So earlier this year, I had made a really long laundry list of things to do, places to see, books to read and food to eat as part of a resolution for the year ahead. Completing a photography challenge was one of them. It took me six months to actually get down to doing it, and I must say, a month-long challenge made me introspect more, going through my pictures or daily clicking everyday pictures around me made me ‘stop and stare’. If only for a while. And it helped me appreciate and be grateful for what I had.
I chose Instagram as my medium of choice considering pictures would be the main showcase. Here are some of the images I put up, the ones I love the most.
There’s a distinct nip in the air, the cool breeze serenading before the sun slips below the horizon. Almost nine Gypsies stood in a jagged arc, its passengers straining their eyes and necks to catch a distant glimpse of the famed tigress of Jim Corbett National Park, its first citizen. After a day filled with bumpy rides through the dusty savannahs and tree lined paths in the jungle, we waited impatiently. Everyone tried to make no noise, veteran photographers were at their silent best. The jovial boys did get onto my nerves, taking the angry glances of others in their stride… but I ignored them. The landscape was awash with its breathtaking array of colours, of rusty yellow and pale green, sandy hues and shades of blue…I now understood why travellers love visiting Jim Corbett, why every visitor comes back mesmerised and always yearning to go back.
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I was but a child when I had read Tintin’s adventures in The Blue Lotus, where the spunky reporter unearthed opium smuggling racket between China and Japan. It was my first encounter with the word ‘opium’ and I still clearly remember the dark, gloomy panels that depicted the opium dens. Surly faced men lying on their sides smoking a pipe. And though I may not have known about the cultivation of opium in India, I had an inkling of what a drug was.
So back in 2016, when I came across The Opium War by Julia Lovell at the World Book Fair, I snapped it right up. The tagline runs as ‘Drugs, dreams and the making of China’. Didn’t think twice beyond that. China, it’s history and culture has always fascinated me, and I try to read as much as I can about it.
The author Lovell teaches Modern Chinese History in London and has also published other non-fictional works on China for various publications, while also translating Chinese fiction. The book is split across nineteen chapters with a detailed appendix, maps for reference and a quick guide on Chinese names and romanisation.
The earliest Chinese reference of the drug was in 8th century and mainly Used for medicinal purposes. Opium-enriched aphrodisiacs was a booming industry in Ming China (1368-1644).
It was with the import of opium in the tobacco form that led to the smoking of the drug during 1573-1627, and smoking opium soon became a status symbol.
“In 1780, a British East India Company ship could not break even on a single opium cargo shipped to Canton. By 1839, imports were topping 40,000 chests per annum.”
The British shipped in opium because they wanted to address the trade deficit they were facing. They needed tonnes of tea leaves and silks from China, but China didn’t need much from them in return. China felt a threat not just to its political stability but economic well being as the Empire seemed to be running out of silver. Silver was the currency in which taxes and the army were paid.
Two opium wars were fought between the British and China in the 1800s, and were mainly due to conflicts regarding trade, diplomatic relations and justice system. The import of opium into China had rendered many locals useless as they were more often than not caught up in the heady fumes of the drug. Chinese armies across years have been rendered useless as the soldiers were heavily under the influence of opium. The Chinese army were unable to match the armed weaponry of the British, while their war tactics too failed miserably. Corruption was rampant from top to down, with many Chinese, be it generals or mere foot soldiers, reaching out to the British and pocketing profits.
The book is exhaustive with rich descriptions, but the narrative kept me hooked. It may not be termed as a page-turner akin to mystery novels, but not once did I get bored. Lovell has explained every scene so well I could almost visualise it my mind and that’s the best kind of writing. Though it did take me time to finish the book, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the book will make it to the top ten reads of this year.
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Glitzy streets and neon signs, psychedelic showroom windows and bustling crowds, Connaught Place emits quite the fashionable aura post sundown. It took me almost four years to land a job in the heart of city, and I am ever so happy. The centre of bustle, a choice shopping location, ample bars and restaurants, packed with happening sights and locales, and at stone’s throw distance from most areas, working in Connaught Place is very eventful.
But the area looks starkly different in the early morning light, sans the fanfare and the showy lights. A pall of gloom lies all over with shops shut and shutters down, the broken dilapidated buildings and their wrinkles ever so conspicuous, dusty railings and roads littered with just about everything. A large garbage dump lies overflowing with waste attracting eagles and crows alike, as the scavengers and birds of prey swoop down dangerously low and their wings almost touching my covered head. Packs of dogs loll about till lock onto a target and come charging, barking quite ferociously. Some injured with festered wounds and scraggy fur, their eyes drooping and general surliness all around. The pavements sprinkled with human and animal excreta, with sleeping corpses found tucked in the corners. The Connaught Circus is quite the sight in the early morning light.
But as the sun rises and the dirty white columns turn a speckled golden, the city stirs with cleaners sweeping, brooms in hand. Shopkeepers stir in their humble establishments, turning the locks on that rickety collapsible gates and more often than not, caught in the act of some stage of dressing through the dusty shop windows. The glamour showrooms are shut, models pouting with such attitude. They push you to walk faster to office, make some of that money as you dream of payday and finally get that bag you had your eye on.
There’s a certain beauty in Connaught Place, even as it changes colours throughout the day. And I hope that only a number of light years shall make me weary of this place.
This corner of the room was how I majorly survived three years of college. Of course my friends did play a massive role in this, but whenever I needed some alone time, I found solace here. I was such a Westlife nut back then. It’s vastly diminished now, but I still can spend nights singing their songs loudly, loud enough to wake the neighbours. My bestfriend and I had bought similar posters from Delhi’s Kamla Market in North Campus. We were ecstatic when we chanced upon it. And sure enough, it made its way right down to Pune. Over the years more pictures and newspaper cutouts of celebrities found their way up on the wall, while the shelf was adorned with books and a wine bottle stuffed with fairy lights. It was quite a magical place where I could be me, a facet of me or no one at all. And I deeply miss this place.