Art in the bylanes of Fort Kochi – Biennale 2018

Strips of cloth hang from a ceiling. Each one tells a story of loss and hope, of desires and aspirations. They are stories of people whose lives were touched by the Partition and the small room in the by-lane of Fort Kochi came alive with the whispering from their lives.
Two full days of traipsing around the delightful roads of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, I had managed to cover the Kochi Muziris Biennale Venues consisting of 9 main venues, 9 student biennales and 7 collateral projects ; all dotted along the bylanes of Fort Kochi.

Postcards from Home

This year’s curator was Anita Dube, a well known artist and art-critic and as was evident from the concept, a lot of focus was given to showcase themes on feminism, the queer community, the voices of the marginalized in the society and the impact of Kerala floods.For those who intend to visit the Biennale, I present some of my favorite pieces, lest they don’t miss them and for those who cant visit, this is a short journey into the powerful experience that’s the Biennale.

Each art installation invites the viewer a peek into the very depths of an artists mind and one has to listen carefully and let the feeling wash over, to let the wisps of thoughts floating around seep in into your being.Many art pieces felt so intensely personal that for a moment, a pang of guilt washed over me, as it felt almost like I had tread over forbidden territory.

One of my favorites was the ‘From the far Side of the moon’, which is a black and white 13 minute animated movie by Radenko Milak (Aspin Wall). It depicts the bleak vision of the world in the nuclear age. As I sat in the small dark room , the black and white imagery was transfixing and brought forth the chilling bleakness after a nuclear explosion. There is no linear narrative, as the scenes change rapidly, interspersed with fragmented interview of Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb.

‘From the far Side of the moon’ – Radenko Milak
‘From the far Side of the moon’ – Radenko Milak

Stories of exploitation featured among many. ‘The Clothesline’ by Monica Mayer (Aspin Wall) featured the harrowing stories of sexual harassment of women. The messages displayed as anonymous postcards from a clothesline. It was heart breaking to read the stories of several women who were as young as 4 when they were exploited. A different take on women’s plight was ‘Guerrilla Women’ featuring a satirical but hard hitting realities on the inequalities faced by women in today’s world.

‘The Clothesline’ by Monica Mayer


Guerrilla Women

Yet another exploitation story was one which again featured a clothesline – Sue Williamson’s ‘One Hundred and Nineteen Deeds of Sale’ (Aspin Wall). The artist discovered transaction records in Cape Town that account the enslavement of Indians in the 17th century, who were brought to Africa by the Dutch East India company. She sourced the linen traditionally worn by the working class and then inscribed the details the information from the archives.The shirts fluttered idyllically in the sun and only as I drew near that I realized what they depicted. The years seemed to compress and the physical cloth bearing the details of each slave made the past almost tangible.

‘One Hundred and Nineteen Deeds of Sale’ – Sue Williamson

One of the most touching installations was ‘The World of Dew’ by Chandan Gomes (Aspin Wall) where the artist found an old sketchbook of a deceased girl in a hospice in Jaipur and he journeyed all over India to click photographs of the places she had imagined in them, but probably never been to.


A hard-hitting installation was Canes of Wrath by B.V.Suresh which showcases the rise of sectarian ideas and communal violence, all using the environment created in a single room. This is an installation, where no picture would do justice as one has to stand there absorbing the sight and sounds and let the feeling wash over you. This was a great artistic success, as in that room, there were no words necessary to communicate the feeling experienced by the artist.

The Srinagar Biennale in TKM Warehouse was a very moving piece, showcasing the plight of common people in Kashmir. The mute photographs were windows to a people living on hope, despair and finally a resigned helplessness.

The Abandoned Houses




One from Hina Aarif was heart rending as she writes –

“With every child you murder,
with every scoop of the shovel,
with every shroud covered with this soil,
With every body under the sod,
With all my people wailing helplessly.
I swell up in rage,
I swell with strength,
I swell with the deadly rush of fearlessness
with every bullet in my chest
with every grain of soil slipping out, my fear escapes too.”


I liked the little treasures I unearthed in the student biennales and the various collateral projects.

‘Thought is also matter’ was a collateral project ideated based on Candace Beebe Pert, an american neurologist’s discovery. She established a positive link between what we think, what we feel and what is happening to our bodies.Her research revealed that neuro- peptides, chemical messengers created by most cells in the body, dictates what we think and feel. Neuro-peptides is also matter and thereby, thought is also matter came forth. All the installations here, in some way capture this ephemeral essence. I liked one installation the best, which is a room filled with various disjoint pieces of terracotta hanging from the ceiling, as if caught in a moment of time , yet swaying to an ethereal music.


The International Photography Exhibition, also a collateral project, is also not to be missed. It features the stark photos photographed by Giles Clarke based on humanitarian and conflict issues. A small severely malnourished child standing on a hospital bed in Yemen , an injured soldier with his face horribly disfigured raises a hand in salute from a hospital bed in Yemen, the Gang cages of El Salvador – each photo is a story in itself and sucks you into different lives. For that moment in time, you experience a small part of the world they live in and shudder.



There were so many more thought provoking pieces , that to cover all the ones I liked exhaustively would be beyond the scope of this post. In those two full days of Biennale, the concerns of the everyday life seemed very far away. Its hard to do justice to the experience of visiting the Biennale through these handful of pictures which convey a two dimensional depiction and does a very poor representation of the immersive experience, that it is otherwise meant to be.However, I leave you with a small collage of some pictures.

By Juul Kraijer
Resilient Bodies in the era of resistance – Prabhakar Pachpute
Ajay Desai
Festival – Bibekananda Mondal

Walking along Fort Kochi , is itself a refreshing experience with small cafes and interesting alleys. 

1-IMG_20190124_150054948Au Revoir !




The Allergy Dossier

Air pollution in India is a cause of major concern as the pollutant levels have risen steadily in most of the Indian cities. While most of us are aware of the pollution that we encounter day in and day out on our roads, we know precious little about the innumerable pollutants that are present indoors, affecting the quality of life of millions of people. I have been afflicted by chronic allergy for the past several years and if you are a regular reader on my blog, you would have come across my lighthearted take on it at the The Perennial Sniffles.

In 2012, I took a break from my IT career, post which I no longer spent long duration in air-conditioned offices and instead started spending a substantial amount of time indoors at home. That period also curiously coincided with the time my allergies started aggravating. According to an article published in NCBI, indoor air pollution is 10 times worse than outdoor pollution. In India, the major cause of indoor air pollution are combustion, building materials, fine particulate matter and bio-aerosols. Indoor air contains pollutants from both indoor as well as the outdoor.These air-born agents cause asthma, bronchitis, allergies and irritation of the respiratory tract. It took a long time for me to associate my increased time at home, with my increase in allergies.

In a bid to reduce the pollutants and the effects they had on me, I started researching on several alternatives. In this post, I summarize some of the key points and also hope that it helps other allergic people, find some solution to their problems.

Environmentally sustainable designs : A well ventilated and optimally designed house helps to prevent mold and mildew formation. Keeping a good air flow allows the free exchange of indoor and outdoor air and reduces build up of toxins. Many composite building materials emit VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Substituting these materials for naturally occurring materials and buying formaldehyde free furniture reduces our exposure to such allergens. If you haven’t already invested in a permanent home, this could be a good thing to keep in mind. However many of us may not have the option to change our house construction and adapt to sustainable designs.

Air purifiers / Air filters : Air purifiers and air filters with HEPA filters are another great way to maintain air purity. They work by filtering particles from circulating air using filters, electrical attraction or ozone. While choosing air purifiers , choose ozone free ones as ozone can aggravate asthma and respiratory issues. However, they are expensive with the normal price range in India in the region of 17K to about 40K. Smart Air Purifiers look more affordable at the price range of less than 5K, however most of the air filters will have a running cost of replacing the HEPA filters at regular intervals, in the absence of which the fan can burn out due to clogged filters.

Air Conditioning : Air conditioners have some basic stuff to remove dust and odour filtering, but ACs are in no way a replacement for Air Purifiers. AC’s refrigerant gas leakage can also be a source of air pollution. However, ACs may marginally improve air quality depending on what’s your allergy trigger. I have often experienced my allergy coming down, if I sit in the car with the AC on for some time.

Indoor plants : Keeping indoor plants is a great way to increase the oxygen levels inside the house. Several plants which are ideal include the ubiquitous money plant, bamboo palm, areca palm, Aloe Vera. Plants like the Snake Plant (Sanseviera Trifaciata) releases oxygen at night and hence is ideal for bedrooms. If you keep the windows closed at night due to high allergies, improving oxygenation levels inside the room might be good idea. Check out this awesome video where Kamal Meattle talks about growing fresh air !

Removing allergens like dust and dust mites : Professional cleaning of dust and dust mites, with high powered vacuums and spring cleaning your sofa and bedding could go a long way. The picture below is not of a scrumptious chocolate cake but of the dust cleaned from sofa. The froth on the surface are the eggs of the mites. Yuck !

WhatsApp Image 2017-09-24 at 2.37.03 PM

Reducing dust and particulate matter : Home furnishings should be critically looked at, from the point of view of capturing dust. Reduced usage of carpets, heavy furnishings and fabric heavy sofas can drastically lessen the amount of dust and dust mites.

Pet dander : While I adore dogs and cats, my allergic nature leads me to strongly suspect the possibility of pet dander aggravating it. Pet dander is a known issue which causes allergies and knowing beforehand whether you are vulnerable to it, might be the most important thing for yourself and for your future pet.

Reduce Strong Smells : Having the kitchen well ventilated is extremely important. Indian cooking emits a lot of strong smells and it’s lately been causing a lot of my allergy attacks. Reducing exposure to strong scents / deos / chemicals can reduce the chances of an allergy attack. Opt for natural ingredients in personal care products and try unscented variations of deos / antiperspirants.

Humidity Control: Humidity plays a key role in regulating mold, mildew and dust mites. Both high and low humidity act as asthma triggers. High humidity could result from water leakage / seepage, plumbing leaks or moisture retained in building materials. Drying clothes inside the house can also result in high humidity. Plugging the sources of high humidity and ensuring good ventilation should lower humidity.But very low humidity can also result in dry airway passages, dry skin etc. This can be alleviated to a certain extent, by letting clothes air dry and letting more air evaporate inside the house. One can also invest in a good humidifier.

Allergy proof bedding: Investing in allergy proof linen can also help in reducing inhalation of allergens while sleeping. These sheets /covers which are dust-mite resistant can be spread on top of the bed. However, I did come across some research which mentioned that the reduction in allergies due to allergy proof bedding was not conclusive.

Air friendly Paints: Interestingly, Asian Paints has come out with a novel product called Royal Atmos. The paint is supposed to help eliminate odors by absorbing smells like smoke, ammonia, garlic etc. For a person who’s prone to allergy, strong smells can trigger an allergy attack. This also absorbs formaldehyde.Formaldehyde is an important chemical used widely in the manufacture of building materials and a number of household products and therefore, can be present in substantial concentrations in the house. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause irritation of eyes, nose, skin and throat. The paint also contains low levels of VOC which is within permissible limits. Since we plan to get our house painted soon, this paint will definitely be on my consideration list.

Air Pollution Masks : Air pollution masks are a good bet to reduce the impact of poor air quality. However not all masks are the same. The commonly available surgical masks are practically useless for an allergic person. Look for N-99 (which filters out 99% of PM2.5


particulate matter) and N-95 masks (which filters out 95%). N99 is ideal for those who suffer from constant allergies. The best deal for the N99 mask is the Atlanta Healthcare Cambridge mask, priced at Rs.1999, which I started using recently.The recently introduced Vogmasks are also a good value for money.Check out this link for some great information.

Pranayama and Yoga: Pranayama has healed a lot of people of allergies. Undoubtedly improving your breathing and lung power could go a long way in ensuring good respiratory health. Kapalbhati pranayam is slated to be very effective for allergies.

Last but not the least, Eat Healthy with plently of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Methods to alleviate an allergic episode:

However, as all the allergic know, its not always possible to control allergens, especially the ones which are air-borne, at every place and all the time. So despite taking all precautions, allergic episodes can occur very commonly and can diminish the quality of life. These are some of the methods which I have either tried or read about.

Neti : Neti ie, the yogic practice of usage of salted water to clean the nasal passages, is a very helpful method. However I have also read that continuous practice of Neti could also remove the helpful bacteria and mucous.


I normally resort to Neti, when I get a sinus infection superimposed on my allergies. But all care must be taken to do it the right way and its very important to dry your passages well, after doing Neti. Adequate care must also be taken to use filtered, boiled and cooled water, usage of Neti-salt or sea salt and finally maintaining the water at the right temperature. I found steel neti pot to be the best, as its possible to clean and sterilize it. Ideally one should consult a yoga practitioner who can guide on the correct way of doing Neti.

Steam Inhalation: This is one of my go-to techniques in the event of an impending allergy or cold. The steam goes into your nasal passages and gives instant relief for any heavy sinus or mucous. There is a good variety of electric steam inhalers to choose from. I have found the method of using the steam inhaler with a towel draped all around the head and the inhaler works the best, as the super hot steam doesn’t directly hit your face and at the same time, concentration of the hot steam all around your face, brings immediate relief.  In case you are stuck without an electric one, you could make one by boiling water directly on the gas. Fold a thick paper / cardboard in a conical manner such that the narrow opening of the cone faces the steam and the broader one is over your face.

Sipping warm liquids : Drinking warm liquids helps to thin the mucous and enables breathing easier. You can have green tea or apple cider vinegar with honey and lemon in warm water. In situations where none of these are available, sipping continuously on warm water also helps relieve congestion.

OTC Medicines: Mostly anti-histamines work by reducing the histamine level in your blood, which is the reason for allergic reactions. But most of these meds also produce a side effect of drowsiness. Levoceterizine is commonly used and doesn’t have a long term side effect. Though a reduced dosage of Montek-LC has worked for me quite well,  I would suggest getting your allergies tested and getting a doctor prescription.

Ayurveda / Homeopathy : Homeopathy has a lot of remedies for Allergies, however its efficacy seems to be highly person dependent. In my case, it hardly had any effect while I know of people for whom it was very effective. Ayurveda also has some remedies for allergy, though I have not tried them.

Immunotherapy : Also known as allergy shots, this is a therapy by which your allergen is tested and a small amount of allergen is introduced in the blood. This causes your body to generate immunity and reduce sensitivity to the allergen. This procedure is expensive, long drawn and need not always be successful. I have not yet resorted to this and hopefully will not have to, if all the other preventive methods can be used.

Would love to hear your suggestions on how you improve air quality and reduce pollutants / allergens.If you are a fellow allergic, do write in how you combated your allergies.


Dittory : The Divine Intervention

Kalici palace was crawling with the waiting throng of souls and Lord Yama was not pleased. The attendants had their hands full in managing all the soulfulness that humanity was sending in these days.What with ISIS and other fanatics, things were pretty chockablock at the palace. Chitragupta’s massive register “Agrasandhani”,  which was used to maintain the deeds of the souls, had come apart at its seams, and in the confusion, the data had got mixed up. Some of the souls meant for hell, had got sent to heaven. In fact, Indra, was threatening to file a law suit as the hooligan-souls were raising all hell in heaven. So Chitragupta had just decided to migrate to the all new e-Agrasandhani.

Yama was still used to the old way of doing things like travelling on his buffalo to pick the souls up, much to the chagrin of Agni and his other Yamaduttas. The last soul he had picked up had been an entrepreneur who had pivoted so hard, that he had lost his balance. He advised Yama to adopt automation to achieve mundane stuff and save on time. Drone uplifting of Departed Souls (DUDS) was his brainwave to solve this.He seemed quite elated that there were so many angels in heaven to cater to his funding requirements. All that was fine, but what of all the selfie deaths which were occurring, Yama retorted. Yet, another chap had wanted to get his selfie clicked with Yama to put on his Facebook Live stream, as he was still tumbling off the cliff. All of a sudden, people were also starting to die of a strange new disease called SFS (Scrolling Fatigue Syndrome).

Yama decided to pay Indra a visit, to sort out the soul mixup issue. As he entered the Land of the Devas, pretty much every one was furiously peering into their new D-phones. Technology was omnipresent. In fact, there were talks about having Google elevated to the God position. People seemed to be asking Google more questions than they had ever asked the Gods or sages. Apparently, some of the Devas were also developing the BaaS (Boon as a Service).

As he was ushered into Indra’s presence, he observed that Indra seemed a little agitated and not his usual self. Just then, a hooligan soul appeared and whistled as an Apsara walked past. Indra immediately reduced the soul to a stone and again lapsed into a sullen silence. Finally when Yama inquired the reason, Indra divulged the details. When a human devotee had wished for a garment that looked similar to the one Devi Indrani wore, he had been unable to grant the wish. Asking Devi Indrani for the celestial garment was out of question, so he had set the task for all his Gandharvas and Apsaras to visit all the stores in the three worlds and peer through all the online celestial websites searching for the similar garments. Of course, they had had no luck till now, and his reputation was at stake.

Yama was on his way out, when he got a soul alert on his soul-pickup app.One soul was on the verge of departing,located some where in Yeshwantpur, Bangalore.His buffalo,though had other plans and wanted to take a detour at Delhi. The Bhains log at earth had launched a campaign in asking for equal rights as the gows. As a celestial buffalo, he considered it his duty to put his weight behind them. So it came to pass that Yama landed in Yeshwantpur, on a busy Friday afternoon. Battling the huge traffic, he just made it in the nick of time.

The soul was just about ready as the ECG line was already flat. Chitragupta had proactively emailed him the soul’s deeds. was that of one Mr Satya, a Project Manager in IT Services. Perusing his long lists of negatives, Yama saw that he had stolen the limelight from his team, couldn’t say “No” to the client, two people in his team had died because of documentation fatigue and one by pointless meetings overdose. Tsk Tsk, this was going to be a toss up between a rebirth or hell. When it was time, Yama approached the soul and asked him to accompany but Satya’s soul didn’t want to budge. “No No.. don’t you realize, I cant go.I haven’t met my deadlines. I still haven’t completed the appraisals and I waited the whole year to screw them !” he wailed. Ahh, God save his team. Yama declined.”Sorry old chap. You just met your ECG deadline. Time to go buddy.”

They had to travel to the other end of the city to meet his buffalo before the office rush hour started. As they boarded a BMTC bus, suddenly Yama noticed a woman following them. It turned out to be Satya’s wife, Savi. Yama asked Savi to go back, but she refused to listen. Finally Yama turned and told her that she could ask for a wish but she had to positively scram after that. Savi,who had been waiting for this exact moment, told Yama that she wanted a garment which was very similar to Devi Indrani’s clothes. Suddenly everything became clear to Yama. So this was the human devotee and he was filled with admiration for this clever woman. She had already checked if the task was divinely possible by testing Indra and now that she knew it was not, she was using it to save her husband. However, Yama still decided to give it a shot.


They consented to go to Satya and Savi’s house where Yama and his deputees could search for the garments. Yama summoned his Yamaduttas and they spent the whole of that day and night scrolling through innumerable e-commerce websites. Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra,Snapdeal and 100’s of others. Was it this pink ? – Yama asked Savi. Ah no, that was piggy pink, while she liked a lavendar pink. A week had passed but still there was no signs of ending the relentless search. Chitragupta was in fits at the Kalici Palace.Yama knew that he would forever be parked at Satya’s home, if something wasn’t done fast. He summoned Narada, who informed him that there was a wise man from the south who might have an answer to his problems, but he could only be contacted on twitter. So Yama sent a message to #SagelyBeard and he immediately got a reply. A single word – “Dittory“.

1-DittoryResultsSo Yama installed the Dittory chrome extension and a small colorful butterfly blinked on the top. He showed Savi a list of products and asked her to pick any one that she liked. When Savi selected one, the butterfly magically displayed many results which were similar. Soon, they found one which Savi really wanted. Yama sensed that Savi loved the products but was hesitating to select one out of fear, that Yama would take Satya’s soul away. Finally Yama said “Savi, thanks for bringing up a problem which so many people are contending with and battling – the deadly Scrolling Fatigue Syndrome (SFS).It enabled me to look for this awesome solution and so in return, I will let Satya’s soul stay on earth.Thathasthu. As for Satya, he can remove his legs from the grave and pull up his socks.”

Yama sped away to Devlok on his waiting Buffalo and gleefully informed Indra about Dittory. Indra was transfixed and in gratitude, he forgot all about the impending soul lawsuit that he had threatened to file. Peace returned to Devlok and the Devas went back to fighting the usual wars with Asuras. As for Yama, he decided to sponsor the DUDS program himself. And a colorful butterfly remained on this earth flitting from one browser to other and saving people a lot of time and money.


Dittory – A small helpful butterfly in your browser. Get it here.



Disclaimer: I have a vested interest in the product as I happen to work with SagelyBeard 🙂

Of talking rooms in Kochi Bienalle

As I entered the small empty room I saw the glimmering words flowing down the walls and the voice echoing the words.
"... Doctor nurture me from narrowness to broadness
All the sound all the dawns all the waters
rise and pass
in broadness.. 
..Unharness our days
Let all boundaries be distant
so we can wander far
in our unknowing "

The words of Sharmishtha Mohanty from the poem “I make new the song born of old”   written for the Bienalle was mesmerizing.

Aspinwall had come alive and each room invited you to occupy it’s space for a brief period of time and to be a part of the narratives of different artists. The third edition of the Kochi Muziris Bienalle curated by renowned artist, Sudarshan Shetty and showcasing 97 artists from 31 countries is an extravaganza of contemporary art. The rich gamut which includes diverse forms  of visual arts, installations, videos, dance and music is a treatise on a dialog of art and contemporary ideas and social issues.

It’s no easy task to  describe the Bienalle in simplistic language, so I will attempt to show you some of my “experiences”, which is an infinitesimally small fraction of this art festival.

As I walked through the longish room in Aspinwall, the knee deep water splashed against my legs.It was meditative, sobering and painful as the artist Raul Zurita had intended it to be. “In the Sea of Pain” inscribed alongside the walls was a continuing dialog to where it culminated.

Words inscribed at the end of the room was poignantly painful and brought an embodied reality to the war on terror.

“Refugee” – the dehumanization and the reality of our times. At a stage when the crisis threatens to engulf the world, this marble statue by Alex Seton was iconic in its representation of rootlessness and homelessness. A faceless existence unified by its disconnectedness to society.The statue by itself was a marvel in fine arts weighing almost 600 kgs, it gives the illusion of emergency blanket like material, however it’s the empty space under the hood which speaks to you about the angst and the dehumanization.



Then there were rooms which talked about life in Kashmir through a series of photographs and artifacts. Of people living through disillusionment, loss, pain. Of hope and survival.


I entered a room and the room had photographs of the same man standing in front of different doorways, constricting in both space and uniformity. Endri Dani from Albania showcases the sameness with which large groups of people are forced to live under totalitarian rule, through his photo series. A small notebook in the center of the room had this to say “..while Vitruvius claimed that the center of center was to be found inside the human body(the navel), the rulers of Albania had clearly decided that the center of the center had to be located outside the body – namely in the ideaology..”


Talking of communism also reminded me of this magnificent scroll by a Chinese artist, Dai Xiang.A 25-meter long panoramic,photographic scene, it was a satirical take on politically charged subjects and contemporary society in China. As I walked alongside, the story seemed to unfold in delightful snapshots across the scroll.


The medium through which narratives are shared with the audience are myriad and unbridled in the contemporary art form. And the whispering voices of the poets as I walked through the windowless passage inside “The Pyramid of Exiled Poets” by artist Ales Steger, appeared disembodied and yet strangely personal as they seemed to connect across a different space and time. The artist says that “The pyramid was modeled as a tomb, as resting place for the cast out, for those poets who have been exiled and disappeared from republics and nations for centuries”.

You can hear the whispering voices of the deceased poets while walking inside the pyramid.

Alas, there’s hardly anything I can present on the wonderful video and sound arts that were exhibited, for language would be sorely incapable of filling the void between the visual and the written.

However,one of the most breathtaking works for me personally, was a movie video, “Inverso Mundus” by a group of Russian artists. It was an interpretation of the sixteenth century illustrative genre “inverse world” depicting daily scenes of life inverted and off-kilter. I was transported to a magical world of fantastical creatures, where all rules were upside down. Alas my words would fall woefully short even if I were to attempt to describe the manner in which it was orchestrated.However here’s a small trailer I did manage to find.

12 stories by P.K.Sadanandan – A mural painting depicting the 12 families born to a woman of the “pariah” caste

The Bienalle was enriching in so many different ways. Each room and artwork required me to slow down, mull and “feel” the experience of what the artist was trying to communicate . It was also imperative to leave behind mundane compulsions of time and the general baggage of restlessness and hurry that plagues most of us these days. Entering each room in the Bienalle was like opening a door in the mind and sometimes you realize there are no doors.


A Rustic Interlude in Rajasthan

From Jaisalmer, we headed onwards to Jodhpur. The magnificence of the fort of Jodhpur was dazzling, but my memories of Jodhpur, interestingly,are dominated by a very different experience. To the extent, that I will park my experience of the fort, and head straight on to where we went next.

After the tour of fort (which is for another post) we headed from Jodhpur to a homestay “The Chhotaram Prajapat homestay” in the tiny village of Salawas. In fact Mr. Chhottaram (I will refer to him as C) himself came to escort us to his village, which was well over 20 kms from Jodhpur. The air was getting progressively chilly as it was nearing dusk when we left Jodhpur and as the jeep finally turned into the small homestay entrance,we were quite eager to see what it would entail. C’s mother put the traditional tika on us before we entered the threshold and then we stepped onto a different world.

There were small mud huts to stay,which was built by C himself, and were also equipped with nice clean western bathrooms. The rooms were basic and rustic as one would expect, but were also comfortable enough for the village sounds to lull you into slumber. There was a central courtyard where some welcoming charpoys lay under the undulating branches of a tree, enough to seduce one to catch a leisurely nap.


All the meals were made over a slow fire on the earthen chulha and took at least 4-5 hours. Food was served on small wooden tables on the floor and we ate with the family a meal consisting of delicious hot bhakri and the very flavorful sabzi of Ker Sangri.

What was slated to be just an overnight stay for us, changed into a 2-night stay.We hurriedly shuffled our dates, as we realized what a treasure we would have missed had we proceeded to Jaipur as per our original plan. As it turned out, it proved to be one of the main highlights of our Rajasthan trip.

The sounds of the village stirred us awake as we awoke to the rhythmic milking of the cow and crowing of the roosters. C’s brother came to take us on a jeep ride to the village. As he drove, he narrated several tales of how people lived, of which one was about a religious group of people called Bishnois. Bishnoi stands for ‘Bish’ (20) + ‘Noi’ (9) – 29 rules which are staunchly followed.One of them states that every person should have a bath very early before sunrise and apparently the rule is strict enough to include small children and infants. Among the other rules, there was also one which shunned them from cutting trees.And what followed was a legendary tale about a Bishnoi woman, who hugged a Khejri tree , refusing to let go, when the erstwhile rule Maharaja Abhay Singh’s soldiers came for cutting wood. She died in the process and so did 362 other Bishnois who were hacked to death. The King was deeply saddened and declared the cutting of the trees illegal.

Another transgression to the Bishnois holy beliefs, which has recently made for a lot of news, was the killing of the Black buck by actor Salman Khan. Black bucks are considered to be the reincarnation of their Guru, Jambaji and a Bishnoi would die to save them.We were taken to the very place where the incident apparently happened and we also had the good fortune of spotting some handsome Black bucks.

The Handsome Dude !

We visited the potters and the traditional dyers, where we were shown the process of creating beautiful pots and also the method of creating the traditional block printed Rajasthani prints.

We then proceeded to the house of the village headman, where we had a chance to observe their daily life.The old man sat on his charpoy under a tree observing life as it went by. The cattle was tied outside and the harvest laid out in the sun, ready for threshing. Time seemed to have slowed down and it passed at a meandering pace, a far cry from the frantic bustling of our city lives.

And then we noticed this curious looking thing right in the center of a room, and we were told it was the “Khad” – an appliance used to filter opium. Supposedly the Khad is not something one can buy, but is only passed from one family to the other,purely as a symbol of status and importance that the family was accorded in the village. As we listened with growing fascination, we realized the importance of opium in these far flung villages in Rajasthan. Be it a marriage or a death, no ceremony is complete without serving opium. It’s considered an insult to refuse the offer of an opium and prospective brides or grooms could well find themselves unfit for marriage, if their guests weren’t served opium.We were informed that 1 Kg of opium costed nearly 4 Lakh Rs. and it was jaw dropping to think of what such expenses could entail for the poor villagers.

Rajasthan,probably on account of its strategic location in the trade route, was exposed from the very early times to opium ,an important trade commodity.Its usage has been traced back to the 16th and 17th century where it was commonly used as a drug and later progressed to being used as a narcotic drug during the 19th century. The drug in the form of a drink called Kasumba was quite popular among the Rajputs and also the Mughals.

Our own cup was full with all these rich experiences, but one still remained. That of the sighting of some visitors from distant lands – the magnificent Demoiselle Cranes !


After a day well spent, it was time for us to leave the hamlet of Salawas behind, but along with the memories of magnificent forts, the jungle and the desert, this amazing rural experience will also be etched in our minds.