Shakespeare Garden, aspeciality garden located within Brooklyn Botanic Garden in an English cottage garden informal layout, is the perfect place to spend a summer afternoon reminiscing the quirky from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. The Garden is a gift by Henry Clay Folger, founder of Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C.
The 52 acre Brooklyn Botanic Garden or BBG in the Prospect Park neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York City, has other flowery attractions including a Japanese Garden, themed mini gardens, conservatory, museum and an art gallery. (I had visited the Garden in 2011)
Blooms of all varieties…….I missed clicking the Rose. The other flowers compensated because as Shakespeare rightly said…. ‘ What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. from Romeo and Juliet.
My favourite was ‘Parsley’ from ;TAMING OF THE SHREW.
Returning home is anxiety raising its head like a ‘jagged ominous rock exposed by the receding tide’ with every step taken on disembarkation and walking the extended airport walk to the waiting chaos of Indira Gandhi International Airport.
The question ‘Now What’ ricochet around me as neighbours barge into our still to be cleaned dust-laden apartment wanting us to sign a petition against a proposed petrol pump in the green belt of our colony, DLF-1. It is a reasonable demand and we sign the petition, but then the intrusive-icy is a nothing-new novelty.
A week later home is no more a transit place as we settle down to daily routine of morning walks, time out for chores, writing, reading and meeting with friends and relatives. The cricket fever is in full swing with the ongoing World T20 (limited overs) match and we desperately contact our cable service provider to renew our connection. We get the connection with a caveat… have to lump the streaky visuals and disappearing vocals. The company boys troll the house but to no conclusion and finally end up with asking us to get a complete wire changer. One small mercy….. we can continue with our old television set.
The city/country is simmering with reservations, nationalism and sedition condiments. The reservation cauldron will soon run over if attempts are not made to contain it. Our neighbor informs us that during the Jat quota bill agitation, whence basic supplies were disrupted, people subsisted on rationed water, delivered via water tankers. The Jats are residents of Haryana state and they feel they need special seats in education and job markets. The pugnacious lingering reservation policy for different castes and communities is going to the death knell of any progress. The lower castes, the Dalit and others need special favours but at the rate everyone wants to be part of this creamy layer is anyone’s business. As a friend remarked that probably India is the only country where people want to be considered backward.
Maybe the intentions were good when the concept was inaugurated but increasing demands and misuse has eroded the very concept of reservation. I recollect how a classmate in school was complacent about her medical college entrance as she was applying through backward hill tribe. She was studying in convent school, her father was in the Indian army but she preferred the easy route.
When my children were applying for professional colleges in India we decided to send them to USA simply because we did not want to pay capitation fees or make them go through the grind for limited seats. We have crossed the bridge but seeing newer parents quibble over the educational options of their children, I am glad of the past. As someone commented that at this rate ‘soon the upper castes, Brahmins will be agitating for their share of the quota.
Add to this headache the engulfing surround sound of anti national and intolerance debates and cause of frayed tempers and ‘stressful existence’. Reading and listening to news about Jawaharlal University, Hyderabad University, about Indian colleges ‘on boil’, The continuous blame game between the Left, Right and Center political parties and their followers appears to be more of personal agenda than thought of sufferers.
I had studied in a Convent school and am grateful to the nuns in helping mould my thought processes. I willingly followed whatever we were taught or told and now when I think about it we, including our parents, were too much in awe of ourselves studying in English medium schools to question anything. The present generation, our children and grandchildren, decide what is right for them, to accept or reject the Brown Sahib attitude, to imbibe what is best of both cultures. There are loose canons, people, who indulge in intimidation and arson, giving vent to their complexes sometimes aided by governmental ineptness, changes and detours.
Living out of country makes you more In-your country and though frazzled by non-working Internet, phone services and general maintenance, the emotional bondage makes you look at the discrepancies through impassive eyes.
Glimmer or sparkle of hope is through fiction. I was given “KITTY PARTY SANYASINS’ written by a friend’s friend Ananya Banerjee, a tongue-in-cheek account about ’40 plus’ five friends getting together over brunch to talk sense and not gossip, to ‘catch up on their lives’.There are tales within tales with a golden-haired, green-eyed Indophile lending a semblance of maturity to their meetings. The group reminded me of 19 year olds, undergrads of Allahabad University, India, (1970’s) who would spend intense hours over coffee and bowls of chicken chow mein and chilli sauce shredding relationships. It was the impact of the Women’s movement and though we did not have a nom de plume. I suppose it set the tone for our future gender interactions. Thank you Ananya for the memory jog..
Another fiction I am reading is THE BOOK OF GOLD LEAVES by Mirza Waheed. The story, set in Kashmir valley during the political strife of 1990’s, is about two young lovers and their reactions to the engulfing violence. Few pages into it I am beginning to understand the emotional strain/strand of violence threatened relationships.
Before bidding adieu to Calgary and Canada we took a short trip to Kananaskis set amidst the towering Canadian Rockies hiding their bleakness under passive layers of melting snow. I suppose it is the pronunciation, Kananaskis, emphasis on two Ns, that adds to the topographical mystique of the place. It took me some time to get the name correct and this helped set the genial mood of the drive through the now brown prairie land towards the mountain foothills. Kananaskis Valley was home to nomadic Stoney Indians, a mountain Sioux band, who had lived and hunted in the barren flats of Bow Valley and mountain paths of the treacherous Rockies. One does get a feel of the awesomeness of the surroundings from the Lookouts along the walking trails overlooking Kananaskis River.
Kananaskis Country or K-Country and Village, an hours drive from downtown Calgary, tumbles out of a picture gallery with snow-covered meadows, gurgling mountain rivers, swishy- chirpy cool breeze rustling through Spruce Pines, trembling Aspens and other vegetation visited by discreet wildlife. The bears were still in hibernation and once again we had to be content with grazing Elk and mountain goats.
Winter is the time for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and ice fishing, came across a couple in the frozen Kananaskis Lake area. Close at hand are the Nakiska Ski runs and we could see the skiers cascading down snow-ribbons. Nakiska was developed during the 1988 Winter Olympics and remains popular with novices, professionals and habitual skiers for its variety of terrain. Other nearby popular ski runs are Fortress Mountain for cat skiing and Canmore Nordic Center Provincial Park for its 65 km of designed ski trails.
Summer is another holiday opportunity and the mountains resonate with enthusiastic energy of mountain bikers, trail-blazers, hikers, horse riders, campers and golfers. Add to this kayaking, rafting and water sports and for loungers perfect selfie moments from decks of cozy lodges amidst the greenery.
Hike: Our hike was confined to Village Rim Trails, a flat, short paved easy path wrapped around east end of Delta Lodge. It is an exhilarating walk with spectacular views of the meandering Kananaskis River and valley, a beaming Mount Kidd and other peaks. The lookouts, Points 1 to 5, with conveniently placed wooden benches, are tempting journey breakers to watch the changing colors of the peaks attuned to bracing mountain air.
The entire Kananaskis region with its wooded and rocky slopes, caves, canyons and river paths is a hiker’s haven, graduating from simple to tough.
The refreshing mountain air makes us ravenous and our short walk ends in Woody’s Pub & Lounge.
‘Calgary in winter !!!!!!‘ …but here I am revealing in frisky icy winds and the white blanket all around. I had compiled a Calgary winter activity list in an earlier post. Now, when it is time to bid adieu to Calgary, for Hong Kong, I glance through my jottings to see how many I re-accomplished… 7 out of 10…not a bad score. https://travtrails.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/wintery-fun-calgary/
1. Walk the Malls…this i did aplenty…. especially on days when the temperature dipped to minus 20. There is choice, depending on area where staying, from themed CrossIron Mills, Chinook Plaza, South Center Mall and others to spend entire afternoons and evenings walking along the length and breadth of inner space flanked by brand outlets and showrooms, restaurants, pubs, coffee slots and children’s play stations.
2. Continued with Downtown visits.…..particularly Stephen Avenue the pedestrian mall/ walk in centre of Downtown. Past and present comes alive with cafes, street musicians and vendors, cultural shows against the backdrop of restored buildings flaunting architectural styles of the 1800s to 1930s. Calgary is referred to as the ‘The Sandstone City‘ because of the sandstone buildings replacing most wooden buildings after the devastating fire of 1886. Stand alone buildings are the Old City Hall, east end of Stephen Avenue Walk, and the upscale Teatro restaurant (200-8 Avenue) housed in the former Dominion Bank building and an example of Beaux Arts classicism. The Avenue walk can be divided and sub –divided into segments to appreciate and savour the settings. One can break the classicism monotony by loosing oneself in the nerdmania of INDIGO on 7th Avenue or the innaneness of Winners or Dollarama stores.
3. Calgary Tower… for a bird-eye view of Calgary from the 191-meter Calgary Tower. We were unlucky as it turned out to be a cloudy day. The booking for the revolving restaurant, Sky 360 was already done, this includes the glass-floor walk for a peek down at city streets. The hazy view was compensated by the 60-minute movement (dinner time revolve) for an all round vista view of the city.
4.VisitedGlenbow Museum. A must visit particularly forNiitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life (The Blackfoot Gallery) to share in the history presented through an interactive display of artifacts of Glenbow’s Blackfoot collection via a circular narrative path. On 4th floor is the presentation Warriors..A Global Journey Through Five Centuries that compares ‘cultural approaches to war and people who do the fighting’ from First Nation of the plains,the Maoris, Samurai, Medieval Europeans and contemporary society. An multi-faceted display of armour and warfare choreography.
5. Continued with exhilarating snowy walks …..along the frozen Bow and Elbow River. (Start from Eau Claire and cross ‘Jaipur bridge’ for a stroll along the Prince’s Island Park, stop at River Cafe for refreshing coffee and sandwiches, continue towards the vermillion Caterpillar or Peace Bridge, west of Princes Island Park. This is a pedestrian only bridge ‘to nowhere’ connecting southern Bow River pathway and Downtown with northern Bow River pathway. The other easy walks are Heart Creek, the Bow Valley Provincial Park, Nose Hill and other Calgary parks.
6. Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise favoured all-weather activities.… An all time favourite summer or winter drive is to Banff and surrounding areas such as Bow Valley Parkway, Moraine Lake valley, Lake Louise and its Ice Sculpture festival held in January, the Jasper National Park and its environs, Columbia Icefields (winter time restrictions are there) and Canmore, a quaint village town, an hours drive from Calgary, nestled in heart of Rocky Mountains along Bow River.
1. Heritage Park.Spring and summer are the best times to enjoy the vastness and the exclusivity of the Park……family fun place for shopping and celebrations, buggy and train rides and viewing vintage cars at Gasoline Alley. If a history buff, like me, then the largest living history museum in Alberta, is the place to spend time in. The Heritage Park Historical Village started in 1964 and since then has become popular tourist destination.
2. Canada Olympic Park…Not ski person hence watched the skiers from far. The recent death of two teens in a sled accident in the Canada Olympic Park was heart-rending. …..(Canada Olympic Park on the city outskirts is a legacy venue of the 1988 Winter Olympics. The park is home to North America’s fastest ‘zipline’ where riders reach 140km/h after launching from the ski-jump. No harm in going for a look around).
3. Saddledome….A tick on my future activity list is to watch a hockey game at Saddledome, with its unique ‘saddle’ flowing concave roof. Another may-be is dog sledding and snow shoeing. or simply walking in the snow.
4.Drumheller located along Red Deer River (Southern Alberta) is a children’s and adults fantasy world with an interesting collection of Dinosaur fossils from the Alberta badlands housed in Royal Tyrell Museum.
5. FORT CALGARY and Calgary Zoo..a miss this winter.. .Fort Calgary wasconstructed in 1875 by North West Mounted Police at confluence of Bow and Elbow Rivers. The Fort comes across as a mansion, unlike the forts of India, but still interesting to see the reconstructed barracks and life of the people involved in setting up a new city. Close by is Calgary Zoo and during Christmas popular for Winter Lights.
6. The aerial Glacier Skywalk, anobservation platform 918 feet over spectacular glacier-formed valleys and rushing waterfalls on route to Columbia Icefields. Unfortunately the Skywalk is closed for winter months.
‘…. travel is, deep down, about the real confirmation of very unreal dreams (PICO IYER…’CAN A TRIP EVER BE AUTHENTIC’)
2000-2008…a period of hibernation, of re-locations from Muscat to New Delhi to Gurgaon, Haryana. Property boom and strong industrial base had transformed Gurgaon, a sleepy village with affiliations to Mahabharata (one of the religious tomes of India), into a New Delhi clone. We were lured by green vistas, pollution- free air and manageable traffic, little realizing that few years down the line the ‘Dream city’ would emulate New Delhi’s traffic congestions and unruly constructions.
Not surprisingly the seven-year itch surfaced and 2008 found us jetting our way to Hong Kong, another country and another accidental expat experience. In between there were vacations to USA (meet with children), Singapore, and Thailand and cities within India. Every time we returned, Gurgaon would dip one notch lower in pollution index. The blue skies were fast disappearing to be replaced by perpetual grey, haze and smog.
Hong Kong: Sultanate of Oman and Hong Kong are on different trajectories: one a traditional laid back nation and the other glitz, glamor and restlessness. Hong Kong’s lingering British influences amidst ‘Red’ mish-mash of opportunism is probably what lures visitors, us included, to its crowded streets embossed with glass fronted buildings. The British came in 1789 to what was then ‘Fragrant Harbour’, a sobriquet derived from the scents of trees and flowers that once adorned the hills and shores. They liked what they saw and stayed on finally being reminded of their status as over-stayers in 1997. One cannot blame them as ‘Some can just jump right in, others take their time and watch from the sides for a while… ultimately to succumb to the allure’ and continue to stay on. For millions who followed over the years, Hong Kong continues to be a dream destination despite being swamped by constructions, traffic fumes, odorous exhalations of raw meats and cigarettes and political shenanigans.
We came to Hong Kong in 2008, for a year, and found ourselves queuing at the Immigration office to get our extensions stamped for two, three, seven and permanent residency. There was no single reason for taking root in this neatly packaged multi dimensional concrete localebalanced by yan ching mei ( essence of humanity) but combination of these assets that presented Hong Kong as an exotic experiment. Maybe, I was waiting for such a change.
Cuisine Trap: A clichéd way to knowing a country is to step on its food trail and my introduction to local cuisine was through Chin-India cuisine, Chinese cuisine flavored to Indian taste. The surprising part is that I am not a food person but differentiating the fake (Indian –Chinese) from the real was a choice I willingly made and splurged on the rainbow additions to my culinary choices. Other ‘food’ firsts were the squirming fishes in restaurant water tanks, different species and hues, and till date I ask a table farthest from the mini tanks. Wet markets were another self-imposed banned areas till my helper asked me to accompany her once, Nose scrunched I followed her to realise that I had missed out on the color riot of fruits and vegetables.
Another reason for hopping onto to the food cart is that writing about Hong Kong is similar to being repeatedly pushed through topic shredders. The Island city is prodded and pricked with every alphabet and the F word is way out of the maze. The choice is unlimited from Michelin star, five-star or simply neighborhood open-air food stalls or the once popular Dai Pai Dongs, book cafes and fast food outlets.
The ‘food trail’ facilitated tasting of the esoteric and exotic such as Snake soup, whole pigs or fish varieties and talking about it.
One year down the line the ‘Chinese Takeaway’ in words of Betty Mullard (KOWLOON TONG by PAUL THEROUX) became more than food exploration; it became a way of life. We changed residence from service apartment to a fully furnished apartment in Laguna Verde, Hung Hom, along the waterfront. My days followed a set pattern; morning and evening walks along Tsim Sha Sui (East) promenade watching ‘still’ fishers and seniors risking cold water dips in the Bay; walks in Hutchinson Park to gawk at feisty seniors in coordinated tees swinging to ‘Sugar…Sugar…Honey… Honey’; afternoons and evenings were leisure and writing times, social outings and television viewing. I discovered South Korean serials, watching most from start to finish.
Communication, as in Sultanate of Oman, was/is without bumps or lumps except when faced with unblinking faces in crowded MTR, the mute cashiers at general stores, the gruff fruit sellers at wet market stalls expecting exact change or the ‘No cheap’ commenting shop assistants of brand showrooms because you happen to be from the Sub-continent.
In seven years my discoveries multiplied, in step with the burgeoning verticality as I walked streets, alleys and subterranean air-conditioned walkways, checked on numerous eating-places metamorphosing with drop of chopstick, watched tenacious seventy year olds, bent back tiptoeing on tiny feet, pushing carts stacked with cardboard boxes through crowded pavements. My initial response was to help, but one withering look and I backed off. In a way it was an inspiration to step out of my comfort zone of ‘non-labor’. My glance went to her feet, tiny, but not the ‘iron feet’ of Chinese girls we had read in geography books, in school in India.
Talking with friends I learnt that ‘iron feet’ was ‘lotus feet’, a custom of ‘applying painfully tight bindings to the feet of young girls to prevent further growth.’ This excruciating custom had originated from the upper classes, court dancers of Imperial China (Song dynasty) and percolated down to the masses, a status symbol of beauty and sexuality for a prestigious marriage. Dorothy Ko in ‘Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet (2002)’ writes that the Han Chinese women were bowing to social dictates of the time wearing embroidered and colorful symbols of prosperity. By seventeenth and eighteenth century the custom had percolated down to the masses. In 1887, Alicia Little, had referred to bound feet ‘six year old girls instead of hopping, skipping or jumping like little girls in England, were leaning heavily on sticks taller than them or being carried on a man’s back or sitting sadly crying’.
I do not have ‘Lotus feet’ but my feet size is 4 and it was a joke in my hometown (India) that ‘ you will find your size only in China’. But I have a hard time finding my size amidst the present large shoe sizes of Hong Kong. I see dainty, normal size feet and it is a relief that human frailties and their callous results consigned to the past.
Explorations and Visitations: 2008 onwards was also a period of acclimatization and exploration. Weekends saw us boarding ferries and public transport for surrounding islands (Cheung Chau, Peng Chau, Lamma, Lantau), walking commercial streets and alleys, visiting temples, libraries, museums and to watch commercial and residential areas turn into grand commercial carnivals of decadence and expectations. The trips were ‘mystical flashes of belonging’, of windows opening to another life, of feeling confident about our move to an island country existing in different time zones.
The journey continues and when someone asks me ‘Don’t you miss your country’ my answer is ‘Why. Even after seven years of stay, Hong Kong never ceases to exist’. (John Le Carre“When you leave Hong Kong,” …”it ceases to exist.” in ‘The Honorable Schoolboy’.