Sunday, 30 December 2012

Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, South Africa

Constitution Hill is the witness to the story of South Africa's turbulent past and its extraordinary transition to democracy.

Johannesburg houses the Constitutional Court, on Constitution Hill, South Africa's highest court of Justice. Constitution Hill celebrates South Africa's journey from its struggle against apartheid to the adoption of one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. "We, the people of South Africa.... adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the land ...." is the preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
 In the picture above, flag of South Africa hung behind the chairs of the judges. The whole flag is made of beads, a traditional craft of S A. They seem to weave dreams with beads. I was simply fascinated by the intricate pattern of the flag.

The eleven chairs along the wall are for the eleven judges

The court consists of eleven judges, headed by a Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice. Currently eight of the judges are men and three are women. Their duty is to uphold the law and the constitution, which they must apply impartially and without fear, favour or prejudice.

The Constitutional Court is the home of the Constitution, the highest law of the land. The new Court is designed to be open, accessible and transparent. It's built around the remaining stairwells of the old Awaiting Trial Block. The foyer of the Court is a light-filled area with slanting columns, an architectural metaphor for trees under which African villagers traditionally congregated to discuss important social matters with elders. Any member of the public may attend court hearings, or may enter the building to view the many individually commissioned artworks on display and I took the opportunity to click around merrily as photography is allowed everywhere.  

The sitting area for the visitors in the Court. 

South Africa has eleven official languages. They are Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. The main language of government is English, notwithstanding the fact that South Africans often take pride in using indigenous languages for any purpose.

Constitution Hill is also the site of Johannesburg's notorious Old Fort Prison Complex, commonly known as Number Four, where thousands of ordinary people were brutally punished till the democracy in 1994. Many of South Africa's leading political activists, including Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were  imprisoned here. With the move of the Constitutional Court to the prison site, what was once a place of injustice and brutality has now become a place of solidarity and democracy for South Africa. 

Recreation of a time during the apartheid for the visitors to have a glimpse. At times, as many as ninety men were kept in a small cell like this one. 
 Was shocked to learn how the prisoners were kept and brutally tortured in the prisons.  
The old Fort was one of Johannesburg's oldest buildings built in the year1893. This was where the white male prisoners were kept, with Nelson Mandela being the only black prisoner to be held here. 
The Women's Jail remains a mute witness to the endless pain and sufferings of the likes of Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Fatima Meer and other political activists. 
The old prison cells have been converted into an interactive museum with a state-of-the-art audiovisual system that shows footage of prison artefacts, including recreations of the blanket and soap sculptures made by the inmates.
In collecting materials for exhibitions, content had to be drawn from often painful memories of people who were imprisoned at the jails on site. Ex-prisoners contributed remembering the spaces and reclaiming the dignity that they lost in Number Four, the Women's Jail and the Old Fort. The vivid memories of the people who lived through these awfully painful times have created unshakable impressions for us all to share. 

Down town Johannesburg

My visit to the Constitution Hill, coming face to face with the country's history, was a moment of pride for the 'Rainbow Nation', as Archbishop Desmond Tutu described post apartheid South Africa,  but drops of tears flowed in memory of many who with their pain and sufferings  brought about this freedom. This write up is my tribute to those who laid their lives at the foundation of today's freedom that South Africa enjoys.
Today the clean roads of the planned cities and preservation of greenery of SA are a pleasure to visit and sight seeing.   

Interesting artefacts and curios on display in the shops of Down Town Johannesburg.

Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa. The city is the source of a large-scale gold and diamond trade, due to its location on the mineral-rich Witwatersrand range of hills.

                The Reserve Bank of South Africa

A bird's eye view of Gandhi Square from atop the Top of Africa, the tallest building and the highest point in South Africa ( 223 meters)

 Top of Africa, on the 50th floor of Carlton Center is just the right place to sit and unwind with a glass of wine or beer after a long day of sight seeing around Johannesburg. 
Gandhi Square is a plaza located in the Central Business District of Johannesburg, South Africa. It is named after Mahatma Gandhi.
Before it was named Gandhi Square, Van Der Bijl square was falling apart. It was in the centre of one of Johannesburg's most destitute neighbourhoods. Then, in the early 1990s, Gerald Olitzki, a property developer, approached the government with the project. Although initially denied, the project was eventually undertaken with the support of the government, and was finished in 2001, at a cost of approximately R2 million. 
Never realized how the people of SA love and respect Mahatma Gandhi till my visit to this country.  Gandhi's clothes, sandals, pictures and few other items that he used during his imprisonment are on display in the Gandhi Exhibition of Constitution Hill and more items exhibited elaborately in the Museum of Apartheid in Johannesburg. 

It was the 18th of July 2009, Nelson Mandela's 91st birthday. As the day turned out to be a pleasant one with the sun shining its brightest as if in happiness, wishing the great anti apartheid leader on his birthday. We decided to visit Nelson Mandela Square on this pleasant winter morning. 
 Nelson Mandela Square is in the posh Sandton City, a few minutes drive from down town Johannesburg. A beautiful city, with clean roads and posh malls and lovely eateries. Sandton is a wealthy area situated within the metro of Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. The name comes from the combination of two of its suburbs,Sandown and Bryanston.
Celebration and merriment was on, all over the place. 
People here are passionately in love with their country and their heritage. Every single person  I met was friendly and helpful.  South Africa will always remain in my heart as a fond memory, a dear friend who had been comforting and did not let me miss home even for once  while so far away ..... 


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Durga Puja

Durga Puja marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil demon Mahishasura. A triumph of good over evil, thus, it is a festival of worship, joy and merrymaking.
Assam is one of those few states that celebrate Durga Puja with much pomp and show. It is a major and the biggest festival of the year for the Hindus.
Here are some pictures of the idols of Devi Maa and pandals of Durga Puja I visited during the celebration in my city.



Lakhi Mandir, Beltola
Geeta Nagar puja pandal constructed like the Parliament House
Geeta Nagar
Uzan Bazar
Durga puja pandal at Latashil
Durga puja pandal at Shantipur
Zoo Road/R G Barua Rd

Monday, 27 August 2012

Kothalguti aru Bahgajor Khaar

Kothalguti aru Bahgajor Khaar (Curry of Jack fruit seeds and Bamboo shoot)

                     A few Assamese terminologies : 
                     1. Kothal : Jack fruit
                     2. Guti : seeds 
                     3. Bah gaaj : Bamboo shoot
                     4. Masoor daal : Red lentil
                     5. Omita : Papaya 
                     6. Kol Khaar : The alkaline ashes of dried bark, peel and root of plantain tree.
            Method of making Khaar :  sun dry banana peels and trunks of banana plant and burn to collect the ash. Then pour water, keep over night, strain and store the clear brown liquid to use in curries.
Khaar is believed to be nutritious, very common and is used in a variety of dishes all over the North Eastern part of India.

Ingredients :
1. Masoor : 1/4 cup
2. Bamboo shoot : 1 small (fresh)
3. Kothal guti : 20
4. Omita : 1/2 of a small, around 15 cubes
5. Kol Khaar : 2tbsp (can be substituted by a generous pinch of soda-bi-carbonate)
6. Ginger paste : 1 tbsp
7. Garlic paste : 1 tbsp
8. Mustard seed : 1/2 tsp
9. Mustard oil : 1 tbsp
10. Salt : to taste
11. Green chilly : 2 or 3
Method to clean and cut :

The seeds of ripe Jack fruits are washed and sun dried. They can be kept for several days. There are various ways to eat Kothalguti, whatever the method, it tastes delicious. 

To clean Kothalguti : Take off the outer (white) shell and soak in water for an hour. 

Scrape the brown skin (optional). Some like it with the brown skin on. Kothalguti can be cooked whole or halved for this recipe. 

Wash and soak masoor for half an hour.

To clean Bah gaaj : Keep taking off the layers till the very tender portion is found. Wash before slicing. 

Bah gaaj is cut into different shapes and sizes according to the recipe. For this particular one, we cut length wise like the picture above. 

Peel, wash and cube raw Omita. 

Method to cook : 

Heat oil, splutter mustard seed. Add chilly, ginger+garlic paste leaving a little aside to add later and saute for a minute. 
Add kothalguti (I have halved them), masoor, omita, bah gaaj and salt. Stir well and saute for a few minutes. 

Add 2 or 3 cups of water. Cook in medium heat. Add kol khaar when half cooked, stir well. 
Cook till done. 

Water should dry up, but the curry should not be too dry. Add the ginger+garlic paste and a few drops of raw mustard oil when cooked.  

Kothalguti aru Bahgaajor Khaar is ready to be served. 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Memories dear and close ....

Fire singes heritage building

June 10th was a lazy Sunday afternoon. After lunch, switching on the television, I perked myself up cozily in bed. Suddenly my attention was caught by these particular lines flashing on the screen, while browsing through the news channels. "Fire broke out at a heritage building in Upper Assam". "Fire fighters trying to douse the fire, no reports of casualty...... ".
My heart sank. Jumping out of bed I mechanically picked up the phone and dialed a number. But before my call was responded, live telecast of the sad news of this heritage building was on. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I saw the huge flames gulping the roof of this Colonial building. I could see men running in and out carrying with them whatever they thought of some importance or value. Books, files, furniture all scattered on the front lawn. It was extremely painful as I watched helplessly, the smoke billowing out of this majestic mansion.

With much difficulty the fire could be stopped from spreading to the ground floor. However, the entire roof and a portion of the first floor was completely damaged.

 I am talking about the stately colonial building, the official residence of the Commissioner of Upper Assam, where I lived a wonderful stretch of my life. My time here was full of memories, sweetly fond. Jorhat, a charming little township, a district headquarter, where this building stands tall. 

Jorhat was the last capital of the Ahom Kingdom. This commercially flourishing town was completely destroyed by a series of Burmese invasions till around the year1817. The British force arrived at Jorhat in the year 1824. Tea industry soon grew up in and around this small yet beautiful township. 

This bungalow, one of the oldest buildings of Assam, was constructed in the year 1921 as the official residence of the superintendent of the Jorehaut Tea Company. Much later, after the end of British rule, the Assam Tea Corporation Limited owned this building till finally it was formally taken over by the State Government of Assam.  

The two-storied house with its distinctive green roof and whitewashed walls has remained ever imposing. It is the witness to the history of Assam during the rule of the British.

My memories gradually carried me back to those exquisitely idyllic days in this colonial bungalow in the picturesque surroundings. How I loved to put in all my efforts to keep the interiors as well as the outdoors in top form. The teak floors needed frequent polishing, the endless window panes needed wiping and the huge doors, dusting. Quite a few workers had to toil everyday completing this job. A sprawling 22 bighas of land comprising the kitchen garden, flower garden, the front lawn and the back yard with a number of fruit trees. I remember sitting on the lawns umpteen times, planning, discussing and finally instructing the gardeners about planting of crops, culture of flowers, arrangement of potted plants and flower vases. In these sessions of exchanging tips I gained quite a bit of knowledge which has now come in handy. That was the time I had even ordered and studied several foreign publications on how to grow annuals and perennials, culture of bulbous blooms and nurture of exotic house plants. The cut flowers, vegetables and flower arrangements from my garden begged several awards in respected flower show competitions.

Few of the silvers the flowers of this garden brought me.

The swimming pool was of course no longer in use when we moved into this heritage building. The water lilies in the pond were a delightful sight with a few tiny fishes jumping in and out occasionally. The garden with this pond was a major attraction for the visitors.

I named the extreme left room on the first floor, the 'morning room'. This room would be filled with the first rays of the sun making it so very pleasant and glowing with hope! Passing endless time looking out of the window as far as my eyes could take me, turned out to be a hobby. Most of the time my pot of tea would sit on the trolley covered with tea-cozy getting cold. My mind would wander away from where the eyes failed and a few verses would flow .......

On one of those rosy days ........ my father playing with his grand children and one of the family pets. 

Guest room was on the extreme right side where an elegant four poster bed stood enhancing the beauty of the room. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, had spent a night in this bungalow and used this very bed in the year1961. My particular attention and care went to a few last lovely colonial bed side tables, book shelves, dining table and a few chairs scattered all over the spacious rooms. The huge heavy mahogany secretary table in the bungalow office, downstairs, was a masterpiece. Keeping them all shining was a major task to complete for the workers.

The ball room, the dining hall, the master bed room, the children's room, the kitchen (which was away from the main bungalow), the long lounge ....oh, all so wonderfully fresh in my memory. The fans hanging on long pipes from the high ceiling, their wide and long blades served so well even today. The extra long T bolts on the equally tall doors were fascinating. The immensely high ceiling made you look really tiny inside the rooms. The carpeted stair way leading to the lounge up stairs was so awfully gorgeous. The graceful fire places which we rarely used added to the ambiance.

The classy little rose wood book shelf was my personal favourite. I had it placed near the couch in the morning room. Arranging my collection of Thomas Hardy, D H Lawrence, Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy I would feel myself right in midst of all those characters I so adored. Being the lady of this magnificent mansion, I travelled hundreds of years behind, to the era of Emma, Anna, Bathsheba, Elinor and Merianne the Dashwood sisters ........  Oh how enchanting it was, to be in that age!

My heart could not accept the fact that most of it was gone now, destroyed by the menace of a single electric spark. Assessment of the damage and plans to restore this heritage building is on as I write this piece ........... 

The restored heritage building now .... (2013)