Bangladesh Slideshow

22 April, 2009

Unforgivable Cruelty

A sparrow couple has been nesting in our veranda for over a year. The bulb was missing from the concealed light connection, and it was this little hole that they made into their home. This is where they raised two broods. Cozy and safe.

Safe, did I say? Well, they were certainly safe from the elements. Their babies were warm and unharmed in the snuggly little nest while the parents fetched food.

Our canine child was kept well away from the veranda - or was closely supervised - in case a baby fell down and was trodden on.

Growing up within the security of concrete walls around them, the babies grew up and one day flew away. Leaving the parents cootchie-cooing again. It was fun watching their renewed courtship. And very touching too. Sparrows are monogamous birds, and usually mate for life.
But we had not foreseen the disaster that was about to befall the sparrrow family in the form of our housekeeper - a sour middle aged woman called Julekha.

Julekha had been unhappy over the generosity shown by her employers to these house-guests (bowl of fresh water, rice kernels etc) and constantly complained about the huge mess they made with their droppings. In all honesty though, there was hardly a mess, they are such little birds! She wanted to close the hole but was deterred from doing so by us. We told her to wait until the babies had flown away.

While we were on our India trip, Julekha took advantage of our absence to firmly close up the entrance to the nest with a piece of cloth wadded into a tight ball. A few days later after our return from India (we had to fire Julekha but that's another story, and the household was in a bit of a disarray), I saw to my horror that the sparrow nest had been closed up! Opening it up unleashed another horror - a dead baby sparrow emerged followed by a dead sparrow mother!! Their bodies had shriveled and they were just beak and feathers and stiff legs! How they must have suffered in that small space, in the dark, breathing in the last bits of air, trying desperately to get out, and slowly suffocating to death!

I called down the curses of all Gods upon the head of Julekha. I am not a violent sort, but if she had been around, I would gladly have throttled her to death! An eye for an eye, doesn't it say? Justifiable homicide, in my opinion. But some would call it over-reaction, I'm sure. Anyway, I fervently hope that Julekha will suffer just such a cruel death, or at least know the fear of suffocating to death.

And every day since we uncovered the tomb, the lone male sparrow sits on the veranda rails and chirps for his partner. He goes into the nest, comes out in bewilderment, and starts chirping again. And I feel so guilty about the death of his family. The male sits on the rails, all forlorn, his feathers fluffed up, and his mourning calls to his lost partner wake us up in the morning. His calls sting my eyes with tears, and I apologize to him a hundred times a day. But nothing in the world will restore his family to him. I only hope that he will be fortunate enough to find another mate soon.

I failed to protect these birds, and I will never forgive myself. Please, dear readers, my humble request to you: if you have nesting sparrows in your home, please protect them while they are raising their brood. If they become a bother, board up the nest, but only once the babies have flown away, and please make sure you are not sealing live birds in. And please also make sure you tell your house-help and your children, that cruelty towards animals is just on on. And that we must protect the weak, and that God has asked us to be kind towards animals.

20 April, 2009

Summer Pickles

The heat and all the associated discomfort of summer is offset - for me at least - by the luscious, mouthwatering green mango. I just cannot get enough of it. I eat it as chutney, as sorbet, and in the off season, as pickles. Oh yum yum!!!

Since I devour pickles by the kilo (literally), I make my own pickles as home. Buying them from the store would solidly put me on the road towards bankruptcy.

Ranak obligingly bought the fresh mango from the local bazaar.

The ingredients were lined up for two kind of pickles. The sweet 'Kashmiri Pickle" for Ranak, and the "Hot and Sour Pickle" for yours truly. The mangoes were first washed and drained, and then sliced.

The recipies are given below in case anyone is interested.

Kashmiri Pickle

Mango, white vinegar, sugar, dried red chili, ginger, and salt.

Wash and peel mango. Slice into wedges. Sprinkle salt over wedges. Leave aside for 3 hours.
Wash salt off and drain well. Leave aside for the pieces to dry completely.
Finely slice dried red chili (I use a pair of scissors). Thinly slice ginger.
In a saucepan on medium heat, pour the vinegar, add mango pieces, chili, sugar and ginger.(Mango pieces should not be submerged in vinegar. The amount of sugar depends on how sweet you want the pickle.)
Cook on medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until mango pieces start to soften. Let it cool completely. Put in jars, seal and place jars in the sun for a few days.

Hot and Sour Pickle

Mango, mustard oil, dried red chili, garlic, mustard, five spice mix, salt and sugar (if necessary).

Wash and peel mango. Quarter and then cut each quarter piece into half (one mango should yield 8 pieces). Sprinkle salt over pieces. Leave aside overnight. Wash salt off and drain well. Leave aside for the pieces to dry completely.
Make dried red chili paste, mustard paste and garlic paste.
Marinate the mango pieces in the chili, mustard and garlic paste, adding mustard oil as necessary. A bit of turmeric powder or paste can also be added to the mix.
Sun dry for two days, making sure both sides get the sun.

Pan fry the Five Spice Mix. Grind. Make some more dried red chili paste and garlic paste. Cut some dried red chili into half (garnish).
In a saucepan on medium heat, pour mustard oil. Add the chili and garlic paste. When oil starts to froth, add the sun-dried mango pieces. Mango pieces should be submerged in oil.
Sprinkle the five spice mix over mango pieces. Add the sliced red chili.
A bit of sugar can be added to take off the very sour edge.

Cook on medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until mango pieces start to soften. Let it cool completely. Put in jars, making sure the mango pieces are completely submerged in oil. Seal and place jars in the sun for a few days.

Please note that all home-made pickles that don't have preservatives added should be allowed some sun periodically.

Bon appetit!

15 April, 2009

Bangla Nobo Borsho

It's mid-April, Dear Readers, and some of you probably know what that means in Bangladesh! Yes, the Bengali New Year has come around again. The Pohela Boishakh (the first day of the first month of the Bengali calendar) is celebrated with great fanfare across the country.

Ramna park, University of Dhaka and the surrounding areas had a bright festive look. The festival-goers were decked up predominantly in red and white. Greetings of "Shubho Nobo Borsho" (Happy New Year) rang in the air.

The Blogging Girl, too, was appropriately attired.

The queues were a mile long (literally!) and security was tight.

Trade was brisk for flower-sellers.

Our little home also celebrated the occasion. Check out the Boishakhi Entrance.

The Boishakhi Curtains. The Boishakhi Dining Table.

The Boishakhi rug. And the little Boishakhi touches elsewhere.

The family lunched at a polpular restaurant, renowned for its local cuisine. It was a 32 course meal, and we pigged out, tasting almost everything on the menu between the four of us.

The day was rounded off nicely with a visit to a local Boishakhi Mela (fair). The wares were colorful. But the prices were exorbitant!

I would like to wish you all Shubho Nobo Borsho, and hope that the coming year will treat you well.

06 April, 2009

Awesome Architecture

A long-planned and much-awaited trip to North India and Rajasthan finally happened. The visit took the Blogging Girl to historical cities of Delhi, Ajmer, Jaipur and Agra. And the awesome architecture took her breath away!

The Qutb Minar towers over the historic site where Qutubuddin Aibak laid the foundations of the Delhi Sultanate (the first Muslim kingdom in North India) in 1193. The architecture is a patchwork of decorative panels of Hindu origin - with bells and garlands, and Islamic domes and arches.

Emperor Humayun's Tomb, built in loving memory by his Senior Queen Haji Begum in 1565. This perfectly symmetrical structure of red sandstone and white marble was built by Persians. The plain white marble sarcophagus stands on a simple black and white marble platform. Humayun's family is also buried in the complex.

India Gate and Parliament Square.

The Shrine of Khwaja Mainuddin Chishti, is the most famous Muslim shrine in the subcontinent. Thw two mosques in the shrine area were built by Emperors Akbar and Shah Jahan. The shrine is reached through a labyrinth of narrow streets, dotted with mosques and shops and houses. Pilgrims to the Dargah include not only Muslims but also Hindus and people of other faiths. A special rice pudding is cooked in huge cauldrons for the devotees.

Remains of the 12th century Taragarh Fort are found on the summit of the Beetli Hill. The Shrine of Meeran Shah is also situated there.

The marble pavillions of Daulat Bagh were built on the banks of the Ana Sagar by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century.

Amber Fort was built atop a hill by King Man Singh in 1592. Protected by the nearby Jaigarh Fort, the massive ramparts of Amber Fort follow the contours of a natural ridge. It houses a beautiful Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors), the Jai Mandir with its floral ceiling of alabaster and glass, and the elegant three-storied gateway of Ganesh Pol. The temple of the family deity Shila Devi has silver doors. The zenana mahal has latticework marble screens and a 12-pillared pavilion called the Baradari. Today, one can ride a colorfully decked out elephant to the entrance of the Fort (oooohhh, so exciting!!!), or opt for the boring motorized vehicle.

Jantar Mantar, an observatory built by Sawai Jai Singh II, has 16 instruments like the Rashivalaya Yantra (used by astrologers to draw up horoscopes) and the Ram Yantra, whose readings determine the celestial arc from horizon to zenith, as well as the altitude of the sun. Some of the instruments in the complex are still used.

The Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) has an unusual facade, built to resemble the crown of the Hindu God Krishna. It is a five-storied building constructed of red and pink sandstone, with 953 windows on the street side, which allow the breeze to circulate. Its original intention was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen. There are no stairs to reach the upper floors, only ramps, and the roofs are quite low.

The Jal Mahal (Water Palace) was built in the middle of Man Sagar mainly for Royal duck shooting parties. Built in 1799, the palace is now abandoned, but reasonably well preserved. The first four floors of this building is under water, only the top floor remains outside.

The Albert Hall (now a museum) is a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. It houses an exquisite collection of metalware, decorative marble and procelain pieces, miniature portraits, sculptures, paintings, costumes, pottery and woodwork.

Fatehpur Sikri:
Built to honor the Sufi Saint Salim Chishti, this was the Mughal capital for 14 years. This walled city has imposing gateways and an architecture which is a blend of hindu, islamic and christian styles, and clearly reflects Emperor Akbar's secular outlook. Akbar's first wife Jodha Bai's palace is the largest residence in the complex, but his Muslim wife, the Turkish Sultana's house has the most delicately sculpted walls and fine dado panels. There is the Annop Talao, the pool with a seating area in the middle where Akbar's renowned court musician Mian Tansen used to sing. The Panch Mahal, a five-storied open sandstone pavilion was built for Akbar's wives to enjoy the evening breeze.

The Shrine of Muslim sufi saint Salim Chishti is situated within the courtyard of the Jame Masjid. The shrine is built of exquisite white marble, and almost transparent screens surround the tomb, which has a sandalwood canopy inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The mosque complex can be entered through the Badshahi Darwaza and the Bulund Darwaza.

Agra Fort, on the west bank of the river Jamuna, was built by Emperor Akbar between 1565 and 1573. The buildings range from the eclecticism of Akbar to the sublime elegance of Shah Jahan. The Diwan-i-Am, with its colonnaded arches, once housed the fabled Peacock Throne. The octagonal Musamman Burj has a clear view of the Taj Mahal. This is where Shah Jahan had been imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb, and spent the last years of his life. His two daughters, Jahanara and Roshanara, also lived in the Khas Mahal, in the two golden pavillions with Bangaldaar roofs. The Forth also houses the Mina Masjid, probably the world's smallest mosque, built for the Emperor's private use.

Lord Treasurer of the Mughal Empire Itimad-ud-Dawla's Tomb is on the east bank of the Jamuana. It was built by his daughter Queen Nur Jahan. This garden tomb is an exquisite combination of white marble, colored mosaic, stone inlay and lattice work. The yellow marble caskets appear at first glance to be carved out of wood!

Emperor Akbar is buried in the small village of Sikandra. Entry to this symmetrical complex is through a massive red sandstone gate with an exuberant polychrome mosaic of inlaid white marble, black slate and colored stone. On each corner are marble minarets. Floral and arabesque designs are carved into the entry hall of the tomb chamber, as well as Chinese patterns and the 99 names of Allah. A vast number of deer and monkeys are seen within the walled garden.

And the icing on the cake for the Blogging Girl, as for every visitor to India, was the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. It was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, and took 12 years to be completed in 1643. The exquisite white marble creation appears almost ethereal from a distance, and up close, the details of the decorative elements are mesmerizing.

The Blogging Girl had only one regret: the trip was too short for her to really savour the sights in all their glorious details. And there were many, so many many, that she did not have the time to see. So she is already planning her next (and, ahem, extended) trip to these cities...