I live in Andheri, a much-maligned suburb of Bombay that makes me cringe at times. It's also a place that I have grown to love over time. A maddening concrete jungle, Andheri has some hidden patches of greenery like the tranquil campuses of Bhavan's college and the Hansraj Moraji school, both of which have been recently nailed shut to the members of the public.
These green patches are a bird sanctuary and since my building is close enough to the campuses, a lot of beautiful and exotic birds come to my balcony garden. A couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to find out that a large and visible rock in my neighbourhood, Gilbert Hill was once a much larger hill that stretched all the way to S.V. Road. The co-author of 'Once Upon A Hill' even pointed out that my building is actually on the hill.
This wonderful book traces the origins of Andheri and goes back a long way before the advent of human beings. The authors went through a painstaking process of getting old maps from lazy bureaucrats and accessing old books from nasty librarians.
Our journey begins in Andheri East from a Christian village, where there were actually paddy fields till the mid-1970s! We read about local heroes and the earliest converts to Catholicism, as well as the communities that trace their origins to the sun.
Coming back to the western part of Andheri where I stay, I get a proper sense of the length of the hill that once included the part behind the Navrang Cinema, which has been taken over by slums. The writers explain how and when the quarrying was done. The Bhavan's campus is on flat land but now lies where a big part of the hill did.
The writers are rightfully very sympathetic to the poor who settled down by the hill and formed slum clusters.
I don't want to spoil the surprises in the book, so I'll leave that to the readers. But the book is a great guide to those who want to know more about the history of Andheri and Jogeshwari and places that seem to just be names like the Mahakali Caves.
As I stand on my terrace on this pre-monsoon Sunday evening, I remember a time in the 1990s when I could see hills towards my north. Now the metro station and the line is the first sight, followed by high-rises. In the 1990s, I could see Gilbert Hill when I turned towards the south from my terrace. Now I see a monstrous high-rise that came where a beautiful bungalow called Chaman stood. Change is the only constant in life. As the book mentions, the building of the temple on top of the hill is likely to cause untold damage to the basalt columns, but then again, if there was no temple, the land mafia would be more than happy to tear down what's left of the hill!
Like with all books written by Kalpish Ratna, there are welcome lessons in history and science. I learnt a lot about the plague in 'Room 000' and 'The Quarantine Papers' and in this book I got an introduction of the science of geology.
'Once Upon a Hill' is a good read that's incredibly hard to put down, although I think it would have better off without the chapter on the 60 million year journey of a turtle and a frog, or if the chapter stayed with the wider script of the book.
Also, it would only be fair to note that this book is yet another tribute by Kalpish Ratna to Bombay's unsung heroes.
On the occasion of World Environment Day, Project GreenHands a grassroots ecological initiative of Isha Foundation, has come up with a novel way to help you plant a tree.
For Rs 100 (or $1 if you're not in India) you can get a farmer in India to plant a tree. You will get a certificate with a tree code that gives you the GPS coordinates of your tree and the name of the farmer who is looking after your tree.
Project GreenHands' tree planting movement has involved 2 million people of all ages and from all walks of life. Since its inception in 2004, the project has enabled planting of 28 million saplings till date.
I could never praise this wonderful city enough. It is modern, bustling, clean, energetic and has a great mix of urban prowess, nature and culture.
Like every other place on earth, Hong Kong is rapidly changing and reinventing itself. The biggest change I notice in the city now, compared to 2004 when I first visited is that the English feel and heritage are fading. Back then, a lot more of the English accents sounded like the Queen's English.
Sure, high tea is popular, the streets bear the names of the colonisers and English is widely in use and more or less enough to get around most of the neighbourhoods, but Hong Kong is slowly evolving into what it calls itself - Asia's World City. An international city that is at the forefront of financial services.
There is a craze for international brands and a growing awareness of environmental issues, a springing up of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, rising intolerance of mainland Chinese and a host of things both good and bad. I have always found the city and its inhabitants friendly and helpful.
It became increasingly apparent by the 1930s that the sun would eventually set on the British Empire. This was the decade that began with the Great Depression and ended with the outbreak of the Second World War. While Britain was in the process of gradually granting autonomy to its most prized colonies such as India, impatience and revolutionary fervor reached its peak in the country now known as Myanmar.