You are currently browsing the archives for July, 2008
Last week I went on my first trip to a couple of new archives in south India, in Chennai and Thanjavur to be precise, for my new research project. (More about both these places later, when I visit again). A friend who knows them well and had to do some work there too, came along, and I met some other friends and family too. Somehow, when punctuated by train travel, gin and tonics, old school meet-ups and incredible coffee, work becomes quite tolerable, no? Look at us, so busy with work, hotly discussing intricate details of micro-history, palm-leaf manuscripts and power relations in the countryside (no, really, we got a lot of work done):
I have always been a bit of an Indian Railways fanatic, and I will do a proper railways post later in the year, after I take a few more trips and better pictures. But after a very long time, I did something I used to love about train travel when I was in college – sitting in the open door of the speeding train with your face in the wind, watching the country go by. Our parents would be furious when we did this, and I don’t know if it’s my advanced age, or the increased speed of the trains nowadays, that this seemed a bit more dangerous now than back then. But swaying with the rhythm of the train and hearing the tracks bark at you as you is unbeatable. Back in the day with the steam engines, you could catch a piece of flying coal occasionally in your eye if you leaned out. Now it’s the acrid smell of diesel that you have to battle, but at the crack of dawn that day, the fresh river breeze easily subdued it. Being in an unreserved women’s compartment, with all the sociality that it entails, was even better.
The views of the sunrise, and the changing light, over the Kaveri river delta and its paddy fields were stunning as the train sped towards Thanjavur:
Speaking of coffee, there is very little in the world that provides as much joy and satisfaction as a good south Indian tumbler, hot and frothing.
I’m sharing it all with you, with some good news – I just heard, with official papers and all, that I now have tenure at my department. Big whoop of joy and all that, people!! This year has been hard in many ways, but this news brings me a lot of relief and excitement for the future. I do have to dust the seat of my pants and get cracking in the archives, but hey, I’m going to have some coffee and lie back and enjoy a break for just a little while longer. It’s great to be with my family to celebrate, but my first thought was to wonder what big knitting gift to get myself – I’m thinking a new umbrella swift, or better still, some semi-solid fingering Koigu for a sweater. I can’t do any of it until I return to Berkeley anyway and in the meantime I did get sloshed, but any suggestions?
Remember when this was a knitting blog? I actually have some updates to post, of new WIPs. I have been knitting a bit on and off, mostly on the sampler shawl from Victorian Lace Today. Surprisingly quick progress for the amount of time I have been able to devote to it.
So far it’s been smooth sailing, except for one major rip (hence the lifeline). It has faggoting on the edges, and I decided that I dislike faggoting. Not enough visual interest for the work involved. But now it’s there, so I’m going to continue it. The samples are a mix of knitted lace and pure lace (with patterning on both sides), with leaf motifs. These are simple patterns with just enough variation to keep them interesting. I think basic samplers like these are great to avoid the monotony of stoles. I am on the brink of finishing one major set in the pattern, but another travel stint is coming up, so it’s going to be set aside for a week or so. The red colour and the lace is very hard to photograph correctly (I don’t have pins and a carpet handy), so let me distract you with another blurry, artsy picture. The yarn is so fine I keep worrying about breaking it.
Here is something else I started for knitting while travelling, a pair of simple socks for my sister. Yarn is some Regia something. She wanted some multicoloured grey-blue; that’s what she’s getting. Right now, though, she can’t even bear to look at them, cause it’s nowhere near wool-sock-wearing weather, so they’re going to take a while. I also have to find buses with good suspension in which to knit them. Knitting is such a Nov-Dec activity here that it’s really unusual to see anyone knitting in public here outside those times. The fun thing about this project is that it’s a joint project; my niece Gargi shows up every now and then and knits a few rounds. This is her first project on DPNs and she coos every few minutes – such thin needlllllllllllles!
Finally, remember my yarn for the Cobblestone pullover? I had one 750 yard hank left over, and my mum has cast on for a Clapotis with it. Should look good in this yarn, no? I have a feeling she’s going to get bored with it once the increases end and both Gargi and I will pitch in, but right now she’s heroically at it. It’s worsted weight on size 8. Any suggestions about how wide to make it to get a long enough stole? I tried looking online, but was hit by an avalanche of Clapotis posts and suggestions.
I have a feeling all three projects are going to be WIPs for a while, though.
Last week, a friend and I decided to escape the city and visit the Konkan, the coastal strip that stretches all the way from Bombay down to northern Kerala for a few days. One aim was to travel everywhere by the available public transport, so we picked a few small coastal villages and beaches within a few hours of Pune, and gave ourselves over to the red and yellow STs, the State Transport buses.
Well-heeled folks tend to shrink from horror at the STs, and there is undoubtedly much to sneer at – they can individually rattle each bone in your body, and the state of public facilities at the bus stations strains both the imagination and the bladder, particularly for women. The recently instituted, disastrous and utterly short-sighted, car-friendly policy of the Indian government has enabled more and more middle-class people to withdraw from such public spaces into their own cars, leaving them to the ever-surging numbers of poorer folks. Private Volvo buses nowadays compete with the STs, boasting better suspension and seats, if not superior driving skills. Both on popular highways and on small link roads, vans, 4×4s and the ambitiously named ’six-seater’s also eat into the STs’ revenues.
This harmless-looking six-seater is a marvelous python. It swells incredibly several times a day to swallow eight, ten, twelve, even fourteen people at once. It charges just a bit less than the STs, and its flexible metal body and equally flexible passengers allow its driver to pickle them in and make his ends meet. The buses thus find themselves in the unenviable position of having to ply loss-making public routes, with caps on fares further eroding their profits. Having grown up travelling in STs to go visit grandparents and other relatives, we were keen to take them once again on this trip. I don’t want to tell a trite (expat’s) tale about how this mode of travel allows one to see “the real India,” whatever the hell that is. But I have to say it was eye-opening to see how amazingly resilient and good-humoured these public services and their operators are in the face of remarkably trying work conditions, and how deeply and critically embedded they remain in daily life on and off the highways. If you have never ever been in a vehicle without a seat-belt the STs might not be for you, but hey, they also keep wonderful time. Only downside: too much rattling for any knitting.
Okay, enough pontificating. The Konkan is incredibly lush, especially in the monsoon when the whole landscape turns a fluorescent, shameless, almost golden green.
The Konkan is home to the magnicifient haapus or Alfonso mango, but it also has lots of other varieties of mango, jackfruit, arecanut, paddy, coconut palms, and lots and lots of chameleons, kingfishers, egrets, storks, kites and butterflies….
do click to make the thumbnails larger.
The region has a rich and diverse history, and is dotted with forts, temples and mosques, many of the religious structures newly refurbished by successive generations of locals who have migrated nationally and internationally for better prospects. The Shiva temple at Harihareshwar, with a rocky and surging seaface, is considered by many to be Dakshin Kashi, or the southern avatar of the holy city of Benares:
Some of the seafaces, like the one at Harihareswhar, are notoriously dangerous, but we were also lucky to find some quiet and unspoilt ones like those at Karde, Murud and Diveaagar, from where you can literally see the oncoming monsoon spells, thick shafts of grey from sky to sea along the horizon, heralding the lifeline of the subcontinent.
We walked for hours in the warm rain and swung across streams from long banyan ropes. By a happy coincidence, I happened to be reading Rathachakra, a famous Marathi novel set in the Konkan whose author, Shripad Narayan Pendse, was from Murdi, one of the very villages we visited. While Rathachakra is grim and often savagely critical of social life and human relationships, the landscape and our cavorting around also brought to mind other, prettier representations of idyllic rural life in this area as well – classic migrant narratives of the paradise left behind. All in all, it was all too real and fictional at the same time.