March 10, 2015

A Brief Visit

Sri Lanka boasts the works of famous Architect Geoffrey Bawa. I had heard of him in college, but barely knew anything about his work or styles. I definitely did not know that he had a brother who was a landscape architect who designed his own home on a 5 acre estate near Bentota that he's named 'Brief'.

Two brothers, the offspring of Sri Lanka's elite society, initially educated for non-design careers but both of them have created masterpieces; each an obvious imprint of their personalities.

I am glad I visited this before Geoffrey Bawa's estate 'Lunuganga'. Although in overview, I preferred the grandeur of Lunuganga, Bevis Bawa's approach to create an intimate design is far more relatable. As soon as I entered the iron gate with those Narnian stone gate posts and through the archway to ring that bell to announce our arrival, I was instantly a wide-eyed nine year old again.

We began our walk through the gardens first. I am not exaggerating when I say that I felt like Mary Lennox when she first discovered the secret garden. Little paths winding almost unnoticed through the trees and shrubbery, making acute turns, up and down staircases, opening up unexpectedly into little clearings of refuge as if to say 'No, you are not lost. You were meant to find this'.  

I am so glad this wasn't a guided tour. It would have totally cut out the fun of discovery. The walk through the gardens was not meant to be hurried through. We had to slowly meander through this maze otherwise we may have missed spotting the stone frog and other little sculptures perfectly camouflaged in the foliage, the turtle shaped fountain spout, the earthen pots collecting rainwater from the trees above them, the little circular ponds and stone slabs for seating, stone mandalas, and of course those huge stone ball newel caps at the ends of the stairs; but those were not hard to miss!

The seemingly unruly garden design is obviously intentional. It seems as if it is an attempt to bring a human scale and understanding into the expanse of a dense forest of rubber and cannon ball trees. I especially loved how natural patterns were used in the man-made constructions. The stepping stones, table tops, walls and tiles all imprinted with leaves and other things from the garden.

And then, suddenly through the maze of staircases and terraced lawns we reached the bottom of a long stretch of tiered waterway leading up the house so perfectly framed by the bamboo thicket.

December 31, 2014

This is the New Year!

Hello again at the end of another year! Too fast, way too fast. Too many good things happened this year, and too many things to be thankful for. 

Like every other year, there have been new experiences, new people, hellos and goodbyes and plans that worked and plans that didn't work out. But I know that He has been there through it all. 

So, I'm going to skip the retrospecting I usually do in my usual year end blog posts. Instead of the 2000 word essays on life, this year I'm sharing some motivating lyrics by Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino. Here's an exciting song to bring in the new year. :)

Another year you made a promise
Another chance to turn it all around
And do not save this for tomorrow
Embrace the past and you can live for now
And I will give the world to you

Speak louder than the words before you
And give them meaning no one else has found
The role we play is so important
We are the voices of the underground
And I will give the world to you

Say everything you've always wanted
Be not afraid of who you really are
'Cause in the end we have each other
And that's at least one thing worth living for
And I will give the world to you

December 24, 2014

For December

Season's Greetings!

My favourite month of the year was as perfect as could be this year- from Christmas music programmes at church, carol singing through the nights, a campfire party with orphan kids, family time and lots and lots of cooking and baking.

I've put together a compilation of my favourite Christmas music of this year. It's undoubtedly my favourite music genre. There was so many good songs this year, so I decided to choose the best and make my first playlist on 8tracks.

November 21, 2014

eMi2 - Delhi

Continuation from Part 1 - Dimapur

I have visited Delhi on several trips in the past. Having seen most of the usual tourist sights, I was definitely keen to see more of the city. I was lucky enough to have two friends who lived in the city and in close proximity to my office and with whom I got to see more of the city.

We reached Delhi late. We spent the 3 hour transit time in the airport (and even parts of the flight) working on the final presentation. We were blessed to be part of a service at the Infusion church the next morning. The music worship session was so uplifting as was the rest of the service. It was such a warm and inviting congregation. We presented an overview of the project to the team and the church members who wanted to listen. We followed it with a more detailed discussion later. Thankfully it was received positively.

I got to visit Hauz Khas village on the first two evenings. To me it seemed like Delhi's version of the Galle Fort in Sri Lanka - historical architecture plus the quaint alleyways of fashion boutiques, tea cafes and vintage art galleries and all that hipster vibe!

The Hauz Khas monuments consist of many different 13th century structures- mosques, tombs and pavilions all built around a lake. We didn't get to spend much time exploring and we had to weave in and out of dozens of canoodling couples to get a few pictures.

Walking through the narrow streets (definitely no setback rules at all here!) it's so tempting to peek into every store. If I lived here, I would spend many evenings wandering in and out of them. This kind of window shopping is actually fun. So much variety of art in so many forms from hand painted clothes to leather suitcases, wooden chests to psychedelic coasters, retro movie posters and bonsai plants. Loved the random strange graffiti all over the place and was pleased that I found a funky stationary store to buy a bright orange notebook. 

We stopped at the famous Elma's bakery for cake. The cafe was spread over three levels with a narrow atrium connecting them. I love cafe's like this one - quirky decor, soft jazz music, extensive menus and good cake with lots of cream!

We had the team debriefing session and the had our final dinner at a Hyderabadi restaurant. I won't forget the facial expressions of everyone as they tried my jal jeera drink for the first time. It was like those videos that people make of giving lime to babies!

It was quite sad when our team started becoming smaller, but we had new fun people at the office to bond with. I really enjoyed the work setting - starting the day with music and prayer, continuing to work on the project by putting together what we had already worked on and drawing up the designs, a fun lunch break when the little kids dropped by and board games over dinner. It really felt like a big office family. 

I've been looking forward to food in Delhi so much. Having been in Sri Lanka the past year, I had to satisfy all the cravings for north Indian food in these two trips. I relished all the yummy meals from the tiffins at work to the chaat, fried momos, kulfi and jelebi, aam panna, the paneer in various forms, the dhal makhani and kadhi pakoda, the channa bhatura and everything else too. 

We went to Old Delhi one morning. The Jama Masjid was beautiful despite having to hop around barefoot on the burning hot ground. We walked down the bustling Chandni Chowk with so many "tour guides" stalking us (was bound to happen with the non-Indians in the group) towards the Spice Market at Khari Baoli. Countless wholesale stores with piles of dried fruit, nuts,  and sacks full of dried chilli, pepper, corriander seeds. We were all in tears, coughing and sneezing. Struggled to see and breathe, but it was quite an experience with the smells and colours and all our sinus' were completely cleared out by the end of it. 

November 19, 2014

eMi2 - Dimapur

The highlight of this year was undoubtedly the week I spent working with an awesome team on the Acts Institute project in Dimapur, Nagaland and the two weeks of work that followed in Delhi.

Ever since I heard about this organization- Engineering Ministries International, I decided that I would definitely plan to work with them sometime in my future. I found myself on their website many times while at work in Sri Lanka, but was never really sure how and when it would work out. One day, after much thought and prayer, I wrote to them asking to be part of a project, despite being a project for which I would have to cut short my stay in Sri Lanka by two weeks. 

It all worked out perfectly. In a few weeks, plans were all sorted and all tickets booked. I packed up, left Sri Lanka, reached home, unpacked, packed again and was off to Nagaland. I met the team in the departure lounge in Kolkata. Such a diverse group of people. We had traveled from a variety of countries- Canada, America, Germany, South Africa and Sri Lanka. We had different qualifications and different levels of experience, but were all there for one goal- to volunteer our time and abilities to design the Acts campus.

Nagaland was the furtherest East I have ever been. Despite being mostly a hilly state, our project site was in Dimapur which was a flat area at the foothills. I knew little about the Naga people and had mostly heard that they ate everything that moved- from dogs to frogs to beetles. I was a bit unsure how I would find vegetarian food. 

We were hosted by a lovely couple who took care of us for the week in their beautiful house. It was quite the opposite of the simple accommodation I expected. We were treated to multiple course meals (which included tasting the Raja mirchi- the world's hottest chilli!), a large air conditioned office for our work space and a swimming pool for afternoon chill time! 

We visited the site of the project early that week. 70 acres of agriculture land banking the Chathe River with the ranges of hills in the distant. We had to drive through the river to access the site. We planned out the site, dividing the land up into the various zones for the institute.

Working on this project was such an enriching experience. I have never been part of an architectural project that was Christ-centred. We shared personal testimonies and we spent a lot of time in worship and prayer for the project. We discussed design strategies over mealtimes and in the pool and spent late hours rendering site plans over mint green tea.

One of the mornings, we visited the village close to our site. It was really nice spending time with the local families. It was a small community and we joined them for a worship in the strangest, most interesting church building designs I have ever seen. A strangely proportioned aluminium and paper mache dove. Nagaland is a predominantly Christian state (90%) and it was nice to see the area dotted with churches.

November 18, 2014

A Slice of Decadence

Gino D'Acampo describes his 'La Bella Caprese' recipe as 
"... the best chocolate cake EVER."

I made this cake a long time ago. The rich ingredients of dark chocolate and almond flour would probably classify it as a occasion cake for when we had guest over, but I made it in the middle of the week for no special reason other than to satisfy a craving for decadence. 

The cake is made up of just 5 ingredients and a very basic method. Melt 250g of dark chocolate (I used Bellarom 70% dark) and 100g of butter in a double boiler.

February 24, 2014

Noted Finds 03

Past posts- Noted Finds 01, Noted Finds 02

One of my favourite things to do is discover new music. I can sit for hours and hours on music blogs. YouTube suggestions let me wander through all possible genres. I start off with alternative or classical or some of the popular sides of indie and always reach this really cool side of YouTube from where I have discovered Marble Sounds, The Narrative, The Cinnamatic Orchestra, Mogwai, The Best Pessimist and other beautiful bands that I wish were not so unknown. Yet, in a way I'm a bit happy that they are unknown because then I feel like part of a small privileged few. 

Today's selection, however is not all from that 'special' side of YouTube, and are not all new groups, but are new finds. My music discoveries the past month has had a few standouts. Here they are:

Arcade Fire- Reflektor / Photograph

I know what you are thinking- this band is not at all new. They have been around for almost a decade. But their new album Reflektor with it's varied track list of great vocals and accompaniment from the talented bunch of seven came out last year with some very good reviews.

But the reason I've included this group in my list is for their amazing soundtrack to Spike Jonze's recent movie, Her. I just loved the simplicity of the soundtrack and how closely it intertwined into the script. I've posted a clip from the movie with the piece 'Photograph' so you can see just how well the two were amalgamated.

Sleeping At Last- Snow

What a beautiful find this was. I was watching some modern choreography one day and this song was what they were dancing to. Sublime. The band is a solo project by the super talented Ryan O'Neill. Sometimes his brother helps out too. I went through some of the older tracks. Such interesting ideas for EPs. I liked 'Atlas' the most. Each track transported me into space. I could fall asleep to them drifting off past stars and planets.

X Ambassadors- Unconsolable

I only found this group yesterday. I was mostly of the opinion that the new alternative rock groups were far inferior to the older bands, but after listening to their 2012 album, 'Litost', my thoughts have changed a bit.

Here's a song from their newest album, "Love Songs, Drug Songs'
Read an interview of them on TheMusicNinja here.

Laura Mvula- Green Garden

What a voice. So soulful. The singles she's released are far from the usual mellowness of soul music commonly tagged retro soul. Her music is the perfect foot tapping initiator. So much so, that I always feel like getting up and dancing. Almost.

'Nobody out there, but it's okay now. Bath in the sunlight, don't mind if rain falls...'

Finally, to complete this list,

LAYLA- Yellow Circles

Totally random find. Only a few tracks to her name, but each praiseworthy. Waiting for more from her. Website- here

(all images are from various sources and not my property)

January 01, 2014

Thanks for 2013

Thank you God for all the big things and small things this year:

for changes- new places, new people and new experiences.
for the warmest smiles I'd ever seen in Africa- smiles that overshadowed their misfortune.
for mountain peaks above the clouds.
for positive replies for job applications.
for second chances.
for cafes to catch up with old friends.
for aloe vera- nature's best healing balm.
for WhatsApp groups that make me feel back in a classroom or in a family field bed.
for time to think and time to do.
for frequent flyer miles that let me go home cheaper.
for friends that I can call family. 
for music that gets me through the day.
for an extra pair of socks for cold nights in tents.
for packages in the post.
for maps.
for new friends made in airports.
for smells from ovens with baking food.
for an extra camera memory card.
for Skype.
for packed lunches that stay upright after an hour of bus travelling. 
for the ocean- strength, beauty and serenity in equal measure.
for Poya days.
for cousins.
for mistakes to learn lessons from.
for Meftal Spas.
for Friday evening text messages from people I don't know.
for off-days and sadness and bad times that remind me that Earth is my temporary home.
for pine forests that don't have leeches.
for challenges.
for long commutes to contemplate life and research recipes.
for last minute plans that work out.
for a job that I enjoy.
for a December without exams.
for bus conductors who know where I am going without me saying anything.
for proof that I have a guardian angel.
for super glue and cello-tape that make up for clumsy fingers and carelessness.
for forgiveness.
for people who inspire me.
for cold showers on hot days.
for missed flights that gave me an extra stamp in my passport.
for auto drivers who know English.
for ticked off lists.
for cinnamon powder and almond essence.
for new days and beginnings.
for memories of good things.
for questions that have answers.
for contentment.
for life.
for grace.
for love.

Thank you.

December 03, 2013

Noted Finds 02

Some noteworthy music finds from November. This list is quite a mellow collection- the kind of music I like to listen to while I work and when I travel on the bus. Unless I start feeling sleepy- then it's a quick jump to something loud and peppy to wake me up. :)

Half Moon Run- Full Circle

This fresh indie-folk piece is from the only album by the Canadian band. The harmony intertwined with the mandolin and percussion riffs, the vintage overlay video and the deep lyrics, "And the riddles in the pages leave at too much to guess. And the worry cracks a fracture from your hip to your chest" creates quite a beautiful song.

London Grammar- Metal and Dust

I'm not the biggest fan of the genre trip-hop, but the sublime vocals of the vocalist, Hannah Reid is quite soothing and the same mood resonates in the other tracks of their first album, 'If You Wait' released this year.

The Neighbourhood- Flawless

I had listened to 'Sweater Weather' many times before. Although I really liked it, I didn't actually check up on the band till recently. The alternative band was formed a few years ago, but their first album came out this year. I love the mellow tones and the underlying tempo in their music. Sounds equally good on low and high volume. 

The Night VI- Thinking of You

Sometimes YouTube knows what music to suggest. This was one of those times. Classified as melancholic pop, this new band has similar soft tones to London Grammar. The group of 6 filmed the video for this song in the majestic ruins of the Tintern Abbey. Perfect setting.

Brian Crain- Dream of Flying

To sum up this list, I chose a piano composer. I came across him just through random YouTube browsing on a very lovely side of YouTube. His music is so soothing, perfect lullaby, bus-travelling music. 

(all images are from various sources and not my property)

October 11, 2013

Noted Finds 01

It's been a while since I've had a music post. The thing is, I listen to so much music; so many new songs, new bands and new styles and new genres, it's always hard to choose one to feature.

Over the past year, I've sort of kept a track of my new music discoveries by filling up the inbox of several friends on Facebook. But today I decided to start sharing them here once in a while.

Out of the stuff I found the last couple of weeks, these are some that stood out.

Clean Bandits - Dust Clears

This piece is quite a crazy fusion of genres. I didn't fully appreciate it the first time I listened to it, but it has grown on me. The video concept is equally strange- geometric food, Mormon dude ice skating and the percussion in the snow.  

Amber - Hide and Seek

When I was reading up about Clean Bandits, I found this great site for new music- Origin Music, which pretty much satisfied my new music needs for the week. I was most impressed with the calming harmony of Amber in their cover of Imogen Heap's 'Hide and Seek'. I could fall asleep to it.

Usman Riaz - Firefly

This was quite a cool find. We were watching TED talks one evening and ended up watching his (here). Such a prodigy. He totally reminded me of a real life August Rush- the number of instruments he plays, the composing, the tones, and rhythms. Was quite awed.

Lorde - Buzzcut Season

I actually heard Walk Off the Earth's cover of Royals before I heard the original. And since then I've heard the song on the radio almost everyday. She's 17 and reminds me of Birdy, although their styles are different. Her new album 'Pure Heroine' was released this month. I love it.

Pslams 100 - Beautiful Things

And to wrap up the list is one I found today. My cousins and I are singing at church this week and we decided to do Gungor's 'Beautiful Things' and I found this cover. The a capella is just so beautiful. The group from the University of North Carolina does some great covers of not just Christian music. Listen to their version of Mumford and Sons' Cave too (link here)

And for some reason, Blogger doesn't want me to embed the video- so here is 'Beautiful Things'

Hope the next week brings in some more good new music. :) Happy listening.

(all images are from various sources and not my property)