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Before the paan there is the paanwallah. So I will begin my paean to the paan with one for him: he is fantastically clever, can spot the nescient first time paaner without glancing up once from his gleaming tin-can assembly line. I can personally vouch for the ones in Lucknow and Banaras, the land which inspired the evergreen Khaike Paan Banaraswala song, a Holi, Diwali, marriage and birthday party staple. A digestive ditty whose calming, settling effect any DJ will … More»

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Eden Lake

No movie so far has dealt with the most prodigious of perils – in terms of derailed diplomacies, maligned reputation, dented economy or the sheer brutality of the act itself – that can befall a traveller to the subcontinent – rape. From big budget, star-studded international productions to a sizeable cache of charming, even some hard-hitting indigenous ones, no one has till now tackled this issue. US travel advisories, while tactfully maintaining that ‘though India is generally safe’ it also … More»

Colleen and Hugh Gantzer

As I loped down the winding pathway to Ockbrook, home of the Gantzers, I felt a little light-headed and not because of the thin mountain air. I was reminded of reporting for my first date a generation ago albeit this time it was in broad daylight. There is something splendid about meeting somebody you have for very long very much wanted to meet: it is, as The Alchemist says, the outcome of the coming – and conspiring – together of many … More»

The stalactites and stalagmites...

In the beginning there was the Bastar Palace. Jagdalpur town was originally the living quarters of the palace personnel who settled in the imperial whereabouts. Sure enough it soon began straggling in all directions and today it goes a very long way in all directions. When you exit the city towards Sukma – deeper south – for the Kanger Valley it is evident that it is still lugubriously lugging along. Take the Gidam Road (NH 16) through which Jagdalpur goes … More»

Banaras by lane

At Kachowri Gali Chowk the bereaved family halted abruptly and looked around flummoxed: where did their dear departed go?
Narrow lanes threaded by paan and tuck shops met their gaze. Cows pootled along like shuffling gum-chewing teenagers. Widows clad in white cotton saris with faded neelam-blue borders sat dignified at the doorsteps of dharamshalas, hands clasped in prayer – audible only when they took a break to ask for alms. There were reiki and yoga centres claiming reviews on TripAdvisor and … More»


Traditions with fabled moorings are still sure-footed in Varanasi. Kushti, Indian wrestling, goes back 5000 years in this old old living city. The origins of kushti akharas* where training in kushti is given has been attributed to Parashuram who plays a stellar role in the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata as mentors to exemplary warriors Bhishma and Drona. Today despite grappling with paucity of patronage and dwindling public interest these akharas are brimming: mud-splayed muscles heave nimbly, entangled limbs before … More»

A model

Like any legendary lot the Khalasis too determinedly deplores and disses any attempt that plebeianises a hard earned reputation. Following the Perumom Tragedy of 1988 when modern cranes and other power tools failed it was the Khalasis who lifted the sunken train compartments out from the depths of the Ashtamudi Lake in Kollam employing just their age-old pulleys, hawsers and rollers. EK Nayanar the then chief minister requested them to lend a hand. Today ‘Service and Khalasi’ is a frequent … More»


The word ‘archaeology’ is Greek in origin and has nothing to do with monuments or heritage but simply means the ‘pursuit of ancient knowledge.’ While few of us pursue ancient knowledge ardently – or any knowledge for that matter – while on holiday, there is a certain joy we experience while visiting heritage sites – treasure troves of prehistoric civilisations, acmes of ancient creativity, epitomes of thought and design from an era gone by. More so when they are not … More»

5 - Copy

Some tough calls are easy to make because we were just waiting, having known all along. I could have stuck to the brief and brought out my book on time. Or I could talk about tribal dislocation, warn about traffic conditions, mull over Maoists, their lives and death and burial traditions, ponder over poaching that went on unhindered in the ‘protected’ biospheres – inviting the sponsor’s wrath and editorial anguish and thereby also bring upon myself the inevitable and frustrating publication … More»

A town sought-after

“We the people…” Das shouted over the staccato din of his rear engine auto rickshaw “are full support of the port.”
Das and I were on our way to Mulloor, few kilometres from Vizhinjam, a flashpoint in the elaborate and controversial land acquisition exercise for the much touted Vizhinjam Port developed jointly by the state and central governments and infrastructure major Adani Group. “Only the priests and politicians have a problem.”
At the Kuriathy Beach in Mulloor resorts stood in rubbled desolation; … More»

Pointers to an era - the machines, over 250 of them

On the day of the museum’s inauguration in January this year one of the invitees, a prominent local politician, said to Sunny’s wife Josia “This is sheer craziness.” It was, one can imagine, only in the course of faithful disbursal of his duties as a democratically elected representative of the people – the vox populi. Because that was exactly what most of those who had gathered there thought: Sunny must be off his rocker to sink his entire retirement funds … More»

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