Wedding & a sense of Duty

As our vast and populous country was battling Covid our tiny little hill town was doing fine. Sure we had a few cases spring up but by and large Nilgiris was Green zoned and Covid free.
But a false sense of security can have consequences. And the folks of Nilgiri’s were going to discover soon.
There are but a fistful of large private firms in the hills. One such firm is the Needle Factory in Khetti valley. Its Public Relation Officer – PRO role is to visit surrounding villages and develop business and probably good cheer.
In May the situation seemed to be in control in the hills.
Armed with a sense of Duty and unfortunately Covid 19 the PRO wanted to make up for lost time. In a short span he completed his traveling assignment and also notched up 100 cases.
The town went in a spin. Restrictions were imposed on shops, the inter district Bus was shut and so was the Ooty Bus Stand.
As the town was recovering from the first blow a second jab was brewing.
A wedding was planned in a nearby village. Unfortunately no one wanted to miss out including Covid 19.
By the time the wedding hangover drowned and the Collector frowned, Nilgiris was playing like a Cricketer on song. Smashing half century new cases a day.
Soon Brian Lara’s epic score was surpassed. The local Covaipost stated 621 as of Friday yesterday.
” How did this happen?”, I asked amidst a conversation with my local friend Rajesh.
” Well Abhi, weddings are a community affair and unfortunately the Block Officer did not prevent it”, he elaborated, ” Infact he went for the wedding”.
” Really ! The Collector must be fuming mad”,
” Yes, he has been suspended. But he said he’s anyways in Quarantine “.

A piece of Land

“So where are you from?”, asked the dapper Mr Sajnani.

We were dining at Sunnys, Bangalore’s chic European restaurant a couple of years ago.

” Oh, we just shifted to Ooty recently”, I blubbered.

” Really”, he continued, ” you know all my vegetables come from Ooty”.

To me Ooty, rather the Nilgiri’s thrived on two prominent activities – Schools and Tourism.

This conversation planted the seeds for the third discovery.

” Tarragon, see if you can grow that”, was his passing tip.

Of course the first step for me to was to Google and know what Tarragon was? Aah a Herb I noted.

Gradually our new life settled in the mountains.

Nilgiris is blessed with spring weather through the year. Lakes abound the green hills and fresh air fills your lungs.

Tucked behind the daily signs of tourists and school busses whizzing by there seemed to a bit of farming happening in every nook and cranny.

A few months later I was to meet Mr Babu an Agent to help get the transfer paper for our car. His small office was in the heart of Ooty town.

I had to wait as he wasn’t back from lunch. As I looked around I saw an inspiring sight. Amidst the nearby commercial buildings there was a small open patch. And a man was doggedly working his mini tractor on it.

The contrast hit me hard.

In Mumbai there would be an earthmover working to create the space into a High-rise structure. Here his endeavour was to create carrots and potatoes.

Slowly we managed to get our vegetable patch in shape.

Overtime we had turnips, potatoes, beans, peas, carrots, radish, coriander booming in our garden.

But for me it was more of a Zamindar approach to farming. Help was available and my role was to limited to procuring material. I wasn’t actually dirtying my hands.

Once while driving a large bend I saw a Truck zip past in high speed. I noticed two large words on the front window – Vegetable Express.

I thought it was cute. Considering the speed at which he was flying. Or perhaps an urgent delivery for Sunnys in Bangalore.

Sometimes if you see something different you wonder if there is a pattern. I seemed to be seeing plenty of Vegetable Express in town.

” Abu how many Vegetable Express trucks are there in town?”, I quizzed at our favourite fruit store.

” I think more than 3000, why do you ask?” he wondered.

” Just curious”, I replied. A bit like Ayaan’s Secret Seven the pieces seem to be falling in place.

Meanwhile Life continued.

And then Covid happened.

As I adjusted to a new daily rhythm my eyes opened to fresh avenues.

Time was available in plenty. And with work shut down there was no excuse of being busy. Why not pick the pitchfork and start?

The mind of course had lots of rational doubts. Why dig if there aren’t any Seeds available in the lockdown. Where would i source the vermi composte from..

But I decided. Dig first and figure out everything else along the way.

And like they say if you walk along a cool path the path will support you.

Working the pitchfork for an hour I discovered was a terrific exercise. Over a few weeks I was fitter. On cue Ayaan was pottering around too.

” If you dig a little every day you can’t have a bad thought in your head” shared Kris from his experience in Sweden.

With the vegetable patch getting ready i felt why not work the flowers too. So on a hunch I went to check if the Blue Mountain Nursery was open.

What luck.

And the normally busy owner had all the time to chat. He helped get Hydrangea, Dianthus, Sedum. While i was billing i noticed packets of Herb seeds.

Wow I wondered. Maybe the Tarragon prophecy comes true. Maybe i can try Herbs next.

The typical mind flashed – But Abhi you don’t know basil from parsley, rosemary from thyme.

Who cares ..we will dig and figure it out.

 

–+++——————-

IMG_20200627_100809

Boardgames & Rations

Boardgames have been a super hit last few months. And since May with the resumption of delivery services iv been ordering new games at the rate of ordering take aways.

Despite a growing number of Boardgames the top game for Ayaan had always been King of Tokyo. A fun game where powerful figures compete to rule Tokyo. On each turn you have multiple choices to attack, heal or build which makes the game fascinating.

The pattern though was getting set. A new game would arrive, Id learn the rules and we would play. A few hours later Ayaan would invariably come back and say, ” but we have to play King of Tokyo also ?”.

Then Forbidden Desert arrived. This game flipped everything. To begin with its a collaborative game. A space craft has crashed in the Desert. You have to find the missing parts – engine, propeller, solar capsule, et and flee before the Desert gets you. You choose a role between a set of adventurers – Archaeologist, Water Carrier, Navigator, Explorer, Meteorologist each with unique abilities and start your Adventures.

Ayaan’s been hooked. So far we have had a 50% survival rate as we all have to get out together. Key is to plan Water rationing very carefully.

While we were practicing rationing in the imaginary world the real world caught up with us.

This week I woke up to no power. Which seemed unusual as heavy rains hadn’t arrived yet.

After a while I called Ramamoorthy the Linesman to check.

“We have some painting to finish so as a precautionary measure we have shut it for now”, he explained.

Temporary lack of power is not an issue in the hills. At 7200 feet height no one needs a Fan here. And the daylight takes care of internal lighting. Its the night that becomes an issue. But hey I have a UPS and that can take care for a while.

The power didn’t arrive in the night and Ramamoorthy said he would check the next day. We switched to UPS rationing mode.

Morning I went to the Sub Station office 500 meters from home.

I walked to the Assistant Engineer who was standing outside and inquired.

He had an annoyed look, ” The road department was trimming the shrubs and dead branches. They weren’t careful and they have short circuited the supply lines at multiple places”.

The entire team was heading out to find specific fault lines and fix. A painstaking activity.

The team would cater to the populated parts first before coming to the quiet Deer Park Road. Minority last on priority. Which makes sense in this case.

Meanwhile more rationing time.

The next day UPS was on its last leg. And I was back in the sub station. Ramamoorthy the Linesman is out working on it they said.

I didn’t have much to do. So I went looking to check where he was working.

I found Ramamoorthy and his young assistant in a discussion. They had found the faulty pole. The young lad was about to rappel up using his arms and legs.

On cue the neighbouring Farmer and the Caretaker from the Forest Department Guest House walked up. And so did Chocolate’s pals the three stray dogs of Deer Park Road.

No one wanted to miss the late afternoon show.

The young man was now up and Ramamoorthy was firing rapid instructions in Tamil. After a while it was discovered that the problem was more complex.

Ramamoorthy decided to rappel up. I was surprised, he was probably 50 and plumpish to my eye. But lo behold, he seemed to roll back the decades and was up in a flash. I was full of respect and wonder.

It was getting late evening but luckily the rain clouds stayed away. Atlast the glitch was finally fixed and the two star acts rappelled down to our gratitude.

Back home we finally had Power and the starved UPS could happily recharge itself.

“Dad now lets play some Boardgames”, chirped Ayaan, ‘Im getting Forbidden Desert”.

“Of course, makes sense, bring it on !”.

IMG_20200611_171845-+++++———–

 

 

 

Booze Pals

Disclaimer: This really did happened.

——-

April 2018 we had made a recce trip from Mumbai to Ooty. Plan was to stay for 7 weeks like locals and see if the mountain life was worth to make a permanent shift into.

The house we found was perched on a hill. The narrow approach road was a steep one kilometre climb driven on first gear.

We gradually settled into a new rhythm. Walking up to fresh air and terrific views with a slow pace of life.

In a typical hill town basic amenities are susceptible to breakdowns typically caused by Nature’s moods.

But on this occasion the Human race put forth its finest champion in play.

One morning we woke up to realise there was no electricity. Which was surprising as there was no element of heavy rains overnight.

The word was that electricity to our area would need a major repair. This also meant there was no motor to pump water. Water was to be rationed till power resumed. A quick double whammy.

Later in the morning I asked the caretaker – Why had the power snapped ?

He rolled his eyes, ” I had walked down to investigate. Apparently a big truck with construction material was trying to climb the narrow road last night.

As the truck started to climb the driver realised the rear wheels were slipping. The gradient was too high given its load.

So he gently reversed the truck back and parked it.

“That would have been it, ” continued the caretaker with sadness building up, ” unfortunately he sat down for a drink with his friend. His friend chided him for being unable to drive the truck up.

A few pegs down Mr Friend declared let me show you how it’s done. The deflated Driver handed the keys.

The truck stared its climb again. The first bend was easy. The confidence was high in the truck cabin but the laws of gravity were now being questioned.

As it passed the second bend it was clear this mission was doomed. The truck wheels were slipping badly. Alarmed Mr Friend jammed the brakes which only caused the truck to swerve into a compound wall of a house.

The heavy truck aided by powers of gravity swiftly smashed the wall and continued its downward trajectory.

A parked car was pushed down. The car promptly rolled down knocking off a two wheeler before smashing into an electricity pole 50 meters below

Finally the now tired truck decided to keel over and block the narrow road.

Next morning a large crane, electricity department, police, insurance folks and the municipal team descended to take stock.

It took a day and a half before power supply was resumed and the water started getting up.

All those staying above were technically quarantined for the duration.

” I wonder what happened about the friend?”, I asked.

” I wonder which brand they were drinking”, responded the caretaker with twinkle in his eye.

—++++++——-

Sunday Notes

Sunday notes:

The town has opened up. Word is Venkateswara wada has reopened too.

No breakfast at home, ill get Wadas I announced as i sped off first thing in the morning.

As I entered Commercial road I saw Jones the tyre repair man setting up his shop. In a small town he is not a tyre repair man but a friend who happens to repair the tyre.

A thought flashed as we waved at each other.

At Venkateswara im getting the delicious hot wadas packed. I request my friend to pack another separate parcel.

Homeward bound I approach Jones again. I stop and call out ” Jones I got something for you” and share the parcel.

At that moment he dazzled the most amazing smile with a Thank You.

Im driving back filled with the joy transmitted by Jones.

As I circle the Ooty lake I notice Prema Nursery has opened its doors.

I slam the brakes and get inside the little green shed. Im guessing im the first customer post lockdown.

The first thing i notice on the counter are Dahlia bulbs. And the beautiful Dahlia images start dancing in my head.

” Can I get 5?”, I request.

Wait, he says and ducks under the table. Opens a drawer, ” I’ve got better ones and infact this one has a shoot coming out too”. What luck !

Back home im thinking where to plant them. In life one spontaneous moment leads to another. I identify a place but it requires preparing the flower beds. Weeds have been busy last two months.

Post lunch im working the large pitchfork in the flower bed. Its just 30 minutes of work but for a city bred slouch like me its back breaking enough.

Bed prepared but back aching I decide Monday is a better day to plant the bulbs.

In the evening the rain gods decide to visit our hills. The cricket game is quickly abandoned and we rush indoor.

” Boardgames ?”, I suggest to Ayaan.

” No I have a new idea”.

Each time he suggests this line of thought I have a surge of instant resistance within. I love my comfort zones🤷. But gradually im learning to listen and be.

” We will play with my toys in the Study room.” the little boss declares.

So off we go with toys and plonk on the mattress creating an imaginary village.

And a strange moment occurs.

I have a music app playing a UK radio station on my phone. An Air Supply number comes up. In that perfect moment im just feeling the song and I notice my Guitar lying in the corner.

Since Grade 7 I have made multiple attempts to play. Bought new guitars and re-fixed it, joined classes..to no avail.

But right then it just felt i should try again.

Maybe the inroads into cooking and watercolor have given the confidence, i don’t know.

Maybe ill try and learn the Guitar one more time.

_–+++++———-

Banana 2 Bread

The Bananas started it all.

As our new found love for cooking we decided to pick a fruit a day. Step two would be to scroll YouTube for simple and fun recipe.

The Chocolate Banana French Toast caught our fancy yesterday. It looked delicious and within our severely limited skills.

The recipe began with a loaf of bread and the edges sliced off. After a while I finally got the French Toast in the oven. But I realized that I had a mass of bread edges on the platform.

Loathe to discard it I went back to YouTube for recipe for bread edges. And to my joy discovered a simple process to make cutlets out of it.

So in went the bread edges, rice flour, lots of masala and herbs. And the cutlet batter was ready for next day breakfast.

Meanwhile the oven timer sounded off and i went to check on the Chocolate Banana French Toast.

I offered the first piece to Ayaan and awaited his verdict. Being a true 7 year old he tells you exactly what he feels. So I was anxious.

A couple of bites and then he spluttered out, ” Can you make this again Dad?”.

I had achieved my Noble Prize for the moment.

This would have been it. But unknowingly id started a cascading effect. There was no Bread at home.

In these Corona blessed days I wasn’t keen to step out just to buy a loaf. My next planned stocking trip was a few days away.

But confidence was high. And I thought..why not try and make Bread at home? Our Swedish friends Kris and Resa had made a loaf for us earlier and shared the recipe.

I sat and read the handwritten recipe about twenty times. It seemed very simple. But the cloud of doubt was very high. Bread making was a road never traveled.

Added to it being a devotee of fresh bread I was sure i would mess it up.

I called Kris and spoke to him. He guided me and ended by saying ” you can do it and reach out to Resa and me if you need any help”.

That was that. I took the plunge.

With all purpose flour, water, salt and yeast i prepared the dough. The dough took a pretty shape. I covered it for the night.

” Ayaan tomorrow that dough will rise upto the lid”, i exclaimed as another 7 year old.

Morning came and i went to check. To my horror the dough remained the same size.

It hadn’t moved up an inch.

It was too early to ping Kris. So i went to YouTube to check. And promptly i had so many reasons presented that i shut down YouTube.

Finally I texted Kris with the update and cry for help.

I got a prompt question- Share the picture of the type of Yeast used.
” Abhi you used dry yeast. You have to proof the yeast. Do that and it will work”, it was Resa navigating me now.

” Proof it? The last time i had to proof something was in chemistry and math. And boy did I hate that!”, I thought.

A simple YouTube video taught me how to proof dry yeast. Of course I managed to mess up this simple process the first time. But being so easy second time I was destined to get it right.

I had now activated the yeast or proofed the yeast.

Back to the waiting dough and some more kneading. After a while it was time to bake it.

I kept asking Resa an endless stream of elementary questions – do I cover the baking tin, how long to bake without the cover, how to check if it was ready, how to cool it…

Finally the Bread was done. I took a picture and showed to Ayaan in the other room.

“Whose Bread is this?”, He asked.

“Ours, why?”, I said somewhat surprised by his question.

” Oh it looks like the one Kris uncle gave us”, and he was off to the kitchen.

A warm slice of bread was in his mouth soon.

An hour later post dinner he was tucked in bed. Story time was over.

” Good night Ayaan”.

” Dad, can I get one more slice? “

Who let the Dogs out

Who let the Dogs out

This is a peppy dance number I have enjoyed shaking a leg on.

Unknown to me this Friday the words would come to spin my day out of control.

Here is what happened.

A typical Corona virus lockdown day involves involving some activities for Ayaan.

Ayaan had recently seen pictures of his friend Emma do water colours.

” I’m going into the garden to paint a picture of our house”, and he trooped outside with his brush, water, paper and colour jars.

” Wait ill get you a mat to sit on”, and I went looking for the yoga mat.

Aah it’s in the boot of the car I recollected. The car was parked outside the gate as i’d stepped out in the morning to pick some provisions.

As I walked a quick glance confirmed that Chocolate our 9 month doggie was busy in the terrace.

I didn’t bother closing behind as lately Chocolate had learnt to stay away from the main gate.

I picked up the yoga mat shut the boot and turned back to the house.

To my horror Chocolate had surreptitiously followed me and was sneaking out of the gate.

” Get back NOW”, I screamed.

She was having none of it. Her sideways glance brimmed with mischief and desire to pursue her new found freedom.

I darted inside the house picked up the chain and her favourite jump-bone and began my chase.

This is a wooded area and if you loose sight it can get tricky.

As I traced her steps I saw movement by the lake. She was busy exploring the walking path along the lake.

Control your anxiety and do this calmly I tried telling myself as I stepped down the trail to the lake.

“Come here Chocolate, look your favourite jump-bone is here”.

She looked at me. Nope not today, and scooted on the pathway along the lake.

” Great now she is trapped” I thought. As the pathway led to the Boat House. The gates would be shut with Corona lockdown.

When I caught up I saw Chocolate was indeed trapped. The fence wouldn’t allow her further ahead. Her only option was back to me.

Unfortunately it wasn’t so !

She discovered a gap in the fence and sneaked into the Boat House.

Now she had the Boat House garden and the kids play-area to herself.

Her happiness and my anxiety were rising at the same rapid pace.

Luckily the small gate on the pathway wasn’t locked.

I followed inside the Boat House.

” Chocolate look your jump-bone here”I tried again

Nope, uncontrolled freedom was preferable. And she moved towards a marshy patch.

Now’s my chance and I chased her into the patch.

To my horror my foot went in ankle first, then gradually up to my knee.

The saving grace was she was stuck too.

I grabbed her. But now I had to get back… with her.

As I moved back with the added weight I was stuck till my thighs.

Almost there.

Two more heaves and I will be out.

But my left shoe was stuck deep inside and wouldn’t budge

I wriggled my leg out of the shoe and took two giant strides.

My lungs were bursting as I managed to get out and sprawl on the grass.

It felt I had just completed the half marathon on one shoe.

The muck from the swamp was on the sleeves and up to the waist of my once beautiful maroon sweater.

Chocolate now chained and me walked back home some sight.

Me a piece of muck and without one shoe.

Back home Suresh took charge of chocolate and scrubbed her.

While I washed and discarded all the clothes and the remaining shoe in the bin.

Chocolate was duly tied up on the Peach tree as a punishment.

Exhausted I fell asleep in the afternoon.

When I got up I saw Chocolate was running about.

” Dad, she said she was very sorry and wouldn’t do it again, so I let her out” explained Ayaan.

” Yes Ayaan, you did the right thing”.

At the Regatta

A story from Aug 2019::

—————————————————————————————————————————-

The phone was buzzing, and I saw it was my friend Capt Harry calling.

” Abhi, hope you guys are free on Sunday.

It’s the annual Regatta at Pykara Lake.

I’ll be sailing too. Fetch over and make sure you get Ayaan.

Post the race there will be Jet Ski’s, he will enjoy it”.

And  so the Sunday plan was made.

The background for the Regatta was this.

The Nilgiri mountains house the elite Defense Services Staff College (DSSC) for Officers from all three arms – Navy, Air force and Army.

Besides the serious studies the College hosts a string of activities and the Regatta was a prestigious occasion.

The August 2019 Regatta was special as Rear Admiral MK, the Chief of the Naval Wing was sailing and would retire a few days later from the Navy.

On Sunday morning the mountain sun was glowing as we drove down to the Waterman Club at Pykara lake.

True to Defense style the ‘bandobast’/arrangements were in top order.

Thick carpets welcomed everyone with covered seating arrangements and a helpful beer bar &  a breakfast counter.

On the Lake I noticed ocean blue colored sail boats getting prepared by their respective 2 man crew.

“Abhi, good to see you, ” Harry called out. Over 6 foot 2, lean and muscular he looked every part the sailing warrior.

“Good luck Harry, trust you and your partner are ready ?”

I’m sailing with Rear Admiral MK. Why don’t you make your self comfortable ill catch you guys after the race” and Harry was off

Well Rear Admiral MK is wise I thought, to have the strapping Harry as his crew mate.

“Trial round starts now”, boomed the voice over the microphone. “we have 20 participants for this year’s Regatta with 18 teams from the Navy and 2 from the Air-force”

Everyone now shifted closer to viewing deck by the lake.

The skiff’s took off for a test sail to allow the crew to get familiar.

A few minutes later one sail boat promptly toppled over

“Air-force chaps, what would you expect”, came an immediate quip from the viewing deck.

There was banter all around.

The mood was getting set for the Regatta.

“All right ladies and gentlemen we are about to begin, may I also remind you all that Rear Admiral MK is sailing, lets give him a big hand”.

The bell sounded the start of the race.

To my untrained eye the events unfolded simply.

Harry’s dingy was the fastest of the block.

Was this a mark of respect by the other officers, I wondered ?

Harry’s boat swung by the viewing deck speeding towards the first marker.

I saw Harry adjust the ropes on the mast, shifting the sails, or simply he was just all over.. while Rear Admiral MK sat in the rear hand on the rudder.

As the crowd cheered the sailboats it was quite clear the contest was for Second position and below.

The leading skiff was out of sight by the second marker. And before we knew it was racing back to the finish.

“Please give a big hand to our winner Rear Admiral MK and Capt Harry for completing the race in 21min:15sec” announced the voice and continued..

“I would also like to share that Rear Admiral MK has won the race multiple times and is also an Asian Games Sailing Champion for India.

And after a distinguished career he will be swallowing the anchor at the end of August, please rise to give him a big hand”.

My eyebrows and respect kept rising as the announcer shared the list of sailing medals won by Rear Admiral MK

That explained the difference in the race outcome.

The second boat would sail back after 30 minutes while the rest followed close behind.

“Well done Harry, you were exceptional today”, I beamed over.

” I was just following the instructions Abhi, very few can read the sailing conditions as well as Rear Admiral MK” explained Harry.

I realised what’s visible to the eye may not entirely be the complete picture.

As the short stature bespectacled Rear Admiral MK took the trophy, he was handed the microphone to share a few words.

And his comments have stayed with me since.

“Thank you everyone.

I wont take your time with a farewell speech as there will be other occasions but maybe I’ll just share something I learnt about Sailing.

We often assume Sailing as a sport where we try to master the elements of Nature.

If there is one thing I learnt early it’s that there will be never be any power to master Nature.

The thought itself is foolish.

But what you can do is observe Nature and at best tap into a little of it’s power to give you an advantage.

That is as far as you can go”

The wise words of Rear Admiral MK sunk in.

The event concluded with the sail boats lining up and giving a farewell salute to Rear Admiral MK.

Having witnessed a Fly Past, this was my first taste of a “Sail Past”.

While I was savoring the morning moments in a dreamy state I felt a sharp tug on my shoulder

” Is it now time for Jet Ski Dad?” quizzed Ayaan.

“Yes, lets find Harry and have some fun !”

————————————————————–

IMG_20190824_105024

Labour of Love

“In 40 minutes your world can change”, said Nigel as he dropped us back to our car in Masinagudi.

We are in the foothills of Ooty having spent the morning at Nigel’s horse farm in Masingudi for Ayaan’s first riding lessons.

Masinagudi falls on the rain shadow side of Nilgiris mountains. Its typically hot and dry through the year.

The Ooty – Masinagudi road also called the Kalhatty climb is famous for its 36 hairpin bends. In a span of 40 minutes you switch from thermal and wollen socks to a simple T shirt and shorts.

The Tour oF Nilgiris (TFN) a famous cycling event in India concludes with the Kalhatty climb. The Kalhatty climb is officially termed ” something beyond categorisation”. Each time I drive up im in awe of my friend Tarun who has scaled it twice in succession.

Today in the Horse Farm at Masinagudi Ayaan had his first riding lessons conducted by Illona, Nigel’s Finnish wife.

During the week Illona manages the India chapter of Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS), Ooty. On weekends the family falls back to the farm in the foothills and offers riding lessons.

What was incredible was that despite her busy schedule Illona took personal care and gave Ayaan a detailed one on one class.

If there was an example of love and compassion for your profession this was it.

Today, unknown to me, I was going to experience examples of Labour of Love multiple times.

Back in Ooty in the afternoon, post Lunch we decided to head out to complete our weekend chores.

I realise its a busy day as with a long weekend there are numerous tourists. We stop at Modern Store, the hip and also the biggest store in our town.

Im crouching at a low rack deciding which biscuits to pickup when a man walk over to help. I look up and realise its a familiar face. Its Mr Murali, the owner.

“Which biscuits would you recommend besides the common Varkey?”, I enquire.

” Try the Ajwain (Caraway) biscuits”, he responds, which I promptly pick up.

” Aren’t you Mr Murali the owner?” I ask.

A smile appears and we have a small chat before we bid goodbye.

As I bill I hear the chatter from the tourists.
“The fudge is quite good”
“We should take the dark chocolates”.

And unknown to them today Mr Murali gloved up has stationed himself behind the chocolate counter and is personally packing and attending to customers.

Finally with most of shopping done we are tracking back home. I decide to take a longer route to avoid the traffic.

As we pass the Ooty railway station famous for the Nilgiri mountain train, Ayaan suddenly calls out.

“Dad, we haven’t been to Jyothi Cookies for a while”.

“Sure it’s right next door, lets have a look”.

A few minutes later we are parked in their compound which houses their small factory and residential quarter.

Jyoti Cookies retails their products through the stores. But to the occasional visitor who can find them it offers a small retail counter within their premise.

As I enter I noticed two changes, the layout of the Counter has changed. And instead of old Mr Mehta there is a younger woman who I assume is his enterprising daughter Jyoti who runs the business.

” Hi, I guess you changed the layout”, I ask.

” Yes, but its just temporary, we should go back to the previous one in a couple of weeks”, she responds.

” Your father isn’t here today?” I enquire.

She looks me in the eyes, ” He passed away two weeks back”.

I freeze and notice that right behind her is a frame of Mr Mehta with a small garland.

I share with her how I would look forward to our little chats as I would come by to pick up fresh cookies, especially the wheat and jaggery cookies.

” Yes, though he was old he enjoyed meeting customers who made it here”.

As we continue our soft conversation there is a movement in the back door. A hand pulls apart a curtain and an old woman with a large expressive eyes walks out.

There are no words exchanged. Just a faint smile on our faces as we look at each other.

As I step out I give a look back and Old Mrs Mehta is looking at me. We wave at each other.

_–+++++———

Chota Hazri

On weekdays the alarm buzzes at 6 am.

The first act is to switch on the Boiler. Unlike the instant geysers in Mumbai the one’s we have in Ooty take an hour to heat up. Life has a different rhythm in the hills.

While I switch on the Boiler I’m diligently followed by Chocolate, our 5 month old pup. She waits for me to open the doors so she can step out and relieve herself.

So starts the typical weekday morning routine of bath, breakfast culminating with Ayaan being dropped to his school.

A few weeks earlier we were having dinner at Earl’s Secret, a quaint restaurant in a refurbished English Manor called King’s Cliff.

The old Manor resides on a hillock called Strawberry Hills. You get the drift.

The King’s Cliff Manor houses many relics of the era gone by. This visit while awaiting for our soup we decided to explore the charming property.

In a corner wall under a glass case I noticed a 100 year old Tariff Card of King’s Cliff duly signed by Mrs A.M. COY

What caught my eye were the Meal Timings
Chota Hazri: 7 a.m.
Breakfast: 9 to 10 a.m.
Lunch : 1 to 3 p.m.
Tea 4 p.m.
Dinner : 8 to 8-30 pm

” Daniel, do you know what Chota Hazri means?”, I asked the manager. Unfortunately he seemed equally surprised as I was.

It meant there was only one place to ask for a quick reference – Google Guru

Promptly the answer revealed a long forgotten practice of the days of the Raj.

The words Chota Hazri literally translate into ‘Small Attendance’ and indicated the household staff attending to the masters at an early hour.

The practice of Chota Hazri meant a serving of Tea & Fruits and some Cheese or Egg which enabled one to start the day early.

While I was ruminating this nugget Sim uncovered a little gem in the hills.

Her friend wanted to catch up for Coffee and suggested a cafe we hadn’t heard of and surprisingly was barely 15 minutes from our house.

This seemed puzzling as we thought we had sponged every eating place in Nilgiris.

Which is how we discovered the reclusive 200 year old Smyrna House – a charming blue colour country house. Refurbished a few years back by an Irish American couple it functions now as a cozy home-stay. It is beautifully done up with teak furniture and plush upholstery.

The Yellow Door Cafe operates within the premise and offers a Breakfast menu to those who chance by.

The 6 acre campus grows most of the produce and the staff looks after you with the typical warmth.

We were relishing our breakfast of New Yorker with an extra Bagel and an Oregon Jar with Coffee and Lippia Tea.

” Are you open all days?” I inquired, dreaming of a lazy Sunday breakfast.

” No we are open Monday to Saturday and 8 am to 4 pm” replied our hostess.

“But I have school from 8 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday”, protested Ayaan immediately.

Sim and I exchanged that instant look and consoled him, “We could come here for Saturday Breakfast then?”

Feeling momentarily relieved, he quizzed “Ok and Venkateshwara wadas and Azaam buns for Sunday breakfast right?”

And in a little way our weekend Chota Hazri was fixed.

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