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.