Father and Sons

I have two black and white photographs of a father posing with his sons in my family collection and one of them is older than I am. The first photograph has my grandfather and his four sons in it. In the background you can see the old and still functional dressing table at our ancestral house in Varanasi. My grandfather holds my youngest uncle in his arms. My eldest uncle, the one younger to him and my father stand from right to left. Look at the posture and the eyes of the three boys. They stand almost at attention and their eyes are locked with the lens of the camera. Probably that was how people responded to such a strange black box at their place or, they were told to look into the lens and stand in that manner. I’m sure there’s a story about the marigold garlands the three boys wear.

Baba n Sons

In the second photograph my eldest uncle poses gracefully with his three sons. Allow me a digression here. I think that my eldest uncle was the most handsome man in our family, his younger brother, my father, was a close second in his youth. We, the sons, got some of their features, that’s all. I can recognize the smile at the face of the eldest cousin of mine. He smiles like that even today, nearly forty years later. The boys at the front are at ease. Although they are very much conscious of the camera, they have not forgotten to smile. They are in a public place and not at their house. Probably that has reduced their camera shyness. They are mentally more prepared for the camera than the three boys of the previous photograph.

Bade Ch n Sons

Where are the girls of the family? Well, my uncle has no daughters. That explains their absence from the photograph. My grandfather had two daughters, both elder than my youngest uncle who is right there, in the photograph. Then why are they not there? Before we proceed, here’s another photograph of the same family. In this photograph my grandmother poses for the camera with her eldest and youngest sons, and her two daughters.Yes, they are fully conscious of the camera. And yes, this photograph was definitely taken at a studio. I’m sure you have marked the absence of shoes at the feet of the two aunts of mine. Why have they not worn shoes or slippers while posing for the camera?

Dadi n Children

Moving on from the black and white photograph of an era long past towards the coloured family photograph, we reach my youngest uncle’s family.

Chote Chacha n Family

 

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Yoga at the Ghats of Varanasi

Once upon a time, not a very long time ago, for fifty years is not a long time in a city that has remained alive for over three thousand years, the ghats on River Ganga used to be places for people to start their day at. Young and old men of all ages would perform the Hindu squats and push ups, followed by exercise with clubs. Time changed and gyms became the assigned place for such activities.

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Time changed again. Yoga came to the ghats in an organized way. It began a couple of years ago and it began at only one ghat in Varanasi. Not strangely for the city of Varanasi, this life-giving activity still takes place just beside Harishchandra Ghat, the one ghat where the last rites are performed and cremation takes place. It begins with the beginning of the day. No need to wear a watch here to reach in time. Just follow the rhythm of nature and wake up with the waking sun.

Colourful plastic mats are spread in neat geometrically aligned rows and columns and young students of a nearby Sanskrit college take their position, handwritten mantra sheets in their hands. The seniors and gurus sit at the head of the staircase. Among them sits the yoga guru too. Everybody follows the step by step instructions of the yoga guru as he takes them through the asanas of the day in easy to understand language.

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It happens in Varanasi, day after day, until the river rises in the months of monsoon. Then the space is engulfed by the river and probably the yoga class takes place indoor until the water recedes and the steps of the ghat are cleaned.

Rauza Laal Khan, Raj Ghat, Varanasi

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There is a little tomb in Varanasi that Banarsis like to call the “Taj Mahal of Banaras”. It’s not a great tourist attraction as the well known circuits of the city don’t take one beyond the routine ghats, lanes, temples and Sarnath trips.  The tomb of Lal Khan, or Lal Khan’s Rauza, is a late eighteenth century structure that stands by Shershah Suri Road near River Ganges at at Raj Ghat.

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The famous Dufferin or Malviya Bridge can be seen at bottom left of the image above. This tomb is in an enclosure that also houses the excavation site of the ancient city of Kashi. There is a central building with a large dome and four minarets at the four corners of the structure. When the sun rises from behind the eastern minaret of the tomb, the view is full of peace.

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The area around the tomb is full of greenery. Well maintained lawns and well shaped shrubs characterize the view. From near the eastern boundary wall one may have a glorious view of the river below and the complete view of the bridge with its shining girders to the south. The tomb’s walls and dome have patterns in glazed tiles that have lost their sheen in two centuries and more since the tomb was made. Just like the pinnacles on the minarets of the palace of King Chet Singh at Shivala Ghat, the pinnacles of the central structure of this tomb are in very bad condition and need care and repair.

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The aura of the place is such that people are drawn towards it. In the morning one can see people walking the length of the pedestrian path all along the boundary wall, laughing, practicing asanas, or simply lounging on the grass. Rauza Lal Khan is a place worth visiting. More than that, it’s a place worth spending some time in introspection at.

 

Rafi Sa’ab

Today is Rafi Sa’ab’s Birth Anniversary and I had made a commitment last night to publish a post on him today. I managed to do it in literally  the last minute: I published this post at 23:59 on 24 December 2017. Why did I have to keep the commitment even if in this token form? It’s because I owe a lot to the voice of the great Mohammad Rafi. No. I am not a singer. Neither do I regularly listen to music in general or to Mr Rafi’s songs in particular. Yet, there are songs, his songs, when they reach my ears, in his voice or in mine, I feel good. Or, when I feel good I search opportunities for his songs to be played or sung. He is not the only one I like. There’re Lataji (Ms. Lata Mageshkar) and Kishoreda (Mr. Kishor Kumar) too, and Hemantada (Hemanta Kumar) in Bangla, yet, this post is to be about Rafi Sa’ab. And then, although I know there are many who may not agree, Rafi Sa’ab’s voice had a soothing quality that is generally not found in male voices.

It’s probably that soothing voice of hers that makes Lataji the greatest of all female Hindi playback singers. Also, probably the same soothing voice makes Rafi Sa’ab my favourite male Hindi playback singer. His songs with the two Burmans (Mr. Sachin Dev Burman and Mr. Rahul Dev Burman), Mr. O. P. Nayyar, Mr. Naushad, Shankar-Jaikishan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal etc. have been a source of pleasure to me for as long as I can remember enjoying vocal music.

Few of his songs that I must specially mention here are:

“Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko”, “Chand mera dil chandni ho tum”, “Chaudahvi ka chaand ho”, “Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaya to kya hai”, “Lagta Nahin hai dil mera ujde dayar mein”, “Pukarta chala hun main gali gali bahaar ki”, “Isharon isharon mein dil lene waale”, “Teri bindiya re”,  

 

City, Roots, Death and After

A modern city is the place where a modern man is born, grows roots into its soil and then, most probably, is uprooted from it to be transplanted some city else. I shared the soil and the roots with one such man. He passed away nearly a fortnight ago. The loss was personal and so was the grief, or whatever ounces of it I am capable of.

 

Funerals are strange events. For me, they are more about my death than that of the dead person, and more about their life than that of mine. So, I stood by a black stinking drain of a river that they have converted Mother Yamuna into and looked at all the goings on.  I saw myself on the pyre. A lot of his identity was mine and vice versa.

We belong to Varanasi (Which verb do I use when talking of my dead uncle and me alive? Should I use his tense on mine or mine over his? My using past tense may create ambiguity here so I’ll use the present tense whenever I’m confused). We spent our active professional careers away from home. We raised children (his three, or my two) and played various roles given to us in cities we were not born in, and in my case, never grew into.

On his death my thoughts went to the boy who grew up in the lanes of Varanasi. He traversed through the same lanes that I was to walk in, thirty odd years later. Did he feel the loss of his city as I do? I never got a chance to ask him this question, and many more.

Poetry, me and Kashi

I write in prose and verse. I like writing. It gives me pleasure and a sense of direction and being. It took me time to realize that I was born to write. Just as it took me time to realize that poetry is my mode of self expression and creative expansion. I had not written anything on my city for many months. I had not been there for many months. I had started marking that the posts of my facebook groups from Varanasi stopped appearing on my timeline as the number of posts of poetry and writing groups of mine increased in volume.

Then, this afternoon, I went to my Varanasi groups and looked a their posts. It was unplanned. So, is this post. Varanasi made me write this post here. The posts I shared were about Dev Deepavali, Launglata or Lavanglata, Sankatmochan Temple, Jalebi and Wall Paintings in Varanasi.

Lavanglata

I had done a post on Launglata at:

https://rajnishmishravns.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/lavanglata/

In the image above you can see my neighborhood Bhaiya who had been making wonderful Jalebis and Launglatas for the neighborhood for at least three decades.

I had mentioned the traditional wall paintings here:

https://rajnishmishravns.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/satyajit-ray-and-the-picturesque-varanasi-2/

Jalebi

Jalebi is a sweet popular in Varanasi. It is a convoluted closed spiral tube of fried maida filled with sugar syrup and is served hot. It’s a perfect partner of Kacaudi and Pumpkin-potato curry. Shops and stalls selling this perfect Banarsi breakfast can be found at any street or lane corner. The shop in the image above sells them in the morning. The evening is for selling another variety of snacks.

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Chittoranjan’s Shop, Hararbagh, Varanasi

Chittoranjan, my old friend from my school days sells these deep fried magical dollops popularly known as pakodas. Starting from the left on the tray can be seen Malgaja, Chilli Chap, Daal Bada, Aloo Chap, Tomatar Chap and Vegetable Cutlets. These mouth watering (mine is watering while I type) snacks are made of various seasonal vegetables dipped in besan (powdered chickpea) batter and then deep fried twice. The vegetables used, from the left are eggplant, chilly, potatoes, tomatoes and peas. Lentils and soy bean is used too.

Sankatmochan Temple is a centuries old temple dedicated to the great devotee of Lord Rama: Hanumanji. I had written a post partially on him here:

https://rajnishmishravns.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/ramayan-and-a-child/

I have not captured Dev Deepavali with my camera yet.  When I do, I’ll upload images here.

Now, here are some of my shorter poems on my city:

Shadows LaidBamboo StripsRows of steps

Here is a longer poem:

Row after row, steps rising from the river,
Row after row, steps falling to the same,
Rising, going westward, falling, coming – a game
Words play on life; and life, a little later
Shells the words all down, and leaves
Just the strong impressions, firmly etched,
Deeply carved, with colours true, fetched
From the days of old, when life was lived.
The game, when it’s over; whistles blown,
Feet when tired come over the falling steps,
Tracing back the same old worn out stone –
Steps at the end of a summer-day-long run,
Over them of a never-resting sun –
Lead them gently riverward, down the steps.

[Originally published at: http://classicalpoets.org/rows-of-steps-by-rajnish-mishra/%5D

Here’s another, this one on filth and faith:

Time and Life to Death

Filth, they call it ubiquitous;
obnoxious. On streets,
in heaps, in lanes, scattered.
Life goes daily, usually on,
oblivious of filth,
or death,
goes on with ease.
Unfettered feet, undaunted –
of pilgrims, of people,
with purpose, or strollers
The timeless lanes,
narrow, space ample
for all who come,
who live and die there.
Disgusting, the filth,
reflected sometimes, on faces.
Cow dung, house waste,
refuse and grime,
Scattered, removed,
then scattered again,
repeat performance,
seen and felt
on skin, in nose, on feet through eyes.
Yet feet go on,
undaunted, eternally,
as time and life run to death,
from flesh to fire to ashes.

[From https://coldnoon.com/magazine/diaries/poetry/run-to-death-from-flesh-to-fire-to-ashes-poems/%5D

Professor Charu Sheel Singh: Poet, Critic and Literary Theorist

This page is here to join forces with those who propose Professor Charu Sheel Singh’s for the prestigious Padma Awards. And why do they do so? Let’s have a look at his life and work first.

Professor Charu Sheel Singh: Poet, Critic and Literary Theorist

Charu Sheel Singh (born; 15 may 1955) is an Indian English scholar of international repute. A treader of the triple path, like Arnold, Eliot and Sri Aurobindo, Prof. Singh is a poet, critic and literary theorist. A university don of great erudition and long experience of research, Prof. Singh is not only well acquainted with current schools of thought but he is also conversant with philosophical theories of the East and the West and the occult traditions, Buddhism and theosophy being among his special areas of interest.

Early Life & Education:

He took his Honors and Masters degrees in English from Aligarh Muslim University in 1974 and 1976. In 1978, he was awarded Ph.D. degree in English by Banaras Hindu University. He is married to Maya and they have a son Padmasambhava.

His father, Pratap Narayan Singh was studying Mechanical Engineering from IT, BHU when he joined the Army. He was Sergeant Major in the Army and fought in the Second World War. He was awarded with several Victoria Medals for excellent service. Later, he resigned and joined Indian Railways and retired as Senior Divisional Safety Officer from Bikaner. He also served as General Manager in Dalmiya Railways. He had Master’s degrees in Hindi and Ancient Indian History. He was also a Sahitya Ratna and a Poet.

Career as a Scholar:

During 1982-83, Dr. Singh went to the University of Warwick, Coventry, England on a British Council Scholarship for Post Doctoral research work. He worked on Post-1950 British Poetry. Dr. Singh was the only candidate to have been selected by UGC to work on the project on Religion and Literary Theory for five years from 1986 onwards. He worked as Research Scientist ‘B’ from 1986 to 1991. Prof. Singh was a Research Associate at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla in 1993. Later, he became fellow at the Institute in 1996. Dr. Singh worked on a major UGC Research Project in 1997.

Dr. Singh has written and edited over two dozen books on literary criticism and literary methods. His major work Philosophical Hermeneutics (7 vols., 2009) has been published.

Awards & Honors:

His name figures in many national and international bibliographies. He is listed in Dictionary of International Biography from Cambridge, England, Cotemporary Poets published from England, Indian Literatures’ Who’s Who published by Sahitya Akademy, New Delhi.

Dr. Singh has been reviewed in commonwealth literature, USA. He is also reviewed in a quarterly journal BLAKE from Rochester University (http://bq.blakearchive.org/18.2.jackson). His book Contemporary Literary Theory is listed in Reader’s Guide To English Literature published by Routledge publishers , Abingdon, United Kingdom. He is some of the few living legends on whom one PhD is already submittedhttp://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/111131/3/1%20front%20pages.pdf) and several other researches are also being carried out. His article on Paul de Man is listed in Times Literary Supplement published from London, U.K. He is also reviewed in Modern Language Review.

According to WorldCat Identities operated by Online Computer Library Center, Charu Sheel Singh has 41 works in 78 publications and has 490 library holdings. Twice given ‘The Best Writer Award’ by Penguin International, Delhi. Maharashtra Dalit Sahitya Akademy Award also conferred on him twice.

There are several other awards conferred upon Dr. Singh from India and abroad. Dr. Singh is widely reviewed in the English speaking world.

Some Distinguished Opinions:

Prof. M.K.Naik, in a personal letter said that, only Shakespeare and Whitman can carry out such linguistic experiments as Charu Sheel Singh’s Kashi: A Mandala Poem.

Prof C.D.Narasimhaiah said about Concentric Imagination that nobody in the country is competent enough to write a forward to this book.

Prof. Krishna Rayan said that nobody has written such things about Indian Poetics as Charu Sheel Singh in the Concentric Imagination.

Prof. P.S.Shastri holds that C.S.Singh has shown the whole Romantic Scholarship a new pathway to explore.

Prof. U.R.Ananthmurthy said that Charu Sheel Singh is one of the best research minds in the country.

Prof. O.P.Mathur said about Charu Sheel Singh poetry in a review in the ‘Points of view’ that Singh has inaugurated a new hermeneutical school of poetry.

It is general opinion that Singh is the lone survivor of Sri Aurbindo School in Indian English Poetry.

Poetry Collections:

Tapascharnam

Tapascharnam: Shukadeva ki Pida

Songs of Life & Death

The Indian Hero

Creation Cocktail

Terracotta Flames

Scripture on Stone

Etching on the Edge

Kashi: A Mandala Poem

Golden Chariots

Born across Millenniums: Incarnations of Vishnu

Ten Mahavidyas

Legacies

Major Publications:

The Chariot of Fire: A Study of William Blake in the Light of Hindu Thought

Concentric Imagination: Mandala Literary Theory

Self Reflexive Materiality: Three Assays in Comparative Method

Spectrum History of Indian English Literature

Women about Women in Indian Literature in English

Canon and Canonization

Indian Swans

Theory and Interpretation of Literature

Philosophical Hermeneutics (7 Volumes)

Contemporary Indian English Poetry

Cotemporary Literary Theory

Literary Theory: Possibilities & Limits

Indian English Literature Since 1950 (2 volumes)

Sri Aurbindo Home Coming Centenary Volume

Collected Research Papers (2 volumes)

External Links:s

http://www.galaxyimrj.com/V1/n2/Sonia.pdf

http://www.grin.com › Catalog › English Language and Literature Studies › Literature

http://www.nationallibrary.gov.in/ResultKeyword.php?start=2769&p_f=2769&id

http://www.jlaindia.com/contributors.php

http://www.newmanpublication.com/May15_issue/13.pdf

https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc4313/m2/1/high_res_d/thesis.pdf

http://www.kbjournal.org/node/190

http://bq.blakearchive.org/pdfs/issues/21.1.pdf

rajni-rajnisingh.blogspot.com/2007/

So, after looking at the life and work of this thinker, writer, poet and academician if you believe that his name should be nominated for the Padma Awards, please follow this link and then fill some information (You can use the content above for it, or get it from Wikipedia) to do so:

http://padmaawards.gov.in/Login.aspx

 

New Bread of Life Bakery and Restaurant

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

John 6:35

It all began with the coincidence, or not, of one of the most famous places that serves choicest bread in the city of Varanasi, deep in the heartland of northern India, bearing a name that comes straight from the Bible. The owner Mr. Ashish Chakraborty, is a Hindu and an Indian, and the name of the bakery was given a long time ago and a Christian friend of his. I know of at least two more places in Varanasi that bake well but this bakery is in a league of its own. 

Ashishda

Mr Chakraborty’s story is not very long and it’s unique only towards the end. His story  is half-common, with an uncommon post-mid part. As the only, and the eldest, son of the family there was the responsibility of carrying on his illustrious father’s name over his shoulders. The beginning of his story, like that of many of his contemporaries and juniors in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, is simple: one solid postgraduate degree from one of the best universities of India, i.e. Banaras hindu University, followed by a long and dry spell of preparation for competitive examinations for jobs in the public sector. He spent a golden fraction of his youth preparing for a job he could never get, and finally, decided to be self-employed. He started the New Bread of life Bakery and Restaurant (NBLBR) and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, he gives jobs to many.

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How does one reach the New Bread of Life Bakery and Restaurant? Google Maps helps:

What’s the specialty of the bakery? They bake and sell the finest range of breads (remember the name!) and bakery products there. Take a look:

That’s not all. They serve meals: Indian, Chinese, Western and Continental, and are open from 11 AM to 10 PM.

Their platter has food that satisfies taste buds, and their range is wide. They serve vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, snacks and bakery items. Their prices are reasonable and ambiance just like home’s. The owner is almost always around and his smile a definite add-on to the welcoming embrace of this place.

Ganga Silk and Art Gallery is a sister establishment of the NBLBR. It’s in the same building as the bakery and specializes in unique silk and gift items that bear the scent of the soil of Varanasi.  

GSAG (2)My detailed knowledge of Mr. Cahkraborty’s life and work can be explained by the fact that he is my uncle. Wait. Did I say he is my uncle? Yes I did. “Ah! That explains why he’d write this post on him!”, say you. Well, not actually. Long before I decided to write about the bakery, it was praised and recommended by many independent players, with real customer reviews too:

https://www.zomato.com/varanasi/bread-of-life-bakery-shivala

https://www.tripadvisor.in/Restaurant_Review-g297685-d1203733-Reviews-Bread_of_Life_Bakery-Varanasi_Varanasi_District_Uttar_Pradesh.html

http://www.fodors.com/world/asia/india/side-trips-from-delhi/restaurants/reviews/bread-of-life-bakery-446454

https://eventseeker.com/venue/708826-bread-of-life-bakery-varanasi

https://yellowpages.cybo.com/IN-biz/new-bread-of-life-bakery

https://www.petitfute.com/v46439-varanasi/c1165-restaurants/c1031-cuisines-du-monde/433721-new-bread-of-life-bakery.html

http://www.varanasi.org.in/banaras-restaurant

 

 

 

 

Shri Krishna Janmashtami in Varanasi

Varanasi, the City of Lord Shiva, celebrates the days associated with the birth of Vishnu’s incarnations Ram and Krishna with love and devotion. [I’d love to to know whether Shiv Ratri is celebrated in such manner in Ayodhya and Mathura.] The first celebration (Ram Navami) comes in the month of Chaitra, and the second one (Krishna Janmashtami) in the month of Shravana of the Hindu Calendar. The main attraction of Sri Krishna Janmashtami celebrations, the one that leads to a visual spectacle, is the main theme of this post.

It’s said that Varanasi is on the trident of Lord Shiva. There are three hillock like ascents in the city and the one with the steepest gradient has its summit located at the place called Bans Phatak near Adi Vishweshwar Temple. It is for around two hundred metres on both sides of the summit that one may find hundreds of small, road side, temporary stalls that sell materials that go into the making of the spectacle of Janmashtami.  They mushroom (and during monsoon!) just a day before the festival and vanish once the celebrations are over for the day. Although, the marks remain on the city for nearly a week. The distinguishing landmark of this place is the facade of Satyanarayan Temple (image below).

  DSN TempleSC06419

The stalls run from that temple downwards up to the Bans Phatak branch of the one great Varanasi traditional institution called Ksheer Sagar, and upwards nearly up to Chowk Crossing, near Chitra Cinema Hall  that’s closed now (image below), and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (http://www.mlbd.com/).

Chitra

Now, that I’ve fixed the central location in your mind, let’s look at the stalls, and also talk a little about what they sell and what is done with it then. Gods and goddesses wear clothes: rich, little, beautiful and colourful clothes. Lord Krishna likes yellow clothes, it’s said. The range of colours from which his devotees can choose start from blue, goes to green, yellow, orange and red and then to silver and golden. Small skirt like clothes with shining border are displayed all over the region.

Now, that our Lord has worn right kind of clothes, he must have the right throne to sit at. As our lord is a little child many a time, he is given a cradle instead of a throne. He is rocked in that cradle during worship. The cradles may be made of plastic, wood, mica covered with metal foil or various kind of plated metals. The place for the baby Krishna to  lie upon is generally covered with velvet or some kind of soft cloth.

Jhoola Silver

There are two very important elements of Janmashtami decorations in the images below. The gentleman wearing a newspaper hat is selling coloured saw dust (called burada) in sacks, the same thing in sacks and packets is what the lady in sari sells. What is done with the coloured sawdust? It stands variously as green grass, sand, black street, or multi-coloured floor of a palace or jail. The green grass is for cows to graze on, and Krishna to do raasleela with his gopikas, the sand is for wrestlers to practise on, the black streets coming from four directions and more come to meet at a strategic point where a traffic signal and a crossing are decorated. The palace and the jail are for Krishna’s parents. The second important thing is the black pumice like thing (called jhaama) in heaps extreme left. It is used to construct a temporary hill that’s taken as Mount Kailasa on which Lord Shiva lives, around it a steam engine may chug, dragging compartments behind.  

The foundation of my love for this literally spectacular festival was laid in my childhood. In fact, I believe that’s the age when the foundation of love for all festivals are laid. Who has time to let the spirit of a festival enter their system and lead them and their subsequent actions by  the rhythm of seasons? Shri Krishna Janmashtami, the festival that celebrates the birth of a god as child is celebrated most enthusiastically by children. The rituals and worship are for the elders of the family. Children decorate a room, or one corner of a room in house with clay, wooden and plastic toys. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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