Main story Sonabai - as her own art

Daroga Ram raked back with his hand the sparse tuft of white feathery hair repeatedly. Frowns cut burrows across his high forehead. He had no idea what to do: this time the scrimshanking contractor had abandoned work altogether and had vamoosed. The museum that was coming up in the memory of his mother, celebrated folk artist Sonabai, lay derelict in a space cleared next to the family’s fields, amidst sand in plastic sacks split-opened from the impact of careless, hurried … More»

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The cab went around the landmark state secretariat building for the third time making the passenger, a tourist, suspicious.
“But didn’t we pass by here earlier?” he asked, cautious, not wanting to offend the affable, garrulous driver.
“Sir,” the cabbie replied, in his die-rather-cheat tone, “in Trivandrum we have six of them.”

This could have been either a comment on tourist gullibility or a joke on cabbie cleverness but definitely before GSM mapping. Today wired fares direct taxis and auto rickshaws through the … More»


What make a place really memorable are not its landmarks or landscape, wealth or history but the dreams of its people. As dreams shape action which chart destinies this could indeed be a faultless gauge on how it should be marked for posterity. ‘Dabanng nagar’ somebody had not scribbled nor sprayed in the hasty haze of a fly-by graffiti but painstakingly stencilled in broad white strokes which stood out against the orange brick of the warehouse wall that loomed over … More»

St Mary's Church

‘I thank god for this beautiful country and for the balm it is to my spirit, which has been in the last two years so cut and torn and is now by his mercy receiving comfort and strength again,’ wrote Stokes from Kotgarh to his mother in America in a letter dated September 1913. Thank god over a hundred years later Kotgarh is still a beautiful country. Or thank Stokes?
Samuel Evans Stokes was an American missionary who worked in a … More»

Oozing an era

If Shimla is about all that’s gone wrong with Himachal Pradesh, Kasauli is everything that’s going awry. Despite repeated warnings and notices by the Green Tribunal, the state government is in a perennial hurry to lift the construction ban on 17 green belts around Shimla considered the capital city’s lungs – and pave the way for scores of real estate developers to roll in with their earthmovers and automatic lumberjacks; citizens are forced to file petitions against free plying of … More»


The first thing i did upon waking up was marvel at the ingenuity of the decor. My head was throbbing, threatening to split itself open. But over the years i had learnt to focus on other things through terrible hangovers, resilience cultivated through good time on the road. The jackhammer pounded at my temples from inside but i gazed, unblinking at the puke-green fabrication with a kind of awe you possess only when stoned. Through a nauseas, claustrophobic feeling of … More»

You bet!

‘Tatti par mitti.’ Soil over scat.
So suggested the Mahatma when he realised the enormity of the sanitation mission he had undertaken along with the relentless fight to uplift the untouchable bhangi, the scavenger. Bindeshwar Pathak, Gandhi’s successor in this seminal work, incidentally also referred to as ‘bapu’ by many, started the Sulabh Sanitation Movement in 1970. His much-lauded two-pit system was a low cost toilet technology that was indigenous as well as sustainable; it was eventually replicated and scaled up … More»

The courtyard

The unassailable often ends up the most assaulted. Ironically axiomatic, albeit, a historical truism. The ramparts are impregnable for the treasury must be laden. Or the courtly houris most desirable. Both accepted spoils of battle. ‘Whoever holds the fort holds the land’ goes an old Kangra saying. This made the Kangra Fort, despite its formidable layout – built atop a hill at the confluence of two rivers – and virtually impenetrable ramparts – rising like limestone outcrops from the escarpment, in … More»


The dog-and-pony routine I had seen three decades ago. Forget animated ballyhoo, even the mandatory act introductions were sporadic and lacked verve. The funambulists were missing. They were missed too: watching the performer gingerly treading on the highwire used to give me enough time to conjure up my own vertiginous shudders. Charivari, the much-needed comic interlude to the adrenaline-packed aerialist act, was not even attempted; the clowns were instead reduced to juggler assistants and ball pickers. The iron jaw was … More»

Killing by cunning: Quiledaar Haveli

The Siliserh Palace 15 kilometres south-west of Alwar was built by Maharaja Vinay Singh in 1845. But you can attribute it to the colourful Maharaja Mangal Singh who ruled from 1874 for almost two decades if you are not finicky about historical facts. And if you believe that a dash of romance – a doomed one even, or especially a doomed one – will lend the renovated ramparts, the newly painted bastions and bartizans an old-world intrigue. The caretaker cum … More»


“You must keep an eye on the tail – before a big cat leaps it will brush its tail softly on the ground, that’s how it measures the distance to the prey. Then you just jump from wherever you are.”
Many years ago a forest warden took me through the basic moves on how to ward off a tiger attack. I was selected from general public applications invited for transparency in a tiger census survey conducted by the forest department in … More»

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