Hay on Wye – The Town of Books

What more can a book lover possibly want?

The quaint town that is packed full of book shops. Even the pubs & the cafes have books stacked in them. It is also famous for its literary festival, when readers & writers from all over the world, descend upon it to discuss books.

My favorite bookshop has to be the ‘Murder & Mayhem’ which was stacked full of books on crime. So tiny from the outside but containing several ghoulish delights inside.

The ‘Rose’s bookshop of children’s & illustrated books’ contains some books that are really old, from the time that cloth was used to make books. This shop is a delight to walk through. Signed editions, first editions – you name it and they have it, as long as the book is aimed at children. The following photo shows the first edition Enid Blyton books at Rose’s bookshop.


Everything in this town screams books:


A cinema that has been converted to a bookshop:


Hay-on-Wye, my kind of a town.


It is nice to see such thriving independent bookshops instead of the usual charmless book-chains.

Camden Lock Market

The Camden Lock market in London transports you directly into an exotic place existing in the tales of the Arabian nights. The market runs along the canals and was packed to the brim with people. It has an EXCELLENT street food market serving food from all over the world. I saw food from Malaysia, Peru, India, France, Middle East, China, Ethiopia and the Caribbeans. There were also stalls dedicated to chocolates, cakes and even the octopus, where they had a huge octopus displayed in the centre of a table and were cutting off parts to serve to gleeful customers. You do not walk here but move forward automatically due to the crowds. Wandering through the market, I realised that I was too timid when it comes to food – it is time to be more adventurous.





Victoria and Albert museum

The Victoria and Albert museum in London is an Art and Design museum and is one of the prettiest that I have ever seen. I discovered it quite by chance and have been returning to it ever since. Even so, I have not spent as much time as I wanted to here. I look forward to the day when I can come here on my own and explore whatever I want and as much as I want.

Wandered into the Italian room and found this flawless piece. Trust the Italians to come up with something so beautiful.



The courtyard has, what can only be termed as a huge splash-pool, free for children to splash in, in summer.


Isn’t this just beautiful? This is the reception area of the museum containing and the first time that I saw it, I fell in love.



Young people sitting on the floor and sketching the sculptures.


The famed Maratha ruler Shivaji’s wagh nakha – tiger claws – or as the museum calls them – wagnucks. No one knows whether these are the original ones.


An example of one of the themes used in Mughal architecture.


And because I was feeling a little masochistic, I wandered into the Nehru gallery, displaying the treaures of India (read looted during the Raj). That is the ring of Shah Jahan that you can see in the middle and a crystal bowl used during the Shah Jahan period.


The Scarecrow trail

A Scarecrow trail in the neighbourhood! A lot of creativity displayed by most residents. Personally I prefer the traditional scarecrows made of straw and so no new-fangled minions for me! Residents vote for their favourite scarecrow. My favourite was the one titled ‘War Horse’ and another one called George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ (which came complete with seven commandments) and another one called ‘Chariots of Fire’. It took a good hour to walk the entire route.

Despicable me

Despicable me





Animal Farm

Animal Farm

Animal Farm (with the seven commandments)

Animal Farm (with the seven commandments)

Animal Farm

Animal Farm

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty


Snakes on the plane

Snakes on the plane

Sound of music

Sound of music

Phantom of the opera

Phantom of the opera

Alice in wonderland

Alice in wonderland

How to train your dragon

How to train your dragon

Super heroes relaxing

Super heroes relaxing

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Cruella de ville

Cruella de ville



War horse

War horse

Chariots of fire

Chariots of fire

Chariots of fire

Chariots of fire

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The Living Rainforest

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Sometime around 2001-2002, while returning from the Isle of Wight and because we had time on our hands, we decided to follow the brown sign boards to the Living Rainforest in West Berkshire. The decision turned out to be a very good one. Two things have stuck to my mind about the place. They had a display of live Piranhas- the medium sized, deadly fish, which I had never seen before. Another display that I found exciting was that of ants. It was held in a glass display case. One corner held some grass, which the ants could be seen meticulously breaking into pieces. The ants were then transporting these broken pieces in a straight line to the other side of the display case where they had built an ant hill of considerable height. The ants were  painstakingly depositing the grass pieces in the precise locations on the ant hill, after which they went back to the starting post. It was a fascinating display to watch and one can only wonder at the efforts required to put it all together.

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The Living Rainforest is a small indoor greenhouse tropical rainforest run by the Trust for Sustainable Living. Because our first visit had been so successful, we decided to visit it again after a gap of nearly fourteen long years. The Piranhas and the ants were missing this time but the attraction remained as fascinating as ever. It is a small place but it does manage to give you the rainforest experience the minute you step in. The heat, humidity and the exotic greenery really do transport you into a tropical rainforest, if only for a short period of time.

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Exotic, impossibly colourful butterflies fly around and birds sometimes get in your way as they walk around. The plants and trees are intriguing and complete with all the relevant information. Another unusual display was one which displayed the various stages of a butterfly, with the pupa and larva et al. It is disappointing that the attraction is so small. A larger attraction for the same price would have given a better value for the pounds.

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Mumbai – We used to visit it, in order to experience it – understand what a big city was all about, marvel at the skyscrapers and of course, the sea. We were the typical small-towners who would travel all the way from Pune, simply to ogle Mumbai. I was fascinated by Mumbai then and that fascination remains to this day. The Mumbai taxi wallahs (“chor to woh dilli walleh hote hai*, humare paas ghuma ghumake lene ke liye time nahi hai”), the street vendors who assess your bargaining skills with one withering glance (“poona se aaye ho?”), the havaldars and the immigration officers at the airport who are delighted to be spoken to in Marathi and establish an immediate rapport, the impossibly good-looking girls, the celebrities, that ‘glint’ in everyone’s eye – a great place to people watch.

And then there is London. The history oozing through each and every corner – this is the place where Charlie Chaplin used to dine, this is the place where Princess Diana used to get her gowns designed, this is the place where beheadings took place, this is the place where Charles Dickens lived and other fascinating details on every street. The beauty is
only secondary.

And just like we used to visit Mumbai to look at the skyscrapers, we now visit London to look at the Christmas lights. Small towners travelling to the big city to gawk

*[apologies to all dilli wallahs, the taxi-wallah’s words not mine]

Burley village in the New Forest: of witches


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A witch lived in Burley not long ago. The locals were not very happy to have a witch living in their village and finally she decided to settle in the US. Since then the village came to be associated with witches. There are rumours of a witch coven still holding meetings in the forest. Even the shops here have a similar theme. Some of them even sell spells.

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After dining in one of the two village pubs, the first night that we were there, we set off to find our way back to our lodging. There were no street lights and it was pitch dark. Taxis stopped their service at 18:00 itself. Thankfully our lodge had given us a torch and along with the light from our mobile phones, we somehow managed to find our way back through the woods. And no, we did not hear the witches whispering in the woods. They seemed to be taking the night off. And no, not once did I feel unsafe. There is something comfortingly assuring about pretty English villages.

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Along with the Lake District, the New Forest is one place in England that I can never get enough of. There is always something new to discover on every visit.

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American war cemetery in Cambridge

The American War Cemetery located in Cambridge was established in  1956 on a 30.5 acre site donated by the University of Cambridge. The cemetery has a total of 3812 burials and 5127 names have been recorded on the tablet of the missing. This is the only American World War 2 cemetery in the United Kingdom and one of the 24 administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission.








Carcassonne – a photo journey

The medieval town of Carcassonne in France makes for a neat weekend away. While the pretty walled town is full of buzz with lots of souvenir shops selling chocolates, candies, biscuits and scented organic soaps in myriad colours, the part outside the fortifications of the town should not be missed.






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MF Hussain: The genius from Pandharpur

I had first heard of Hussain, as a child when somebody happened to mention that he was a famous painter who refused to wear any kind of footwear and preferred to travel barefoot. That remark was enough for me to categorise Hussain as a unique individual, who had a mind of his own and did not necessarily believe in doing something just because it was the norm. Everything that I heard about him after that only reinforced this belief.

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Poornima, the night of the full moon, where the river is worshipped by lighting diyas in the water (Courtesy: from the brochure of V&A museum, London)

I do not make any claims to having any knowledge or understanding of art. However I do know what I like and though it is a fact that Hussain is recognised as the world’s greatest painters, had he been a struggling inconsequential street artist, I would have liked his paintings just the same. His paintings, the first of which I saw on a program aired by Doordarshan, appealed immediately, not only because of his use of bright colours but also because they could be so easily understood. Hussain himself is believed to have stated in an interview that he wanted his art to talk to people. So you have paintings depicting the daily rituals in an Indian household with clothes being darned on Singer sewing machines and women worshipping at the Tulsi Vrindavan. You have paintings showing Delhi during the freedom movement with Jawaharlal Nehru against the backdrop of the Parliament and of Madhuri Dikshit doing the Kathak. 

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Madhuri Dikshit doing the Kathak. Apparently Hussain had gifted her his paintbrush.

(Courtesy: from the brochure of V&A museum, London)

Shashi Tharoor recounts an interesting anecdote about Hussain in his book, ‘Bookless in Baghdad’. The great Pablo Picasso , it is alleged was not at all impressed with the new breed of artists who drew “slapdash cubes and squiggles” and Picasso would often command them to draw a horse with the notion of getting the basics right first. When this story was recounted to Husssain, he promptly opened a book of his own work that was lying on the coffee table and then proceeded to sketch a posse of horses. Shashi Tharoor, who happened to be present at the scene, recalls “I have never forgotten the moment: watching the artist’s long brown fingers glide over the page, the horses heads rearing, their manes flying, hooves and tails in the air, as Hussain left, in a few bold strokes, the indelible imprint of his genius.”

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Kathakali (Courtesy: from the brochure of V&A museum, London)

Hussain’s love for horses is well known and it is alleged that he had got into trouble as a child for having drawn flying horses in the margins of his notebooks. However his grandfather forbid everyone from scolding him and instead went and purchased some water colours for him. Hussain sold his first painting on the roadside when someone agreed to pay ten rupees for it. In trying to make a living from his paintings, he initially went from door to door asking everybody if they wanted to have their portrait painted. He soon grew disillusioned however when he found that everyone wanted to have rosy cheeks in spite of what they looked like. One can only guess at the value those initial portraits would fetch today.

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Tulsi worship (Courtesy: from the brochure of V&A museum, London)

Born in Pandharpur (Maharashtra), Hussain’s love affair with India and with Mumbai in particular was well known. It therefore broke his heart when he couldn’t visit his country because of the numerous death threats that he received. His son remembers Hussain asking him if he could visit India just once. In an interview that his son gave to the Guardian he recalls “He (Hussain) had this idea that he could get a flight and just slip in, perhaps sit for a while in a tea shop, and slip out.”


It is a travesty that in spite of being one of the greatest painters that India has produced, few Indian people have actually seen his work. Generations of Indian children will grow up without having any idea of his work but then religion is probably more important to India than art. That is why Hussain will always be remembered as the painter who drew nude Indian goddesses. The fact that his nude paintings of the goddesses cannot be deemed obscene by anyone who cares to take a look and resemble pencil drawings more than anything else is not important. The fact that he painted almost 10,000 paintings, all of them based on Indian culture and considered as works of artistic genius all over the world, is a fact that is not important. A plea to include a chapter on Hussain in the school text books would almost be an impossible dream that would be laughed at and ridiculed. Not only did Hussain have the right wing Hindus hounding him but he managed to raise the ire of the Islamists too for having a line from the Koran in one of the songs in a movie that he directed. 

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Travelling in Pandharpur, the bullock cart is driven by Hanuman while young lovers ride on a motor bike (Courtesy: from the brochure of V&A museum, London)

Hussain worked in London at his Shepherd Bush studio for several months of the year when the controversies had yet to surround him. He also made London his home when he was hounded out of India. His studio in London would make an ideal venue for a museum on his life showcasing some of his work. A museum dedicated to him would be unthinkable in India but would be  a fitting tribute to him in a country which not only served as a kind of second home to him but which also recognised his genius.

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A Indian dance form (Courtesy: from the brochure of V&A museum, London)