Saturday, August 31, 2013

Phuket: Same Same but Different

This is a long overdue, part two post of my recent visit to Thailand. I mean it’s not recent anymore, but still. Originally I thought I'd do the Bangkok and Phuket post one after the other, but for some reason that never happened and now there's a long gap in between them. If you like you can read my Bangkok post here.

Day three in Bangkok we woke up at five in the morning to get a taxi to the airport for our 8:30 flight to Phuket. The city was still waking up to the organised chaos it would transform into in a few hours, but for now it was bathed in a gentle hue of cloudy blue and looked beautiful, sleepy, but still beautiful. I believe that there's a lot you can learn about a city from what it does early in the morning and late at night, you only need to look. 

Hailing a taxi in Bangkok is simpler then you’d imagine. All you need to do is walk down to the main road with your bags and raise your arm at passing traffic and boom a taxi pulls over. Now the real challenge lies in communicating with the driver, because none of them speak English. A little tip here- It’s relatively easier to explain to a non-English speaking driver that you want to go to the airport, most of them understand that, but what about other, more complicated destinations? In that case what we did was print out directions to where we wanted to go in Thai and handed it to the driver. That way he knows exactly where we want to go and we saved ourselves the trouble of using frantic sign language and banging our head against the thick language barrier.

We had a flat tyre on the way to the airport and that’s when my heart stopped, the last thing we wanted was to miss our flight on a vacation! But the driver, a kind, old grand daddy looking man, was swift in changing the tyre and we were soon on our way. I made sure I tipped him and in return got a crinkly eye smile from him.

Landing in Phuket is one of the most beautiful landings I've seen in a long time. No depressing grey concrete looming across the horizon, but only different hues of blue, the turquoise blue ocean and the cornflower blue sky. That's also when I realized you really don't need Instagram filters in Phuket. 

We stayed in a lovely little service apartment we found on Airbnb, which I have come to believe is the best way to find yourself reasonable accommodation when you're travelling. The apartment complex had a swimming pool and overlooked the ocean and also a giant Buddha sitting on a hill. Our one bedroom apartment was spanking clean (it was cleaned everyday) had a little, but fully functioning kitchenette (where we'd make breakfast), a sitting room with a TV and the best bathroom I have used in a long time; complete with one of those fancy new showers that jets water out of the ceiling. 

Kata, Karon and Patong are the few popular beaches in Phuket, apart from Surin and Kamala Beach. Our first stop was Patong beach which was absolutely swarming with tourists, most of them Indians (pot bellied uncles and salwar kameez wearing aunties who looked like they had taken a package tour and who wouldn't stop staring). Patong was like the Baga of Phuket and all I wanted to go was get out of there. Karon and Kata are nicer beaches and not too crowded or blatantly touristy and where we spent more time. There was also this flea market of sorts bang opposite Karon beach and also a lovely street food stall run by a massively pregnant Thai lady, from where we had some very tasty chicken on skewers and some not very tasty fish balls dipped in sweet chilli sauce.

While in Phuket we also went for a traditional Thai massage, done by blind people. We paid 150 Baht for an hour long massage, which was half the price of what others were charging.  Now I've never been a big fan of massages and this massage was the closest I've experienced to labour. I'm not saying it was terrible, but it was nothing like I've ever experienced before. There were times during that massage, especially when the masseuse had her elbow dug into the small of my back that I was convinced this is what childbirth must feel like. Thankfully she couldn't see the hideous faces I had pulled during the massage. But honestly, you feel the relaxing effects of the massage only a day later and boy was it worth it. 

Phuket is gorgeous and I think I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking, which is only fair.

An important rule to follow while being on vacation is that you must live in flip flops and shorts.

A smattering of golf flecked across the sky. It didn't take long to getting used to these gorgeous sunsets. 

The Big Buddha, a Buddhist place of worship, which had this gorgeous and gigantic statue of Buddha sitting atop a hill (the same statue visible to us from our bedroom). There's something so serene and calm about the Buddha that I could have spent hours here. 

The Banana Split, a dessert I rediscovered and proceeded to shamelessly overdose on. Phuket is also where I discovered the BEST banana Nutella pancakes (on an animated street vendors little cart) and oh my goodness it was easily the best I have tasted! 

 The mandatory boat tour to the Phi Phi Islands. (The place is choked with tourists, but it's still worth going)

The last few hours before the end of a vacation are always the hardest and as sad as I was to leave, I knew I'd be back soon.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Potter-ing Away

The first Harry Potter book came out in 1997; I was thirteen then, the perfect age for me to discover this boy wizard. But no I had to wait sixteen years, when I’m about to touch thirty to discover the magical and completely addictive world of Harry and his friends and their adventures at Hogwarts. Yes, you can throw stones at me for I have been an idiot.

My recent obsession with Harry Potter began after I watched a documentary on J.K Rowling’s life. I was fascinated, bewitched rather! I couldn’t stop and watched more of Rowling’s videos and interviews (including a fantastic one with Oprah). Her rags to riches story was unbelievable, yet fascinating and inspiring. Here was a woman who rose from being a single mother and struggling writer, living in abject poverty (as poor as you can be in Britain without being homeless, as Rowling often says in her interviews) to a celebrated author and a billionaire while at it.

In her interviews, Rowling spoke about how the idea of Harry occured to her on a delayed train from Manchester to London and how the death of her mother six months into writing Harry Potter deeply effected her and the character of Harry significantly. I was in awe! Why hadn’t I read Harry Potter all this while?

It’s not like I had never read Harry Potter at all. I had read the first two books when I was in college (again much later than I should have) and enjoyed them thoroughly and then for reasons I can’t remember, I didn’t read any further. If I remember correctly, I don’t think I knew there was to be a sequel to book two and just like that I forgot all about Harry Potter.

Later, when the sequels did come out and films were made on the books and I saw all the craziness surrounding the book launches and release (I used to work at Delhi airport at one time and at the release of one of the books a crowd of passengers the size of a small army had descended at the airport bookstore to buy their copies) I had lost interest in Harry and Hogwarts. I guess I thought of them as only children’s books and brushed off any thoughts of ever reading them.

After watching Rowling’s videos I got myself all seven Harry Potter books on my Kindle and oh my goodness I am hooked! I finished book one in two days and I’m currently on chapter four of book two. I think the reason people take such an enormous fancy to Harry Potter is the fact that the books allow you to escape to a fascinating and magical new world of wizards and witches and ghosts and goblins, where you can turn matchsticks into needles and make broomsticks fly. The books are so gripping, it’s like a spell has been cast on me, making me wonder if Rowling indeed is a witch!  But the one theme that runs consistently through the books (at least so far) is love and the power of pure and true love. I wanted to share some bits of the book I’ve loved, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else like me who hasn’t read the books till now.

The first few lines of this blog post was my status message on Facebook a few days ago and a lot of people were surprised that a book nerd like me hadn’t read Harry Potter all this while. While some also commented on how reading them now means I’ve saved myself the wait and anticipation of the sequels coming out, but I guess the wait for the next Harry Potter book was part of the whole experience of enjoying the books. I imagine it must’ve been a lot of fun as well, waiting for the book and then lining up outside bookstores from the night before, dressed as wizards and witches (as a friend mentioned how he’s take his daughter dressed as a witch to the bookstore) , waiting to get your hands on your own copy.

There are moments while reading Harry Potter I think of what I'd say to J.K Rowling if I were ever to meet her and here’s all that I can think of saying (just in case she reads this)- Thank you for writing Harry Potter and thank you for preserving a large part of my childhood in these books. I can go on,but it’s time I went back to the book. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bhaijaan's Fish and Chips

In this blog post I talk about a place in London called Southall. For those who may not be familiar, Southall is a large suburb in West London, known to be home to a sizable population of the South Asian community outside of the South Asian sub continent. Even though you’ll find many Pakistanis and Bangladeshis here, the area is sometimes known as Little India. Despite the fact that I revolted Southall enormously back when I was younger and for some reason was greatly embarrassed by it too (hey I was only eighteen) we ended up there each time we went to London, because of my mothers insistence of buying whole spices from Southall. My mother is of the opinion that all our best spices are exported and so maybe going all the way to England to buy Indian spices was her way of showing the exporters her middle finger.

I was eighteen that winter I went to London. Wandering down the damp streets of Southall on an overcast evening, I unsurprisingly found myself surrounded by a cacophony of Punjabi pop fighting for attention against noisy Bollywood music blaring out of scratchy speakers, the kitschy glitter of gaudy sarees and salwar kameez (all from Delhi’s Chandni Chowk) displayed on bald yet large bosomed mannequins in shop windows, street side shops selling everything from cheap mobile phones to shiny baubles and the intense and unmistakable whiff of seekh kebabs and chicken tikkas drifting towards me. I could have been walking through Lajpat Nagar Market, but this was England and it was fish and chips that I was after.

It was right besides the cash and carry shop from where we’d buy our spices that I found a small-ish restaurant serving fish and chips. The restaurant was run by a Pakistani whom I shall (as cliche as it may sound) refer to as Bhaijaan; partly because I don’t remember his name and partly because he said I was like a younger sister to him. My mother and I were the only two people in his restaurant and he wasted no time in striking up a conversation with us. He was delighted when he found out that we were from India and told us he’d been to Delhi

That was the first time in my life, as far as I can remember that I was face to face with a Pakistani and I didn't know how I ought to react. As an Indian, there’s a certain prejudice with which you’re supposed to look at Pakistanis, because of all the political baggage we carry and what our history books have taught us and what the media feeds us about the "enemy nation" (which I’m sure is true for across the border as well). But I guess it was the fact that we were on neutral ground which made it easier for me to smile back at Bhaijaan as he handed over a Styrofoam plate loaded with fish and chips to me across the counter.

Bhaijaan, must’ve been in his thirties then, was tall and slightly chubby and as we were soon to find out, loved to chat. He would hang around out table and regale us with stories of his visit to Delhi, all the places he’d been to and how much he liked the city. Since I was an awkward teenager who didn't talk to strangers, I never asked him where in Pakistan he was from. I don’t know if it was his fish and chips or his easy demeanor, but we were back at Bhaijaan’s restaurant the next day. Bhaijaan was as generous with cups of tea as he was with his constant chatter and each time my mother protested he would shake his head at her and say “Oh no aunty, don’t worry, no charge at all”. Fish and chips and free chai is a combination which is hard to resist and so we landed up at Bhaijaan’s the following day as well. He was thrilled!

After three days, many plates of fish and chips and numerous complimentary cups of tea, it was time for us to leave. The night before we left, we went to Bhaijaan’s restaurant to tell him that we’d be leaving the following day. Upon hearing this he reached for his wallet and took out a five hundred rupee note which he pressed into my hand as a farewell gift. When I protested he told me that this was the last of some Indian currency he was left with after his trip to Delhi and since he had no use for it, insisted I take it, saying “In paison se aap Dilli ja ke kuch lijiyega aur apne Bhaijaan ko yaad kariyega”. I hadn't the heart to refuse and nodded as I slipped the currency note into my jacket pocket. Back in Delhi, I began by spending a small fraction of Bhaijaan’s gift on a large mutton kathi kebab roll in my college canteen and as I bit into the fragrant pieces of mutton, laced with mint chutney and onions, I was sure Bhaijaan would have approved.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What’s in a Name? Come, Let Me Tell You

My name is Maryann Theresa Taylor, which is a terribly complicated name to have, when you're living in India. (In case you’re curious, this is how I got my name). Mostly nobody ever gets my name right  and I have enormous respect for those who DO pronounce my name right at the first go. The most usual and annoying reaction I get after I tell someone my name, or when someone reads my name on a form is “Hain?” which makes me want to slap them across their faces. I mean come on, let’s be polite here, how about “I’m sorry, but I didn't get that? But no, they must ridicule me!
Here is how people usually behave around my name:

a) Hain?
b) Mispronounce it without any apologies whatsoever.
c) Mispronounce it and THINK they've pronounced it right (you need to see the smug look on the faces of this category )
d) Rush through it so fast so they think I didn't notice they mispronounced it.
e) This category only gives me a blank look.
f) The most annoying category, who ask “But what does your name mean?” At them I want to scream “It doesn't MEAN anything you idiot. Why must a name HAVE any meaning for that matter? It’s a Biblical name okay, now go home, Google it if you're so curious and never ask people such questions!”
g) The most polite and my favourite (though only a handful of them exist), “I’m sorry, but how do you pronounce your name?”  (See, there’s a nicer way of doing these things) 

Since I was little, my name has been twisted and mispronounced and misspelled in all ways imaginable, from Marriyan to Marrayum, to Marry, to Narayan (I received mail on the last name for two years. I’m amazed they got the last name right). I went through a stage I hated my name and hated my parents even more for giving me this long winded name in the first place. I understand they wanted to give me a “Christian” name, but why such a flowery name?

I've gone through many different phases with my name. As a little girl I didn't know better and responded to anything that vaguely sounded like my name. But as I grew older my name, my elaborate, long winded, British sounding name became a source of constant awkwardness and agony. By then my name had been mutilated so terribly and at times beyond recognition, that as a teenager I seriously considered changing my name. I couldn't bear having my name mispronounced anymore and since a classmate of mine had changed her name officially (she had a very, very strange name, I’ll be honest) , it gave me hope that I could change my name too. But then I couldn't think of a better name I could replace mine with and soon, like the many ideas you have as a teenager, this idea was dropped.

I would longingly look at my friends who had regular and simple names like Neha and Pooja and Sonia and wish I had an equally inconspicuous name like theirs. Names which everyone got the first time and names they didn't need to spell out or pronounce for people. Since I was so used to the mispronunciation by then, I started mispronouncing my name as well, just so I didn't cringe when someone else did. It hurt me each time I did it, but I still did. Thankfully, this phase didn't last too long.

But the embarrassment aside, I soon discovered how much fun it was giving people fake names, where I could afford to; like when booking a prepaid auto, or putting my name down for a restaurant reservation or even when filling up a feedback form given to me at the end of the meal by aforementioned restaurant.

By the time I went to college, I shortened my name to Anna. “My name’s Maryann, but you can call me Anna” was how I had begun to introduce myself. Anna was amazing, Anna was shorter, Anna was easier, Anna was difficult to mispronounce and almost everyone got Anna right. Wow, why didn't I think of this earlier! Finally, I began feeling good about my name.

My name also has a tendency to mislead people who've never met me into thinking that I’m not Indian. On my first day at my first job, I was met by sorry looking faces of my male colleagues, who after having read my name on the new joinee list, as they later told me, were under the impression that a “white chick” was coming to work in the Delhi office. Sorry boys, but I’m brown! Even in my current organisation a guy from accounts who’d never met me went to HR inquiring about me saying “Ek humare office mein woh bhi toh hai jo Indian nahin hai”.

My last name also misguides people into believing that I am indeed a tailor. I once went to a bank where the lady after taking my cheque from me excitedly declared “Mujhe aap hi se kaam tha!” the puzzled look on my face was followed by her asking me “Aap simple suit ka kitna charge karte hai?” Two buxom Punjabi ladies looking for a “tailor” in Connaught Place were mistakenly directed to my father (who worked in an airline, but not as a tailor) by the office guard. The ladies dumped some fabric on my father’s desk ordering him “Humara size le lo”. My embarrassed father’s colleagues later ribbed him for not having “seized” the opportunity!

By the time I was older and had began working; I had shaken off the awkwardness surrounding my name and had begun to give people quick little tutorials to help them pronounce my name right. “It’s Mei re ann, three syllables and you need to roll the r”. That not many were amused with my forced attempts to make them enunciate my name right is a story for another day.

It’s not easy having a strange and long name; people are easily confused and make no attempt to hide their impatience. It is also very annoying to keep spelling out your name for people and for them to still get it wrong. But more than anything, having such a long name isn't practical. Each time I’m filling up a form, a little voice inside my head is sarcastically singing “You’re going to run out of space”, which, who am I kidding, I do! But passport forms, those are different; those are kinder than other forms and are thankfully accommodating of long names. This is probably the only thing I’m grateful to the Government of India for, passport forms where I never run out of space while filling up my name.

But there are positives too with a name like mine. A name like this means it’s easy to get a straightforward Twitter handle and e mail ID, without having to add any confusing underscores or numerals in between. Also by the awkward way a voice pronounces my name over the phone, I know it’s someone trying to sell me a credit card and so I hang up immediately.

Despite all that I have gone thought with my name, I have begun to love it, it’s taken me a while, but I have and it's nice for a change when sometimes, someone (very occasionally though) tells me what a pretty name it is. 

P.S: Here is a hilarious link on people with difficult names, shared by Diptakirti, a friend who shares a similar experience with his name as well. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Three Legged Friend

Last night I met a three legged dog in Gurgaon whose friendliness broke my heart and who I wanted to adopt and name Tripod. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lookie, I got a Tattoo!

This year on my 29th birthday I got myself a tattoo. A real tattoo which is going to be on my skin for the rest of my life, unlike those temporary ones you get yourself when you go to Goa.

 I was desperately trying to ignore my birthday this year, which is strange because I’m usually the kind who loves making a big deal about it every year.  I guess it was something to do with the fact that I was right at the edge of my second decade and was experiencing a strange dread and emptiness. I guess it may have something to do with how “turning thirty” is always made out to be such a big deal and the fact that you usually question yourself on what you’ve “achieved” so far. But since I still have a year to go before entering my third decade I have decided to accelerate my ambitions, before I hit the big thirty without any answers and a similar emptiness. People make New Year resolutions, I make birthday resolutions. And like New Year resolutions, they barely last beyond the first week. But this time, I tell myself, it’s going to be different.

I have always wanted a real tattoo, but for some reason the desire never materialised. But like most things I’ve always wanted, I spend a few hours doing solid research and then I go out and get it (the same applies for when I bought my DSLR and Kindle).  I spoke to a colleague who has a tattoo (which looked very sharp and well done) and he directed me to Devilz Tattoos in GK M block market. To be surer, I asked people on my Twitter and was again directed to Devilz. Now the thing is that I am petrified of needles, I am notorious for avoiding blood tests as much as I can just so I can avoid needles, but since I wanted a tattoo so bad, I tried to ignore the fact that there were needles involved. Research done, I went to GK on Monday and after having made sure that the tattoo artists at Devilz use fresh needles and good quality ink, I paid an advance and booked an appointment for Wednesday evening.

A little bit about the price. Devilz charge 2K for the first square inch and then seven hundred and fifty for the next square inch. My tattoo was 2.5 square inches and including an after care balm I bought from them, my tattoo cost me a total of 3.6K.

I had a design in mind, I wanted stars on my foot, but when I shared my idea with Shyamli (who is one of the few female tattoo artists in India and who is excellent) she told me that the skin on the foot is very thin as compared to other parts of the body and my tattoo would fade within a few months. She suggested the ankle and so the ankle it was. And since I practically live in dresses and skirts in the summer, the ankle is a nice place to show off my tattoo.

How much did it hurt? Much less than you’d imagine. It feels like an ant biting into your skin, which is tolerable and which means that I was not howling in pain. Something I had anticipated, considering I have a zero threshold for pain. No, seriously I am TERRIBLE! Shyamli chatted with me for a bit and made sure I was comfortable, which really helped take my mind of the fact that there was a needle (with a constant metallic buzzing sound) piercing through my dermis and epidermis (I clearly did a LOT of research).

Forty five minutes later the tattoo was done and it looked perfect. My tattoo was covered with cling wrap and I was given a little piece of paper with after care instructions. Shyamli went over all the after care with me once again and sent me away with a little tin of balm, which I was supposed to apply on my tattoo after two days.

The actual process of getting a tattoo isn't a big deal, it's the after care of a new tattoo which involves quite a bit of work. I’m supposed to keep it covered, wash it with water (no soap) three to four times a day, pat it dry with a soft cloth and apply a thin layer of the tattoo balm I've been given. The skin over my tattoo’s going to dry and begin flaking off after a few days and I have been told NOT TO peel off the scab, or it will ruin the tattoo. This is going to be difficult, considering how much I love pulling off scab from my skin.  I've read many different versions of tattoo after care, some suggest applying Vaseline, but my aftercare list has a big, red cross on an image of Vaseline, so I guess I’ll stay away from that.

It is day’s four of my tattoo and it feels a bit sore, especially when my clothes rub against it and when I apply the balm, but it’s still not half as bad as I imagined. I guess it’s your imagination which tricks you into believing that it’s going to be absolutely agonizing, but in reality it hurts much, much less. So that’s my little tattoo story; I have stars on my ankle and I love them.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Story of Me

It was not exactly the easy or the usual way I came into this world and so I thought I’d tell you a story about how it happened. Here we go.

I am the only child of my parents; a very precious child, born thirteen years after they got married. My mother has repeated the story of my birth to me and to unbelieving friends and family who gape at her, mouth hanging open, eyebrows shooting up in amazement, bordering onto disbelief, numerous times, but I never mind. I love listening to her, savouring the pride in her voice as she tells people she gave birth to a “normal” child at the age of forty seven.

My parents were trying to have a baby for years after they got married, but nothing happened, absolutely nothing. Tests were performed, on both my parents and it turned out my mother had a cyst in one of her fallopian tubes. Doctors said it was still possible for my mother to get pregnant despite the cyst, but when nothing happened for the longest time, doctors suggested a surgery to remove the cyst. My mother underwent the surgery, which lasted hours, but still, nothing.

Being devout Catholics, my parents fasted and prayed, went to churches and chapels and even went as far as France to a place of pilgrimage called Lourdes, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. There my parents made a promise to Mary, (It had to be Mary and no one else- Mary the giver of life, Mary from whose womb Jesus came), if they had a child, preferably a girl, they would bring her back with them the next time. My mother also promised the Virgin that if she had a girl she would name her Bernadette Lourdes, after the girl who sighted the Virgin Mary numerous times in that little village of Lourdes.

Eight years after the surgery, my parents who were still trying, finally gave up (it’s hard to believe them giving up, but I guess they were just tired) and decided to adopt a baby. The pair of them went to an orphanage and fell in love with a little baby girl who had a terrible rash all over her body. The baby took an immediate fancy to my father and was soon at home in his lap, dipping her hand into his shirt pocket and pulling out his glasses. It was decided, this little baby covered in rash and who had taken a fancy to my fathers reading glasses would be their daughter.

A lawyer was hired to get the adoption process going and on the day my parents were supposed to meet the lawyer my mother fell terribly ill. The appointment with the lawyer was postponed and my father suggested they go to a doctor instead. My mother being phobic of doctors decided they wait for a few days. But instead of getting better she got worse. It was Christmas time and relatives were over, pots of food were bubbling over the stove, the house was buzzing with uncles and aunts and in one corner of the house my mother was huddled over a toilet retching into it claiming she couldn't stand the smell of chicken anymore. By this point she was convinced she was terminally ill and was going to die.

Finally when she progressively got worse by the day, my father dragged her to a doctor, kicking and screaming. The doctor felt my mothers pulse and proclaimed she was pregnant! My father’s first reaction was “Doctor, please don’t joke”, but he wasn't, a quick urine test then and there confirmed I was finally on my way! And just like that, my mother’s womb came to life.

But that’s when my parents’ real challenge began, no gynecologist wanted to touch my mother when they found out how old she was. Desperate to be seen by a doctor, my mother ended up at a quack who unsuccessfully tried to perform an abortion on her, my mother realised something was wrong and fled the moment she got her feet back on the ground. Each time they went to a doctor they heard the same set of words again and again and again: “deformed”, “abnormal”, and “have an abortion”. My father finally snapped at one doctor “Are you a doctor or a criminal?”

In her fourth month my mother developed a bad case of mumps, her face swelled up to twice its size and she couldn’t eat anything and that’s when I began kicking. In her last hope she went to a nursing home and met a gynecologist whose first reaction to her was “You’re forty seven, four months pregnant and have mumps?” I’ll take you on, but I can’t guarantee anything”.

It was during the last few weeks of her pregnancy that my mother had a dream, she dreamt of a lady with a blue veil covering her face and a baby in her arms, she gave the baby to my mother and said “This is your daughter, name her Mary Theresa”. My mother woke up and discussed the dream with her mother, who suggested Ann be added after the Mary since it was a family tradition of sorts and so it was decided. Sorry Bernadette Lourdes, but it’s going to have to be Maryann Theresa. She hadn't even thought of a boy’s name, that how confident my mother was. She was used to having her way, even with the Gods, it would have to be a girl and nothing else would do.

A lot of drama preceded my birth. My mother who was convinced she would have the baby any minute now, dragged my grandmother into a crowded bus, suitcase in tow, to get to the nursing home. A few minutes into the journey and after they realised they were on the wrong bus, my seventy one year old grandmother and nine months pregnant mother jumped off the bus at the next traffic signal and walked the rest of the way to the nursing home.In the meanwhile my father, who had gone searching for a taxi came home and was bewildered to find that his fully pregnant wife had disappeared, but not before having swept and mopped the entire house.

Early on a Tuesday morning on August the 7th my mother was wheeled into the operation theatre; before she went in she nervously told my father “If I have a boy and I die, name him Anthony” (Tuesday being St. Anthony’s day). But I beat Anthony to it, I was born at 7:15 am, cheeks as red and round as plums (just like the baby in my dream, my mother exclaimed) and ten fingers and ten toes in place, a “normal” little baby girl, just what my mother wanted. The doctors proclaimed me a “miracle” and my overjoyed father proceeded to distribute sweets to all the doctors and nurses. Sorry little baby girl with rash, lover of my fathers spectacles and sorry Anthony, baby boy never to be, but I guess it was always meant to be me.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Of Poetry and Prose and the Pain it Comes From

Collected short stories by Manto

I have only very recently become acquainted with the works of Saadat Hasan Manto and Shiv Kumar Batalvi and I regret not having discovered them earlier. For those who may not be familiar, Manto was an extremely prolific Urdu short story writer, famous for his writings on partition and its aftermath and Batalvi, a famous Punjabi poet, known for his passionate poetry on love, longing and loss. While reading both Manto and Batalvi, what struck me were the similar experiences of both men, even though they were each lamented by two completely different aches; Manto mourning a nation broken into two and Batalvi nursing a broken heart. 

Both men wrote about completely different matters, but highlighting the same pathos and pain. Manto chose the medium of the short story to convey his grief about the rabid hatred and bestiality that had taken over people during partition. A landmark moment in history, brimming with hope and promise, where a new nation had been carved out of India to create a safe homeland for Indian Muslims, was marred by violence, rioting, looting, killing and rape. In Manto’s writing one can identify a sense of detachment where you almost feel that he’s laughing at the madness and absurdity of it all. I think it was the confusion and later the pain of being identified as a “Muslim” in post Partition India which drove Manto to write powerful satires, brimming with dark humour, such as Toba Tek Singh and The Dog of Titwal, which are still widely read and quoted till this day. His writing, especially towards the end was a portrayal of prevailing social conditions and his own financial difficulties. 

Reading Manto, there are times I want to close the book and cry, just cry noisy and remorseful tears for what happened after a line was drawn across a map in the summer of 1947.

By early 1948 Manto had moved to Lahore from Bombay. He was by then a popular film writer, who was making good money and many of his friends, who were also popular film actors tried to stop him from migrating. By then Manto had already sent his family to Lahore and was keen to join the. Upon reaching Lahore, Manto discovered that the film industry in the city was pretty much non-existent, since most Hindu film makers and studio owners had left for India. Racked by financial troubles and the responsibility of a family, he started writing articles for newspapers and eventually took to drinking excessively, which led to his death by liver cirrhosis in 1955. He was 42 at the time of his death.

Shiv Kumar Batalvi (Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)

Shiv Kumar Batalvi is one of the most popular modern Punjabi poets whose work is appreciated on both sides of the border. Batalvi was pained by the fact that he could not marry the girl he was in love with and turned to alcohol for comfort. He eventually married a girl his parents chose for him, but only because she bore a striking resemblance to his lost love. It was during this period of longing for his lost love that Batalvi wrote some of his most celebrated works, including the famous "Ajj Din Chhadeya Tere Rang Varga", which has been adapted as a popular song in the Bollywood film Love Aaj Kal. Batalvi too eventually developed liver cirrhosis due to excessive drinking and succumbed to it in 1973 at the age of 36. 

At this point I would like to clarify that I do not speak or understand Punjabi and my exposure to Batalvi has solely been through English translation, which I understand is not the “real thing”. Though the beautiful thing about Batalvi’s writing, is that his anguish about his lost love transcends the borders of language and is hence not entirely lost in translation. Such is the magic he wove through his words, which is true for Manto as well. 

I may have chosen to write about both Manto and Batalvi a little too early, since I’m only just discovering them and this post may not have done complete justice to their craft, but let that not stop you from discovering these two greats. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

30's Girl

Last week my mother sent me a bag full of stuff I had left behind at home and in it I found this. The massive dial of a really, really old wristwatch (given to me by a cousin) and which I wore all throughout college. I loved the watch because a) It had Clark Gable all over it, b) Was different from  regular watches, c) And in most cases was a great conversation starter. The strap is all mouldy which I have pulled off and was wondering what I could do with it, considering I don't want it to be lying at the bottom of the bag forever. Any cool ideas? 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bangkok: Trying to Tell the Ladies from the Boys

It was the last week of June and the husband and I got on a plane (got upgraded to business class) and went on holiday to Thailand. I was enormously excited about Thailand because I have NEVER been to South East Asia before. I can imagine you looking at me with raised eyebrows and exclaiming “Never, really?” So yes, even thought the Far East has always been a popular holiday choice for a lot of Indian travellers (being closer, cheaper than other destinations, ease of getting visas etc), I have really never been to South East Asia before. Even though I’ve had the good fortune of extensive world travel (perks of my father’s airline job), the Far East never made it on our itinerary, because the airline my father worked with was based out of London and so Europe, North America and even Africa were places we travelled to most.

Back to Thailand and oh my goodness I love Bangkok! The city is relatively clean (most of it, though some bits were really, really squalid) and shiny and fast paced, the air conditioning cooler, the trains faster, the malls bigger and the shorts girls wore shorter. We were staying in a neat little service apartment (in what I would like to believe was in downtown Bangkok), with a lovely little balcony, right on the top floor, which was perfect for sitting and watching fat, grey clouds hurriedly crowd over the city’s skyline.

It would drizzle on and off and the air was heavy with humidity and the pungent aromas of Thai street food. Talking about food, there was all kinds of it- from fish balls to some dodgy looking bits of meat, to chicken bum. Food was everywhere, from crowded streets thronging with people, to noisy food courts in malls, to lovely restaurants serving some of the best Sushi and Pad Thai I have ever eaten, which made me realise why Thailand is a food lover’s wet dream come true (I’m sorry, but the city’s sleaze had begun to rub off on me).  Sleaze was everywhere too, provided you knew where to look and frankly we didn’t! What I also saw, were a lot of older white men with younger Thai women and even older white men with younger Thai guys. Whatever makes you happy and which is also what I loved about Bangkok, there’s a lot of acceptance in this city. Women (a lot of who own and run businesses in the city) are respected. Even the lady boys, whom we sighted frequently, seem to be well accepted by society and the best part, nobody was leering at girls (coming from Delhi, you can imagine how much of a relief that must’ve been).

We did the usual tourist-y things, took a lot of pictures (I discovered Instagram over this holiday and it is FANTASTIC), rode the sky train, shopped (oh my goodness so many pretty things!), got onto a boat and wandered into the Wat Pho temple (the reclining Buddha temple) by complete accident and which was lovely and completely worth the 100 baht per person we paid to get in. This was also my first visit to a Buddhist temple and I could have stayed there for hours. In front of an enormous golden statue of a heavy lidded Buddha there was a board which said we must pray to the Buddha for success and prosperity, which was odd considering here was a man who abandoned it all. But I prayed for peace and for love and I’m sure the Buddha would approve of that.

(Look out for my post on Phuket later)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Do I Miss You?

Dear sibling who wasn't to be,

A conversation with a friend the other day got me thinking about you, or rather the lack of you. And now as I sit bundled up in bed, fighting a nasty bout of the flu, I let my mind wander and I wonder what it would have been like with you in my life? 

The idea of you was very appealing to me when I was a little girl. All my friends had siblings and the lack of you was very “obvious” then. Parents of my friends who knew I was an only, would look at me, shake their heads and go “Oh ho”, as if I had a dreadful illness or something.

I was that child who NEVER shared her food and snapped when someone touched her toys, all because you weren't there to teach me how to share. I was also that child who’d go and cling to my mother like a leech if I saw her carry someone else’s baby. “Put the baby down”, I would wail to her embarrassment. I was afraid she’s leave me for that child. If you were around, maybe I would never have done that.

I strongly believe that it is truly wonderful to be an only child, primarily because how complete I am in myself. I am an independent little unit ,which is something I quite like. Your absence was made up by an assortment of wonderful pets one after the other (and what if you had an allergy to cats or dogs, then I would never have had pets and that would have been awful). But…there’s always a “but”. There are awkward moments when we’re in a group and friends swap stories about their siblings, or share picture of themselves with their brothers and sisters and I smile because I don’t have anything similar to share. Or at times I shrug and nod during these “sibling talk” sessions, because I don’t have anything appropriate to say.

As a little girl I asked my parents why I didn't have a brother or sister, everyone else had one. It seemed like something everyone had to have. In response to my questions on your absence, my parents would look at each other and mumbled something I never quite understood. I was a child, I had a short memory and your absence was forgotten for a while.

Your absence taught me how to amuse myself. I would sit on the floor in front of my mother’s dressing table with all my toys and talk to my image in the mirror, imagining it was another child. That could have been “our” mother and “our” toys you know; I can scarcely imagine that now! Was it you I imagined my image to be, or was it some other random child, I don’t know? The lack of you meant I didn't need anyone around to entertain me or keep me busy. Yes, I had an imaginary friend who I’d pretend to talk to and play with, but that was that.  I was happy in my own company, playing with my toys and making up stories in my head as I went along.

 I wonder what it would have been like to share my playtime with you. Would you have been bossy and aggressive? Would you have been rough with my toys I was so careful with? Would you have pulled my dolls’ hair or broken my Fisherprice kitchen stove set, which had knobs that turned on and off? Would you have always wanted to play with the toys I wanted to play with? These are things I will never know.

Even if you were to have been around, I would have liked you to be a girl and be younger than me, or even a twin would have been fine. In fact I can imagine how much fun it would have been if we had been identical twins! There was no way I was going to be younger and be bossed around by you- no, no, that just wouldn't have felt right. Had you been a boy, I can’t imagine what that would have been like. Would you have been an aggressive and loud and sweaty boy who insisted on being outdoors most of the time and come home thirsty and red faced from the sun, or would you have been a quiet little chap, with curly hair like mine, who would sit on his little wicker chair, reading his books and minding his own business?

The absence of you in my life gave me so much more my friends with siblings never had. Your absence gave me my parent’s undivided attention. If I were to be superficial, your absence gave me foreign vacations with my parents every summer, it gave me the best clothes and shoes and toys and the best of everything my parents thought they should give me. I would go through my things as a child and know they were all “foreign” and that would make me happy. Maybe if you were around then that wouldn't have been the case. Maybe then “our” mother would have bought “us” pencil cases from a local stationery shop in the neighbourhood, but your absence meant I got to choose my own Mickey Mouse pencil case when my parents took me to Disney Land.

But most of all, the lack of you gave me the best memories with my parents. Our “family” photo in the living room looked perfect with the three of us in it smiling at the camera; that photo frame had no room for a fourth. Your absence in my life was becoming less obvious. And as I grew older, I’m sorry, but I completely forgot about you.  Your absence became completely irrelevant to me.

There are things I suppose I miss without you being around. Like the fact that I will never be able to look at someone roughly my own age and know that we both share the same parents, the same DNA and the same last name. I will never know what it would be to share a room with someone. I will never know how it would have felt to complain to you about “our” parents, on days when I’d get a telling off from them. Would you have been sympathetic, or would you have mocked me? And today as I lie in bed, flue-ed out and feeling completely miserable, would you have come by to my place with a box of chocolates and made me a hot cup of coffee and chatted about this and that? Or would you have just sent me a cold and distant text message saying “Feel better soon”, or something equally lame. I will never know.

Apart from the material convenience your absence gave me, it also gave me an immense confidence and sense of independence I’m very proud of. I make friends easily and am easy to get along with. I don’t need “company” all the time love my alone time and get cranky when “other people” try and step into my territory (I take “my side” of the bed very seriously).

I will never know you and I try and imagine what our relationship might have been like. We may have been those super competitive siblings, always trying to outdo the other. Sibling rivalry they call it, I believe. But then we may have also shared one of those “love-hate” relationships, where we would have always been hot and cold with each other. But then again you could have turned out to be a complete jerk who I would have hated. Or who knows, you may have been a wonderful person, who I loved and who I loved loving.

You can never be part of my life now, it’s too late for you to make an appearance and I love being an only child. Your absence means I’m very content and complete with myself. This may sound selfish to some people, but then being an only child wasn't a decision I made.

Do I miss you, I really don’t know? 

(This post was written some time back when I was ill, hence the references to the flu.) 

Note: This post was inspired by a similar post here

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Loafing Around the Village

Grassy Patch in the Hauz Khas Monument

I have had a fairly fulfilling weekend, considering the last two weekends before this one were spent terribly ill in bed. Saturday was spent house hunting in Gurgaon where the husband and I are planning on moving soon. We just about managed to meet two brokers who showed us two houses, the first out of which was pretty meh, the second one was rather nice, but way out of our budget .We were supposed to go see a third house as well, but then the broker informed us that the house owners were Jain and wanted only “vegetable” tenants. Since we are not “vegetable” we politely declined (we’re looking for a 2 BHK for rent in Gurgaon, if you happen to know of anything, please drop me a line).

View of the Hauz Khas Tank 

 On Sunday we were supposed to drop someone to the airport after which the husband and I impulsively drove to Hauz Khas Village. It was horribly hot and my hair was damp from all the sweating and I was convinced I would melt (yes, I am dramatic like that), but then I was grateful that I was finally out of the house on a weekend and not ill and holed up in bed.

Dzukou Menu

 I had been craving some good Naga food for a long time and we decided to have a late lunch at Dzukou. Dzukou is a tiny little Naga place right located a steep climb up on the fourth floor, but the view, oh the view was lovely! We sat on their terrace strewn with low lying wicker chairs and tables and covered with a bamboo awning, looking over the Hauz Khas tank (which isn’t much of a sight by itself, but at least you can see an uninterrupted sky dotted with clouds). A few beers and a belly full of beef salad, raja mircha chutney, smoked pork curry and rice later we ambled through the village and found ourselves at the Yodakin bookstore, which I have only recently discovered and love.

I love the fact that Yodakin is tucked away (we had to knock on the door to be let in) and stocks a few books, but books worth browsing for hours. Yodakin doesn’t stock the usual popular fiction and business and management books, but stocks independently published titles, along with its own Yoda Press books.

Would You Like Some Bread With That Book?

 I picked up a copy of the Motherland magazine and a book I’d been on the lookout for, called Would You Like Some Bread With That Book? Published by Yoda Press, this slim book is a collection of fourteen heart-warming and hilarious essays by Veena Venugopal on her love for books and reading. The copy I picked up was dog eared and well thumbed through and I was about to put it back on the shelf and pick up another copy when I changed my mind. Though not a second hand book, I liked the fact that someone else had read this book before me. I imagined this certain someone sitting and browsing through this book in the book store  maybe even losing themselves in it and reading it in one complete sitting, laughing and nodding their head in agreement as they read through. Books tell you so many stories, more than just the ones printed between their covers.

I had a chance to have a chat with the guy managing the store who told me that Yodakin will be moving to another part of the village shortly, thanks to the steep rents in the area and they need funds to move. So next time you’re in the area drop by to Yodakin and buy a couple of books, you’ll love the lovely and snug grandma’s attic like ambience. I promise.

Image Credit: The husband and his iPhone 4S

Saturday, May 11, 2013

That Summer of Grief

Reading Manto, there are times I want to close the book and cry, just cry noisy, remorseful tears for what happened after a line was drawn on a map in the summer of 1947. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

On Being Ill and Ruminating

It has been a week and I have been ill and it has been awful. It started last weekend with a viral infection from hell; high fever, a streaming cold and a hacking cough and a weakness so intense, it kept gnawing at my bones. All I was capable of doing then was just lying in bed on my back and staring at the ceiling and thinking…just thinking.

I barely got over the viral and still had a cold when the stomach flu got me. Which is odd, considering I haven’t eaten out in the longest time. So yesterday afternoon was spent nursing an upset stomach, waves of nausea and bouts of vomiting- which. just. wouldn't. stop. For this past week my bed side table has been littered with strips of pills, Tiger Balm, vaporub, and inhalers and has left me feeling rather meh!

I’m better now, but all this illness has left me feeling completely drained and has made me realize a few things, I otherwise wouldn't give much though to; of how we take our good health for granted and here are the few little things I've been missing in this past week of illness :

·       Not leaving the house unless it’s to go to work.
·       No post work/late night coffee with friends.
·       Not feeling hungry- that intense “you body needs food” kind of hunger.
·       Not enjoying a meal, like I usually do.
·       Not feeling like doing ANYTHING (not even reading!), unless it involves lying in bed and staring at the ceiling.
·       Having wild fantasies of being able to breathe through my nose. All this breathing through my mouth has turned my mouth into a stiff piece of cardboard.
·       Wanting to do nothing but sleep, just sleep. With the lights off, the AC on, a light quilt on me and my phone on silent.

This is me right now and it’s awful and I want to get better, I really do.

This will be all from me for now; I really must get myself another glass of nimbu pani. Sigh!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Seek The Headgear and You Shall Find

Here's how to find the right auto guy if you're going to West Delhi. Look for the headgear. Skull caps won't go, turbans will.

Image Credit: The Husband and his iPhone 4S

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Other Side of the Table: Book Review

I’ll be honest, I judged this book by its cover. I couldn't stop looking at how the London Bridge was reflected in the waters of the Hooghly under the Howrah Bridge, to the point that it was turning out to be rather difficult to tear my eyes away from the cover and get between the covers.

If like me, you've been a letter writer you’ll love this book and it is sad how the art of letter writing has pretty much disappeared, given our preference for other (quicker) forms of communication like e-mails, phone calls and text messages. But then they all lack the beauty and intimacy of a hand written letter. The Other Side of the Table by Madhumita Mukherjee is a beautifully haunting book in the form of letters between two friends- Abhi, who is training to be a neurosurgeon in London and Uma, who is just entering the world of medicine in Calcutta. Each letter acts like a new chapter and leads you on beautifully.

The letters exchanged between Abhi and Uma chronicle the lives of two friends living world’s apart and gives you a peek into their desires and ambitions. Abhi is older than Uma and is already an established surgeon and Uma, who has just entered medical college is a keen student and is determined to shine. Abhi acts as Uma’s sounding board, advising her, guiding her and challenging her. Through the book we see Uma mature from a girl to a woman and Abhi enter a more serious and somber stage of his life.

The correspondence between Abhi and Uma, which spans ten years, gives us a picture of their friendship, their frankness and how vocal and comfortable they are with each other, taking advice from each other on matters pertaining to life, their careers, relationships, marriage, love and sex.

As the book progresses, one sees Abhi and Uma go through defining moments in their lives; marriage, difficult relationships, heartbreak, challenges at the workplace and a critical illness. What I also loved was how we see Uma evolve from a headstrong and stubborn girl to a woman who has tasted heartbreak and defeat and taken it in her stride and moved on and how Abhi, emerges from being a carefree and breezy young man to someone with deeper realizations about life and his purpose and values.

 This is a book which doesn't leave you even after you've turned the last page and whose characters you begin to miss because they'd begun to feel like friends. Heartbreaking, yet heart-warming, a beautifully told story; highly recommended.

(This is a book review requested by the publisher)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Of Red Bush Tea, Acacia Trees and Simpler Times

At times the perfect Friday night plans involve sliding into bed, with a comforting hot water bottle at your feet and reading about the very lovable and witty Precious Ramotswe's adventures in her beloved Botswana :)

My Cocaine

If I were to continue eating ridiculously expensive, yet insanely delicious Lindt/Milka/Guylian chocolates, I will soon be very obese and very broke, with fat fingers the size of sausages which will be unable to type blog posts and status updates letting everyone on my Facebook know the shameless gluttony I indulge in.