Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dear Diary stuff

The last week has been enjoyable. First, we went off, the missus and I, with some friends, for a mini-vacation to Mahabaleshwar, a surprisingly pleasant 6 hour drive from Bombay. I was looking forward to this vacation. For one thing, it had been a particularly busy and high pressure time at work and  for another, I had just found out that Mahabaleshwar was quite close to a place called Kaas which I've been wanting to see for ages. This place, also called Kaas Plateau ('Kaas Pathaar' in Marathi), is a large meadow on the top of a largish hill, near Satara, which has more than a hundred different kinds of wild flowers for about a month this time of the year. The timing was almost perfect

But first, Mahabaleshwar. This charming hill-station has been the getaway of middle-class, mumbai based Gujarati families for decades, and shows its Gujratiness in a hundred different ways. Most hotels have a "100% Pure Veg" on their billboards (I've always wondered what a '75% pure veg or 47.328% pure veg' would be) and downtown Mahabaleshwar has several Gujarati thali places. Speaking of which, if you've never had Gujarati thali, you've missed something. It's a sit-down, all-you-can-eat meal comprising of some curries and the most awesome 'fulka' chapatis fresh off the tawa, followed by 'khichdi' on which a large spoonful of melted ghee is lovingly poured right before missus's horrified eyes. It's not something Miss Universe hopefuls would put on their dietary regime if they're vying for the title, but one is not, fortunately, a miss universe hopeful. Missus is, however, and sticks to the un gheed version. She makes several eye gestures indicating that she expects me to do likewise, which I spy through my peripheral vision and shrewdly avoid eye contact with her. The ghee bearing waiter, who has been looking saddened by missus' refusal to take any, is all smiles when he sees my acquiescent nod. After he goes away, missus asks me in an angry whisper what the hell I think I'm doing.

"Ghee is good for health"

"Sez who?"

"Oh, hundreds of people. There is one Balaji Tambe who has this wonderful scientific explanation. According to him, the ghee that you eat enters the blood through the alimentary canal, goes right up to the coronary artery and lines it. This makes it difficult for plaque to stick and thus prevents heart attacks. I saw it on tv"

Missus rolls her eyes and appears to be counting to ten "If you have another helping of the khichdi with ghee, I will hit you on the head with my umbrella"

It is a reasoned argument and I am persuaded. I decline the waiter's insistent offer on his second orbit. He goes away downcast, possibly to the pantry to take some antidepressant medication.

We head on to our hotel, the large and ostentatious, if curiously named,  Evershine-A-Keys Resort which is quite empty, it being the off-season. The lobby is spacious and shiny, with french windows opening out into a garden. The place abounds, for some reason, with statues of lions. There are a few guests chatting up someone who appears to be an astrologer. He is an elderly man, well dressed for the part. Dhoti, kurta, a large red tilak on his forehead and the all-knowing demeanour that astrologers (and MBAs) seem to have.

We are walking around in the lobby, having checked in, freshened up and gotten ready to go because we are waiting for our friends to get ready (we are going to Kaas Pathaar) and we are walking because we have to metabolize the ghee we have had with our khichdi.

"Walk faster!" says missus and I take it up a notch, hoping these chaps will emerge quickly from their room

Presently, they come out and observe that there is an astrologer.
"Oh, look! An astrologer!"

They institute inquiries and it transpires that the learned gent is indeed available for consultations when we return from Kaas Plateau.

Kaas turns out to be a pleasant ninety minute drive from our hotel. Its a large, flat rocky maidaan which should have been carpeted with wild flowers as far as eye can see, but is rather less floral. "You should have been here two weeks ago" our guide, one Machhindra Kamble, tells us. "But don't worry. There are still a lot of interesting plants here". And there are, indeed! We see several kinds of ground orchids, some seven species of carnivorous plants, some very imaginatively named flowering shrubs (one is "shepherds hat" in Marathi, because the flower resembles the pagdi that itinerant shepherds wear on their heads. Another is called "Sita's tears" because they have spots on their petals which were the tears she shed when Ravana carried her to Lanka) and several other plants which have interesting tales which M Kamble tells with infectious enthusiasm but which I can't remember now for the life of me.

We return. I am quite ravenous, and there is nashta laid out in the hotel which includes some very good looking bhajiyas.

"Don't even think about it", Missus says

"But I'm hungry!"

"Aww. Here, you can have these nutritive biscuits"

There must be hundreds of differences between a nutritive biscuit and a piece of cardboard but I can't spot a single one. Still, I AM hungry and it's either eat this or starve, and starving is not one of my super-powers, which is one of the major differences between me and Mahatma Gandhi. (The other difference, as missus will obligingly tell you, is the inability to be consistently truthful). But I digress.

We find ourselves in the lobby and the astrologer is still there, looking wise, Our friends go over and chat him up. Missus and I decide to stroll around in the garden, which is looking awfully romantic by the light of the moon. We hold hands and reflect on the beauty of this place and how silent it is, compared to Bombay. "To be fair, a heavy metal concert would be silent compared to Bombay" I observe. Missus nods sagely in agreement. We're still strolling around when missus hears someone calling out her name. She looks around and sees our friends beckoning her to come on over and meet the astrologer. Missus is quite anti-astrologer and this promises to be fun. I tag along

The astrologer takes a good look at missus' palm, asks for her date of birth and does some sophisticated calculations using his fingers. Actually, I've always wondered about the nature of astrological mathematics which I've been told since childhood is really sophisticated and complex, but which nevertheless yields itself to computation using one's fingers. How cool it would be, I find myself reflecting occasionally, if legendary badass mathematicians did their stuff the same way. Imagine Euler calculating carefully on his fingers and concluding that e power i pi equals minus one, or Godel checking and rechecking using the fingers of both hands, before observing that an effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete.

There, I wander off again. Sorry. Where was I? Ah, yes. The astrologer, presently having completed his computations, tells missus that she has wonderful children who love her deeply and will take very good care of her. Missus smiles. Encouraged, the astrologer continues. "Your husband is a gem of a man". Missus, to her credit, remains poker faced. "He is a pillar of strength in your life" Still poker faced. Red Indian Chiefs could take her correspondence course. "Your marriage is happy and will remain so for a very long time". And then, without warning "Your husband is indeed your god. You must touch his feet every morning". Missus gets a severe case of the giggles. The astrologer looks a little miffed. Missus controls herself and makes her impassive face again, but the magic is gone. The astrologer makes some general sounding predictions. We cross his palm with silver and push off to the dinner buffet.