Posted in Anecdotes

Midnight Pangs

It was nearly two by the time I decided to retire, even though the assignment was only done halfway. I’d have to cram it into the morning hours somehow and submit in the evening.

I realised Amigo SR had already fallen asleep on the only mattress in the hostel room. My idea to have him keep me company till completion of the work was evidently faulty. Better still, his head rested on my folded blanket for a pillow. Great. There was no way my malnourished body could stand the A/C-fan combo that he pledged alliance to, so I ended up attempting the obvious – that magic switch of items under the Head of a Sleeper. It was almost a success till I felt empowered enough to adjust the pillow further,  and lo, he was up.

Which is not really so bad on its own. But like every soul that gets woken up in the middle of slumber, he couldn’t sleep again.

We chatted for a while more, and when I finally realized he wasn’t going to shut up if I didn’t, I pretended to have an attack of narcolepsy and froze in mid-conversation. He prodded me a couple of times, and then started on some self-relevatory remarks and loud ruminations till finally falling asleep again.

Which is when I should have ideally slept, except for that pang of midnight hunger that hits you just when you’re in bed. I decided to sleep it out, fearing I’d wake him up again, but my tummy wouldn’t let me. Apparently sleep and hunger do not really go hand in hand. I waited for a while to make sure he was really out, my stomach grumbling all the way, before finally creeping out from under the blanket, only to be hit by the AC’s freezing blow.I stealthily and hurriedly made my way into the kitchen, grabbed a couple of slices of bread and ran back to protection under the covers.

Once satiated and warm, it struck me just how convenient and lucky it was that, when I was cold and hungry, I had bread and a blanket at hand, that I was sleeping on the floor by choice, and that too on a bed sheet. 

It was very very lucky indeed.

Posted in Anecdotes

Saving Food

Wasting food is something I feel quite strongly against, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t do it. I do it all the time. My tiny appetite almost never sits well with the enormous portions of food served in most restaurants. Hunger makes me overestimate my nutritional needs and I inevitable end up staring at half eaten plates with a satiated tummy and deepset regret. 

One solution I recently devised is to never order a meal for myself when out with other people. Tidbits from their plates usually suffice to ward off starvation, which again fits my funda that one need only eat what is necessary to survive.

Today, even that didn’t help as the hotel I visited with my parents and an uncle proved to be extra-gracious with their food supply. An entire bowl of fried rice sat untouched and forlorn on the table, and we stared at it, wondering what to do about it. Indians generally hate wasting things that they pay money for, and it’s considered blasphemy to not get leftover food parceled, regardless of whether we end up eating it later on or not. As patriotic citizens, we contemplated doing the same, but our full stomachs rebelled against the idea.

That was when Uncle A suggested we give the parcel to a random beggar or ragpicker, a surplus of who are found along streets in the region. It hit me how the thought had never really occured to me before. Yes, it’s leftover food.. but it is still food, and throwing it in the trash somehow does not seem anywhere as ethical as letting a hungry soul have it.

We kept an eye out for vagabonds on the way back. Soon enough, along came a man with a large bulging plastic sack over his shoulder, with clothes and body both covered in grime. I was still hesitant to carry out the plan, lest he should be offended and start swearing at us. So Uncle A took the lead.

‘Have you eaten yet?’

His eyes gave away his voracity and his hands beat his tongue in response; they extended way before his mouth could mutter ‘No’. We gave him the parcel and rode away. I turned back once out of curiosity, and I saw him taking out the still-warm packet and turning back to look at us.

Now I have another solution to not waste food. I think I like this one better.

Posted in Anecdotes

A Rooftop Green and Brown

​”Kasha ki Asha is the perfect place to laze away your time, read a few books and write a blog post or two as you wait out that mid day heat”

I was roaming aimlessly in White Town at noon. I was running an errand and then had ample time on my hands to while away before my night shift. Having come all the way to this area of Puducherry, known for French restaurants and exotic cafés and what nots, I didn’t feel like going back without checking out the streets a little. Exploration has been topping my list of essential life events ever since I got a means of easy transportation on my own (more on that later; that post is long due and still incomplete)

Armed with Google Maps I managed to traverse the very confusing lanes of WT and soon found myself in front of the apparently charming Café Dés Arts that I had been meaning to visit for some time now. But alas, I found it closed for renovation and due to open only in a month or also. 

That was when I whipped out my phone again and searched for Best Cafes in Pondicherry, and Kasha ki Asha came into focus via the aforementioned write up from the website Polka Cafe that Google pointed out to me. More than anything else, I believe it is the words “..and write a blog post or two..” that caught my attention. I have been lagging behind on the same for a long time now, and any incentive to finish off the many half written posts is always welcome. So off I went.

Luckily this cafe was just a few feet away from Cafe Des Arts, on Surcouf street. I manoeuvred the scooty gingerly, checking out either side of the quiet street for the cafe.Even then I missed it the first time; the quaint maroon building nestled quietly at the corner of the street, and as I stood on the threshold I wondered if it was closed too, there was hardly anyone about! A renovated house, it still felt like more of a home than a cafe.

A lady saw me peeking in and reassured me that they were open. The gallery is downstairs, she said, and the cafe on the terrace. I walked around a bit, looking at the various items kept on sale – books, shawls, printed tee shirts, kurtis, bangles.. the typical overpriced ‘ethnic’ paraphernilia aimed at visiting folks from the West – before climbing the corner stairs leading to the terrace.

To say I found the place pleasant is an understatement. Heavenly would better describe it. Anyone who has endured the horrid summer heat of Puducherry would know why. A thatched roof, comfortable chairs, cool breeze and solitude – what else can one ask for?! 

Eateries in India seldom offer you quietness (unless the food is so bad that no one is there except you). All the good places bustle with people and waiters keep breathing down your neck every second to make sure you leave as soon as you’re done and make room for the newcomers. In contrast, here I was, shown on to the roof top terrace and made at ease by a lady in a worn out saree, who handed me the wifi password, smiled and left immediately.

Left alone, I walked around in delight, clicking pictures. I loved everything about the place, the roof, bamboo shoots, cane chairs, creepers and the occasional sparrow.. A rooftop green and brown and pleasant, like home.

I settled down onto a comfy cane chair, next to the magazine rack and checked out the menu, wondering when anyone would show up for the order. Apparently they don’t. The description on the menu card invites you laze around as long as you want and then call from the stairs in any case you want anything!

So here I am, munching on my toast and sipping lemonade, posting what I expect is the first of many posts to be written in Kasha ki Asha.

Posted in Anecdotes

Mangroves For Two

Everything gets a little better with a good friend by your side. 

My last day of monitoring was around the region of Chidambaram in Cuddalore. Amigo SR, a monitor himself, happened to be free that day, so I decided to take him along with me. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the work progressed easier with his help; we went about in buses where I normally would have relied on taxis, and he proved to be more street smart that I had given him credit for.

The official work was done by noon. The last school I visited was in the village of Killai, a few kilometres way from the Pichavaram Ecotourism Centre. To have come all the way there and to return without checking it out would be rather dumb, so we made our way there.

An auto rickshaw dropped us off at the site. Pichavaram is known for its mangrove forests, one of the three prominent ones in India. The other two are in West Bengal and the Andaman Islands. 

Row boats and motor boats can be hired by the hour, and according to the number of people visiting, and are rated at fair prices accordingly. It ranged from a one hour row boat ride for two that cost you 185 rupees (~3 dollars) to a 6 hour motor boat ride which included a trip to the Pichavaram Beach thrown in, rated at around 2500 rupees. We settled for the former being pressed for time, and proceeded to find a place to lunch first.

Only a snack bar existed within the complex, so we were directed to a restaurant on the way we came. One side of the lonely road was lined by small houses and tamarind trees; on the other ran a rivulet filled with boats – fishing boats presumably. Two aged women sat some feet apart selling karuvaadu, fish salted and dried in the sun.

We walked a short distance before spotting the sign Neithal Seafood Resto, which was less of a hotel and more of an extension of a small house, with a makeshift shed modified to be the serving area. When we arrived, the single table was occupied by 5 other guests, so we were quickly shown into the next room, a small hall alongside the kitchen. A woven mat on the floor proved to be our designated seating area. The wall behind us alone was painted an enthusiastic orange with blue waves crashing, and the dull wall opposite was covered with old family photographs. The smell of frying fish wafted in from the kitchen and made us hungrier.

The home made food was a delight, adding to the raw ambiance of the place. We had a hearty meal of cooked rice, lentils, pickle, fish curry and a piece of fried fish each.

After the meal, we headed back to the Ecotourism Centre and were soon fitted with life jackets, ready to go. We made our way to the series of numbered boats tied to the shore awaiting riders.

Neither of us had been to mangrove forests before. It was a lovely ride, taking in the beautiful view, with a running commentary from the the rowing personnel.

He filled us in with trivia about mangroves, regarding their locations in India, and their importance in the ecosystem. He has been working here for the past 20 years and the words flowed easily with a practised precision, and at times when we interrupted him with our queries, he would repeat himself over and over, like a disfunctioning record playing, unaware that he was doing it.

It was a delightful ride. As we were taken deeper into the forest area, the place grew quieter. We spotted herons and parrots flying overhead and were charmed by the other worldly nature of the place.

The route rapidly turned into a maze as the trees split into little islands. Apparently there were around 3000 of these, and you could easily get lost if you were not careful.

The hour passed pleasantly. We were quiet as we came out into the sun again, revelling in the serenity we had just experienced, the sheen of the surreal alcove still shimmering at the back of our minds like the water glitter that surrounded us.

Note : Photo credit goes to SR. In spite of me blatantly claiming expertise in photography, it was soon evident that my skills ranged between nil and zero. I proceeded to blame my phone and he was gracious enough to pretend to believe me and subtly take over the job. 😀 None of the pictures are edited.