Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tiny birds from Lava, West Bengal

Kanchenjunga peak
Lava is a small and scenic little place in Darjeeling district, in West Bengal, India. Lava is one of the most popular tourist destinations in West Bengal not only because of the scenic beauty, and the beautiful birds that can be sighted in Lava, but also because it happens to be one of those very rare places in West Bengal where you can find snow in winter.

You can reach Lava by road from NJP which is one the most frequented railhead and is well connected. A private vehicle can be rented for the onward journey to Lava. It takes around 4.5 hours to reach Lava, via Kalimpong.

I am posting pictures of these tiny little gems clicked by Soma during her visit to Lava this year. These birds are between 9 cm-14 cm in size, smaller than a sparrow.

Ashy-throated Warbler
Black-faced Warbler

Fire-breasted flower-pecker
Fire-tailed Sunbird

Red-tailed Minla
Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler

White-browed Fulvetta

Yellow-browed tit

View of Kanchenjunga peak from Lava

Saturday, November 21, 2015

My cousin Soma

My cousin Soma is made of no ordinary stuff.

Who we are today is shaped by a lot of people we have come across in our life ...I have come across several such wonderful people in my life who have left a lasting impression on me, but if I have to talk about the one person who has made and continues to make a significant impact in my life then that would be "My cousin Soma".

Though we are not in the same age group, in my mind and anyone who knows her, she is forever 16. A gold medallist in History, she is a one of the most well travelled, intelligent, and knowledgeable persons that I have ever come across, and she happens to be a favourite teacher! Many of her students started enjoying history and opted to take up history in their further studies because of her interesting history classes. Not just history, if you have a teacher who is a good listener, a friend, philosopher and guide…what else would you wish for! I often wish I could have attended some of her classes. She still teaches and that is a passion that she has not let go of.

One of my best childhood memories about her was when we visited my uncle's place in Kolkata, I was at that stage a bookworm, I was really attracted to their house because of a room full of books, even though i could not find the books that i wanted to read, i just loved the sight of so many books and browsing through them.One day she saw us checking out the books and she said “You may not find what you are looking for here, come with me” both my sister and I followed her. She used to drive my uncle's ambassador those days. She drove us to a book shop...and said "pick up whatever you like”, I was like wow!!! I I was thrilled, awestruck, and simply overjoyed…what a wonderful surprise!!!...I still remember that day because no one had ever offered to do that! That was my first impression of her... and I became a big fan!

We did not meet up after that for a long-long father was in army and it was difficult to meet everyone during holidays. When we met after several years, she was battling Rheumatoid arthritis, on steroids, and in a lot of pain...but in high spirits always in spite of being in pain. I have never seen her depressed  or give up on life... because her condition kept getting worse and she could barely walk, her doctor advised her to get both her knees replaced. Not an easy decision to take when she was barely in her 40s…but she took a quick decision and went through the operations. Getting her knees replaced was perhaps the best decision that she took because it relieved her of the constant pain in her knees...although the nature of her illness is such that pain will continue to be a constant in her life:( and she has accepted it and chosen not to let the pain get the better of her.

In spite of her health conditions, she has not given up on driving, even if she is in pain she prefers to drive, she often says to me.... for her the car is like her wheelchair, it takes her places and she is able to do so much on her own because she continues to drive, and the good Samaritan that she is, if she sees any elderly person walking or walking with difficulty, almost always she offers to drop them somewhere near a bus stop or help them get a taxi...whatever little she can do to help.

Her bookshelf continues to be my favourite haunt, but over time courtesy her …my interest extended to her music collection....films, curios, and so many interesting things that she had collected over the years because of her travels worldwide. I keep learning from her. Not just about history....but about Bengali culture, she reads out Bengali poems and stories to me, i cannot read Bengali that well since i never got a formal Bengali education…and she happily obliges by reading out to me…what an absolute treat that is! Because of her, i have started seeing history from a different perspective, and i have become very interested in things historical. Soma continues to impact my life in different ways and happens to be my greatest critic and supporter.

Her health may not keep up with her but she spirit overrules everything. There are days when she can't leave her bed because of pain …but does she complain?...Never, I would hear her cheerful voice say "Oh... this will soon pass" and sure enough it would, and there she would be, up and about, and making her next travel plan.

At her age most people would not want to take up a new interest or want to learn something new. But then we are talking about Soma....She started developing an interest for bird watching around five years back. Bird watching involves hours of walking and travelling to lesser known places, and many a times alone...she needs to carry her heavy camera, binoculars, birding books, etc …it is definitely not an easy interest for someone who has rheumatoid arthritis….but if there is passion a lot of things become joyful and she is a living example of that. What is truly worth mentioning is that out of the 1200 birds seen in India, she is about to touch 1000 and that is no mean achievement especially given her chronic problem …

And that is her, the “Never say die” sister of mine. Not for nothing is she such an exceptional person.

This post is for the #madeofgreat campaign . You can find more information here:

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Creative and Colourful Durga puja pandals from South Kolkata

Durga idol-Trikon Park

Even though Durga puja is long gone…I could not resist sharing some more beautiful and creative pandals from South Kolkata. The themes are mostly tribal, barring a couple, that are unique in their own way.

These Durga puja pandals are from Kalighat, Southern Avenue, and Santoshpur areas of South Kolkata.
Rajasthani themed puja

Tribal themed puja