एक शहर ये भी – कविता 9 – हाशिये में शहर


कनॉट प्लेस के सेंट्रल पार्क के बेंच पर
उंघती ज़िन्दगी, बेपरवाह,बेख़ौफ़,
खोने के लिए उसके पास अब
यादें भी नहीं रही, हाशिये में रहने वालों की
ज़िन्दगी और मौत दोनों ही थोड़ी सस्ती होती हैं
आम ज़िंदगिओं में भला किसको दिलचस्पी
इन्हें  भूल जाने में ही सबकी भलाई है
ठीक उस बेउम्मीद समलैंगिक जोड़े के तरह
जो इंतज़ार में है एक क्रन्तिकारी बदलाव के
या वो कूड़ा बटोरता बचपन, ज़िन्दगी की महाभारत में
कर्ण के रथ की तरह फंसा – लाचार, अभिशप्त
या फिर फुटपाथ पे बैठे वो आंकड़े जो एक उम्र से
इस शहर में इंसान का दर्जा पाने की क़तार में हैं
या फिर पटरी पे बैठी वो अर्ध नग्न पगली
जो अपने बेतरतीब बालों सी उलझी
ज़िन्दगी की दुत्कार लिए ताकती रहती है
शहर के शोर भरे सन्नाटे को
या लाल बत्ती पर गाड़ियों की लम्बी क़तारों के बीच
हाथों में फूल, पेन और मैले चेहरों पर
दस रुपये की मुस्कान लिए दिन भर भागते छोटे छोटे पाँव
चलते रहना जिनकी मजबूरी है
या मैनहोल के ज़हरीले अंधेरों में दम तोड़ती
वो अदृश्य ज़िंदगियाँ जिनकी मौत किसी खाते में दर्ज नहीं होती
दिल्ली की चकाचोंध सतह को कुरेद कर देखो तो
शहर की बूढी हड्डियों में समाये सभी नए पुराने घाव
रिसने लगते हैं परत दर परत खून के जमे हुए थपके से काले
इन्हें न छेड़ना ही बेहतर है, हाशिये में बसा ये जुड़वाँ शहर बहुत भोंडा है
राजधानी की TRP घट जाती है फिर कोई झट से एक जादुई लेप पोत देता है
और दिल्ली फिर नयी गाड़ी सी चकाचक सरपट दौड़ने लगती है

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Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Firoz Shah Tughlaq Tomb Complex – 1


I am rather late in writing about this. Health and other anxiety related issues have kept me away from most work but today let me share the first part of the Hauz Khas monument complex. The next post will cover the Madarsa and some other aspects related to this marvelous site and surrounding areas.

Hauz Khas complex has been one of my favorite places to go to when in search of solitude irrespective of the fact that it is always crowded with couples and people looking for a place to rest/eat or just linger around. In a good move ASI has put an entry ticket since April and I see the effectiveness of it. So, a few days back I went to explore the ruins and sit under the grand old tamarind tree.

This post is just my personal account of what holds me captive and pulls me to this place and not really a historical or architectural commentary. The most interesting aspect of these ruins and the Hauz e alai near by is the influence of three great rulers who ruled over Delhi.  Allauddin Khilji’s construction of the second city of Delhi, the city of Siri (1296–1316} and Hauz e alai the grand reservoir that provided for the water requirements of the city. Once Khilji died and his empire faded away the reservoir got neglected and perished.

Then as a mark of respect another great ruler of Delhi Firoz/Firuz Shah Tughlaq restored and got the silted Hauz cleaned during his reign (1351–88). He also commissioned a magnificent double storied Madrasa-i-Feroz Shahi (seminary), a mosque, few pavilions, chatris overlooking the restored lake. It is among these he built his own humble tomb where the great Sultan rests now. 

Later in the year 1507-08 yet another great sultan of Delhi Sikander Lodhi added the striking embellishments inside the tomb.

So when I walk through the 13th century ruins the stones whisper stories of many eras of sultans and their immense love for art, architecture and intellect. Firoz Shah Tughlaq was the third ruler of Tughlaq dynasty that ruled over Delhi. A man with a mission he loved to build things be it fortresses, canals, schools, cities, mosques, hunting lodges, sarais (rest houses), hospitals etc. He also commissioned repairs of old buildings, mosques etc. including Qutub Minar to which he added two floors after it was damaged by an earthquake.

Coming back to the Hauz Khas Complex one enters through a modest stone gateway into a the landscape of ruins set in the midst of manicured grassy patches. It is a world very different from the so called urban village you leave behind on the other side. Immediately a calm descends on you as you glance around at the ancient structures, the domed tomb of Tughlaq soaring above the rest of the buildings, old wise trees with birds merrily chirping in their lush branches and a little further and beyond the lake with its deep green waters. These are the secret keepers and the story tellers of ancient Delhi. 

Each ruler from the Tughlaq dynasty added their own architectural creativity to whatever they build. In Firoz Shah’s time these architectural achievements reached their zenith. The new architectural trend is visible in all the buildings erected during his reign.

The 5-6 pavilions with domes in different shapes (hexagonal, rectangular, octagonal) and sizes are the first thing you notice on entering the complex. Some of these structures were tombs and one can see a few graves. The roof and domes of these simplistic tombs is decorated with kanguras. You can see the small chatri in the foreground.

The pavilions and the ruins of the court yard are conjectured to have been used as part of the madrasa in the past. On the inside all the pavilion domes have lost the ornamentation but one can still see the exquisite foliated motifs on the drums and the kalsa motifs on  top of the domes. Most of the structures are falling apart and the bands of calligraphy are discontinuous or fading. I notices a few pigeons nestled in the holes inside.

The cylindrical pavilions don’t have any graves and perhaps they were part of a bigger structure as one can see stone beams projecting from the base of their dome drums.

I moved on from there to the hundred year old Tamarind tree which I will cover in next post. Next to the tree are Three domed colonnaded pavilions and the Mosque.

These interlinked pavilions make a T shape and again have broken bands of calligraphy inside the dome. The building is made of hard quartzite which is tough to carve. One can still see finials, kanguras and calligraphy in incised plaster in the plastered tombs. The long colonnaded halls stretch from north to south.

There are also signs of ornamentation of some sort which has vanished now leaving just dark holes and broken patches. The whole structure stands on a solid stone platform. It is amazing how these strong square pillars have supported the structure for last almost 650 plus years. Yet one sees the cracks that have developed over the period of time. Some restoration was done by ASI in 2012 I think. These structures were perhaps used as seminar rooms for the students of the Madarsa.

One can also see a ruined remain of a staircase with large windows and perhaps one can descend to the lower floor of the madarsa from there but I did not disturb the couple sitting there and moved on to the Mosque.

The small Mosque with overhanging jharokhas stands under an ancient Tamarind tree at the northern end of the Madarsa. The quibla wall of the mosque projects towards the water reservoir. If you see it from the lake side you can clearly see the five mehrabs.

The central mehrab with a domed chatri and open sides is like a pavilion and projects towards the reservoir. I have heard that the qibla wall has rich ornamentation but I couldn’t see it. Perhaps next time. The mosque was closed for public entry although the door was open. There’s a crumbling staircase next to it which leads down but I left it for another day of exploration.

I headed to the Tomb of Firoz Shah but then I spotted the two buildings flanking the original entrance not in use opposite Firoz Shah’s Tomb. One is closed to public and the other is ASI’s local office.  One of them seemed to be a guard house but not sure of the purpose of other one. 

The sun was getting to me now so I sat on some ruined steps and watched the common myna quench her thirst from the water pipe in the garden. A young girl sat reading on yet another set of steps shaded by the laburnum.

Firoz Shah’s Tomb looks very simple from outside. It is a square building with battered walls and an old surviving jali (stone lattice work) with calligraphic details and medallions above the entrance door that is set in a larger niche. During the reign of Firoz Shah the tombs were devoid of ornamentation and were very simple structures. Inexpensive material like rubble, lime and plaster were used for construction. Lack of skilled craftsmen and poor economic conditions were the prime reason for this. Constructed in 1388 AD Firoz Shah’s tomb is totally in line with the structures of Tughlaq era, made with quartzite rubble finished with plaster with slightly sloppy fortified walls and battlement ornamentation.

Situated at the pivot point of the two perpendicular wings of the madarsa it is the largest building now in the complex. It doesn’t have the defensive architecture pattern but has some simple ornamentation around the entrance. The walls are decorated with merlons on the two tiers. One above the cube and other above the octagonal square. The outer wall has a slight projection towards the center emphasizing the entrance door which depicts a blend of Indian and Islamic architecture.

The top of the tomb has a slightly pointed dome set on plastered squinches and corbelled beams making it an octagonal drum and then a sixteen sided drum before the actual dome.

There is a low platform in a courtyard on the southern side with horizontal and vertical stone railings and ledges similar to the ones found in Buddhist Viharas and stupas of that era. It is believed that that these were inspired from the Sanchi Stupa.

Somehow the tomb seems very impressive even in its plainness. Three steps lead inside to a beautiful interior with Firoz Shah’s grave in the center and the graves of his son and grandson to one side of it. The eight sided polygon roof is very different from the other Tughlaq era structures.

The squinch arches were a thing of past but are used in here. There is a band of calligraphy and a band of geometrical designs on which the dome rests. There are beautiful medallions of different shapes and sizes with Hadiths and Quranic inscriptions in narqsh characters. These medallions are arranged between two concentric stars and a large medallion in the center. It is believed that Sultan Sikander Lodhi who took up the repair work of many tombs commissioned these ornamentation during his reign (AD 1489-1517). They are typical of the architecture of his time. In Tughlaq’s buildings one doesn’t find such embellishments.

Next to the tomb there are two other domed entrances leading towards the madarsa. One was barred by iron door but  could see the steps leading down.

The structures are in dire need of restoration but I feel scared of the way current restorations are going on in Delhi. Ruins must look like ruins and all this whitewashing just spoils the original aura of the place. I sat on the stairs leading to nothingness and wondered how it must have looked when the place was in its prime glory.

The pillared halls, the crumbling walls, the musty dark corridors, the collapsed buildings, the  lake waters down below and the greenery around taking away all the worries and tiredness I felt. There is a certain energy that runs through the ruins stitching everything. Lean against a crumbling walls or just run your fingers gently over them and you’ll feel its presence.

The relationship of modern Delhi and its ancient architecture is complex and especially in this case you see how rapid unrestrained urbanization has marred the face of these ruins. The original spirit of Hauz Khas Village is long lost to the passages of time. As per my knowledge, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) regulations prohibit construction of structures within 100 metres of protected monuments but here in the haphazardly expanding Hauz Khas ‘village’ no one seems to bother about any laws either MCD’s or the ASI’s. The sleepy green waters of the lake, the old wise trees and the ancient ruins watch the complete collapse of the cultural fabric as the metamorphosis continues to change the original landscape. The bubble is ready to explode any time soon. Meanwhile life continues to struggle to find breathing spaces between the ancient and the modern. In the end it is all about money and here there is no dearth of it.

We will cover the other areas of the complex in the next post. I am not keeping too well to explore right now but the truth is I am a nomad by and these ruins will pull me to their embrace sooner than I think. I am posting this with the current pictures I have but I will soon update with a few fresh ones. I realized that some photographs don’t do justice to the buildings or embellishments. I will upload rest of the photographs for this post on my Instagram account. Do visit.

Till then do go and enjoy the serenity that  surrounds this complex.

Recipe – Kokum | Kokam Sharbat


The temperatures are soaring in Northern India and Delhi is sizzling at 46 degree Celsius. I am keeping myself hydrated with various sharbats and Kokum is one my favorites. It keeps the body cool and is anti inflammatory. Kokum juice has other health benefits too but I love the tangy sweet taste of this delicious sharbat and make it often. I use kokum or aamsul, also known as Malabar Tamarind,  as souring agent too. We made kokum saar too sometime. It tastes amazing and helps aid digestion too. Will share a recipe soon.

Kokum|kokam, Garcinia indica, belongs to Mangosteen family. It is native to the western coastal regions of southern India and used extensively in the cuisines of Gujarat Maharashrta and several southern states. The fruit is usually sold as a dried dark purple to black rind or as semi wet sticky curled edges. When added to food it gives the dish a pinkish purple color and a sweet/sour taste. It is slight astringent in nature too.

Dry Kokum With salt on left and With out salt wet kokum on right.

As fresh kokum is not available in Delhi I use the dry one. I have two batches of it, one is dried with salt and the other is plain semi dried fruit petals which I use to make sharbat. I avoid buying the readymade concentrate but if fresh or dry kokum is not available in your area please feel free to use the market bought concentrate. Add roasted cumin powder, crushed mint, black salt to the sharbat and sip the tangy sweet goodness on hot summer noons. Trust me there is nothing to beat this drink. Use it for Margaritas and other cocktails. It pairs well with rum and vodka. Here is an Ice Tea Recipe with Kokum.

The semi dry or dry kokum petals have a very strong sour taste so they should be used with care. The dry kokum tastes very sour and astringent but has a sweet aroma. The fresh fruit is sweeter. The very dry kokum petals will give you a muddy and reddish brown colored sharbat but the

Kokum sharbat concentrate can be stored in the fridge in an airtight glass jar for a maximum of 3-4 weeks. Use clean dry spoon to use it whenever required.

Kokum Sharbat

Ingredients :

1 cup – Kokum

1.5 cups – Sugar

1.5 cups – Water

1 tsp.  – Black salt

2 tsp. – Cumin powder

1 tbsp –  Crushed mint leaves

Method – 

Wash and soak dry / semi dry kokum petals in 2 cups of warm water for 2-3 hours.  The petals will soften and will leave a deep reddish or deep mauve wine color.

Strain  the water and keep it aside. Now Mash the kokum with hand or blend in a mixer.

Add this mixture to the reserved water and put it over medium high flame. Add the sugar and stir nicely till it dissolves completely.  Cook for another 2-3 minutes till the liquid thickens a bit and comes to a syrup like consistency then turn off the heat.

Let it come to room temperature then sieve it through the strainer. Press the crushed kokum with the back of the spoon or with fingers to extract all the juices.

Add black salt, roasted cumin powder, black pepper ( optional ) and stir. Your concentrate is ready to be bottled.

To make the sharbat, take 2-3 tsp of kokum concentrate ( as per taste) in a glass and tip in chilled water and a little of crushed mint leaves.  At this point I empty an ice cube tray and fill the slots with this sharbat instead of using ice for the drink. Ice more flavorful. dilutes the drink so ice cubes made of sharbat make it.

Once the cubes are set we are ready to make the sharbat.

In a glass pitcher add kokum concentrate depending on how many glasses you need to make. Add chilled water and crushed mint leaves and give it a nice stir.

Take the serving glasses and  salt the rims by taking some pink or black salt in a plate and inverting the wet rims on it.

Gently pour the sharbat in the glasses then add the sharbat ice cubes to it.

Serve Chilled.

 

Method – 2 

Sometime I don’t boil the Kokum and juice to make a concentrate. I just soak the kokum in just enough water to cover the fruit petals for 4-5 hours or overnight inside the fridge then rub the kokum with fingers to extract all the flavor. Then strain and add boora cheeni or jaggery powder, roasted cumin powder, black pepper powder, crushed fresh mint leaves, kokum ice cubes and more water then stir to make a quick sharbat.  It tastes equally good.

You can also put one kokum in a glass of water and soak for half an hour, add salt, cumin  powder and drink that water too as an aid to digestion.

 

Kokum Iced Tea

Do try this concentrate to make mocktails, cocktails and Ice teas. You will definitely love the delicious and flavorful taste.

Do away with market bought drinks and invest some time in our indigenous and traditional drinks.

 

 

 

Recipe – Apricot |Khubani ka Sharbat


Summers are the best time to have these excellent sherbets or sharbats made from fresh fruits. Some are chopped, pulped and boiled with sugar then strained while some others are raw. I prefer them uncooked but then do they become ras or juice rather than sharbats? Perhaps, they do. I will share both the methods here though I did not cook the apricots here. In case I was using the dried ones then soaking and cooking to make a concentrate would be a good idea.

These gorgeous sweet and juicy apricots or khubani came via Farmer Uncle straight from the Singha Farms (orchards) in Kothgarh, District Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. The fruit is chemical residue free and one can feel the difference in taste between these and the ones I buy from local markets in Delhi. There are some more apricot recipes that you can check HERE. and HERE .

I over indulged myself  and while I was licking off the dripping juices I got reminded of the old old days when I was young and partied hard whenever I could. It reminded me of Qamar al-deen, an apricot nectar beverage from Middle East made with a specific variety of apricots, orange blossoms, and sugar. Or, I think it was called lavāshak Qamaruddin made from apricot fruit leather. The beverage in itself was heavenly but the cocktails made from it with Vodka/Gin/White or Spiced rum were killer.

This recipe is simple and brings out the flavor of the fruit. You can also turn it into a slushy or a sorbet.

Ingredients :

Fresh Apricots / Khoobani – 8-10 medium size

Lemon Zest – 1/4 teaspoon

Fresh Lemon juice – 3 -4 tablespoons

Jaggery powder / Sugar – As per taste ( depends on the sweetness of the fruit)

Rock Salt – 1/4 tsp

Water – about 3 cups

Fresh mint leaves – 3-4 muddled

Method 1:

Wash and pat dry the apricots. Pull them in half and remove the stones.

Chop them roughly and put them in a blender jar and blend.

Once the mixture is smooth and nicely blended strain it through a sieve in a pitcher. Rub the pulp with back of a spoon so that all the pulp san the tough fibers goes through the sieve.

Add a cup or two of water to dilute the concentrate and add lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and jaggery powder or boora cheeni/ sugar.

Mix it well then pour some of the sharbat in an ice cube tray and freeze.

Add fresh muddled mint leaves to the remaining sharbat and chill it.

Once the cubes are frozen, add them to the chilled sharbat and serve.

 

Method 2 – Soak the dry seedless apricots overnight and pulse the swollen fruit in the blender with a little water, lemon juice and sugar the next day to make a paste.

Strain it into a pitcher, add water and mix well. Serve chilled.

If you are in a hurry then you can soak the apricot leather or dried apricots in hot water for  3-4 hours or just boil them a little to soften them with sugar and water over stove top ( like a compote) then cool to blend. Add more water to dilute as per your liking.

You may add a little orange blossom water to it before serving. You may also add Gin / Vodka / Spiced or White Rum to make a cocktail.

You can use tamarind paste instead of lemon to make Imli Khubani ka sharbat.

To make the tamarind Apricot Sharbat you need :

Ingredients:

Dried apricots –  250 gms (soaked overnight & deseeded)

Imli ka gooda (Tamarind pulp deseeded) – 250 gm

Boora cheeni – 250 gm or as per taste

Water – 1 litre

Rock Salt –  1 tsp –

Method :

In a blender add dried soaked apricots & tamarind pulp. Blend well then strain with a sieve. Set it aside. In a heavy bottom pan add sugar and water, mix well and cook until sugar is dissolved. Now add the apricot pulp and mix well. Cook on medium low flame for 5 minutes then turn off the stove. Let the mixture cool down.

Add required concentrate to a pitcher, add salt and crushed mint leaves, add more water if needed and adjust sweetness if required. Place it in the fridge to chill.

In a serving glass, pour the sharbat, ice cubes. Stir well and serve.

Always use fully ripe juicy apricots. Ripe apricots are soft to touch. They should be firm, and orange gold in color.

Summer Flowers, Poetry & Other News


Petrea flowers

Some one asked me if trees and flowers were my latest obsession. No, I said, it’s been a life long love affair but lately I have come out unafraid and showing it with pride. Delhi has given us a gorgeous spring summer offering when it comes to flowering trees. Last years show was a bit dampening but this year the city palette is smudged with every hue possible. This year I braved the heat and sun despite of my health concerns and went wandering in the city. What greeted me were vibrant coral trees, stunning palash, flaming gulmohars, magnificent kachnars, baikain and jacarandas and then the laburnums which are my favorite.

Moulmein Rosewood

Moulmein Rosewood

The gorgeous pink cassia and neem flowering in abundance. I saw sita ashok, Moulmein Rosewood and laal kund in bloom for the first time and it was not just the flowers but the fruits too that stole my heart.

Chamrod berries

The chamrod was fruiting and the tree full of glassy red orange berries were a delight to watch. While laburnum is stealing the show this year one can’t ignore the delicate crepe like Jarul flowers that are adding to color palette.

Jarul | Queen Crape Myrtle | pride of India

I also witnessed the pilkhan change colors and the mahua blossoming and then changing its leaves. You can visit my Instagram page to see some of my paintings of Delhi flowers and the actual flowering too.

In the midst of this flower show mango trees bloomed and then fruited. Nature has been benevolent this time. As I work on my Hindi Poetry book and other pending drafts I find less time to post more poems/stories here. Most of the journals seek unpublished work. So I will keep sharing the news if something finds a home. I am, meanwhile, still looking for a home. Perhaps I may eventually shift to some senior citizen home and find some work there or some place nearby. The financial constraints and lack of support is like a finger on the jugular.

Dhak / Tesu / Palash

The good news is that  two of my poems got a place in Cafe Dissensus magazine in February and got tremendous appreciation from poetry lovers across the globe. It was heartwarming to see strangers leaving words of appreciation in the comment section. Such engagement always encourages me to write more and write better.

Here is an excerpt :

“two a.m. on Delhi’s post-rain Sunday
I try to wash away the sleepiness
from my insomnia laden eyes
pick a fresh sheet of paper
spread clean water till it sheens
like fresh snow on a sunny day
clean and load the brushes with colours
drop and watch in wonderment
as the colours bleed and waltz
into the white stillness”

Read more HERE

City’s midsummer dream

Another set of poems recently again got published in the same magazine but this time with a note, a few photographs and a watercolor painting by me. You can read this here – Poetry In The Time Of Amaltas 

These poems are special because of many reasons including thatthey were written as a larger set on a call given by Mayank Austen Soofi aka The Delhi Walla in celebration of the Laburnums of Delhi. I admire his work as a chronicler of my city and it was an immerse joy to get featured in his daily city dispatch that he writes for The Hindustan Times.

You can read my poem HERE

Another beautiful opportunity came my way by writing for the famous column  called – ‘Farewell Notice- Our Self Written Obituaries’ on his popular blog. You can read it HERE 

The elegant Kachnar in full bloom

Now another special news that I had to share. While Tavish, my old time blogging buddy, bought ‘Wayfaring’ and sent a reader’s pic with a note about how much he is enjoying the book, Madhulika Liddle whom I had met at an event and gifted the book reviewed it on Goodreads. A pleasant  surprise and a cherished one too.

Here is an excerpt,” This collection of poems is divided into several sections: Trains, Exile Poems, Remembrance, Travel, Mosaic, Acrostics and Delhi Poems. Remembrance is the largest section, but these actually aren’t the only poems that talk of memories: in fact, most of Tikuli’s poems have a very strong aspect of remembrance, often a touching backward glance at the past, combined with a waiting—sometimes hopeful, more often despairing. 

In all of the poems in Wayfaring, a couple of things stand out. One (and this is what impressed me the most) is the poet’s ability to conjure up word pictures. She is so good at imagery that every now and then, I found myself transported to the place in question, seeing it, smelling it, feeling it. Whether it’s the Himalayas or the Kashmir Valley or Delhi (or Varanasi, as in the memorable On the Banks of the Ganges), she evokes it brilliantly. 

Then, there is the depth of feeling which comes through. Often, it’s a feeling of loss (this comes through, for me at least, most strongly in the Exile Poems, which so poignantly depict the pain of the forced exile of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley). There is despair, as in Exhaustion – 2, which is shatteringly tragic, and so true. ” 

Read it all HERE 

Do buy the book from any online book vendor across the globe.

A lot more is in store and I will be updating the blog with recipes and travel posts regularly for sometime. Will also keep sharing the poetry news. Another poem and a few more photographs of a city park will also be shared shortly.

Till then keep reading and sharing your views.

Pink Cassia haze on a hot summer noon

 

Recipe – Cooked Sweet And Sour Raw Mango & Onion Chutney


 

Though there are hundred of recipes for mango relish and chutneys made with raw mangoes this one is unique because it uses red onions unlike the other cooked sweet and sour chutneys with raw mango and jaggery.

I learned it at my in-laws’ house where every summer my MIL would make this lip smacking chutney and we devoured it with parathas, missi roti, cheelas, poori or curd rice or just licked it off the spoon. I was surprised how the onion gave a unique flavor to the chutney. I had not eaten or seen this earlier but  found that it was regular summer special in her village in Una district of Himachal Pradesh. Many other areas in Punjab too had a slightly different version of it.

This chutney can stay in the fridge for at least a month. Always choose unblemished raw mangoes for this, a bigger variety is better but you can use any local variety. I use pure organic jaggery for it. Unfortunately you can’t replace it sugar. The texture and taste will completely change. It is advisable to make it in an iron wok or kadai to get the maximum benefit and taste.

It is a simple recipe to follow.

Ingredients:

Raw Mangoes -1 kg

Pure Jaggery  – As required. It depends on how sweet you want the chutney to be. The taste should be a perfect balance. 100 gm is usually good.

Red Onions – 4 large

Black pepper corns – 8-10

Red chili powder -1 teaspoon

Asafoetida –  1-2 pinch

Cumin Seeds -1 teaspoon

Vegetable Oil – 3 tablespoon

Broken Dry whole red chili – 1-2 (remove the seeds)

Salt – to taste

Method:

Wash, peel and slice the mangoes in long pieces.

Peel and cut the onions in thin slices.

Grate the jaggery and keep aside.

In an iron wok / kadai  or heavy bottom pan heat the oil,  once the oil is hot lower the flame and add cumin seeds. When the seeds begin to crackle, add black peppercorns, whole red chili and onion slices. Add asafoetida or hing and stir.

Cook on low medium flame till the onions become a nice golden brown then add sliced raw mango. Mix all the ingredients properly and add salt, chili powder. Mix the spices well so that all the mango pieces get properly coated.

Cover with a lid and cook on low flame till the mango slices become soft. Keep stirring in between.  Once the pieces are soft yet firm add the grated jaggery.

The amount can vary according to the taste but keep in mind that there should be a perfect balance of sweet and sour. I prefer it less sweet and more spiced.

Cook the mixture on low heat and keep stirring so it  doesn’t stick to the pan bottom. Check for the spice, salt sweetness and adjust if required. While cooking make sure that the mango slices retain their texture. They shouldn’t become a mush.

Once the jaggery melts properly and everything gets mixed nicely turn off the gas and let the chutney cool. Spoon in the chutney in a clean and dry jar and put the lid on.

Always use clean, dry spoon to take out the chutney.

 

एक शहर ये भी – कविता 8 – दरगाह हज़रत निजामुद्दीन


Pen and watercolor © Tikuli 

एक ख़ुशनुमा सुबह ख़ींच लायी मुझे
निज़ाम्मुद्दीन बस्ती की तंग गलियों में
मन जा रुक गया महबूब – ए – इलाही की
महकती चौखट पे और ग़म सब घुल गए
खुसरो की मोहब्बत के मदवे में,
इत्र और गुलाब से महकते दरख्तों की शाखों से
छन कर आती रौशनी में डोलते खोये खोये से
कुछ अल्फ़ाज़ ढूढ़ते थे शायद मेरी तरह आशियाँ कोई,
कभी छज्जों, मेहराबों कभी दरीचों पे, फिर चुपचाप
आ बैठते किसी परिंदे के सूने पड़े घरोंदे में
या फिर सुफियाना हवाओं से लिपट उतर आते
इश्क़ से पाक आँगन में महफ़िल ऐ समाअ की खुशबू
से बे-ख़ुद दरवेशों की तरह
रूह में रूह, जिस्म में जिस्म घुलने लगा
जब तान क़व्वाली की बुलंदी चढ़ी
इश्क़ उड़ चला धूनी से बन रेहमत का धुआं
और लगा समाने दुआ ऐ सब्र बन
मज़ार की जाली से बंधे मन्नतों के धागों में
न फिर खुदी रही न बेखुदी,
फ़िज़ा, दरख़्त, परिंदे , धुप, छाँव
सब मुझमे, मैं उनमे
समय एक श्म्म सा जलता रहा
 दुआ इ रौशनी के चरागों में
चश्मा ए दिलखुशा के सब्ज़ पानी
पर सुकूँ के गहराते साये और
लोभान से महकती शाम के दरमियाँ
 हज़रत औलिया की धूल माथे लिए
बाँध आयी मैं फिर एक मन्नत का डोरा

Delhi Monuments – Safdarjung’s Tomb Complex


Safdar Jung’s Tomb complex or Mansur ka Maqbara, as locals call it, holds a special place in my heart. I think the tomb was never meant to rival Humayun’s Tomb as sighted everywhere but to solely honor Mirza Muqin Abul Mansur Khan, viceroy of Awadh and later the chief minister known by his title, Safdar Jung.  He was a powerful governor and the state of Awadh or oudh virtually became independent of the Mughal empire under Safdar Jung and his successors till it was annexed by the British in 1857. It rivaled Delhi in literature, architecture, art.  Satyajit Ray’s classic movie, Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Players) was set in the backdrop of Awadh.

This garden tomb was the last architectural project of Mughal era in Delhi.

There is an undisturbed calm that fills the tomb complex as it is not crowded with tourists like the other tombs. A sereneness that draws you in. It may be “imperfect” architecturally but as a whole the entire complex is awe inspiring.

Remember what Sheldon’s mother says in Big Bang Theory? “Sometimes it’s the imperfect stuff that makes things perfect.”

Keep in mind that this artistically magnificent tomb is that of a prime minister in the Mughal Empire, “Wazir-ul-Mamlikat-i-Hindustan” and not that of an emperor or a Mughal royal. Even his master Muhammad Shah Rangila doesn’t enjoy the luxury of such a splendid spacious resting place. Though he may have that fine ornate carvings, characteristic of  mid 18th century Mughal era, inside his tomb.

As for the marble being stolen from Rahim Khan e Khana’s tomb there are two theories on this. One is the popular one floating everywhere and mentioned by historians too that some of the exterior stone (marble) was plundered from Rahim’s tomb while constructing Safdarjung’s tomb.

The second theory I read refutes the first. As per Aga Khan Trust ( who are restoring Rahim’s Tomb) no material from there was used in Safdar Jung’s Tomb. The analyzed stone cladding is totally different. I am no historian or expert to give my views on it but I still feel that wherever the stones came from should not belittle the efforts of creating this grand mausoleum. Sir Syed Ahmed wrote about that in his book too.

 

The triple storied heavily ornamented gateway of the tomb complex is a photographers’ delight. The splendid floral and geometrical patterns that adorns the facade symmetrically around the jharokha of the arched entrance are stunningly done in orange, green and purple. One of the prettiest gateways in Delhi especially in comparison to the much touted Humayun’s Tomb. Only a few of the buildings by later Mughals have this Bangla jharokha style incorporated with the inverted arches in their buildings as per my knowledge. Correct me if I’m wrong.

One can barely see one of the fading fish motifs, the royal insignia of Awadh, on the left side under the base of the arch. The other is not visible at all. It reminds one of  Safdar Jung’ glorious connection with Awadh. The arched walls of the gate frame the tomb perfectly and trust me it is a very surreal experience to stand there and watch the grand mausoleum. There is a lot of work in incised plaster in the interior of the gate.

The Arabic inscription over the main entry gate to the central chamber of the tomb reads, “When the hero of plain bravery departs from the transitory, may he become a resident of god’s paradise”.

A gate on the right side leads to the three domed mosque.  most of the chambers of the madarsa and the mosque is not accessible to the pubic which is the case in many of the monuments in Delhi. A very frustrating rule. I was not permitted to step in the courtyard or into the mosque to see the Ablution or the Waju Khana with a fountain that is a rare occurrence in such mosques.

The gardens are filled with bird calls and it is soothing to see such a treasure of unique trees and shrubs. I was able to see the gorgeous Sita Ashok, mango and the Indian Gooseberry (Awla) in bloom, the kadamb fruiting in full glory with squirrels and birds feasting on the ripe fruits, the beautiful shrubs of Red Kund / Red Jasmine lining the main pathway to the tomb.

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The manicured lawns, the swaying palms, the gardeners at work, the entire tranquility just lift  your tired spirits. You must look up the gardens whenever visiting any of the monuments.  The waterways are always dry but the well had a motor attached for watering the garden which was a welcome sight as earlier I remember seeing it all neglected and was cordoned off with the stone lattice work fence.

Don’t know how deep it is. Was it used to quench the thirst of weary travelers or those staying in the pavilions in the complex apart from being the prime water source to the gardens? Perhaps a Persian water wheel was used for garden irrigation or water was even hand drawn too for drinking. I’m trying yo picture the scene. Nothing online about the well perhaps because these wells are poor cousins of the mighty step-wells..lol …I’ve seen a beautiful working well in khair ul manazil mosque. There’s one in Nili masjid too but closed and not in use.

Built in 1753-54 AD, Safdar Jung’s tomb is set on a high plinth containing series of recessed arches. It is surrounded by a 300-sq-meter garden in typical Mughal style charbagh pattern where the garden is divided in four squares by walking paths and canals leading to the three pavilions that are, as expected of ASI, out of bound for public. The tomb is in the center. There are four two storied minarets in the four corners of the square structure.

The onion shaped dome, made of white marble and pink stone, rising above a 16 sided sandstone drum stands out uniquely amidst the other tombs and monuments of that period. Designed and built by Abyssinian architect Shaidi Bilal Mohammad Khan the tomb is a fine example of Persian and Indian architecture. The bulbous shape derives from Persian Timurid domes and the elegant lotus finial with a marble pinnacle derives from the Hindu temples.

(I lost a few pictures so sorry for this shoddy one. Will change when I visit the tomb next.)

The interior of the dome has beautiful work in molded limestone plaster or stucco as we know it. The medallions with looped floral designs are surrounded by radiating petals and carried on honeycomb pendents that rise in multilayered formations. The dome consists of eight chambers, the central one housing the pristine white marble cenotaph of Safdar Jung. One of the most ornate and beautiful ones in Delhi.

The actual graves or burial chambers of Safadrjung and his wife Amat Jahan Begum are placed in an underground chamber of the monument.

The central chamber has four entrances and the play of light and shadow in the chamber is stunning.

Hidden staircase in the plinth leads to the tomb level and the tomb interior can be accessed via flight of stairs on the two sides. Each of the side room is decorated with rococo plaster work. Each designs different from the other. The minaret in the four corners are lined with thin marble strips and have a chatri on top.  

The Mughal Empire by the mid 1700s and there may have been several factors and not just short funds leading to the hurried patchwork in the making of this tomb. I wish someone researches this a bit more.

There is a certain grace about this tomb made of red sandstone and marble. I hope the monument gets its due and people stop quoting it as resembling an “elderly courtesan”..  (highly exaggerated), “last flicker…” and “poor copy” of Humayun’s Tomb etc. The mausoleum is perfect in its so called imperfection. 

Look beyond what is served to you on platter and visit the tomb with no preconceived notions. Its quiescence will draw you in like nothing else.

 

Indian Cottage Cheese (Paneer) In Spicy Arrabiata Sauce


Arrabiata Sauce is one of my favorite sauces and I use it for pasta especially Penne  and for many other dishes. It is healthy, full of texture and color and easy to prepare.  The one thing that makes it distinctly different from other tomato based red sauces is the chili factor.  The crushed red chili flakes or the fresh ones that are added whole or chopped give life to the classic marinara sauce that is the base sauce for Arrabiata.

Also a good amount of olive oil works best for the sauce. Cooked or heat processed tomatoes contain more lycopene, because cooking helps to release lycopene from the tomato cells. Lycopene is fat soluble, so it helps to cook it in oil, such as olive oil. Presence of peperoncino (chili flakes) gives it a defining characteristic (and a lively kick). I add basil and coriander to enhance the taste.

The main ingredients for Arrabiata are tomatoes and garlic. Those  who love garlic like I do can use it as a main flavor in this recipe.  I use fresh ripe plum tomatoes to make the Concasse for this sauce. Canned tomatoes aren’t something I use at home.

Arrabiata sauce goes very well with Indian cottage cheese or Paneer and we all love it. I am not a big fan of paneer but I do love a few dishes made with it. This is one of them. I also make the same dish in classic marinara or just the concasse with lots of fresh green chilies added with an Indian twist to the seasoning.

The basic ingredients for the Arrabiata sauce  I make for this particular dish are :

Tomato Concasse – 400 gm approx

Garlic-  medium size 8-10 pods ( peeled and finely chopped)

Red Onions – 2 medium, finely chopped

Fresh coriander greens (with tender stems) –  5 table-spoon ( finely chopped)

Crushed red pepper flakes – 1 teaspoon or fresh red pepper -2-3

Olive oil –  2-3 table-spoon

Black Pepper – freshly crushed 1 tea-spoon

Cumin Seeds – 1 teaspoon

Salt – to taste

Tomato sauce – 6 tablespoons

Dried Bay Leaves – 2

Fresh Basil Leaves – 3-4

Salt – to taste

Indian Cottage Cheese/ Farmer cheese / (Paneer) –  400 gm ( preferably home made but you can use market  bought too.) Chopped in cubes and placed in warm saline water

Method :

Warm the olive oil or any other vegetable oil / butter in a thick bottom pan.

Add the cumin seeds and bay leaves. Once the cumin begins to crackle, add garlic and roast a little till it changes color slightly. Add whole / chopped red pepper or chili flakes to perfume the oil. Keep the flame low so as not to burn anything.

Add the chopped onion and stir. Cook until onion softens.

Add the tomato concasse ( canned tomatoes/ store bought concasse) and give it a nice stir. Let it simmer on low medium heat as you stir occasionally with a wooden spatula or spoon. Let it cook on  low heat for 30 minutes or till it reaches your desired consistency.  I keep it thick gravy like. Add basil leaves and fresh chopped coriander. Give it a stir.

Add salt, tomato sauce and freshly crushed black pepper. ( Be careful of the heat threshold )

Taste the sauce and add anything you feel is lacking.

Once the Arrabiata sauce is ready add the cubes of paneer ( Indian Cottage Cheese) in it and stir gently to cover the cubes uniformly in sauce. Let it cook for ten more minutes. Add warm water if the sauce is too thick. If it looks thin simmer a bit more.

Serve hot with sourdough breads, garlic breads, phulka or paratha. I sometimes just eat a bowlful of it on its own.

(I had posted an earlier version of this dish in 2010 that I have removed)

Short Story – The Cottage


Note – This short story was first published in the fantastic Weirdo Magnet anthology ‘Silence is White’ dedicated to the works of well known French poet and author Seb Doubinsky. It was an honor for me to share space with some of the best internationally acclaimed authors, poet and artists. 

Do buy Silence is White for it contains some of the best writings of recent times.

“Unlike many from the city I am no stranger to the whims of nature, but that day’s sudden change of weather caught me unprepared. What started as a hike on a fair-weather day had suddenly been reduced to an ordeal. Winter totally changes perceptions of the land and no amount of off-season hiking could prepare me for the unexpected.

“Three unforeseen things happened that day. First, the weather suddenly turned nasty. Visibility rapidly decreased and the drop in temperature was rather sudden. Darkness shrouded the hills much earlier than usual and the crisp November air turned damp and cold. Second, I was forced to abandon my plan to return to the hotel because I twisted my ankle when my foot got caught in a thick root hidden by overgrown grass. Third, to my surprise, the cottage that I had discovered during one of my previous hikes, and where I was headed for shelter, was occupied.

“From previous visits I knew that the mist would have snaked through the network of paths crisscrossing the landscape, through the valleys and across the creeks until it curled around the cliff tops and canyons that were the mountains.”

My class had been listening with rapt attention until one of the younger students gathered around the campfire broke the silence.

“I imagine it’s great to explore somewhere that’s not over familiar, so your twisted ankle and the worsening weather must have been very frustrating.” He said.

“It was, the pain was excruciating and made it difficult for me to keep up my usual pace. I was on a steep path and I was breathless. I considered trying to find a vantage point from which to get my bearings, but realized that with the weather worsening, and with my throbbing foot, this wasn’t going to be possible. Mist and darkness together can be terrifying especially when you’re not prepared for it, but cold, wet, and with no other choice I had to go on.

“Even though I had visited the area before, my painful foot and the dense mist were disorientating, I’d strayed onto a nondescript trail that or might not take me towards the cottage. Dazed, confused and uncontrollably shivering I continued slowly through the mist, hoping that the path would eventually lead me to the cottage.

“Roosting birds in the woods had fallen silent and the sound-damping mist made the turbulent sound of the river down in the valley almost impossible to hear. It was obvious to me that, if ever I found my way to it, I would have to spend the night in the cottage no matter what, as my ankle continued to grow more painful with every step along the sloping and rock strewn trail. The forest was not very dense in this part of the hill, instead small and dense shrubs packed the landscape. The forest was not very dense on this part of the hill; instead small shrubs covered the ground.

“As I tripped over what I took to be a fallen branch, I yelled with pain but managed to get back onto my feet. Then I realized that this might be a blessing in disguise. I could use branch as a defence against snakes or other small animals I encountered. There were no big carnivores in this region, but even some small animals could inflict bad injuries. I hoped the cottage would not be too far away, as I was convinced I was heading in the right general direction, and despite the pain I tried to quicken my pace, as I was eager to reach my destination as quickly as possible.

“After walking for another ten or fifteen minutes, I finally saw the faint outline of the cottage not far ahead of me in the mist, and was glad that my choice of direction had been the right one. I remembered the area in front of the cottage with its overgrown bushes, which were now invisible. A rotten signboard dangled from a Pine tree close to the property. I recalled it used to have ‘Hunter’s Cottage’ painted on it, two more tall pine trees stood on either side of the cottage porch. Outwardly the building appeared to be in good condition, and I thought it should provide good shelter for the night. I was surprised to see the dim glow of a lantern, indicating that someone was already in the cottage, but as I listened, I heard only silence. Whoever it was, unless they owned the cottage, must have forced the lock to open the door. As I approached, I saw a hazy silhouette on the porch.”

 “I waved and called out to her, for now I was sure that the silhouette was a woman. She remained silent, and stood so still that she might have been part of the structure.

“I drew close to the porch steps, and in the light from the lantern, I could finally see a face. I was surprised to learn that the figure was a woman.

Several students who had been staring silently into the flames looked up at the mention of the woman. “I had seldom seen an unaccompanied woman on those remote forest trails, and wondered if she had a companion in the cottage. I’d heard reports that many solo women hikers had gone missing in the mountains in the last few years. Though not superstitious I usually followed the advice of a former trek companion. ‘Stay away from women while hiking. They’re bad news,’ he’d once said when we finally managed to part from a rather clingy and gabby girl during one of our hikes.”

“That’s not really true. Men have a habit of pointing fingers at women all the time. Not all women are clingy or gabby or bad news. Even men can be like that.” Shyama, one of my female students, interrupted me with her strong voice. “Of course. My friend was generalizing—just as you are now, Shyama.” The other students laughed and Shyama went quiet. Once the group had settled down again, I continued.

“I thought she was beautiful in an unconventional way. I hadn’t realized that I was staring until she snapped her fingers in front of my face. I had even forgotten about my twisted ankle for a moment or two.

“I paused to light a cigarette, and watched for a moment as the smoke from my lungs rose and mingled with the smoke from the campfire. Some of my students stood to stretch their legs, and then reseated themselves in the circle of expectant faces.

“Mountains and forests can be both challenging and intimidating; we all need to be aware of the dangers involved in confronting nature head on.

“It was bone chillingly cold and the wind was picking up, but at least the rain had stopped. By then I was desperate for the comfort of a floor and four walls. I leant the branch I’d used as a support against the wooden railings of the porch, and then, as the woman stood back and opened the cottage door, I slowly made my way up the four steps and inside. As I passed her, I noticed the glow of her skin in the lantern-light and caught a faint scent of musk rose. Passing through the doorway, I saw that the lock had been broken. Inside, I shrugged my daypack onto the floor, and feeling more tired than I could remember ever having felt before, I limped to one of the plain wooden chairs and sat down for the first time since I’d stopped for lunch.

“Though she looked physically strong, I would never have expected her, or anyone else, to deliberately stand out in that piercing cold, it was almost as if she was expecting me—or expecting someone at least. When I looked back at her, instead of following me inside, she was still standing there, peering into the night.

“She was wearing warm pants and a hooded jacket. Her feet were covered in thick socks and her gloveless hands were wrapped around a tin mug. Inside the cottage her hiking boots lay near her backpack, along with a camera, some maps and binoculars. A lightweight sleeping bag lay open on the floor.

“I looked round when I heard movement on the porch, and then I watched her as she removed the lantern from its hook, turned, walked in and closed the door behind her. What a strange woman, I thought. She was observing me closely, but her silence was making me uncomfortable.

 “I’m James Goddard,” I said. As I extended my hand, I saw a smile flicker at the corners of her mouth, but it quickly vanished.

“She nodded and placed her mug and the lantern on a small wooden counter, then pointed to a pan,

‘“There’s some soup there if you want. You can sleep in there, take the lantern,’” she said as she pointed to a door at the back of the room. I smiled at her, watched her drag a chair to the open front to keep it closed, and regretted that I wouldn’t be in her company for a while longer.  I carried my daypack and lantern into the room, and then returned for the pan of soup. Only when I was in the room, with the door closed, did I realise that she hadn’t told me her name. As I drank the cooled soup straight from the pan, it was filling but tasted of kerosene. I hadn’t seen a stove in the cottage, so I guess she must have made it at a camp site and had somehow carried it with her. “I heard her settling down for the night. So, as quietly as I could, I spread a small wrap on the cot, then sat on the edge, removed my socks and boots and used an anti inflammatory spray on my swollen ankle. A little later, my socks back on, I was stretched out on the rusted cot, trying to make myself comfortable for the night.”

“’Maybe someone advised her to stay clear of men. Bad news, you know.’” Shyama muttered loud enough for me to hear. I ignored her continued.

“During my hiking trips I’d heard a lot of weird tales around campfire, some true maybe, others folklore, but I’d never taken them seriously. Now, in the situation in which I found myself, thinking about the strange woman in the next room, those tales started to bother and amuse me at the same time.

 “Lying on the cot I surveyed the tiny room. The walls were empty except for two large hooks on one side. My bed directly faced a window, and through it I saw the skeletal forms of winter trees limned with light that contrasted starkly with the cold, darkness of the night. Their branches were spread like the hands of the dead, bare, gnarled and chilling. As I watched, the branches curled into giant talons and scratched demandingly at the window.

“What I had seen was irrational, frightening, but turning on my side to avoid looking directly at the window, I tried to convince myself that it was nothing more than a product of my tired mind. In the dark, with my eyes closed, I thought about the mysterious woman. I heard her stirring, perhaps tossing and turning as she too tried to sleep. I must have dozed for a while, not real sleep, but that state between being awake and being deeply asleep, then I was brought back to full wakefulness by a sound that’s difficult to describe, whether it was coming from the main room, or was in my room, I couldn’t tell. It wasn’t like the sound of a person moving about, that would have caused the floorboards to creak, there was none of that, just the noise of something brushing across the floor. In the cold night, I shivered even more.

“As my sleeplessness dragged on, I distracted myself from the unexpected events and strange sounds of the night. In a sense, I felt trapped by the things that had occurred, it was almost as if my reality had been manipulated to take me to that place at that time. I forced myself to think about something else, and thoughts of my new life in a new apartment, in another city, another country, came to me. I had wanted to leave my meaningless life in cold and dreary England, it was sucking the spirit out of me. My increasing dissatisfaction had led me to accept an invitation to join an educational institute here in India, your college in fact, as a visiting faculty member. I thought about the people and places that I’d come to know when I had travelled in India, and the endless possibilities that awaited me in your busy, vibrant and colourful country. The hike was a last gift to me before I started my new job.

“At some point I must have drifted into real sleep, because a loud banging noise brought me fully and unwillingly awake. I got up from the cot as quickly as my swollen ankle would allow, and did my best to hurry through to the main room. The chair I had seen the woman move to act as a door stop, was back where it had been when I sat on it, the front door itself was swaying to and fro, and occasionally, as the morning breeze gusted, it slammed noisily into its frame. Through the window, through the swaying door, the room was flooded with light as the sun climbed above the trees. There was no sign of the woman hiker, whose presence had puzzled and perturbed me through the night. I hadn’t heard her get up, pack and leave. I looked around, and apart from the mug still on the counter top and the scent of musk rose, there was no sign that she had been there at all. Where she had spread her sleeping bag on the floor, was a layer of fine dust that lifted and swirled a little in the draught from the door. The only footprints in the dust, I knew, were from my own hiking boots, and there was nothing to show that anything had softly trodden that floor, as I am still convinced I’d heard in the night.

“With a chill running up and down my spine, a feeling of dread, of not understanding, I went back to my room, dressed for a day on the trail, and packed my things. As I did this, the window flew suddenly open, filling the room with the cool, sweet, pine scented morning breeze. I looked up and saw the pine trees gently swaying. Feeling an urgent need to leave that place I lifted my daypack onto my shoulders, hurried from the cottage with a palpable sense of dread, collected the branch I had used as a support, and taking the same path by which I’d arrived, headed away as quickly as my sprained ankle would allow. Every rustling leaf, every animal sound, quickened my pulse as, with a palpable sense of dread, I moved away from the cottage. I wanted to be out of that forest as quickly as possible, and I hoped I would never have to return there.”

I stopped and glanced at the faces around me. The group had been listening to me in a breathless silence.

I stopped and glanced at the faces of my students, now lit only by the dying glow of our campfire. They had been listening to me in rapt silence.

“Oh my God, the woman was a ghost. The local tales weren’t crap after all.” One of the boys said quietly, as he huddled closer to his companions.

In the tiger reserve around us, I could hear animals moving, but there were no alarm calls announcing that a big cat was on the prowl.

“Is that what you think?” I asked rhetorically as I raked the dying embers with a stick. “Does anyone else have a theory?”

The group muttered quietly among themselves, as I smiled and wondered if even one of them would understand.

“No, not the woman. The trees.” A girl called out suddenly. Immediately the others demurred, so I let them argue for a while, until it was time to turn in for the night.

“Are you going to tell us?” Someone asked.

“Think about the story I told you, consider the evidence, then you’ll realise that only the trees could have been what was haunting that place.”