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Tag Archives: Travel

More books (and a mini Bangalore update)

24 Apr

There’s a lot of stuff I had planned for this break. Yeah, roll your eyes. I’m that person who makes a plan even when I’m on a break. The last few weeks before I came to Bangalore have been a blur and in order to focus on some important things on hand, I had completely ignored work, and to a large extent, home too. So I wanted to spend my time here, working in earnest again, get some writing (that’s not work) done, fleshing out some long pending ideas that have been sitting in cold storage and make some short term goals and plans for the months to come. The decision to spend an indefinite amount of time in Bangalore was also spurred by the fact that the emotionally tumultuous phase I’ve been through had me wanting the comfort of home, family, friends and familiarity. Bangalore was the last place on my mind when I thought about taking a short sabbatical from my life in Goa, and somehow after roaming halfway across the globe searching for options that ticked all the boxes for this kind of a break, I found myself booking a one-way ticket to Bangalore, of all places.

This was not part of the plan. The plan was to go away, not return to where I used to be. This was meant to be a month of meandering. A relaxed, routine-free and spontaneous few weeks with no immediate end in sight. At least that was the plan.

It’s how I fool myself into believing I’m in control of things — I make systematic plans and work out intricate routes and systems for the way I want things to move.  But yet again, life has shown me it has it’s own plan, and that in fact so little of it is my doing, or even in my control.

When it comes to plans, I’ve got nothing on life. So, a twist in the tale the moment I landed in Bangalore brought on a completely unexpected turn of events. And I spent the first ten days of my trip (starting from the very next day after I landed) house hunting. More on that later, but all this to say I haven’t had any time to do the things I planned to, and have instead been playing to the tunes of this other plan that’s playing out all on it’s own.

What I have been doing instead, while I wait for brokers, on cab rides between destinations, at the dining table, in between conversations and right before bedtime, is reading a lot more than usual. That has been a welcome change.

(I also realised just now that of late my Instagram has been pictures of books I’m reading and my feet/legs. And sometimes both.)

The High Priestess Never Marries, Sharanya Mannivanan
Quite easily the most intense and visceral book I’ve read this year. The High Priestess Never Marries is a collection of 26 short stories about love, longing, lust, desire, relationships — each told from the perspective of women at the heart of the story. Featuring women from diverging backgrounds, social make-up and geographies too, Sharanya Mannivanan presents women hopelessly in love, some deeply committed, some spurned and looking for requital, some flirting with infidelity or polyamory (depending on how you look at it) — and every single story made me stop and question my notion of commitment, fidelity, marriage. Densely packed, beautifully crafted, it was a slow read and I literally had to use the dictionary on every single page. And yet, I gobbled it hungrily. I haven’t had a book grab me and break me slowly, beautifully, enveloping and taking me in more and more with every page, like this book did, in so so so long.

Karachi, You’re Killing Me!, Saba Imtiaz

I picked this because I wanted a quick, light read and I suddenly heard this had been made into a movie (out now!) featuring Sonakshi Sinha, but of more interest to me, Kanan Gill and Purab Kohli. So of course I’m going to be watching it. This is a very light read and delivered on the quick bit too, perfect for the weeks before my visit to Bangalore, when I was busy as hell. This is a little bit like a Pakistani Bridget Jones meets your most typical, cliche chicklit book ever. It has all the right ingredients — a 20-something journalist (who lives in Karachi), lots of angst about where she is in her life, adequate mention of alcohol, partying hard, fashion, high-society, and of course a sweet and very predictable love story woven in. I went in with no expectations, and rather than coming out happy, let’s say I wasn’t disappointed.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer
I was very late to get to this book that has come so highly recommended many, many times over. But I’m so glad I finally got to it, because it was another book I just devoured in record time. Largely because it is written in epistolary form — which is easily my most favourite style. But also because it is such a heartwarming book about books, writing, a writers pursuit for a subject, and the depths to which book lovers and writers go to unravel the secrets within stories we’ve only read in words before.

It’s 1946, in London and through a series of letters exchanged between Juliet Ashton (a writer seeking a subject for her new book) and a man (who becomes her primary source for said subject that completely consumes her) that draws Juliet and readers into a mysteriously wonderful and dream-like world amidst the members of the curiously names Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. The author, the main character, is . strong, critical woman very aware of her independence and choice, and navigates post-war society with thought, but without losing warmth and grace. The writing is charming and flows easily. The story, even more so.

All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg
I picked this book from this list (yes, it’s yet another list of several compelling titles to now knock off) because the short description was so compelling:

Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up follows a 39-year-old woman who lives her unconventional life — unmarried and without children — by choice and on her own terms. But when her niece is born with severe birth defects, she is forced to re-examine herself and what being an adult really means. A raw, honest, and often hilarious ride of a novel.

And it did not disappoint. I absolutely, thoroughly loved this book because it was so damn relatable. The writing is tight, super honest and chock full of brutally honest vignettes that any millennial will identify with — from the angst of choosing to earn a living versus following a calling, to carefully cultivating a deluded sense of poverty, to having misguided priorities, to our difficult relationships with our parents, eventually finding our way to and out of therapy, dealing with love, loss and emotional upheaval. Another book that really drew me in and I finished reading in under two days.

I think I read this book at an apt time in my life. After a rather intense burst of therapy, returning to spend a longish period of time at home with my family, reworking notions of my existence and independence vis a vis the part I play in the various relationships I am a part of.

It was also oddly surreal to breeze through this book much the same way I used to breeze through books lying in my bed, spending sunny afternoons peeling back the pages from cover to cover, without a care in the world. This felt like the kind of book that reaffirms your current reality.

It really, really feels great to be home.

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Roads and Kingdoms

22 Feb

A fair bit of writing about beverages has consumed me in recent time. It was a nice little segue. I’m delighted to have had two quick pieces out in Roads & Kingdoms’ 5 o’clock somewhere segment, in quick succession. And I have a longer, boozier feature in the works for them, coming out possibly later next week. Heady times. In more ways than one, but more about that later.

For now: want to read the pieces I wrote?

The latest on drinking feni in one of my favourite little bars in Panjim.

chilli-feni

And another on enjoying mangoes on sticky rice, pretty much all through my trip to Thailand last year. I might have made a passing mention of it in this post, and saved this little nugget for the story.

 

 

2016

5 Jan

So it’s done. What I’ve called the most forgettable, shitty year, time and time again, is over. It’s true that last year I had more than a fair share of lows. But it’s also true that in bouncing from one low to the next, only keeping my head above water, occasionally remembering to thwack my limbs and move towards the closest object for support, I’ve often needed to remind myself that I’m still alive and breathing. Which is a convoluted way of saying, a lot happened in between the lows that really wasn’t bad at all. But I have been so occupied with just barely staying afloat that it’s felt like I’ve been mostly stuck in a downward spiral of negativity. The bad has a way of eclipsing the good, and painting a picture so dismal, you wonder why this is your life. Which is why I’m thankful for forced stops in the infinite loop of time. We put a date to the end of the year, we decide it’s a time to reflect, and I’m glad we have this opportunity to lay out all the cards, pick which ones to fold over and put away, and which ones to take ahead.

There is such a difference in looking back cursorily, because all I can see is large spans of time spent lying in bed, unable to move, just staring out the window, and looking back one day and month at a time. Broadly, I feel like I spent way too much time wondering why this is happening to me. This, being the thick and heavy fog that consumed me. But, it’s only when I combed through my archive that I realised I was diffident, cynical, exhausted from the get go. I entered the year in a terrible headspace. Maybe it set the tone for the year? Maybe I was a fool not to see how things were hurtling towards an inevitable crash right through 2015? Maybe this was all just a necessary intervention in the making? I don’t know.

What followed was a lot of indecision and confusion that really chipped away at my confidence and left me on very shaky ground. Pretty much the entire year after has been spent trying to regain that solid ground beneath my feet. Whether it was putting my confidence in myself and my work back together and resuming in a direction that made sense to me, but scared the shit out of me, or opening myself up to honesty of a different kind, running all my relationships through a sieve and keeping only the most important ones close, learning to distinguish between an inner and outer circle, basically redefining the very notion of love and friendship, or regaining some bit of pride and a sense of self and identity that I’d lost sight of — everything about 2016 was an effort towards building something in me that 2015 had broken.

I couldn’t have picked a better year to write a post a day, because looking back has helped me see that while 2016 was far from fantastic, it sure was eventful. It was shitty in many parts, challenging in ways I have not previously known but omg, you gaiiis, so much happened!

Mostly, 2016 has been a year of rediscovering honesty. Of coming to terms with many things I was either not seeing right, or turning a blind eye to. It all started with the decision to take some time off. To regroup and clear my head out. I had a breakdown at the end of 2015, that made me realise I was overworked, confused about my priorities and sorely needed some time out. My inability to be honest with myself was pushing me into a cycle of repeated losses that had left me very, very tired.

So, I planned to spend 5-6 weeks unwinding and doing the things that gave me joy, in the hope that it would make room for some clarity. I read and wrote. And that’s not counting my work. There was some drawing, some haiku, and an exercise regimen, all in the interest of building a routine that enriched rather than depleted me. With all the mind space to introspect, it wasn’t long before the truth, or rather the lack of honesty emerged strong and loud.

I don’t mean honesty in the sense of truth-telling. I mean honesty in so many different ways — the inability to break through my denial, my stubbornness in not admitting to seeing things as they were, the fact that far too many people in my life had more to take than give me, the false belief that the work-life pattern I had unconsciously fallen into was necessary for success, my misplaced conviction that it was what I liked and wanted, when the truth couldn’t have been farther from it.

I’d begun to realise a need for a deeper honesty in my friendships. As it happened several of my closest friends found themselves in a bad patch at the start of the year. It involved unravelling, together, and being there for each other and made me realise just how much I valued openness and vulnerability, even in or maybe especially in hard times, as a measure of authenticity of any relationship. I suddenly saw how I was surrounded by relationships lacking in it, even though I considered them to be the solid, long-term ones. I backed away from many that seemed to exist in a perpetual state of hiding behind convenient veils of passive aggression, demanding more from me than I could give, or they could ever give back to me.

This has meant being alone a lot more, staying with solitude and embracing this part of me wholeheartedly. This will always be the year I made peace with my introvert tendencies. After a hectic 2015 chock full of socialising, putting myself out there and pursuing things I never imagined I would have, giving the hedonistic life a shot I realised my place. It’s indoors, with myself, away from the mindless din of connections and networking. I much prefer the loud camaraderie of a few I call my tribe, even if we choose to exist in absolute silence.

This too, required honesty. In laying the tussle between the virtually-social and actually-solitary, to rest. On the one hand, I live what many call a “social” life, especially thanks to frequent and frantic social media posting. And on the other hand, I was trying to teach myself boundaries, to say no, to protect my personal space and energy. This tug-o-war between sharing my life has given many observers a sense of false camaraderie that often oversteps the virtual lines that separate me and them. I began to see through social media veneers, and was disappointed by people on more than one occasion. I found myself wanting to dig deeper and find within myself the strength to accept the differences that these are just virtual interactions, while saving my energy for the solid core of authentic interactions I have in real life. Even when it meant accepting the truth that was far from pleasant, realising that seemingly normal people sometimes display unacceptable behaviour, or that I myself had untowardly let some folks far deeper into my life than was needed.

The need for this honesty came with a price. For one, I let go of the steady promise of work that I had in hand to make room for the work I wanted to pursue. Second, I had to consciously let go of a couple of friendships that I had assumed were easy-going and probably for life.

What I gained, though, was immeasurable. Because the time and energy freed up from it, was channeled into all that I wanted to put my mind to, but had failed to in the years before. I will always remember this to be the year I moved closer to finding myself, and my voice, professionally. The decision to quit a steady, decently-paying gig with scope for growth, to dive fully into the erratic, unpredictable world of full-time freelancing was a pivotal one. A lot of it happened because I had to own up to the fact that clinging to a safety rails was only going to get me that far. Yes, I’d have a salary in the bank at the end of the month, but the hours spent earning that salary was definitely keeping me from expanding my repertoire, aiming higher and going wide and deep into the kind of writing I want dip into. If I were to be honest with myself, and I was, I needed to be brave. Or at least pretend like I was. It was not without its moments of extreme imposter syndrome, but I know I am better for it.

There were moments of immense frustration. A steep learning curve that I didn’t particularly enjoy at all times because let’s face it I wasn’t feeling positive and upbeat for a large part. The long waiting periods, systemic inefficiencies, blatant unprofessionalism made me cynical and under-confident. Incidentally, it was the year with the most number of unsavoury professional experiences. But while navigating the doubt and incertitude with heaps of scepticism, I did manage to get a whole lot of work done. It’s funny how the haze of unpleasant experiences has clouded this reality that. Ironic that the shittiest year is the year I had several work wins that I am proud of. Like this, this, this and this and this and this. I never imagined I’d write essays worthy of being tweeted by the UN Women’s handle. I didn’t think I’d see myself published in The Telegraph. I certainly didn’t imagine I’d find myself in a publication dedicated to science and technology.

I even managed to throw together a website and a portfolio that I should have done a long, long time ago. Much of this had to do with trying very, very hard to unlearn my obsession with perfection. Of quitting the terrible habit of waiting for the ducks to get in an absolutely straight line before making a move. In accepting that well begun is half done, I may have taught myself a thing or two about what is possible when you accept what works for you and hold yourself to slightly more realistic goals and ideals.

One of the best things I did was write and write and write every single day. Whether it was the for the stories I worked on, daily posts on here, scribbles, ideas for stories, half written posts — I made sure I did a little writing every single day and this is a habit I don’t want to lose. I am a little astounded at myself for seeing the daily post habit through to the end of the year, even though I fell off the wagon and frantically caught up again, sometime. Even with all that writing, I have so much more to express and share. So I started a newsletter. Admittedly, it’s taken a break so soon after it was launched but I hope to be back this year. 2016 marked the completion of 10 years since I started blogging. I wrote 318 posts this year having blogged every week, which feels like a fitting way to mark a decade of rambles.

On Day 1, I decided it was going to be a year to move more. In addition to upping the ante with training by joining, pursuing and loving kickboxing, I let the husband get me a cycle. It transformed the middle parts of this year in ways I can’t explain. Unfettered joy and immense satisfaction have been had from the hours spent pedalling through Goa. Cycling changed the way I experienced what could potentially be my last monsoon here. I even finished my first ever 100 km ride.

Part of the reason I caught the cycling bug was the undeniable urge to get out and get out. In the open. To travel. It’s something I’ve denied myself the pleasure of indulging in, for various reasons in the past few years. I travelled back home more than I ever have since I have moved out. Cleartrip sent me an email calling me a Happy Tripper today, for the 18 flights I’ve taken. There was a trip to Chettinadu, KeralaThailand and Coonoor. There were a few mini vacations right here at home too. I turned 32 in the company of these lovelies who came down to celebrate over a weekend of beach time, with me. And it reaffirmed my faith in certain inalienable truths about why some relationships endure and others don’t. It’s the one year VC and I haven’t taken a holiday or travelled anywhere together. And no, we’re not complaining.

The other big change I made this year was I kicking myself back into the reading habit by getting myself a Kindle. It has made all the difference and  finished the year with 29 books read, a high for me. While I’m looking at numbers, it seems a good time to look back at this post where I detailed the few things I want to see myself doing through 2016.

  1. Read a little everyday – check, post-August
  2. Write a little everyday – check, check, CHECK
  3. Give in to the urge to draw/doodle as much as possible, don’t put it off for “later” – check, for as long as the inspiration and urge lasted
  4. Avoid multi-tasking at all costs – yes and no
  5. Wear a saree at least once a week (any more is a bonus!), and don’t wait for the “right” occasion – ditched
  6. Call ammamma more often – check
  7. Meditate every morning, consciously remember to slow down – check for the first half of the year, then abandoned
  8. Go to the beach more often, even if it is for a stroll or to catch the sunset – check, check, check (run a search for “beach” to see how)
  9. Actively avoid clicking random links that lead to news on social media – CHECK!
  10. Whenever posting something on facebook, ask myself if the post would annoy me if I were looking at it posted by someone else – check, followed this for the most part, but slipped a lot, now correcting it by slowly deleting all fb activity from all of time
  11. Generally, avoid oversharing on fb – not every thought needs to be telecast to the world on fb, do it here instead, in longer form – check
  12. Keep phone away from bed and sleep-time – failllll!
  13. Sneak some more kisses – CHECK!
  14. Choose things, make decisions with purpose – CHECK
  15. Make the most of Goa, get out, breathe, watch, listen, do – CHECKCHECKCHECKCHECK, cyclecyclecycle
  16. Reclaim stillness whenever it happens, and when it doesn’t, create it – this is WIP
  17. Fuck perfection – this is WIP

Speaking of WIP, one of the best things I did for myself in 2016, was take myself to therapy. When the cycle of breaking down, finding my footing, stabilising, coasting and only to slip again recurred three times in a span of 8 months, I knew I was in over my head. Again, it called for a kind of honesty I didn’t have, but so desperately needed to find. To accept that I cannot navigate this alone, that I need a fresh pair of eyes to see things differently and help me work my way through, rather than away from this. It has been the best, because it brought to the surface things I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. It made me reclaim myself, discover and strengthen crucial aspects of my identity that were slipping away form me. Much of my newfound peace, focus and positivity is a result of this, and I know that every day I am making progress in facing up to and loving my imperfect self.

It hasn’t been an easy year to live with me. Every break down has brought with it several emotional outbursts, thoughtless spewing of anger and frustration, violent mood swings, long periods of demotivation. But through it, VC has been my constant. Constant everything. Punching bag, sounding board, friend, foe, confidant, co-homemaker, support, voice of reason, strength and solace. We celebrated our eighth anniversary. Ironically, it was a year that made me fully understand how relationships that nurture are the ones that help you growing together, separately, rather than collapse and grow into one entity, and completely turned my beliefs about marriage around, that somehow also brought us much closer.

I find myself feeling a little sheepish about how much I have bashed 2016. It had so many sore points, so many weeks and months I wanted to just wish away. So many events and incidents I wish I didn’t have to go through. It all felt so damned shitty. And yet, when it all stacks up and I look at it in retrospect, it was rather eventful. Memorable, even. But most of all, transformative. They say things sometimes need to get really bad before they can begin to get better. Maybe my bad bits were peppered right through 2016. But right there, in between the bad events, things were already beginning to get better.

This year I just want to build from here. Make some goals, shut up about them, work hard, live big, laugh loud, love hard, breathe deep and smash them to the sky.

*****

Quick guide to posts in 2016
Monthly recaps: APostADay
Bheja fry, since this year had so much of it
Work and writing
Books and reading in 2016
Travel and photographs
Cycling and exercise
Music

Day 366: December

31 Dec

It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines of the impossible levels of drivel I posted at the start of the month, and tell that I’ve been in a slump. My brain has been impossibly foggy for many weeks now, my motivation levels plummeted to lows I didn’t know possible, and it showed in all aspects of my life. If blogging through this year has been a study in the ups and downs of my state of mind, I hit an all new low at the start of December. This kind of unexplained, debilitating, chronic blues has hit hard, several times this year, but last month when I returned from Thailand, I felt myself slip a notch lower. As an otherwise naturally happy, easy going person, it has been particularly difficult to deal with this. For one, I haven’t known this level of dejection and disinterest that seems to have crept into everything. Second, the inability to put a finger on it has meant I’m slow to recover. Third, my usual recovery time to snap out of a lull is a few days, a week, at best. So this one has completely thrown things out of whack.

Finally, I was prompted to dig deeper, and follow through on a hunch that perhaps there was more to this – a physiological reason – than meets the (mind’s)eye. Turns out I was right, and taking this blood test was one of the best things I did this year, making me kick myself for not listening to my gut sooner. Which is not to say the things I’ve felt and gone through this past year were unwarranted or without other reasons. This has been one of the most trying years in recent time, a time of transition, the sort that only makes sense when you look at things in reverse. When you realise that every sucker-punch moment was a set up for what is to come. I’ve felt for a while that all this confusion, unsettledness and restlessness is not without purpose. That it is leading up to something. You may not recall, but I said it at the end of this post too. It really felt like November was a culmination of one phase. Like December was going to be a time of moving into a better, brighter, positive space. I had an inkling about some sense of a transition at the start of 2016, but I didn’t anticipate it would last all year long and make its presence felt as much as it did. But, the reason I reiterate this is because December felt like I was finally over the hurdle. The same one I have been painfully eyeing and struggling to get over all year.

I’m putting a lot of it down to the multivitamins kicking in and altering the chemicals in my body which have put my fatigue to rest, given me sounder sleep than I have had all year, and generally brought the spring back to my step. My motivation levels have shot up, which is to say, they’re back to normal. I feel upbeat, positive and happy. My moods are more evenly tempered and for the first time in a long, long time, I feel like myself again. All the layers of sadness, nostalgia, PMS, PTS, and dejection have lifted and I feel like the aliens have returned me to my place on this planet, just the way I used to be. (Inside joke: I’m beginning to think I was abducted for the most part of 2016 because I couldn’t recognise the person I had become. Yep, this might be your cue to unfollow this crazy lady.) I’ve dropped the oscillations from extreme highs to debilitating lows. And clarity, sweet, sweet clarity that has eluded me, is coming back to life.

Some part of this sudden upward swing was kicked into motion when I was suddenly jolted out of my misery seeing updates from some writers on a group I’m a part of. Nothing like a look back at the year gone by to really put things in perspective, no? It’s so easy to slip into a loop of negativity when you’re feeling shitty because it’s the most convenient thing to do. It’s easy, and getting up and out is unthinkable. But I was forced out of my lethargy and I had a pleasant and rather exhilarating realisation that despite it all, somehow I’ve had a good work year. From where I stand, looking back, I see so many gaps in my work style. I took so many unwanted breaks that put my progress back significantly, I was slowed down by rapidly dipping motivation levels, I was plagued by self doubt and had my confidence crushed by plenty unsavoury experiences. I ended the year knowing fully well that I hadn’t achieved exactly what I had set out to do at the start of the year. Yet, it wasn’t all bad, it seems. And that came as a very, very welcome silver lining.

A mildly altered morning schedule saw me waking up at 6 am every day this month, which while I dreaded, turned out to be a bit of a Godsend. Because it gave me a solid hour everyday to be by myself, at peace, reading. And I was able to really pick up the pace and finish up so many more books because of it.

Somewhere in between, a long-awaited and very special essay — another one about Indian women who have chosen to remain childfree — went live on The Establishment. It was the byproduct of a lot of data I had gathered for another essay, but was unable to use. So tada, I turned it into a whole different essay. Win.

There were more travels of course, the last of it to close the year. I ran away to Bangalore, and then to Coonoor with S, a trip that came about in the most spontaneous and speedy fashion. Four days in the hills, and a road trip up there and back to Bangalore was really the icing on the cake. I spent four days soaking in the mountain sun filtering through the mist, and questioned my love for the seaside. I saw mighty trees that made me feel oh so very small. And I saw a giddying variety of flowers, trees, fruit and vegetation of the kind that only mountain air can bear, and it made my head spin.

It’s been a year of tremendous travel. I may not have gone very far, but with every trip I snatched some lovely cherished moments and experiences, and have found something that my life was missing the past many years: camaraderie with just the right mix of closeness and space all in one. I came home with my heart feeling very full. It put a whole different spin on thoughts of distance, longing to be with friends I love, and the expanses of time between us. I returned to the news of George Michael’s passing, and it put me in a nostalgic, reflective mood.

But I also returned to renewed enthusiasm and a very refreshed, positive outlook. It feels like I’m over the bump. I was able to write so much in the second half of the month, spruce up the home that I have ignored for a better part of the year, stock up the house and I even spent four days getting prepped for the work weak ahead. I had some time to even reflect on what a surprisingly good year of reading it has been.

December marked the end of a shitfest of a year of course, but I’ll remember it as the month my vitamins kicked in and my body and mind began to behave like I owned it again. It’s the month I closed the door on 2016 in more ways than just the passing of 12 long months. I’m so ready for 2017.

Day 362: Time

27 Dec

Remember the time, loneliness was like a tree*? Large,  expansive, with arms shooting out in every direction, rooted and there to stay. If ever you felt yourself slipping out of its grip, an arm would appear out of no where and scoop you back, placing you at the heart of it all over again. 

Entire worlds would pass you by. Seasons would swim by. Colours changed within and without. 

And the tree remained. Ever pervasive.  Rooted. There to stay. 


Today, loneliness is a speck of dust, suspended in time. There one moment, gone the next.  Floating, free falling, impossible to grasp, unwilling to stay. 

*throwback to one of my most favourite, most loved posts on TRQ’s blog. 

Day 356: Book post, of course

21 Dec

I’ve read an alarming number of books related to marriage, this year. And before I realised this, I unconsciously picked two more books about women and marriage, to end the year*.

“I want something light and breezy to read on holiday,” I thought to myself. And then I picked these up before I left.

The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage, Veena Venugopal
I’ll admit, this might not have been a book I’d have otherwise picked, if I hadn’t already read and really enjoyed the other book by the Veena Venugopal.

It’s a book of individual essays about the experiences of 11 very diverse Indian women, exploring equally diverse and unique marriages. What ties them all to the unifying theme is that each one tells a different tale of why the mother-in-law is the villain she is made out to be in the big Indian family. I’ve heard enough stories to know this not a mere cliche or cultural caricature, but a very sordid and difficult reality for many Indian women.

I was initially excited to read this because the premise was intriguing. I have a less than perfect equation with my own mother in law. While we keep it civil and amicable, and the geographic distance makes things a lot easier, I can never lose sight of the fact that our relationship leaves a lot to be desired. The essays bring out the many facts and complexities of our “culture” and what it imposes on women, especially after marriage. Bring in a mixed-marriage, I saw myself in snatches in a couple of the situations, I could relate to some of the women too. Some tales are funny, some ironic, some downright disturbing with instances of domestic abuse, rape and emotional cruelty detailed. But beyond that I found the book to be a dull and very glib telling. Contrary to the description on the book cover, I didn’t find it rich with “incisive observations” rather just a plain re-telling of a series of interviews, that put in words a lot that I already knew and understand about the complicated, often difficult relationship Indian women have with their mothers-in-law. While the premise held promise, I just didn’t think the contents were meaty enough to warrant a whole book — *shruggy guy*.

Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage, Nandini Krishnan
Maybe I was already worn out with my reading of The Mother-in-Law, or perhaps I shouldn’t have picked up yet another non-fiction book about Indian marriage immediately, but this book was even more disappointing than the one before. Again a series of slice-of-life essays told through the words of a spectrum of Indian women, describing a host of situations they find themselves in before, during and in some cases, after marriage. Again, the premise help promise, but the writing was utterly dull, reduced to she said this, then that happened, then she felt this way and was prompted to do that. It just felt like a series of rather refined transcribed interviews. I really struggled through this one, wanting to give up several times. If it weren’t for the glorious weather, reading in the sun or snuggled under multiple razais while a fire raged in the fireplace in our room, that made it easy, I might have succumbed to the feeling.

Has anyone read a insightful, enjoyable book on Indian marriage that is meaty enough to really dig ones teeth into? I’m almost tempted to write a story or two about this myself.

*As it turns out I’ve surpassed the goal that I belatedly set for myself! And from the looks of it there will be a couple more to go before we really close the year.

Day 355: Too much nature ho gaya

20 Dec

I find myself unable to fathom the proliferation of vegetation I’ve seen up here. It’s in the mighty trees, the dazzling slopes of glistening tea bushes, a mind boggling array of flowers in every colour possible, the piles of zesty winter veg in the every corner veggies, the fruit we ate straight off the trees. Just breathing in deep fills me up with a freshness I cannot get enough of. Maybe nature is on a heady high of much the same stuff. It makes everything look positively luscious. Eye popping hues, shiny petals and peels, textures and grain in the irregular horizon, the sharp way in which the sunlight streaks everything, casting a glow and providing enough warmth for life to persist.

Just look at this, will ya?

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Day 354: Old and mighty

19 Dec

There’s nothing larger and more powerful than slices of mighty nature to make you feel small, insignificant and futile. Whether it’s sitting at the very edge of a long beach that seems to go on for miles, watching the waves as they relentlessly come and go, or standing perched at tip of a cliff, surrounded by rows and rows of undulating hills. And wondering what might happen if your knees buckled, or you lose your footing. Something about the sheer age and might of the forces of nature make me feele xtra vulnerable, fragile and completely destructible.

Driving through this eucalyptus plantation really put it in perspective, as I felt myself shrink, feeling utterly minuscule and powerless. It reminded me instantly of one of my favourite quotes from The Untethered Soul.

You’re sitting on a planet spinning around in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Go ahead, take a look at reality. You’re floating in empty space in a universe that goes on forever. If you have to be here, at least be happy and enjoy the experience. You’re going to die anyway. Things are going to happen anyway. Why shouldn’t you be happy? You gain nothing by being bothered by life’s events. It doesn’t change the world; you just suffer. There’s always going to be something that can bother you, if you let it.

Yes, the allure is in the size. But it’s also in the sheer might of scale. It’s in the weight of ancient wisdom that bares down on your, the crisp mountain air that breathes life back into your lungs, and in the sparkle of life that shimmers through in places you never seem to look.

Day 351: Misty mountain hop

16 Dec

For as long as I can remember, the winter cold has been a source of many a fun time coming to a sorry, sniffly end. It’s not just the winter, though. In my years in Bangalore, the frequent slightly-more-than-minor dip in temperatures that followed the frequent spells of rain typical to Bangalore, saw me bundled up in sweaters and shawls, socks and slippers indoors too. I have distinct memories of wishing my uniform had trouser just to escape the draft that came in through the open doorway on my bus. In college, when I was free to wear whatever the hell I pleased, jeans became my unofficial uniform for the same reason. My college was  along way away from home, and the journey involved changing two buses in the early Bangalore morning weather. I had a wardrobe replete with full sleeved pullovers, woollen tops, plaid and knitwear, and the odd polo neck too. We had “winter wear” too. The button down granny sweater to be worn at home, a sporty jacket, a hoodie, and a sweatshirt that worked with everyday college clothes. I’d even stretched the arms extra long, all the better to dig and snuggle my fists into, and made tiny holes where my thumbs would stick out from. This, long before the thumb-hole became a thing.

Of course all of this was discarded and/or packed away when I moved to Goa, which has barely a smidgen of winter. Certainly nothing to warrant precious real estate in my cupboard being wasted on “winter wear”. Worse, my body has unlearnt what little it did to manage or deal with the cold, rendering me progressively immobile and useless as temperatures drop.

It’s why in our very own Goan winter where temperatures teeter delicately in the early-mid twenties, in November and December, I feel the need to pull out a pullover or a jacket. And it’s also why I always carry a jacket to the movie hall, regardless of the season or weather outside. It is also why, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve stayed away form visiting Leh or Ladakh. Im mortally afraid I will just buckle in the cold and be a vegetable, unable to do anything or enjoy very much.

I realised how much living in a hot place impacts not just the clothes you wear, but your entire wardrobe, accessories, footwear and the way you process weather too, when I began to pack for this trip a few days ago. Since the start of the week, I’d been furiously googling the weather, only to be frightened by the single digit night time temperatures being reported there. I then messaged S to say I was preparing to turn into a semi-icicle.

I realised I don’t own closed shoes anymore, aside from the two pairs of sneakers I can only wear to the gym. I distinctly remember saving two full sleeved tees, for a rainy cold day, somewhere so safe I couldn’t find them, of course. I’ve distributed, given away, donated what was once my rather large collection of stoles and scarves because I got tired of storing them and watching them lie in abject neglect. At least they’ll get used this way, I told myself. Thankfully I’ve been recently gifted a couple of rather pretty (and warm) scarves, so there’s that. But for the rest, I’m banking on snug jeans, and layering up in two jackets, with scarves for good measure. And socks, plenty of socks. Which would be worn inside slippers. Such a winter fail, but I was not about to rush out and but a new pair of shoes just for a 5 day trip.

I shuddered to think about the temperatures all the way here. And last night, I needed the whole shebang — jeans and tee, jacket, a shawl over it, socks and footwear — when outdoors.

But all my worry faded away when I woke up to this view.


And I followed it up with an hour of sitting in the sun, reading, until I felt blind from the crisp light reflecting off my page.

Unlearning the ways of the winter, a tropically trained body and fears of frostbite aside, I have in recent time, realised I miss the winter. I crave colder climes. I long to wear warm clothes and be bundled up in layers.

From niggling yearning for a change of climate, it’s turned into a raging need for the cold again. It had to happen at some point, I guess. The first of it hit me in August, in Wayanad. And today, as I stared out at the clouds slipping through the valley, kissing the mist that cleaved the tea bushes, that mighty feeling that I have held down with some difficulty, in recent time, reared its head once again.

Should I stay, or should I go?

I’m at that point where cooler weather is calling out to me. Misty mountain tops are making balmy seaside scenes feel overrated. The hills are competing with the sea.

And it’s getting very, very hard to remain loyal.

 

Day 350: Ohhaii again, Bangalore

15 Dec

I touched down in cold, cold Bangalore yesterday.

I cannot believe how lucky I’ve been this year, with umpteen trips back home to visit this city, my folks and some of my fondest friends. 

I love love love Banvalore in the winter. Post cyclone weather has been splendid. My nose and toes are perpetually cold and it’s hard to fight the snuggle up with tea and books kind of vibe. 

Bangalore has been the starting point of many trips out from here. And this time it is no different. I’m off on a roadtrip with S. Somewhere hilly. Somewhere amidst the clouds. Somewhere surrounded by tea. And somewhere a lot colder than Bangalore, methinks. Brrrrmmmm. 
 

Day 337: November

2 Dec

It’s December.

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.

I have to pinch myself to check if this is really happening. How are we already in November? Wasn’t I just here, dealing with way too much at once, and feeling completely at sea?

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.

Somewhere in between, I also watched and ranted about Dear Zindagi. And about a new Instagram disease called fashionblogging.

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.

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But enough of this. To the forces dishing out juju for net year, listen up. I’d like 2017 to be well done.

Day 323: Holiday reading

18 Nov

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?

Day 322: One night in Bangkok

17 Nov

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

“Both!”

“Okayyy, then why are we going there?”

But go we did. It was one night in Bangkok after all.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Day 321: In which I turned into a beached whale

16 Nov

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Day 320: One day in Bangkok (or day one in Bangkok)

15 Nov

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Suddenly it felt like it was really worth missing two nights of good sleep.

Day 319: Homeward bound

14 Nov

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.

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Frothy hot coffee all day, erryyday.

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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.

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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.

Day 316: That’s how the light gets in

11 Nov

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.

Day 315: Slow down, clown

10 Nov

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.

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Day 314: Sunsets

9 Nov

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.


Well, almost.

Day 313: Mid week blues

8 Nov

We’ve been on four modes of transport, traversing air, land and finally the sea.

It took navigating the neighbourhood (that accidentally turned out to be the best one we could have picked for a single night in Bangkok!), seeing amazingly direct and coherent (yet hilarious) signs to figure we were on the right track.

Many hours of sleep lost, to witness the break of dawn, like this.


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To finally get here.


Not too shabby, I’d say. Especially because I plan to park myself here and restrict all movement to the bare minimum for the next four days.