The first elephants I met in India were in Karnataka, at Dubare Elephant Camp. Nowadays it seems to be a holiday lodge destination with added elephants, but when we visited, it was still largely home to elephants who’d given years of service to the state’s Forestry Department as log-hauliers.
As we arrived, the elephants were being a good old scrub in the River Cauvery, It was clear they relished having their hard leathery hide scrubbed, their hard bristly hair scratched. And it was obvious their minders were enjoying it too. After that – breakfast. Here’s a picture of a cook in the cookhouse. He’s boiling up an appetisng concoction of jaggery (dense dark sugar), millet and vegetation before rolling it into giant balls which the men feed to the expectant animals.
And here’s feeding time. And that was it really. A short but memorable experience.
I had a very different time about ten days later, at Kumbakonam, where my new American friend had taken me to visit some of the eighteen – EIGHTEEN – temples in this small town. I’ll take you for a tour another time. This time I’ll introduce you to the elephant who, at one of the temples, was available to bless visitors in exchange for a few coins for the temple’s finances. Gwen took me to meet her. As I stood before her, she lifted her trunk and laid it gently in my shoulder. I did indeed feel blessed.
Temple elephants are a common sight – here’s one in Thanjavur.
But only once did I see one in the wild, a youngster crashing through the undergrowth and feeding at the edge of a forest.
I am giving you two different people for Just One Person Around the World this time: both of them are auto-rickshaw drivers in India. Here we are in Chennai. Just discharged from hospital, I’m on the first leg of my journey home to England. Look out of the front window of this auto-rickshaw and you’ll see the crowded streets that were more or less my last view of India.
This driver was an amiable enough companion, but on my very first day in India, jet-lagged and more than thirty hours without sleep it was a different rickshaw driver who offered me my first taste of Indian hospitality and friendship as I tried to come to terms with the impossibly busy streets of Bengaluru. You’ve seen this photo before, but my first friend deserves his fifteen minutes of fame.
Here’s what I wrote in my diary that day. ‘When I finally set off with the intention of exploring for the morning, I hadn’t gone too far when I was picked up by an auto-rickshaw driver. He could see ‘Arrived this morning’ tattooed across my forehead. He offered to show me round for Rs 10. Well, I wasn’t so green as to believe that’s all I’d spend, but I was exhausted and it wasn’t an unattractive proposition. It was such fun! He proved an amiable guide, whose English, while obviously hugely better than my Kannada often led to mutual incomprehension. He had an endearing habit of describing all the sites we passed as his; ‘This is my Parliament Building … This is my Royal Palace’. He hared me round a variety of sites, and waited while I ‘did’ Bengaluru Palace’ – slightly seedy and where I was personally shown round by an Aged Retainer, and where I noticed a herd of cows in the Royal Gardens.
It was that morning that I discovered that all auto-rickshaw drivers have entered into Arrangements With Shops. The kind of shops, selling textiles, carvings, carpets, jewellery that tourists are expected to make use of. It is their duty to take unwitting passengers there. Reader, I got off lightly (though I did buy something, and kept my friend happy), and learned an important lesson, that ‘No’ must be said with conviction, especially on Day One of a one month trip. What backpacker can lug bedspreads all over South India for four weeks? Later that day, a less accommodating rickshaw driver, on realising that it was fruitless to try to tempt me out shopping dumped me without warning in the middle of a poor part of town (Where? Where?) and left me to get on with it.
Nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed this somewhat basic mode of transport. My friend had had his for fifteen years, and I see no reason why it won’t still be going strong.
It was only a week later that I found myself sharing an auto- rickshaw, designed to take two passengers at most, with three other people. But really, we weren’t trying. Any morning that I was out and about as school started, I would see auto-rickshaws, in total denial of any kind of Health and Safety considerations, disgorging four, six, even ten children at the school gates. Look at the rickshaw here, behind those smartly turned out schoolgirls.
Later, when I visited Thanjavur, I found traditional rickshaws drawn usually by one very wiry, elderly man on a bicycle. While understanding their need to work, I couldn’t bring myself to have them haul me around, and in any case, the town was manageable enough on foot.
I look back on this mode of transport with great affection. Nippy, affordable, and with opportunities for cheery conversation, I can’t think of a better way of getting round the confusion which is an Indian city.
So many of our favourite springtime flowers have cheerful sunny faces., beginning in January with aconites, then going via celandines, daffodils, marsh marigolds, primroses, dandelions and cowslips to glorious meadows of buttercups in June. Here are just a few of them.
I can’t end the post though, without reminding myself of the crowds, the hosts of daffodils in the woodland slopes of the Pyrenees, nearby to where we lived in France. The French don’t have the same love affair with the daffodil that we have here in England, but this was a spectacle I’ve never seen bettered anywhere.
When abroad – or even somewhere fresh here in the UK – a big pleasure comes from visiting the local market. People-watching ordinary folk going about their daily business: seeing what’s on offer at the run-of-the-mill fruit and veg stalls. What are the local cheeses? Is there any honey from round and about? What have they got on sale that‘s unexpected? Perhaps a stall holder will invite me to try this kind of apricot – and then that one – before I buy. Maybe a nun from the local convent will be selling home-pressed apple juice.
In India, it was spices I was particularly keen to see. But in Mysore, which isn’t short of European visitors, I had such a bad time I almost didn’t venture into a market again. I had Tourist emblazoned across my forehead for all to see. And I was pestered, by one young man in particular, who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, whether I was nice, nasty or ignored him.. Whatever. I left with no purchase, and in a very bad mood. Though later I got a few photos – the ones you see below and as the featured photo.
Pondicherry was much better. Here were men, women, seated on the floor and selling whatever they had – a few vegetables from their land, a few fish. There were larger, more business-like stalls too. I was doing my usual diffident-about-asking-to-take-photos there, so I only have one of a woman selling fish, and one water buffalo, who made a good story for the day by peeing copiously all over my feet.
Best of all was Thanjavur. Here, I stayed with a young American academic, who spoke fluent Tamil, and took me into the homes of her Indian friends, walked me round the back streets to admire the Diwali pavement decorations, and generally gave me a good time.
One day, she wanted me to go to the market for her. Just a few simple purchases. Carrots, onions, that kind of thing. For the first time in India, I met people who spoke no English at all. And my Tamil didn’t extend beyond ‘please’(தயவு செய்து Tayavu ceytu) and ‘thank you’ (நன்றி Nanri). But pointing’s fine.
I don’t think they’d ever had an English tourist wanting anything, let alone humble carrots at the vegetable stall, and soon I was the centre of an amiable group helping me make my purchases. They tried to increase my vocabulary, and begged me to teach them the same words in English because it was the end of the day and they weren’t busy. It was such fun. And when it came to payment, I tried to press far too much money into their hands. I thought they’d asked for 70 rupees (about 70 pence), and felt it cheap at the price. How ridiculous! They wanted seven. Honestly, that English woman! Is she made of money? And my new friend, the one who actually served me with the vegetables I needed, begged for a photo. Here it is.
So here we are: Two market traders for Just One Person from Around the World. There are a few more from where these came from. If we can’t go very far, we could at least do a Virtual Trip to India for a week or two.
What’s this? Some dirty dusters? Or some rather dingy dishcloths? No. Despite appearances to the contrary, this isn’t washing hanging out to dry. It’s sheets of latex, recently tapped from nearby rubber trees and poured into moulds and yes, now hanging out to dry.
I was in in India, in Kerala, at Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary. Nearby was a village, where every household was growing some kind of cash crop: tea, coffee, bitter gourds, bananas … and maybe rubber trees. One household certainly was. They’d harvested the latex as shown in the second photos. They’d have collected about a cupful from each tree, every few days, before pouring it into trays in a thin layer to set, And now it was hanging out to dry properly before being sent away for further processing
In Kerala, while I as there, the monsoon had not long finished, and I rather like the evidence spotted through an open window back in Gurukula itself that had we been there then, it might have been just a little – wet.
This is the post that illustrates Van Gogh’s words, rather than my last one. We’ll showcase all the wonderfully optimistic flowers of spring next time. Let’s just pass directly to summer, and enjoy the over-pungent fields of rape; the gorse rollicking over the coastal parts of the Cleveland Way in Yorkshire; a painted lady enjoying summer yellow; fields of sunflowers in France, forever turning their faces to the sun; and finally, yellow’s final fling – harvest season. Just before the bad weather sets in – look at that last foreboding image. Luckily, Jude provides the opportunity for us to hunt down all our yellow-rich images, in her challenge Life in Colour.
At the moment, we all need the glow, the zing that a good splash of yellow can provide. Luckily, Jude has provided the perfect opportunity for us to hunt down all our yellow-rich images, in her challenge Life in Colour. Let’s have an injection of gutsy, vibrant lemon, amber and gold alongside our long awaited Covid vaccines.
I’d thought of showing those springtime flowers we all love – aconites, daffodils, primrose, tulips and kingcups. But maybe I’ll save those for another day. Here’s a complete hotch-potch of yellows to cheer up a day which, here at least is thoroughly and dismally grey.
To view any image full size. just click on it. The quotation of the post title is by Vincent Van Gogh. No wonder he liked sunflowers. And the header photo shows one word from another quotation. Wander round the St. Paul’s area of London and you’ll eventually uncover the whole sentence, from Virginia Woolf’s novel, Jacob’s Room: ‘What are you going to meet if you turn this corner?‘ What indeed? In this area of London, enough to fill an entire guide book.
This time two years ago, we were in Barcelona. One of our ports of call was the first house Antoni Gaudí ever designed, Casa Vicens. Once a spacious site beyond the city limits, it’s now squashed into narrow city streets, some of its garden space sold off. But it’s definitely worth a visit, and you can have a virtual look round here.
What the official site won’t show you is the views from the windows, and one thing I enjoyed, as I always do, was the sight of the Monday washing drying on the balconies of nearby flats.
It’s Six Degrees of Separation time again, and this time I’ve struggled to put my list together. Put it down to Lockdown Lassitude. But I got there in the end.
I like Ann Tyler. I really should read the first book in this month’s chain, Redhead by the Side of the Roadwhich features Micah, a creature of habit, whose routines are blasted uncomfortably away when someone who claims to be his son …
Clare Morrall’s The Last of the Greenwoods features two elderly brothers, long in the habit of loathing and ignoring each other, despite living in adjacent converted railway carriages: and a letter from a sister, supposedly murdered fifty years before. There’s also a young women postal worker who hasn’t lived up to her early promise and a railway restoration project to add spice to the mix. Morrall is a good writer, who tells a good tale. . It should have absorbed me, had me eagerly turning the page. But it didn’t. It hung heavy, and it took me well over a week to finish it.
Unrelated, often lonely lives intermesh in Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris. This book, set around Salisbury, is written in five voices, each one involved to a greater or lesser degree with a thoroughly nasty car crash in the town. There’s the self-deluded and foul-mouthed flower seller; the soon to be bereaved schoolboy who’s an odd mixture of articulate beyond his years and immature; the widower, mourning both the death of his wife, and the end a long and happy marriage; the lonely army wife, desperately seeking some purpose in this, the latest of her husband’s postings (he’s now been sent on to Afghanistan); and the highly over-qualified young security guard. This is a satisfying, humane, perceptive read about ordinary people, ordinary lives, often poetic in the way it examines the reality of our everyday existence.
Love after Love, by Ingrid Persaud is set among the Indian community of Trinidad. There’s Betty, lone parent to Solo after the death of her violent husband. There’s lodger Mr. Chetan: friend to everyone but with secrets that are hard to live with. And there’s Solo himself, who discovers how his father died, and draws painful conclusions. The narrative swings between these three characters over the years in which the story plays out. Extraordinary, ordinary lives, often steeped in loneliness. Here are three characters looking for love, for understanding, for acceptance. Written in lilting, poetic Trinidadian patois, this is a powerful, absorbing and compelling story.
Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, written in a form of Caribbean English details the journey from isolation and loneliness to acceptance for the young men who came alone from the Caribbean to 1950s London. It paints a picture of a city which, for all the difficulties of dead-end jobs, unsatisfactory housing and dismal food and shows how the immigrants’ new lives could be exhilarating and exciting: offering relationships with young European girls also finding their feet in England, the freedom of the dance floor and an escape from the not always welcome traditions of the homeland.
And now for something completely different, though this is a tale of resilience too. Sun-mi Hwang’s The Hen who Dreamed she could Fly is a disarming fairy tale for our times, featuring Sprout, the hen who dreams of rearing her very own chick from her very own egg. That never happens, but this indomitable bird has a way of making her dream come partly true in a satisfying, charmingly written clarion call for independence, motherhood and resilience.
And finally, another loner, more birds. Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior. At first, I was quite prepared to abandon this book. I thought it was going to irritate me beyond measure, in the way that Leonard and Hungry Paul did. I expected it to be Heartwarming and all that, which I can’t stand. In the end, there was enough grit in this tale to salvage it, and this impossible tale of a little old lady who visits a research station in the Antarctic to visit the penguins had me turning the pages in the end. But it won’t make my Top Ten of the Year.
It turns out that this chain encircles the world – Baltimore USA to England, to Trinidad and back to England: over to Korea and finally Antarctica. That’s the beauty of a book. It can take you anywhere.