Wednesday, December 25, 2013

How to ride a bicycle and be carefree:

Just go to Vietnam! It’s a bicycle country. Everybody rides bicycle here – men, women, children, dogs, cats, in cities, in rural areas, everywhere. So cyclists have the right of way and more importantly other heavy vehicles on the roads keep a lookout for them.

What struck me when we landed in Hanoi was that everything looked similar, like Delhi was before Commonwealth. Muddy little lanes without pavements, haphazard way of erecting buildings, plastic lining the highway; the only change was that people looked different and traffic moved on the right hand side.

Ten days, erratic weather and a few local train travels later, the differences between our country and theirs started to emerge – strongly. In all reality it’s just a 38 years old country, for that’s when the war had ended. Just like most post war countries, population boomed from a mere 10 millions to around 90 millions today resulting in a lot of spread or growth in construction everywhere. People are not that sensitive to environment yet and laws are still not as strong as it’s our country. Like most Asian countries, Vietnam society also yearns for a son who will pray for them when they die. In smaller towns, two coffees together will result in discussions of marriage. The concept of men helping in housework is still not acceptable. Yet, in these 38 years, Vietnam has moved so much ahead of us - in development, infrastructure, lifestyle and most importantly attitude.

The plastic lining the highway in Hanoi was an aberration. Even though rustic, the rest of the country is spotlessly clean. Like most South East Asian countries, people are well dressed, friendly and naively lacking the ability to differentiate which usually ends in subtle forms of racism elsewhere. There is dignity in labour; people are polite and very punctual. You still have to cross the roads just as blindly as we do here but motorists will gracefully let you go first.

Sitting besides the Hoan Kiem Lake near the old quarters of Hanoi in the warm mellow winter sun, I felt I could spend an entire lifetime just watching people and life go by. Young mothers strolling with their adorable babies, the students trying to chat up tourists in order to improve their English, the many pre-wedding photo shoots with brides and grooms posing in different places – there was a languid quality to life here.   

The afternoon sun filtering in through the tree got caught in the grey hair of an old couple sitting on a bench and chatting with each other. That warm picture made me feel like growing old just like them and in a place just like this.          

But till that time, I would happily ride a bicycle along the sea coast totally free and perhaps even collect wildflowers on the way! 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Recently I went for a workshop in Himachal; to a village verging on turning into a small town but not quite there yet.  The snow peaks were covered by clouds testing me once more. Pretty valleys surrounded us but wherever I looked, I saw signs of human habitation spreading like an octupus’ tentacles – modern buildings, mobile towers, cars, garbage etc.

My workshop was full of energetic and super enthusiastic youngsters from cities all across the country. It was interesting to observe these youngsters and their behaviour pattern; those from Delhi were hesitant at first in making friends, ones from Chennai were a naturally bubbly lot who though friendly tended to form a group, the students from Bangalore were balanced while the only other girl from Mumbai mingled with everybody like she knew all of them from before. 
While the post-sessions time rang out with songs and laughter around a bon-fire, I would sit aside and think back to a time when I was a student like them and yet so different from them. While I used to be totally confused, scared and restless, these youngsters were focussed, confident, knew what they wanted and were well travelled to boot.  
I befriended a 24 year old Himachali girl who had just completed her Masters from JNU. She told me how most in her circle of friends were already disillusioned with life. When I probed, she said it was possibly due to so many choices in life or that JNU generally bred disillusionment.   

It was during a short interactive session with 12th Std. students from the local government school that it struck me. It was innocence or rather the lack of it. What the local students had, their city bred counterparts lacked a great deal.     

One day, our coordinator recounted how he had taken his 6 year old daughter to a river which was almost pristine. When he told her the name of the river, she asked,“ How can it be a river, this one doesn’t stink?”  

With no real connect with nature now left, I fear that all innocence will now be gone with this little girl’s generation.   

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dolce far Niente!

I had forgotten just how sweet it can be.

I had forgotten just how good it feels when you can remain snuggled under the cover, in the darkness listening to the heavy fall of rain outside. I let an hour pass as I turned from side to side drifting in and out of sleep. I decided to finally get up after the domestic help had left and the house had fallen silent. I switched off all the fans and opened the windows wide. Rain sprinkled in along with gusts of wind. I could hear the mad rustling of the Peepal tree outside as I sat down with a cup of tea and the daily newspapers. Four wet sparrows came and sat on the window grill chirping hesitantly. I was so happy to see them. I got up and sprinkled some rice for them, so that they would come again and again to visit me.

After a while I threw the papers away. Today was not a day to read about the bad or even the good stuff happening everywhere. It was just the kind of day for not doing anything. So I just lazed on the bed gazing outside at the darkening sky and the moss covered building. Rain lashed and then slowed down to a drizzle. Thoughts came and went; emotions surfaced and then died out.

It was a day for not doing anything. No reading, no listening to music, no house work, no office work. Just be. In the moment. Guilt free.

The sweetness of not doing anything. I think I will repeat this another day very soon. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Putting a Finger:

My month and a half escape to pure freedom is nearing a decade and so is my journey with writing. Looking back, it seems like a defining decade and journey - a decade which constantly kept me on my toes, forever shifting, forever questioning. Chapters opened and chapters closed in quick succession egging me on to the path where I should be. I rose to great heights and fell from greater heights teetering on the brink of a space where there is either chaos or magic. Now I can see that by luck or divine interventions, I always fell on the side of magic.

2003 was a tumultuous year for me. The third annual trek to the Himalayas only added to the gnawing restlessness which ate up my soul. My mind was filled with questions and an ever increasing need to escape so much so that I could not think of anything else. And as the saying went, the universe conspired to give me exactly what I needed. At that time I didn’t know what the consequences of such a want would be and where it would lead me. It’s only a decade later that I can afford to breathe and look back with ease.

It’s the middle of 2013 and the year is no where similar to the one a decade back. There are no more questions eating out my soul, only the warmth of the present moment. There are times when a strange and different kind of restlessness rears its head.....a restlessness which is not satisfied by the many short and long trips I take on work and holidays leaving me claustrophobic and gasping. Maybe it’s a shadow or reminder of something which I have not felt in a long time. Maybe it’s a precursor to something much bigger.

Whatever it may turn out to be, I now know that I am looking forward to another decade of an unfathomable journey and another decade of writing about it.

Monday, May 06, 2013


It’s the night, always the night that makes you think.

Sitting by the window and watching the distant twinkling lights of the airport, the silent buzz of traffic on the tarmac that never ceases, the occasional sound of a flight taxing down the runway in the dead of the night,  tends to make me feel terribly and strangely lonely yet fuzzily warm all at the same time.

I sit by the window and think of all the stories that take place every day and every hour within its vast yet limited confines. I think of stories of people leaving for destinations far and near, leaving behind many loved ones perhaps, going to places big or small but different from ours, sometimes never to return, of coming back to empty apartments. I think of stories of people who would perhaps be coming home from distant lands to loved ones, the excitement of meeting families and friends, the excitement of discovering a new place, of travelling together.  

I sit by the window and think of my story...of how similar or different it would be from those stories out there.  

And in the mornings, the aloof yet inviting lights fade and the building merges with others against the grey sky. The stories of people also fade as daily life takes over.  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sometimes I Wonder:

Is this how I wanted the world around me to be? I remember times in those years gone by when I would sit by the window or verandah and dream about a world. Not this. Now that world in my head seems so distant and hazy that I cannot remember a thing in it. But it was definitely not this. This world lacks the innocence of my world, the enchantment of finding a never discovered place, the happiness of aimlessly ambling around, the truth of an everlasting relationship.   

Sometimes I Wonder

Just how resilient am I? Till this omnipotent claustrophobia not of my making finally engulfs me. This noise, people…too many people, this unbearable mass of clutter all around and the ever present evidence of humanity in even the remotest corners. Perhaps there will come a time when somebody will break my reverie on a cold mountain top one day and say ‘Kindly adjust’.

Sometimes I Wonder

How much time till I finally give up? On people and relationships of any kind. Far too many people have far too many hesitations and restrictions of their own making. You can keep extending your hand - for friendship, love, to help, to just give without return – but you will not find another hand extended in return. Too many people are far too busy creating a chimera of extraordinary lives that they will feel empty without.

Sometimes I Wonder

How fast can I change with the changing time? Or will I forever be stuck in the past? My dreams are still there but they were built in the past. That world and this world do not match anymore. There is nothing new in this world. Perhaps like the frequency of changing mobile phones and laptops, I will also have to keep changing my dreams to find the missing newness.     

Sometimes I wonder….how much more….just how much more…..

Sunday, February 17, 2013


I finally found a city which lets me dream.

It’s not important that I can be myself here. What I treasure most is that I can simply lose myself need to be even me. This is the only city where I can walk without a care in the world, lost in my own thoughts, my own tune. This is the only city where I can walk and walk and just keep walking. This is the only city where I can sit alone in its many parks with the sun filtering through its beautiful trees and read uninterrupted for hours. The only interruption is when I want to listen to the wind rustling the leaves of the trees or when I want to see how close the squirrels could come to you.  

For many years, I have travelled to Bangalore for just a couple of days when it would be work and hurried meetings with friends.  This time I stayed for a much longer time, enough to understand the pulse of the city and its people. What I saw I loved immensely - its many quaint lanes and by-lanes covered with massive rain trees, beautiful buildings and delightful cafes. A good mix of both Delhi and Mumbai, its unhurried, laid back pace lets you enjoy life at your own pace. I felt at peace, content yet energetic. And there were many a-times while sitting out late at night with the chilly breeze on my face and gazing at the sky, I felt a pure happiness which I have not felt in years.

Perhaps it was me. Perhaps it was the simple realisation that all those dreams that I have had was right there, coming to me at its own time and pace.

Or perhaps it was just the city weaving its spell around me.  

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Change is the Only Constant:

I like change. It takes me to whole new places, physically, mentally and emotionally. It lets me experience things I have never experienced before. It forces me to meet people I would have never met otherwise. It makes me to do things I would never dream of doing.

I am scared of change. I am scared of leaping into the unknown knowing that I might not land on my feet. I am scared of hurting and bruising myself over and over again. One part of me would love to spend the rest of my life in cosy familiarity, doing the same thing again and again with my circle of known people.

One part of me would die if I didn’t grow. Perhaps this part of me is stronger. Every time I start feeling the fuzzy warmth of familiarity around me and think of wallowing in it, change forces its way in to say it missed me.

It’s the beginning of another year and I begin it with yet another change. Where the change will lead me, how I will cope....I have no idea.

All I know now that it’s there and I have to take its hand.