May 20, 2015

May Ramblings: Memoirs, Water-Color Experiments, and Exploring Delhi's Many Cities

May means:


Late to Tea at Deer Palace along with some fresh mogras and a postcard of the Grand Canyon

I have always enjoyed reading memoirs and this was a beautifully written one of an Iraqi family and the trajectory of its political and economic fortunes before eventually being displaced from their homeland and spending their lives in exile; the author, Tamara Chalabi minutely documents her family's history while contemplating the currency of the notion of Iraq in her life, both as a mythical abstraction derived from her family's many stories about their homeland as well as as its contemporary political status today. I randomly picked it up at Daryaganj's Sunday Book market, where every Sunday morning the pavements are lined with book-stalls, selling best-sellers, obscure novels, M&Bs, vintage Vogues, Christies and Sotheby art catalogues, coffee-table books, you name it. What I found most amusing was the book-store where best-sellers were sold for 100 rupees per kilo while Mills and Boons were 99 rupees per kilo! I discovered 'Late to Tea at Deer Palace' over there (I must confess it's romantic title and the aqua cover definitely influenced my decision to purchase it) and read it in the course of a weekend. While I have always been interested in Middle Eastern politics and history, I must admit that the quotidian minutiae of pre-war life in Iraq, under Ottoman rule and then, incorporating the cosmopolitan changes which swept the city following the arrival of the British was what intrigued me more. I loved reading about the costumes, wedding rituals and ceremonies, the dishes cooked and prepared, and superstitions which were wholly unique to that culture and age along with something which is personally close to my heart, the fluid idea of home and homelands.

As someone who has always preferred writing expansively and at length, it's heartening to see more and more long-form reads popping up everywhere  -  I unsurprisingly love the site, Long Reads, where I have had the pleasure of reading some excellent essays and articles. Two of my recent favorites were this Rebecca Solnit essay,  a superb meditation about the meaning of travel in our lives and this Judy Blume interview which I read today. I read practically all Judy Blume's novels while growing up and loved the candour, wit, and the freshness of her voice as she tackled that bewildering and challenging world of adolescence, in which there are so many questions and very little by answers and consolation (especially if you lived in an archaic pre-internet world, as the interview mentions;) Two of my favorite novels were Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself and Are You There God? It's Me Margaret. I would now like to read her novel for adults that the interview mentions too.


Migrating Moons: combining water-colors along with paper collage, something else which I am fond of

When I was ten years old, I took a weekly water color painting class for two months with one of then Oman's most well-known water color artists, Lynda Shepherd. I would go to her house on Thursday afternoons, sitting on a long white table along with several other girls, learning the techniques of water-color painting. I distinctly remember her teaching us how to expertly paint a sprig of bougainvillea and also, drumming into us shadows are not just inky black: they are a cocktail of multiple colors. I recall wishing to paint an ochre-hued wall of an Omani fort; however, she in turn asked me to render it in a palette of cool gray, mauves, and lavenders instead, the space appearing as if it had been painted in situ just before dawn, the literal grayland between night and morning. I painted in water color for many years afterwards, filling up sketch-books with my illustrations (the bougainvillea in my house garden, the Rajasthani kathputlis hanging on my bedroom wall, and recreations of photographs) before discovering oil painting in my second year of university. I almost exclusively painted in oils ever since then before a sudden impulse led me to purchase water-colors a few weeks ago. I still keep on treating them as oils though, ha...and while I honestly miss the sheer joy I experienced while mixing the color in oils,, there's something undeniably so crisp and instant about water-colors too: it's like taking a Polaroid of your thoughts.



Diwan-i-Am, Red Fort

 The heat notwithstanding, the arrival of family in town meant we did a bit of Delhi sight-seeing: Qutub Minar and Red Fort, two of the places that our niece especially wanted to see because she had read about them in her textbooks:). The Minar was fabulously grand and dominated the area which was filled with tombs, mosques, and ruins, trees and monuments, botany and history, merging together. Red Fort was also a place which I had been wanting to visit for a while. As a child, we would travel to Delhi from Jodhpur by an overnight train and arrive in the city at dawn; we would go past the Red Fort, the saffron morning sunlight making it look redder than ever. I earlier used to exclusively associate it with the Indian Prime Minister's 15th August address; afterwards, as I studied more about Delhi's history, I began to appreciate its vital historical and architechural significance (William Dalrymple's portrait of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Ali Zafar and him conducting court during the 1857 uprising in The Last Mughal was especially haunting) . Of late, I had seen its photogenic spaces featuring in many an Instagram feed I follow so I was glad to finally see it in person; however, as always, I often wonder what it would be like to see a historical place in seclusion, imagining as it was, rather than with hundreds of tourists milling about and well, rendering it hollow and devoid of back-stories and histories. Well, I too joined the click-crazy brigade that day, eagerly snapping photographs of that gorgeous, impeccable arch symmetry in the Diwan-i-Am along with its other miniature pavilions and landscaped gardens. This was the Delhi of my imagination and which had colored and shaped my anticipation before moving to it...but as time goes by, I am learning that the city is a hydra-headed creature and this romantic, tombs-monuments-historical Delhi is but simply one of them.

How is your May coming along?

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