This week’s Photo Challenge asks people to talk about their muse- the subject they keep going back for photography. For me it definitely has to be sunrises and sunsets. I love watching them and to photograph them is pure pleasure and I don’t mind the exceptionally early mornings for a great sunrise.
When was the last time you saw something spectacular? Something that was so amazing it took your breath away.
For me it was the time I saw the rays of the sun lighting up Mt Fuji. I had arrived at Yamanakako with very low expectations. It was supposed to be cloudy and rainy and even though Mt Fuji was only 15 kilometres away, it would be well nigh impossible to see it. And yet just after midnight the skies cleared and there was Mt Fuji looming up in the darkness of the moonlight. It was the only time in my life I can say that I did not feel unhappy about staying awake most of the night gawking at Fujisan from the cold balcony of the hotel room. After all how many times in your life are you going to see something as spectacular as this?
The resort where we stayed at Thattekad, Kerala in April 2012 closed down for the monsoons. The peak season for birding is actually from September to March and after that there is hardly anybody as the place is almost flooded during the monsoons. We were actually the only ones there.
If you’ve been in India over the last week, you would have to have been living in a cave to have avoided any news about Nestle’s iconic brand of instant noodles- Maggi- being caught in a maelstrom of controversy. Tests conducted on packs (especially the tastemaker) indicated high levels of lead and MSG.
Maggi first burst into the scene in the early 80s. It promised kids and adults a tasty appealing tiffin/ evening snack that could be prepared in *hold your breath* 2 minutes. Now in the age of microwaves and take outs this might not sound like a big deal. But we’re talking early eighties in India when tiffins normally consisted idlies, dosas, upmas or the like that took definitely more than 2 minutes and where even in the “big cities” like Madras you could hardly find a restaurant that was open past 8.30pm. For millions of Indians like me it was the start of a grand love affair.
Maggi tasted like nothing we had known before then. Understand that we still had not yet very strict regulations- it was those grand old days when we liberally sprinkled Ajinomoto in our Indian version of Chinese noodles. Maggi probably had a lot of MSG in their aptly named tastemaker. But we didn’t care because it tasted good. When Maggi was first introduced it used to be a treat for Sunday afternoons- maybe once in a month or two. Traditional tiffins still ruled the roost. Finding Maggi on the table was a joy and delight- I always licked the bowl empty- a practice I continue to this day.
Maggi is more than just a convenient snack- for me it was always comfort food. I remember my trip to Ladakh in 2011. The place only really had 2 decent options to offer for most travellers on the road- Dal Chawal (Rice & Lentils) and Maggi. Even when trapped for over 24 hours near Rohtang Pass- I still relished the sight of brisk mobile vendors serving up maggi and hot tea. Because the altitude made the rice option very unappealing I literally lived on Maggi for most of the trip. I came back from that trip with my faith reaffirmed.
I always doubted Maggi’s health claims. Human experience tells us that nothing that tastes that good can be completely good- like trans-fat in delicious tasting junk food. So I hardly paid any attention to Maggi’s health claims about containing calcium and vitamins or whatever else. I never really believed the tastemaker didn’t have MSG. I agree the lead was a bit of a surprise but not a shock. After all we live in an age when apples get coated with wax, when watermelons get injected with coloured liquid chemicals, when I can’t bite into a ripe mango without getting an allergic reaction because of the amount of chemical fertilisers and preservatives that have been pumped into it. At least maggi never gave me an allergic reaction- never even an indigestion.
Maggi came in handy even in my travels. Everytime I travelled to a place where vegetarian food was going to be inaccessible or expensive I’ve taken Maggi with me. On a very hungry evening after a 3 hour walk I found myself cooking two packs of Maggi in my apart’ hotel in Dubai. I’ve even surprised my friends from outside India about how good instant noodles can taste. Maggi was truly a class apart.
So it is truly a sad day that I have to watch Maggi taken out from the racks. I’m not saying food products that contain harmful substances should be in the market. But now that Maggi has been taken out can we say that all the other things that sit on the racks are free of lead or MSG or any other bad chemicals? What about tobacco? Have we effectively prevented adults from smoking around children or even other adults? What about the pollution in our cities? The air quality in Delhi has been the subject of discussion for months. And what about water quality? I think it’s time we started seriously into a lot more health hazards that face us.
And parents should, if they are so concerned about the welfare of their children, look more carefully into what they are feeding them. The job of any marketing function in a company is to make a product look good- whether it’s instant noodles, cigarettes or alcohol or anything else. So believing a company blindly just because they made random health assertions is not the most intelligent thing to do. Look more carefully at what you are buying. Do some research- we have a lot more choices today than 10 years ago.
Whatever said and done- Maggi leaves a huge gap- not just in retail shelves but also in the hearts of people like me. I hope that Nestle lives up to its promise and brings it back soon.
The House of Augustus, Emperor of Rome, lies on the Palatine Hill. In the olden days the Palatine Hill was top real estate and it was no surprise that the man who referred to himself as “Princeps” (First/ foremost) had his house located there. However strategic location apart, the house was built and decorated very modestly.
A visit to the house reveals frescoes that were painted nearly 2000 years ago but still survive in glorious fragments of red, ochre and white. The vivid colours leave a magnificent impression in your mind of how the house must have looked when it was newly built or decorated.
Kyoto- the very mention of the city evokes exotic images of a world away from the world- a world of geisha, of narrow tree lined streets ending in quiet temples, of peace, tranquility and zen. A walk around the Gion district in Kyoto and it is almost like you stepped back in time.
One of the things I had most wanted to do was to try on a kimono when I travelled to Japan. And looking at the number of kimono toting tourists in Kyoto I certainly wasn’t alone in that thought. Kyoto is a great place to try on a kimono because you can actually walk around somewhere like in Gion and feel part of the ambiance.
So what are your options if you wanted to rent a kimono- actually you have plenty of options- a simple google search will present a mind boggling array of choices. Blogs like this help narrow down the choices. But finally it’s a question of logistics (and if you’re travelling in peak season like I was- just availability).
I decided to book with Yumeyakata. They have a basic kimono plan with about a hundred add on plans including one where you have your own photographer accompanying you to wherever you wish to go in Kyoto.
So basically you turn up at the store at the chosen time (if you wish to have the kimono for a longer time, then book earlier on during the day). You then get given a basket and get taken to a room where you get to choose your kimono and your obi. It’s awfully difficult to choose so after a certain point you just go with the first thing that catches your eye and don’t look back. You can then choose a few accessories like beads, hair and make-up etc. Kimono slippers and handbags are free. And then you’re off!
It’s fascinating because the kimono rental places operate like a factory and you’re moving along the assembly line- you strip and then you’re progressively dressed in layer over layer until you feel almost double in size, you then get moved one floor to deposit your bags and then down another floor for your footwear. And yes they have separate floors for men and women.
Once you get out of the store with your kimono you’re politely told (by an employee having a placard) to be on your way and not inconvenience other pedestrians by hanging out on the pavement- wow! Japan!
I don’t know about warmer weather but wearing a kimono in fairly cool weather made it very comfortable. All the layers make sure you don’t feel a thing. When you’re finally out of it after a few hours and wear something regular you almost feel naked- like where’s all my layers dude?
Wearing a kimono by oneself certainly seems a challenging prospect. Just tying the obi sash around oneself and knotting it at the back seems a monumental effort. I guess it takes a knack and years of practice!
So if you’re heading out to Japan make sure you don’t miss out on wearing a kimono!