Cocktail in New York. Pheras in Paris.

My family and myself were in a car driving through the lesser known streets of Jaipur. There were shops alongside residential areas — greengrocers, motorcycle repairers, barbers, stationers, street vendors, metalsmiths and stonemasons. Building smaller replicas of famous statues and other landmarks seemed to be the side business of the metalsmiths and stonemasons combined, as I saw quite a few statues scattered, part finished, part unsculpted.

Libertas, that attracted millions of visitors daily in the West, had almost zero admirers on that street. She stood on a shoddy unpaved muddy sidewalk in 48°C (118.4°F).

We were instantly amused, but also bemused. What was that statue doing there? There was clearly a demand for these. In the habit of always carrying my camera, I got off the car to take a couple of photographs. The men on the site found my actions as hilarious as I found theirs.

I asked where the statue was going. “It’s for a wedding.” It saddened me to learn that these men on meagre wages were building these enormous figures for an evening party. “What pleasure exactly could be derived from these cheap replicas that cost many times more than those workers’ combined monthly wages?” I wondered. “Were they trying to fake the location through these?” “Were the business families uploading the party videos on YouTube, captioned, ‘Cocktail in New York’?”

What next? A demolition party? Where do these statues go? Submerged into the waters like Kali and Ganesha? But this is the desert state – so, no sea. Recycled? Maybe! There might just be a second-hand market for these for smaller budget weddings. Who knows!

I never found out.

Later that evening, just when my camera packed up (probably due to the heat), I saw an Eiffel Tower in the middle of a garden in an affluent residential area. The bungalow was getting ready for a wedding (one can tell of the nature of the event from the extent of the embellishments). That was definitely a wedding.

I bet there is a YouTube video of the pheras in Paris.

In my next trip, I would like to know of the fate of these non-permanent structures.

An Afternoon in Amer

The Gullies
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Apart from the great many tourists flocking to the grand fortress of Amer, where the maximum activity is noticed, the town of Amer remains unchanged since at least my childhood days. I cannot imagine it being any different a century ago, or even two or three centuries ago for that matter. The 17th century muralled walls of the many temples, the Panna Meena Kund, the bazaars, and the shops tucked into the small pockets of the fort’s base, remain untouched and neglected. As a result, many sandstone structures have fallen into a state of grave disrepair. But, the raw beauty prevails.

Murals and Swastikas on the outside of a temple wall.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

I hail from Rajasthan, and the areas around Aravalli Mountains (the oldest range of fold mountains in India) have been frequented by me since I was a child. I grew up knowing the region, its people, language and the customs. The women’s attires were always ‘very’ colourful, with one neon-orange found aplenty, the men wore the same multi-coloured turbans as they did now, and the kids played with marble balls on sandy tracks even then.

The sultry afternoons were, and still are, lazy, and many folks kept cows, buffaloes and goats for milk. Langurs guard the gullies, and keep a count of the kids returning from school with their huge backpacks.

Langurs watch the kids returning from school.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

A few women carried hay on their heads for the cattle, while some hung-out to sing desert lyrics, or gossip. The men played card games and smoked bidis and chewed tobacco or paan.

Men play card games, women hang-out to gossip, and kids return from school.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Once in a while an object comes into sight that makes the time we are in apparent. My camera being the biggest reminder, of course.

It takes them a while to acclimatise to my presence . These people do not like their privacy being invaded. It is very difficult to photograph women facing the camera with their veil completely lifted. I speak their language, and yet…

Woman in a red sari.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.
Woman in a neon-orange sari.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
An old mansion falling apart.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Many grand old mansions that belonged to the aristocrats are now in a crumbling and uninhabitable state. The families and their grandeur have long gone and, despite a shortage of good living space for people, these mansions are allowed to wither away.

But the Khejri tree indiscriminately thrives in every quarter.

Khejri Tree – State tree of Rajasthan.
Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.

I take my time. I am in no rush. I carry my heavy camera in the sweltering afternoon, walking miles, striking conversations with those I walk past, ensuring they realise I am one of them, that I just wear different clothes.

I long to return.

There but for the grace of Dr. David Lefroy

St. Mary’s Hospital, Praed St, Paddington, London W2 1NY

Roughly 9 years ago, I was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital in an ambulance that jumped the traffic lights with its rotating blue beacon and deafening siren. I lay there thinking, ‘This is so embarrassing. I am still conscious. I can walk this distance. Probably even run, if I tried.” I was only out to get my reports from the local clinic when I was ushered to the ambulance, on a wheelchair. I looked ridiculous, being transported this way when the elderly waited. “You are not a fraud, Mrs Sharma (this was in response to my request for a comprehensive heart screening, which they thought was a rather odd request from someone my age at the time, and also looking perfectly healthy). You have a serious heart condition called Ventricular Tachycardia, and the episodes are frighteningly frequent. If you were to collapse on the streets or your home, we won’t be able to revive you. You have to remain with us and get treated straightaway.” explained the consultant at the West Mid cardiology department.

“Who would make my children’s lunch? Who will do their laundry? They don’t even know I’ve been admitted.” No one cared about my ‘bigger’ worries.

Oh, well!

Few hours later, plus an exciting ambulance ride, I found myself in the operation theatre. In front of me stood one of the finest cardiologists in the whole of the United Kingdom, Dr David Lefroy, who carried out the treatment. It was my lucky day.

Right from the outset, Dr. Lefroy came across as a gentle, caring, efficient, and a thoroughly professional gentleman. My gut said I was in good hands. Years later, I know I was.

I was brought to him at an advanced stage of V-tach. I had suffered blackouts doing most mundane of things, like standing in the garden, walking down the streets, cooking in the kitchen, etc.. Landed in the hospital after every blackout. The usual blood tests and X-rays later, I would be sent back home. No one even remotely questioned the functioning of my heart, until a time came when I had to thump my heart to keep it from giving up on me. I could feel it was struggling to keep up. The stress of my husband’s brain haemorrhage exacerbated my symptoms. The thumping got harder, and I feared I’ll have an accident while driving. This was the time when I pushed my local clinic for a heart monitor. The rest we know…

Dr. Lefroy briefed me on what to expect. He performed the ablation. One treatment only, and I was back on my feet the following morning. He exceeded all my expectations. I never had to return for another treatment.

(I learnt about his impressive credentials only after I returned home).

Image result for dr lefroy st mary's heart treatment
Dr. David Lefroy, Photo credit: Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust (Google search)

Nine odd years later, my heart still ticks, sometimes beats heavily, even palpitates, and not exempt from hurting (emotionally). But, this is owed to my lifestyle, my erratic sleeping pattern, the habit of over-working myself, both physically and mentally, and excessive thinking, etc.. I now laugh about having a sexy-sounding condition (V-tach) that I suffered from for years until it was diagnosed.

I am alive, and VT is not sexy in reality. It got me close to death on numerous occasions in ten years preceding its discovery. The consultant was right about the ‘revival’ bit. Good thing he was indifferent to my worries about the domestic chores.

Coming back to St. Mary’s….I never got to see the hospital building. Paramedics drove through the special entrance at the back of the building. 7 yrs later, on my way to a photography commission, I stumbled upon it. I exclaimed at its astonishing beauty, took several shots with my camera, spared a thought for all the patients that were in there, and of course, thanked, with all my heart, Dr. Lefroy. There but for the grace of ……

P.S. From time to time, I also thank my heart for being a good boy, being responsive, and behaving ‘himself’. I scratch his back too, mostly by skipping some of the alcoholic beverages that don’t suit his muscle. I’ll need to do a bit more than that. A regular sleeping pattern would make him happy, I know. Little more physical (recreational) exercise. I am getting there.