Thursday, December 30, 2010

Vallabh my tailor

I will continue with my account of our US trip, which I am sure is turning out to be a torture to all my friends, in the New Year. One good thing is that not much is left of it. From the time we returned from Mackinaw and surroundings to the time of our departure from the US was only fifteen days. One fourth of the total duration. Bearable. So, New Year has to be happy.

The picture here is a part of my torso, covered in my working cloth, the white coat.
Call it lab coat, apron or whatever. Notice the pockets? Designed and created by my tailor Vallabh. I was not annoyed when I saw it. Just amused. I knew how it happened. He stitched one pocket and went out to down a peg. He came back and stitched the other. The result is before you.

Vallabh is a shy, soft spoken and good natured fellow. Most of his speech involves just bobbing his head up and down. Positive reply, negative reply or anything. He occupies the small space available below the staircase leading to the first floor offices of an advocate, architect and a dentist in a small building next to the entrance of the vegetable market. He has two sewing machines and sometimes one assistant. His thirst is his only fault. He has to go out every hour or two to keep up the alcohol level in his blood. But it does not change his behavior. He is always affable.

I liked him and his shop. I feel intimidated by big, fancy establishments. I am comfortable with Vallabh. Moreover, I can just peep in either on my way in or out of the market and enquire about the progress. If he is in, he will give his shy, apologetic smile and say that it will be ready in the evening. If he is not in, he is out for a drop of his favorite. Sometimes I meet him coming from the waterhole wiping his mouth. He will smile and say he just went to buy vegetables. He stitched a couple of shirts and trousers for me. Not very good, not bad either.

Since I shifted to this place, where I just have to climb down the stairs to reach my clinic, the wear and tear of my clothes has reduced a lot and they last quite long. Most of the time I wear the white coat and I get it made long so that what I wear below does not matter much. If I shift to dhoti and an ‘angavastram’ for the time I am out of the clinic, I do not have to bother about clothes any more.

As far as the coat is concerned, only my patients see me in this attire and they are usually not interested in anything else other than relief from their tooth ache.

I can very well continue with Vallabh’s creations.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tahquamenon falls and Paradise village

There is nothing very great about the Tahquamenon falls. There is a water fall with considerable quantity of water flowing through. There is lot of vegetation and greenery all around. Arrangements have been made to go very next to the falls and enjoy the scene. One may spend some good time trekking along the forest paths if so inclined. So on and so forth.

The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the falls was that it very much resembled the ‘Vrishbhaavati’ river of Bengaluru. I do not think many residents of Bangalore know about this river. If you travel from Mysore to Bangalore by road, after you cross the RVCE campus, you will see a great water fall of black sewage water to your right. Before you see the fall, you will have smelt it. That is what is now the ‘Vrishabhavati’ river, a tributary of river ‘Arkavati’ is. That water fall is black and this Tahquamenon fall is brown. Please remember that I am talking only of the similarity in appearance. Nothing else.

The water is not dirty. The tannins leaching from the cedar trees give this colour to the water while the river flows through the cedar swamps.
The falls is just about fifteen minutes drive from the Paradise village and we checked in at the “Best value Inn’.

The July 4th celebrations were to end with a firework display in a field about a mile from the village. We had our dinner and reached there just before ten at night. There was a considerable crowd and people were still in the celebration mood. They had come prepared with blankets and pillows to put on the ground and enjoy the spectacle in the sky. The display lasted about half an hour and was really enjoyable.

Next morning I went on my early morning walk on the only street of Paradise village. It was very calm and quiet.

By half past ten in the morning of 5th July, we joined the traffic returning to the city trudge once again after enjoying the open country.

We reached Canton MI by evening and with that trip our US visit was almost coming to an end.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Munising and Pictured Rocks

Munising was a very small place. I could easily take the length and breadth of the city on my morning walk. While starting,I just decided to go in the direction opposite to the one from which we had entered the city and within five minutes I had reached the main street which led to the pier.

It was fourth of July and people were getting ready for the celebrations. A fair had been arranged on the ground next to the pier and the number of campers and tents on the ground, and the boats tied to the pier indicated that it was to be well attended.

But very early in the morning, before six, most of them were still asleep and the pier was empty. The atmosphere was very calm and pleasing. The occupants of this sail boat, an old couple, probably did not intend spending the day amongst the crowd and noise and so started moving out deeper into the lake just as the sun appeared in the sky.

As I stood looking at the slowly moving sail boat, the sun broke out of the clouds, making everything bright.

I spent some more time roaming around the small garden next to the pier and returned through another street lined with neat houses. There was no chance of losing my way here even if I wanted to.

We had stayed overnight at Munising as we intended taking the ‘Pictured rocks’ ferry tour in the morning. We had tickets for the Ten’o clock trip and we arrived at the pier ten minutes before that. The ferry left exactly at ten just as the flag was being hoisted and the cannon being fired in the veteran’s memorial park.

The stars and stripes flying on the bow fluttered in the breeze and my patriotic T shirt matched the flag. I had not noticed it till one of our co passengers pointed it out.

‘Pictured rocks’ are the sandstone cliffs bordering Lake Superior which have been naturally sculpted into arches, caves and formations. The minerals in the rocks have added colours to the formations thus bringing the name pictured rocks.

The tour took little more than two hours and we were back on the pier little after twelve in the afternoon. We took a round of the fair, bought some sandwiches to add to our ‘ready to cook’ stuff and had lunch in the shade sitting on the grass. By half past two we were ready to leave. We intended halting for the night at Paradise, after visiting the Tahquamenon falls.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Plastic free Ponda' and Raghunandan

One of the common sights that I come across every morning when I go on my walk is the ‘pav wala’ on his bicycle. On hearing his bell, people used to come out of their houses with money in hand, pay him, receive their requirement in their hands and go back. If they intended buying large quantities, they carried a container in their hands. No plastic bags. These days I notice that the fellow puts his ware, just two or three pieces even, in a plastic bag and hands it over. No one refuses the bag.It bothers me. I feel that there is no need for a plastic bag to take two or three ‘pavs’ (small loaves of bread) from the door step to the kitchen. I am against unnecessary use of plastic bags.

I was aghast seeing the misuse or abuse of plastic bags in the US. Almost every commodity sold in the store comes well packed, mostly in plastic. If a dozen pieces are bought, every two or three of them, which are taken out of the cart for billing, are placed in separate plastic bags thus using about half a dozen bags. Two or three of these bags are in turn put in bigger bags. They go back into the cart, which goes up to the car and are transferred to the boot. They are not carried by hand at all. Why are they placed in the ‘carry bag’?

I see that the plastic bags are the major component of garbage and they spread themselves everywhere, assisted by stray dogs, cattle and wind. Apart from being environmental hazards, they make a very ugly sight and I don’t like it. Not that anybody should care for my likes and dislikes. These days even if one buys a switch or a bulb in an electric shop, it is put in a plastic bag. Every item is wrapped in plastic. At a construction site I saw that the stone tiles which were being laid on the external wall were individually wrapped in plastic sheets. We are learning from the west. All unwanted stuff.

Nobody carries a cloth bag to the market any more. Almost every vendor selling vegetables and fruits puts his wares in a plastic bag and hands it over. It is very handy and cheap. Very convenient. But it irritates me. I never accept a plastic bag and always remember to carry my own bag with me. I keep voicing my views in front of anyone who cares to listen.

Wednesday is my weekly holiday. I went out on some usual errands. My wife called when I was in the bank. She wanted me to buy coriander and curry leaves from the market. i had not taken my bag. But a bunch of coriander and curry leaves is no trouble. On my way back I went into the vegetable market. I met Mr. Raikar who was on his way out, carrying a plastic bag containing onions and tomatoes. He knows me well. He was my neighbor. I had once pulled the reluctant Mr. Raikar to the ‘Plastic free Ponda’ campaign organized by the local college, in which I had a part to play. He had picked up discarded plastic bags from the streets along with us for a few minutes before excusing himself. I held him up, pointed to the plastic bag and spoke about the issue in my mind with quite a bit of feeling. He told me that he had not planned to come to the market. I told him that he should always keep a bag in his scooter box. He said that he had some urgent work and left in a hurry.

I went into the market. I purchased coriander and curry leaves. I found a good looking papaya and bought it too. I refused the offer of plastic bag from the hawker and carried everything in my hands. As I was walking out, the lady with a basket of apples hailed me. I once extracted a tooth for her painlessly and have earned her goodwill. She usually gives me good stuff. Apples looked fresh and good. She said that she was selling apples at eighty rupees a kilo but was offering me the same at sixty rupees. I purchased a kilo of apples. I had to pick them up. Now I was in a fix. I was already holding the papaya, coriander and curry leaves in my hands. How will I carry the apples? I decided to go to my scooter, transfer the stuff in my hands to the box and return for apples. But the scooter was a few hundred meters away. Still I decided to make an extra trip and was about to tell her to keep the apples aside when she took out a plastic bag, put the apples in it and held it in front of my face. It was very tempting.

I accepted the bag, pulled the cap low over my face to avoid recognition and was rushing out when I saw Mr. Raikar at the entrance. He had not left but was coming in again. May be he forgot something. I just could not afford to be caught with the plastic bag in my hands. I ducked into the lane selling fish, ran through it refusing very good offers of prawns, crabs and kingfish and came out of the back entrance. I stealthily walked a kilometer around the market yard to reach my scooter and rushed home.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Soo Locks

I thoroughly enjoyed the very humorous account of boating along the Thames by the three men and their dog, Montmorency, in the book “Three men in a boat” by Jerome K Jerome, and the word ‘Lock’ appeared many times in the course of the story. I had to open the dictionary to know what a lock is and could imagine one, but I never thought that I would be able to see a functioning lock. In fact I was under the wrong impression that they were extinct. So, I was very happy and excited when Bhanu said that we will be visiting ‘Soo Locks’, a real lock very much in use, on our way to Munising from Mackinaw city.

We reached there around five in the evening. The office informed us that a ship is expected to arrive in the lock within the next fifteen minutes and we ran to the viewer’s gallery to get a vantage point. The Soo locks facilitate movement of ships and other vessels between Lake Superior, which is at a higher level, and the other great lakes. The locks bypass the rapids of St Mary river where the river falls about seven meters from the level of Lake Superior.

Within minutes after reaching there we could see the ship ‘Stewart J Cort’ gliding into the ‘Poe lock’.

It stood there waiting to be raised and as I looked with my mouth open, rose slowly and steadily as water was pumped into the lock. It may not be anything great, but it fascinated me. Having reached the required level, it glided out. The process might have taken about twenty minutes and I stood totally absorbed in it.

Within the next few minutes the ferry of the ‘Soo lock tours’ arrived in the ‘Mac Arthur lock’ and moved on.

We came out of the locks, went around the small museum that was there, got in and out of many shops selling trinkets and souvenirs, sat on the roadside bench for a while enjoying the pleasant evening sun and a cup of coffee and were soon on our way to Munising. It was a little more than two hours drive and we arrived at the Day’s inn just as it was getting dark.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mackinaw Island

It was an exhilarating half an hour ferry ride to Mackinaw Island. As we approached the jetty, I could make out the details of the island, the light house being the most prominent.

Mackinaw Island is about ten square miles in area. The usual trimmings of a popular tourist place are all there, important amongst them being the booth which hires out the bicycles and the place where the tickets for the carriage ride are sold. Motor vehicles are not allowed on the island barring snowmobiles during winter and eighty percent of the island is preserved as a national park. The resident population is about five hundred and the island has between ten to fifteen thousand visitors a day.

Bhanu and Latha decided to burden a horse at twenty five dollars per head and the rest of us opted to ride around the island on a rented pedal bike at three dollars for two hours.

The carriage ride begins near the grand hotel.

The route goes up hills along a very pleasant and picturesque route. The carriage halts now and then at places of interest. If you are keen to spend more time at a spot, you may do so and continue your ride in the next carriage. Like the sightseeing buses. My wife had the camera, took a few pictures and has now forgotten what they were. The pictures anyway are here. One is the view of the main land from the island, another one is some museum or cemetery and yet another is an arch through which people peep.

The bicycle route goes round the island, a distance of about nine miles, all along the water’s edge. It is a narrow path having facilities for rest here and there. There are thousands of riders. The bicycles are comfortable to ride.
I had an enjoyable ride but my knees disagree with me. We lunched at one of the restaurants on the main street, took the return ferry and were back on the mainland by two in the afternoon. We could not afford to spend more time in Mackinaw. We had to visit Soo Locks before proceeding to Munisingh for the night halt.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mackinaw city

Mackinaw islands, Pictured rocks and Tahquamenon falls were the places we intended visiting during the July 4th weekend. This was our first trip to places where there were no Indian restaurants or relatives to feed us and so, my wife had arranged extra stocks of homemade, ready to eat/easy to cook preparations. We had a huge pile of luggage most of which consisted of food boxes, jars and ice boxes and we had to remove one of the seats in the minivan to accommodate all the stuff.

We had planned to start from Canton MI on the morning of July 2nd, and were expecting to reach Mackinaw city by afternoon. But it was nearly ten when our supply of ‘chapaatis’, the most important item in the survival kit, arrived and we were delayed. Since it was not a very long drive to Mackinaw, we took it easy, stopping where ever we found the surroundings pleasant.

The freeway 75 was not really free that day. It looked as though the whole of Michigan was headed north. It was full of vehicles towing/ carrying mobile homes, boats and bikes. People were getting ready to enjoy the 4th July week end, around the great lakes in the north.

It was evening when we checked into the ‘Best value inn’, a comfortable place at the entrance of the city.

After transferring our supplies from the ice box into the refrigerator and freshening up, we headed to the lake front. We spent some time on the pier enjoying the beautiful view of the lake and the gentle breeze. We could see the Island across the strait at a distance. The catamaran returning from the island with its white plume made a good picture.

Mackinaw ‘city’ is actually a village with a permanent resident population of about 850 people, boasting an elementary school and a high school. It is a very popular tourist destination in the state of Michigan. The city mostly consists of hotels, shops, eateries and establishments related to the tourist trade and almost all of them face the lake. It is a neat, compact and very relaxed place with hardly any traffic on the roads. We moved along the main street for some time and I sat on a road side bench, while Bhanu and my wife went window shopping and the children and Vishwa went to buy the ferry tickets for the next morning’s visit to the island.

Groups of people, mostly families moved around leisurely, stopping now and then to look at the lake pointing out at things, getting in and out of shops, chatting and laughing. Children were flying kites in the park across the street. There were a considerable number of senior citizens on motorized wheel chairs and they moved around where ever their fancy took them as there was not much traffic or crowd anywhere. I just sat looking at all this and enjoying the atmosphere. It was very pleasant.
We decided to have dinner at the Italian restaurant Nonna lisa’s a pleasant place which offered ‘authentic’ wood fired Pizzas.

Bhanu managed to charm the waitress and coax the cook to prepare Pizza and Pasta to suit our palates and the result was excellent. I had never tasted ‘Pasta’ and had eaten ‘Pizza’ only in the chains like ‘Dominos’ and ‘Pizza Hut’. They were not bad but ‘Nonna lisa’a’ was way above all that I had tasted till then. I enjoyed the dinner thoroughly and had to request Vishwa to bring the van around to the door. It took only a minute or two to reach the hotel but I was half asleep by then and do not remember if I walked into the hotel or someone carried me in.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Camera and The hard earned money.

We had just reached the outskirts of Panaji on our way back home last Sunday, when I felt something amiss. After cracking my head for a minute, I realised that the camera, which was in my hand all evening was not there anymore. I distinctly remembered having the camera in my hand when I got into the car near the children’s park. I forced my son to stop the car (he was not ready. Said that I had left the camera somewhere and there is no point in searching inside the car) and searched. Seats, below the seats, behind the seats, glove compartment, boot, everywhere. No camera. Then I remembered that we had stopped for a minute in front of a shop to buy some snacks. Did I take the camera with me when I went into the shop and left it there? We had to check. I forced my son to turn back. (again, he was not ready. Said that even if I had left it in the shop somebody would have carried it away). I went into the shop and made enquiries. The shop keeper was sympathetic. But sorry, he did not notice any camera.
Had I kept it next to me on the seat and did it fall out when I got out of the car near the shop? We knew that even if it had, we will not be getting it back. How can a camera remain unnoticed lying on a busy road in a tourist center? Still, you don’t lose anything by searching. But where to search? Me and my wife started near the place where we had parked our car. We bent down and started looking below the parked cars. As we started our search, we felt that someone was trying to get our attention and looking up saw the shopkeeper of a shop on the other side of the road beckoning us. We went there.

“Are you searching for something?”
“Yes. My camera is missing and I thought I might have dropped it here.”
“Wait. Is this your camera?”
He produced my camera from the shelf which was under his cash counter.

We were astonished.

“Someone noticed this camera lying on the street here and brought it to me. They thought who ever had lost it may come back looking for it and requested me to hand it over.”

We just could not believe it. All is not lost in this world. There are still people who would like to do the right thing. We thanked him and the unknown person who had found it, profusely, and returned to the car. I said that i had purchased it with hard earned money, and it is no surprise that we got it back. My wife said that whoever found it must have been brought up by good parents. She also said that we should make it a point to patronize the shop whenever we had an opportunity. After we were done with such talk, I opened the cover and took the camera out.
It looked intact. I switched it on. A dull glow came on the screen with a large black patch at the center. The shutter did not open up. None of the controls worked. The lens appeared to have been pushed inside and cracked. It must have been run over by a vehicle. May be our own. We felt very bad.

I said that it was our bad luck. Still, I was happy to get it back though ruined. I would have felt much worse if we had lost it.

My wife said, “who ever found it saw that it is damaged and that is why they handed it over to that shop fellow. Who will give away a good camera found on the street? I wouldn’t “. She turned towards me. “And it shows how hard you are working”.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Laura Ingalls and The Canton Library.

Little house in the big woods.
Little house on the prairie
Farmer boy
On the banks of plum creek
By the shores of silver lake
The Long winter
Little town on the prairie
These happy golden years
The first four years

The endearing ‘little house’ books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I found the Kannada translation of “Farmer boy” (Raitara huduga), in the City Central Library, Bangalore, thirty six years back. I chanced up on the book when I was searching for something for the day’s consumption. During the four month period between my admission to BDS and beginning of the classes (Sept 73 - Jan 74), I went to the library almost every morning to borrow books and read them through the day. I started reading “Raitara Huduga”, standing in the narrow passage between the shelves oblivious to the fact that I was obstructing others (there weren’t many anyway). Then I went up to the reference section with the book and sat there. I came out of the library in the afternoon after finishing the book, carrying two more of the series.

The simple narration and enchanting description of the life of a pioneer farmer family in search of their ideal farm, and the delightful illustrations captivated me and I finished the books (all except the last two – all Kannada translations) in three or four days and read them slowly once again. I can’t analyse and say why I like them, but I do. A lot. I have read each one of them at least half a dozen times or more since then and will happily reach for those books once more. About twenty years later my sister found and bought the full set in English and I got to read the originals along with the last two books which I was longing to read. These books form part of my reserve reading along with James Herriot’s “All things bright and beautiful” etc, PG Wode house and DVG’s “Smriti Chitragalu”, which I can pick up anytime and be sure that I will have an enjoyable time.

I intended writing about the Canton Public Library which I visited sometime after returning from Pittsburgh and before starting on our next trip to Mackinaw city. The moment I thought about the library I remembered “A little house traveller” which I saw there. Having enjoyed the ‘little house’ series and having known that it was not fiction, I was eager to know about Laura’s later years. The last book, ’The first four years’ ends with Laura Ingalls setting up her house with Almanzo Wilder. “A Little house Traveller”, which I was very happy to find in the Canton library, fulfilled the desire through reproduction of her letters, news paper articles and her daughter’s writings and as a bonus, also contained photographs of real Laura, Almanzo (‘farmer boy’ and Laura’s husband), their children, farm, the little town De Smet, etc etc and I loved every bit of it. So, the best thing about the library was that I found ‘A little house traveller’ there and when I started writing about it, Laura Ingalls got priority over the Library.

I Liked the library. It is spacious, comfortable and has all the facilities one can ask for. Like any good library. If one enjoys reading, the library tries its best to help you enjoy. It has books and magazines of many foreign languages including Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi etc etc. There are audio books, CDs, computer terminals and what not. You can borrow the books or CDs and drop them in the ‘drive in’ window after you are done.

Amongst the many sections of the library is the “No Disturbance” section where one could sit reading the whole day without being disturbed in anyway. It is sound proof and no external noise enters there. No one moves about unnecessarily. The other section I liked was the ‘friends of the books’ section, which stored used books (used, not dog eared) where one could pick up any number of books and ‘donate’ fifty cents per book. There were no one to check anything. You just picked the books up and put the money in a box meant for the purpose.

I thought that I will have plenty of free time and was intending to visit the library many more times during my stay in Canton MI. It was just about fifteen minutes bicycle ride from home. Since I was not a resident of Canton, I could not be a member, but the librarian made a note in their system that M S Raghunandan would be borrowing books using Reshma Haritsa's (Bhanu’s - her official name is Reshma) membership card and said that I am welcome to use all the facilities during my stay in Canton.

I thought that I would finish the ‘Little house traveller’ in few days and exchange it for Gorur Ramaswamy iyengar’s ‘Garudagambada daasayya’. But something or the other came up every day and I finished ALHT just a day before our return to India. I did not visit the library again. I wish I had made better use of the library during my short stay there.