Mangalore museum, Gandhi letters

On a mini vacation to Mangalore, hubby and I decided to visit the museum there. The Shreemanti Bai Memorial Government Museum is located on a hill at Bejai in Mangalore, in a two-storied bungalow built by Colonel V R Mirajkar.

The autorickshaw driver said he knew where the Bejai museum was (he often got fares for it), but he didn’t know a museum actually existed there (he thought it was just a name) 🙂 The first thing we noticed was a canon gun in front of a colonial style building, but the place seemed peaceful and inviting. There were no cars or buses in sight, no students jostling in queues for entrance.

mangalore museum ticketsA small entrance room, one desk, no one seated there to greet visitors or demand fees. We stood there and looked around, and a woman emerged and smiled at us somewhat uncertainly. She confirmed the museum was open, and looked slightly shaky as she took out a ticket book. Finally, after calling out to some man inside the building, she handed us tickets and took money, and for a princely sum of Rupees two per head (given as four tickets of rupees one each), hubby and I were officially eligible to enter.

The museum hall was unlit. A man rushed ahead of us and put on the lights and fans and we entered to start admiring the exhibits.

I’m never quite sure how to think about my experience of museums. Some exhibits induce gasps, some an expansive sense of awe and wonder, and some seem, well, like exhibits from any and every other museum. Why does one particular painting make me halt, while other similar ones don’t? I have no idea. I’ve been to museums as a child, then as a mother ferrying her son, and later as a emptied-nest mother, and it’s always unpredictable whether I’ll like a museum or a particular displayed item or walk past disinterested.

The other thing is, a few days after the visit, I usually cannot remember any of the exhibits in detail, but sometimes I carry a sense of wonder about a few of them. That fizzles out in a month or two, confirming my impression that history, culture and art are lost on me.

But the experience of walking through this museum was itself strange. We’d enter a hall, the man scooting ahead of us to put on the lights and fans, then dashing back to the hall we’d just left to close the lights and fans there. As we walked around and examined the pieces displayed, our electricity-switch-handling-guide would stay out of sight so as not to seem to hurry us. Like we were honored guests. It made me savor the experience much more 🙂

And then, we entered a room that looked different: a room with some documents and pictures. Under a tired-looking glass cover, lay archived letters of Gandhi.

I’ve seen Gandhi museums in the past. I remember some of them, at least I remember visiting Old Birla House on Tees January Marg as a child; this house, where Gandhi was assassinated, has been converted into a “Gandhi smriti” where you can see his “personal effects” and the path he took on the day he died, and also see collections of books and letters and many other things. As a child I don’t think I hung around to actually read the displayed letters 🙂 But this time, maybe because I’m older, or maybe it was the lazy time of the day/ my mood, whatever, I started reading the letters in this Mangalore museum. They were typewritten copies, some with stamps to indicate authenticity.

My first reaction was a sense of nostlagia–I remembered those days when there were no photocopiers and this is how we made copies: type out a letter, then get someone to certify that it was a genuine copy. As I read through them, I realized I did not know many of the names mentioned.

Till I found a letter written by Gandhi to Hitler, dated July 1939.

I read that letter one, once, twice, thrice. One isn’t supposed to take pictures inside a museum. I guess I could have jotted down the contents at the back of some bill in my purse; instead, I memorized the letter. It was a short one.

I carried the memory with me later, feeling I’d seen something important, historic. I should have noted down the contents later, but I remembered them perfectly and saw no need to. I was sure I’d never forget them.

Three weeks later, I suddenly thought of the letter and could not remember the contents. I had a sense of what they’d been, and of the date, but the specifics were forgotten.

Strangely, I experienced a great sense of loss. I even went through a five minute phase when I wondered when we’d next go to Mangalore and promising myself that this time I’d note it down.

But this is the day and age of the Internet, so no loss is permanent if it can be archived. Here’s a collection, which includes the letter I’d seen: click here for an archive.

I must admit, though, that reading a letter on the Internet was nowhere as awe-inspiring as seeing it laid flat in that somewhat dusty glass case in that old-world-style museum in Mangalore.

Unexpected flashes of brilliant blue

An old picture from an old trip. A calm day, a duck gliding over the water at Karanji Lake, Mysore. I was watching it, feeling relaxed. I often find photographing birds very soothing, and so I took a couple of shots.

It was through the camera that I saw the duck flap its wings in preparation for a dive, and with it, an unexpected flash of blue. I clicked in time to catch it, and then stared at the picture I’d captured, sure I’d been mistaken. But then I turned and saw the duck, and yes, under that white and grey was a brilliant blue.

It was such a cheerful, unexpected blue that it brightened up my day.

And this time, when the duck folded back its wings, a band of blue remained visible, making me wonder whether the blue had been there earlier, too, and whether I’d just missed it. I stood there for a while, savoring the treat. Looking at the pictures, I relive that treat.

duck with flash of blueduck with flash of blueduck folded wings showing band of blue

One can see a message of optimism there, I guess. For me, it is such unexpected magic that I think of when life seems ho-hum.

The flower that predicts

I’ve been snapping those small flowers on the roadside that one normally doesn’t notice, but which sometimes just brighten up the day, sort of feisty flowers that hold their head high above boring dried grass and nods at me when I am walking past.

Some days ago, I saw a flower that reminded me of my school days, when this particular flower was much sought after while we waited for the school bus. We called it the “he loves me, he loves me not” flower. We would scour the grass and find one, and even squabble about who would get a turn at “using” it. Whoever finally got the flower would pluck off the petals one by one, chanting something like, “he loves me”, “he loves me not”, “he loves me”, “he loves me not” till all the petals were plucked off and the last statement uttered was deemed true.

We used to use it for every sort of prediction. “Surprise test today”, “no surprise test”, for one. Or “Hindi Sir will come today-yes”, “no,” and so on. Our basic premise seemed to have been that some cosmic arranger would match the flower we picked up with the question we had (and the answer we should get):) We considered the flower sort of believable and quite useful, because it was right sometimes 🙂 (Just as those astrology columns are, I guess).

I wonder whether kids today use such simple games? I suspect not; they must have mobile apps for this by now.

An excellent trip to Mysore Zoo

I’ve seen zoos when I was a kid, and also when I was taking my son around. Usually I find them somewhat interesting for the first hour or so, after which my focus shifts to finding the way out. Animals don’t always pose well enough, the enclosures smell, the write-ups are faded and unreadable, and often describing a different animal from the one in the enclosure. I therefore assumed that visiting zoos as an adult would be quite foolish.

Then someone told me that Mysore zoo is the best in India, and I thought, here I am, in Mysore, let me give it a try. I was surprised at how enjoyable the trip was. I found the zoo well-planned and clean, the explanations outside the enclosure informative and written in an interesting way, and the entire path through the zoo clearly marked.

For example, I saw a sign that explained that giraffes were fed by placing leaves on tall poles in their enclosure so that they could feed themselves in the same way as they would eat leaves off trees in their natural habitat. Oh! I must have seen giraffes in just about every zoo I’ve visited since childhood, but I’d never noticed this before 🙂 I also saw a tapir, which is a highly endangered species (Wikipedia page on Tapir).

giraffe feeding in Mysore zooTapir in Mysore zoo

The zoo was remarkable also because there was, to my delight, no litter. I didn’t see any person (child or adult) misbehave with the animals. I even managed to catch some animals on my camera to save the memories.

A very good feature of the zoo was (maybe all zoos do it now) that it encouraged the public to adopt an animal, that is, participate in the upkeep of an animal of your choice by paying a fee. In front of many enclosures, there were signs giving the names of the persons who had paid for maintenance of the animals inside, along with the start and end date, and some of the names listed were celebrities and public figures. I thought that was a really cool idea (though I didn’t find out more details); if you are a lover of wild-life and want to contribute, you can probably get the details from the zoo authorities. The zoo (more formally known as Shri Chamrajendra Zoological Gardens) has a website at which includes inventory of animals and galleries of pictures 🙂 (this site seems to be having some problems)

Monkeys and writing speculative fiction for persons outside India

I’ve not lived outside India and so I usually base any fiction I write in India (unless I am placing it on some fantasy world or a planet where I am as experienced as the reader). One tricky part of writing fiction based in India for readers outside India is to describe the surroundings here correctly without launching off into elaborate and stilted explanations, and yet with enough detail for non-Indians to feel comfortable about the world–to feel they can see, hear, smell and believe it.

Writers often talk of the challenge of “writing the other”–writing assuming a culture/ race/ setting they do not belong to, in ways that are authentic enough to be accepted by persons of that culture/ race/ setting(and not sound condescending/ insensitive/ over-exotic etc.) It is quite as challenging to be part of a different culture and write about it in ways that are authentic and unstilted and would make sense to readers who are unfamiliar with the culture but have plenty of preconceived notions about it. I think of it as “writing for the other” 🙂

In a story I once drafted, I had a scene where some persons who were escaping into the mountains encountered monkeys. When I put it up in a critique group, one reviewer commented on my “mistake” of having monkeys out in the wild. Monkeys, she informed me, were only found in labs and zoos 🙂

I often smile at that memory when I take my morning walks and encounter company like this :

monkeys hunched togetherbaby monkeymonkey nibbling at twigmonkey on road

Morning greetings from spotted owlets

In Mysore, there’s a tree I pass on my morning walks, and it is a tired-looking gnarled tree with a rather dark and big tree hollow. I have found a pair of spotted owlets on the dried branches. They stare down at me with their wise eyes. It’s a great way to start a day.

I first spotted them some days ago. I stopped and watched them for a while, and they looked back solemnly. Fellow morning walkers saw I was staring at a tree and they stopped too, and peered and spotted the owlets. For some time after that, everyone was just watching them, either silently or discussing owls and other birds they had seen, and the presence of the owlets united us all in our admiration. Then others walked away, and so did I.

But I stop near that tree often now, hoping to see the owls. If I am carrying my camera, I sometimes try to capture the moment to savor it later. The owlets don’t fly away if I try to take a picture, but their colors match the surrounding branches and twigs so well that the picture I get is often more like a “spot the spotted owlet” puzzle contest rather than a clear, identifiable mugshot. I haven’t yet managed to get both of them in a single frame because once I zoom the camera forclarity, one owlet gets zoomed out 🙂

Here’s the tree:

tree where spotted owlets liveis this the home of the spotted owlets

And the owlet (difficult to spot in some of them 🙂 :

spotted owletspotted owletowlet difficult to spot because of the treeowlet difficult to spot because of the treeback view of owl

(If you are interested in birds, here’s the wikipedia page on spotted owlets.

Tree nests

A few days ago, I spotted some tree nests during my morning walk. They looked unusual, so I stood around for a while, hoping to see some birds descend and start feeding their young ones. No luck. I peered at the nest, hoping to see the opening through which the bird inside would be fed by a hard-working parent, but I couldn’t spot any opening either. I finally did what anyone with a mobile does nowadays–snapped a few pictures.

tree nest of weaver anttree nest of weaver ant

Back at home, I wondered how to figure out which bird makes such nests. I tried surfing for bird nests; again, no luck. Finally, I posted the pictures on Facebook and was told that they were the nests of ants 🙁

I must admit to an initial disbelief. These nests were big, and on trees, and I’d never thought ants would climb up trees and make such (as a proportion of their size) huge nests. But then I checked up some more, and found pictures of trees nests made by weaver ants and a page on them in Wikipedia. Check out the Wikipedia page on weaver ants, and also one image available in Wikipedia commons. Because the images are released under creative commons, I am also linking to two such images below:

ants collaborating to make nestant nest in tree

I’m so glad I didn’t go closer to check assuming these were bird nests 🙂 But I’m very intrigued now and I’ll be on the look-out for nests that may have fallen down; if I spot one, I will (very, very carefully) examine it to see the workmanship of ants.