Clarity has been a lot like gazing at a pretty picture like this. Great to look at from afar but so dang hard to grasp in reality. Delicious in appearance, but probably not really convenient to touch.
I began the weekend by posting this picture on Instagram because I missed the blue skies, the sunburns skin, the green waves and the unencumbered time to read.
Here’s why. December was to begin with the announcement of the winners of the fellowship I’d applied for. I didn’t win it, un case you’re asking. To be honest, my confidence flagged when I got news that the media house received 5k applications from across the globe. An email I received on 1st December confirmed that I had in fact not won it. What I did get instead, was my domestic help taking off for two months. I haven’t cooked a meal in over 6 months. And neither VC nor I have had to do much by way of heavy lifting around the house in terms of regular chores. The help is just one of those efficient people who has become so used to the way my house functions, and takes ownership of everything she does, often going above and beyond her responsibilities, picking up even when I have slipped or forgotten something. To say my world was falling apart a week bit, would be accurate. Luckily, she found me a substitute. Just to do the cleaning though, so I’m still going to have to cook us our meals. Having two hot cooked meals appear at meal time, without even having to do much thinking has been a luxury and I’m not looking forward to planning meals, stocking up veggies and culling out time from my mornings to cook, dammit. Second, substitute help comes at 6. On. The Dot. It’s been five days, and she’s never been a minute early or late. But, it’s literally still dark out when she arrives. And I’m usually very asleep at 6 am. So to alleviate my paranoia of sleeping through her arrival, my alarm rings at 5 am and I snooze it for an entire hour, neither really sleeping, nor waking up, making it an altogether restless, useless hour in bed, before I wake up when she rings the doorbell on the dot of 6. It’s hard to be complain or grudge her punctuality. I cannot complain. But I was drowsy for the first few hours of every morning last week, which made me miss my morning workouts. I made up for it by going to the evening slot instead, but it’s not the same and I’m just not a fan of so much change in routine at once. Urgh.
You know what else I got? The morning of December 1st began with a battle with a lizard that had entered the study, so when I opened the balcony doors for some morning breeze, it scampered out from behind the curtains, running behind my cupboard, dangerously close to the bed in the room. For someone who’d get paralysed at the sight of a lizard, only to recover long enough to jump on the closest piece of furniture, descending only once the creature had been dealt with by someone, I’ve come a long way. I still shriek. I still get a little stunned. But I am able to gather myself and deal with it on my own – with the help of insecticide to make them drowsy and a long broom to probe and poke them out of the room. Double urgh.
Anyway, last week was not very productive. PMS plus PTS (what I call post therapy syndrome) had rendered me a bit dazed. So I decided to take the weekend seriously. What I did was stay in bed and not leave for practically the entire weekend. I finished one and a half books, ravenously reading and getting out from under the covers only to eat.
All of Saturday, VC was at my service, bringing me beer, food and anything else I demanded, to bed. He even sent me an sms saying “at your service” – giggle. On Sunday, I kind of returned the favour. He’s developed what is now looking like tendonitis on his left wrist which has been acting up every now and then. It flared up early yesterday morning, rendering his left arm pretty useless. Which meant, I was doing the delivery. Aside from that, I stayed in bed reading, while he watched Black Mirror.
In the evening though, I dragged myself out. Cooked some chicken 65, and planned to have dosas and chutney for dinner. R came over with beer, chips and dip, and rasmalai (!), and we watched YJHD together, which I thoroughly enjoyed for some reason. I turned in early, diving right back into my book again before passing out close to midnight, a little frantic about waking up in time for my very timely house help.
This morning, I was up on time, with this song stuck in my head. So after the maid had gone, I turned it on and turned it up. At 7.30 am.
The rest of my day has been ati fantastic. A sudden spurt of productivity has meant I finished three stories I was struggling to make progress with last week. I responded to some enquiries. I even felt empowered enough to take a bit of a ballsy (for me) professional decision that I hope is going to pay off.
Somewhere in between I cooked lunch, picked and dropped off the injured husband, and watched an episode of my current shitty TV guilty pleasure and did some admin stuff I have been avoiding.
I wish there were a day to bottle the good juju from days like this. So I can take sips of it on days when the haze of the sads descends and makes me feel and behave totally useless.
That escalated really quickly. And even within this year that seems to be in such a rush to slip through my fingers, while I’m still trying to get a grip, November was the fastest month of them all. It really, well and truly went by in a flash. And like I just said the other day, that only ever happens when you’re either having way too much fun, or you just have way too much happening in general. And the past month was a bit of both for me. Practically half the month went by in a holiday blur, and the other half went by in recovery, a little skulking around trying hard to normalise again, and a week with my sister. And poof, the month was done.
But November was a month of contrasts. If the first half was spent zipping around, wheels on my heels, the second was spent being a homebody. Where the first half had be getting out and about, the second half had me avoiding everyone. For the first two weeks of the month I felt so upbeat and confident and with it, and the second half saw me nosediving a bit, trying to get it together again.
It all started with Diwali, which was actually the most non-Diwali-like Diwali of all time. It was a combination of many things — pre-holiday excitement mixed with a complete lack of enthusiasm for anything even remotely social — that led to having a meh festival. But I don’t mean to complain. It was a good day, and what was telling was the completely effortless way in which not doing anything after all these years felt normal.
I was wrapping up a lot of loose ends at work and barely had any time to really post in the first week of November. So there was the recap of October, some reading I shared, and before I knew it I was off on my long-winding trip across multiple cities, continents and modes of transport.
VC and I had planned separate holidays over the same period. This was a first for us, and I realised this is the first year we haven’t taken a single holiday together, but on the other hand we’ve traveled so much, separately. While I landed in Bangkok and was able to post from a quaint little cafe with wifi, VC was in the boonies of Goa where he had cycled to. I’ll admit, despite being en route to my very own exotic location, I was a tad envious.
But it was silly being envious, because I can (and we’re already planning this) always repeat the cycling trip in Goa. Thailand on the other hand was special. I can’t say epic or fantastic in the way that one might imagine girlie-trips in Thailand could be. This was special, most of all for the sunsets, quiet company, the epiphanies, the books, and the chance to go home again.
That’s the short version. For the longer version with excruciating detail, read this post about day one in Bangkok, the almost-week on an island, and the slightly bizarre and insanely fun return to Bangkok.
After that, and the bonus of spending time at home with the parentals, something strange happened. For the very first time ever, I had a serious case of blues to be back in Goa. Again, this was very telling. With every passing day I feel the curtains closing on my time here. And in small and big ways, in moments that take me by surprise, I realise I must accept this sooner rather than later. My usual unpacked-and-back-to-normal routine was shot to bits this time. I was lethargic, sluggish and sad for a whole week during which I got very little constructive work done, aside from tending to emails, doing the bare minimum amount of work, and reading. And then my sister arrived! Which called for interruptions in programming again.
Aside from the restful holiday, the other bright part of November was coming back to an abundance of published work that had either been sitting on the bench or waiting for a publishing date. What followed was a sudden tidal wave of payments, of course. But in a surprising turn of events, this month I also had a shockingly high number of inquiries for work. Thank you, universe.
I’m in a strange headspace. On the one hand things are moving swimmingly. On paper, I have a fantastic life. But inside, it constantly feels like a gentle storm is brewing. I have bouts of lethargy alternating with restlessness. I realise a lot of this is a by product of on-going therapy, which is also a reason why I’m acutely aware of every damned little thing I feel. Nothing passes me by as just a mood anymore, and sometimes that gets tiring.
2016 has been a lot of things. But most of all it has been tumultuous. We (I speak for VC too hear because everything that happens to me, affects him too) have struggled through some parts, over a lot of different things, questioned our motives and looked for answers and alternatives. And it’s beginning to feel like this time of guessing is shutting shop. In my gut, I feel like the end of the year is going to be the end of the transition. November certainly felt like a fitting culmination of everything that is going on. A build up to crescendo, as we reach the pinnacle of the year, before we turn the lights out on the year with a bang. The hope is that the storm settles, the mind finds a uniform swing in the step, and life mellows out a little.
Everything looks better in retrospect of course. When the heat of the moment has passed, the burning angst has settled momentarily, and the day ends with a gorgeous sunset, is when you’re able to sit back and inspect the trail you’ve left behind. Oddly, everything makes sense.
But enough of this. To the forces dishing out juju for net year, listen up. I’d like 2017 to be well done.
I’ve already expressed adequate shock at how fast we’re already at Christmad time. How is this the end of the year already?! Time flies when you’re having fun, they say. It’s true for the most part, except the parts that weren’t fun. Which, if you have been reading, were many. But time also flies when you’re facing big, life changing transformation. The fastest, zippiest years have always been that kind. And 2016 will go down as one of the quickest, most transformative years in my life.
In many ways, that I realise in retrospect, this was a year that set us up for what is to come. I already know how much next year is going to be different. We’re embarking on some big changes which we will begin prepping for this month, going into the new year. What I don’t know, is the exact ramifications of the impending change, on the rest of my life. And facing and accepting that kind of uncertainty has been the theme for literally everything Ive done these past twelve months.
As much as change is a constant, and as much as I say I’ve been craving it, I’ve never been very good at actually facing it when I’m on the brink. But this is what 2016 has beaten me down to doing. Opening my self up to uncertainty, not fearing the unknown and trusting that it is enough.
This time I’m trying to really take it one day at a time, one step ahead of the other, and letting things happen without getting too het up over it.
For now, Christmas is here and we’re having nippy evenings, mad sunsets and properly cold nights. The planet is going bonkers, that’s to sure. But it sure knows how to look pretty while it’s at it.
And I really, really wanted to like it.
But I didn’t.
It was too long, far too stretched out. And just way too preachy.
(Music was also so shitty. WHAT ARE THOSE LYRICS?! How could every song be so terrible?)
Maybe, I’m not the audience, but I’m really bloody tired of Bollywood’s constant need to turn every damn premise with promise into mushy balls of baby food and force-feeding it down our throats by way of preachy, contrived writing.
I’m just, very, very over it.
So yeah, it was long and tedious.
But, there are a few things I appreciated.
First, it delved into an unconventional topic, for Bollywood. Mental health, the need to be tuned into one’s emotional hygiene (for the lack of a better word), and the dire need to fearlessly, shamelessly seek help when either are amiss.
Second, third, fourth and fifth, Alia Bhatt. I thought she was genuine, effortless and the only thing that saved the film. I have a newfound admiration for Bhatt this year. She seems determined and focused, and it shows in the trajectory her work has taken, and the skill she brings to the table today, than she did when she first broke into Bollywood. I think the word I’m looking for is growth. And I don’t mean growth in that serious, dowdy sort of way that the term has come to mean, in mainstream cinema. It’s almost like to grow and get better means to move away from entertaining to cerebral, thinking cinema. It’s not, and enough actors and films have proven how it is possible to entertain, to make silly, funny, lovely movies, and still be damned good at acting and deliver a message sometimes. It is the kind of Bollywood I’ve come to love and wait for. This year has been a disappointment on that front.
Earlier last week, I watched a smug SRK in an interview, dismiss her as “too good too soon” and I wondered what he possibly meant. It annoyed me that he made it sound like a bad thing. My infuriation deepened when he went on to tell her to try and be bad sometimes.
Waitaminute, I thought. Is he seriously peddling mediocrity as something to aspire for?
SRK wouldn’t stop. He went on to clarify what he meant by bad. Dancing around trees in sarees in unnaturally cold countries it seems.
Okay, I’m not the audience, I told myself again.
But you know what? I’m tired of not being the audience. Rather I’m tired of being in the group of people that is not considered an audience worthy of making films for. I’m tired of going into every hindi movie knowing it’s going to be too long/too preachy/too filmi/too OTT. I’m really damned tired of coming out of every film thinking oh it was watchable, but…
That’s the thing with mediocrity. It becomes the norm. And with hoards of people eating mediocre out of these filmmakers palms, nobody wants to or needs to aim higher. Nobody wants to be better.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Until someone young and capable like Alia Bhatt comes along, and suddenly we’re sitting up to take notice. Because despite privileged beginnings and becoming famous for being a ditz on a talk show, she’s doing so well for herself. In such a short span of time. This year, I was seriously amazed by her work in Kapoor & Sons, Udta Punjab and now Dear Zindagi. Of these, I didn’t even love Kapoor & Sons and Dear Zindagi as films, but I think she was stellar in both. In the past, she was fabulous in Highway, She’s versatile and she is solid.
This morning, I started typing this out as a ramble of the thoughts that kept me awake after the last show of DZ last night, and I belatedly stumbled in this essay just now that makes a similar rant and praises Bhatt’s skill, drive and most of all her ability to choose well. It’s right in saying the ability to choose films that stand up for issues, push the envelope in terms of progressive themes and topics that need a voice i popular cinema, without compromising on entertainment, is a special skill. And thank god Bhatt has learned it early. One can only hope she goes from strength to strength.
And I hope she never takes SRK’s “advice” seriously.
Oh, the other thing I appreciated deeply was the choice of men cast opposite Bhatt. Everyone except SRK has my heart. Sigh.
Today, I was told that I used the word “struggle” 25 times in a little over an hour. It’s true, struggled I have, through various things this year, with challenges big and small. Minuscule, even. But like I told the bearer of this news this morning, it’s only in the last two odd years that the things that I always thought were routine challenges, bumps in the road, minor transgressions, problems, issues or whatever else you want to call it, have begun to feel like a struggle. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve become so deeply cognisant of what that feels like. Uphill climb. Expending energy disproportionate to the anticipated result. Feeling mentally exhausted. Wondering why me! Questioning the underlying reasons and looking for hidden meaning in every little uphill climb. So there’s been a lot of lessons. A lot of unexpected events, twists in the story, developments. And I’ve discovered things about me, my friends, VC, and my area of work as a result.
Struggle takes several different forms. I have different words for it. Hustling, slogging, pimping, getting bajaoed. In fact it has become such an integral part of my vocabulary, that being told didn’t surprise me. It just solidified the squishy semi-solid hunch I’ve had for a while, that perhaps vocalising it so much has made me internalise it. And internalising it has caused an unconscious acceptance of it too. Chatting with VC about it, we wondered if maybe this is also a part and parcel of being a creative person? Because I look around me, and I see so many folks in a similar state of mind. Many of them are deeply creatively inclined, if not already engaged in a creative field. I’m hypothesising, but maybe there is something to it.
Today, I was asked to find a better synonym for it. And I think I’m going to settle for “lesson.” There have been lessons. Many, many lessons. Lessons in altering my perspective, in letting go of the old, in cutting ties when the time is up, in learning to learn better, in feeling whole and enough, in trying to be at peace, even when it feels like everything about me is coming apart.
Peace. For all the restlessness, uncertainty and angst I’ve churned inside my being this year, I’ve also learned peace. I came home strangely at peace at having realised this today. Perhaps this is what I am meant to learn from all
this stru, scratch that, these lessons?
There is a lot to be said about discovering this kind of peace, from within yourself, by yourself. It’s like going a step up form enjoying your own company. And that in itself has been such a massive learning this year. To be able to escape into a space of quiet, to surrender when I’m feeling vulnerable, and to just breathe and leave things be, even when it feels impossible.
I’ve had innumerable such moments. At home, or when I’ve dashed off for a walk on the beach, or when I’m focused on a piece of work, or engrossed in a conversation with VC or a friend. For all the restlessness and angst that I’ve felt, for every struggle, I’m thankful for the light that shines through, the passage of time, and the blessing that is retrospect.
I finished reading Nigel Slater’s Toast, and I have to say I thoroughly loved it. Here’s why:
It’s a “story about a boy’s hunger” — hunger for everything — for experiences that satiate his curiosity, for discovering boyhood, for a bond with his parents, for friendship, and of course, for food.
It’s a memoir, and uses food as the medium. But I loved that for a change, it was stories about food and memories sparked by specific 60s British foods told minus the staid and frankly overdone and very boring route that is nostalgia. This book doesn’t have lyrical descriptions of food that will make you hungry. It doesn’t talk about food in a way that will make you visualise it, or crave it or rush to the kitchen to cook. But it will evoke feelings, and your heart will go out to the characters in the book — most of all Nigel Slater himself.
It’s become so normal to expect food and food memories to only evoke nostalgia that we forget that very often the memories associated with certain phases of life — from the happiest to saddest, shameful and joyful, alike — are tied to the things we ate. Memories of eating are always tied to events that occurred around them, which are so much more than just about the food that was in your plate. The hook for each chapter is based in a dish or ingredient, but what you get is so much more than a deep dive into the unidimensional kind of warm, loving, hearty memories one typically associates with food memoirs. What you get is a spectrum of emotions, ranging from brutal anger, to rejection, deprivation, simple joys, parental love, carnal desire, and so much more, and food is just the vehicle for it all.
Told through the words of a boy, over many years of growing up, I loved the typically wry British humor, sardonic narration and completely matter of fact and acerbic style it adapts, and still manages to evoke so much feeling. The chapters are very quick and cut and dry, more like short vignettes, that bring vivid memories and images to life. The words, while snappy, leave lasting images that linger on. Rather than having a thread of continuity that somewhat puts pressure on the story to “go somewhere” I thought this was very unusual, clever format that gives you bits and bobs, flashes of life as it was, individual moments, memories and experiences that each stand their own weight.
If there are more food books like this — that go beyon waxing eloquent about the warmth of eating with family, heirloom recipes, and the warm hug of mothers cooking — I’d love to read them. So if you have recommendations, please send them my way. As for Toast, I recommend it highly. Turns out there’s a movie too!
Duuudes, have you noticed a sudden spike in the number of pictures on instagram that are to do with clothes and fashion? I’m not talking about fashion blogging and the world of sponsored fashion for social influencers. I’m talking about regular people like you and me, who are evidently not as regular as I presume, because they go to some serious lengths to curate what they wear on a daily basis. And then they document it. Day upon day upon day after day after day. And I say curate because clothes are no longer just worn. They’re put together, paired, thrown together. Jewellery isn’t just worn, it’s taken out for a spin it seems. Shoes aren’t just made for walking, they’re made for matching, and for purposes of photogenic documentation. And all this is done with a deliberate, casual air that I might have believed if not for the awful lot of effort that goes into what is evidently just daily wear. Okay, that’s just boring old, uninterested-in-fashion-me talking . The first question that always springs to mind when I see these pictures: wow, where is he/she going all dressed up? Because to my untrained, extremely unrefined sartorial sensibility, everyone in these posts always looked overdressed. Or like they’re dressed to go someplace important. But it seems people are dressing up like this all the time, everyday, even if it is only to go to the front of the mirror and drag an unsuspecting piece of furniture into the frame, on which to drape themselves in order to take an adequately descriptive picture.
Has wearing clothes you love and enjoy, and taking pictures of yourself because you look good and you’re cool and confident enough to admit it, passe? What is this new fangled effort to couch good old vanity in fashion blogging a la instagram? Everybody is a fashion blogger these days. Even those who don’t call themselves that, and don’t use the right hashtags and don’t even bother to tag the right brands. Because what’s in a label or a hashtag? Except many don’t even have fashion blogs. Just a lot of vanity, time on their hands and an instagram account. Also, there needs to be a hashtag in there somewhere. I’m not sure where exactly.
Taking pictures of your clothes, the accessories and footwear you’re going to pair it with is the new wedding photography. Or foodblogging. Everybody wants in, and everybody is mediocre. Brand names and elaborate backstories are essential. Without that said fashion (non)blogging (or shall we say instablogging?) is totally worthless. Also critical is an elaborate backstory that has enough nuance and detail about how well-versed person is with the origins of the garment, the exact nature of the warp and weft, every little groove on the block that printed it, and how far it travelled to reach him/her. Stories of friendship, camaraderie, love, family, joy, sadness, hunger, poverty, insanity, that may somehow be force-fit and worked into it are a bonus. How much or how little he/she gives a fuck about the environment can be ascertained by how much or how little they managed to up-cycle or recycle elements of the ensemble. Captions, hashtags, so much coolth dripping from these elaborate descriptions of why the chosen attire made it into an instagram picture is evidently essential.
It’s simply not okay to just say “I think I look lovely today” or “I love this dress” or “I was gifted this saree” or “New shoes, baby!” Instead we are subjected to the misery that is reading these painfully tedious posts that really just come across as unnecessarily roundabout means to enjoy a moment of vanity, or show off their wardrobe. Actually, I lie. I’m not subjected to any such misery. I have the option to unfollow folks I follow who have suddenly taken to serially posting endless pictures of themselves and their clothes, and I’ve taken to using it liberally. But hey, I love instagram and Im not about to let this ruin it for me. So, since I’m also a champ at pruning my social media feeds to suit my ever changing whims and fancies, I’ve also figured instagram out! If you’re tired of the constant stream of this incredibly futile effort at contrived humblebragging, click the three little dots on the top right of every post and select “show fewer posts like this.” You’re welcome.
The days have turned tenuous. Like every inch of my skin, stretched and laid out flat, from end to end. Covering miles of unpreparedness. Vast expanses of hesitation, like a lake frozen over. I must tread across these. One day to the next. While my blood has turned cold, only bubbling violently beneath the surface with every momentary glimpse of hope. Of surety.
There’s a muscle twitching, it won’t relent. It’s a sign if life, it’s a sign of a fight. It’s a sign of movement. Preparedness maybe?
It’s the night that always brings calm. Like a steady, thick stream of cooling oil poured on my scalp that seeps into every pore. Deep beneath it all, working from within and bringing quiet back again.
I’m going to launch into a barrage of very quick notes. Chitttting (As Rakhi Sawant calls it) is going to happen. Because I have to make up for the week I lost to a scrambled brain, lack of motivation to do ANYTHING IN LIFE, and spending time with my sister who was visiting and who just left. But seeing as how I’ve become a champ at hustling for work, juggling multiple things and wanting all of it so bad, till eventually some of it come through and paralyses me till it’s too late, forcing me to working at breakneck speeds at the very nth hour, I think I can hustle the life out of this too.
I wrapped up the first phase of my commitments with The Telegraph before I went on holiday, and came back to a flood of published stories. I’m so happy I had the chance to experience this kind of gig. I’ve always been very awkward about working with PR and negotiating FAM trips of this sort, so it was good to do this and realise I’m not all that bad at it. I’m especially chuffed I got to discover some really lovely properties that I hadn’t seen before, and include some of my favourite places to stay in Goa too.
You can see all the rest of my reviews (with several more to be updated in the near future) here.
A few weeks ago, I shared a Roads & Kingdoms piece about Obama’s visit to Vietnam and decided I was going to stop being a perfectionist who is waiting for the perfect meaty feature to break into this publication. Sometimes low hanging fruit is the way to go. Sometimes low hanging fruit is fun, and it gives you a foot in the door. So I went ahead and wrote this little vignette about my love for idlis, my first for this publication that’s been on my wishlist for over a year now. Of course once I did it, I was over come with the why-the-hell-did-I-wait-this-long blues, but it’s here. And it also led me to bag another little story for them, which I’m currently working on. Win, win?
Paste Magazine commissioned two stories in one go a few weeks ago, and I was really excited to do this one: a short list of Indian cookbooks that marry food with a memoir.
December is a day away and though my energy is flagging, I’m mentally planning for 2017. I have some small-big goals, and little steps that I want to take towards getting there. I cannot wait for 2016 to be over already!
- It’s taking me an inordinately long time to bounce back to normal post the holiday. While a major part of returning to routine usually happens when my suitcase is unpacked, laundry done and suitcase tucked back into the loft, this time it took the additional effort of dragging myself straight back to the gym immediately, for as many workouts in as many days as I’ve been back before I really began to feel like holiday-mode has started to wane and normal life should resume. I have some dregs of work carried over from the time before I went away and it is killing me to sit my arse down and just finish it already. On the other hand, it’s been a week back at my desk and aside from a few cold pitches I’ve made no concrete efforts towards resuming work in earnest. Physically, I’m back and present. Mentally, I’m clearly not.
- The sister has landed yesterday, and while it’s hardly an event that should interrupt my routine because she’s one of the best, easiest houseguests to have, I’m using that as an excuse to keep away from my desk, which means keeping away from posting everyday.
Sheesh. This is new even for me.
So what I’m saying is this is why I’ve been slow to resume regular programming, and why I’m still tricking you with back-dated posts.
I’ll be back. Really soon.
It used to be so effortless returning to Goa. One almost never felt the blues. And yet, there’s a first time for everything I suppose. While I took solace in the fact that I was going home and that was always awesome, I was completely unprepared for what happened. It’s hard enough returning from a place that’s hyper efficient and works almost like clockwork. But it’s harder still returning to surprise gridlocked traffic, an area-wide power cut and an internet outage.
For the very first time ever, I felt waves of sadness to be back. Mildly tinged with regret. I spent large parts of last week crawling back to normalcy, fighting the cynicism and the urge to complain. But every time Im feeling like this, Goa woos me again. Like it did on Sunday night, with a stunning sky, spectacular sunset and an opportunity to get a drink by myself as I watched the drama unfold.
Of late, it has felt like my life here falls short on many fronts. But that’s not so much about what the place has to offer, as it is about my changing expectations and needs for myself, Ive realised.
Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
This classic, coming-of-age novel is about Isadora Wing who is in a far-from-happy marriage. Reasons for that all point to her own angst and need for self-discovery, which is what the book is about. In many ways I think I read this at the right time because I could relate to a lot of the questions she raises, the exploration she embarks on I found that her quest for “the zipless fuck” could be a metaphor for so many experiences I have consciously or unconsciously pushed aside in the years after I got married. My recent therapy has unlocked some of these realisations, making me see how much internalised conditioning is a part of marriage, and I am slowly working my way out of some trappings that I have unnecessarily, unconsciously placed upon myself.
The book is set in Vienna where Isadora accompanies her psychoanalyst husband, on a convention, where her sexual adventure begins. But through it, she explores a lot of issues that relate to us women as a whole. Things we have on our mind – age, beauty, conformity, questions we often face – about marriage, about motherhood, about work, many of our worries and fears. She really covers a whole spectrum of things we grapple with — ageing, stagnation at work, finding your creative voice, following your heart at the cost of other worldly pleasures, the seeds of conflicting sexuality, spirituality even. I really enjoyed this book because I feel the subject is never going to get old, It’s something that women will relate to for a long, long time to come, in varying degrees of change. And then you realise this was written in the 70s, which suddenly puts it all in perspective and makes you realise just how far we have come, how privileged I, and the segment of women I belong to, am.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown
In short, this is a book that explores vulnerability as the key to moving forward and through life. As a culture that constantly battles uncertainty with planning, the pursuit of security, perfection and guarding ourselves from too much emotional exposure, Brene Brown believes we’re actually killing our ability to embrace vulnerability. As a result we’re limiting our ability to live fully, make genuine connections, feel emotions completely and live creatively. Or what she calls “living wholeheartedly”.
It’s based on Brown’s 12 years of research, and I was sold on the concept even before I began the book. The book kicked my ass for the first two chapters, and I was so excited to be reading it because she addresses concepts that really spoke to me: a culture of scarcity, the pursuit of perfection, the new economy and how our inability to be vulnerable to what we feel as a result, stops us from daring to do great things. For this alone, I really wanted to like the book. Chapters 1 is about scarcity and our constant feeling of “never having enough” – which is something I observe a lot around me. Even amongst my friends, family, and online with my feeds bursting at the seams with people preening their perfect clothes, homes, lives and yet so obviously dissatisfied and feeling the voids in our lives with something or the other, unable to just sit with whatever it is we are going through and work it out. The second chapter debunks some myths about vulnerability which is a logical follow up to the chapter on scarcity, really. It talks about how we’ve built a culture of shame around embracing vulnerability. This is something I’ve woken up to recently, and the crux of my work with therapy, so it was really relevant and it hit home. I even highlighted a lot of bits from the first two chapters.
But that was it. It very quickly went downhill form there sliding into a stream of generalities. What she passes of as case studies, I found to be just very generic (and bad, just too basic) examples of everyday situations. I’d have liked some of her research to come through, or some real case studies of how she helped her clients re-open themselves up to vulnerability. What I got instead was some very basic and obvious advice that was repeatedly stated in many different ways. The crux of the book can be summed up in literally 2 sentences, and maybe I should have watched her TED talk and I could have been done with it, without having to read this book. But to have that basic premise play out over and over and over again through the innumerable platitudes that are frankly not reflective of the so called painstaking research that has apparently gone into the book was not useful at all.
I found the book very tedious and almost gave up half way, because I also realised a lot of it, like much of modern pop psychology, is stuff I have grown up listening to thanks to my parents. Most of this isn’t new to me. I consider myself lucky to have had a “wholehearted” (to use Brown’s term) upbringing that actively touched on a lot of these concepts, so to read it packaged in a far-from-original, banal way was painful. It did read very fast though, so there’s that!
I’m now reading Nigel Slater’s Toast and enjoying it so far.
What have you been reading? Any reccos?
The last time I was in Thailand, I was so hyper-focused on the beach, that we planned to be there for a bulk of the trip, sandwiching it with a grace period of 1.5 days in Bangkok on either side. And that too, only because we had to fly in and out of there. I’m a fan of city holidays as much as I am of getting away into the wild or exploring nature. The last time around I got a good sense of the wonderful amalgamation of urban and ethnic culture that Bangkok is and I’d long decided I would come back for more. So this time, we planned to return from our beach days and spend two days in Bangkok.
We checked out of our resort at noon, and caught the 2.45 pm catamaran back to the pier at Chumphon. A similar stream of efficient hustling like on our onward journey, and before we knew it we were on the bus speeding down the near-perfect highway back to where we had come from. The last time I was in Thailand too we’d taken a bus journey, and like the one to Chumphon earlier last week, was a night journey. So it was nice to have a day view of the countryside. Rolling paddy fields, highway eateries, outlet stores, villagers ambling along on foot or badly driven two wheelers. I read for the most part back, and only perked up when we halted at the rest stop and this time I got off to experience the mind-boggling variety of food on offer. We picked rice, meat curry and stir fried veggies and tucked in hungrily. And thank god for that because it was well past midnight when we wound our way through Friday night traffic in Bangkok and pulled into Khao San Road again.
The same street we’d left, which was bustling and chock a bloc on a Monday night, was packed tighter still with what looked easily like three times the number of people and twice the number of food stalls. Loud, stomping beats wafted out of the nightclubs, and groups of inebriated young folk staggered out looking high as kites. It was noisy, festive, a cacophony of music and a medley of smells of all kinds of food. It was time to eat again, of course. So we bought ourselves a massive Nutella crepe each while we watched the crowds much to our amusement, and figured out how to get to our hotel for the next two days. It turned to be a twenty minute drive and we decided to cab the distance. We didn’t even have to look very far for one because opened the door confidently, fully prepared to negotiate and start arguing about a reasonable fare, when the cheerful driver clicked his meter on. “By meter?” S asked. He nodded happily. In shock at our luck at finding a cab past 1 am, and not having to haggle over a far, my love for Bangkok was already through the roof. As a rule cities with really good public transport give me a massive high (“turn me on,” said S). I’d already experienced the amazing skytrain last time I visited, but to get into a cab well past midnight, not have to haggle and be taken straight to your destination – full marks, Bangkok!
We stayed at this really cool hotel with a neat concept and super minimal style. It was a basic business-traveller kind of hotel, perfect for just the two nights that we were there. Several notches higher in terms of fashionability, without as many digits being added to the price. So it was much nicer than a deal hotel we’d have settled for otherwise. Our room had a cool mural and twin beds that we hit almost immediately after we checked in and had hot showers. The next morning, we set off looking for breakfast and currency exchange. Several street food stalls had opened up, and everything smelt divine, especially this one cart wedges into a corner adjacent to a tiny gift store, where a woman in a long coat and a hat was making omelettes and fried eggs with a hit of chillies, green onions and soya sauce. It looked so good, we stood by trying to communicate with her in sign language and broken English. She didn’t even so much as look up. We’re not the target audience we told ourselves, dejectedly, and settled for Au Bon Pain very disinterestedly, because by then we’d walked a long way from the hotel and the hunger levels were rising. Thankfully the chai and croissant really hit the spot, and was just perfect for the late breakfast it turned out to be because we wanted to hit Din Tai Fung for lunch.
It was a morning dedicated to gift shopping, as we roamed a mall picking up delightful little things that we thought were unusual, that folks back home with like. Colourful leather stuff, really cheap and comfy footwear, amazing soaps and lotion, wooden trinkets and the like. All very affordable, even for a mall. Shopping in Bangkok was the only place we encountered Desis doing what Desis do best, shopping. And bargaining. The latter of which neither S nor I could get ourselves to do, everything was so dirt cheap. And if it wasn’t the item was probably so nice we thought it warranted the price. Yeah, we may have serially paid a lot more than we needed to, but we cannot complain.
By lunch time we sniffed out way to Din Tai Fung, with the single minded focus of a detective on the job. Referencing GPS and the map on my phone, speedily rushing through lunch time pedestrian crowds, winding out way up and down skywalks, we found ourselves in yet another massive mall, a much nicer, fancier one than the one we were in. Eyes popped at beautiful bakeries with their displays laden with gorgeous freshly baked goods, and a Marvel store that nearly made us stop and walk in. “After lunch!” became the common refrain, until we finally made it. And DTF did. not. disappoint. I’d first eaten at this Dumpling Mecca in Singapore last year and I’d move East in a heartbeat, just for a lifetime supply of DTF, I would. Garlicy sauteed greens, delicate, almost too good to eat, with soup-filled pork dumplings, spicy noodles and pork baos were inhaled. Completely satisfied with how committed we were to finding DTF, ignoring all the distraction en route and proceeding straight to the main deal, which totally hit the spot, we picked up dessert at Paul the authentic French bakery and boulangerie that had a cute little store in the mall. Back in the hotel, we stashed dessert away for later that night, and waited for S, who by some corporate sorcery managed to have a work trip to Bangkok coincide with my weekend there, and flew in from Singapore.
When we were planning the trip, S and I briefly flirted with the idea of flying back via Singapore. The charm of the city still fresh on our minds from our respective brief trips last year. Also, friends. I’m always game to plan a trip to meet friends I love. But for various reasons we decided not to stretch ourselves that far. I was slightly bummed at not being able to go and meet S and party it up with him for a bit, but when he managed to swing by Bangkok and meet us, it really more than made up for it. I have a special place in my heart for friends who will really go the distance, and who I can count on to keep the fun up even when my different worlds collide.
It was at 5:30 that evening, when he hopped into our hotel, out One Night In Bangkok truly began. We hit a beer cafe nearby, sitting outside watching traffic go by, drinking Asahis while yakking away. Well the yakking was mostly done by me, but we caught up. What is it about beer bars and retro? Does every beer bar everywhere play retro? The tunes took me right back to Purple Haze in Bangalore or Down The Road in Panjim, and if not for the superior quality of beer, if I shut my eyes, I could have been anywhere, really. When S had said “lets begin at the beer bar” I didn’t quite know what we were in for, for the rest of the evening. A couple of beers later, we left and headed to the second bar for the night, which S did a really shitty job of selling to us.
“It’s a cool place. It’s really dark.”
“Erm, like the lighting? Or the vibe?”
“Okayyy, then why are we going there?”
But go we did. It was one night in Bangkok after all.
And boy was I glad we did. It was easily the best bar I’ve been to in a long, long time. A bar with serious character – it’s designed to resemble an iron smith’s workshop. Crammed, packed tight with intimiate seating, wrought iron staircases that lead nowhere in particular, dingy staircases and alleys lit by candles, secret doors leading to surprise entries to private seating, and some seeeeeriously good live music. The Band was superlative, playing what sounded like very bluegrassy covers of everything from Fly Me To The Moon to Cheerleader. Yeah! How’s that for serious variety. More beer followed, despite my staunch attempts to pace myself, somewhere between my fourth and fifth beer I teetered over the line and decided to go with it. S had some really interesting cocktail with gin ginger ale and peaches (I think, I could be entirely off here) and a flambed sprig of thyme. It was amazyyhzing and I now think I should have had that too.
In time to leave, we swung by the loo. And the only reason I mention it here is because if you stepped into the dark and dingy bar that is was, you’d expect a shitty loo. But. It was spotless. And smelled amazing. I almost didn’t want to leave The Iron Fairies, but S suggested a Japanese bar (I think) so we walked out. Only to bump into a friend of his, completely out of the blue. S kept saying “what are the odds!” like it was truly unbelievable, but his friend diligently kept responding “pretty fucking high!” while S and I just giggled non stop. Before we knew it we were being herded in the opposite direction from where we were headed, and we were joined by a bunch of other people, and suddenly we were in a crowded elevator that opened into a rooftop bar. Dark, with clubby music, suddenly the crowds parted and a table was set up for us. I looked around and I was at this table with about 7 other people I didn’t know. A large bottle of vodka with an unpronounceable name appeared out of nowhere, swiftly followed by 6-7 glasses stacked with ice. Someone had to ask for tonic. I gingerly pushed my glass away, and ordered cider, deciding to play it safe and stick with beer. It all happened so fast, and sent me off into another giggle fit. S joined in, because truly, it felt like a scene straight out of a movie. Surrounded by people who looked like they were up for a long night of partying hard, a DJ who had blonde dreadlocks tied up in a man-bun, and people unravelling in various stages of inebriation dancing away.
Our clever plan to stick with cider didn’t work after all because when we were done, two glasses of unnamed alcoholic contents appeared. And S’s friend kindly informed us that he’d told the bartender to give him what he always does, “a double of whatever it is” Turned out it was a G&T, a very, very stiff one. So stiff it burned my oesophagus. But we drank up. And soon enough I got up and danced a little with some random Thai folks. Someone broke a glass, someone took pictures of everyone, it was all a blur. I just remember giggling a lot and saying cheeeeese at some point.
Pretty soon, I realised we hadn’t eaten. Possibly the longest we’d gone without a meal through out the whole trip! So we decided to duck out, and went to a 24 hour outdoor food court of sorts close to the hotel. More beer followed. With a papaya salad that was so spicy, i began to hiccup uncontrollably. Which made me giggle some more, and didn’t help any way. Pad Thai and something else I cant remember was consumed too. And we topped it all off with a long walk back to the hotel to eat dessert. You know what’s the worst? A cocktail of alcohol followed by something sinfully sweet. And that’s exactly what we went headlong into. We dived into the little boxes of dessert and nearly polished off the custard filled eclairs and the strawberry and cream mille-feuille. So good when we were tucking in, but ph so horrid about half an hour later when my high suddenly spiked. It coincided with my finally lying down in bed. The minute my head hit the pillow the room began to do gentle little circles around me. I was too high (and tired) to bother to fix it with water or pacing up and down and the usual tricks that help, so I did my best to ignore it, telling myself this is what I get for ageing prematurely living my sage life in Goa devoid of any sign of partying, and I don’t know when but I drifted off to sleep.
The moment of truth is always the day after a night like this. How many times will I hit snooze before I wake up? Will we make it to the Chatuchak weekend market? Will I be hung over? Funnily enough, it wasn’t as bad as I felt it could have been the previous night. Both S and I woke up mildly groggy, but now shitfaced. But S, being S, served up room-made tea with two Disprins each. We chugged it and in no time at all felt clear and ready to head out. I’m really, really glad we did because we got to the market earlier than planned and the crowds hadn’t hit full swing. And even though we probably only touched about a tenth of the space, we saw some lovely wares, walked through the stalls amazed, and even bought some really special stuff for gifts. We were on a deadline because we had to find our way back, a 40 minute train ride, in time to catch S for lunch too. So we stepped out, when suddenly S spotted the one item we’d been hunting for (albeit very passively) all week – Birkenstock knockoffs! And then the food, oh my god, the food! Everything looked so, so inviting and if we didn’t already have plans we’d have given up all attempts to resist. It was just as well we didn’t because S scouted out a really amazing little restaurant back near the hotel. Indoors, air conditioned, with very affordably priced authentic Thai food. It was likely the best meal of the week, next only to DTF, and a lovely way to wind down.
Quick bye-byes followed and S and I went back to pick our luggage up before we trudged all the way back to DMK airport an hour away. We managed to squeeze in a tuk-tuk ride from the hotel to the skytrain station, from where we went to the last stop on the line, and then took a bus to the airport. I LOVE efficient public transport and I got a special kick when I realised we’d officially taken every kind of transport we saw – those classic colourful cabs, the metro, the local train, city bus, long-distance bus, catamaran, and a tuktuk!
Reaching an airport and touching Duty Free also means encountering Indians again, and invariably it’s an experience in being schooled about why we get treated the way we do. I tried my best not to let a few uncouth Indians spoil the holiday high. Webought ourselves some goodies and booze for home and settled into a corner to sit and do our hisaab like a couple of baniyas. It’s when it hit me again, how every single thing went off without a hitch, with zero conflict of interest even between the two of us, and just a smooth, seamless progression from one event to the next. R and S were sorely missed again, as we did several times during the trip, adn we vowed to do this many, many times again.
To end the holiday on a high we went into the Thai restaurant at the airport for one last meal. Finally, I succumbed to green curry and rice, while S had pork meatballs in a noodle-y broth. Both divine, and even though we had no room for dessert we had to relent and get one last portion of mango and sticky rice. The flight back was quiet, uneventful and I read for the most part, feeling very, very happy to be going home. We landed in Bangalore at 10:30 pm, to ATMs with no money. Thankfully my folks came to pick me up. I came home wired, unable to get to bed till almost 3 am. So I lay in bed thinking about the week gone by – how quickly it came and went – and how near-perfect it had been. It’s the mark of a good holiday I think when you come home feeling satisfied, and like the experience you’ve had was enough. My cup, it runneth over.
The trip from Chumphon to Koh Tao by catamaran took about an hour and a half. Again, I’d read horror stories about choppy seas and swaying boats that caused much seasickness and drenched luggage. But the weather was splendid. Blue skies, golden morning sunlight and the promise of three days of extreme relaxation gave me reason to kick back. It felt like we’d been on the move forever, and the truth is we had, but as we left the mainland and lost sight of the pier behind us, it slowly began to sink in — I was finally away en route to the island holiday that we had obsessively discussed and built our excitement up for so many weeks.
Right from the start, my intention was to do absolutely nothing on this holiday. I loaded up my kindle and packed my swimsuit. But that was as far as I was willing to go in terms of activity. And I’m glad the island and the resort we picked enabled me to fulfil that wish wholeheartedly. As we piled out of the catamaran, an assortment of people of various colours, race and varieties of travellers, I realised we were the only Indians around. Score. We were picked up at the Koh Tao ferry point by an open truck of sorts that belonged to our resort. Along with an Italian family of three, we were off.
The island itself is hilly, as many islands in Thailand tend to be. Walkable, if you’re willing to give your legs a good workout, something I was certainly not planning to do. So as we drove up to the resort, I sank further into a state of sloth, convinced I wasn’t going to leave the resort. S planned to go diving and had signed up for an advanced course with a dive shop nearby. We checked in, lazed around over a late breakfast and finally found our way to our room. This resort was an odd mix of fancy — it had two pools, a private beach, two restaurants and a spa — with some specific things that didn’t go with its fancy image — like a poky bathroom just big enough for a tiny shower area and a loo, the wash basin in the damned bedroom, a lovely picture window strategically placed in front of the pot, rather than the shower area just in case I felt like taking in the view as I took a crap, I suppose. They also didn’t have room service at breakfast time, and sneaked out of giving us more than two tea bags a day to fully use the in-room kettle. Minor, hilarious, but definitely strange hassles.
What followed was four days of utter and complete sloth, punctuated by spurts of reading, cocktails, iced coffees and plenty of nibbles and snacks. We’d begin every day by kicking ourselves out of bed, reaching breakfast just in time to load up. With a delightful spread of fruit, Asian breakfast, eggs to order, an assortment of bread, croissants, pain au chocolat and the like, and so much more, it was the meal that would keep us going till early evening. Plenty of extremely icy drinks were consumed through out the day, as we alternated between our deck chairs, the pool that overlooked the sea, and the sea itself. By tea time we’d be ready for a snack, which we’d split neatly in half. I’m telling you this two person holiday worked out so well for us! No ordering qualms and no wasted food.
We’d then return to our room after sunset, shower, chill for a bit, only to come back to the restaurant to stuff our faces with dinner again. All the while we’d stick our noses in our books, looking up every now and then to chat a bit, giggle at something, but mostly it was just check if we’re ready to get something to eat. Despite sticking to ourselves and being anything but couple-y, everyone at the resort seemed to be convinced we were an item. It was super entertaining by the time we figured what was on their minds. It didn’t help that the resort was very couple friendly, so I suppose the assumption was kind of justified. But, I’m as straight as straight gets though. Despite the abundance of seemingly virile, young men of hitchable age, I’m sad to report that there was zero eye candy worth looking at. Utterly tragic.
Anyway, my intention to do nothing went completely to plan, but in a bizarre turn of events, Efficient Esther S, who had preplanned her diving trip, turned completely lazy and abandoned the idea altogether. What can I say, I’m a bad influence. What it meant was, the sloth and the amount of food and drink consumed doubled.
I’ve been to Thailand before and experienced the clear, crystal clear blue waters and white sands before, but Koh Tao was something else. I know, this is probably what everyone says after a beach holiday. But really, I went expecting the turquoise, sea-blue waters, and instead got this incredible shade of jade that got deeper as we swam further (which I didn’t – ask S, she’ll tell you how much she laughed), and clearer, until it’s almost crystal clear and transparent by the shore. White little fish danced between out feet from time to time, and it was surreal seeing straight through and through to the bed where we’d put our feet down.
In a weak moment, I decided that since S had abandoned diving plans, we must at least go out and snorkel. Our part of the sea was called Shark Bay after all, and it was an opportunity we shouldn’t miss. Who goes all the way to Thailand and doesn’t do anything anyway? Me. That’s who. So yeah, we didn’t snorkel either. In fact we didn’t even head out of the resort. One evening we forced ourselves to sign up for the shuttle that would drive us to the bustling market side of the island, under the pretext of at least seeing what else happens on Koh Tao, and to get a better glimpse of the setting sun. But guess what? It didn’t happen. Mai-tais and pizzas happened instead.
Eventually all the cold drinks and sitting in the sun all day long got to me, and I caught a cold. By day three I had a stuffy nose and an itchy throat, which I was trying to battle with my willpower. My skin however, told a different story. It gave up all efforts to battle the scorching heat and turned a brilliant shade similar to that of the current president elect of the United States Of America. It was horrific, and on day one as I stood in the shower taking my swim suit off, I looked at myself shocked and amazed at the neatly formed lines that bifurcated the whites from the
brown bright orange bits. In some light, at some angles I looked like a beet. But mostly my body was a map of various degrees of burnt. It might have been funnier still, if it didn’t hurt as much as it did. Eventually, by the last day, thanks to the skin and the cold, I had to cut back on sun time and just take it easy.
Easily done when this was my view: a long, long pool flanked by towering coconut trees, the jade sea beyond, and service by the pool.
Koh Tao is known for splendid sunsets, but maybe because of where we were located, and the weather that was mostly sunny with clear skies, and one surprise night of a heavy downpour followed by a morning of drizzles, we didn’t see those quintessential dramatic technicolour sunsets that we expected. Finally, on the last evening though, the clouds relented, and we had a hint of some drama. It was enough for me. I was so satisfied. Four days was just perfect. I don’t think I could have taken another day of not moving. I might have caved and done something drastic like diving or something, so I’m glad we timed it this way. By day four my heart was full (as was my belly) and I was ready to head back to Bangkok where another adventure awaited us.
The idea to go to Thailand cropped up at the unlikeliest of times. But the alacrity with which we got around to booking tickets, figuring out where to go, how to get there and all the nitty gritty details really surprised me. It was originally meant to be the four of us, which slowly petered down to three, and eventually left just S and me. We’d booked non-refundable tickets and I’d planned my November around this holiday, so we weren’t about to cancel. I’m so glad we decided to go through with it because it really turned out to be just right, in every way. I said before that it isn’t often that you find travel buddies so perfectly aligned to your inclinations. Which isn’t to say that everything about us was same-same. A lot is, tbh, but it’s also that between the two of us we managed to balance our eccentricities, laziness and efficiency out — which made for a great mix! From our obsession for morning chai that was the perfect temperature, to keeping detailed hisaab through the trip, to our single minded focus on eating our way through every day, to being armed with everything from socks to sanitiser to scissors and Disprin between the two of us – we realised we were more than suited to travel on long trips together. It was a holiday with adequate laziness and quiet time (on the island), 80% of which was spent in utter silence, and the enthusiasm to get out and do stuff (in Bangkok).
I landed in Bangalore a day in advance. I spent a day and a half with the folks and on Sunday night we took a flight out of Bangalore. Months and weeks of excitement that had reached a point where I felt I couldn’t hold it in any longer finally exploded when we met outside the airport. It was all a bit surreal. We bought ourselves beer and Chinese food to set the tone for the Asian food fest that was about to be, and got yakking. S had decided to ration out all the things we had to catch up on. Literally every big update and conversation in the weeks before the trip abruptly ended with “But I’ll tell you when we meet”. So with all that saved up conversation, the list of things to catch up on was fairly long. And the conversation was loud, giggly and animated, of course.
We and reached Bangkok at 4 am, which we thought was genius. You know, reach your destination at the start of a day so you can set off exploring immediately and all that. Which was great but for the fact that including checking in three hours prior to departure, delayed departure, horrible low-cost carrier seating and having a lot to catch up on, it meant that I didn’t sleep much. S is one of those lucky people that can pass out quickly, almost anywhere. So when we landed in Bangkok four and a half hours later, we emerged from the Don Muang Airport (yep, it wasn’t Suvarnabhumi this time around) bleary eyed. Information very helpfully told us we were an hour away from the heart of Bangkok and that we could either take a bus or a train, both available right outside the airport, to get there.
We trudged across the walkway over the main road and entered the sweetest, small, quaint little station. Which was basically a covered shelter with a few Thai folks waiting in the last dark moments of dusk to catch a train into Bangkok. A mere 20 thb a head, and a shot 15 minute wait later, a noisy train pulled in. We got into a chair car and it was a while before we got ourselves place to sit. Shaky and noisy, with tea-coffee vendors making their way through the aisle, and locals in various states of slumber, I felt right at home, as I would have in a train in India. We drank a shot of coffee each, “o give us a kick,” S said. Except we promptly drank it and nodded off to sleep. S being herself and dozing off effortlessly, and me trying to make up for all the lost sleep.
An hour later we were at Bangkok Train Station, and came out to hoards of people dressed in black, snaking their way out to a counter where free food and drink was being offered to anyone mourning the death of the King of Thailand who passed away last month. Later I realised this was common sight through the rest of the trip – people everywhere, tourists included dressed largely in black. Whatever the crowds were being handed in styrofoam cups looked like hot noodle and meatball broth and smelt divine. It was nearly breakfast time and we were both starving.
Thankfully, we found a cab fairly quickly. Some sign language, showing the cabbie the address to our hotel and helpfully offering GPS was all it took to get to our cute B&B where we were booked just for the day. It was small and cosy. Very basic, but with crisp sheets, a clean loo (with a shady as fuck looking instant water heater connected right to the shower head) and a hot water kettle and instant coffee – it was more than enough. We freshened up and didn’t give ourselves time to settle, rushing out in search of breakfast instead. As it turned out, we’d accidentally picked a very nice part of town to be in.
Khao San Road is quite the hipster place to be, with quirky coffee shops, charming restaurants and the last vestiges of Bangkok’s famous street food culture still to be seen. We ducked into this place called Chomp which looked promising. Breakfast was sumptuous, and free wifi and a stand full of all kinds of maps meant we settled in and figure out what we were going to do next, and over the week to come.
The cafe guy didn’t seem inclined to throw us out even long after we’d finished eating and made the very large cups of tea last as long as we possibly could.
Eventually we headed out to try and figure out where we had to catch our bus on the way out later that night. As it turned out the travel company we’d booked our bus+ferry ticket from was not too far form the hotel. Walking distance in fact, across one of the streets that turns into a food street by night! We couldn’t have accidentally planned this better, really. And this was the best part about having a travel partner equally interested in being efficient and prepared. We’d barely suggest something and the other person would promptly agree, because in all likelihood we’d have thought of the same thing.
A short loaf at the closest mall and a minor attempt to try and find the closest Din Tai Fung ensued, but we glazed over very quickly at the chaos of the shopping and excessive sensory overload that is MBK Centre. Luckily we were distracted, and stopped in our tracks, by a mini hawker centre of sorts right outside the mall, lured mainly by our noses to the smells of sizzling meat on a hot griddle, and the sights of raw papaya salad. We very quickly ditched the idea to go hunting for DTF, promising ourselves one meal there on our return, and settled in for pad thai with shrimp, raw papaya salad and some extremely icy mango and passion fruit spritzers.
Here’s the great thing about Thai food, right? It’s fresh and light, yet so filling. But not in the way that greasy, spicy, rich food tends to fill you up by settling in your belly for many hours. It was filling enough for our eyelids to droop, though. It was also hot outside and since we had figured out where to catch our bus later that evening, we decided to retire and catch a quick nap before heading out again. So we returned, drew the curtains in the room and passed the hell out, ignoring the alarms we had very efficiently set to wake us up.
Eventually, room made coffee tempted us to rise again. And we packed and left the room closer to sun down. We traipsed around the street watching the food carts and stalls being set up, as the whole atmosphere was slowly changing and coming to life around us. It was super hard to pick a place, with rows of food carts, all equally inviting and plenty of bars stacked back to back, adjacent to each other. Eventually we went to a place that had a happy hour offer on cocktails and we picked the closest thing we could find to G&Ts. Topped that up with pad thai and spring rolls and walked back to our hotel to tidy up a little and check out before returning to catch our bus.
Catching the bus was super easy and very entertaining. We decided to walk the distance from the hotel, because it didn’t warrant a cab ride. It was nearby and 50% of it wound thru the food lane, which would have been impossible to take by cab. So walk we did. Eventually very sweaty, but so happy to reach the spot where we saw this sign and cracked up completely. However, that incredible piece of communication was no indication of what was to come. As soon as we checked in, we were handed a bunch of stickers to denote our seat number, destination and matching stickers for our luggage. One set went on our bags, the other on our chests. From that moment on we were just herded around and pointed in the right direction by non-English speaking Thai women who were the bosses of this efficient system. We walked up to the point where we’d board the bus, tucked in our luggage and got to the top deck of this basic, but decent double decker bus that took us to Chumphon.
The journey was fairly comfortable. The roads are excellent, not windy like in India, so even my fears of getting sick faded away very soon. The ACs underperformed so my tendency to freeze in travel also vanished. Yet, I couldn’t sleep. I must be getting old, because I used to be the kind of traveller who could curl up or stretch out in any awkward spot and manage to go to sleep. For some reason I just couldn’t. So I tracked the journey on my phone for a bit, read a bit and eventually only nodded off in the last 2 hours of the seven hour journey. The service was pain-free, the bus was decent, even though I’d read some horror stories of leaky roofs and such. The rest stop that we halted at around 2 am was excellent, with clean loos and a lot of food options too. However, I was dazed and wanted to just go back to sleep.
Seven hours later we woke up at the pier at Chumphon. It was still dark, but the cafe was open. We doubled up on chai and waited for our catamaran to arrive. Before it did, the sun came up and cast mad colours in the sky.
Suddenly it felt like it was really worth missing two nights of good sleep.
There was a time in my childhood when all holiday endings were depressing. No matter how exhilarating the travels had been, heading home and back to normal life was always uninspiring and invariably sent me down a tunnel of sadness. Something changed in adulthood, particularly in my years in Goa, and that sequence of events gave way for a peaceful longing to go back to where I came from that sweeps in at the end of every holiday or travel out of Goa. Going back to base feels like a return to the safety and security of my own turf. Perhaps it is the fact that home is Goa, and that is always pleasant to look forward to. It’s definitely also got to do with the fact that life really began here, and this is really as home as home gets. This is the kind of normalcy I look forward to. Settling into my own bed, showing in my bathroom, pottering about in my bedroom, beginning my days with the view outside my balcony or kitchen window. It’s here that I really understood what they meant when they said there’s no place like home, at a wholly different level.
Could it be that maybe I am just happy with the here and now, for the most part, and that holidays aren’t so much about letting go and running away, as they are about temporary escapes. So returning really doesn’t make me miserable. And my home is a welcoming space. No matter where I’ve been or how far I’ve gone.
Winding down in Thailand too, I was overcome with a sense of peace. I always believe it’s a measure of a satisfying holiday when you’re so content with the time off, that you’re actually looking forward to going home. Except I had a stopover at the original home. I’m here at home in Bangalore right now. The used-to-be-and-will-always-be home. This time though, I was so content with my holiday, if it weren’t for meeting my parents, I’d have happily skipped Bangalore and headed right back to Goa.
But home things are always inviting. Despite being stretched between the in-laws and here this time around, I’m happy for the quiet moments. Colours and corners that will always spell home. Like the flowers in amma’s kitchen window, basking in the afternoon light.
Frothy hot coffee all day, erryyday.
And lazy days safely ensconced in what used to be my room. It looks nothing like it did when I grew up there, but it still feels just like it did so many years ago. My bed is still in almost the same spot, so I feel like I’m transported right back to the exact place I’ve spent all my teenage and growing up years. Sprawled or plonked, either reading, studying, or most likely on the phone.
Safe. And at home. This is the one place I return to that always makes me feel like the more things change, the more they really just stay the same.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
— Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
Painfully apt because I’m reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, all about vulnerability and strength. I’ve only just finished the chapter about relinquishing the pursuit of perfection and freeing yourself from the belief that everything you want and can do is scarce. Oddly liberating. Definitely enlightening. But it’s 100% kicking my ass, this book.
Just a little over half a day to go before we head out of the island. I watched the sun set in a neon orange blaze framed by an icy cool blue this evening and I felt once again, what I have felt so many times these past three days – time slowing down so much it feels like you could fuse into the furniture and blend away into the background.
It’s been all kinds of lovely. As I knew it would. I’m so very grateful for having had this chance to getaway by myself. But also for the perfect getaway partner in crime. It’s not often that you find the right company when you plan to cross continents and travel to faraway lands to do nothing. That’s what these last few days have been about. If there were a way to illustrate perfectly just what I mean, this picture would have to be it.
The thing about being by the sea, is that when the sun sets, you could be by any sea, on any beach, anywhere in the world.