Monday, December 18, 2006

Defining Cities:

This year was a markedly different year for me – the only year when I could not take the looong break and escape to the mountains or some place as inviting – call it a sudden sense of professional responsibility or just simply a lack of rebellion. But I did get a few chance to go to cities I had not been to in years and was happy to see them from a new perspective altogether.


I went to Kolkata after almost six years expecting the chaos to hit me on the face. Instead I found no traffic jams, smooth roads, tall swanky buildings, big showrooms and malls and the ever increasing suburbs. It was such a pleasant surprise. The people were as warm, the markets and food stalls as inviting as ever….yes I did get to devour those yummy phutchkas, churmur and jhal muri after so manyyy years!! All would be just great if only the lazy attitude of the people changed….!! Hmm..or maybe that’s what give the city that character….ok am not complaining anymore!


Hyderabad is a city with a heart….no city can ever beat the hospitality that’s ingrained in the people of Hyderabad. Wherever I went, people offered me something / anything that they had to offer – paan, maaza, lassi. It’s a growing city but with the soul of a cultured town. I had to give the hyderabadi cuisine a sad miss because even a mere drop of red chilli on my food makes my stomach spit fire literally! The best part…I saw a shoot of a Telegu film’s dance sequence….sadly I don’t know the name of the movie or the Hero…I think I just missed my 15 mins of fame – one could have seen me standing among the spectators looking wide eyed at the extras in short skirts and bulging tummies!!


Mumbai - SIGH!!!!!!! My favourite city with some of my favourite people living there!! Mumbai for me spells FREEDOM. But when…that’s a question I have been trying to answer for the past 10 years.


The only word I have for Pune…its Fundoo!! The chaotic traffic and potholed roads still exists…even after 15 years (when I had visited Pune as a tourist) and vehicular pollution is in the extremes. But I loved the city with its roads lined with banyan tress and those colonial style tiled roof houses sprinkled here and there. I did not go to the pubs or german bakeries or fashion street that my friends had suggested. Instead my young niece took me around in her scooty (this city survives on scooties!) to her small hangout places. I walked from one end of the city to another with a friend late in the night without even a thought about our safety. It was only with great control that I stopped myself from shouting YoHooo!!!

GS, SwB, Cactus - u lucky people!!!


Goa simply ROCKS!! I have fallen head over heels in love with Goa. This is the only place in India which can make everybody its own. It welcomes you with a big warm hug and refuses to let go. It has something for every possible kind of person. It has the hills, the oceans, the rivers, the cities and the villages, the pubs and the peace, the colours and the monotone. It’s a place where any lost soul can come to find oneself back!!


Is it strange that I am getting less cynical about sada Delhi?? No, I haven’t had a sudden change of heart and now falling in love with the city…but I do see a perceptible difference in the city. It seems to be opening up slowly…very very slowly and it is giving its people lots of new things to experience…night life is not rocking but one can still choose from so many live shows – rock or jazz without feeling you are a piece of meat. There’s less honking on the roads, more festivals, exhibitions etc. I still don’t think it can ever reach that height….but atleast its trying!


It is so amazing that each city in India has a character of its own – traveling hence can never be boring!

Sunday, November 26, 2006


“If Life is a stage, then I have a blocked view!”


A Calvin moment which describes me perfectly: Calvin goes to mom and complains – “I let my mind wander and it never came back!!”


Favourite lines seen on trucks and buses:

Boori nazar wale – eye test kara le

Koi puche to kehna, abhi abhi aayi thi, chali gayi


Seen at a South Ex Bhel Puri stall – “Save Puri”


The fantastic duo of Shiv Kumar Sharma (Santoor) & Bhawani Shankar (Pakhwaj) on a cool wintry night under an open sky
Bob Dylan’s numbers sung by the Indian Rock god Lou Majaw in a smoky, crowded, small pub

Two extremes in one single day – amazing experience!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sounds of Silence:

While standing in the office balcony one sunny Oct day, an image of clean blue mountain sky with the Himalayan range in the distance flashed before my eyes. That was enough to set my heart racing and after a failed plan to go to Mukteshwar, decided to go and visit my friend P in Lansdowne instead.

After a smooth ride in the metro, the Old Delhi railway station was utterly chaotic…a prime example of the extremes that is India. Waves and waves of people, narrow platforms half blocked by cartloads of luggage, no dustbins and huge scurrying rats everywhere. A firang woman attempting to experience India to its fullest, sat straight down on the dirty platform and waited peacefully for the train to arrive. A minor stampede like situation happened when the train arrived with people and luggage going in all direction. An old caring coolie helped me find my compartment and after settling down realized that my fellow passengers were those ever gregarious but highly avoidable group of bong travelers. To avoid any kind of talks with them, I promptly went off to sleep.

My friend picked me up from the tiny station of Kotdwar in the wee hours of the morning. P’s house is situated at the quiet outskirts of the town with a huge orchard surrounding the house…just like the one we stayed in when I was a little kid. P’s Alsatian greeted me with joy but dared me to touch him. Despite the attitude he is one of the most cowardly dogs I have ever come across. He would call out for P or her father till one of them came out and only then go after the cows and monkeys that often raided the orchard. But he was a king and had a harem all to himself. Cherry, Nene, Kali, Whitey and J (name forgotten) were all street bitches, adopted by neighbors, who doted on him. Watching their antics, soaking in the sun in the verandah and having aloo-paranthas was just the way I wanted to spend a quiet Diwali day.

An overcast sky and incessant drizzle greeted us the next morning. We decided to drive up to Lansdowne. A layer of mist had enveloped the hills and the drizzle echoed in the valley along with sound of the flowing river. As we drove higher, we saw the clouds settling in folds in the valley below. By the time we reached Lansdowne, we were all curled up tight due to the cold. Lansdowne seemed deserted when we reached…I later realized that it’s always like this there. One can hardly see people there…only in the town centre. A silence permeates every nook and cranny of that place.

Only towards the afternoon, a weak sun broke the sky and covered the whole place in a golden glow. Old British era houses surrounded by freshly washed trees and the slanted rays of the setting sun made the heart heavy with melancholy. There’s something about evenings in a hill station – they can make you feel so lonely, even when you are with your nearest and dearest ones – a realization that you are alone in this world – and hence an immense desire to rush to the warmth of home. We had dinner over discussion on leopard sightings and ghost in the army mess.

The sun was strong the next morning. I hurriedly dressed up and walked all the way to the church from where one can view the snow-peaks. Again not a soul anywhere. I stood and watched the peaks slowly turning pink in the morning sun. A haze still remained not letting the peaks shine in its full glory. I was slightly disappointed. Two morning walkers came by and enthusiastically filled me with stories about Garhwal…how William Wordsworth had sat at that very bench while looking out at the Himalayas, how the Hindi poet Nagarjun hailed from the same town, and how the name Garhwal came into being. When they realized I was getting bored, they moved off and I went back to wake up my friend.

After another lazy walk around the area, we decided to go back to Kotdwar. When I turned and looked at the mighty Choukhamba one last time, a layer of clouds was just covering up the range. I was glad that I had managed to catch a glimpse. And throughout the journey back to Kotdwar and then on to Delhi, the gripping sounds of silence kept echoing in my ears.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


My grandparent’s old house in a tiny lane near Calcutta always held me enthralled. As kids it had become a kind of ritual to visit the empty house every year with my mom, sis masi and cousins. And every year I was transported physically into a different era.

The main door opened to a courtyard which had a well in one corner. Tenants still lived there and the whole house had a strange dank smell and a cold feel to it adding to the mystery. A metal staircase led to the house where my mother and her sisters grew up. The staircase opened to a long corridor which framed the courtyard from above. Rooms hugged the corridor to its right. The furniture were still intact…huge mahogany beds with posters and tables and chairs. There were still old crockery lying on the shelf and huge trunks invited me to explore its content. I found so many coins dating centuries ago, the dolls that my mom and her sisters played with. The old sprawling bathroom and the scary store room next to the kitchen which had one tiny window from where the light filtered in….each room had stories to tell….I could see my grand dad sitting on the bed reading the newspaper and my strict grandma shouting at my mom and her sisters. Another spiraling metal staircase led up to the open terrace above…which was forbidden to my mom and sisters lest the neighbourhood guys get attracted to them!! I never did manage to go up that staircase as it had rusted very badly and fell apart when I put my weight on it…it remained as forbidden to me as it was to my mom…

Another part of the ritual was to buy hot samosas and jalebis from the old mithai shop where my grandparents used to buy mithais; eating it straight from the packet while listening to the creaks and groans of the silent house. We never touched the crockery left in the room….it stayed there as in a museum.

Now a swank new building stands in the place of the old house owned by unknown people. My grandparents thankfully were not there to see this happen. Sometimes I wonder how bad it must have been for my mom and her sisters to see their memories razed like that.

For my part, I still see in my dreams the house where I grew up and lived a free life!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Everlasting Decade:

S, R & I had met 10 years ago, at a time when we were tentatively taking the first few steps which determines this current day. The fact that we had a few similar insecurities and lots of similar dreams is what brought us together. The three of us are temperamentally very different….given a situation all three react in different ways. While S & R belongs to the 2 ends of the spectrum, I tend to balance them both out. Over the years we have nurtured each other dreams, seen each other fall, picked them up, encouraged, fought, bickered, lashed out at each other, driven others away but always later turned to each other for support and understanding.

Where 10 years ago, we used to meet every Saturday in the morning and talked non-stop till evening, now we meet for a few precious hours once a month and then each of us rush back to our own lives. Where 10 years ago, we used to analyse every minute incident in our lives, we now just mention the more important incidents in our lives to be analysed only when asked for.

Changes, subtle and slow but ever present. I don’t know where life will take us all as we stand on the brink of yet another cycle of life and in 10 years hence, but I know that I wouldn’t be here, where I am now if they were not with me all this while.

So as S, R & I always say, here’s to a great future – just as the way we always want it to be. Happy 10th Anniversary!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ahhhh Goa!!!

Last monsoon I had tried very hard, but things went wrong at every step and I had to cancel my plans. Since then, the images of a rain soaked Goa had haunted my mind. Exactly one year later, my hurriedly made plans just clicked and despite chaos at airports, delays, confusion, I was on my way to Goa for a tiny but a much needed break. From the time I finalized my plans, I prayed almost everyday that the rains didn’t stop (yes…very selfish since most of Gujrat and Maharashtra were mostly flooded!)

So, when rain lashed the plane window as it finally stopped in front of the small empty Dabolim Airport, I was thrilled! My friend K & husband S drove me to their home some 40 mins away…through long winding empty wet roads lined with swaying palm trees. All one could see was the colour green…..this is what I had come for….to drown myself in this rain soaked beauty.

Goa is a place which is best explored slowly…in a month or so. But since I sadly had only 3 and ½ days, I tried my best to see Goa my way.

· Fontainhas with its cobbled alleyways and brightly coloured houses with white bordered windows was like a snapshot of a Mediterranean town…more beautiful than I had expected it to be.

· The long driveway leading to Goa’s main centre Miramar was lined with freshly washed trees and old Portuguese style houses tucked far away from the main road in shadowy avenues.

· In Calangute and Baga, I couldn’t resist being touristy and ended up shopping good but dank smelling clothes at discounted price. The beach was crowded for the monsoon season. We went and sat at one of the 2 shacks that were open, sipping cold port wine and watching the clouds roll in from the sea. When the other shack started playing a Punjabi number and a sardar along with his Indian-style swimsuit clad wife started to dance…we moved off. What can be worse than listening to Punjabi numbers in the beaches of Goa!

· At Vagator, the sea was fuming and dashed hard against the rocks; the air was thick with moisture….and the palm trees swayed madly with the wind. We sat and ate prawn and kingfish masala with gusto even as a line of crows watched us impatiently. A group of men from Karnataka came and sat in a similar fashion to the crows watching two white women frolicking in the beach. We stayed there and stared at them till the time they moved off and the women were left alone.

· Chapora fort of the Dil Chahta Hain fame was absolutely fantastic against the ever darkening sky. The dark stone of the fort had turned mossy and the grass was absolutely green underneath. The world up there was a perfect combination of green and black ….and one could only but naturally run down shouting with pure joy at the sight.

· The ruin of St Augustine’s Church in old Goa was mesmerizing. Apart from a group of nuns who sat laughing and talking in a far corner, the ruins were empty adding to the mystery. The rains had turned the stones black and mossy filled with centipedes. Water dripped down from the stones – the sound echoing in the silence. A still-standing section of a huge tower loomed against the grey sky. One could stand still there and hear the Spaniards / Portuguese (its never the Dutch or French!) riding their horses fast and shouting at the enemy….everything around them in ruins. Two old but perfectly maintained churches flanked the ruined church from both sides, adding a strain of melancholy to the whole surrounding.

· What I loved most was driving through the villages of Goa….the real side of Goa. Wet lanes, dark sky, green paddy fields everywhere with small hills in the background, palm trees everywhere and small white churches dotting the landscape…it was simply picture perfect.

· And I loved taking rides on the bike taxis…feeling the rush of fresh air against your skin, the endless empty roads and a mad rush to find shelter before one could get absolutely drenched in those 2 minutes of crazed rainfall. Then as suddenly all would get normal once again….to continue with the drive.

On the last day, when we were waiting for the train to arrive at the quaint station of Thivim, the clouds grew dark again and rain fell heavily as if putting up a final show for us. Sipping hot tea and eating vada pao while watching the outside world turn white, I realized that I had fallen madly in love with Goa. When the train pulled out of the station at 6 in the evening, I remained glued to the windows and soaked in all the view of the rain soaked world outside - before it became dark and I would wake up to a completely different world the next day.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Thru the office window:

A grey sky got darker and darker by the minute. The wind whipped the swirling clouds about and the trees swayed to its tune. Then the drops began to fall quickly transforming into sheets of rain. It dashed against the huge glass window, rivulets running down madly and collecting at the base. A pigeon struggled against the wind and the lashing rain; couldn’t find any place at the window and flew out again….I wondered what if it got tired and fell down. All around me colleagues were discussing something….I tried to concentrate but my gaze kept shifting to the grey world outside. The rain had slowed down now. Droplets now formed on the window…blurring my view of the sky and the green beyond. An eagle flew into view dancing with the wind.

That was it….I excused myself and rushed out for a whiff of the eagle’s world and breathe in the freedom…..

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Path Ahead:

Life showed me the path ahead, when I was at Crossroads
No Highway this….but another strange slow lane,
with a promised Oasis at the end.
As I skipped on, I let myself be fooled by the shimmering lights
When I lay down to rest a while,
And lifted the veil of the shimmering lights
I was dragged down by the lurking heaviness inside.
So heavy that all around me was only silence….
No calls from the far off mountains
No shuffles of restless feet
Could drag me back to my path again
Only a question remained
Does the Oasis even know,
That a tired wanderer chose to come its way and
Is waiting somewhere for a drop to wash the heaviness away?