Saturday, July 31, 2010

The UK Files - The Garden Centre

Since my aunt is so into gardening, it was inevitable that one of the first places she took us to was the neighbourhood Garden Centre. I'd never seen anything even remotely like this, and so my mouth fell open and my jaw hung down all through my first visit.

A garden centre differs from a nursery in that a nursery actually grows the plants and nurses them until they are fit to be sold, but a garden centre usually just sources the plants from such nurseries. A garden centre is much, much more than a nursery. It has everything you can imagine that has to do with a garden. And as many things that I couldn't even imagine.

It has plants, of course, and saplings, and trees, and seeds, and compost, and soil and pots and watering cans, fertilizers and pesticides and everything to do with plants. It then has gardening tools, rakes, and gardening gloves and lawnmowers and knee-pads and hats to keep away the sun (heh). Well, alright.

But then, it has garden furniture. And barbecue grills, and chairs and picnic mats and picnic baskets and picnic cutlery and stuff. And it has tea things, tea leaves, tea cups, doilies, tea-cosies, and varieties of biscuits to go with it.

It has landscaping instruments and garden ornaments and door-stops and stuffed toys and marble busts and things. And it has sheds and greenhouses and conservatories and frost-protection devices. It even has a whole section for wild bird feed. And it even has a pet shop and an aquarium in the same campus.

And they have very helpful people who give you valuable advice as well. And I'm just getting warmed up.

I think that if you want to study a people, you should visit their Garden Centre. That should give you, to use an English understatement, a fair idea of the people.

While my head was whirling with all this, Puttachi's jaw was dropping at something totally different. They have a few trolleys with toy cars attached to them. (Something like this) So the adult pushes the trolley, and the child sits in the car pretending to drive it.

For every visit after that, my job at the garden centre was to push around an empty trolley with Puttachi turning the steering wheel for all she was worth and honking away at passerbys. Old people stopped and smiled and said to me, "I hope your daughter has a license, dear," and all the while, Puttachi was deep in ecstasy.

We spent money taking her to what we thought were interesting places, the zoo, lambing at a farm, the merry-go-round at the town centre, but her favourite part of UK was the free car-trolley at the garden centre. Every morning, she would get up and say, "Shall we go to the garden centre today?"

Even yesterday, she asked me when we could go to England again, as she wanted to ride in the car trolley.

It breaks my heart that I couldn't take a picture of her in it.

Speaking of gardens, there is a very interesting concept known as NGS - Gardens Open for Charity. Every year, fair-sized private gardens open their gates to the public for a fee, the proceeds of which goes to charity. My aunt, Puttachi and I visited one such open garden. It was beautiful, attached to an imposing old house, with "grounds" all around, and fabulous views of the countryside. This one house brought to my mind all the settings of Jane Austen and such English novels. The batteries of my camera died here, and I didn't have spare ones on me, so no snaps :(

The plants were labelled well, and the landscaping was excellently done. The brochure had also promised us a walk in the woods next to the house - a Bluebell walk amid birch and ash trees, but though it wasn't exactly overflowing with bluebells, we could see some pretty ones here and there. The woods were lovely, dark and deep (Thank you, Frost), and it was fun walking in them. I almost expected Little Red Riding Hood to emerge from behind the nearest tree, because it was exactly as I had imagined Red Riding Hood's woods. (Or perhaps seen it illustrated somewhere). I also saw holly for the first time. I've seen pictures and have even drawn those distinctive holly leaves dozens of times, and finally, I saw it for real.

As usual, Puttachi was very cooperative, and sustaining her on Peppa Pig and Jammy Dodgers, we finished the walk and got back.

A wonderful concept, and perfect for garden-lovers.

Next: Lambing

Friday, July 30, 2010

The UK files - Familiarity

For me, one of the special things about visiting the UK, as opposed to any other country, is the immense familiarity with the place-names. I've come across these places in ever so many books, and it feels fabulous to see it in person.

On the South-Western rail from Reading to London, I saw Ascot station. How many books, how many movies talk about the races in Ascot! In the Wimbledon and Greenwich stations, I actually stood a while looking at the "Welcome to Wimbledon" and "Welcome to Greenwich" boards with a thrill creeping down my spine, thinking, "I'm actually here."

The London tube map looks like a concise Sherlock Holmes. I knew the names of most of the station thanks to Holmes' habits. Charing cross, Kensington, Brompton, Tottenham Court Road, Clapham Junction - and from innumerable movies, Covent garden, Leicester Square, Piccadilly - all of them are as familiar to me as if they are neighbouring streets.

Driving across the country, I saw exits to places like Manchester and Liverpool, and arrows to lesser known, but yet familiar towns and shires that are sprinkled all over English literature.

Last month, I was reading a Wodehouse when one of the characters walked from Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner, and I could actually see him do that - I knew the route he took, the roads he crossed - it made the book even more interesting. More exciting was the mention of Twickenham, a station we passed on the way from Reading to London.

At every corner in London, there was something I recognized. "Scotland Yard", said a board in London, "Downing street", pointed another arrow - I know I'm rambling, but I don't know what that peculiar feeling is - that excitement when you see something that you've never seen before, but is so familiar to you! Has it happened to you?

It is priceless.

Next: Garden centre

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The UK Files - Spring in England

My aunt saw my last post and complained about it - that she has such a lovely garden, and all I post are pictures of bare trees.

Anu Mausi, this one's for you!

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The UK Files - The green and the weather

We landed in the UK just before spring was officially announced. It was still very green, but the trees were bare. Yet, it was a haunting kind of beauty, because I could see the shapes of the branches - some trees standing up reaching to the sky, some stretching their arms sideways, and many of them, the most beautiful ones, had branches drooping down, only to slightly perk up at the ends.

There wasn't much colour, except for daffodils - and these stood proud and yellow and beautiful. But they did indeed haste away very soon, and in fact, dry daffodils are a sore sight.

As our stay progressed, the chill decreased, and fuzz started appearing on the trees. This was a unique sight in my eyes, because the trees weren't really bare any longer - it was like you weren't wearing spectacles - the branches were hazy.

We didn't go out much for a week, thanks to the rain and cold and other activities at home, and on the next drive to Sainsbury's, everything was astonishingly different. Green of all shades had burst forth and the landscape was choking with green. I couldn't even recognize the roads as the same we'd driven through before. Farms that I could see through hedges were now hidden, the hedges having sprouted new leaves.

And in a few weeks, the colours came. Bold, exquisite Magnolias, the prettiest cherry blossoms of a thousand colours, and much later, the loveliest laburnum and the strangely beautiful wisteria.
Names I'd only read came alive before my eyes.

The beauty of that country is remarkable. I think it makes more of an effect because there is so much of it in such little space. And to someone who likes green, it is paradise.

Representative photos of a tree in my aunt's backyard:

End of March


Mid April


End of May

But the associated problems with cold and wetness - I cannot get over how long it takes to get ready to step outside. And I'd thought that one coat would be enough - I realize now that you need coats of different textures and thicknesses for every consecutive day! And layering - such a pain, but the most sensible thing to do.

Sometimes it looks sunny, and out you go, and the moment the sun pops behind a cloud, you're all a-shiver, sure you'll freeze. The sun comes out in a minute, and you're fine again. Really, what does that country expect one to do?

I realized I was prone to chilblains. Waking up at midnight with my toes itching so much that I felt like biting them out.

And how many plans have been ruined by the weather? In India, we say, okay let's go to say, Nandi Hills this Saturday. And we go. In England, you think about having a picnic in either Reading or Maidenhead. open the weather website, check the weather. Saturday looks wet in Reading, wetter in Maidenhead. How about Sunday? Oh no it is very wet in Maidenhead but Reading looks fine. But very very cold. And windy. Hmmm. Let's postpone to next weekend.
I found it very funny initially how every plan first started with a visit to the weather website. At the end of my visit, I was at it too.

Nothing like travel to put things in perspective. The day I got back to Bangalore, I felt a warm breeze on my face and felt so wonderful. I went out, taking care to wear the lightest clothes, and felt the sun on my skin and the lightness of being that comes from wearing no extra layers of clothes! But I went out and got depressed about the smoke and the dust and the lack of greenery, things I'd not thought about at all before.

Next: Familiarity

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Three good books

I've read more than a dozen books these two months. They've all been great, but there are three I just had to mention.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. One of the most engrossing books I've read. The characters just grab you by the collar and don't let go of you. Excellent writing, fabulous details - enough of them without it getting boring, and none of that flowery writing that gets in the way of a story. It transported me back two centuries to the time of the opium trade, and I was there, right there, with the characters.

I've spoken before of not liking it when I get to the midpoint of a good book, because it means it's getting over. This book was such that I actually put it down at midpoint, and picked up another book (the next on this list). But that book was so good that I finished it in no time, and I came back to Sea of Poppies. Sometime around now, I'd realized that this was the first part of a trilogy, with the other two yet to be published. So when I drew towards the end of the book, I decided to stop reading, and continue after the second part came out. But before I knew it, the pages turned on their own, and I flew to what I thought was the last chapter, only to read the title - "Acknowledgements". The book was over. I could have screamed. I could have torn my hair out. I could have rent the book into a thousand pieces. I was that mad. But all I did was put it away sorrowfully and look up Amitav Ghosh's email id to mail him and tell him, "Get on with the next book!"

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I picked up this book thinking that it will be slow reading, so that I could make Sea of Poppies last longer. But it was better than any thriller! I literally read it open-mouthed. The ideas and the writing are so clear, consice, incisive and they make so much sense, that I'm floored. Now I can't wait to get at his other books.

Three Men in a Boat (To Say nothing of the dog) by Jerome K Jerome - Now, this is one funny book. Barring one racist remark, and a few sentences that treat women with mild condescension, this book could have been written now. The humour is so relevant even 120 years after the book was published. That's probably because the author laughs mostly at human nature, and that, perhaps will never change! The events are most commonplace, but the way he writes about it is very good. This is one of the very few books I've read where I've actually caught myself laughing out loud, and in one case clutching my stomach while I laughed. Just this morning I was walking on the road when I remembered something from the book and grinned all by myself.

What made it nicer was that I now knew most of the places he talks about in the book, as he and his friends boat up to Oxford from London - all those places I've seen, including Reading, which he unkindly calls, among a multitude of other things, a dismal, dirty place. (It is not ;))

Monday, July 26, 2010

The UK files

Ok, I've put it off for too long, but finally I've got the urge to write all about our UK visit. It was a wonderful visit, something I'd been looking forward to for a long, long time. Of course, writing about it is going to be a long-drawn affair, interspersed with regular topics.

Puttachi and I landed on March 25th, and S~ joined us on April 30th. All of us returned to Bangalore on May 20th.

We stayed with my aunt near Reading. She is great company, and very inspiring. We had hours and hours of lovely long chats, she treated us to the most lipsmacking dishes (the visit was a foodlover's dream), and we watched hours of murder mysteries on television, and the entire series of Fawlty Towers. My cousin V and Puttachi had some good times together, though he is a very busy guy! My uncle and Puttachi got on famously, she telling him stories all the time. Many times, when we were watching/doing something particularly engrossing, and Puttachi was disturbing us, my uncle would slowly lure her away and listen to her non-stop-nonsense until she didn't care if we existed or not.

Their house has a beautiful garden, and we spent hours in it. Mostly watching my aunt garden, but helping out a bit too. There is something to be said for walking barefoot on grass. It is so rare for us to have that pleasure. Lawns in India have "Keep off the grass" boards - but naturally. How difficult it is to maintain a lawn here! But in England, lawns maintain themselves - and so we had some beautiful moments sitting on the grass (me) and rolling about (Puttachi).

My aunt took us to a number of places - very untouristy things, and made it a point to show me interesting things and explain them to me - things which gave me an idea of life in the UK.

Next: The green and the weather.

Friday, July 23, 2010

School update (after 2 months)

Nearly two months after Puttachi started school, she is well-settled. Apparently, she cried from time to time during the first month, but not any more. She likes going to school, fussing only on rainy mornings when even I feel like chucking everything and curling up to go back to sleep.

When she gets back, she is bursting to tell me what she did, what they learnt, what so-and-so said, and what X did to Y, and of course, what snacks they were given, and how many helpings she took. (Yes, she takes multiple helpings!)

She is full of news about her classmates, telling me in detail who sits where, and who wears her hair in ponytails and who doesn't. I had no idea kids chat - after all, what can a bunch of three-year-olds talk about? But apparently, they do, because she tells me what each of her friends said to her.

Since I speak to her only in Kannada at home, there was a time when I worried slightly that she would have a problem at school. I feel so silly now. Not even two months have passed and she has picked up so much English that I would've found it impossible to believe it had I not seen it myself.

Thanks to school, she is obsessed with colouring. She doesn't want to eat, sleep, or go to the toilet or do anything else, but colour. A friendly autorickshaw guy said to her yesterday, "Child, study well, okay?" She got down and told me, "Amma, I will study well, but I will also draw and colour, okay?"

Looks like she's having a wonderful time at school, and I only hope this lasts for the entire duration of her education!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sins against Gender stereotypes

I know that everybody has done this tag and passed on to other things, but since RajK and Dhanya tagged me, here goes:

My sins against Gender stereotypes.:

Disclaimer: I think the lines have been blurred now, and many things that were considered masculine when I was a child aren't so any longer, and vice versa. Of course, there are thousands of other things that weren't considered feminine even about 50 years ago, which we don't think twice about doing now. So I'm going to let all that go, and make my list - of what I remember. (I'm suffering from severe memory loss these days)

1) I hate shopping. Enough said.
2) I dislike going to the parlour. But I go anyway.
3) I don't like jewellery on myself, or dressing up or making myself up. I feel like I've entered someone else's body.
4) I studied MTech in Energy Engg, which was apparently such a male field that Energy companies that came on campus for recruitment wouldn't even consider female applicants.
5) That didn't stop me from travelling alone with my male classmates to industries in different, isolated towns.
6)... and wear helmets and climb ladders to take energy efficiency measurements from burning boilers.
7) I don't set great store on celebrating my birthdays and anniversaries. S~ and I completed 5 years of marriage this week, and I didn't even remember that it was our anniversary. Ordinarily, once you reach the month of the anniversary, you are aware that a special day is coming up, even if you forget it on that very day. I didn't even remember that.
8) I once shocked my Township by insisting on shaking hands with the chief guest who was distributing prizes. He was shaking hands with all the men, but not with the women. Some silly Victorian rule, I tell you. I was a teenager, who liked handshakes, and so I shook his hand. Tongues wagged.
9) I prefer to listen in and participate in the conversations of men in a mixed gathering. I gravitate towards the men sometimes, but unfortunately, there are higher instances of when I stay with the women out of a sense of propriety. Indeed, there was a time when I preferred the company of men to women.
10) I've never shirked from physical labour, often being the one to move benches and lift heavy things while organizing things in school/college.
11) I don't like speaking on the phone for longer than 5 min. That is my limit.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

One point five months of school

After one and a half months of school:

1) Puttachi goes willingly, and happily to school. She goes on about her friends in class and tells me nearly every detail about what they did in school. Many times I have to dig it out of her with questions, but usually, she offers all the information herself.

2) I can't believe I worried for a while about her not knowing English, since I speak to her entirely in Kannada. 1.5 months and she has picked up quite a bit of English, and tries very hard to carry on a conversation in English, consisting mainly of nouns, "ing" verbs and lots of actions.

Me: Puttachi, how did you hurt your knee?
She: School... running (runs around to show me how).... fall down (makes a shocked face and demonstrates)..... hurt (makes a sad face)... crying (demonstrates graphically, with sound effects).
Me: Aww, then?
She: Aunty.... not teacher, aunty (mimics the ayah (my guess)) come, don't cry, medicine.... then, abbu(hurt) go away!

This from someone who spoke next to no English on May 31st.

3) Went for the first parent-teacher meeting, where her teacher told me that she's settled in very well, except that in the beginning, she tended to cry for half a minute before every new activity! The teacher also said that she relishes her food (the school provides snacks - yummy, filling stuff), and always asks for second, and sometimes third helpings.

4) They've taught the kids to draw standing lines and sleeping lines. Armed with that, and also with previous knowledge of the English alphabet, Puttachi came to me demanding to be taught to write her own name. I indulged her, assuming that she couldn't possibly do it, but to my shock, she actually wrote down all the five letters of her (real) name! One of the letters bothered her, but with an easy trick I taught her, she wrote down that too. My daughter is literate ;)


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Another little ray of sunshine

One of my stories is in the longlist of the Unisun short story competition.

I don't have too high expectations of it getting to the next level, considering the competition out there, but I'm pleased nevertheless.

To add to it, I got a mail from them offering me the chance to get the story published in their anthology. Now, that's interesting.
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