Emotions, Experiences, Thoughts

Six & The City

Friendships are not cast in stone. Not every set of friends can be a Jai-Veeru story. Why am I suddenly musing about this? Well, August is the ‘friendship month’ or so the entire commercial world would want me to believe.

Seeing all the brouhaha around me, I could not help but think back to the time when I knew six friends who fell apart. Three moved away for reasons best known to them while the remainder did not know who was right & who was not.

Sounds like one of those drama series on Netflix, does it not? Wish it was just that – a story – but it was not.

The six came together in college. Initially, they were eight but two left the college due to one or the other reason. Remained six who had the best time of their life together. College was too perfect to be true; their friendship, exemplary. But as is true with every perfect story, this one had its twist too.

Misunderstandings surfaced. There had been misunderstandings in the past too; but now, it blew out of proportion.

One of them went away for higher studies after college. In the new place, she realized what the world was about, and the value of true friendship. There was none with whom she could share her small joys nor the pains that wrecked her soul.

joyandpain

The days of laughter with her friends or of being comforted seemed like memories from another life. They had all been there for each other, be it a calm sea, a sunny day or a rough weather.

But now, her friends bickered. She was a neutral party. She intervened as it hurt to see her friends reducing to acquaintances. Soon, the same friends did not even want to see each other.

Life is too short to spend arguing. What someone means to you is fully appreciated when they are away from you. She realized then & the other five realized it too. But by then, it was too late. At times, she wishes she could travel back in time and set things right.

People crib, complain, squabble – at least they have someone to crib about & someone to squabble with. Imagine a life without friends & a support system. Nothing can be as difficult as that life.

Tears will roll down your cheeks but there will be none to wipe them. A smile will come to your lips & fade away; there will be none to notice it. Being the inexpressive person, I am, I may not articulate it often. But life is meaningless without friends.

Apologize when needed.

please-accept-my-apologies-300x300

Be thankful for the little gestures.

Do not take your friend for granted.

Try to understand a friend’s state of mind & talk to her/ him accordingly.

Do not give your opinion if a little voice inside you says ‘no’.

Stop your friend from being foolish.

Do not expect your friend to toe your line.

Where_to_draw_the_friendship_line_at_work_BL

My friendships have aged like wine, & the wheat has separated from the chaff, but whatever I have now, I will not let it go.

“True friendship is like sound health; the value of it is seldom known until it is lost.”
– Charles Caleb Colton

Images courtesy the Internet

Advertisements
Contests, Emotions, Poems, Thoughts

Where Are You, My Firebrand Friend?

Ladkiii!

 

Do you remember the time we returned late from partying,

Only to be met by my father at the gate?

While I sat cowering in the car, you walked up to him,

And pacified him.

 

Or the time when the teacher picked on me

For not doing well on a test?

You went up to her after the class

And told her why I couldn’t.

 

Or even that time, when the roadside Romeo

Tried to act funny?

You’d not even seen the incident,

Just heard me complain about it.

Not just did you escort me home that day,

But also, did not flinch from calling the cops

When the bugger dared to whistle at us.

 

What then happened sweetheart?

How then could you not answer back to him

When he shouted at you the very first time?

 

Why then did you not confront him

When you realized he was snooping on your emails?

 

How then could you not stand up to him

When he ridiculed you in front of his friends?

 

Why then did you not walk out of the house

When he twisted your arm?

 

How then could you not call the police

When he slapped you black & blue?

 

What happened to the firebrand friend I had?

Did marriage take away your steam?

Why then did you not reach out to me or any of us?

Was the ‘sanctity’ of marriage more important than your self-esteem, & more importantly, your life?

 

Dear ladki, rise and get into your fight mode.

Let me be the wind beneath your sails for once.

You are fire – it keeps those around warm but it also burns.

Let us end what we did not begin…

 

What happens behind closed doors must not remain behind closed doors if it is harmful to the people involved. Why then do we put a finger on our lips when it comes to domestic violence?

I pledge to raise my voice against it, taking inspiration from When I Hit You, Meena Kandasamy’s new book.

 

Featured Image Courtesy clipartix.com

 

Thoughts

There are days…

image

There are days when I’m just an ordinary girl
Days when I am the girl next door…

One who tilts her head to the sunshine
Who caresses petals tenderly
There are days when I’m just an ordinary girl…

One who loves her hand to be held
Who likes an arm around her waist
There are days when I’m just an ordinary girl…

One who doesn’t worry about the repercussions
Who doesn’t fret over tomorrow
There are days when I’m just an ordinary girl…

One who wants sweet nothings to be whispered in her ear
Who wants someone to flirt with her
There are days when I’m just an ordinary girl…

One who can put her feet up after work
Who needn’t worry about dinner every night
There are days when I’m just an ordinary girl…

One who is loved
Emotionally, mentally, physically & spiritually
There are days when I’m just an ordinary girl…

One who can bawl her lungs out
Who won’t be ridiculed for doing so
There are days when I’m just an ordinary girl…

One who can get through the day without thinking a thousand thoughts
Who can sleep the moment she closes her eyes
There are days when I’m just an ordinary girl…

One who doesn’t have to wish for all of the above
Who doesn’t have to be feisty, independent and strong all the while
There are days when I wish I could be just an ordinary girl…

Image credit: Google Image Search

Experiences, Travel

An Ordeal Fueled by Diplomacy

 

N visits Bangladesh frequently for business. Business, in general, is good there. Right now, every company wants to capture the Bangladesh market. This visit, however, left us with a sour taste.

Naturally, N has a longer term visa with options for multiple entry. He’s recently got a new passport while his valid Bangladeshi visa is in his older passport. By all international standards, this’s a valid mode of travel as long as you’re carrying both the passports, which N was.

He was cleared at the New Delhi airport by both the Indian immigration officials & the Jet staff, and he boarded the plane. All hell broke loose once N landed at Dhaka. The Bangladeshi immigration officer was on his way to clearing N when his neighbor nudged & ‘reminded’ him that ‘such cases’ were to be denied entry. ‘such cases’ meant those where the visa is on an older passport.

N was detained, taken to another room & his travel documents (read passports) were taken away for a ‘decision’. He appraised me of the situation & I tweeted to Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, the External Affairs Minister, banking on her ‘badass’ status of helping Indians in distress abroad. It’s been more than 24 hours now & we’ve still not got a reply from Mrs. Sushma ‘Superwoman’ Swaraj.

N got in touch with his business partners who tried to convince the immigration officers but the latter wouldn’t budge. I passed on the number of the Indian High Commission in Dhaka to N. When he reached them, they, in turn, asked him to request the immigration officers for a transit visa etc. No real action from their side.

The Bangladeshi immigration officers heard N speaking to the Indian High Commission & promptly asked him to not relay ‘wrong information’. According to them, N’s visa wasn’t a valid one; it was ‘cancelled’.

I tweeted to the Indian High Commission & am still waiting for any sort of response from their end. I reached out to my school friend settled in Dhaka. She helped in all ways she could but she was as surprised by this as we were.

By now, N’s partners & the Jet ground staff suggested N to not argue any further. Their reason – if the immigration officers got cheesed off, they would hand over N to the Home Ministry & then God knows what would happen.

The immigration officers decided they would deny entry to N & handed over his documents to the Jet staff. N & I, too, wanted him to be back. The struggle wasn’t worth the anxiety. N was put on the next available flight (& the last one) to India.

As N waited for his flight, the Jet staff told him that lately, the Bangladeshi immigration has denied entry to quite a few such Indian cases, even though there has been no official communication regarding this.

Later, the immigration officer came up to N, apologized & simply said – ‘India has been denying entry to our people too, on the same grounds’. It hit us then. It was a diplomatic tussle in which we, the common people, had got stuck.

This was the reason neither Mrs. Swaraj nor the Indian High Commission bothered to step in or even to respond. The reasons could have been only two – either they were helpless against the Bangladeshis (which we find hard to believe) or they knew it was deliberate for they were doing the same thing.

N reached Kolkata at 10:30 PM, slept cramped at the Kolkata airport & made his way back to New Delhi on a morning flight. When I saw his face today morning is when I could finally breathe.

Politicians & diplomats lead easy & protected lives. They would never know how terrible it is to have your loved ones in such a spot. But I hope they do face something like this – perhaps, then, they would start putting the citizens first, & not treat them as simply vote banks or objects of taxation.

Featured image courtesy Google Image Search

Contests, Experiences

Tossed About By Time

Love came. And went. Came again. And went again. Came yet again. And went away yet again. I laughed at my predicament. I could feel the grains of sand slipping from my fingers. Not once, not twice, but thrice.

The first time I had shrugged off the heartbreak. No, do not get me wrong. The tears had flowed. I had laid my head on my mother’s lap and had sobbed my heart out. But I had kept my optimism alive. It had been easy, for the ‘love’ that I had felt was misplaced. He had been a liar. He had blatantly lied about his work, his salary, heck, even his qualifications. Who builds a relationship on the basis of lies? With this revelation, ‘love’ seemed too big an emotion to invest in him. Liar!

It was as arranged as arranged could get. The second time I mean. He had been handsome, funny and easy to talk with. What was there to not like? Oh yes, he had a family who put dowry demands oh-ever-so-subtly. ‘It’s all part of custom ji’, my father had been told by his dad. He had convinced me by another trick – ‘oh, you know, in small towns, we need to do all this to keep up appearances’. I had been so charmed by him that I had overlooked this until divine intervention happened. He had been diagnosed with a lifelong ailment. My father, finally and rightfully so, had put an end to the alliance. I had been heartbroken again. I had not sobbed now; I had wept. Not for the breaking of my heart alone; but also for the fool I had been to not realize my folly. How could I not see the charade he had been playing? This had lessened the pain considerably. Perhaps this had made me grow up to the conniving nature of the world too. Dowry-seeker!

Ooh! Dark. Handsome. Enigmatic. Eloquent. Thinker. Funny. Good dancer. What a smile! Had I struck gold this third time? Maybe it was true after all – third time lucky! Thinking back, I am sure he picked girls easily, what with all the charm he had. We had started off as friends. He had a solution to every problem. Ooh my go-to man! He also had fixed ideals in life. ‘We are all here for a purpose.’ Yeah, I know that, but I was yet to find my purpose and my dear man had had no patience. He had slashed my self-confidence to pieces. He had hopped in and out of my life at his convenience. This time, I had howled – into the dead of night. I had wondered what was going wrong with my life. At my lowest, I had wondered if it would not be better to end it, for once and for all. But then, I was not a quitter. And that too, over a mere boy? I had chastised myself for even thinking in this direction. And one day, while I had been on my way to office, I had let the breeze cool my thoughts down and strengthen my heart. Finally, I had snapped out of the awe I had for him. Emotional abuser!

Psst – I was finally fourth time lucky, in love, of course. But that is another story, no? You must be thinking what a boy-enamored this girl is. You are absolutely correct. I am someone who is fiercely independent and yet needs a companion when she returns home in the evening. And no, a cat will not do. I will not be apologetic for wanting to settle down but I digress.

Looking back at these times, I realize now that it was a test of my strength. It was a battle between my heart and mind and I had to see who came out tops. Most importantly, time was tossing me around. I had grappled with the waves of time till I had found a shore. It opened my eyes to the ever true adage of time being the biggest healer. It also made me add to the adage that time was also a great teacher. Those years had been like a chess board. I had been moved by time from position to position. When time had its fill, I checked my mate! I am suppressing a giggle at my own pun. But tell me, after all, aren’t we all pawns in the hands of time, the greatest player of them all?

 

This piece of mine was one of the winners of the Muse of the Month -January 2016 contest run by Women’s Web. Yay!

Featured Image Courtesy: Pinterest

 

Contests, Experiences

And ‘rriiipppp’ it went!

It was September the last year. The lazy month when we start forgetting the onslaught of heat & start making plans for the Delhi winter – of all the heritage walks we will complete, all the parties we will host, the delicious food we will eat etc.

It was the festival of Teej, not the Delhi one, but the Bihari one. Oh yes, there exists a difference, but that is an altogether different post, isn’t it? I chuckled – a ‘feminist’ like me observing Teej! But I’d my reasons – being a feminist did not make me love my husband any less. If by giving up food for a day, I could add a year or two to his life, why not? Also, such opportunities to deck up came rarely for me – so why not make the most of it? And lastly, I would not miss an opportunity to detox, eating only fruits through the day.

So, here I was, ready in a pretty green cotton sari, brought by the husband from Bangladesh. I looked fresh as dew & lovely as a doe. (Hey! I do think well of myself!) It was a working day but I did not mind that a bit – office meant compliments. The only thought nagging my mind was the ill-fitting blouse. It went beautifully with the sari, but it was a little tight, and, in any case, the cup-blouses made me squeamish. The zip on the side was oh-so-difficult to manage. However, style demanded I throw all caution to the wind. Ah, we women!

So, off I was to my workplace, gathering admiring glances and words of praise from colleagues. No matter how self-assured we are, a little external praise always boosts our morale. I got through half the day, almost floating on clouds. I imagined myself as Sushmita Sen from Main Hun Na. Vanity makes you do strange things, doesn’t it?

In the second half, I rose from my chair to walk up to a colleague and just then, heard a rip. I froze. I quickly took the sari ‘aanchal’ and wrapped it across my shoulder. My ill-fitting and ill-fated blouse had ripped along its zipper. My left flank was exposed but thanks to God Almighty for the sari ‘aanchal’. No force on Earth could make me leave my seat now. No supernatural force could make me raise my left arm. My head, which had blown up like a balloon, made a deflating sound. The last time I was this conscious was perhaps on my wedding day, when I had realised that 300 pairs of eyes were solely on me.

With my vanity out of the window, I cowered on my seat and finished off my day’s work quickly. Intermittently, I chided myself – ‘It is just a small gap and you have covered it well. Stop fretting.’ The next second, my face would become red with embarrassment. I felt like the model that has a wardrobe malfunction on the ramp. I made a mental note to never ever ridicule celebrities when they have a bad dress day.

Minutes ticked slowly (or does it just seem that time moves slowly when you want it to pass quickly?). An hour before the official closing time, I decided I had had it. I mumbled some excuse to my boss and left. Walking up the stairs with three bags and then walking on the road till my car was another nightmare. I thought everyone was staring at me. Well, everyone was staring at me but it was due to the sari (which people rarely see me in).

I heaved a sigh of relief only once I entered my house. Off you go, ridiculous blouse! This was the day I vouched to not wear anything ill-fitting. All those clothes which I was struggling to fit into headed to my tailor for alteration. What also got altered was my attitude – Comfort & Style have to go together. If one comes at the expense of the other, it spells disaster. The blouse may not have fit right but it certainly set my brain right!

Celebrate yourself with a perfect fit. Take the Buttercups quiz @ http://bit.ly/buttercupsquiz and get that perfect fit you deserve. Use GYRF10 to avail a 10% discount.

#PerfectFit

Featured image courtesy wittywomanwriting.com.

Experiences, Thoughts, Travel

China – Not That Mythical!

Within a year, I’ve had a chance to visit China twice. Well, Hong Kong & Macau don’t really consider themselves as China but the fact remains that they’re the special administrative regions of China. As an Indian (this may be true across nationalities too), China has been a fascinating, mysterious place. The most common thoughts that used to occur in my mind when I thought of China (& this holds for many more like me):

  1. China has too many people.
  2. The Chinese eat anything that walks.
  3. An Indian will have a problem in finding edible food.
  4. The language barrier is significant.
  5. The major cities are heavily polluted.
  6. The Chinese are rude & unfriendly.
  7. The Chinese are xenophobic.

A few of these turned out to be canards while the rest got validated. My observations are based on the three cities I visited – Macau, Hong Kong & Beijing. Thus, my sample size is small but hopefully not way off the mark. So here goes what I detected and felt about china.

China Has Too Many People

Yes it does. It is next to impossible to go to a tourist attraction & expect to click a photograph with no people in the frame. At times, it is even impossible to see the attraction. A lot of travel blogs suggest reaching early which I didn’t manage to do. Perhaps this will help.

IMG_3396

Can’t. Avoid. People. Neither at the Forbidden City.

IMG_4531

Can’t. Avoid. People. Nor at the Summer Palace.

The ‘too many people’ manifests itself in the scramble for public transport too. Hailing a cab can be quite a task but using a subway is easy, cost-effective & I didn’t find it too crowded. I’ve seen worse in India 🙂

IMG-20150816-WA0028

Take the Subway. Cheap & Convenient.

The Chinese Eat Anything That Walks

Not entirely true. The Chinese do eat a lot of meat but most of it is conventional stuff like chicken, beef, pork, seafood, fish, duck etc. at most mid-segment restaurants I visited, there was nothing that was repulsive to read or look at. Hint: dogs, insects, reptiles etc. However, street markets and a type of restaurants called ‘hotpots’ had ‘interesting’ food available. All the horrors that were in the mind appeared in front of my eyes.

IMG-20150810-WA0008

A Dish Containing Scorpions. & No, I Didn’t Eat It.

An Indian Will Have a Problem in Finding Edible Food

Partially true. There are adequate food options available, thanks to the presence of American, Italian, & even Indian restaurants. You can find vegetarian restaurants too. There are enough McDonald’s, Starbucks etc. We had a lot of ready-to-eat food with us but gladly, we didn’t have to consume that.

You can find Chinese dishes with conventional meats like chicken, fish & seafood. However, the Chinese dishes taste nothing like what we get in India. India has its own brand of Chinese, fondly called tandoori Chinese, which is full of sauces and condiments. In comparison, authentic Chinese will appear bland to the Indian palate.

Also, I (& my companions) found a particular pungent smell in all Chinese dishes. Perhaps it’s the use of fish sauce or oyster sauce. The smell was too overpowering for us to ignore. We minimized our intake of Chinese food consequently.

The Language Barrier Is Significant

Yes it is. 90% of the people we came across did not understand a single word in English. Even basic phrases like ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, ‘hi’, ‘hello’ were alien to them. Surprisingly, this was the case in the hospitality sector too. A few of the servers who waited on us did not understand English at all. The only English they understood & could say was ‘no English’! We’d to point to the menu to order our drinks & dinners. & if we wanted any customization, god help us!

For cab drivers, we carried the Chinese names of our destinations. Thankfully, all of them could read Mandarin. This is a major variation from India. Here, even a rickshaw puller understands Basic English words/ phrases like ‘thank you’, ‘okay’, ‘hello’ etc.

Amongst the remaining 10%, the grasp of English was elementary at best though I’m sure the situation would be different amongst the crowd that works for multinational corporations.

The Major Cities Are Heavily Polluted

Not true. At least not for an Indian. Compared to Delhi NCR, the air quality in both Beijing & Hong Kong was better, though there was a little bit of haze. For travelers coming from developed countries, this may be a worry & thus, as advised by the western travel blogs, it may make sense for them to carry masks.

Apart from the air, I found all the three cities to be impeccably clean. In Beijing, I observed the roads being washed twice a day. The garbage was collected almost on an hourly basis. There was no difference in people’s behavior though. Like Indians, they continued to spit, throw garbage etc. at their whim & fancy. But the discipline of the sanitation department was exemplary.

The Chinese Are Rude & Unfriendly

Hem – haw! Yes, the Chinese appear to be rude because (i) they don’t smile on seeing you (ii) they talk in a blunt, direct manner.

I believe their way of talking stems from their language. As far as I understand, Mandarin does not have grammar & syntax. It is more of words put together to make sense. So for a Chinese talking in English – s/ he processes what s/ he wants to say in Mandarin in her/ his head –> s/ he translates that to English in her/ his head –> s/ he speaks/ replies in English. This makes their English also blunt & devoid of the niceties that we usually put into it.

About the smiling bit, I agree they should do it more.

The Chinese Are Xenophobic

Assume you are not allowed to meet anybody all your life. You are confined to your house & can interact only with your family members. Your family members don’t step out either. You have a view of the outside world only through your window. Then, suddenly, when you turn 25 years old, you’re told you can step out & even let outsiders enter your house. Will this affect your behavior towards the outside world? Sure it’ll. Through that narrow window, you’d formed an image. You’re now being subjected to other images, a few of which contradict the earlier image & a few which validate. Wouldn’t you take time to absorb it all & adapt to it?

Apart from dispelling/ validating the above preconceived notions, I formed a few independent opinions too. Succinctly put:

  1. Beijing is a cleaner, richer version of New Delhi.
  2. The Chinese love big cars – the Audi, the BMW & the Mercedes. These’re almost every second car that you see on the road. But the Chinese have no qualms buying these big names secondhand. (This explains the ‘almost every second car’ bit.)
  3. Hong Kong is the not- so- glamorous cousin of Singapore. Both are financial hubs filled with expats. But Hong Kong has a ‘China’ flavor to it.
  4. The Chinese love to talk. They can yap all day long. Given the harshness of their language, this can sound quite jarring to the ears.
  5. Chinese women/ girls love their bling. They can give the Rajouri aunties a run for their money any day.
  6. Macau isn’t just a gambler’s paradise. It’s a lot to keep culture & history lovers occupied too.
  7. Since Hong Kong used to be a British colony, I was under the impression that the place would be full of English eateries. But, sadly, I didn’t find any place that served the quintessential British food. In fact, my food struggle was greater in Hong Kong than in Beijing.
  8. The Chinese are enterprising. Every second home on the outskirts of Beijing housed a small-scale industry of sorts. From these small factories, they supply goods all across the world. Despite the language barrier, they’ve managed to trade with the entire world.
  9. Not talking in financial terms, but India is still light years away from being a China. If we imbibe their discipline, we can think of competing with them.
  10. Despite their population struggle, their infrastructure is top class. Better put, their infrastructure is managing to keep up with the population pressure. Perhaps they plan first, execute later.

IMG_3392

World-class Infrastructure.

11. China, as a whole, has a rich history but it’s still virgin territory for outsiders. The Chinese love their historical places, & they accord the respect that such places deserve.

IMG_4581

Well-maintained Attractions

12. The Chinese love their nightlife. The world may think otherwise due to their apparent serious nature but all the cities I visited had quite ‘happening’ entertainment options.

Phew! After 11 months of my HK-Macau travel & three months of my Beijing travel, I’ve finally managed to put this down. To summarize my sentiment, there’s lots to be explored about China, in China. The expanse of the country ensures that a lifetime will be inadequate to do so. Each small region holds a story & I’ll be lucky if I get to discover at least a couple more…

Travel

Kem Cho Gujarat!

When Gujarat was afresh in my mind, I’d planned to write a long post singing praises of the state & its government. However, now, a considerable amount of time’s passed & the detailed memories have started fading. A few aspects stand out, & will continue to do so, till a contradictory experience occurs.

Speaking of contradictory experiences, I’d hated Gujarat the first time I’d been there. It was 2008. I was a fresher with stars in my eyes & into my first job. The client site was on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. I’d hated everything about the city. In retrospect, my hatred stemmed from the treatment meted out by the client & our senior management to us, rather than from Gujarat itself. But you know, the law of generalization etc.

So, in a nutshell, I was glad I got a chance to revisit my opinion. & thus, listing down 5 things I simply loved about Gujarat. My experiences cover Ahmedabad, Dasada, the Little Rann of Kutch, Modhera, Patan, & all the towns & villages that fell along the way.

#1. Roads – Now, I’m a Delhi girl. It’s quite difficult to impress me with roads. But I’m also a traveler. & I’ve seen the worst of roads. I’ll not talk about the mountains for that’ll be an unfair comparison. But, an apple to apple comparison can be done with roads in Uttar Pradesh. In almost all my travel posts, I’ve written about the sorry condition of the roads in UP. An eight-hour drive to Nainital becomes a harrowing 12-hour battering due to the roads in the UP stretch.

In contrast, the roads in Gujarat were a delight to be driven on. Not just the highways; the back of beyond villages had ‘pukka’ roads. I’ve always believed roads are the harbinger of growth & development.

IMG_0463

Image 1: The buffaloes find joy in pooping on the ‘pukka’ road

#2. Water – The remotest of villages have running water. It is quite a feat to be able to guarantee water supply to every nook & corner, especially when you’re a predominant dry state. The capital of the country, Delhi, is unable to provide tap water to a number of its colonies, even though it’s the best resources of the country at its disposal.

Yet, Gujarat has achieved this. It saves the womenfolk the drudgery of drawing water from wells and carrying it over long distances. & honestly, doesn’t the thought excite you that you can get a stream of water every time you open your tap? Well, maybe, you take it for granted, for you’ve never known otherwise. Let me assure you – the alternate’s not pretty…

#3. Electricity – Rural menfolk in white kurta-dhoti, women in colorful chaniya-cholis, children playing in the mud, cattle, goats, sheep & dogs freely roaming around, elders sitting under the banyan tree discussing sociopolitical affairs… this pretty much paints a picture of a typical Indian village. What stands out is the fan whirring inside the hut, the bulbs twinkling at night, the small fridge to keep matters cool. This’s not something you can see in every Indian village but it’s something we saw commonly in Gujarat. You can see the poles running through the length & breadth in every village but seldom have the wires carried current. In Gujarat, they did…

IMG_0482

Image 2: Functional wires serving as a community spot for our feathered friends

#4. No beggars outside temples – So, to be honest, I visited only one temple in Gujarat – the Bahucharmata Temple in Bahucharaji. The Sun Temple at Modhera doesn’t count as it’s a tourist attraction than a pilgrimage spot. I’ve not been to a single temple in India where I’ve not been flanked by beggars asking me to give something to them. They either hound me till the time I enter the temple or my vehicle, or they sit forlornly, their bodies covered with dust, grime, sores & wounds. It’s not a pretty sight & I feel bad for the ones who’re genuinely destitute, but I hate to be hounded. This is usually by those who’re active and fit, & can easily pick up some sort of work. But, of course, beggary is an easy way out.

At the Bahucharmata temple, I didn’t see a single beggar. No old man, no young girl carrying a baby, nil, nada, niyat. It made me think – what’s different here compared to the rest of India? Is it because Gujaratis as a community don’t believe in asking? Or is it because there’s no need for anybody to beg? Or is it simply because the administration does a good job of keeping them away? Sadly, I couldn’t ask anyone these questions but I would love to unravel this mystery. But, whatever it was, it put me at ease. I didn’t have to look away out of disgust or guilt or helplessness.

IMG_0699

Image 3: Outside the Bahucharmata Temple

The other aspect that stood out was the absence of hawkers trying to coerce you into buying offerings. I’ve not been to any place of worship where the hawkers outside haven’t tried to sell me all sorts of offerings to make the gods or saints happy. This’s as true for a Hanuman Mandir in Delhi as for the Ajmersharif Dargah. In Bahucharaji, the hawkers peacefully went about their business, selling their wares to only those who approached them. There was no shouting either by them, trying to seek attention of pilgrims. This’s how a place of worship should be – peaceful and with the liberty for you to interact with the Almighty as you want.

IMG_0700

Image 4: Colorful wares & no pressure to buy

#5. Tourist Spots – Spotlessly clean. Well – maintained. Adequate signboards and historical references. No hanky – panky. No touts. There were only ASI – approved guides at the Modhera Sun Temple, who asked you only once if you wanted their service. If you said no, they would quietly move away to the next set of travelers. We were so pleased with their professionalism, we ended up engaging one. And don’t regret it one bit.

IMG_0764

Image 5: The well-maintained precincts of Rani Ki Vav

 IMG_0874

Image 6: The spotless compound of the Sarkhej Roza

IMG_0893

Image 7: The Sabarmati Riverfront

To balance my post out, there were a couple of things we disliked about Gujarat.

#1. Disregard for traffic rules – We were constantly at the edge of our seat whenever we were on the road in Ahmedabad. There was a complete disregard of traffic signals, lane driving, overtaking rules etc. it was a miracle vehicles didn’t bump into each other. I’m quite a paranoid on the road, & the situation in Ahmedabad was pure horror for me. The plus side – it made us remember God more than we usually do.

#2. Food – what’s the deal with making even the curries sweet? How do you differentiate between entrée & dessert? Perhaps, it is an acquired taste but it was quite unpalatable to us. After one Gujarati meal, we slipped back to north Indian cuisines.

Sigh! I still managed a long post but I felt I needed to write this as a tribute to the good time we’d in Gujarat. We intend to visit it again soon, hoping to cover all the other tourist spots that Amitabh Bachchan has requested us to 🙂

Travel

Beauty in Barrenness

There is such an emphasis on adornment. Cakes are expected to be decorated. Clothes are supposed to be embellished. Girls are expected to be ornamented. Presentations are required to be beautified. Amidst all these trimmings, we forget about the innate beauty of people, of places, and of things. We do not, for a second, imagine there can be attractiveness in simplicity. In our estimation, a plain Jane cannot be beautiful. Unless we garnish our dishes and make them look pretty, we are dissatisfied. We purchase knick-knacks to be kept around the house; these will, presumably, make our dwellings worthier. When we are conditioned thus, it was exciting to find beauty in barrenness.

Now, this post is old. Any travel post that comes after I have done more travels is old. So, bear with me if I end up losing my threads here and there. We had had our eyes set on the Rann of Kutch for quite a while. The white salt desert was enticing. We found the miles of nothingness inviting. But, going to the Rann of Kutch needed time, and we were not getting any holiday which was of more than three days. So, patiently, we waited. October last year threw up an opportunity and we found ourselves on the path to Gujarat.

IMG_0458

Pity I cannot identify birds. This one is a Red-Eyed, Black-Shouldered Kite for me!

Rail journeys caught our fancy last year when we realized it was quite convenient to undertake them as long as you could book in advance. And, well, my travel planning is in ADVANCE! So we booked ourselves onto the Ahmedabad-New Delhi Rajdhani and sat back for a comfortable ride. From Ahmedabad, it took us about four hours to reach Dasada, a hamlet on the edge of the Rann of Kutch. We had booked ourselves at Rann Riders, which turned out to be one of the best places we have stayed at. But, more on that later.

I cannot even begin to describe the beauty of the Rann. And, mind you, I was at the Little Rann of Kutch. The Great Rann of Kutch is supposed to be grander and prettier. We went to the Little Rann for a sunset safari, and everything they show in photographs and movies is cent per cent real. For miles and kilometers and a few more miles, there was nothing except the parched land of the Rann, crusted white due to the salt deposits. This was immediately after the monsoon. I cannot imagine what the land would be like during summer. At the far end was a lake, on which the Sun was slowly setting. A flight of flamingoes brooded on the lake, wondering surely what we humans found so interesting in them. Or, perhaps, they wondered, how after destroying their natural habitats, humans create sanctuaries to ‘protect’ them. No matter what the flamingoes thought, they were a sight to behold. The curved beaks, the pink bodies, the slender legs- all proving, yet again, what a great artist the One above is.

Coming back to the Rann, the precise barrenness was what I found beautiful and calming. We are so used to chaos around us, and the need we feel to be constantly doing something, that these moments, and these spots, where time stands still, are rare. I felt at peace with myself. I felt one with nature.

For my eyes, there was the Sun, mellowing down to a soothing yellow. There was the lake, shimmering against the rays of the Sun. There was the earth, cracked and white, and yet moist underneath. There were shrubs, providing a splash of green in the somber setting. The only sound around me was the patter of the hooves of the wild asses running around. And, once in a while, when the flamingoes took flight, their wings flapped to create a symphony. The only smell I had was of the dry, salty earth. The only taste I had was the salt on my lips. And the only sensation I had was of a pesky insect trying to bite me. But I felt complete. All my happy memories rushed back to me to make me smile. All my pain disappeared for that moment. And yet, I neither felt great joy nor great sorrow. I just felt peaceful. (I had a similar feeling recently, once again, when I was in the lap of nature. But that would be another story!)

IMG_0519

Can you believe there is water beneath this dry earth?

The wildlife of the Rann was another aspect that caught my fancy. I could not imagine a landscape as arid as that supporting any kind of flora and fauna. But, surprise! God must have thought- let me make a few patches of earth unfit for human survival, but let me create a few gorgeous animals who will thrive in the same ecology. Good move God! Amongst mammals, you can see the most gorgeous donkeys, nimble desert foxes, shy rabbits, and even more shy nilgais. I am not great at identifying birds but I had some help from our safari guide. You can easily spot ducks, flamingoes, and francolins amongst many others. Of course, they are all wary of human beings, and will fly away the instant you step closer to them.

Lastly, our resort- Rann Riders- was a delight to stay at. We were in the midst of a lush green setting, making us wonder how such verdure could survive the harsh weather condition. Acres of plants and trees, the names of which I would take a lifetime to find out, surrounded us. playing hide and seek in these trees were a plethora of animals – dogs, cats, horses, ducks, peacocks, emus, monitor lizards- all living in harmony with each other and with us human beings. Our dwelling was a little mud hut called ‘kooba’, a typical village house but with modern amenities. We woke up to the sounds of the animals and slept to the gentle hum of the air conditioner. Truly a step in the eco-tourism direction!

We are all the more determined now to visit the Great Rann of Kutch, but it will have to wait a couple of years I guess, and also for the winter months. Even October smoldered here…

 IMG_0500

The gorgeous Wild Ass not afraid of humans