 8:30 to 11 a.m.; noon to 2 p.m.; 7 to 10 p.m. Meal for two, 220 rupees.

Sikkim House (14 Panchsheel Marg; Chanakyapuri; 91-11-2611-5171 ), across from the United States Embassy, draws the diplomat set. Daily 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.; 12:30 to 11 p.m. Meal for two, about 250 rupees.

Tamil Nadu House (Off Africa Avenue; Chanakyapuri; 91-11-2419-3100 ) serves South Indian fare in a basic canteen. Daily 8 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. Meal for two, about 150 rupees.
--
Courtesy: www.nytimes.com
 
   
   
 
  In Kipling's house
  By Anne Lawrence Guyon  
  The New York Times

IT was an antique sink like any other, with a broad porcelain bowl and vintage fixtures. Yet after washing my hands and turning off the nickel faucets, it hit me: These weren't just any faucets.

They'd been turned, probably thousands of times, by the same hand that wrote novels and poems that have been celebrated around the globe for more than a century, the hand that earned the first Nobel Prize in Literature to be awarded for a work in English.

These were Rudyard Kipling's personal bathroom sink taps, and I was turning them.

We'd just arrived at Naulakha, the striking Vermont dwelling Kipling designed and inhabited during the last decade of the 19th century. A long, tall structure in the American Shingle style, it is perched high on a hillside overlooking the Connecticut River Valley, exuding the majesty of a galleon and the simplicity of a houseboat.

With his study in the prow, kitchen in the stern, windows along the port side and staircases hugging its starboard wall, Naulakha (pronounced now-LAH-kuh) has been fully restored and contains nearly all original furnishings, including traces of Kipling's Bombay birthplace and British parentage.

Unlike many former residences of cultural heroes, this is not a museum with audio tours or roped-off doorways. Naulakha is a vacation rental, and every aged book, period chair and elegant bed is available for guests to use, with a tacit expectation of consideration for the home's historical significance.

David Tansey, president of the nonprofit Landmark Trust USA, which restores historic properties, coordinated the restoration of Naulakha after helping the trust acquire it in 1991, nearly a century after it was built. Mr. Tansey is fiercely committed to preserving the integrity of the building.

"I know of only one window pane that's not original," he said during a conversation in the loggia, deemed by Kipling "the joy of the house"; it still boasts a 10-foot-long window that can be removed in summer. "The plaster, the woodwork -- it's close to 100 per cent restored." Smoothly sliding a pocket door out of its recess, he added, "We found these out in the barn and restored them too."

A short passage connecting Kipling's study with stairs leading to the second floor reveals his reclusiveness. If an unexpected admirer or reporter came by, he would quietly exit as his protective wife, Caroline, informed the visitor that her husband was not in.

"He was not antisocial," Mr. Tansey clarified. "They had barn dances and dinner parties, but he didn't want to be interrupted by strangers."

Kipling named Naulakha after the book he wrote with Wolcott Balestier, his good friend and Mrs. Kipling's brother, about a precious Indian jewel, and it is filled with a trove of their possessions.

It was not surprising that my initial moment of awe proved to be the first of many. The most mundane of domestic activities -- sipping tea by the Kiplings' fireplace, conversing on their porch, breaking bread at their dining room table -- were infused with a heady cognizance that Ruddy, as he was known, very likely did these things too.

A draw for many visitors is the notion of laying one's head in the spot where legendary characters like Mowgli and Bagheera might have gelled and simply experiencing the private sanctuary of such an extraordinarily private man.

While he cherished the serenity of his 11-acre retreat -- since expanded to 55 by the trust -- Kipling was engaged with his adopted community. During a trip overseas, he confessed to a friend "a desire to be back on Main Street, Brattleboro Vt. U.S.A. and hear the sody water fizzing in the drugstore ... and get a bottle of lager in the basement of Brooks House and hear the doctor tell fish yarns."

An epicenter of local culture, Main Street is only four miles from Naulakha and retains the architectural patina of Kipling's time while offering engaging contemporary diversions. Dragonfly Dry Goods, in the old Brooks House, the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, the Latchis Art Deco cinema, and innovative boutiques, bookstores and restaurants make for fine excursions.

On Day 2 of our stay we had lunch at the Flat Street Brew Pub, followed by a espresso at Mocha Joe's. Fortified, we headed for a hike around the grounds of Naulakha, some of which Kipling planted himself. One trail borders wildlife-abundant wetlands and leads to Scott Farm, another Landmark Trust property, with 571 acres to explore.

That night we sat at the inky, pockmarked desk on which Kipling wrote "The Jungle Book," reading a chapter aloud, then one from "Kim," which he began at Naulakha, and the poems "If" and "Gunga Din."

Guest books were meaningful too, filled with heartfelt comments, drawings and verse from devotees whose stays have inexorably imbued them with a sense of stewardship over Naulakha.

"A wonderful weekend of friends, reading, history, food and imaginations running amok," one visitor enthused. Another wrote: "We now feel closer to Kipling and more in awe of his work. The views! The pool games! The books!"

Snowshoeing, hiking, cycling and tennis, on what was likely Vermont's first court, are popular pastimes too, as they were for Kipling. His friend Arthur Conan Doyle brought him a set of downhill skis, thus introducing the sport to Vermont, and the two enjoyed hitting golf balls on the property.

Kipling is credited with having invented "snow golf," a game in which golf balls, painted red, were lobbed across Naulakha's sloping 500-foot-long meadow when the snow was crusty. "A ball went on for ever when once started unless headed off by some kindly stone wall or by one's opponent," he wrote. "It was an easy matter to make a drive of two miles."

His golf sticks, as he called them, remain at the house, evidence of how hurriedly the family vacated in 1896, after four years of manifest contentment. Mrs. Kipling's other brother, Beatty, lived nearby and, according to articles that appeared in The New York Times in May of that year, was "wild and ungovernable" and had "threatened Mr. Kipling's life," declaring: "I'll blow your soul out of you.’"

Kipling filed charges, unwittingly opening his cloistered life to invasive courtroom questioning, an attentive press and a riveted public. Before the trial was over, he had moved the family back to England, taking only crucial items with them.

On our last morning at Naulakha, as the sun rose over Mount Wantastiquet, slowly saturating each room with an amber glow, it became clear why Kipling always wrote before lunch, when his study would have been filled with light.

About an hour before checking out, I headed upstairs, turned on a different set of taps and, with gratitude for the cultural windfall that the family's hasty escape bestowed upon Vermont, found myself in the very spot where this literary titan "luxuriously parboiled" himself, as he once described it to a cousin. That's right: Kipling left his claw-foot tub. (Courtesy: The New York Times)
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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