Wanderlust: Ant’s-eye View of The Taj Mahal

In my short life, I’ve had two encounters with the Taj. While one was at that tricky age of 16, the other was at a slightly more befuddling 31 (does maturity really come with age?). Each visit is sharply etched in my mind, and I’m happy to see that by the second one, I seemed to have grown up a little. Or so I’d like to believe.

For most Indians, the trip to see the Taj Mahal is like a tiny pilgrimage. It’s after all the poster child of India, famed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We grow up listening to the magical experiences of people who’ve been to this inimitable symbol of limitless love. On my first trip to the Taj, all of this was pretty much lost on me.

I recall being armed with a Kodak point-and-shoot camera, wearing a hideous blue tee-shirt identical to the ones worn by 40 other teenagers. It was a school trip with my batch mates. All of us had recently faced one of the biggest hurdles in our academic careers – the 10th standard board exams. We’d been slogging out butts off for over a year and now, were finally taking that well-earned break. The trip focused on a seven day trek in the Himachal hills and the visit to the Taj Mahal was just a tick on the North Indian itinerary.

And what a rotten time to pick for a trip to the Taj! It was the peak of summer, the sunlight glinting off the white marble made it difficult to see anything without squinting. People have to walk barefoot to get near the main dome but on this day, the tiled floor was so hot we had to make a mad dash for it. All we wanted to do was sprawl out under a tree and doze off in the gentle breeze. We weren’t interested in the back story; none of us had experienced true love yet. During the one hour guided tour, the only thing that made us pay attention was the barbaric folklore of how the hands of master artisans were chopped off so that no one could replicate the majestic Taj ever again.

We’d brought packed lunch from Delhi. It was made by our school cook at the crack of dawn and had been emanating promising smells on the four-hour bus ride. By the time it was lunchtime however, the food was stinking so ferociously that even rodents steered clear of the dustbin! The heat had been too much for the poor fried rice. Our fiscally prudent principal was in a fix, but made a stupendous, last-minute recovery with some packets of chips and flavoured milk.

As we left Agra, I felt a pang of dissatisfaction. I vowed to myself that I’d be back some day.

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Now, almost 15 years later, I had once again come to Agra. This time around I was with family – N, his brother and my dear friend who’s married to N’s brother. We’re all shutter-happy people, so we had four cameras of differing capabilities to make some memorable pictures. We drove to the place where you have to park your cars, about 2 km away from the main grounds. From there, you can either take a ride in an eco-friendly electric rikshaw or ride along with an uber-friendly horse cart.

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Is it a surprise that we chose the horse cart ride? Our awesome steed, Sajaan, was quite a cute fella. His owner claimed that Sajaan was super busy during the peak wedding seasons. North Indian grooms are notorious for riding up to the mandap on a beautiful stallion. Who can blame them? There’s probably no other way to match up to the gorgeousness of the brides. But I digress.

After a full-body search, we entered the sprawling compound. While my troops lingered around, I was impatient to get a first glimpse. When we entered the main archway, I remembered something the guide had told me all those years ago. If you stand directly facing the Taj and walk briskly towards it, the building appears to move back, and shrink in size. And, if you back away quickly while still looking at the Taj, it grows steadily and comes closer to you. This delightful quirk of the architecture was interpreted by our guide, “when you gallop towards it, the Taj bows and welcomes you but when you try to run away, it rushes forward and says ‘don’t leave me’!”

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Over the years, Shah Jahan’s ode to his precious wife has turned a mild shade of yellowish-cream. Despite this unfortunate reality, it is one of the most enchanting buildings on Earth. When you see it across the water canals and lush green gardens, its hold over you intensifies. You cannot run away from it, if anything, you almost never want to leave.

The Taj Mahal’s beauty stunned me, I felt paralyzed. How do I capture an authentic bit of what I see and feel in a few photographs? How can I translate this inexplicable sense of wanting to get closer and yet being afraid of missing out on seeing it whole? Of wanting to touch the perfect reflection in the still water? Of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the art that has witnessed the turn of over three centuries? How do I convey the delicate, gossamer dreams carved out of Makrana marble? The peace and serenity that I feel here?

Eventually, I realized it was my only chance, so I had to try my best. The pictures in this post aren’t entirely satisfactory, but someday I hope to get another chance to improve on my humble attempt.

Seeing the Taj with grown up eyes was a gift. Having lived through some of the highs and lows of love myself, I think I better understood the creation this time around. When you see the Taj, you can’t help but think about how deeply the emperor had loved his sweetheart, and how inconsolable his grief must have been to inspire this final resting place for her.

Tagore perhaps interpreted it best when he wrote, “let this one tear-drop, this Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever.”

 

 

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SEASON OF LOVE: FREE PRINTABLE VALENTINE CARD

I know it’s quite cheesy to say this, but am going to risk it – Love is in the Air! It is February after all.

While I believe that we don’t need a special day to tell people that we love them, I still like to indulge mildly in this month of pink and crimson. Yes, St. Valentine’s Day is a one of those hyper-commercialized days even in India. But, if we don’t give in to the hoopla, isn’t any excuse great to have special time together? To simply expresses how grateful you are that you found this person. To tell them you are the luckiest person alive to be with them. To just put all your feelings down on paper. And to do it in a fun and special way.

Each day of the year, we express our love through actions – by showing care, by tuning in to the other person’s needs and even by just lending a helping hand. On hallmark days, a simple gesture to express your love tells your partner that you have taken the time to think about them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be surprised with a love note yourself?

Ever since I can remember, I have never really obsessed about Valentine’s Day. That specific date. Back in college, we used to have a ‘Rose Day’ sometime in February. A day celebrating secret crushes and love (because you could send anonymous rose cards). When I started working, my agency used the same idea, but we didn’t make a day of it. A half hour after lunch was spent listening to poetic messages (most were anonymous, again) and swapping chocolates. All through my teen years, it was mandatory for girlfriends and boyfriends to give each other cards. So the point am trying to make, is that for me, the celebration of love is closely linked to messages on paper. An email will just not cut it.

All of this was running through my mind last week, and I wanted to create something that would let us say ‘I Love You’ without being predictable. I saw the abundance of flowers, cute animals, hearts and chocolates swirling around as tokens of love,  but my mind kept searching for more. Like most ideas that pop into my head, the one for this card popped in when I was engrossed in a totally unrelated activity. I was pickling! So bizarre. Red chilies being pickled led to me the image you see above. I refined my initial thoughts to craft a couple of messages that I think will work.

The picture above and a message variant is now available as an art print and on other merchandise like iPhone covers, totes and throw pillows in my Society6 Shop. And just for you, I have created a FREE printable card to tell your loved one that they are indeed the spice of your life!

To download your free printable click on this link: Only You Valentine Card

Can you think of a message that will go with this image? If there is something else that you’d like to say to your sweetheart, drop me a line in the comments section below and I’d be happy to work on a custom card for you!

Hope you have a lovely season of LoVe!

MID-WEEK TREAT: BOMBAY DUCK FISH PIE

I bought a bright, shiny red pie pan approximately a year and a half ago in the hopes of becoming a regular pie-baker. I don’t know if that’s the right term, but you get the drift. I did look up some sweet pie recipes, but was so intimidated that I didn’t venture out into that territory.The tin just sat on the rack where I store my baking supplies calling out for a spin in the oven. Until, one day when I had a crazy day at work and just couldn’t make the time to cook a full Indian meal for lunch.

I looked in the freezer – there were two kinds of fish – Pomfret and Bombay Duck. If Bombay Duck being a fish confuses you, I can relate to it. When I was little, I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept either. It’s a lovely, soft, delicate fish, native only to the waters along the western coast of India. For a seafood junkie, it is love at first bite but it may well be an acquired taste for others.

I’ve always had it the traditional way – shallow fried with a crispy, masala-batter coating. I wondered, if I could make a fish pie out of this delicious catch. A savoury pie didn’t seem as scary. I Googled ‘fish pie’, and chanced upon a Jamie Oliver recipe.

Now is probably a good time to tell you that am a big fan of JO. He is responsible for my obsession with attempting to grow fresh herbs, tomatoes, lemons, strawberries and what-have-you. So far I have succeeded with coriander, mint and a lemon tree is spreading it’s branches in my balcony. Hopefully we’ll have some lemons to sample this summer.

Back to my pie though. JO’s recipe looked so easy (one of the reasons we love him so much), included veggies and was topped with a delicious potato mash instead of a pastry. Looked like a wholesome meal to me. Here’s the original recipe: Jamie Oliver’s Fish Pie.

While JO’s recipe calls for a variety of seafood, I used about half a kilo of Bombay Duck and veggies. Also, you can poach the fish for a few seconds in some boiling water and tease out the bones easily. Since Bombay Duck tends to have a lot of water content, I tossed the meat in some rice flour to avoid a soggy pie. From there on, I pretty much stuck to the rest of the instructions in the recipe.

The baked potato mash on top is glorious. If you do bake this wonder, be sure to coat it with some olive oil to give it a lovely golden finish. We really enjoyed our lunch that afternoon and the leftovers made for a cozy dinner.

What is your fave simple, one dish meal?

DIWALI DECOR: 25 WAYS TO LIGHT UP YOUR HOME

The first thing my mum does, when Diwali is just around the corner, is buy our big, fat Diwali lanterns. Over the years we’ve also made a few at home. One was always hung in the balcony of our apartment. A few modest clay diyas lined the windows and precisely two were kept right outside the main entrance. These little lights and a colourful large rangoli meant Diwali was here.

Now my parents live in a row house, which means many more windows and balconies. So there are three big, fat lanterns, string lights and hand painted diyas. My sister loves to do up the traditional diyas with glitter and colours. She’s super at it, maybe I’ll dupe her into doing a tutorial this time! So my point is, today, none of us can get away with the simple stuff we grew up with. Too much pressure, I say. As we amp up the celebration of the festival of lights, I thought of doing a quick round-up of excellent ideas to bring in the light all through the festive season.

I’ve pinned 25 lovely, DIY inspirations. Some of them can be assembled in 5 minutes flat while others can keep you busy all through this weekend. From the ever versatile tea lights to bare, naked bulbs, the possibilities are pretty much endless.Head over to my Pinterest board Diwali Lights Decor to take your pick.What do you do to light up your home for the festival?

INFECTIOUS CREATIVITY: ART BY BEN GEIGER

Whenever am sapped for inspiration, I head to Society6. It’s a deep, deep well brimming over with fantastic art. Just looking at the beautiful photographs, illustrations and collages opens up my mind to newer ideas and perspectives. I really love the fact that it’s a celebration of so many different styles of work.

Once such blissful journey brought me to Ben Geiger’s profile. His works are not just illustrations, photographs and collages but magical little glimpses of the world around us. I am hooked. And am not the only one, as the few hundred ‘loves’ of his work show. I’ve picked out some beautiful creations for you to see here, because I simply couldn’t resist sharing them with you lovely people.

Now am waiting to see what this artist produces next. You can find more of his work here.